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The Once and Future State: A Writer’s Texas V

           I was interested to hear Steve talk about his identification with the Alamo and Elizabeth with strong women characters and with the film clips we just saw. I identify with the loser kids in The Last Picture Show, with the boys who date cattle and so on.

            But that really was my high school that’s being portrayed in that film, and Larry McMurtry, the author of that novel and co-author of the screenplay, once said a great thing about small towns in Texas. He said he grew up in a bookless town in a bookless part of the state. And I thought, Well, he’d have to get in line. That’s where we all grew up in the Texas of the 1950s.

            The other character that I identify with more and more strongly as years go by is Jett Rink, and I was thinking if I could win the lotto tonight, I would be Jett Rink. He’s this boy who would like to make it rich—like to get rich and so on. Now, he has some nasty characteristics, nasty practices along the way and wealth corrupts him. It wouldn’t corrupt me at all. It would purify me.

            And it would send me straight to Italy, which is my spiritual home.

            But from a personal point of view, from the point of view of trying to write about Texas, I grew up in what I call the unmythic part of Texas, which is North Central Texas, Collin County, northeast of Dallas. And I grew up on a cotton farm, and our animals were not prancing cow ponies but mules, and there ain’t nothing romantic about mules. And I was thinking if Fort Worth is where the West begins, Collin County is where the South ended.

            So the Texas I knew was not a romantic place at all. It was a place pretty much of hard labor and small farms, quite decent people. And the Texas that mattered, the Texas that seemed real was the Texas I saw in the movies on Saturday afternoons and then at the theater with my family during the week, when we would go to what we’d call A-level pictures—Red River, movies like that. And that Texas seemed wonderful. There were beautiful, snow-clad mountains near Amarillo. There was beautiful desert country near Beaumont, and everybody owned vast cattle ranches and seemed to have a very jolly time of it.

            And so I would go home, and my Texas wasn’t at all like the Texas I saw in the movies. And since then, I’ve been writing about real Texas and my Texas and trying to connect the two, and they rarely connect.

            The last note I would say is that, in 1978, the final insult to my Texas heritage came when the TV show Dallas became popular, and it turned out that Southfork is located three country miles from where I was born, and in terms of mythology, about three million miles. But Dallas, for me, was the completion of a process of westernizing Texas, of erasing East Texas and its embarrassing connections with the South and so on.

            And so for me, the movies have always been both an attraction and a source of amusement, and at times of irritation.