Small town gossip inspired Peter Bogdanovich’s classic movie.
By Will DiGravio Posted on August 24, 2021
Real Stories is an ongoing column on the true stories behind movies and TV shows. It’s that easy. This installation focuses on the true stories and figures behind Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show.
In a recent issue of this column, we take a look at the true story behind William Friedkin’s 1971 masterpiece, The French connection. That film won the Academy Award for Best Picture over four other classic films: A Clockwork Orange,
Nicolas and Alexandra, Fiddler on the Roof, and The Ultimate Picture Show. Needless to say, 1971 was a great year for cinema.
This issue focuses on the latest of those other contenders. It is based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Larry McMurtry, who also co-wrote the script with the director Peter bogdanovich. As we prepare to celebrate the film’s fiftieth anniversary in October, here’s a look at the true events and the people who inspired the book and film by The Ultimate Picture Show.
Larry McMurtry sets his novel in Thalia, Texas, a fictional version of his own hometown, Archer City. Peter bogdanovich shot the movie in Archer City, but changed the name to Anarene. An ode to the fictional city of Abilene, Kansas, in Howard Hawks red river. The name is not only a tribute to the classic western, but the “last movie show” attended by the characters in Bogdanovich’s film is a screening of Red River.
In its center, The Ultimate Picture Show it’s about the passage of time: high school students become adults; adults see the world they grew up in becomes new. The little ghost town everyone lives in is aggressively banal. The boys play soccer and baffle each other. The girls cheer and dream of getting married. They all grow up and marry other people in town. They have children. Marriages fail. The cycle repeats. Most of the people in the city are miserable. Everyone knows everyone else. And everyone knows what others do to cope with their misery.
In 1990, Bogdanovich directed an adaptation of the sequel that McMurtry wrote of the novel, which is called Texasville. At the time of filming, Weekly entertainment summed up the real city of Archer City:
“Only two notable things have happened in the history of Archer City, Texas. (population 1,862). In 1964, the high school football team, the Wildcats, won the state championship. And in 1971, local boy Larry McMurtry turned his real-life gossip novel into a script with Peter Bogdanovich, who turned it into a movie called The Ultimate Picture Show. “
People and their gossip
Larry McMurtry always insisted that the characters in The Ultimate Picture Show they have no real life counterparts. But the people of Archer City always suspected otherwise.
Three teenagers are at the center of the action of the film: there is the couple of best friends, Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges), who play soccer, chase girls, wander the pool hall, and confuse each other and their friends. Sonny has an affair with Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman), the wife of his basketball coach, and learns life lessons from her and Sam the Lion (Ben johnson), owner of the billiard room, local restaurant and movie theater.
The other teenager the film follows is Jacy Farrow (Shepherd Cybill), one of the most beautiful and popular girls in school. She is from a wealthier family than most of the city. And her parents want her to go to college and have a better life than theirs. But she wants to stay in town, get married, and stay at the center of local gossip. He has adventures with Sonny and Duane in the movie.
The real Sonny Crawford and Duane Jackson
According to the travel magazine Texas RoadsThere is a picture in Larry McMurtry’s high school yearbook of him and a man named Bobby Stubbs. And Stubbs believed that his life served as the inspiration for Sonny Crawford’s character in The Ultimate Picture Show. According to the article:
“Stubbs had a troubled home life and he worked nights like Sonny, and he drove the same type of truck. He was also once hit in the eye by the boyfriend of a girl he liked. “He followed me pretty closely,” Stubbs used to say.
Some speculate that Duane Jackson’s character is based on McMurtry himself. According to the Arkansas Democratic Gazette:
“Bogdanovich cast the twenty-one-year-old Bridges for the role because of his natural sympathy – you needed someone charming to play Duane, otherwise the audience would have hated him more than they did.”
The real Jacy Farrow
Ceil Cleveland Footlick, who passed away in February this year at the age of eighty-four, served as an inspiration for Jacy Farrow. In 1997, Footlick wrote a memoir titled What happened to Jacy Farrow? and I hoped the book would clear things up. Footlick wrote (as quoted by Dallas Morning News):
“In modern American literature, especially Texas literature. Jacy has become an archetype: a beautiful, flirty, mocking blonde whore in a convertible … Now this Jacy wants to tell her story … my story. “
According to Texas Roads, Footlick “was very good friends” with Bobby Stubbs and had voted as the “Most Beautiful Girl” in her class. She always confirmed that Jacy relied on her life. But he would make one thing clear: “I was a good girl.”
Larry McMurtry endorsed Footlick’s book. According to the Dallas Morning News, she said:
“It has given me great propaganda. I think if he thought it was a shame, he would have regained his character. “
The local reception for The Last Picture Show
In the moment of The Ultimate Picture ShowFollowing liberation in 1971, city members traveled “en masse to Wichita Falls, twenty-five miles north, for the dedication.” They weren’t happy as reported years later by the Los Angeles Times:
“The Baptist preacher said the movie was sinful and urged his followers not to read the book or watch the movie (although he wasn’t sure he had either). Some locals accused McMurtry, who graduated from Archer City High School in 1954, of being a Benedict Arnold, and reporters from across the country came to the city to see if Archer City really was the end of the earth as Hollywood had. portrayed “.
In the aftermath, McMurtry wrote a letter to the local newspaper and offered to discuss and debate the film in a public forum. No one accepted his offer. But eventually, the city went ahead and “embraced its only literary son.” As Bogdanovich prepared to shoot Texasville Almost twenty years later, the then principal of the local high school, Nat Lunn, told the Los Angeles Times:
“The bad taste in the mouth that the film left for some is gone… They are looking forward to filming them again. Especially with the scarce money in the city, they are ready for another dose of Hollywood. “
The picture show
The theater that is shown in the movie, you know, where they see the latest image show in town, is a real place – the Royal Theater in Archer City.
In 1989, the Los Angeles Times reported that, as in The Ultimate Picture Show, the theater had closed:
“[Royal Theater] It stands tall as a three-walled skeleton, and no one can figure out whether it is worth the expense to rebuild. The theater had closed long before the filming of the movie and only came to life thanks to the magic of Hollywood. “
After the theater closes in the movie, the characters feel lost. As one of them asks, what can be done in the city without showing the image? It feels especially cruel that movies, so often a temporary respite from the struggles of our own lives, can disappear.
In the years since then, however, the Royal Theater has become a tourist destination. While the front of the theater has been restored, all that remains, according to Texas Roads, is a “helmet burned, popular for weddings, photo shoots and occasional performances.” Film tributes to McMurtry’s work have been screened in the theater in recent years.
On Texas Roads, Michael J. Mooney writes about theater:
It looks the same as in the movie, the image that begins and ends the movie. It’s haunting and beautiful, worn and damaged, but still here, still standing, still staring at that single flickering light swaying in the wind.
Related Topics: True Stories
Will DiGravio began writing for Film School Rejects in 2018. He also hosts The Video Essay Podcast and owns a television.