THE TV – I’m watching a new show, “9-1-1 Lone Star,” with Rob Lowe. A New York City fireman takes a job in Austin, with culture change and the old fish-out of-water plot. In the first show, (entitled “Yee-Haw,” no kidding), on the way to his new job, the firefighter drives from Manhattan to Austin across the desert and the tumbleweeds with country and western music in the background and… huh? The desert? Tumbleweeds? He must have been terribly lost. Yes, once again Texas is portrayed by Hollywood and TV as what we are not, but it makes for interesting stories — hundreds of them. Many programs were Westerns, set in Texas, or at least partially. “Gunfight at the OK Corral,” begins in Fort Griffin, Texas, so I guess it qualifies. We have gangsters, “Bonnie and Clyde,” astronauts in “Apollo 13” and films about ordinary folks, as in “Terms of Endearment,” set in Houston, which won five Academy Awards and four Golden Globe Awards. So let’s look at few movies and TV shows that depicted our state.
New York Times columnist David Brooks, who usually writes about politics, once observed he thought “The Searchers” was the best movie ever made. It was a John Wayne and John Ford Western. New York magazine called it the most influential movie in American history. The film, supposedly showing West Texas, was actually filmed in Monument Valley on the Utah-Arizona border. Sort of like the tumbleweeds outside Austin. Films about the Alamo began with “Davy Crockett at the Fall of the Alamo.” It was a 1926 six-reel silent film, the only film to depict Crockett as a slave owner. Slave owner? John Wayne wanted to play Crockett in the 1960 version, and bankrolled the project himself. “The Alamo” was a critical and financial flop. In that version of the story, Crockett went down fighting. In the 2004 version, Tommy Lee Jones, as Crockett, is captured and about to be executed, telling Santa Anna, “I’m a screamer.”
“Giant” was a 1956 movie based on Edna Ferber’s novel. The book, which dealt with – among other things, Anglo-Hispanic tensions — didn’t set well with some Texans. The joke was, Ferber was flying over Texas and told the pilot to fly lower. “I want to do more research.” “Giant” was the last of James Dean’s three films as a leading actor, and earned him his second Academy Award nomination — he was killed in a car accident before the film was released. Another actor was called in to do some voice dubbing for Dean’s role. Dimitri Tiomkin wrote the music both for “Giant” and the 1956 “The Alamo,” great stuff. Fast forward to “Brewster McCloud,” director Robert Altman’s next movie after his huge hit, “M*A*S*H.” Filmed in Houston, mostly at the Astrodome, it got favorable critical praise although critic John Simon wrote. “’Brewster McCloud’ is a pretentious, disorganized, modishly iconoclastic movie…” I agree. It was probably the worst movie ever made. Did you ever see “Twins”? It was a 1988 buddy comedy about unlikely twins (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito) who were separated at birth. The final scene is set in Houston. A funny actual ending: Instead of taking their usual salaries for the film, Schwarzenegger and DeVito agreed to take 20 percent of the film’s box office returns. The film was a huge commercial success, grossing $216 million worldwide. Schwarzenegger and DeVito received the biggest paychecks of their movie careers.
“Hud,” played by Paul Newman as a thoroughly despicable character, didn’t hit audiences that way. Newman said, “We thought [the] last thing people would do was accept Hud as a heroic character … His amorality just went over [the audience’s] head; all they saw was this western, heroic individual.” Yes, the Lone Star State has been the backdrop for many a good flick: “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” “Urban Cowboy,” “The Last Picture Show,” “Bernie,” “Boyhood,” (which all the critics raved about, but I thought was pointless.) “No Country for Old Men,” “Tender Mercies,” “Red River,” and, of course, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Incidentally, Oscar was a Texan. In 1931, a librarian at the motion picture academy, Margaret Herrick, upon seeing the little statue, said, “It looks just like my Uncle Oscar.” Oscar Pierce of Texas. And the first award for Best Movie was given in 1927. It was “Wings,” made in San Antonio.
Turning to TV, as a novel, “Lonesome Dove” won Larry McMurtry the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It was intended to be a movie, starring Wayne, James Stewart and Henry Fonda, but John Ford advised Wayne against it. The television miniseries in 1989 drew an estimated 26 million homes. At the 1989 Emmy Awards, the miniseries had 18 nominations and seven wins. “Lonesome Dove” also won two Golden Globes. (Years ago I had an idea for a movie about a West Texas high school football team. Then came “Friday Night Lights,” the book, the movie, the TV series. It will probably become a Broadway musical.) “Dallas” debuted in 1978, as a five-part miniseries on CBS. However, due to the show’s popularity, it was subsequently turned into a regular series and broadcast for 13 full seasons. The program drew an estimated 26 million homes. In the UK, the show drew audiences of over 20 million. Everyone went around asking, “Who shot J.R.?” At the 1989 Emmy Awards, the miniseries had 18 nominations and seven wins. “Lone Star” was a stupid show about a Texas con man who secretly had two families, one in Houston and one in Midland. It was cancelled after only two episodes, and none too soon. “Walker, Texas Ranger” with Chuck Norris ran for nine seasons. It had a great theme song.
Don’t forget to watch “9-1-1 Lone Star.” The first episode includes cowboys line dancing in a honky-tonk. See if there are any longhorns wandering on Congress or show-down gun fights in the Texas Capitol.
Lynn Ashby rides at firstname.lastname@example.org