THE LAST PICTURE SHOW-COMING OF AGE-OSCAR WEEK

It seems coincidental to be posting Larry McMurtry’s semi-autobiographical  novel The Last Picture Show on the morning after the Oscars. The 1961 book became the screen play for the 1971 motion picture adaptation starring Cybill Shepherd, Jeff Bridges, Cloris Leachman and Timothy Bottoms as Sonny ( presumably Larry McMurtry).  The picture won two Academy Awards with a total of eight nominations and was followed by a sequel based on McMurtry’s  novel Texasville. McMurtry grew up in West Texas  thus becoming the natural setting for The Last Picture Show.  Surely the book is McMurtry’s coming of age in a everybody knows everybody small town with little to do and less to offer.

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” Sometimes Sonny felt like he was the only human creature in the town. There was only one car parked on the courthouse square-the night watchman’s old white Nash. A cold norther was singing in off the plains, swirling long ribbons of dust down Main Street, the only street in Thalia with businesses on it. Sonny’s pick up was a 41 Chevrolet, not at its best on cold mornings. In front of the picture show it coughed out and had to be choked for a while but then it stared again and jerked its way to the red light, blowing out spumes  of  white exhaust that the wind whipped way.”

Enter the cast of characters, buddies, girl friends, oil field rough necks , the pool hall king, the football coach and his unfulfilled wife, Roberta ( Mrs. Popper). “When Sonny kissed Mrs. Popper outside the Legion Hall it seemed to him that the whole spectrum of delicious experience lay suddenly within his grasp.” And so goes this marvelous adventure of growing up i the 1950s in what could be a hundred other American small towns.  McMurtry’s brilliance nails nearly every nuance  of teens stumbling into adulthood.

It is fitting that we post The Last Picture Show during Oscar week. McMurtry is the author of some 40 screenplays including Lonesome Dove  and he co-authored the screen play for Brokeback Mountain. He has also written thirty highly acclaimed novels including Lonesome Dove for which he won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.  The book was the basis of the TV series and the blockbuster motion picture of the same name.  Search goordonsgoodreads.com for overviews of McMurtry’s other great series of books on the American West.

AN OSCAR FOR JACK VALENTI, A MEMOIR

Since beginning this blog I have been waiting for the right time to  recognize Jack Valenti.  There is a sentimental background to this posting as I was one of those incidental folks who worked with him tangentially on  some media events.  I mention that only to allow me to say that Jack Valenti made every individual he touched feel special.  In Jack’s world no one was ” incidental.”  His respect for all individuals was a basic tenet of his success.

Oscar week is the perfect time to remember his memoir This Time, This Place, My Life in War, the White House  and Hollywood. His last most prominent professional position was as  the legendary CEO of The Motion Picture Association of America. Jack Valenti died in  2007, the very year that this memoir was published.

Jack Valenti grew up poor in Texas, put himself through school delivering groceries,  graduated from Harvard and joined the Army Air Corps in World War Two.  He flew 52 combat missions as the pilot of a B-25 attack bomber based in Italy.

Upon his return, Valenti formed a small advertising and public relations agency in Houston and as fate would have it  then Vice-President Lyndon Johnson heard about this bright young man and in the summer of 1963 secured his services  as an advance man for the  Kennedy-Johnson 1964 campaign.  Valenti was in the Dallas motorcade on that fateful  November day, and flew to Washington on Air Force One  to remain at now President Johnson’s side. He became Special Assistant to President Johnson and served as his most trusted confidant.

The stories that Valenti recalls in his memoir are historically revealing and  personally insightful, including LBJ’s reaction when Jack announced  he was quitting to take the job at the MPAA!

As MPAA CEO Valenti transitioned into the Hollywood circles with the deftness of the master politician that he was. He accomplished his goals in those treacherous ego filled waters because he was good, trusted and loved. You will travel with Jack , in his element, among the moguls, stars and starlets of Hollywood.  The stories are wonderful. He star is on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I can not recommend more highly this well written and fascinating look at  a great American story with all the elements of the child of emigrants working his way to navigate and thrive in the highest levels of the land. It is if course also a special and unique look inside the Johnson Presidency.

If you are one who is  fascinated by the persona of LBJ there is one other great book that must be mentioned here, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lyndon Johnson and The American Dream.

These are not  ” text-book reads” they are fascinating page turners with characters and personalities as good as in the best novel!