“In sunshine and shadow, from darkness till noon
Over mountains that reach from the sky to the moon.
A man with a dream that will never let go
Keeps searching to find El Dorado.
So ride, boldly ride, to the end of the rainbow.
Ride, boldly ride, till you find El Dorado…”
This is the story of a mid-nineteenth century poem adapted into the theme song for a classic motion picture of the mid-twentieth century. Through this unlikely tale weaves the thoughts, talents and very souls of famous people who looked back on their association in both with a certain pride, even joy.
When Lone Star Literary Life requested an accompanying playlist to their book tour arranged for my novel ‘Destiny’s Way,’ I sat down and scribbled about thirty songs in a matter of a few minutes. One of those was the theme song for the 1966 film ‘El Dorado’ starring John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan and a host of character actors as well as a number of up and comings.
The theme song was co-written by Nelson Riddle and John Gabriel, adapted from the 1849 poem by American writer and literary critic Edgar Allan Poe. It was one of his last works and one of my personal all-time favorites.
Taking such a celebrated work and adapting it to another art form can be a chancy thing indeed, but here an unqualified success that has withstood the test of time in its own right. The words were updated for a more modern audience, and the musical score itself is of the type that begins playing in one’s head and then seems to run on near ceaselessly.
Yet a real part of the song’s success was due to a series of paintings that accompany the score. Done by noted western author Olaf Wieghorst, they are real enough to smell the dust and animal sweat, hear the creak of wooden wheels and leather, and to see a glimpse of past life in the American Southwest that no longer exists for most of us.
That many of the landscapes appear to be pulled right out of the lower Big Bend and Davis Mountains only makes the paintings more poignant in bringing back familial memories from long ago.
Such authenticity and tap roots to the imagination do not come by accident. Of everyone who appeared in this movie or had anything to do with it, character actor Olaf Wieghorst was likely the most authentic of all.
Immigrant, actor, stuntman, police officer, cavalry trooper and celebrated artist, Wieghorst was a renaissance man among men. Many people wonder why Hollywood seems so off the mark these days and incapable of truly preeminent productions anymore. The answer is sad but simple: It no longer has men like Olaf Wieghorst providing the foundational supports.
You have to have clay before you can build brick.
The movie El Dorado went on to become a considerable commercial success and continues to enjoy high critical praise, being listed by many reviewers as one of the finest movies ever made.
Works by Olaf Wieghorst have sold at auctions for millions of dollars and remain highly coveted by those with a discerning eye, as well as a full pocket book.
And as far as the tune, in 2014 members of the Western Writers of America selected the theme song for ‘El Dorado’ as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.
The attached photograph was taken by myself inside a small basin along the western slopes of Mule Ear Peaks. It was growing into evening and I had circled around behind the uplifts to come over their southern shoulder, following the general course of an old trail that had long since vanished. The lyrics to El Dorado, as well as the words to Poe’s poem, intermixed in my mind throughout the day.
The link for the song and screen credits for El Dorado, along with those magnificent paintings by Olaf Wieghorst, follows below.
I hope you enjoy both with even the slightest part of sentiment that I feel for each.
For such sentiment is the binding substance of one’s favored memories.
Ben H. English
Front Street Books
Creative Texts Publishers
Crockett County Public Library
Old Town Books
Medina Community Library
The Twig Book Shop
The Boerne Bookshop