Punctuated by the occasional whinny of a horse or the lowing of penned cattle, a group of Fort Worth dignitaries including Ed Bass and Mayor Betsy Price presided over a “rope cutting” Friday in the heart of downtown to kick off a six-month series of events celebrating Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove.
And over the course of an hour, attendees learned a few “naked” truths about the 1989 miniseries that made the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel a pop-culture phenomenon.
The “Start of the Lonesome Dove Trail” event took place outside the Sid Richardson Museum in Sundance Square, which opened its “Lonesome Dove: The Art of Story” exhibit at noon Friday.
The exhibit, which runs through June 19, will feature Remingtons and Russells from the Richardson and several other top museums of the Southwest, as well as pages from one of the earliest known trail drive journals and from McMurtry’s annotated manuscript.
There’s also a Lonesome Dove trail map from the 1989 miniseries, storyboard illustrations and pages from the screenplay written by Bill Wittliff.
“We are only steps away from where Larry McMurtry found his characters engaged in some of their most memorable shenanigans,” said Bass, the chairman of the Sid Richardson Foundation, in his introductory remarks.
“Where the ill-fated Jake Spoon gambled,” Bass said, “and where Jasper Fant drank the night away with the rest of the cowboy crew before taking their swollen heads — nursed with dewberry cobbler — and their herd of cattle, north to cross the Red River.
“They are just lucky they didn’t run into Marshall Jim Courtright while they were here in town.”
Actor Barry Tubb, who played Jasper Fant in the miniseries, was among the guest speakers. Tubb said that Lonesome Dove definitely has its roots in Fort Worth.
“It’s a little-known fact that Larry McMurtry was sitting in a cafe here in Fort Worth when he saw a church van drive by and it said, ‘Lonesome Dove Baptist Church,’ ” Tubb said. “So the genesis of Lonesome Dove actually began here in Fort Worth.”
Tubb also shared some memories of the occasionally arduous filming.
“The first day I arrived, we all had to ride naked,” Tubb said. “That was a pretty good litmus test for who could ride and who couldn’t ride. The guys who couldn’t ride were kinda way, way back in the back.”
Fort Worth-based actor Barry Corbin, who played Roscoe Brown in the miniseries, read an excerpt from McMurtry’s multilayered novel about a trail drive in the late 1870s.
Corbin said afterward that because he had a relatively small role in the miniseries, he wasn’t there for the entire filming. He was on set during the first couple of weeks, went off to shoot scenes in two movies, then returned to the set for some additional filming. So he missed some rough moments.
“I came back, and everybody was mad,” Corbin said with a laugh. “I asked [co-star] Tim Scott what happened. He said, ‘Cattle drive.’ ”
The onstage remarks were followed by the rope-cutting and a preview of the “The Art of Story” exhibit.
A map of “The Lonesome Dove Trail” handed out at Friday’s rope-cutting lists the other events coming up:
▪ A “Bullets and Bustles: Costumes of Lonesome Dove” exhibit, Feb. 19-April 17 at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame;
▪ “Photographs From Lonesome Dove by Bill Wittliff,” the same dates at the Cattle Raisers Museum;
▪ A two-night screening of the entire miniseries, March 28 and 29, in Sundance Square Plaza.
“We are ... pioneering a track that begins here in Fort Worth at the Sid Richardson Museum,” Bass said, going into a series of Western metaphors, “Encounters bullets, bustles and photographs at three other frontier museums along the way — the Cowgirl, the Cattle Raisers, and the Carter; risks dangerous river crossings at TCU, the Fort Worth Library and McDavid Studio ... [and] requires night herding skills for when the herd gets restless in Sundance Square Plaza.”
Cast-and-crew panels are scheduled March 30 at TCU and March 31 at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth Library and McDavid Studio.
A symposium, “Vaqueros, Cowboys and Cowgirls: Texas Cattle Trails to the World” will take place April 2 at the Fort Worth Library, and one non-Fort Worth event, “Lonesome Dove: Highlights of the Witliff Collections,” will run April 30-July 23 at the Old Jail Art Center in Albany, about two hours west of Fort Worth.
(Much of the miniseries production material in the Sid Richardson Museum exhibition comes from the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University.)
Miniseries leads Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones, as well as stars Diane Lane, Anjelica Huston and other cast members, are expected to attend a March 31 reunion gala at River Ranch in the Stockyards. Tickets for the gala quickly sold out.