Larry McMurtry

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Larry McMurtry
Larry Jeff McMurtry

(1936-06-03) June 3, 1936 (age 84)
EducationUniversity of North Texas
Rice University
OccupationNovelist, screenwriter, essayist, bookseller
Years active1961–present

Larry Jeff McMurtry (born June 3, 1936) is an American novelist, essayist, bookseller, and screenwriter whose work is predominantly set in either the Old West or in contemporary Texas.[1] His novels include Horseman, Pass By (1962), The Last Picture Show (1966), and Terms of Endearment (1975), which were adapted into films earning a total of 26 Oscar nominations (10 wins).

His 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Lonesome Dove, was adapted into a television miniseries that earned 18 Emmy Award nominations (seven wins). The subsequent three novels in his Lonesome Dove series were adapted as three more miniseries, earning eight more Emmy nominations. McMurtry and cowriter Diana Ossana adapted the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain (2005), which earned eight Academy Award nominations with three wins, including McMurtry and Ossana for Best Adapted Screenplay.

In 2014 he was the recipient of the National Humanities Medal.[2]

Early life[edit]

McMurtry was born in Archer City, Texas, 25 miles from Wichita Falls, Texas, the son of Hazel Ruth (née McIver) and William Jefferson McMurtry, who was a rancher.[3] He grew up on a ranch outside Archer City. The city was the model for the town of Thalia which is a setting for much of his fiction. He earned degrees from the University of North Texas (B.A. 1958) and Rice University (M.A. 1960).

In his memoir, McMurtry says that during his first five or six years in his grandfather's ranch house, there were no books, but his extended family would sit on the front porch every night and tell stories. In 1942, when his cousin Robert Hilburn was on his way to enlist for World War II, he stopped by the ranch house and left a box containing 19 books. McMurtry then began to read. The books were standard boys' adventure tales of the 1930s, and he read them endlessly. The first book he read was Sergeant Silk: The Prairie Scout.[4]



During the 1960–1961 academic year, McMurtry was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, where he studied the craft of fiction under Frank O'Connor and Malcolm Cowley, alongside other aspiring writers, including Ken Kesey, Peter S. Beagle, and Gurney Norman. Stegner was on sabbatical in Europe during McMurtry's fellowship year.

McMurtry and Kesey remained friends after McMurtry left California and returned to Texas to take a year-long composition instructorship at Texas Christian University. In 1963, he returned to Rice University, where he served as a lecturer in English until 1969. He entertained some of his early students with accounts of Hollywood and the filming of Hud, for which he was consulting. In 1964, Kesey and his Merry Pranksters conducted their noted cross-country trip, stopping at McMurtry's home in Houston. The adventure in the day-glo-painted school bus Furthur was chronicled by Tom Wolfe in his book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

That same year, McMurtry was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. McMurtry has also won the Jesse H. Jones Award from the Texas Institute of Letters on three occasions: in 1962, for Horseman, Pass By; in 1967, for The Last Picture Show, which he shared with Tom Pendleton's The Iron Orchard; and in 1986, for Lonesome Dove. He has also won the Amon G. Carter award for periodical prose in 1966, for Texas: Good Times Gone or Here Again?.[5][6] In 1986, McMurtry received the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award. The Helmerich Award is presented annually by the Tulsa Library Trust.

McMurtry described his method for writing novels in Books: A Memoir. He says that from his first novel on, he would get up early and dash off five pages of narrative. When he published the memoir in 2008, he said this was still his method, although by then, he wrote 10 pages a day. He also writes every day, ignoring holidays and weekends.[7]

McMurtry has been a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books.[8] He has served as president of PEN.[9][10][11]

Used bookstore businesses[edit]

While at Stanford, McMurtry became a rare-book scout. During his years in Houston, he managed a book store called the Bookman. In 1969, he moved to the Washington, DC, area. In 1970 with two partners, he started a bookshop in Georgetown which he named Booked Up. In 1988, he opened another Booked Up in Archer City. It became one of the largest used bookstores in the United States, carrying between 400,000 and 450,000 titles. Citing economic pressures from internet bookselling, McMurtry came close to shutting down the Archer City store in 2005, but chose to keep it open after great public support.

In early 2012, McMurtry decided to downsize and sell off the greater portion of his inventory. He felt the collection was a liability for his heirs.[12] The auction was conducted on August 10 and 11, 2012, and was overseen by Addison and Sarova Auctioneers of Macon, Georgia. This epic book auction sold books by the shelf, and was billed as "The Last Booksale," in keeping with the title of McMurtry's The Last Picture Show. Dealers, collectors, and gawkers came out en masse from all over the country to witness this historic auction. As stated by McMurtry on the weekend of the sale, "I've never seen that many people lined up in Archer City, and I'm sure I never will again."

One of McMurtry's bookstores in Archer City, Texas.
One of the aisles of books at Booked Up in Archer City.
Bookstore Cat, Booked Up 2008.

Film and television[edit]

McMurtry became well known for the film adaptations of his work, which were seen by many viewers, especially Hud (from the novel Horseman, Pass By), starring Paul Newman and Patricia Neal; the Peter Bogdanovich–directed The Last Picture Show; James L. Brooks's Terms of Endearment, which won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture (1984); and Lonesome Dove, which became a popular television miniseries starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall.

In 2006, he was co-winner (with Diana Ossana) of both the Best Screenplay Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Brokeback Mountain, adapted from a short story by E. Annie Proulx. He accepted his Oscar while wearing a dinner jacket over jeans and cowboy boots. In his speech, he promoted books, reminding the audience the movie was developed from a short story. In his Golden Globe acceptance speech, he paid tribute to his Swiss-made Hermes 3000 typewriter.

Writing style[edit]

Michael Korda, McMurtry's long-time publisher at Simon & Schuster described McMurtry's writing style,

"Though in later years I sometimes jokingly referred to McMurtry as 'the Flaubert of the Plains', he was already an unusual phenomenon in American writing. He came out of the gate (to use the rodeo terminology) with a remarkable ability to write about women and an absolutely sure eye for the bleak landscape of small-town Texas and the isolated ranches of the Panhandle, as well as the history of the West....He came with a perfectly developed sense of place, which gave all his fiction a deep, solid bedrock, but he was able to put women in a landscape as no other Western writer ever has, and he did it in his very first novel with the sure touch of a mature artist."[13]

Personal life[edit]

He married Jo Scott, who is an English professor, and has written five books. They had a son together before divorce, James McMurtry. He and grandson Curtis McMurtry are both singer/songwriters and guitarists.

In 1991 McMurtry underwent heart surgery.[14] During his recovery, he suffered severe depression. He wrote the novel Streets of Laredo during this period.[15]

McMurtry married Norma Faye Kesey, the widow of writer Ken Kesey, on April 29, 2011 in a civil ceremony in Archer City.[16]


[citation needed]

Standalone novels[edit]

  • 1982: Cadillac Jack
  • 1988: Anything For Billy (fictionalized biography of Billy the Kid)
  • 1990: Buffalo Girls (fictionalized biography of Calamity Jane) – adapted for TV as Buffalo Girls
  • 1994: Pretty Boy Floyd (with Diana Ossana) (fictionalised biography of titular gangster)
  • 1997: Zeke and Ned (with Diana Ossana) (fictionalized biography of the last Cherokee warriors)
  • 2000: Boone's Lick
  • 2005: Loop Group
  • 2006: Telegraph Days
  • 2014: The Last Kind Words Saloon

Thalia: A Texas Trilogy[edit]

Larry McMurtry's first three novels, all set in the north Texas town of Thalia after World War II

Harmony and Pepper series[edit]

The books follow the story of mother/daughter characters Harmony and Pepper

  • 1983: The Desert Rose
  • 1995: The Late Child

Duane Moore series[edit]

The books follow the story of character Duane Moore

  • 1966: The Last Picture Show – adapted for film as The Last Picture Show
  • 1987: Texasville – adapted for film as Texasville
  • 1999: Duane's Depressed
  • 2007: When The Light Goes
  • 2009: Rhino Ranch: A Novel

Houston series[edit]

The books follow the stories of occasionally recurring characters living in the Houston, Texas, area

  • 1970: Moving On (characters Patsy Carpenter/Danny Deck/Emma Horton/Joe Percy)
  • 1972: All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers (Danny Deck/Jill Peel/Emma Horton)
  • 1975: Terms of Endearment (Emma Horton/Aurora Greenaway) – adapted for film as Terms of Endearment
  • 1978: Somebody's Darling (Jill Peel/Joe Percy)
  • 1989: Some Can Whistle (Danny Deck)
  • 1992: The Evening Star (Aurora Greenaway) – adapted for film as The Evening Star

Lonesome Dove series[edit]

The Contrabando, a ghost town and movie set within Big Bend Ranch State Park, used for making the "Dead Man's Walk" and "Streets of Laredo" parts of the Lonesome Dove miniseries.

The Berrybender Narratives[edit]

As editor[edit]

  • 1999: Still Wild: A Collection of Western Stories

Other writings[edit]


  • 1968: In A Narrow Grave: Essays on Texas
  • 1974: It's Always We Rambled (essay)
  • 1987: Film Flam: Essays on Hollywood
  • 1999: Crazy Horse: A Life (biography)
  • 1999: Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections on Sixty and Beyond
  • 2000: Roads: Driving America's Great Highways
  • 2001: Sacagawea's Nickname—essays on the American West
  • 2002: Paradise—South-Pacific travelogue/memoir
  • 2005: The Colonel and Little Missie: Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley & the Beginnings of Superstardom in America
  • 2005: Oh What A Slaughter! : Massacres in the American West: 1846—1890
  • 2008: Books: A Memoir
  • 2009: Literary Life: A Second Memoir
  • 2011: Hollywood: A Third Memoir
  • 2012: Custer



  • 1977: The American Film Institute's 10th Anniversary Special (writer)
  • 1988: The Murder of Mary Phagan (mini-series based on story)
  • 1989: Lonesome Dove (mini-series based on 1986 novel)
  • 1990: Montana (original screenplay)
  • 1992: Memphis (teleplay)
  • 1993: Return to Lonesome Dove (based on the fictional universe of the 1986 novel)
  • 1994–1995: Lonesome Dove: The Series (based on the fictional universe of the 1986 novel)
  • 1995: Buffalo Girls (based on 1990 novel)
  • 1995: Streets of Laredo (based on 1993 novel)
  • 1995–1996: Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years (based on the fictional world of the 1986 novel)
  • 1996: Dead Man's Walk (based on 1995 novel)
  • 2002: Johnson County War (wrote teleplay)
  • 2008: Comanche Moon (based on 1997 novel)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hugh Rawson Archived 2008-08-29 at the Wayback Machine "Screenings," American Heritage, April/May 2006.
  2. ^ "Larry McMurtry". The National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved 2020-12-09.
  3. ^ Larry (Jeff) McMurtry Biography (1936–) Early years
  4. ^ McMurtry, Larry (2008). Books: A Memoir. pp. 1–8.
  5. ^ Texas Institute of Letters- what awards are for
  6. ^ Texas Institute of Letters Complete List of Winners Archived 2010-04-15 at the Wayback Machine Requires Adobe acrobat
  7. ^ McMurtry, Larry (2008). Books : a memoir (1st Simon & Schuster hardcover ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 49. ISBN 9781416583349.
  8. ^ Page on the author, from the New York Review of Books website
  9. ^ "(web page from about "BOARD OF TRUSTEES HISTORY" for 1989–1990, showing that Larry McMurtry was the President of PEN at that time)". PEN American Center. Archived from the original on 2009-03-30. Retrieved 2009-04-26.
  10. ^ "(web page from about "BOARD OF TRUSTEES HISTORY" for 1990–1991, showing that Larry McMurtry was the President of PEN at that time)". PEN American Center. Archived from the original on 2009-03-30. Retrieved 2009-04-26.
  11. ^ the second-to-last paragraph of the "Biographical Sketch" section of the "Larry McMurtry Collection" web page at (Retrieved on 2009 – April 26)
  12. ^ Lindenberger, Michael (August 15, 2012). "The Great Book Sale of Teas". Time. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  13. ^ 1933-, Korda, Michael (1999). Another life: a memoir of other people (1st ed.). New York: Random House. pp. 285–291. ISBN 0679456597. OCLC 40180750.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Hoinski, Michael. "'Lonesome Dove' Legend Larry McMurtry on Fiction, Money, Womanizing, and Old Age". Grantland. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  15. ^ Horowitz, Mark. "Larry McMurtry's Dream Job". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  16. ^ Granberry, Michael. "Author Larry McMurtry marries Ken Kesey’s widow," The Dallas Morning News, May 5, 2011.

External links[edit]