Robert Duvall Once Called ‘Lonesome Dove’ ‘The Godfather’ of Westerns

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Please don’t argue with Robert Duvall about this topic. Lonesome Dove is “the godfather” of all westerns, at least among the TV variety.

And although Lonesome Dove, which ended up as a blockbuster TV series, plus a sequel, came out 32 years ago, it’s still lauded in Texas. After the series, the Texas Rangers (no, not the baseball team) made Duvall an honorary officer.

“A woman came up to me … and said, ‘Mr. Duvall? I liked your character Gus McCrae in Lonesome Dove. I would not allow my daughter’s fiancee to marry into the family until he’d seen Lonesome Dove,’ Duvall told a Virginia TV station in 2016. “Quite a statement, quite a cultural phenomenon in Texas and other places, too.”

And Duvall had that feeling as he was filming Lonesome Dove, which ran in February 1989.

“I walked into the commissary one day and I said, ‘Boys? We’re making ‘The Godfather’ of Westerns,” Duvall said. “That’s like The Bible in Texas. People gather once a year with their families to watch it.”

CBS

Deep Down, Lonesome Dove Was About True Friendship with Western Back Drop

The mini-series, which told the story of the friendship and loyalty between a couple of retired Texas Rangers, attracted millions of viewers for the four-part mini-series. The show ran on CBS in February, 1989.

The show was set in Lonesome Dove, a fictional Texas town on the Rio Grande River, which also serves as the U.S. border with Mexico.

Tommy Lee Jones played strait-laced Captain Woodrow Call. He was stoic before the word ever was in the dictionary. Duvall played Captain Augustus McCrae. But everybody called him Gus. He was a charming rascal, who enjoyed the ladies as he looked for wife No. 3. The two friends were Texas Rangers. But they thought they left that law life behind when they opened their new business — Hat Creek Cattle Company and Livery Emporium.

Gus told Call: “I’m just tryin’ to keep everything in balance, Woodrow. You do more work than you got to, so it’s my obligation to do less.”

As for the Godfather reference, if you know your Robert Duvall history, you shake your head and agree with him. Duvall was one of the stars of The Godfather, which came along three years after his role in True Grit. As Tom Hagen, Duvall was the top lawyer and adopted son of Vito Corleone. Vito (Marlon Brando) once told Hagen ‘”a lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.”

Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images

Millions Watched Miniseries That Won Seven Emmys

So, let’s change centuries and head back to Lonesome Dove times. The series and its sequel were based on a book written by Texas legend Larry McMurtry. His work was supposed to be for the big screen with John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart in mind for the lead roles.

In Lonesome Dove, the miniseries, Woodrow Call wanted to leave Texas and start the first cattle ranch north of Yellowstone. Gus thought he could go along with the cattle drive and meet up with a lady friend in Nebraska.

If you still haven’t seen Lonesome Dove, maybe look for it on a streaming service. We’re not going to spoil the ending. The series earned seven Emmys. Critics credited it for reviving a sagging TV season. The first episode drew an audience of more than 44 million. None of the four nights of Lonesome Dove goodness and drama dropped below 36 million.

When Gus died, he uttered these final words: “By God, Woodrow; it’s been one hell of a party.”

Outsider.com