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Larry McMurtry

Larry McMurtry American novelist, essayist, bookseller and screenwriter

American novelist, essayist, bookseller and screenwriter
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American novelist, essayist, bookseller and screenwriter
Is Writer Screenwriter Historian Novelist Essayist Author
From United States of America
Type Film, Television, Stage and Radio Literature Social science
Gender male
Birth 3 June 1936, Archer City, Archer County, Texas, U.S.A.
Age: 84 years
Residence Wichita Falls, Texas, Archer City
Children: James McMurtry
The details

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. His novels include Horseman, Pass By (1962), The Last Picture Show (1966) and Terms of Endearment (1975), which were adapted into films earning 26 Academy Award 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), with the other three novels in his Lonesome Dove series adapted into 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.

Early life

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. He grew up on a ranch outside Archer City, which is the model for the town of Thalia that appears in much of his fiction. He earned degrees from the University of North Texas (B.A. 1958) and Rice University (M.A. 1960).

McMurtry states in his memoir that he spent his first five or six years in his grandfather's house on a ranch without books, but his extended family would sit on the front porch every night and tell stories. In 1942, when his cousin Robert Hilburn on his way to enlist for World War II stopped by the ranch house and left a box containing 19 books, he began to read. The books were standard boys' adventure tales of the 1930s, and he read them to tatters. The first book he read was Sergeant Silk: The Prairie Scout.



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 a number of other writers, including Ken Kesey, Peter S. Beagle, and Gurney Norman; Stegner himself 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; his initial students were entertained with stories of Hollywood and the filming of Hud for which he was consulting. In 1964, Kesey's famous cross-country trip with his Merry Pranksters in the day-glo-painted school bus Furthur, chronicled in Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, included a stop at McMurtry's home in Houston. That same year, McMurtry was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.

McMurtry has 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?. 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. At the time of publication of the memoir in 2008, he stated that it was still his method, although by then he was up to dashing off 10 pages a day. He also writes every day, ignoring holidays and weekends.

McMurtry has been a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books and is a past president of PEN.

Used bookstore businesses

While at Stanford, McMurtry became a rare-book scout, and during his years in Houston, managed a book store there called the Bookman. In 1969, he moved to the Washington, DC, area, and in 1970 with two partners started a bookshop in Georgetown which he named Booked Up. In 1988, he opened another Booked Up in Archer City, which is 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 an outpouring of public support.

In early 2012, McMurtry decided to downsize and sell off the greater portion of his inventory. He made the decision as he felt the collection was a liability for his heirs. 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 Mr. 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
Just one of the dozens of aisles of books at Booked Up in Archer City
Leo the store cat at Booked Up in Archer City, March 29, 2010


McMurtry is perhaps best known for the film adaptations of his work, 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 cowinner (with Diana Ossana) of both the Best Screenplay Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Brokeback Mountain. He accepted his Oscar wearing jeans and cowboy boots along with his dinner jacket, and used his speech to promote books by reminding his audience that "Brokeback Mountain" was a short story by E. Annie Proulx before it was a movie. In his Golden Globe acceptance speech, he paid tribute to his Swiss-made Hermes 3000 typewriter.

Personal life

His former wife, Jo Scott McMurtry, an English professor, is also the author of five books. Their son, James McMurtry, and grandson Curtis McMurtry are singer/songwriters and guitarists. On May 5, 2011, The Dallas Morning News reported that McMurtry married Norma Faye Kesey on April 29 in a civil ceremony in Archer City. She is the widow of writer Ken Kesey.


Standalone novels

  • 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

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

  • 1961: Horseman, Pass By - adapted for film as Hud
  • 1963: Leaving Cheyenne - adapted for film as Lovin' Molly
  • 1966: The Last Picture Show - adapted for film as The Last Picture Show

Harmony and Pepper series

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

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

Duane Moore series

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

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)
  • 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

  • 1985: Lonesome Dove, 1986 Pulitzer Prize winner
  • 1993: Streets of Laredo
  • 1995: Dead Man's Walk
  • 1997: Comanche Moon

The Berrybender Narratives

  • 2002: Sin Killer
  • 2003: The Wandering Hill
  • 2003: By Sorrow's River
  • 2004: Folly and Glory

As editor

  • 1999: Still Wild: A Collection of Western Stories

Other writings

  • 1988: The Murder of Mary Phagan - TV movie
  • 1990: Montana - TV movie
  • 1992: Memphis - TV movie
  • 1992: Falling from Grace - film starring John Mellencamp
  • 2002: Johnson County War - TV miniseries
  • 2005: Brokeback Mountain (with Diana Ossana) - Oscar-winning screenplay (adapted from the short story by E. Annie Proulx)


  • 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


  • 1963: Hud (based on novel Horseman, Pass By from 1961)
  • 1971: The Last Picture Show (based on novel from 1966)
  • 1974: Lovin' Molly (based on novel from Leaving Cheyenne from 1963)
  • 1983: Terms of Endearment (based on novel from 1975)
  • 1990: Texasville (based on novel from 1987)
  • 1992: Falling from Grace (based on story)
  • 1996: The Evening Star (based on novel from 1992)
  • 2005: Brokeback Mountain (co-wrote screenplay with Diana Ossana and adapted from the short story by E. Annie Proulx)


  • 1977: The American Film Institute's 10th Anniversary Special (writer)
  • 1988: The Murder of Mary Phagan (mini-series based on story)
  • 1989: Lonesome Dove (miniseries) (mini-series based on 1986 novel)
  • 1990: Montana (original screenplay)
  • 1992: Memphis (teleplay)
  • 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 (miniseries) (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 (miniseries) (based on 1995 novel)
  • 2002 Johnson County War (wrote teleplay)
  • 2008 Comanche Moon (miniseries) (based on 1997 novel)
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