Movie man

  • Article by: CHUCK HAGA , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 24, 2010 - 1:35 PM

Larry McMurtry's third memoir covers his years as a screenwriter.

Hollywood by Larry McMurtry

After he and writing partner Diana Ossana received their Oscars for their adapted screenplay for "Brokeback Mountain," Larry McMurtry opted to skip the glamorous post parties.

His intent that night in 2006 was to go straight to bed, but a mixup with limousines left him standing alone outside the Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.

He was briefly dismayed, he writes in his "Hollywood" memoir, until he realized he was near favorite old haunts, "where there had once been bookshops galore."

McMurtry enjoyed much of his Hollywood work, and it helped to pay the bills. But his real passion throughout his life remains the buying and selling of rare books.

This is his third memoir, following "Books," about his career as a bookman, and "Literary Life," about his life as the writer of more than 40 books, mostly novels.

He learned the screenwriting business "by doing, there being no one willing to instruct me," and he remains grateful to Hollywood for "essentially [financing] my fiction, my rare book business, and, to a huge degree, my adult life."

One of his most interesting observations: "The words in fiction come out of silence and the words in a movie script come out of talk -- the talk being mainly between writer and producer, or writer and director, or both."

Though he sometimes writes disparagingly of the Hollywood business, "I've never scorned screenwriting. It's a necessary and honorable craft, while remaining very different from the more celebrated and studied craft of fiction."

Reading these memoirs is like sitting at a kitchen table and listening to a self-assured guest deliver a long series of short monologues, with asides of bemused introspection and sometimes harsh character analysis.

Like all his books, this is an easy read, despite the frequent dropping of obscure names. It is a breezy book of 146 pages -- in 60 chapters.

Here is Chapter 26 in its entirety:

"Lately readers have begun to complain about my short chapters, although in my opinion there is no particular reason why a chapter should be long.

"Does one complain to Rimbaud because of the brevity of his verse?

"In fact I am old and there are very many subjects about which I have something to say -- just not much."

There is Hollywood gossip -- "The Last Picture Show" director Peter Bogdanovich leaving his wife for star Cybill Shepherd -- as well as surprises of the "what might have been" variety. Imagine Jennifer Jones, not Shirley MacLaine, as Aurora in "Terms of Endearment," or Cary Grant coming out of retirement to play Jack Nicholson's part? John Wayne as Captain Call in "Lonesome Dove"?

McMurtry was invited to write a movie script of Alice Walker's "The Color Purple." He didn't get the job, probably because he said he found the book "unappealing" and he hated the ending. He writes that he has never seen the movie.

Reading Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain" in the New Yorker, though, he "knew at once that it was a masterpiece, and I even felt a rare stab of envy."

Chuck Haga is a former longtime writer for the Star Tribune. He now lives and writes in Grand Forks, N.D.

  • related content

  • Writers Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry.

  • HOLLYWOOD

    By: Larry McMurtry.

    Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 146 pages, $24.

    Review: Short and readable, laced with Hollywood gossip, sharp observations and an obvious love of books and writing.

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