Shared from the 3/27/2021 Philadelphia Inquirer - Philly Edition eEdition


Larry McMurtry, 84, ‘Lonesome Dove’ author, scriptwriter


Texas-born Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry took on the romanticized mythos of his native state, steadfast cowboys and noble Westerners, in Lonesome Dove and The Last Picture Show. AP File

Larry McMurtry, a Texas-born, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and Oscar-winning screenwriter who pierced the myth of the Lone Star State’s romanticized past in works such as Lonesome Dove and The Last Picture Show, died March 25 at his home in Tucson, Ariz. He was 84.

His wife, Faye Kesey Mc-Murtry, confirmed the death but said she did not know the cause.

In a prodigious career spanning more than six decades, Mr. McMurtry wrote more than 30 novels, scripts for nearly as many movies and television series, three memoirs, and biographies of Western characters including Crazy Horse, George Custer, and Buffalo Bill.

His best-known work remains Lonesome Dove, an epic novel about cowboys and cattle drives, grizzled Texas Rangers, frontier prostitutes, dexterous gamblers, odoriferous buffalo hunters, and other roisterous denizens of the American West. The book sold more than 1 million copies, received the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and became a popular CBS miniseries starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall.

“Some claim the three essential books in Texas history are the Bible, the Warren Commission report, and Larry Mc-Murtry’s ‘Lonesome Dove,’ ” historian Douglas Brinkley wrote in a 2017 New York Times essay.

Ironically, Lonesome Dove appeared just a few years after Mr. McMurtry wrote a long essay for the Texas Observer in which he gigged his fellow Texas writers for their unseemly swoon over cowboys and for their lingering attachment to a rural Texas yesteryear. Relishing the role of curmudgeon, he observed that the open range had sprouted sprawling suburbia, that old barns and rustic windmills had given way to sleek glass towers thrusting skyward in several of the nation’s largest cities.

His own acclaimed trilogy of Houston novels — Moving On (1970), All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers (1972) and Terms of Endearment (1975) — plumbed the textured richness, brio, and occasional craziness of one of America’s fastest-growing metropolitan areas.

Besides Lonesome Dove, several of Mr. McMurtry’s books made acclaimed translations to the screen, notably Terms of Endearment, The Last Picture Show and Horseman, Pass By, the last of which was adapted into the Paul Newman drama Hud in 1963.

In 2006, Mr. McMurtry shared an Academy Award with Diana Ossana, his frequent collaborator, for their adaptation of a 1997 short story by Annie Proulx about a tragic, decades-long love affair between two gay cowboys. The story became the hit movie Brokeback Mountain (2006).

Mr. McMurtry’s literary ambitions, for himself and his town, could be traced to a childhood on his family’s struggling cattle ranch. When a cousin went away to World War II and left him a box of boyhood adventure books, he began “a subversive, deeply engrossing secret life as a reader,” he wrote in a 1999 memoir, Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen.

“Unfit for ranch work because of my indifference to cattle,” he continued, “I went instead into the antiquarian book trade, becoming, in effect, a book rancher.”

Larry Jeff McMurtry was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, on June 3, 1936, and grew up on a ranch outside nearby Archer City. He graduated from what is now the University of North Texas in 1958 and received a master’s degree in English from Rice University in 1960.

While at North Texas, he enrolled in a creative writing course and wrote a short story dealing with the death of a Texas Panhandle rancher who resembled the legendary Charles Goodnight. The story blossomed into his first novel, Horseman, Pass By (1961), about a charismatically amoral rancher who doesn’t care about selling poisoned cattle to his neighbors and will do anything to take control of his father’s ranch. In the film version, Melvyn Douglas, as the stoic father, and Patricia Neal, as the housekeeper Newman’s Hud tries to rape, earned Oscars.

Mr. McMurtry continued to publish at a heady pace in recent years. President Barack Obama awarded him the National Humanities Medal in 2014.

He married Faye Kesey, the widow of novelist Ken Kesey, in 2011. They had met more than a half-century earlier when Mr. Mc-Murtry and Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, were writing fellows at Stanford University.

Mr. McMurtry’s first marriage, to novelist Jo Scott McMurtry, ended in divorce. They had a son, singer-songwriter James Mc-Murtry, but complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

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