Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Larry McMurtry is currently working on five movie scripts, including the film adaptation of S.C. Gwynne‘s Empire of the Summer Moon about the legendary half-white/half-Comanche chief Quanah Parker. So when McMurtry (shown in photo by Randy Hunter)Â made a rare appearance in Snyder, Texas, Labor Day weekend to take part in the first-ever John Wayne Film Fest, you knew he would speak with authority introducing The Searchers, director John Ford’s classic western. The 1956 flick, which starred Wayne, Natalie Wood and Jeffrey Hunter, was said to have been based on the kidnaping of Parker’s then-9-year-old mother by Comanches in the 1830s–in what’s now the state of Texas, not Monument Valley in Utah and Arizona, as depicted in Ford’s masterpiece.
“I’m very contrarian where The Searchers are concerned, because I know a whole lot more about the history of Northwest Texas than I did 50 years ago,” McMurtry told 60 or 70 people gathered in an open field for the outdoor screening near Snyder’s old VFW hall Friday night.Â “… Ford was an autocrat. He simply decided that Monument Valley was the best place to film, so he turned Monument Valley into the West. Monument Valley isn’t the West. There were no Comanches there.
“The kidnapping of Cynthia Ann Parker, the mother of Quanah Parker, [took place] in 1836, not 1868 [as shown in the film, when] Comanche power was diminishing,” McMurtry went on. ” It also “didn’t take that long to find out where Cynthia Ann Parker was. But here we have a four- to five-year search. … I’m not saying it’s an ineffective movie. It’s very potent. But there are some discrepancies that bother people like myself.”
The following morning, the author of Lonesome Dove and other best-selling novels showed up at the crowded Manhattan Coffeehouse, on the Snyder town square, and spent nearly an hour answering questions from fans and festival-goers. Asked what he thought of Wayne, the focal point of Snyder’s 72-hour movie marathon, McMurtry replied: “John Wayne is a very powerful iconic American actor. I think his work varied, according to the director.”
Since many novelists and filmmakers take historical liberties, the writer was asked, do the discrepancies he referred to Friday night make The Searchers less of a film? (The movie, after all, was voted the best western of all time by the American Film Institute.)
“The historical discrepancies make it less of a good movie for me,” McMurtry replied. “Movies are not stories; they’re pictures … [and] the visuals are extraordinary. … The story can be bulls***; it’s the pictures and acting that matter. [Wayne] spends five years looking for the girl [in the film, just] so that he can kill her? How did he change [in deciding against killing her, in the end]? When did he change? That bothers me. It’s a mystery.
“I think [the film company] got better work out of John Wayne than it did out of John Ford.”