Texas native Larry McMurtry was an incredible storyteller. He wrote the beloved western series, Lonesome Dove, which earned him a Pulitzer Prize before it was turned into an Emmy Award-winning miniseries. He also penned the novel Terms of Endearment, which was adapted into an Oscar-winning film. But before those novels, he published the 1966 book The Last Picture Show, a semi-autobiographical novel inspired by his hometown of Archer City, Texas.
The novel was also adapted into a film in 1971 and was shot in the very Texas town in which it took place. The coming of age story focused on high school boys Sonny Crawford (played by Timothy Bottoms), his friend Duane Jackson (played by Jeff Bridges), and the residents of the small town of Anarene, Texas. Though the town was actually called Thalia in the book, director and screenwriter Peter Bogdanovich decided to call the town Anarene after the nearby ghost town a few miles outside of Archer County.
The Last Picture Show
Cybil Shepherd makes her film debut in the role of Jacy Farrow, Duane's love interest. She had been discovered by Bogdanovich after appearing on the cover of Glamour, and he had a gut feeling that she needed to play Jacy. Cloris Leachman plays the role of Ruth Popper, the depressed wife of the high school coach, who has an affair with Sonny. She won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, which Ellen Burstyn was also nominated for in the role of Jacy's mother Lois. Ben Johnson won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the role of Sam the Lion, who owns the "Last Picture Show." There was even a young Randy Quaid in the film, another young actor who was kicking off his career with a bang by appearing in the film.
The Royal Theater was the site of The Last Picture Show, which was showing the John Wayne western film on its closing day, Red River. All in, the film was critically acclaimed and received a total of six Academy Award nominations and five Golden Globe Award nominations. The film has even been preserved in the National Film Registry due to its cultural and historical significance to the United States.
These days, the town of Archer City has nearly become the ghost town it portrayed in the film decades ago. Just 25 miles outside of Wichita Falls, the population in the town has continued to dwindle over the years, estimated to be around 1,700. Famous native son Larry McMurtry, who had grown up in a ranching family outside of town even owned rare and used bookstores in town. He continued to have a thriving writing career, co-writing the 2005 Oscar-nominated film Brokeback Mountain, as well as the popular Houston book series, until his death in 2021.
In 1990, Bogdanovich released a sequel to the original film, Texasville, which brought back many of the film's original stars in their previous roles -- Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Cloris Leachman, Timothy Bottoms, Randy Quaid and Eileen Brennan. Sadly, the film didn't perform as well as its predecessor.
A local Archer City businessman, Abby Abernathy, tried to boost the town's real estate for tourism, but gave up after a few years and moved to Wichita Falls.
"The mentality of the city is that Larry is buying up all the buildings and filling them with books, and what do we need books for?" Abernathy told The Texas Observer in 2007. "They don't understand what he created, which is a one-of-a-kind, one of the largest collections of rare and used books in the Southwest."
But McMurtry told the Texas Observer it's book lovers -- not tourists -- who travel from all over to visit his book stores.
"I'm a polarizing figure. I don't want to be the focus of any town. I don't want to be the person everybody reacts to. They need another villain, or another hero," McMurtry said.
The Royal Theater was reopened in 2000 and has since shown various productions including the Texasville Opry, Late Week Lazy Boy Supper Club and more. In 2005, Austin based Alamo Drafthouse even came to town and played The Last Picture Show on a big screen outside the historic theater.
There are multiple film locations that fans can come see in person.
Archer City High School
The local high school was also used to portray the school in the 1971 film.
The Royal Theater
The theater is still open today.
Sadly, the building is gone but used to be next door to 109 North Center Street, Archer City, Texas.
This was in a nearby town at 200 South Walnut Street, Holliday, Texas.
The doctor's office was also filmed in a nearby town at 306 West Main Street, Olney, Texas.
The Jail House
This was filmed at the actual Archer County Sheriff's Office at 100 Law Enforcement Way.
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