Turning The West Upside Down

This promotional photo provided by Focus Features shows actors Jake Gyllenhaal, left, and Heath Ledger in a scene from director Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain." The film was announced Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2005, in Los Angeles, as a best- picture nominee for the 2006 Independent Spirit Awards.
AP/Focus Features
By now you have certainly heard about, and maybe even seen, "Brokeback Mountain," the story of two ranch hands who fall in love on a summer sheep-herding job and then have to hide their relationship from society's disapproving gaze.

But when people hear who co-wrote the film's screenplay -- which by the way is up for an Oscar -- lots of them seem to say, "Larry McMurtry? Wait a minute, Larry McMurtry is the guy who writes about the traditional old West," CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Rita Braver ponders.

"They're just wrong about me, not much more to say to that," McMurtry responds.

But McMurtry, author of 41 books and scores of screenplays, is the son of a cattle rancher, and known for his skill at observing and communicating the very essence of the American West.

"Well, I've lived in the West 55 of my 70 years. I've traveled to every part of the West -- most parts of the West many times. I mean if you spend 55 years in the region and you have any smarts at all, you pick up a few things," McMurtry says.

Things that he put into his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "Lonesome Dove," the epic story of two former Texas Rangers on an arduous cattle drive, became a top-rated TV miniseries.

His novel "Horseman Pass By" about the struggles between a rancher and his willful son, was made into the film "Hud."

"And the Last Picture Show," for which he wrote the novel and co-wrote the screenplay, is a 1950s coming of age story in a hard-luck Texas town.

Unlike most of his best known work, "Brokeback Mountain" is not McMurtry's original creation. It's based on a story by writer Annie Proulx and it was first spotted by Diana Ossana, who co-wrote the screenplay with McMurtry and also co-produced the film.

McMurtry describes his relationship with Ossana as one of friendship and business. Ossana agrees, adding, "Yeah, we're the best of friends and long-time friends."

Such good friends that when McMurtry was recovering from heart surgery in 1991 and came to visit Ossana in Tucson, Ariz., "He didn't leave for 2 ½ years. He just all of a sudden said, 'I can't go. I can't be alone. I need to stay here.' And I said, 'Fine.'"

Ossana, whose daughter Sara is McMurtry's goddaughter, had recently retired from her job as a law firm administrator. An amateur writer herself, she was heart broken to see that McMurtry was unable to work.

"All he did was sit on the couch and stare at the mountains and I said, 'Enough is enough' to myself. We've got to get him back out into the world," Ossana remembers.

Finally, he agreed to work, but only if Ossana would help. Their first project, a screenplay about the outlaw Pretty Boy Floyd, which eventually became a novel.

When Ossana is asked if she felt intimidated trying to co-write a story with an accomplished author, McMurtry chimed in, saying, "We weren't writing the Mosaic tablets, we weren't writing the -- we were writing little scenes about Pretty Boy Floyd. Ya know, it wasn't like -- it wasn't a towering intellectual experience, it's screenwriting, it's a craft. And, and I have no reason to doubt that Diana could do it very well, which she does."