Released in 1989, “Lonesome Dove” felt in many ways ahead of its time. It was a spectacle, recreating the Old West in a way that only the cinema had really achieved. Based on a novel by Larry McMurtry, the miniseries stars Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones as two Texas Rangers turned ranchers on a northern cattle drive.
The two lead a troupe of various characters, each hoping to achieve their dreams. But the group soon learns that the border is fraught with danger and danger. The miniseries was acclaimed for its vision of the West and its commentary on the lives and fates of the characters.
But the journey to the screen was not easy. Here are five facts you may not know about the “Lonely Dove.”
1. John Wayne almost starred in ‘Lonesome Dove’
It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones as Gus and Call. But Duque himself came close to starring in “Lonesome Dove” in the 1970s. Sure, then, it was a script called “Streets of Laredo.”
Before turning it into a novel, McMurtry envisioned the story as a movie. John Wayne was set to play the role of Call opposite Jimmy Stewart as Gus. The film also cast Henry Fonda, with Peter Bogdanovich.
But Wayne pulled out of the film after director and friend John Ford urged the actor to reconsider his decision. Ford did not like the script. This derailed the film, and the story of the Lonely Dove would not see the light of day until it was turned into a novel.
2. Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones swapped roles
At the end of the day, Tommy Lee Jones was probably happy to be in the production. Originally, the producers wanted both Charles Bronson and James Garner for the miniseries. But Bronson refused, and Garner withdrew for health reasons. Also, Duvall was originally set to play the stern and by the book Cal. But on the advice of his wife, Duvall asked to switch roles, lending his trademark warmth to Gus’ carefree spirit.
It’s hard to imagine Jones and Duvall in each other’s roles. But that was almost a reality. For his part, Jones brought an air of authenticity. The actor actually owns a ranch in Texas and did all of his own horse riding on the series.
3. The production used real animals to recreate the west
The production of the miniseries was massive and lasted 16 weeks. The cast filmed six days a week at a time to bring the western to life. Additionally, in the miniseries, there were 89 speaking roles, 1000 extras, 90 crew members, and 30 wranglers. The cowboys were responsible for the 100 horses and 1,400 head of cattle.
The real animals gave the production authenticity, but they also nearly injured Duvall. In one scene, the bullets scared the horse that Duvall was one. The animal knocked the actor to the ground. To preserve the shot, the cameras kept rolling and Duvall’s accident can be seen in the final production.
Fortunately, this never happened on set. But the phenomenon called “St. Elmo’s Fire”, featured in the miniseries and the book, is based on reality. This is what happens when a cow is struck by lightning. The electricity passes through the animals to the rest of the herd.
4. ‘Lonesome Dove’ costumes on display
Texas sure loves a little “Lonesome Dove” celebrating the miniseries. In San Marcos, Texas State University houses props, costumes, and other memorabilia. The exhibit, part of the Wittliff Collection, is open to the public for any fan to visit and view original productions.
Screenwriter Bill Wittliff is responsible for the collection. He convinced his castmates and crew to donate props and artifacts from the show to the university for display.
5. The rights to the miniseries were bought before the novel was published
John Wayne could have passed on the script. But Suzanne De Passe knew something good when she saw it. De Passe bought the film rights to McMurty’s novel in 1985 when it had not yet been published for $50,000. De Passe wanted to create a miniseries to coincide with the book’s release.
But the idea was poison for all the chains that De Passe presented it to. Fortunately for her, McMurtry’s novel was acclaimed by the masses and also won a Pulitzer Prize. This renewed interest in an adaptation and de Passe suddenly had all the same networks bidding to acquire the miniseries.
Ultimately, “Lonesome Dove” fans are lucky the miniseries happened, let alone the amount of praise it got. As Gus once said in the novel and miniseries: “If you want something too much, it’s likely to end up disappointing. The only healthy way to live life is to learn to enjoy all the little everyday things, like a sip of good whiskey in the evening, a soft bed, a glass of buttermilk, or a fighting gentleman like me.”
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