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12 Things You Might Not Know About ‘Lonesome Dove’

Bill Wittliff Courtesy of the Wittliff Collections, Texas State University

Some retired Texas Rangers take an epic journey driving a herd of cattle from Texas to Montana. You know what we're talking about, right?

A couple of hints: 1989, TV miniseries – it was a book first.

Commentator WF Strong says there's something all Texans really should know about Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove." Actually – make that a dozen things. Note: minor spoilers ahead.

1.  Lonesome Dove was originally a much shorter screenplay.  It was written 15 years earlier by Larry McMurtry and Peter Bogdonavich. It was called ‘Streets of Laredo’ and was supposed to star John Wayne as Call, Jimmy Stewart as Gus, and Henry Fonda as Jake Spoon. Wayne dropped out, and that killed the project.

2. Streets of Laredo sat on the shelf for about 15 years until one day, McMurtry saw an old bus that had “Lonesome Dove Baptist Church” inscribed on the side. He went home and finished the story as a novel, which was inspired by the lives of Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1986.  

3 The movie rights to the novel were bought by Motown, which made everyone stop and say “What’s going on?” Seems an odd fit, but not so. Suzanne de Passe, of Motown, along with Bill Wittliff, produced a masterpiece.

4. Robert Duvall turned down the role of Woodrow Call so he could play Gus.

5. Duvall said as they were making the film, he knew it would be a classic.  He told his fellow actors, “We’re making the “Godfather of Westerns.”  

6. Charles Bronson was supposed to play Blue Duck, but had to back out due to contractual obligations.

7. Lonesome Dove did not win the Emmy for Best Miniseries in 1989.  That honor went to ‘War and Remembrance,’ which no one remembers.  However, wrongs were righted at the Golden Globes where Lonesome Dove won best Miniseries and Duval, won Best Actor.

8. Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall were made honorary Texas Rangersfor their heroic depictions of W.F. Call and Gus McCrae.

9 Gus’s body, the mannequin Call brought back from Montana to bury in Texas, is available for viewing at Texas State University, which owns the  Lonesome Dove collection. The curator Steve Davis, told me that some people weep when they see Gus’s body. You can also see Gus’s hat, and the blacksmith’s poker that Call used to viciously beat the army scout to within an inch of his life.  

10. Larry McMurtry wrote Lonesome Dove to help people get over their romantic notions about cowboy life and cattle drives. He wanted to show the brutal hardships and difficult times cowboys faced on the frontier. In this he failed. There’s hardly a man or woman in Texas who wouldn’t trade in their suit and office job to get on a horse and drive cattle to Montana with Woodrow and Gus.   

11.  Lonesome Dove has sold more DVD’s than any Western in Cinema History.

12.  There is a longer version of Lonesome Dove – about thirty minutes longer, but we can’t see it. It is locked away somewhere and there are no plans ever to release it.


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