What Can You Buy at Larry McMurtry's Auction? | Dallas Observer

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What's Listed in Larry McMurtry’s Estate Sale? Typewriters, Pistols and His Duct-Taped Boots

Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry at the Oscars.
Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry at the Oscars. Vince Bucci/Getty
Rob Vogt could feel Larry McMurtry’s presence throughout the late Texas author’s home, just a few blocks from downtown Archer City. Walking through the house, Vogt, an auctioneer from San Antonio, imagined scenes of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist with Hollywood stars and famous men of letters chilling and talking shop. One of Vogt’s favorite writers, Christopher Hitchens, spent time with McMurtry at his home. They’d get to drinking and talking and, of course, telling stories. Vogt described it as a "Fitzgerald in Paris" kind of situation.

Writers had been coming to Archer City for decades to visit McMurtry’s bookstore, Booked Up, where the author could be found among his books, hundreds of thousands of them, in four different buildings. A son of a local cowboy and rancher, McMurtry drove books to Archer City like a cowboy on the range — that is, until 2012, when he decided to sell 300,000 of them because he figured they would be a burden on his heirs, according to an Aug. 11, 2012, Reuters report.

“I think I had about 20 good years,” McMurtry, who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1986 for Lonesome Dove, told Reuters. “Writers don’t get better as they get older, they get worse. Fifty is usually the stopping point.”

McMurtry had been determined to turn Archer City into a book town. He called it a place that often made you feel “like the only human creature in town,” as Texas Monthly reported in late February.

Instead it became a nexus for writers.

Shortly after McMurtry’s death, Vogt was walking in those same places, among the typewriters McMurtry used — specifically a Swiss-made Hermes 3000 — to write masterpieces such as 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, an Oscar-winning screenplay that McMurtry penned with his writing partner, Diana Ossana. (The screenplay was based on a short story by Annie Proulx.) Vogt even pulled McMurtry’s boots from the closet, handled some of his firearms and touched personal first editions of McMurtry’s iconic literary works, such as 1975’s Terms of Endearment.

“Just to be there in person,” Vogt recalls. “It was special.”

Though lost in nostalgia during his visit, Vogt wasn’t there simply as an admirer. He was there on business, specifically for his family’s appraisal and auction house, which will host McMurtry’s partial estate auction at 1 p.m. on Memorial Day, May 29, at Vogt Auction Galleries in San Antonio. Bidding will be available online.

Vogt Auction Galleries will offer 300 to 400 of McMurtry’s personal belongings, from his typewriters — 14 of them, about half in working condition — and his writing desk to personal copies of his landmark books. Artwork and furnishings from McMurtry’s home, his firearms — both long guns and pistols — and memorabilia from his Hollywood productions will also be available, as will two pairs of his cowboy boots, which will probably have Gus McCrae turning over in his grave.

The full auction catalog will be published online May 5 on Vogt’s website.

“His voice more so interpreted this place, Texas, that we love and live in, not only to the U.S. but the world,” Vogt says. “These objects are a connection to that genius.”

McMurtry’s voice is what brought George Getschow, a former writer-in-residence of the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas, to Archer City in the early 2000s with a class of journalists seeking to become storytellers like McMurtry. Over the next decade, he’d continue to bring UNT students to town, and notable writers, editors and literary agents from around the country would join them in celebration of McMurtry’s spirit, though the literary icon was still alive then. They’d gather at the local Dairy Queen in the same booth where McMurty wrote Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, hoping to tap into the inspiration that McMurtry harnessed to write novels such as The Last Picture Show, Duane’s Depressed and Texasville, all stories connected to Archer City as the fictional town of Thalia.

“It saddens me, of course, that his bookstores are gone, the books in his home and his personal possessions are being auctioned off.” – George Getschow

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Some in Getschow’s class were lucky enough to meet McMurtry, experiencing what Vogt experienced as he stood in what many considered a sacred place. McMurtry had earned a degree in English from the University of North Texas in 1958, when it was known as North Texas State University.

Getschow is nearly finished with a collection of stories about McMurtry from prominent writers and close friends who knew him. Pastures of the Empty Page will be released in September, and all the royalties, Getschow says, will go toward a nonprofit foundation in honor of McMurtry, the Archer City Writers Workshop. He calls it a “living legacy to Larry McMurtry.”

Over the years, Getschow has gotten familiar with McMurtry and those who knew him. He was there at the Great Book Auction of 2012, when McMurtry attempted to sell 300,000 volumes he’d collected over the years, and he’ll no doubt attend the partial estate sale of McMurtry’s personal belongings in late May.

Each summer in Archer City, he’d gather student writers at the historic Spur Hotel, where dozens of nonfiction books, including those by McMurtry, awaited them in a space that resembled the Duttons’ dining room from Yellowstone. During the day, students would disperse into the town and often find themselves lost in a maze of books at McMurtry’s bookstores.

The books that Vogt is auctioning on May 29 are from McMurtry’s personal collection at his home in Archer City. But there were still thousands of books remaining in Booked Up #1, which closed at some point after McMurtry’s death. Reality TV personalities Chip and Joanna Gaines’ investment firm bought the bookstore late last year, Texas Monthly reported in a Feb. 23 article.

CNN reported that folks around town were worried that the investment firm wouldn’t preserve the bookstore. Jerry Phillips, the former owner of the Archer County News, which first broke the story, told CNN that Archer City was proud of its connection to McMurty and would be “devastated if the bookstore disappeared.”

Chip Gaines’ parents and grandparents grew up in Archer City, an unidentified spokesperson for Gaines said in a statement to CNN. "He loves this community and has been a big fan of Larry McMurtry for years,” the spokerspon said. “Chip is honored and excited to preserve this incredible book collection with the respect it deserves."

Now that Vogt has finished boxing McMurty’s personal effects for auction, not much physical evidence of the writer remains in Archer City. Getschow mentioned McMurtry’s literary landmark plaque from the Texas Association of Libraries, which is mounted on the outside wall of the library. There’s also McMurtry’s home in town — at least until it sells.

The only connection that remains can be felt in McMurtry’s personal effects: the typewriters with their worn keyboards, the worn handles of his favorite pistol, the worn boot soles held together with duct tape.

“It saddens me, of course, that his bookstores are gone, the books in his home and his personal possessions are being auctioned off,” Getschow says. “The physical objects, the artifacts Larry left behind are closely identified with Larry. I’m not upset about it. That’s why I think the upside of the story is that we are moving forward to create a permanent writing center in Archer City that will be a physical manifestation of Larry’s everlasting legacy and a tribute to his important body of work.”
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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.

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