Robert Duvall Revealed ‘Lonesome Dove’ Role Nearly Went To Another Western Star

by Joe Rutland

While it might be hard to believe, actor Robert Duvall said his role in “Lonesome Dove” almost went to another very popular Western star.

Duvall, in a 2014 interview with Cowboys & Indians Magazine, remembered that actor Tommy Lee Jones was not his only competition for the Gus McCrae role. Producers considered another actor for the McCrae part during pre-production.

“My agent then was handling James Garner, who was the first one they offered it to,” Duvall said. “So I told them: ‘If you can get James Garner to change parts with me, then I’ll be interested.’

“Well, they came back and said, ‘He’s got health issues. He can’t be on a horse for six to eight weeks,'” Duvall said. “So I got the part.”

‘Lonesome Dove’ Was Based On Book By Late Author Larry McMurtry

“Lonesome Dove” was based on the book by Larry McMurtry, which came out in 1985. He won a Pulitzer Prize for the book. Jones would play Woodrow F. Call in the 1989 miniseries. McMurtry died in March 2021.

Now classic TV fans know Garner from his time on “The Rockford Files” as private eye Jim Rockford. But Garner also played in the TV series “Maverick” and Western movies like “Support Your Local Gunfighter.” Garner died on July 19, 2014, at 86 years old.

“Lonesome Dove” was a novel that focused on getting older as well as life and death on the frontier. It originally aired over four nights on CBS. The miniseries won seven Emmy Awards while being nominated for 18. Besides Duvall and Jones, other cast members included Danny Glover, Anjelica Huston, Diane Lane, and Robert Urich.

A lot of the miniseries’ scenes were shot on the Moody Ranch near Del Rio, Texas.

Costumes From Miniseries Are Available For Viewing

If you ever find yourself near San Marcos, Texas, then you might want to stop by Texas State University. 

The university is the home of “Lonesome Dove” props, costumes, and other memorabilia. It has its own exhibit as part of the Wittliff Collection. The exhibit is open to the public, so fans of the miniseries can see these original pieces of work.

Screenwriter Bill Wittliff helped put this collection together. Wittliff pulled some strings with the cast and crew members to donate props and artifacts to Texas State University for display.

Another interesting side note is this also became a movie for John Wayne. Yes, “The Duke” was going to play Call in what was a screenplay at the time called “Streets of Laredo.” But that never happened. McMurtry saw his idea as a movie that would star Wayne and Jimmy Stewart as Gus.

So, McMurtry took the screenplay and turned it into a novel. One that stands the test of time even to this day.