Adios, Larry McMurtry

My Larry McMurtry collection falls far short of his actual output.

Larry McMurtry has loaded up his last rented Lincoln Continental and rolled west, into the sunset.

I didn’t come close to reading his entire output, but I managed more than a few of his novels; it’s a habit I have, working my way steadily through an author’s collected works.

Got started with “The Last Picture Show,” as I recall, after seeing the movie of the same name. Finished with “Duane’s Depressed.”

And is there anyone who didn’t read “Lonesome Dove?” As Skip Hollandsworth writes in his remembrance of McMurtry at Texas Monthly:

McMurtry had spent years railing against writers who produced clichéd novels about the Old West. He swore he would never stoop to writing a western. But he did, and the novel he produced gripped the public’s imagination. “Lonesome Dove” won the Pulitzer Prize and sold nearly 300,000 copies in hardcover and more than a million copies in paperback. It spawned a sequel as well as prequels, and became one of the most popular miniseries of all time, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall. To Texans, went one joke, “Lonesome Dove” was the third-most-important book in publishing history, right behind the Bible and the Warren Commission Report.

Like Stephen King, McMurtry was too preposterously prolific for some critics. Also like King, he wasn’t always winning Pulitzers for his work.

But he buckled down and got to ’er anyway. As his writing partner Diana Ossana told Hollandsworth: “Larry is like an old cowboy who has to get up in the morning and do some chores. He has to get up and write.”

Not anymore, he doesn’t. He can pull off the boots, put up his feet, and enjoy a well-deserved rest.

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15 Responses to “Adios, Larry McMurtry”

  1. carl duellman Says:

    i’ve read ‘lonesome dove’ a few times but i never saw the tv show. was it any good? i could imagine a netflix remake. i’m sure his son will have a nice remembrance.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Y’know, I don’t remember the TV miniseries at all. There was some talent in there, though. Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Danny Glover, Diane Lane, Angelica Huston, Barry Corbin, Steve Buscemi, William Sanderson, etc. It’d be hard to go astray with that crowd.

    • JD Says:

      Carl: FWIW, I thought the TV show was great. It’s been so long ago that if I remember it as being really good, then consider that a supreme compliment. 🙂
      PO’G, as usual, nails it: great story; great production; great actors.
      A humble tip of the Stetson to Larry.

    • DownhillBill Says:

      Never read any of his work, but liked the TV miniseries a great deal.

      Be sure to check out his son James’ music. I’ve seen & met him, and the apple fell remarkably close to his parents’ literary tree.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        I have his “Childish Things” on the iTunes. And did you know that James had a role in the “Lonesome Dove” miniseries? True fact. He played Jimmy Rainey.

        Here’s his website.

        • DownhillBill Says:

          ! Didn’t know that. “Childish Things” is a superb album, my fave of his. I liked the quote on his site from a writer for Relix :
          “Think Steve Earle with an even more pointed – and sometimes sharper – vision.”
          He’d fit in well around here, I think.

  2. SAO' Says:

    Damn it.

  3. Randolph Says:

    I first read All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers after a woman friend raved about it. I was hooked on McMurtry immediately. My sweetheart and I read many of his books aloud to each other. She was, and still is, astounded by his ability to realistically create women characters.

    One of a kind.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      One of my favorite authors, Jim Harrison, reviewed that one for The New York Times in 1972. He writes, among other things:

      The narrator is so painfully vulnerable and likable in his rites de passage that McMurtry’s development of his character is harrowing in the old, religious sense of the word. Rather than the arch or fey “writer’s life,” we have a tale that might have been told by an intensely literate Merle Haggard or a surreal Jimmy Rodgers.

      Ol’ Jimbo could really sling the word salad his own bad self. I miss him immensely.

  4. SAO' Says:

    My brother told me I had to read As You Wish, because around 20% of it is a tribute to Andre the Giant. And it’s a damn good yarn, reads like a novel, and you forget you’re reading about the making of something else.

    I mention that because, every loves “the making of” books, but we don’t go out of our way to buy them, and you have to twist people’s arms to write them. Not sure why that is.

    And the reason I mention THAT is, McMurtry had an interesting life, even if you take away 90% of his output. I might have my math wrong, but IIRC, everyone was making movies out of his books, but no one asked him to do the screenplays. (Maybe they asked him and he turned them down?) Then out of nowhere, he’s writing the screenplay for an Annie Proulx short story? Wonder what it was that kept him from adapting his own work, then getting him to dive in with someone else’s?

    Moving over to Ossana, she’s been writing with Larry and on her own forever, but then she reads Brokeback, and she says, I’m not just going to write the screenplay, I’m going to produce the damn thing.

    Gotta be a good story-behind-the-story there.

    Stephen Sondheim’s birthday was this week. Dude won the Pulitzer for writing, “Art isn’t easy.” Yeah, no kidding. You wanna expand on that a little, maybe?

    Anyway, toast to one of the great ones.

    • SAO' Says:

      Correction: McMurty did the screenplay for The Last Picture Show, sharing credit with Peter Bogdanovich. But PB wrote the screenplay for Texasville, solo credit there.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I appreciated “Duane’s Depressed.” Ol’ Duane got tired of being himself and decided not to do that shit anymore. I experienced some kinship with that guy. At times I’ve felt slightly hemmed in by my public persona as a bull-goose loony — “I saw a few things and raved for money,” as Chet Pomeroy put it in Thomas McGuane’s “Panama” — and it is no easy task to stop living up (or down) to people’s expectations of you. Duane literally walked away from all that.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I’ve seen it mentioned a time or two that McMurtry wasn’t interested in a book once he was done with it, and for an extended period even came to dislike much of his own prose. It must’ve been tough to get him to rework a tale for a different medium, though he clearly was not above revisiting tales for his own purposes, as with the Thalia stories.

  5. Dale Says:

    “The Last Picture Show” is a classic movie. It describes the decline of small rural towns, love and charity, poverty and privilege, and neglect and indifference. Oh man, Sam the Lion was my favorite character. And it was in black and white to boot.

  6. khal spencer Says:

    With apologies to O’Grady for going off topic, but of serious relevance to the local community.
    https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/santa-fe-police-investigate-possible-arson-at-cerrillos-road-bike-shop/article_4dbee3f2-8e47-11eb-8261-afee9b258f24.html

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