Wallis, Michael 1945–
Wallis, Michael 1945–
Born October 7, 1945, in St. Louis, MO; son of Herbert R. and Ann Wallis; married Suzanne Fitzgerald (a public relations firm owner and photographer). Education: Attended University of Missouri—Columbia, Southeast Missouri State University, and the University of Arizona. Politics: Democrat.
Home—Tulsa, OK. Agent—James Fitzgerald Agency, 80 East 11th St., Ste. 301, New York, NY 10003.
Writer. Worked as a newspaper correspondent in Santa Fe, NM; Esperanza: A Quarterly of Literature and Art, founder and editor, 1970-72; worked as a reporter, editor, and bureau chief in Texas, 1973-78; Time-Life, began as a special correspondent in 1975; Time, Caribbean Bureau special correspondent, 1978-80; worked variously as a ranch hand, bartender, hotel waiter, social worker, printer, and ski-lodge manager. Lecturer; host of the Public Broadcasting System series American Roads. Military service: U.S. Marine Corps, 1964-70; became sergeant.
Grant-in-residence, Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico, 1972, for fiction writing; named top feature writer, Florida Magazine Association, 1981; nominated for the National Book Award and two Pulitzer Prizes.
Oil Man: The Story of Frank Phillips and the Birth of Phillips Petroleum, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1988.
Pretty Boy: The Life and Times of Charles Arthur Floyd, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1992.
Beyond the Hills: The Journey of Waite Phillips, Oklahoma Heritage Association (Dexter, MI), 1996.
Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride, W.W. Norton & Co. (New York, NY), 2007.
Route 66: The Mother Road, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1990.
Way Down Yonder in the Indian Nation: Writings from America's Heartland, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1993.
(With Wilma Pearl Mankiller) Mankiller: A Chief and Her People, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1993.
En Divina Luz: The Penitente Moradas of New Mexico, photographs by Craig Varjabedian, foreword by Felipe Ortega, afterword by Charles M. Carrillo, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 1994.
(With wife, Suzanne Fitzgerald Wallis) Songdog Diary: 66 Stories from the Road, illustrated by Carol Stanton, Song Dog Books (Tulsa, OK), 1996.
Tulsa and the Green Country, Graphic Arts Center Publications (Portland, OR), 1997.
Oklahoma Crossroads, photographs by David Fitzgerald, Graphic Arts Center Publications (Portland, OR), 1998.
The Real Wild West: The 101 Ranch and the Creation of the American West, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1999.
Heaven's Window: A Journey through Northern New Mexico, photographs by Jack Parsons, Graphic Arts Center Publications (Portland, OR), 2001.
(With Marian Clark) Hogs on 66: Best Feed and Hangouts for Road Trips on Route 66, Council Oak Books (Tulsa, OK), 2004.
(With Suzanne Fitzgerald Wallis) The Art of Cars, introduction by John Lasseter, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2005.
Host of video travelogues, including An American Tradition: A Journey down Route 66 and Route 66: An American Odyssey. Contributor to periodicals, including Life, Smithsonian, New York Times, and Outside.
Author and journalist Michael Wallis has written extensively on the history of Oklahoma, profiling some of the state's most interesting citizens and visiting its most colorful sites. He is also the host of the Public Broadcasting System series American Roads and has authored travel books on some of America's most famous highways.
Wallis's Route 66: The Mother Road examines the history of the first paved highway—completed in 1937—connecting Lake Michigan and the Pacific Ocean. In the years since, two-lane Route 66 has been bypassed entirely by new interstates, and many of its sections have been closed. Wallis was born near the highway and has lived in seven of the states through which it runs. Jeanne M. Devlin, writing in Oklahoma Today, described Wallis's dedication to his subject: "He knows its life history. He can talk about its best points—forever. He thinks every blessed inch of it is beautiful. And, yes, he knows its faults. But most of all he loves it." Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Patrick Carr quoted the book's first line: "Route 66. Just the name is magic." "That it is," Carr agreed, "those double sixes roll fast and snappy with a gambler's edge, a certain smooth swagger perfect for the first (and American) internal-combustion century." Wallis is sentimental about the highway, which has been immortalized in American literature by novelists John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac. As Carr summarized: "Wallis equates Route 66 with a familiar nostalgicist's package: the combination of small-town culture, high personal individuality and other pleasant attributes which make up the generally agreed-upon family version of Yesteryear's U.S.A." Talking to Devlin, Wallis said that driving Route 66 today "is for people who find time holy." Route 66, according to Carr, successfully relays the feelings that Wallis has for the highway, the "uniquely American sense of a past still young and wild and accessible, of all the national times and deeds and souls not very far away yet."
In Pretty Boy: The Life and Times of Charles Arthur Floyd, Wallis writes about "Pretty Boy" Floyd, a 1930s bank robber who was shot down by pursuers in Calcutta, Ohio, when he was just thirty years old. Approximately forty thousand people attended his Oklahoma funeral, making it the largest in that state's history. Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Robert Roper called the work "a rich, enjoyable book," and wrote that Wallis "has dug deep with a broad shovel, and sometimes we feel that he is using Floyd's story only as a pretext, an excuse to provide fascinating material about the Southwest…. Wallis is especially good on the tradition of Western badmen to which Floyd aspired."
Wallis, with the help of Wilma Mankiller, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation since 1985, writes about the tragic history of the Cherokees and Mankiller's personal struggles in Mankiller: A Chief and Her People. As part of a government relocation project, Mankiller's family moved from rural Oklahoma to San Francisco, California, bringing the eleven-year-old Mankiller and her ten siblings face-to-face with racism and poverty. Mankiller later in life went on to become an activist in Indian affairs. "In this inspiring story, Mankiller offers herself as a valuable role model—for women as well as Native Americans," observed a Publishers Weekly critic. In the book, Mankiller's "voice—clear, humane, honest—resounds from the first chapter of Mankiller to the last. Unfortunately, this doesn't apply to the book's introduction," remarked K. Tsianina Lomawaima in Women's Review of Books.
Wallis's The Real Wild West: The 101 Ranch and the Creation of the American West is a history of the renowned Miller family, who at the height of their fame controlled some 110,000 acres in Oklahoma. The Miller's 101 Ranch was self-sustaining, with grain farms and production facilities, oil wells and cattle, but it is best remembered for its Wild West shows and its contribution to Hollywood of a "cowboy" image personified by Tom Mix and Will Rogers. A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented: "As Wallis … tells it, the 101 played a critical role in creating the West as it came to exist in the American popular imagina- tion…. Full of amazing stories—virtually a who's who of popular Western culture—Wallis's book tells a tale of people in whom genuine accomplishment and show-biz promotion fused in a marriage as quintessentially American as the idea of the Wild West itself." In the New York Times Book Review, Allen Barra praised Wallis as "the first writer to tie together the 101 Ranch's many stories—mentioned in scores of magazine articles and Sunday supplement features, and in at least one previous book." Library Journal correspondent Charles V. Cowling deemed The Real Wild West a "lively account of [a] fascinating family that in many ways exemplified the best and worst of the Old West and helped translate it into popular mythology." In The Economist, a critic concluded: "Anyone curious about the American West should include Michael Wallis's captivating history of the 101 Ranch—a 111,000-acre spread in Oklahoma—on their … reading list. Mr. Wallis cuts through calcified myths with forensic scholarship … recovering for posterity a saga that might otherwise have been lost."
In Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride, considered an "objective, non-sensationalistic biography of legendary outlaw Billy the Kid" by a Kirkus Reviews critic, Wallis "painstakingly sifts fact from fiction" to bring to light a new perspective on Billy the Kid (1859-81). New York Times Book Review critic T.J. Stiles felt that "Wallis's account, though solidly reliable, is not always so compelling. He sometimes steps on his own storytelling, referring to events he has yet to narrate and garbling what should be dramatic scenes." Stiles added that Wallis "writes in his introduction that he hopes to ‘shed a different and fresher light’ on Billy. It's an admirable ambition, but it demands original research or interpretation, preferably both." However, a Publishers Weekly critic had a different take on Wallis's efforts: "Over the decades, countless books have been written about the infamous outlaw, and this is surely one of the best."
In The Lincoln Highway: Coast to Coast from Times Square to the Golden Gate, Wallis takes the reader down another famous American highway. With Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Michael S. Williamson, Wallis follows the original Lincoln Highway through thirteen states "to show us the sights and to reflect on how much (and, now and then, how little) things have changed in America," wrote Jonathan Kirsch in a review of the book for the Los Angeles Times Book Review. The Lincoln Highway—the brainchild of Carl G. Fisher, founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway—was formally announced in 1913 when automobiles were still few and far between in America. Stretching all the way from New York City to San Francisco, the highway, much of which has been replaced or renamed, was comprised of many different roads, including a few dirt roads, and was well on its way to becoming an outdated mode of travel shortly after a new federal highway system was proposed in 1925. In The Lincoln Highway, Wallis "expertly captures the oft-forgotten and offbeat sights and tales of an America bypassed by superhighway," noted a Publishers Weekly critic.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Wallis, Michael, Route 66: The Mother Road, St. Martin's, 1990.
Booklist, June 1, 1993, Angus Trimnell, review of Way Down Yonder in the Indian Nation: Writings from America's Heartland, p. 1779; April 15, 1999, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Real Wild West: The 101 Ranch and the Creation of the American West, p. 1511.
Christian Science Monitor, January 3, 1994, Elizabeth Levitan Spaid, review of Mankiller: A Chief and Her People, p. 13.
Economist, July 17, 1999, review of The Real Wild West, p. 7.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2007, review of Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride, p. 67.
Library Journal, June 1, 1988, Kevin M. Rosswurm, review of Oil Man: The Story of Frank Phillips and the Birth of Phillips Petroleum, p. 108; May 15, 1993, Terri P. Summey, review of Way Down Yonder in the Indian Nation, p. 83; November 15, 1993, Margaret W. Norton, review of Mankiller, p. 84; March 1, 1999, Charles V. Cowling, review of The Real Wild West, p. 98; February 1, 2007, Stephen H. Peters, review of Billy the Kid, p. 83.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 6, 1990, Patrick Carr, review of Route 66: The Mother Road, p. 1; April 19, 1992, Robert Roper, review of Pretty Boy: The Life and Times of Charles Arthur Floyd, p. 2; July 16, 2007, Jonathan Kirsch, review of The Lincoln Highway: Coast to Coast from Times Square to the Golden Gate.
Mademoiselle, February, 1994, Elizabeth Berg, review of Mankiller, p. 68.
New York Times Book Review, July 18, 1999, Allen Barra, "Singing Horses! How the 101 Ranch Turned the Wild West into Show Biz," p. 30; March 25, 2007, T.J. Stiles, review of Billy the Kid.
Oklahoma Today, May-June, 1990, Jeanne M. Devlin, review of Route 66.
Publishers Weekly, May 17, 1993, review of Way Down Yonder in the Indian Nation, p. 58; October 18, 1993, review of Mankiller, p. 60; February 22, 1999, review of The Real Wild West, p. 72; December 18, 2006, review of Billy the Kid, p. 53; May 14, 2007, review of The Lincoln Highway, p. 47.
Wild West, December, 2000, "The 101 Ranch Empire Lives Again in the Real Wild West, Michael Wallis' Award-winning Book," p. 66.
Women's Review of Books, September, 1994, K. Tsianina Lomawaima, review of Mankiller, p. 27.
Michael Wallis Home Page,http://www.michaelwallis.com (September 5, 2007).