Larry McMurtry was born in Archer City, Texas to William Jefferson and Hazel Ruth McIver McMurtry, a ranching family. He relates that his family had been ranchers since the 1870s and that it had included several trail drivers among his uncles and other relatives. Accordingly, some of his tales were developed from stories he had been told when he was a boy. McMurtry lived on a ranch south of Archer City near a local landmark known as “Idiot’s Ridge” until he was old enough to go to school and his parents moved into town.
After graduating from high school in Archer City, he entered college at Rice University, but soon withdrew and transferred to University of North Texas in Denton where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree. McMurtry later returned to Rice where he earned a Master of Arts degree. He also studied at Stanford for a while until he secured a position as an instructor at TCU in Fort Worth. Around that time, he completed his first novel, Horseman, Pass By, set in North Texas. One of the book’s main characters was named Hud and the book became the basis for the Paul Newman film Hud. McMurtry would follow this with two more novels, Leaving Cheyenne, and The Last Picture Show. All three were set in the fictional town of Thalia, based on his home town of Archer City.
The concept for Lonesome Dove was conceived in the early 1970s as the basis for a feature film to be directed by Peter Bogdanovich, with whom McMurtry had worked on The Last Picture Show. McMurtry said the name “Lonesome Dove” came from words written on the side of a church bus that drove past a North Texas restaurant where he was eating. The novel was published by Simon and Schuster in 1985. McMurtry was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Lonesome Dove the following year. The success of the book revived talks of adapting it for a feature film, but instead, the project that developed was for a four part miniseries that aired on CBS in 1989. The film rights to Lonesome Dove had been optioned by Motown Records, but rather than to try and edit the story down to feature film length, Motown had opted to produce it as a miniseries, which was quite successful at the time. Since then, videos of the miniseries have been consistently good sellers. The story line also inspired a television series that ran for 43 episodes from 1994 to 1996.
Parts of the original narrative mirror actual events and characters in Texas history, though McMurtry has maintained that the characters Gus and Call are inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ characters Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, as opposed to being specifically based on Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. The character Josh Deets reminds the reader of Black cowboy Bose Ikard. Gus’ incredibly long rifle shot gun shot that stopped a bandit and Indian attack in one scene of Episode 2 reminds us of the long range rifle shot of William Dixon that ended the Second Battle of Adobe Walls. The death of character Blue Duck closely resembles the death of Kiowa Chief Satanta, though the actual historical character by that nickname was a Cherokee who mainly lived his life as an outlaw. The outlaw Blue Duck, also known as Bluford Duck, was eventually captured and imprisoned for a number of years before becoming terminally ill, having contracted tuberculosis. Near the end of his life, he was released from prison and returned home to die in Oklahoma.
The success of the book inspired McMurtry to write two sequels and a prequel. In addition to the fictional characters throughout the series, a number of individuals from Texas history are referenced in the series, including Chief Buffalo Hump, Sally Scull and others. In order of publication, the latter books are Streets of Laredo, Dead Man’s Walk and Comanche Moon.
Other McMurtry novels that went on to be adapted for the big screen and have not been previously mentioned include Terms of Endearment, Lovin’ Molly, Texasville, Falling from Grace and The Evening Star. He collaborated with his friend and writing partner Diana Osssana to write the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain. Television projects adapted from his work include The Murder of Mary Phagan, Montana, Memphis, the Lonesome Dove television series, Buffalo Girls, Streets of Laredo, Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years, Deadman’s Walk, Johnson County War and Comanche Moon. In addition to all his many fictional works, McMurtry has written over a dozen nonfiction books, including three volumes of his own memoirs which make quite interesting reading for anyone interested in his work and how the television and film adaptations came to be.
McMurtry does not use computers but instead types his manuscripts on one of his collection of old typewriters. He still still regularly writes, and spends most of his time in the west, either at his home in Tucson, Arizona or back in Archer City, Texas.
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