Lonsome Dove: Biography
A prolific writer who eschews word processors and writes his work on a manual typewriter, Larry McMurtry is the author of nearly thirty novels, a biography, several memoirs, and works of long and short nonfiction.
Born in 1936 to a ranching family in Wichita Falls, Texas, Larry Jeff McMurtry grew up on the family ranch near Archer City. He worked the ranch and read voraciously through his school years, leaving in 1954 to study first at Rice University in Houston and then to earn a B.A. in English from North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) in 1958.
McMurtry then moved to Houston, where he managed a bookstore while working on his M.A. at Rice. In 1960 he spent at year at Stanford University on the Wallace Stegner Fellowship in fiction writing, working on Horseman, Pass By, a novel adapted in 1963 for the movie Hud. McMurtry returned to Texas to write freelance pieces and teach English and creative writing at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth and then at Rice while working on his own fiction, publishing Leaving Cheyenne in 1963, which was also adapted for screen. These early novels shared a ranch setting.
The year 1964 brought McMurtry a Guggenheim Fellowship in creative writing, allowing him to write full-time. During this time, he married Josephine Ballard, and they had a son. The couple divorced in 1966, the same year in which McMurtry published his novel The Last Picture Show, about three teens growing up in a dying Texas town. The novel reflects McMurtry’s childhood and adolescence in Archer City; in 1971 he co-wrote the screenplay for the award-winning film version of the novel.
Teaching and writing took McMurtry from Texas to the east coast, where he also opened a book store in Washington, D.C. The setting of his novels were at this time more often urban. Terms of Endearment (1975) is among his most critically acclaimed novels; the film version (1983) won several Academy Awards.
Lonesome Dove, published in 1985 and winner of the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, had earlier creative roots. In 1972 director Peter Bogdanovich, who had worked with McMurtry on the film adaptation of The Last Picture Show, suggested collaborating on a western. Though the original film idea, meant to star John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Henry Fonda as aging men coming to grips with their waning powers, was never made, it contained the seeds of the novel. McMurtry bought the script back and laid it aside for some time, finally returning to it when he happened upon a title. As he explains in the preface to the 25th edition of the novel, he saw along a Texas road a faded old bus with the name Lonesome Dove Baptist Church painted on its side. McMurtry needed a title for his story of two former Texas Rangers, and it had come to him, as he writes, “by a miracle.” He completed the manuscript for Lonesome Dove in 1984, and the novel made his fortune, spending 24 weeks on the hardcover bestseller list and another 28 on the paperback list. Lonesome Dove’s roots in the film industry eventually grew into the miniseries adaptation that debuted in 1989.
The late 1980s and early 1990s found McMurtry writing other novels about the Old West, interweaving real historical figures such as Buffalo Bill Cody and fictional characters. He also wrote screenplays and revisited characters from earlier novels, extending their fictional lives in new stories. McMurtry purchased a house in Archer City, which in the 1990s became home. He had already established a branch of his bookstore, Booked Up, in Archer City and now began to spend more time working in it. Booked Up is now among the largest rare and used book stores in Texas, a city McMurtry earlier called “bookless.”
McMurtry continued to produce: novels, screenplays, and a sequel and two prequels to Lonesome Dove, two of which were also adapted for television. He worked with Diana Ossana to adapt the story “Brokeback Mountain” for screen, winning the 2006 Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. As of 2011, McMurtry continues to work and write in Archer City.