Larry McMurtry writes of love affair with movies

"Hollywood: A Third Memoir," by Larry McMurtry. Simon & Schuster, $24.

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"I liked Hollywood from the moment I first visited it," Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Larry McMurtry writes in this gossipy memoir -- his third in three years -- "and I like it still."

It takes an author with a healthy ego and a lot to say to write three memoirs, but if anyone can pull it off, this prolific Texas writer can.

Mr. McMurtry's first one, "Books," published in 2008, covered his career as a bookseller; his second, "Literary Life," came out a year later and focused on his more than 40 books.

This new memoir is about his longtime love affair with Hollywood, where he has spent a lot of time as a screenwriter and consultant on numerous films based on his books, including "The Last Picture Show," "Lonesome Dove," "Terms of Endearment" and "Hud."

It's an entertaining, behind-the-scenes look at how movies really get made. And it's full of amusing short takes about everybody from Jack Nicholson and Cybill Shepherd to Sam Botts, one of several impostors claiming to be the writer after the huge popularity of "Lonesome Dove."

His most successful writing partnership is with Diana Ossana, with whom he shared an Oscar for their screenplay of "Brokeback Mountain," from the short story by Anne Proulx.

One of the most gossipy stories in the book involves the filming of "Terms of Endearment."

Jennifer Jones staged a dinner for him "mainly to convince me what a wonderful Aurora she would be," he writes. But when her good friend Cary Grant turned down the male role, producers lost interest in the film.

It wasn't until Jack Nicholson made a last-minute decision to take the role and Shirley MacLaine signed on as Aurora that the film was finally made and won several Oscars.

Mr. McMurtry is not "proprietary" about his books, he writes, though many authors are. He just hopes the films will be good.

He doesn't reveal much about his Hollywood income, except to say that he was an active scriptwriter in the mid- to late-1980s.

He placed himself at the "low end of the market. I'd ask for a simple $250,000 and get it easily."

Mr. McMurtry has worked on about 70 projects in Hollywood, and is still pecking out screenplays in his mid-70s. He thinks he keeps getting jobs because he can create characters that major actors might want to play.

He continues to write books, though they seem to get smaller and smaller. This one is only 146 pages, and the shortest chapter has only three sentences.

Some readers have complain ed about his short chapters, but he's "old," he says, "and there are many subjects about which I have something to say -- just not much."

But there's no better storyteller around than Mr. McMurtry, and good writing always depends on storytelling, as he proves once again in this compulsively readable book.

Elizabeth Bennett is a freelance writer in Houston.


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