Born: June 3, 1936;

Died: March 25, 2021.

LARRY McMURTRY, who has died aged 84, was an acclaimed novelist and screenwriter with a mission to correct some of the old Hollywood stereotypes of the American West.

In widely acclaimed novels such as Lonesome Dove, and such screenplays as Brokeback Mountain, he wrote about the unsentimental, often dark reality of the cowboy, based in part on his own upbringing in Texas. His job, he said, was to be a critic of the myth of the cowboy.

In a way, even though he loved Texas and always lived there, his career was a kind of reaction against his childhood. His father was a rancher and there were no books in the family home, but the young Larry became obsessed with reading and literature after a relative left behind a box of books.

He later studied English and creative writing and, in the 1970s, alongside his writing career, opened an antiquarian book shop in Washington that grew into something of a mini-empire, with four stores across the country.

His first novel, Horseman, Pass By, in 1961, immediately attracted the attention of film-makers and was made into the movie Hud, starring Paul Newman, the first of many adaptations of his work. The Last Picture Show, a coming-of-age story set in a small Texas town, was also adapted for the screen and McMurtry and director Peter Bogdanovich were nominated for an Academy Award for their script.

In 1983, there was also a film adaptation of Terms Of Endearment, a novel exploring the relationship between a glamorous mother and her less confident daughter. The film version starred Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson.

Much later, McMurtry’s screenplay for Brokeback Mountain, which was released in 2005, broke yet more new ground for the Western and won McMurtry and his co-writer Diana Ossana an Academy Award for Best Screenplay. Based on an Annie Proulx short story and starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, it told the story of two cowboys who fall in love. It was the first time, explicitly at least, that a gay love story had featured in a Western.

McMurtry did not just write Westerns however – Somebody’s Darling, for example, was set in Hollywood, and The Desert Rose in Las Vegas – but the novels that were set in the West drew heavily on his experiences as a child.

Born in Wichita Falls, Texas, to Hazel Ruth and William Jefferson McMurtry, he grew up in a ranch house outside Archer City, which was a model for Thalia, the town that often featured in his fiction.

The young Larry realised early on, though, that the ranching life was not for him; he could handle a horse but lacked manual skills.

Instead, he pursued a career in words and in 1958 graduated from what is now the University of North Texas in Denton with a Bachelor’s degree in English and from Rice University in Houston with a Master’s degree in English in 1960. He was also a member of Stanford University’s Stegner writing fellowship and wrote Horseman, Pass By when he was 25.

Lonesome Dove, which was published in 1985 and was set in the 1870s, told the story of two retired Texas rangers who drive a herd of stolen cattle from the Rio Grande to Montana. McMurtry said his aim, as always, was to demythologise the myth of the Old West. “But they’re going to twist it into something romantic no matter what you do,” he said when it was published. It was made into a successful mini-series starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones.

Alongside his writing, McMurtry opened his first second-hand bookshop in 1971 in Washington, DC, and later opened other stores in Houston, Dallas and Tucson and finally, in the mid-80s, a shop in his home town of Archer City.

Eventually, the store in Archer City was the only one remaining. He downsized the store, but retained about 200,000 volumes and had some 28,000 books in his personal collection at home.

He continued to produce many novels – at his fastest, he would write 10 pages a day, always on a typewriter – but after quadruple bypass heart surgery in 1991, he hit a depression and stopped writing.

It was only when Diana Ossana encouraged him to start work again that he found his old motivation. They worked on Brokeback Mountain together and McMurtry continued to produce novels, including several sequels to Lonesome Dove.

The professional relationship with Ossana became the most important of McMurtry’s life. The two, both divorced, had met at a Tucson catfish restaurant and struck up a friendship.

After the surgery, McMurtry spent his time sleeping in Ossana’s guest room, writing on a typewriter in her kitchen. She began encouraging him to accept screenwriting offers. “I was getting lots of offers then from the movies,” he said. “I was very popular, but I didn’t feel confident. I’d had real serious heart problems. I got a lot of offers and I think she just got tired of me turning them down.”

When the offer came in for a script on the Depression-era bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd, Ossana and McMurtry tackled it together and then wrote the novel Pretty Boy Floyd. After that they collaborated on dozens of screenplays. McMurtry’s most recent novel, The Last Kind Words Saloon, was published in 2014.

McMurtry married Jo Ballard in 1959 and they had a son, James, who is a singer-songwriter. The couple later divorced and, in 2011, he married Norma Faye Kesey, the widow of friend Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. She survives him along with his son, grandson Curtis, and his god-daughter, Sara Ossana.