Facts About Lonesome Dove that Might Surprise You

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Everyone knows the 1989 miniseries “Lonesome Dove” has gone down in history as one of the most beloved westerns of all-time. Most fans are likely aware that the miniseries was adapted from Larry McMurtry’s 1985 novel, which won a Pulitzer Prize. However, here are some facts about the classic which might surprise you.

1. McMurtry originally conceived of “Lonesome Dove” as an early 1970s screenplay entitled “Streets of Laredo” (a title which the sequel book and miniseries ultimately bore). John Wayne was to play the role of Call (played by Tommy Lee Jones in the miniseries), Jimmy Stewart would star as Gus (played to absolute perfection by Robert Duvall), and Henry Fonda would have played Jake Spoon (the part that went to Robert Urich). Peter Bogdanovich was set to direct the film. He had previously directed the McMurtry-penned and Texas-based “The Last Picture Show.” The movie plans fell through, however, when famed director John Ford read the script and advised Wayne to drop the part. Wayne backed out and the movie was dead in the water.

Lonesome Dove 2

Photo: Facebook/Lonesome Dove Fan Club

2. McMurtry chose the title “Lonesome Dove” after spotting some writing across a church bus: “Lonesome Dove Baptist Church.” He purchased the rights back to his own screenplay and began adapting it as an epic novel.

3. Robert Duvall was first offered the role of Call. However, his then-wife had read the novel years earlier, and after finishing the book, she told him that when it was made into a movie, he should insist on playing Gus. Duvall heeded her advice, and the rest is film history.

Lonesome Dove

Photo: Facebook/Lonesome Dove Fan Club

4.  A 60 year-old James Garner had agreed to play Call, but ill-health forced him to drop out. Tommy Lee Jones took on the part when he was then 41 years-old, about 15 years younger than the middle-aged Call.

5. Ironically for a book and miniseries remembered as a grand, romantic western, McMurtry intended for “Lonesome Dove” to demythologize the romantic vision of the old west. He wanted the work to portray the brutal realities of the era.


Photo of Call

Photo: Facebook/Lonesome Dove Fan Club

6. The story of the epic cattle drive had its inspiration in the real-life Goodnight-Loving Trail from Texas up to Montana.

7. Both novelist Larry McMurtry and screenwriter Bill Wittliff grew up in rural Texas during the 1940s and ’50s.

Photo of Gus

Photo: Facebook/Lonesome Dove Fan Club

8. In addition to real-life ranchers Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, Gus and Call were partly inspired by Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. One man was a dreamer, the other a stubborn realist.