Houston Matters

Houston is its own character in the Academy Award-winning film ‘Terms of Endearment’

We reflect on the 1983 Houston-based film and its significance to the city for its 40th anniversary.

The leads of the 1983 film "Terms of Endearment."
From left to right, Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, and Jack Nicholson as seen in the 1983 film “Terms of Endearment.” (Paramount Pictures)

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Forty years ago tomorrow, December 9, the Oscar-winning film Terms of Endearment opened in wide release around the country.

Based on the 1975 novel, set in Houston, and written by Texas native Larry McMurtry, the film adaptation was written and directed by James L. Brooks and starred Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, and Jack Nicholson in the lead roles.

Telling the story of Aurora Greenway, played by MacLaine, and her complicated relationship with her daughter Emma, played by Winger, the film became a tremendous success, even winning five Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Director James L. Brooks shares a happy moment with actors Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson after their film "Terms of Endearment," won five Oscars at the 56th annual awards in Los Angeles, April 10, 1984.
Director James L. Brooks shares a happy moment with actors Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson after their film “Terms of Endearment,” won five Oscars at the 56th annual awards in Los Angeles, April 10, 1984. She snared best actress, Nicholson won best supporting actor, and Brooks was selected best director for this year’s best film. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

The film was adapted from one of a series of novels that McMurtry set in Houston.

In the audio above, Houston Matters producer Garrett Bohlmann talks with biographer Tracy Daugherty, author of Larry McMurtry: A Life, about the novel Terms of Endearment and why McMurtry set an entire series of his novels in Houston.

Plus, Houston Matters host Craig Cohen discusses the film adaptation of Terms of Endearment with the Houston Chronicle’s Andrew Dansby, who explains the prominent role the city plays in the film.