Larry McMurtry Biography


Born Larry Jeff McMurtry, June 3, 1936, in Wichita Falls, TX; son of William Jefferson (a rancher) and Hazel Ruth McMurtry; married Josephine Ballard, July 15, 1959 (divorced, August, 1966); children: James Lawrence (a singer). Education: University of North Texas, B.A., 1958; Rice University, M.A., 1960; also attended Rice, c. 1954-55, and Stanford University, 1960-61.

Addresses: Home —P.O. Box 552, Archer City, TX 76531. Office —Booked Up, Inc., 2509 North Campbell Ave., No. 95, Tucson, AZ 85719.


Worked as a bookstore manager in Houston, TX, c. 1958-60; wrote freelance book reviews for the Houston Post and freelance pieces for other publications, c. 1960s; taught at Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas, 1961-62; published first novel, Horseman, Pass By , 1961; taught English and creative writing at Rice University, 1963-64, 1965-69; published novel The Last Picture Show , 1966; taught at George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, 1969-70; taught at American University, Washington, D.C., 1970-71; opened first book store, Booked Up Book Store, Washington, D.C., 1970; co-wrote screenplay with director Peter Bogdanovich for film version of the book The Last Picture Show , 1971; published critically acclaimed novel Terms of Endearment , 1975; opened up bookstore Blue Pig (later known as Booked Up Book Store), Archer City, TX, 1987; wrote script for The Murder of Mary Phagan , NBC, 1988; head of PEN American Center, New York City, 1989-91; wrote first original teleplay, Montana , TNT, 1990;

executive producer and co-writer of script for Streets of Laredo CBS, 1995; co-wrote script for Dead Man's Walk , ABC, 1996; optioned and wrote film script for E. Annie Proulx short story "Brokeback Mountain" with Diana Ossana, c. late 1990s; began "The Berry-bender Narratives" series, 2002; Brokeback Mountain film released, 2005.

Awards: Wallage Stegner fellowship, 1960-61; Jesse H. Jones Award, Texas Institute of Letters, for Horseman, Pass By , 1962; Guggenheim fellowship, 1964; New York Film Critics Circle Award (with Peter Bogdanovich) for best screenwriting, for The Last Picture Show , 1971; British Film Academy Award (with Peter Bogdanovich) for best screenplay, for The Last Picture Show , 1972; Academy Award for best screenplay based on material from another medium (with Peter Bogdanovich), Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for The Last Picture Show , 1972; Barbara McCombs/Lon Tinkle Award for continuing excellence in Texas letters, Texas Institute of Letters, 1986; Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for Lonesome Dove , 1986; Spur Award, Western Writers of America, for Lonesome Dove , 1986; Texas Literary Award, Southwestern Booksellers Association, for Lonesome Dove , 1986; Robert Kirsch Award, Los Angeles Times , for body of work, 2003; Academy Award for best adapted screenplay (with Diana Ossana), Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, Brokeback Mountain , 2006.


Texas author Larry McMurtry is best known as a writer of western novels, many of which are set in the Old West, including the Pulitzer Prizewinning Lonesome Dove. Some of his novels focus on life in small town Texas, like The Last Picture Show , while others focus on relationships, such as Terms of Endearment. McMurtry also adapted several of his books into films and television productions, wrote other original scripts, and occasionally adapted other authors' work. In 2006, he won an Academy Award with long-time writing partner Diana Os-sana, for their adaptation of a short story by E. Annie Proulx into the hit film Brokeback Mountain. In addition to writing, McMurtry also devotes much of his time to the bookstores he owns and operates in three locations in the United States.

Born in 1936 in Wichita Falls, Texas, McMurtry was raised on the family's cattle ranch in Archer City, Texas, living with his grandparents some of the time. He was the oldest of four children of William and Hazel McMurtry. Though he worked on his father's ranch until his early twenties, McMurtry liked reading better than ranching from an early age. He was an honor student, writer, and popular athlete at Archer City High School. After graduating in 1954, McMurtry spent a year at Rice University, then completed his undergraduate degree at University of North Texas (later known as North Texas State University). McMurtry earned his B.A. in English in 1958.

After McMurtry graduated, he moved to Houston, where he worked as a bookstore manager while earning his M.A. from Rice. He then went to Stanford University from 1960 to 1961 on the Wallage Stegner Fellowship in fiction. When his fellowship was complete, McMurtry returned to Texas. He wrote freelance book reviews for the Houston Post and other freelance pieces, and began working on his own fiction while holding down several teaching positions. He taught at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, from 1961 to 1962, before returning to Rice, where he taught English and creative writing from 1963 to 1964, and again from 1965 to 1969. From 1964 to 1965, McMurtry focused on fiction writing as the holder of the Guggenheim Fellowship in creative writing. McMurtry was also married in this time period to Josephine Ballard. The couple had a son together, James, whom Mc-Murtry raised alone after the couple divorced in 1966.

While a student and educator in the early 1960s, McMurtry was writing what became his first novel, Horseman, Pass By , published in 1961. Set in the late 1950s, the novel was told from the point of view of 17-year-old Lonnie Bannon who lived on his grandfather's ranch. His grandfather is willing to ruin his own herd of cattle and financial well-being to help a neighbor with cattle infected with hoof-and-mouth disease. The grandfather is in conflict with his stepson, Hud, who wants to make money by selling the cattle. Horseman, Pass By explores such generational clashes as a metaphor for the tension between past and present. The book was generally well-received, though it took several years to find a following. Horseman, Pass By was later adapted into a hit Hollywood film, 1963's Hud , starring Paul Newman. McMurtry's next novel, Leaving Cheyenne , published in 1963, also looked at ranching life, focusing on a love triangle between a rancher, a cowboy, and a woman who loved them both. This novel was also adapted into a film, 1974's Lovin' Molly.

In 1966, McMurtry published one of his best-known books, The Last Picture Show. A reflection of the author's teen years in a small town in Texas, the novel established his career as a serious novelist. The story focuses on three adolescents growing up the dying Texas town of Thalia (a stand-in for Archer City), as they deal with the transition to adulthood in the midst of the emptiness of life and lack of potential in such towns. The Last Picture Show was controversial for its open discussion of sexuality and the sexual habits of teenagers, and the residents of Archer City perceived the novel as a negative portrayal of their community. In 1971, McMurtry co-wrote the screenplay for a film version of the novel with the film's director, Peter Bogdanovich. The screenplay won several awards and the film was a success.

By this time, McMurtry had been away from Texas for several years. In 1969, he left Texas to take a teaching job at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. McMurtry then taught at American University in Washington, D.C., from 1970 to 1971. In 1970, he opened a book store with friends called Booked Up Book Store in Washington, D.C. The store primarily sold rare and used books. McMurtry later added locations in Archer City, Texas, and Tucson, Arizona. He opened the Archer City location with his sister, Sue Deen, in 1987 under the name the Blue Pig. It was later renamed the Booked Up Book Store as well.

As his life changed, the focus of McMurtry's novels also evolved. The author became more concerned with urban settings for a time. Beginning in 1970, he published a series of novels related by their use of the same characters and an exploration of the human condition. The first novel, Moving On , focuses on a young married affluent couple, Pete and Patsy Carpenter, who are trying to find purpose in their lives. McMurtry's next novel, 1972's All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers , concerns a character introduced in Moving On : Danny Deck. More autobiographical for McMurtry, the story focuses on Deck, a first-time novelist who finds himself rich and famous after his book becomes a film. However, he loses his family and himself in the process.

In 1975, McMurtry published Terms of Endearment , another one of his best-known and most critically acclaimed books. A primary character, Emma Horton, was introduced in Moving On , and the novel also uses characters from McMurtry's previous two novels. This book focuses on Emma and her relationship with her mother, Aurora Greenway, both women's relationships with men, and Emma's death from cancer. McMurtry told Mary Kaye Schilling of Entertainment Weekly , "Emma is probably my favorite character. I envied her generosity and courage—things I always look for in women." In 1983, Terms of Endearment was adapted into a Hollywood film, which won several Academy Awards. McMurtry ended the series of related novels with a sequel to Terms of Endearment, Evening Star.

While McMurtry's next two novels were not as successful with critics or audiences, the author also enjoyed the character Harmony, an aging Las Vegas show girl who leads a complex life in her relationships with her children. The first Harmony book, The Desert Rose , was written in three weeks. His next major novel, 1985's Lonesome Dove , was one of his best-known works and the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1986. Set in 1876, the story focused on two aging Texas Rangers, Augustus Mc-Crae and Woodrow F. Call, as they lead a cattle drive to Montana. McMurtry explores how hard life really was in the West during this time period, breaking many commonly believed myths. In 1989, the novel was adapted by another writer, Bill Witt-liff, for television and became a hit miniseries on CBS. Because of the success of the miniseries, CBS produced another miniseries, 1993's Return to Lonesome Dove , based on the characters in the original.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, McMurtry continued to produce novels about the Old West, while also adding more television and film credits. His 1988 novel Anything for Billy follows a nineteenth-century dime novelist, Ben Sippy, who goes west to find out how the real West is compared to what he has been writing. Sippy eventually joins forces with the man who became Billy the Kid, who was not as great as the myth that Sippy created for him. In 1990's Buffalo Girls , McMurtry focuses on mythical western figures like Calamity Jane, Wild Bill HIck-ock, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Sitting Bull as they reach the end of their lives. In this period, McMurtry also wrote the story for the 1988 NBC television movie The Murder of Mary Phagan. In 1990, he wrote his first original teleplay for the TNT drama Montana.

McMurtry again returned to characters he had created in earlier novels on several occasions. In 1987, he published his sequel to The Last Picture Show , entitled Texasville. Taking place several decades after the original novel, the characters in Texasville are losing the money they accumulated in the oil boom and use sex to fill their empty lives. Three years later, McMurtry and Bogdanovich wrote the script for the film version of Texasville. Though many of the original actors returned, the film did not do nearly as well as the original. McMurtry completed the trilogy with the 1999 novel Duane's Depressed. This novel focused on the characters as they reached their sixties, including the title character who changes his life to find himself.

McMurtry's life was also changing in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1989, he was named the head of PEN American Center, a prestigious literary organization based in New York City. McMurtry was the first person from outside of New York to be named president since the 1920s. In late 1980s, he bought a house in Archer City, Texas. and by the 1990s, he made it his primary residence. McMurtry also suffered from ill health. He had to have quadruple-bypass surgery in December of 1991 after hitting a cow with his car and suffering a heart attack. His recovery was difficult, especially mentally, and the author was depressed for a time. Though McMurtry continued to write, often with his friend, Diana Os-sana, as a collaborator, he began to focus on his bookstores more and brought most of his stock to his Archer City store.

While McMurtry continued to write original novels and scripts, he also wrote a sequel and two prequels to Lonesome Dove. First came 1994's Streets of Laredo , which explored what happened to the characters after the end of Lonesome Dove. The novel focused on what happened in Call's life after his friend died. The prequels, 1995's The Dead Man's Walk and 1997's Comanche Moon , looked at the lives of the two rangers in their younger days. Two of these books were also adapted for television. Mc-Murtry served as executive producer of the 1995 adaptation of Streets of Laredo for CBS and was the cowriter of the script with Diana Ossana. He also co-wrote the television version of Dead Man's Walk with Ossana, which aired on ABC in 1996.

While McMurtry began a new novel series in the early 2000s that was set in the West of the 1830s, the "Berrybender Narratives, " he also spent much of his time working in his book store in Archer City. By the 2000s, it was the largest used and rare bookstore in Texas. Yet more acclaim for his work came his way. McMurtry and Ossana came into the spotlight with their adaptation of Proulx's 1997 short story "Brokeback Mountain." The pair had optioned the story themselves and wrote a script soon after. It took eight years to get the film made, primarily because of its content and the difficulty in finding the right cast. The story is about two male cowboys who fall in love with each other while tending sheep one summer and the effect of their lifetime of stolen time together. When the film was finally made and released in 2005, it was controversial but critically acclaimed. The script by McMurtry and Ossana won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2006. McMurtry did not focus on such accolades, preferring to spend most of his time writing and working in his bookstore. Of McMurtry and his temperament, director James L. Brooks told Schilling of Entertainment Weekly , "There's no froufrou with Mc-Murtry. He's blunt. He doesn't waste time. But there's something very noble behind the impatience."

Selected writings


Horseman, Pass By , Harper (New York City), 1961.

Leaving Cheyenne , Harper (New York City), 1963.

The Last Picture Show , Dial Press (New York City), 1966.

Moving On , Simon & Schuster (New York City), 1970.

All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers , Simon & Schuster, 1972.

Terms of Endearment , Simon & Schuster, 1975.

Somebody's Darling , Simon & Schuster, 1978.

Cadillac Jack , Simon & Schuster, 1982.

The Desert Rose , Simon & Schuster, 1983.

Lonesome Dove , Simon & Schuster, 1985.

Texasville , Simon & Schuster, 1987.

Anything for Billy , Simon & Schuster, 1988.

Some Can Whistle , Simon & Schuster, 1989.

Buffalo Girls , Simon & Schuster, 1990.

Evening Star , Simon & Schuster, 1992.

(With Diana Ossana) Pretty Boy Floyd , Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Streets of Laredo , Simon & Schuster, 1994.

The Dead Man's Walk , Simon & Schuster, 1995.

The Late Child , Simon & Schuster, 1995.

(With Diana Ossana) Zeke and Ned , Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Comanche Moon , Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Duane's Depressed , Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Sin Killer: The Berrybender Narratives, Book 1 , Simon & Schuster, 2002.

The Wandering Hill: The Berrybender Narratives, Book 2 , Simon & Schuster, 2003.

By Sorrow's River: The Berrybender Narratives, Book 3 , Simon & Schuster, 2003.

Folly and Glory: The Berrybender Narratives, Book 4 , Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Loop Group , Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Telegraph Days , Simon & Schuster, 2006.


Crazy Horse , Viking (New York City), 1999.


Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections at Sixty and Beyond , Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Roads, Driving America's Greatest Highways , Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Paradise , Simon & Schuster, 2001.



Celebrity Biographies , Baseline II, Inc., 2005.

Contemporary Novelists , 7th ed., St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001, pp. 690-92.

Major 21st-Century Writers , vol. 4, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2005.

Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Thematic Series: The 1960s , vol. 2, Charles Scribner's Sons (New York City), 2003, pp. 25-27.

St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture , vol. 3, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000, pp. 330-31.


Entertainment Weekly , November 28, 2003, pp. 83-88, p. 91.

Hollywood Reporter , March 6, 2006, p. 45.

Los Angeles Times , December 13, 2005, p. E1.

Texas Monthly , December 1997, p. 110.

Washington Post , April 6, 1999, p. C1.

A. Petruso

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