Larry McMurtry
Author photo on the book jacket of his novel The Last Picture Show, 1966
Author photo on the book jacket of his novel The Last Picture Show, 1966
BornLarry Jeff McMurtry
(1936-06-03)June 3, 1936
Archer City, Texas, U.S.
DiedMarch 25, 2021(2021-03-25) (aged 84)
Tucson, Arizona, U.S.
Years active1961–2021

Larry Jeff McMurtry (June 3, 1936 – March 25, 2021) was an American novelist, essayist, and screenwriter whose work was predominantly set in either the Old West or contemporary Texas.[1] His novels included Horseman, Pass By (1962), The Last Picture Show (1966), and Terms of Endearment (1975), which were adapted into films. Films adapted from McMurtry's works earned 34 Oscar nominations (13 wins). He was also a prominent book collector and bookseller.

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 co-writer 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, McMurtry received the National Humanities Medal.[2]

In Tracy Daugherty's 2023 biography of McMurtry, the biographer quotes critic Dave Hickey as saying about McMurtry:[3]

"Larry is a writer, and it's kind of like being a critter. If you leave a cow alone, he'll eat grass. If you leave Larry alone, he'll write books. When he's in public, he may say hello and goodbye, but otherwise he is just resting, getting ready to go write."[3]

Early life and education

According to the astrodatabank website, McMurtry's birth certificate states that he was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, the son of Hazel Ruth (née McIver) and William Jefferson McMurtry.[4] He grew up on his parents' ranch outside Archer City. The city was the model for the town of Thalia which is a setting for much of his fiction.[5] He earned a BA from the University of North Texas in 1958 and an MA from Rice University in 1960.[6][7]

In his memoir, McMurtry said 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, McMurtry's cousin Robert Hilburn stopped by the ranch house on his way to enlist for World War II, and left a box containing 19 boys' adventure books from the 1930s. The first book he read was Sergeant Silk: The Prairie Scout.[8]



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,[9] alongside other aspiring writers, including Wendell Berry, Ken Kesey, Peter S. Beagle, and Gurney Norman. (Wallace Stegner was on sabbatical in Europe during McMurtry's fellowship year.[10])

McMurtry and Kesey remained friends after McMurtry left California and returned to Texas to take a year-long composition instructorship at Texas Christian University.[11] In 1963, he returned to Rice University, where he served as a lecturer in English until 1969, and a visiting professor at George Mason College (1970) and American University (1970–71). [12] 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.[13]

McMurtry won numerous awards from the Texas Institute of Letters: three times the Jesse H. Jones Award—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 won the Amon G. Carter award for periodical prose in 1966 for Texas: Good Times Gone or Here Again?[14] and the Lon Tinkle Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1984.[15] In 1986, McMurtry received the annual Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award from the Tulsa Library Trust.[16] He reflected on his 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Lonesome Dove, in Literary Life: A Second Memoir (2009), writing that it was the "Gone With the Wind of the West … a pretty good book; it's not a towering masterpiece."[17]

McMurtry described his method for writing novels in Books: A Memoir. He said 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 wrote every day, ignoring holidays and weekends.[18] McMurtry was a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books.[19]

McMurtry was a vigorous defender of free speech and, while serving as president of PEN American Center (now PEN America) from 1989 to 1991, led the organization's efforts to support writer Salman Rushdie,[20] whose novel The Satanic Verses (1988) caused a major controversy among some Muslims, with the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issuing a fatwā calling for Rushdie's assassination, after which attempts were made on his life.[21]

In 1989, McMurtry testified on behalf of PEN America before the U.S. Congress in opposition to immigration rules in the 1952 McCarran–Walter Act that for decades permitted the visa denial and deportation of foreign writers for ideological reasons.[17] He recounted how before PEN America was to host the 1986 International PEN Congress, "there was a serious question as to whether such a meeting could in fact take place in this country... the McCarran–Walter Act could have effectively prevented such a gathering in the United States." He denounced the relevant rules as "an affront to all who cherish the constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and association. To a writer whose living depends upon the uninhibited interchange of ideas and experiences, these provisions are especially appalling." Subsequently, some provisions that excluded certain classes of immigrants based on their political beliefs were revoked by the Immigration Act of 1990.[22]

Antiquarian bookstore businesses

While at Stanford, McMurtry became a rare-book scout.[23] During his years in Houston, he managed a book store called the Bookman. In 1969, he moved to the Washington, D.C., 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 antiquarian 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.[24] 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."[25]

In April 2006, McMurtry was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.[26]

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

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;[27] the Peter Bogdanovich–directed The Last Picture Show;[28] James L. Brooks's Terms of Endearment, which won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture (1984);[29] and Lonesome Dove, which became a popular television miniseries starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall.[30][31]

In 2006, he was co-winner (with Diana Ossana) of both the Best Screenplay Golden Globe[32] 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.[33] 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.[34]

Personal life

McMurtry married Jo Scott, an English professor who has authored five books.[35] Before divorcing, they had a son together, James McMurtry. Both James and his own son, Curtis McMurtry, are singer/songwriters and guitarists.[36]

In 1991 McMurtry underwent heart surgery.[37] During his recovery, he suffered severe depression. He recovered at the home of his future writing partner Diana Ossana and wrote his novel Streets of Laredo at her kitchen counter.[38][39]

McMurtry married Norma Faye Kesey, the widow of writer Ken Kesey, on April 29, 2011, in a civil ceremony in Archer City.[40]

McMurtry died on March 25, 2021, at his home in Archer City, Texas. He was 84 years old.[41]

It was announced in early 2023 that McMurtry's personal property including his writing desk, typewriters and personal book collection would be sold at public auction by Vogt Auction in San Antonio, Texas, on May 29, 2023.[42]


Stand-alone novels

Thalia: A Texas Trilogy

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

Harmony and Pepper series

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

Duane Moore series

The books follow the story of character Duane Moore.

Houston series

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

Lonesome Dove series

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

As editor

Other writings



Paul Newman (left) and Melvyn Douglas in Hud (1963)


See also


  1. ^ Hugh Rawson Archived August 29, 2008, at the Wayback Machine "Screenings," American Heritage, April/May 2006.
  2. ^ "Larry McMurtry". The National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved December 9, 2020.
  3. ^ a b Larry McMurtry: A Life by Tracy Daugherty, St. Martin's Press, 2023, page 201. ISBN 978-1-250-28233-0.
  4. ^ "Larry (Jeff) McMurtry Biography (1936-)".
  5. ^ "New Life After 'The Last Picture Show'". The New York Times. April 4, 1982.
  6. ^ Judkins, Julie (June 3, 2015). "Happy birthday to our distinguished alumni Larry McMurtry!". UNT Special Collections.
  7. ^ Falk, Jeff (September 3, 2015). "Rice alum, author Larry McMurtry receives National Humanities Medal". Rice University.
  8. ^ McMurtry, Larry (2008). Books: A Memoir. pp. 1–8.
  9. ^ "Novelist Larry McMurtry's last kind words: "Lonesome Dove" author on closeted cowboys, pointless Pulitzers, and his latest Old West novel". Mother Jones. May 2014. Retrieved March 27, 2021.
  10. ^ McMurtry, Larry (December 5, 2002). "On the Road". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved March 27, 2021.
  11. ^ "A Guide to the Larry McMurtry Papers, 1968, 1987–1991". The Witcliff Collections. Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  12. ^ "Guide to the Larry McMurtry and Diana Osanna Papers, 1890–2008, bulk dates 1980-2008 MS 276". Woodson Research Center. Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  13. ^ "John Simon Guggenheim Foundation: Larry McMurtry". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Retrieved March 27, 2021.
  14. ^ Compton, Bob; Wiesepape, Betty. "Texas Institute of Letters: Awards" (PDF). Texas Institute of Letters. Retrieved March 27, 2021.
  15. ^ "Texas Institute of Letters: Literary Awards". Texas Institute of Letters. Retrieved March 27, 2021.
  16. ^ "Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award". Tulsa Library Trust. Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  17. ^ a b Flood, Alison (March 27, 2021). "Lonesome Dove author and Brokeback Mountain screenwriter Larry McMurtry dies at 84". The Guardian. Retrieved March 27, 2021.
  18. ^ McMurtry, Larry (2008). Books : a memoir (1st Simon & Schuster hardcover ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 49. ISBN 9781416583349.
  19. ^ "Larry McMurtry". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved March 27, 2021.
  20. ^ "Larry McMurtry: Biographical Sketch". Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved March 27, 2021.
  21. ^ Loyd, Anthony (June 8, 2005). "Tomb of the unknown assassin reveals mission to kill Rushdie". The Times. London. Archived from the original on June 1, 2010. Retrieved March 27, 2021.
  22. ^ "PEN America Mourns Death of Novelist, Former PEN America President Larry McMurtry". PEN America. March 26, 2021. Retrieved March 27, 2021.
  23. ^ West, Richard (June 1985). "Working Book Bound". D Magazine.
  24. ^ Lindenberger, Michael (August 15, 2012). "The Great Book Sale of Teas". Time. Retrieved August 20, 2012.
  25. ^ Williams, John (August 12, 2012). "Wanted, Dead or Alive: Used Books". The New York Times.
  26. ^ "MemberListP". American Antiquarian Society. Retrieved March 17, 2018.
  27. ^ a b Hud. OCLC 878940995. Retrieved March 28, 2021 – via
  28. ^ a b The last picture show. OCLC 79950037. Retrieved March 28, 2021 – via
  29. ^ "The 56th Academy Awards; 1984". Archived from the original on May 1, 2016. Retrieved March 28, 2021.
  30. ^ a b Lonesome Dove. OCLC 423140732. Retrieved March 28, 2021 – via
  31. ^ a b Lonesome Dove. OCLC 774391218. Retrieved March 28, 2021 – via
  32. ^ White, Meghan (February 14, 2006). "Brokeback Mountain: Interview with Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana". Cinemalogue.
  33. ^ Hudak, Joseph (March 26, 2021). "Larry McMurtry, 'Lonesome Dove' Novelist, Dead at 84". Rolling Stone.
  34. ^ Keller, Julia; Elder, Robert K. (January 20, 2006). "What's so special about a Hermes 3000?". Chicago Tribune.
  35. ^ Hendricks, Diana Finlay. "Larry McMurtry: An Accidental Feminist?". Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  36. ^ Granberry, Michael (March 26, 2021). "Texas literary giant Larry McMurtry dies at 84". The Dallas Morning News.
  37. ^ Hoinski, Michael (May 22, 2014). "'Lonesome Dove' Legend Larry McMurtry on Fiction, Money, Womanizing, and Old Age". Grantland. Retrieved May 5, 2023.
  38. ^ "Larry McMurtry, one of Texas' greatest writers, dead at 84 - ABC11 Raleigh-Durham". March 26, 2021.
  39. ^ Horowitz, Mark (December 7, 1997). "Larry McMurtry's Dream Job". The New York Times. Retrieved December 9, 2018.
  40. ^ Granberry, Michael (May 5, 2011). "Author Larry McMurtry marries Ken Kesey's widow". The Dallas Morning News. Archived from the original on May 8, 2011. Retrieved May 5, 2023.
  41. ^ Garner, Dwight (March 26, 2021). "Larry McMurtry, Novelist of the American West, Dies at 84". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on December 28, 2021. Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  42. ^ Marini, Richard A. (February 7, 2023). "Larry McMurtry auction includes signed books, desk, typewriter, boots". San Antonio Express-News. Retrieved March 16, 2023.
  43. ^ "Cadillac Jack: A Novel". Kirkus Reviews. September 30, 2011.
  44. ^ Gish, Robert (November 14, 2008). "'Anything for Billy' by Larry McMurtry". Los Angeles Times.
  45. ^ Fromberg Schaeffer, Susan (October 7, 1990). "Lonesome Jane". The New York Times.
  46. ^ a b Buffalo girls. OCLC 422719821. Retrieved March 28, 2021 – via
  47. ^ Combs, Casey (December 11, 1994). "An Unlikely Team--Law Clerk and Novelist--Write 'Pretty Boy Floyd' : Books: Diana Ossana was an unknown, a woman who had done a lot of writing but never had anything published. Larry McMurtry is one of America's most successful writers". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press.
  48. ^ Johnson, Dean (March 25, 1997). "IIt's the Women Who Inspire in McMurtry's 'Zeke and Ned'". Chicago Tribune.
  49. ^ Kingston Pierce, J. (January 2001). "Saddle Sore: Review | Boone's Lick by Larry McMurtry". January Magazine.
  50. ^ Shea, Mike (December 2004). "Book Review: Loop Group". Texas Monthly.
  51. ^ Cain, Chelsea (June 18, 2006). "Cowboys Are My Weakness". The New York Times.
  52. ^ Cheuse, Alan (May 27, 2014). "McMurtry Takes Aim At A Legend In 'Last Kind Words Saloon'". NPR.
  53. ^ Poore, Charles (June 10, 1961). "Books of The Times". The New York Times.
  54. ^ King, Larry L. (March 1974). "Leavin' McMurtry". Texas Monthly.
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  56. ^ "The Desert Rose: A Novel". Kirkus Reviews. September 1, 1983.
  57. ^ Klinkenborg, Verlyn (May 21, 1995). "Once More, With Harmony". The New York Times.
  58. ^ Prewitt, Taylor (July 24, 2020). "Texas Monthly Recommends: Larry McMurtry's 'Texasville'". Texas Monthly.
  59. ^ Harris, Michael (January 5, 1999). "'Duane's Depressed' by Larry McMurtry". Los Angeles Times.
  60. ^ Leland, John (March 18, 2007). "Duane's Depraved". The New York Times.
  61. ^ Hendricks, David (August 14, 2009). "Rhino Ranch by Larry McMurtry". Houston Chronicle.
  62. ^ a b c d e f Brinkley, Douglas (September 14, 2017). "After the Hurricane Winds Die Down, Larry McMurtry's Houston Trilogy Lives On". The New York Times.
  63. ^ Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (December 20, 1978). "Books of The Times". The New York Times.
  64. ^ Bradfield, Scott (October 22, 2011). "Book Review / New terms in Texas: The Evening Star - Larry McMurtry". The Independent.
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  71. ^ Unger, Arthur (January 22, 1988). "A thriller with extra dimensions. Controversial murder case makes exceptional video drama". Christian Science Monitor.
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  76. ^ "McMurtry's 'Literary Life': Not Simple, But Practical". NPR. December 23, 2009.
  77. ^ Baker, Jeff (August 21, 2010). "Nonfiction review: 'Hollywood: A Third Memoir' by Larry McMurtry". The Oregonian.
  78. ^ Pensky, Nathan (February 3, 2013). "Los Angeles Review of Books".
  79. ^ Lovin' Molly. OCLC 423149680. Retrieved March 28, 2021 – via
  80. ^ Terms of endearment : based on the novel by Larry McMurtry. OCLC 917295387. Retrieved March 28, 2021 – via
  81. ^ Texasville. OCLC 633123542. Retrieved March 28, 2021 – via
  82. ^ Green, Reinaldo Marcus. "Good Joe Bell". Retrieved March 28, 2021.
  83. ^ The American Film Institute's 10th anniversary special. OCLC 423447816. Retrieved March 28, 2021 – via
  84. ^ The murder of Mary Phagan. OCLC 747040812. Retrieved March 28, 2021 – via
  85. ^ The murder of Mary Phagan. OCLC 423224348. Retrieved March 28, 2021 – via
  86. ^ Return to Lonesome Dove. OCLC 29625796. Retrieved March 28, 2021 – via
  87. ^ Lonesome Dove--the series. [1994, unidentified episode, no. 1]. OCLC 423140736. Retrieved March 28, 2021 – via
  88. ^ Lonesome Dove : the outlaw years. [1995, unidentified episode], the return. OCLC 423140737. Retrieved March 28, 2021 – via
  89. ^ Comanche moon. OCLC 1145819768. Retrieved March 28, 2021 – via
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Further reading