Bill Wittliff, ‘Lonesome Dove’ Screenwriter and Son of Texas, Dies at 79


He remained true to his western roots in most of his subsequent screenplays, among them “Legends of the Fall” (1994, with Susan Shilliday), set in early-20th-century Montana and starring Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt, and “A Night in Old Mexico” (2014), which starred Mr. Duvall.

But he shifted to the roiling sea with “The Perfect Storm” (2000), adapted from Sebastian Junger’s best-selling nonfiction account of commercial fishermen trapped in a collision of three enormous storm systems in the Atlantic.

“The villain, of course, was the storm,” Mr. Wittliff told Outside magazine in 2000, adding, “I tried to grow the villain from a gust of wind until it was this monster of monsters.”

The movie made $182.6 million at the box office (about $272 million in today’s dollars).

William Dale Wittliff was born on Jan. 21, 1940, in Taft, Tex. His father, also named William, was a farmer whose alcoholism led his mother, Laura (Sachtleben) Wittliff, to divorce him and raise Bill and his older brother, Jim, on her own. She ran switchboards in Edna and Gregory, Tex., and lived with her sons in the buildings where she worked.

After she remarried, she and her sons moved to a ranch in Blanco, about 50 miles west of Austin.

From childhood, Bill eagerly absorbed stories from his family and from western films. He experienced an epiphany as a teenager when he read “Wild Woman of the Navidad,” a story by the Texas folklorist J. Frank Dobie about a mysterious creature in early-19th-century Texas.

The idea that stories so vivid could emerge from Texas soil electrified his imagination.

Mr. Wittliff graduated from the University of Texas, Austin, in 1963, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, but he did not begin writing professionally until years later. He got a job as a business and production manager for Southern Methodist University Press in Dallas and started Encino Press with his wife not long after. One of the first books they published was by Mr. Dobie. They closed Encino in the mid-1980s.

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