Saturday, April 2, 2016

Lonesome Dove Remembered

“Yesterday’s gone on down the river and you can’t get it back”
– Gus McCrae, from Lonesome Dove written by Larry McMurtry.

As you know if you’ve read my posts over the years, I’m a big Lonesome Dove fan. This week I had the opportunity to attend the Lonesome Dove Reunion event in Fort Worth (, “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pay homage to the film’s lasting legacy and celebrate with the artists who helped create this award-winning Western.” It was the first time the cast and crew had been together in 27 years.

Five years ago I wrote a short piece about the significance that the book and the mini-series holds for me:

Lonesome Dove has been with me since 1985 when I read the book for the first time. As a native Texan whose roots go back to the frontier days, the story grabbed me and I literally inhaled Larry McMurtry’s novel over the course of a summer weekend (getting a wicked sunburn in the process). The fact that he borrowed so liberally from Texas history and real events and real characters did not bother me one iota. Most of Texas history and all the hoorah is part fiction anyway so why not use it.

Then I saw the mini-series and heard the music. They go together you know. God said so. By the time the mini-series came out, I was living outside of Texas for the first time in my life. And Lonesome Dove became my touchstone and my connection to home. A few years later I moved to Montana. Driving across the Montana state line from Wyoming and listening to the soundtrack from Lonesome Dove is as close to a heavenly experience as one can ever hope to have on this earth.

I just about wore out that soundtrack for the next few years as I spent weekends exploring the best places in the Last Best Place. And they are right, Montana truly is the Last Best Place, but it was not my place and with a few detours along the way I finally made it back to Texas. With a new Lonesome Dove soundtrack and the latest digitized version of the mini-series, I continue to enjoy and relive the story. It is the perfect tale about imperfect people in a world that is so beautiful and yet so cruel that it comes as close to the truth as one can get with fiction.

As John Graves wrote in his classic Good Bye to a River….”I am unabashedly and unapologetically a Texan”. Lonesome Dove makes me feel only more so and in a good way. I’ve had conversations with people from other places who say they love Lonesome Dove. I nod and smile and affirm its greatness and its accuracy in portraying what Texas and the Old West for that matter, once was (or at least claimed to be.) But, I also know that no one loves the Lonesome Dove story more than a Texan. And no other Texan could possibly love it more than I do.

The Reunion event in Fort Worth was special. To hear the actors, producers and the director speak about the film and what it meant to them professionally and personally was quite moving. One of the supporting actresses really got to me. I’d forgotten that Margo Martindale was in Lonesome Dove. She played a prostitute in Ogallala. Since then she has gone on to great success as an award-winning character actress. I did not know that she was a native Texan, from Jacksonville in East Texas. When she spoke about what Lonesome Dove meant to her and got to the part about being from Texas, she choked up and started to cry. Maybe she was just acting, but I don’t think so. There was not a dry eye in the room. All of us understood what she was trying to say and there are no words. You just have to be a Texan to understand.

So it was a great experience, but also bittersweet. As Robert Duvall noted, they had not been together as a group in 27 years and would not gather again. Some have already passed on and others are sure to do so in the next few years. Ricky Schroeder, is a 46 year old man, no longer “little Newt”. Danny Glover is an old man now, still with a great voice, but had trouble hearing and seemed a bit out of it. Tommy Lee Jones, wasn’t there, reportedly due to some medical condition or procedure. (Most of the group didn’t seem to mind. Clearly he was respected as an actor, but you got the sense that they all thought he was sort of an asshole otherwise.) For many of the cast and crew, Lonesome Dove was not just the highlight of their careers, it was the ONLY highlight of their careers. That one shining moment, brought back briefly for a few days in Fort Worth to the applause of hardcore fans who still remembered them.

For me the most memorable anecdote was when D.B. Sweeney (Dish) told about Robert Duvall ambling into the lunch tent one day, always in character as Gus McCrae, and announcing that this was going to be the “Goddamn Godfather of Westerns.” And I think he was right. It all came together. A great novel, written by a Texan. A great screen play (also written by a Texan, Bill Wittliff). An exceptional cast and crew from all over the world. And, an audience that hungered then and hungers now for a story that captures and then breaks their hearts.

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