The Shooting of Dan McGrew
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The tale takes place in a Yukon saloon during the Yukon Gold Rush of the late 1890s. It tells of three characters: Dan McGrew, a rough-neck prospector; McGrew's sweetheart "Lou", a formidable pioneer woman; and a mysterious, weather-worn stranger who wanders into the saloon where the former are among a crowd of drinkers. The stranger buys drinks for the crowd, and then proceeds to the piano, where he plays a song that is alternately robust and then plaintively sad. He appears to have had a past with both McGrew and Lou, and has come to settle a grudge. Gunshots break out, McGrew and the stranger kill each other, and "the Lady that's known as Lou" ends up with the stranger's "poke of gold".
The poet was a Scotsman who came to Canada as a young adult, and was fascinated with the lives and landscapes of the Canadian Northwest where he went to work. Along with "The Cremation of Sam McGee", this poem was arguably his best known. It was the basis of a 1998 novel, The Man From the Creeks, by Robert Kroetsch, a longtime admirer of Service's works. It was also the inspiration for the 1949 song "Dangerous Dan McGrew" by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians. Also it has been recalled in the fourth strophe of the song "Put the Blame on Mame", sung by Rita Hayworth in 1945 movie "Gilda"; the text claims that rather than being shot and killed, Dan McGrew was slain by Mame's "hoochy-coo" dance.
The poem's unique history – as a spoken word piece – was highlighted when US President Ronald Reagan and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney did their own alternating recital of the poem – in private meetings and in public.
Mentioning of the poem
In F. Scott Fitzgerald's story "The Ice Palace", after Roger Patton jokingly calls Sally Carrol "Carmen from the South," she responds in kind by calling him Dangerous Dan McGrew, saying "He's the only Northerner I know much about."
In the 1970s, the British comedian Tommy Cooper famously developed a "hat-routine" that accompanied his adapted recitation of the poem.
The poem is spoken by James Van Der Beek in the role of Anthony Steven "Tony Zappa" Wright in the movie Taken in Broad Daylight while driving through Wyoming and speaking of his dream of going to the Yukon.
The poem is mentioned in the movie The Spoilers starring John Wayne by the poet himself Robert W. Service who makes an uncredited appearance in the film. The following dialog is from the film:
Marlene Dietrich: Hello, Mr. Service, writing a poem about me?
Mr. Service: Not this time, Cherry. This is about a lady known as Lou.
Marlene Dietrich: Is there a man in her life?
Mr. Service: Yes, he's called Dan McGrew. He's a bad actor. He gets shot.
Marlene Dietrich: Sounds exciting. The shooting of Dan McGrew.
The last track on Dreadzone's 1995 Second Light album "Out of Heaven" contains a re-arranged extract: "high overhead, the North Lights swept in bars. Green, yellow and red. The music, the night and the stars".
The 2006 album "Magnificent City" (Aceyalone and RJD2) features a modern hip-hop adaptation of the poem as the song Solomon Jones.
- Charlotte MacLeod, writing as Alisa Craig, had one of her characters write a play based on The Shooting of Dan McGrew in her 1988 mystery novel, The Grub-and-Stakers Pinch a Poke. The poem is quoted at the beginning of the book.
- The Shooting of Dan McGoo, 1945 cartoon directed by Tex Avery.