Remembering Larry McMurtry

When the alert came across my phone that author Larry McMurtry had died, I thought back to my interview with Tommy Lee Jones.

I was living and working in San Antonio, Texas. Jones was living there for a time. I tried repeatedly to interview him. He finally gave in, but there was one condition. He asked that I allow him to bring his son’s scout troop to our TV station for a tour. Then, I got the interview. Done.

The tour happened, and Tommy Lee Jones sat down for the interview. He insisted all those scouts be on the set with us. Okay, I had come this far with it. Why not?

Tommy Lee Jones did not like being interviewed. I’m told he still doesn’t. I was young and dumb. I asked a terrible question. “What’s your favorite role?” He looked at me and said, “What’s your favorite role I’ve done? I gulped. I said, “Woodrow Call in Lonesome Dove.” He paused. Smiled and said, “Yeah, that was a good ‘un.”

Larry McMurtry wrote a lot of “good ‘uns.” Lonesome Dove was perhaps his best. A western “Gone With the Wind.” If you haven’t read it, please do. I’ll see you in a few months. It’s that long.

Even if you have never read his books, you know his film and TV work. “The Last Picture Show.” “Terms of Endearment.” “Brokeback Mountain.” Yeah, all those Larry McMurtry wrote. And lots of other great reads.

A word of warning… if you start reading any of his books, don’t get too attached to any of his characters. Someone you love is going to die. Usually, sadly. Sometimes hilariously. Even violently. Always, though, they die well.

Larry McMurtry was the ultimate non-Texan, Texan. His New York Times obituary talks about how he was the son of a rancher in Archer City, Texas. He never got the hang of ranching.

He wrote books instead. Thirty novels. “I’m a critic of the myth of the cowboy,” he once said. Somehow though, his criticism managed to romanticize them. Will you ever forget the love between Ennis and Jack in “Brokeback Mountain?” Two cowboys in love. That sure broke some myths.

The last scene in “Brokeback Mountain” still gets to me. Ennis learns that Jack is dead. He goes to his home. Folds his clothes. Buttons his shirt that’s hanging in the closet. Sees the picture of the mountain, their mountain. Ennis says almost mumbling, “Jack, I swear.” My interpretation of that is, “Jack, I swear I’m sorry I never told you I loved you.” It’s gut wrenching. Even now.

Being a gay man from Paris, Texas, “Brokeback Mountain” was an important movie for me. Brave performances from Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana had written the screenplay from Anne Proulx book. They won an Oscar for it.

I remember stopping at the Magnolia Theatre in Dallas to see it. I was traveling from Paris to Tampa. I built in some time to see the movie. It was an afternoon. The theatre was almost empty. I sat there alone. Glad no one was around.

Larry McMurtry never left Archer City. He wrote from there. He sold books from there. At one point, his “Booked Up” store took up six buildings in Archer City.

His personal book collection was said to be over 30,000 titles.

What I think I loved most about Larry McMurtry’s writing was how he gave his characters such great voices. I feel like I knew some of them.

Woodrow and Gus in “Lonesome Dove.” Aurora in “Terms of Endearment.” Jacy and Duane in “The Last Picture Show.” Jack and Ennis in “Brokeback Mountain.”

There’s a great exchange between Gus and Woodrow toward the end of “Lonesome Dove.” As he lay dying. Gus says, “It’s been a great party, ain’t it?”

Ahhh. Yes, it was, Larry McMurtry. It’s been a great party. A “good ‘un.”

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