Aaron Latham, Screenwriter, Journalist, and Author, Dies at 78

From a story on variety.com by Brian Steinberg headlined “Aaron Latham, Writer Whose Texas Monthly Story Inspired ‘Urban Cowboy,’ Dies at 78”:

Aaron Latham, a screenwriter, journalist and author whose story in Texas Monthly inspired the 1980 smash “Urban Cowboy,” died July 23 in Pennsylvania of complications from Parkinson’s disease.

Latham was married to “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl. He died at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Bryn Mawr, Pa. Stahl and the couple’s daughter, Taylor Stahl Latham, a producer on the Apple TV+ drama “Servant,” were with him as he died.

“He loved being two things: He loved being a writer and he loved being a father,” Stahl told Variety, noting that he got a good start as a writer at The Washington Post and moved on from there to even bigger accomplishments.

A native of Texas, Latham was known for writing about novels set in the Old West. His magazine journalism also inspired the 1985 movie “Perfect” about the aerobics exercise craze of that moment. The film reunited Latham with the “Urban Cowboy” team of screenwriter-director James Bridges and star John Travolta. He was also involved with the 1993 film “The Program,” which starred James Caan, Halle Berry and Omar Epps and focused on a season of a fictional college football team.

Latham’s novels include 2001’s “Code of the West,” which transports the mythology of King Arthur to hardscrabble Texas, and 2004’s “The Cowboy With the Tiffany Gun.”

Stahl says Latham at first was an intellectual, getting his PhD at Princeton with a dissertation he wrote about F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood. “Hollywood was in his head, even way back,” Stahl said, even if he took a circuitous path to making his mark on the screen. “I think he had a very rich life as a journalist, as a playwright, as a screenwriter.”

Latham grew up in West Texas, where his interest in writing started at a young age. He remarked in a Texas Monthly article that as a child he would create “stories in the form of cartoons.” Then, as for his decision to pursue writing as a career, he stated that he was raised “with the idea that writers were the great heroes of the world, and I wanted to be my mother’s hero.”

Latham was buried in Spur, Texas, a small town about 75 minutes outside of Lubbock, which is where the character played by Travolta in “Urban Cowboy” hails from.

Stahl told Variety that Latham considered “Urban Cowboy” his favorite achievement — having identified the cultural moment unfolding at the famed Gilley’s nightclub outside Houston. Stahl and Stahl Latham played the movie’s soundtrack for him in his final hours.

I’m addition to authoring books, Latham also contributed to such publications as The New York Times, Rolling Stone and Esquire.
Also see the Washington Post obit by Emily Langer headlined “Aaron Latham, ‘Urban Cowboy’ screenwriter, dies at 78.” The opening grafs:

Aaron Latham, a magazine writer whose stylish dispatch from the ringside of a mechanical bull at a Texas honky-tonk saloon inspired “Urban Cowboy,” the 1980 film that evoked the modern American West and became the most noted credit in his wide-ranging literary career, died July 23 at a hospital in Bryn Mawr, Pa. He was 78.

The cause was complications from Parkinson’s disease, said his wife, Lesley Stahl, the longtime correspondent for the CBS News program “60 Minutes.”

Mr. Latham was a strapping Texan who first made his name on the East Coast in the 1970s, embarking on his magazine career when the movement known as New Journalism was in florescence. He played softball with Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese — more senior practitioners of the form — and wrote for Clay S. Felker, the founder of New York Magazine, at both New York Magazine and Esquire.

It was Felker who sent Mr. Latham back home to Texas, to a bar called Gilley’s in the Houston suburb of Pasadena, to write the article published in Esquire in 1978 as “The Ballad of the Urban Cowboy: America’s Search for True Grit.” Mr. Latham delivered a vervy narrative — straight from the school of New Journalism — of petrochemical workers who traded their hard hats for cowboy hats and mounted a bucking mechanical bull, clinging not only to the beast but also to what Mr. Latham described as a vanishing “cowboy code.”

“According to this code,” he wrote, “a cowboy is independent, self-reliant, brave, strong, direct, and open. All of which he can demonstrate by dancing the cotton-eyed Joe with the cowgirls, punching the punching bag, and riding the bull at Gilley’s. In these anxious days, some Americans have turned for salvation to God, others have turned to fad prophets, but more and more people are turning to the cowboy hat.”

Mr. Latham — who read Homer and Cervantes, received a PhD in English from Princeton and wrote his first book about F. Scott Fitzgerald — remarked that he felt upon his arrival at Gilley’s not unlike the anthropologist Margaret Mead “stepping ashore in Samoa for the first time, discovering a whole new culture.” But there was also a piece of him, he said, that felt “right at home.”

Inundated with proposals for movies based on the article, Mr. Latham set out for Hollywood, “taking transcontinental flights to that cruel city that had abused the talents of Fitzgerald and Faulkner (but was nice to me),” he wrote two decades later in an account published in New York Magazine.

Mr. Latham co-wrote the script of “Urban Cowboy” with James Bridges, who was also the film’s director and who became his best friend. The film starred John Travolta and Debra Winger as the couple at the center of a modern Western romance. Forty years after its release, Rolling Stone cited the film as the cultural touchstone that “brought Western fashion and country music into the mainstream.”

Mr. Latham teamed again with Bridges and Travolta on “Perfect,” a 1985 movie loosely based on his article “Looking for Mr. Goodbody,” published two years earlier in Rolling Stone. Set largely in a Los Angeles health club, the article presented gyms as “the new singles’ bars,” where the unattached could survey prospective dates to the pulsating beat of a workout. In the movie version, Travolta played a reporter working on just such a story, with Jamie Lee Curtis as his aerobics-instructor love interest.

Mr. Latham endured what he described as a “rainy season” of his soul when several writing projects failed and he descended into depression that he said brought him nearly to the point of suicide. He emerged from his depression, he said, by writing “The Frozen Leopard: Hunting My Dark Heart in Africa” (1991), a travelogue of a safari during which he confronted existential questions of life and its meaning.

He later wrote a trilogy of Western novels, “Code of the West” (2001), “The Cowboy With the Tiffany Gun” (2003) and “Riding With John Wayne” (2006). In the first two, he transposed Arthurian legend on the landscape of Texas, basing the Guinevere character, he said, on his wife….

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