Thursday, April 1, 2021

Sid Salter: From Thalia to Yazoo: Texas Was McMurtry's Connection to Mississippi's Morris

 The passing of iconic Texas novelist, screenwriter and antiquarian bookseller Larry McMurtry at age 84 on March 25 will mean different things to different fans of his prolific writing life.

Some will remember retired Texas Rangers Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call from the 1986 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Lonesome Dove” novel and the series of books and television mini-series it spawned. Or the Latin inscription on the Hat Creek Cattle Company sign that eventually marks Gus’s grave: “Uva Uvam Vivenda Varia Fit - The grape changes its hue (ripens) when it sees another grape.”

Others will remember the tearjerker treatment of McMurtry’s novel in the Academy Award-winning 1983 film “Terms of Endearment” starring Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson, and Deborah Winger.

Older readers will remember the film version of his 1961 novel “Horseman, Pass By” entitled “Hud” starring Paul Newman – which earned two Academy Awards. Younger readers will recall McMurtry’s work on the adapted screenplay for the controversial 2005 film “Brokeback Mountain” which earned multiple Oscars.

For me, McMurtry’s death brings to mind one of my favorite characters from contemporary American literature – Duane Moore. The world met Duane in the 1966 novel “The Last Picture Show” as a high school bad boy in the small Texas town of Thalia.

McMurtry would bring Duane Moore back into our lives in four more books: “Texasville” in 1987, “Duane’s Depressed” in 1999, “When The Lights Go” in 2007, and “Rhino Ranch” in 2009. Readers followed Duane through boom and bust in the oil business, through happiness and tragedy in his family, through divorce, drugs, disappointments, marital crises and the depths of loss and bad decisions – all against the backdrop of Thalia as the little town evolves and changes in fits and starts.

Over that almost half-century, Duane becomes almost unrecognizable both in the eyes of Thalia and in the mirror as well.

McMurtry was a prolific, gifted writer with varied interests and phenomenal reach in his professional and artistic pursuits. But his friendship with Mississippi author and editor Willie Morris was a springboard for some of his success.

I met McMurtry in Oxford years ago at the Ole Miss Faculty Row bungalow occupied by Morris during his teaching days there. The connection between Morris and McMurtry flowed back to their days together when Willie – a Rhodes Scholar - edited The Texas Observer in the early 1960s and later when Willie was editor of Harper’s. Willie had a keen eye for writing talent and nurtured good writers with assignments that helped them grow.

While wielding the editorial pen at Harper’s, Morris published the works of major American writers including McMurtry, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Joan Didion, Philip Roth, David Halberstam, William Styron, Gay Talese, Bill Moyers, Pete Axthelm and others.

A lesser-known aspect of McMurtry’s talents was hid obsessive love of books. In Archer City, Texas, McMurtry owned and operated Booked Up – a used bookstore that at one point occupied six buildings in McMurtry’s hometown.

McMurtry observed on the stores website: “Booked Up began its life in March 1971 on a corner in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. We operated there for 22 years, selling a general mix of fine and scholarly books…customers come to us from wherever the four winds blow.”

In “Rhino Ranch” – the final installment of the Duane Moore series of McMurtry novels – Duane’s grandson, Willy Moore, learns that he has become a Rhodes Scholar. For Mississippi admirers of Willie Morris, that’s more than a coincidence – or so we wish to believe.

 

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.

 

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

McCurty lives

Anonymous said...

Willie would be appalled by the typos in Sid’s column. But it was a great read.

Anonymous said...

*Yawn*
These “authors” are basically unknown and irrelevant outside Mississippi academic circle jerks.

Mississippi will always be known as an ignorant backwater. Never remembered for the handful of moderately successful authors who found success writing about about quaint backwater hayseeds.

Anonymous said...

@8:24 You show your ignorance. Larry McCurty was great writer and will be remembered with the likes of William Falkner, Eudora Waltry and Willie Maris.

Go back to school!

Anonymous said...

@ 8:24, you certainly got one thing right, "Mississippi will always be known as an ignorant backwater." Mainly because, here, in the land of the blind, where the one-eyed man is king, folks such as yourself get equal time with full-blown humans.

Anonymous said...

Last Picture Show, Cybill Shepard in the buff, YUP!

Anonymous said...

@8:45
Those authors you listed are “literally who?” outside of Mississippi Academia. They aren’t discussing Faulkner’s prose at Cambridge. lol

Anonymous said...

8:45 - I think you meant Roger Maris...Great writer of sports novels. Write up there with Bobbie Cloveland.

Anonymous said...

Eudora Welty is so overrated. Her writing was such boring southern crap.

Anonymous said...

Willie Morris was a surly drunk. He could be found on the corner of the bar @ the Gin in Oxford every day in the early 80's. I bought him a drink a few times. He would "forget" his wallet. Great dog though.

Anonymous said...

Nobody truly loves these dusty old Southern authors but they know Cormac McCarthy.
I would reread Blood Meridian or The Road over Willie Morris or Eudora Welty any day of my life. Ditto for Child of God despite it turning my stomach more than once.

Anonymous said...

" Willie Morris was a surly drunk. He could be found on the corner of the bar @ the Gin in Oxford every day in the early 80's. I bought him a drink a few times. He would "forget" his wallet. Great dog though."

I can relate 11:05.

I remember him already drunk and "holding court" with his groupies at The Gin around 7pm, and then being too drunk to walk up the stairs at The Warehouse a few hours later.

Back during the early 80's, one Sunday morning around 7am ... I heard something in our Ole Miss Frat house semi-basement. Turns out it was Wille Morris and his dog. He obviously was still drunk and hadn't even gone to bed yet.

Although I was startled, he was nice enough. I asked him what he was doing in our basement. He kind of gave an "Otis Campbell" smile and said he had never been to our frat house.

Then he thanked me and left.

But the man did turn out a few good books.

Gawd those were the days !



Anonymous said...

" Eudora Welty is so overrated. Her writing was such boring southern crap."

" Nobody truly loves these dusty old Southern authors but they know Cormac McCarthy.
I would reread Blood Meridian or The Road over Willie Morris or Eudora Welty any day of my life. "

" Those authors you listed are “literally who?” outside of Mississippi Academia. They aren’t discussing Faulkner’s prose at Cambridge. lol"

Where is Donna getting the funds to finance these JJ trolls ?
And yes, Faulkner is discussed at Cambridge.

And "gasp" ... also at much more prestigious Universities.

But It really makes no difference.
The Millennials wouldn't even understand Faulkner or Welty unless they were simplified into a full color comic book.

Excuse me . . . "graphic novels" as these kids call such crap.
( Or something along those lines )

Reading the originals works are much more rewarding than looking at illustrations within a comic book.









Anonymous said...

@6:53 PM
Please cite your sources. They were never once mentioned during my studies abroad.

Anonymous said...

6:53, Do you really want to debate superior art forms? I

Also, it would definitely help you appear less like an ignorant geezer if you learned some simple HTML.

Anonymous said...

I'm not 6:53, but your hubristic ignorance demands a response, 8:43 & 8:43 (likely the same poster)

Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner - Yale University

English 10703. 20th Century Short Fiction - University of Chicago

English 2040. Introduction to American Literature: Civil War to the Present - Cornell University

The tragic South: literature of the American South - Cambridge University

That's four classes at prestigious universities both stateside and abroad where Faulkner's writings are the subject of study. Took me maybe 10 minutes to find them all. Sounds like your studies abroad were not very far reaching.

Oh, and was that enough HTML for you?

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If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

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