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    Larry McMurtry

    Larry McMurtry 1978

    This profile originally appeared in Plotpoints Podcast, May 21, 2021

    You could be forgiven if you know novelist/scriptwriter Larry McMurtry from only his multiple award-winning novel and mini-series “Lonesome Dove.” But McMurtry was pounding out both novels and screenplays on many more topics than the west right from the start of his career. He was never a one-off kind of writer.

    McMurtry was born in Texas so it made a lot of sense for him to focus on the Lonestar State. He actually grew up on a ranch outside of Archer City which he renamed to the town of Thalia for his novels.

    An odd bit of information from McMurtry’s memoirs states that he didn’t have any books when he was growing up until about the age of six. He inherited a boxload of young adult books from a cousin heading off to serve in World War II and began reading the western adventures left to him. One has to wonder but for this bit of serendipitous inheritance would we have been denied this amazing writer?

    A Texas boy through and through McMurtry got a bachelors and masters degree of arts from two Texas universities.

    He was also an academic fellow at Stanford Creative Writing with some impressive classmates including Ken Keasey, and then back to Texas when he did a year at TCU.

    A breakthrough occurred when McMurtry’s novel “Horseman, Pass By” which was purchased and filmed as “Hud” starring Paul Newman as the titular character was produced. The film was nominated for seven Oscars and rocketed McMurtry to the A-list of novelists whose stories Hollywood wanted to tell.

    “The Last Picture Show” was next. Set in Texas in the early 50's, it starred a young Sybil Sheppard, Jeff Bridges, and many other amazing actors. McMurtry wrote both the novel and screenplay. It told the story of coming of age in a town that is slowly dying. Picture Show, directed by Peter Bogdonavich, was nominated for eight Oscars in 1972, including adapted screenplay, winning two.

    McMurtry never looked back.

    From that point forward almost everything he wrote, novels or screenplays, generated commercial success, critical praise, and most times both.

    Consider the scope of McMurtry who not only wrote convincingly about the west both in modern days and historically, but was also surprisingly versatile in just pure drama.

    “Terms of Endearment,” a modern family’s tale of pain, loss, and survival was nominated for 11 Oscars, winning five, and was based on McMurtry’s book of the same name.

    But perhaps nothing typifies the McMurtry touch more than the novel “Lonesome Dove” which started life as a screenplay co-written with Peter Bogdanovich, was then adapted to novel, and then back to television by McMurtry.

    The original 1989 production starred some of the most-celebrated actors in the business and has won numerous awards. The series itself has been nominated dozens of times for various awards and won a clutch of Emmys as well as Golden Globes and DGA nods.

    The novel “Lonesome Dove” won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.

    McMurtry wrote a sequel called “The Streets of Laredo,” and two prequels, “Dead Man's Walk” and “Comanche Moon” all made into TV series.

    Just turning 70 and still breaking barriers, McMurtry wrote the Academy Award-winning “Brokeback Mountain” which told the heartbreaking tale of two cowboys trying to both accept and deny their homosexuality. “Brokeback Mountain” won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for McMurtry, and best director and musical score. It also nominated and won a ton of other writing awards including the Bafta and Writer’s Guild Awards.

    Writers like McMurty are probably once in a generation - if that. So complete a story-teller, that nothing it seemed was beyond his genuine and genius touch as he probed both the best and worst of us, and the best and worst of times.

    In March, at the age of 84, McMurtry passed away in Archer City, Texas, where he had started the long journey in literary, motion picture, and TV success.

    He will be sorely missed.

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