A legendary raconteur who’s gift for gab rivals his cinematic output, Peter Bogdanovich is always a treat to watch or listen to. His career had many ups and downs—perhaps evinced in our recent feature, The Essentials: Peter Bogdanovich’s 9 Best Films—but he not only earned the approval and friendship of the iconoclastic Orson Welles at a young age, but his early cinematic trifecta (“The Last Picture Show,” “What’s Up Doc?” and “Paper Moon”) is unassailable. Name one filmmaker who had their first three movies become classics? (“Targets” being a hybrid film he was left to clean up, arguably isn’t his true first movie). And so, Bogdanovich in an hour and a half chat on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast is an absolute treat for your ears. Bogdanovich has a million stories and the 76 year old tells the comedian many epic tales. One of the most interesting that you may not know unless you’re a total Bogdanovich scholar is that he almost followed-up “What’s Up Doc?” with a Western instead of the father/daughter con-man story of “Paper Moon.”
As Bogdanovich tells it he was all set to direct a Western and commissioned Larry McMurtry (“The Last Picture Show”) to write one. Of course this is before McMurtry had ever written one for the screen. Bogdanovich told Maron he wanted it to star John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, the Clancy Brothers, Cybill Shepard, Ben Johnson, and Cloris Leachman. It was supposed to be “a trek” Western with and McMurtry turned in a 350 page screenplay, which Bogdanovich then whittled down and got it into shape.
Jimmy Stewart was on board as was most of the cast, but John Wayne turned it down because he said it was a “Western to end all Westerns” and he wasn’t ready to hang up his spurs. Bogdanovich didn’t want to make the picture without Wayne and so he turned his attention to an adaptation of the novel “Addie Pray” that Paramount wanted him to do and that turned into “Paper Moon.”
Bogdanovich told McMurtry to turn the screenplay into a novel or do with it what he liked and 13 years later the author turned it into the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Lonesome Dove.” Interesting factoid of what could have been and who knows how it could have affected Bogdanovich’s trajectory which began to plummet after “Paper Moon.” Anyhow, it’s a great, must-listen conversation and you should give it a whirl below.