In addition to books, Larry McMurtry has been a prolific writer of screenplays.
“I’ve never scorned screenwriting,” Larry McMurtry writes in his memoir Hollywood, noting that he’s been hired on nearly 70 jobs in Tinseltown. “It’s a necessary and honorable craft.” McMurtry gets co-writing credit on the upcoming Mark Wahlberg drama Joe Bell, about an Oregon man who walks across the country. Until that comes out, these McMurtry films are worth a second (or third) screening — so is Lonesome Dove, of course, but that miniseries didn’t make the list because it was adapted for TV by Texas treasure Bill Wittliff.
Adapted from his novel Horseman, Pass By, this Academy Award winner (including Best Cinematography) launched McMurtry in Hollywood. Paul Newman, the man with the most famous blue eyes in movie history, relied on raw grit and a pretty good Texas accent to carry this black-and-white cattle-ranch classic filmed on location in the Texas Panhandle.
Co-written by McMurtry and director Peter Bogdanovich, this semiautobiographical ode to the tumbleweed rhythms of 1950s rural Texas was shot in McMurtry’s hometown of Archer City. It featured Jeff Bridges, Cloris Leachman, and Ellen Burstyn, but it was stunning 21-year-old newcomer Cybill Shepherd, as the small-town enchantress, who stole the show.
Funny, wrenching, and finally heartwarming, the film — which won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay from McMurtry’s novel — spans 30 years of a difficult relationship between mother Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) and daughter Emma (Debra Winger). Jeff Daniels, Jack Nicholson, John Lithgow, and Danny DeVito shine in their supporting roles as various husbands and suitors.
McMurtry and writing partner Diana Ossana took Annie Proulx’s 11-page short story about an intense emotional and sexual relationship between two conflicted cowboys (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) and turned it into the most talked-about film of 2005. McMurtry accepted his Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay wearing cowboy boots.
Photography: Images courtesy ScreenProd/PhotoNonstop/Alamy Stock Photo, Allstar Picture Library Limited
From our August/September 2020 issue.