Happy Birthday Robert Duvall: Remembering Iconic Movie ‘Lonesome Dove’ With Tommy Lee Jones


We’re celebrating the birthday of Robert Duvall today.

You may think of the beloved 93-year-old primarily for his movie roles. After all, he won an Academy Award for Tender Mercies and was nominated six other times.

But Duvall often calls a part he played on television his favorite ever role.

Robert Duvall Always Will Be Known as Gus McCrae in Lonesome Dove

More than 30 years ago, Duvall starred in “Lonesome Dove,” maybe the most epic western ever seen on television. The mini series, which told the story of the friendship and loyalty between a couple of retired Texas Rangers, attracted millions of viewers for the four-part mini series. The show ran on CBS in February, 1989.

The show was set in Lonesome Dove, a fictional Texas town on the Rio Grande border with Mexico.

Tommy Lee Jones played Captain Woodrow Call. He was stoic and no nonsense. Robert Duvall played Captain Augustus McCrae. But you can call him Gus. While Captain Call went by-the-book on everything, Gus was the charming rascal, especially with the ladies. He was twice widowed. The two friends left their lawmen jobs and were running a livery when the series opens.

Other stars in the series included Diane Lane, Anjelica Huston, Danny Glover and the late Robert Urich.

Lonesome Dove Was A Story About A Cattle Drive From Texas To Montana

In the first episode, Call decides he wants to move to Montana. He convinces Gus to go with him. They set out on a cattle drive that also includes Gus’ pigs. The mini-series follows their exploits as they fought off bandit Blue Duck and other outlaws.

And then when Gus dies, the series takes us back to Texas. Call promised Gus he’d bring his body back home. When Call finally arrives back in Lonesome Dove, he buries Gus’ body and cries for the loss of his best friend.

The mini-series was based on a Larry McMurtry book. And that book was based on a screenplay of a John Wayne movie that never was made. John Wayne was set to be Call and James Stewart as Gus. Henry Fonda also had a part.


Duvall played such an authentic Texan that it’s difficult to believe he’s from San Diego. Everyone did their own stunts, except for one scene involving a buffalo.

The series drew as many as 44 million viewers for one of its episodes. The audience was huge every night. There is nothing to compare it to in today’s television landscape.

Robert Duvall Said In Interview Gus Was His Favorite Role

In an interview with CowboysIndians.com, Duvall said his part originally was offered to James Garner. McMurty wanted him to play Tommy Lee Jones’ role. Jones knew about playing a believable Texas. He was born in Central Texas and still lives in the state.

Robert Duvall said he’s always recognizable as Gus.

“Wherever I go — from Alberta (Canada) down to Texas, and even in big cities — people love Lonesome Dove,” Duval said in the interview. “I hear there’s a gaucho way out in Argentina who has worn out his videotape of Lonesome Dove. And I know cowboys love Lonesome Dove. Whenever I go down to Texas, they want to talk to me about it.”

Will Gus always be his signature role?

“It depends,” Duvall said. “I can be walking down the street here in Los Angeles and some kid can be walking by with a boombox, and he’ll call out, ‘Hey, man! I saw you in Colors!’ And then in certain parts of North Carolina, I run into all these kids who fix their cars and all they want to talk about is Days of Thunder.

“But just about wherever else I go, everyone wants to talk about Lonesome Dove. Everybody wants to talk about Gus McCrae, my favorite part.”

Happy birthday, Robert Duvall.