My Favorite Western Classic: LONESOME DOVE

call and mcraeLonesone Dove DVDLonesome Dove, written by Larry McMurtry, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning western novel and the first published book of the Lonesome Dove series. Can you imagine the daunting task that native Texan and screenwriter Bill Wit tliff took on when he adapted Larry McMurtry’s novel to film? First, he needed to rein in the sprawling 843 page story while still retaining its majestic essence. Wittliff’s work was also made more difficult because, in the novel, McMurtry uses the narrator’s voice to reveal information about characters and to describe events. To provide the same information in the film, Wittliff needed to create dialogue and provide visual cues that did not exist in the novel.

costume sketch

A Southwestern Writers Collection is housed at Texas State and many of the original documents he used while creating this western classic can be viewed online at:

The web exhibit features storyboards, costumes, including Gus’s boots, and even Gus’s dead wrapped body.



The epic four-part six-hour mini-series focuses on the relationship of retired Texas Rangers and their adventures driving a cattle herd from Texas to Montana. McMurtry originally developed the tale in 1972 for a feature film entitled The Streets of Laredo (a title later used for the sequel), which was to have starred John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and James Stewart. That didn’t happen, but thank goodness, McMurtry later resurrected the screenplay as a full-length novel. It deservingly became a bestseller and won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The mini-series won six Emmy Awards and was nominated for 13 others.

Casting for this epic was pure genius. Who better to portray these multi-faceted aging Texas Rangers who to this day represent the epitome of courage, loyalty and everything we think of when we think “American West?”


Robert Duvall is Captain Augustus McCrae, co-owner of the Hat Creek Cattle Company, and considers himself the brains of the outfit. Generous, humorous, and lazy to the point of eccentricity, he serves as a foil to the more serious, practical Call. When not working, which he does as little as possible, Gus pursues his three chief interests in life: women, alcohol and cards. He is well known in the territory for his loud voice, superior eyesight and accuracy with a revolver.


Tommy Lee Jones is Captain Woodrow F. Call, Gus’s partner in the company. Less verbose and chatty than McCrae, Call works long and hard and sees no reason why others should not do the same. A former Texas Ranger, he served with Gus when both were young men. Though Call has utter disdain for lazy men who drink, gamble and whore their lives away, he has his own secret shame, which he hides carefully from his comrade. Call’s ability to manage unmanageable horses is also well known.


Danny Glover plays a magnificent role as Joshua Deets, an ex-slave and former Ranger. When the story starts he’s a ranch hand at the company. On the drive, he serves as scout. A remarkable tracker and morally upright man, he is one of the few men whom Call respects and trusts.


Before he hit the NY streets as a cop, Rick Shroder played Newt Dobbs, young orphan raised by Gus and Call. His mother was a prostitute named Maggie Tilton, who died when he was a child. He knows his mother was a prostitute, and has no idea who his father might be. Most other observers, notably Gus and Clara Allen, are quite certain that Call is his father. Call eventually comes to this realization privately, but is never able to admit it explicitly.

gus and clara

Anjelica Houston is Clara Allen, a former love of Gus’s She declined his marriage proposals years ago, and now lives in Nebraska, married to a horse trader who is comatose, having been kicked in the head by a horse. They have two girls, though she is afflicted deeply by the death of her sons. Though separated from Gus by many miles and years, she still holds him fondly in her heart. In contrast, she has utter contempt for Call.


Diane Lane is the lovely young Lorena Wood, a kind-hearted young woman who was forced into prostitution by her lover, then abandoned in Lonesome Dove. Lorena is silent, strong willed, and intimidating, refusing to submit meekly to her various admirers. Discontent with her line of work, “Lorie” hopes to leave the dead town and find her way to San Francisco. Gus is her champion, and who could ask for a better one?


Secondary threads with characters of July and Almira Johnson and Blue Duck are intricately woven into the plot and throughout the journey of the cattle drive. You can’t help but be enamored by the characters and caught up in their adventures. Watching the story unfold brings laughter and tears every time. The music that accompanies the panoramic scenes does a beautiful job of enhancing the grandeur of the vast landscape and feel of the untamed west. I often listen to the original soundtrack, composed and conducted by Basil Poledouris. Lonesome Dove spawned the follow-up miniseries, Return to Lonesome Dove.


Trivia facts about Lonesome Dove:

* Robert Duvall, who has appeared in over 80 movies, told CBS that Augustus McCrae, the character he played in Lonesome Dove, was his all time favorite role. We can see why.

* The characters of July Johnson and Roscoe bear the same names as the sheriff and his sidekick who track James Stewart and Dean Martin in the movie Bandolero! (1968). Also, the sequence where Stewart and Martin discuss Montana resembles a similar scene in Lonesome Dove.

* The book, and the character Gus, is mentioned in country singer George Strait’s song “That’s My Kind Of Woman.”


So, fess up. How many times have you watched Lonesome Dove? Only last weekend it was the AMC Weekend Western – and I confess I watched parts again. Do you think it stands up to the test of time?


Have you watched Streets of Laredo or Deadman’s Walk which precede the story?

If you’re a western lover and you’ve never seen this movie, well, I’m just sad for you. But your situation is subject to change. Netflix night!

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18 thoughts on “My Favorite Western Classic: LONESOME DOVE”

  1. Cheryl, I loved Lonesome Dove but after reading your post I decided I just have to watch it again. Does it stand up to the test of time? You betcha and that makes it a classic.

    Take care and good luck with the RITA!

  2. Every time this movie is on TV I get hooked on it,Cheryl. Can’t get enough of Robert Duvall’s Gus and the others.
    Good luck with the RITA. You’re due, lady.

  3. Cheryl,

    Lonesome Dove is a favorite, and I can’t help watching it anytime. Who can resist Gus and Call? I’ve watched Return to Lonesome Dove, Streets of Laredo, Deadman’s Walk and Comanche Moon, but none of these matched up to the orginal mini-series.

    I do have a link to Lonesome Dove. When I was in college I worked as a tour guide at the historic mansion in Billings, MT used as the rancher’s house in Return to Lonesome Dove. I had to let my friend who had a serious crush on Rich Schroder sit on the same spot on the bed where he sit. :o)

    Lonesome Dove definitely stands up to the test of time.

  4. Hi Cheryl! There are so many great moments in Lonesome Dove. From the opening scene to the very end, it’s riveting. Great casting, great story! I’m glad it was a mini-series, because it deserved every minute of screen time.

  5. Cher, this movie is one of my all time favorite westerns. I loved the story in addition to the cast of characters. I can’t imagine anyone else in those roles. I’ve probably watched it a dozen times and each time I do I find something I’d missed the other times I watched it. I think this is Larry McMurtry’s best work. At least in my opinion. I had an opportunity to meet Larry and talk to him a few years back and I quickly found that he’s absolutely no good at small talk. I kinda related to that because I’m not a good conversationalist either. I’m much more at home with my own thoughts.

  6. Hi Cher, awesome post. I watched the ending just the other night! I think the whole thing is on cable somewhere right now. I love this series. I’d always heard that Gus’s body getting taken back home was based on what actually was requested by Oliver Loving of the Goodnight-Loving trail. Love the trivia at the end. oxoxox

  7. He is master story teller of the old west. And they do a great job of making his books into movies…

  8. The story was wonderful, the cast eas wonderful and the settings were great! What more could you want….Love it!

  9. Hmm, I think I saw this way back when, but don’t remember…so I’ll have to watch it again. soon.

  10. I loved this post, Cheryl. Have to admit that I couldn’t really watch it because those areas of history that I really do know about, were represented incorrectly — so it was really, really hard for me to watch it.

    But then the other thing is is that I don’t watch TV at all anymore. I think of TV as a hypnotism machine with its different flicker rates and propaganda that often goes in as “data” without any evaluation from the person, himself. I’d rather think for myself, instead of thinking something someone else wants me to think — and so I am now living a life completely TV free — and I find I have more meaningful communication with others — especially my husband…

  11. Well, be sad for me, Cheryl–but it’s at the top of my Netflix list. lol I’ve seen enough and read enough to know the characters and story, but I’ve never watched the whole thing. I PROMISE I will very soon.

  12. Hi Cheryl,
    I…ahem…don’t really care for Lonesome Dove. I know, I know. Just shoot me.LOL I read it and I saw the miniseries (which I enjoyed more than the book). I guess I just couldn’t get past the fact that Call would never own up to being Newt’s father. And he wanted a father soooo badly. I know–I’m a hopeless romantic and terribly hung up on HEA. LOL I guess I’m just not a big Larry McMurtry fan. But hey, if everyone liked the same thing we’d all be lined up at B&N to buy the very same book! LOL My dad loved that series though, and had it on VHS. He was kind of a closet western freak, and in his later years, I would give him my Louis L’Amour books as I read them, but then he got to where he was reading them so fast, I just took all of them down to him and let him read them first. LOL Great post, and great pictures–very interesting. I will say, Blue Duck was one of the most horrifically drawn villains I have ever read in my life.
    Cheryl P.

  13. Cheryl, I disliked the fact that Call wouldn’t claim his son, too. But I look at things like that as realistic, unfortunately. People don’t feel or behave the way we would or think they should. I try to remember that when I’m developing characters so they don’t all sound like me. lol

  14. We were glued to the TV when Lonesome Dove was first shown. It really is a gritty depiction of what that part of the West was like at the time. I much prefer realistic representations to the sanitized version that is often presented. It was often not a nice place to be.
    I caught bits and pieces of it this past weekend, starting with the scene in Mexico with the 2 drunk Irishmen.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  15. Hi Cher,
    Yeah, you are so right. Sometimes it is hard to give characters those flaws. I really hated to do that in SWEET DANGER, and my hero had a flaw that was a bit like Call’s. He had given up his son when he was just a baby, to his brother and sister-in-law to raise (he was an undercover cop)and really had a lot of regrets over that. There were times I was angry at him! LOLLOL

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