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A Guide to the Lonesome Dove Television Miniseries Production Archives, 1985-1990

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Lonesome Dove Television Miniseries
Title: Lonesome Dove Television Miniseries Production Archives
Dates: 1985-1990
Abstract: The Lonesome Dove archive contains scripts, memos, letters, notes, production forms, set and costume sketches, set blueprints, photographs, props, costumes, videotapes, audiocassettes and a laser videodisc. The material details every aspect of the production--from the writing of the teleplay through the budgeting, casting, planning, scheduling, filming, publicity and distribution.
Extent: 78 linear feet
Language: Materials are written in English.
Repository: Southwestern Writers Collection, Special Collections, Alkek Library, Texas State University-San Marcos

Production History

The Lonesome Dove miniseries originated from a chance meeting between Motown Productions president Suzanne de Passe and author Larry McMurtry in which de Passe asked McMurtry about his current project. McMurtry subsequently sent a copy of his unpublished Lonesome Dove to de Passe who quickly snatched up the film rights. The book was published in June 1985, and went on to spend 20 weeks on the New York Times best seller list. It received the 1985 Pulitzer Prize, the Spin Award for Best Western Novel of 1985 and the Texas Institute of Letters Jesse Jones Award for Best Fictional Book.

Lonesome Dove originated as a screenplay called The Streets of Laredo, which was intended as a vehicle for John Wayne, Henry Fonda and James Stewart. The 288-page script was written by McMurtry with Peter Bogdanovich in 1972. The project failed to materialize and McMurtry eventually chose to expand the idea into a sprawling 843-page novel eulogizing the Texas past, both factual and mythical, as represented by the horseman and cowboy. Motown Productions contracted with CBS Television to air the western as an eight-hour miniseries. Bill Wittliff, who had scripted the westerns Barbarosa (1982) and Red Headed Stranger (1986), was signed to write the teleplay. He also served as Executive Producer. Filming began March 1988 in Austin, Texas; moved to Del Rio, Texas in April and then to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in May, wrapping in July after 88 days of shooting. The film, directed by Simon Wincer and starring Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Urich, Danny Glover, Anjelica Huston and Diane Lane, aired on CBS in February 1989 to high ratings and critical acclaim.

Among Lonesome Dove's many awards were seven Emmys for directing, sound editing, sound mixing, makeup, costume, music, and casting. It also received a Peabody Award and two Golden Globe Awards, one for best miniseries and one to Robert Duvall for best actor in a miniseries. Duvall, already a celebrated actor noted for a distinguished career, reported that the character Gus was a favorite role, and he remarked "When I was doing The Godfather, I knew we were doing something big. When I was doing Lonesome Dove, I got the same feeling. I've only felt that a couple of times in my life." (New York Tribune, Feb 6, 1989) Bill Wittliff reminisced "sometimes something just takes over and Lonesome Dove is a good example of that. I think every element works, from cast to crew to wardrobe to Jerry [sic] White's art design and the production design . . . it was just a beautiful combination of enormously talented people . . . [and] the final project was larger than all the people." (Austin Chronicle, 3/11/94, 38)

Scope and Content Note

The Lonesome Dove archive contains scripts, memos, letters, notes, production forms, set and costume sketches, set blueprints, photographs, props, costumes, videotapes, audiocassettes and a laser videodisc. The material details every aspect of the production--from the writing of the teleplay through the budgeting, casting, planning, scheduling, filming, publicity and distribution. The archival arrangement follows the order of production and is organized into eleven series: 1. Story and Script, 2. Producer's Unit, 3. Production Staff, 4. Casting, 5. Art, 6. Wardrobe, 7. Production, 8. Post-Production, 9. Distribution, 10. Publicity, 11. Congratulations and Awards. Of particular interest are the various drafts of the screenplay, the almost complete set of production records, the dailies, the set designs, the story boards, the props, the costumes, the costume research notes and Bill Wittliff's photography of the cast and filming.

The archive was donated through Bill Wittliff. Some material was sent to Wittliff for inclusion in the collection by others--producer Suzanne de Passe; storyboard artist Michael Peal; property master Eric Williams; actors Tim Scott, Glenne Headly and Anjelica Huston; production designers Cary White and John Frick; costume designer Van Broughton Ramsey; and composer Basil Poledouris. The remainder of the archive belonged to Wittliff as writer and producer.

Series I: Story and Script, 1986-1988

Suzanne de Passe, president of Motown Productions, enlisted Bill Wittliff to write the screenplay for Lonesome Dove. Wittliff, a native Texan, had been writing films since 1977, beginning with the CBS-TV movie Thaddeus Rose and Eddie and including credit for The Black Stallion (1979), Honeysuckle Rose (1980), Raggedy Man (1981), Barbarosa (1982), Country (1984) and Red Headed Stranger (1986). Wittliff's experience compelled him to seek some creative control to assure his ability to protect the integrity of his script. He was made executive producer as well as screenwriter, and he shared creative control with de Passe and CBS-TV. The collection of notes, drafts, polishes and final script provides an unusually clear-cut example of how to transform a lengthy, multi-peopled, much-beloved novel into a film while still retaining the substance of the original.

The series begins with a typescript of Lonesome Dove sent by Larry McMurtry's agent Irving Paul (Swifty) Lazar to Suzanne de Passe in 1985. This is followed by Wittliff's marked hardback and soft back copies of the novel; by the notes, rough drafts, and typescripts for each of the four parts of the miniseries; and by the final shooting script with blue and pink pages reflecting revisions made just before and during shooting. The title page of the shooting script was signed by every actor who had a speaking line in the miniseries.

Series II: Producer's Unit, 1987-1991

Executive Producers: Suzanne de Passe and Bill Wittliff; Assistant to Mr. Wittliff: Connie Todd; Co-executive Producer: Robert Halmi; Producer: Dyson Lovell; Supervising Producer: Michael Weisbarth

This series is primarily made up of correspondence among the producers. The majority of the memos are from Dyson Lovell and deal with scheduling, hiring, budget, set behavior, etc. Wittliff's files contain letters, thank yous from actors, bills and notes relating to the production. Present also is the correspondence of Wittliff's assistant Connie Todd as well as her research on period music to be used in the film.

Series III: Production Staff, 1987-1988

Production Manager: Dick Gallegly; Assistant Production Manager: Adam Merims; 1st Assistant Director: Robert Rooy; Key 2nd Assistant Director: Matt Bearson; Production Coordinator: Jill Lopez; Asst. Production Coordinator: Nikol Hegarty; Location Manager: John Gibson; Script Supervisor: Cynthia Upstill.

Here is found the paperwork of the production manager and the script supervisor. The production manager supervises the technical staff and is responsible for the budget and technical details of the production. His memos deal with cost, censorship, location information, set problems, etc. His staff prepares the production forms--standard documents used throughout the film and television industry which detail every aspect of a production. Included here are the budget breakdown, script breakdown, production board, shooting schedules, Day-Out-of-Days, One-liner Schedules, Call Sheets and Daily Production Reports.

The Script Supervisor is responsible for continuity, i.e. assuring that the different takes are consistent with one another despite the fact that scenes are rarely shot in chronological or script sequence order. This position also serves as the link between the director and the film editor. The Continuity Script and the Cutter's Log represent the script supervisor's functions.

Series IV: Casting, 1988

Casting (Principals): Lynn Kressel, New York; Casting (Locals): Liz Keigley, Texas.

The memos in this series relate casting requirements, options considered and actors chosen.

Series V: Art, 1988

Production Designer: Cary White; Assistant Production Designer: John Frick; Storyboard Artist: Michael Peal; Property Master: Eric Williams.

Here are found the set designs as drawn by the Production Designer Cary White and his assistant, John Frick. Cary White, a Texas-based designer, had worked with Wittliff on Red Headed Stranger (1986) and had also designed for Texas Chainsaw Massacre II (1986) and Nadine (1987). The drawings and plans for Lonesome Dove include a sketch of the town of Lonesome Dove, construction details for the Whiskey Boat, a map showing the path of the characters from Texas to Montana, a sketch of Clara's ranch and a sketch of the Montana ranch.

This series also holds the storyboard rough drawings and copies of the finished drawings for Scenes 24 to 28, "Horse Rustling;" Scenes 56 to 59, "Dust Storm and Lightning;" and Scenes 223 to 225, "Buffalo Chase and Gus's wounding.” Each of these sequences requires action, a large cast of animals and/or special effects. The pictorial layout of the shots in storyboard form facilitates the logistical planning of the scenes to avoid risk, delay or unnecessary takes. Storyboard artist Michael Peal had previously drawn storyboards for Blood Simple (1982) and Save the Dog (1987). He had been a set dresser on Red Headed Stranger (1985) and a set decorator on Texas Chainsaw Massacre II (1986). Most of the set drawings are in Box 22 (formerly LD B), and the map case in 705.

Included here too are the Property Master Eric Williams' snapshots used for continuity. These photos illustrate in great detail the mass of props employed in the miniseries--saddles, bridles, guns, bows, belts, gear, bedrolls, etc. The Polaroids were originally kept on large circular rings or tied together with leather thongs. The series also contains actual props such as Gus' muslin wrapped body, Gus’ Colt Dragoon pistol, knife, and Gus' and Deets' grave markers and Po Campo's walking stick.

Series VI: Wardrobe, 1988

Costume Designer: Van Broughton Ramsey

Costume designer Ramsey had previously designed the wardrobe for Horton Foote's dramas of early 20th Century Texas life, 1918 (1984), and On Valentine's Day (1986). Ramsey kept his notes, forms and drawings in two cloth zipper notebook containers. A blue container held Ramsey's sketches of costumes for the principal characters and includes notes from the novel, cloth swatches and photocopies of period photos from books and articles. A purple container held the shooting schedule, contact sheet, filming locations, purchases and sizes of the principals and extras. Four black notebooks (now removed) labeled Volume I to IV held snapshots on each character in costume, followed by a form listing every item of clothing worn in the scenes in which the character appeared. Also available in this series are costumes, hats, boots and other accessories.

Series VII: Production, 1988

This series deals with material used or generated during the filming of Lonesome Dove from March through July 1988. Glenn Headley contributed her script for the character Elmira marked with her notes. Bill Wittliff, not only a screenwriter and producer, but also an accomplished photographer, publisher and book designer, contributed many of his photographs of performers and scenes taken during the filming. A complete set of the dailies on 3/4 inch tape is also found in this series. (Note: Dailies may not be viewed without the permission of Bill Wittliff.)

Series VIII: Post-Production, 1988-1989

Editor: Corky Ehlers; Music: Basil Paledouris

This series covers the material used in the post-production phase--film editing and the addition of music and sound. It contains the post-production schedule, budget, location breakdown and cost reports. The cutting notes include the suggestions of Wittliff, the producer Dyson Lovell and the director Simon Wincer. The various cuts--the editor's rough cut, the director's cut, the producer's cuts and the final cuts--are available with permission on 3/4 inch and 1/2 inch videotape. The ADR sheets document the dialogue to be added to the film which was recorded in the studio in October 1988. The music is represented by spotting notes, memos, video recording session forms and audiotapes of the score by Basil Poledouris.

Series IX: Distribution, 1988-1989

This series contains memos on distribution plans by Quintex, the company which held international distribution rights. Quintex went into bankruptcy and the court records found here provide information on foreign distribution of the miniseries.

Series X: Publicity, 1986-1991

The publicity files contain videotapes and clippings produced by CBS to promote the miniseries. In addition, there are various newspaper clippings and articles on Lonesome Dove including critical reviews and interviews with the cast.

Series XI: Congratulations and Awards, 1989-1990

The letters of congratulations to Wittliff found here indicate the enthusiasm with which the miniseries was greeted. There are files on the many honors received by Lonesome Dove--18 Emmy nominations which resulted in seven Emmys, the award for Best Miniseries and Best Television Program of 1989 from the National Association of Television Critics, the D. W. Griffith Award for Best Television Miniseries, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame Wrangle Award for the Best Western Television Feature in 1989, the Golden Globe Award for best Television Miniseries and Best Actor in a Miniseries, the Peabody Award and the Writers Guild of America award to Bill Wittliff for the teleplay.


Access Restrictions

Open for Research.

Photographs may not be reproduced without the permission of Bill Wittliff. The dailies and the editing cuts may not be viewed without the permission of Bill Wittliff. Contact Special Collections staff for details.

Index Terms

Texas Literature.
Audiovisual materials.
Wittliff, William D., donor

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Lonesome Dove Television Miniseries Records, Southwestern Writers Collection/Texas State University-San Marcos.

Acquisition Information

Donated by and through Bill Wittliff since 1988.

Processing Information

Processed by Gwyneth Cannan, September 1994.

Detailed Description of the Collection


The inventory for this collection is currently unavailable. Please contact the Southwestern Writers Collection, Special Collections, Alkek Library, Texas State University-San Marcos for more information regarding this collection.