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Diana Ossana on Her Hollywood Success

Serendipity or Synchronicity?

By Noelle Bartl

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The life and career of Diana Ossana (attended) as an American writer and producer is primarily based on her curious mind, writing chops and business sense. However, definitive experiences have influenced her life path and professional journey.

After growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, Diana married and moved to Valdosta, Georgia, with her husband, who was attending Air Force pilot training. She worked full-time and saved money to attend Eastern New Mexico University when they were assigned to Cannon Air Force Base, located 17 miles north of Portales.

“I looked at a map and began to cry,” Diana recalled. “I was worried we were moving to the middle of nowhere. We packed up our belongings and drove our VW Bug to New Mexico. That

By Noelle Bartl is when I first saw and fell in love with New Mexico with its endless horizon, deep blue sky, the ever-expansive arid high desert landscape and incredible sunsets.”

Growing up, the avid reader and writer had a thirst for learning all she could soak up about history. She wanted to understand how the world worked, and individuals’ unique stories fascinated her. By the age of 10, Diana had read over 400 biographies. After moving to Portales, she enrolled at ENMU, taking history, political science and English courses. “I was so nosy and curious about everything,” Diana stated.

“My history courses with Dr. Robert Matheny (MA 62, BA 60) gave me a lot of confidence. He opened my eyes that history is best understood when examined from all different points of view,” she recalled. “I am not what one would call a ‘social person,’ and ENMU’s class size was perfect. It was not intimidating to participate and be engaged in the courses. The caliber of instructors was incredible. They were all wonderful.” It was one of her English Composition professors who urged her to become a writer.

The Vietnam War disrupted her young marriage and caused her to quit school to move back to St. Louis to be with family. “I should have stayed at ENMU,” Diana acknowledged. “My time there gave me the intellectual confidence to succeed in the world.” And succeed, she did.

Diana Ossana is an American writer who collaborated on writing screenplays, teleplays and novels with American novelist, screenwriter and longtime best friend, the late Larry McMurtry. His novels “The Last Picture Show” and “Terms of Endearment” were adapted into films. His Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Lonesome Dove,” was adapted into an award-winning television miniseries.

In the 1980s, Diana and Mr. McMurtry met at a local all-youcan-eat catfish restaurant in Tucson, Arizona. They connected immediately as writers and friends. Their friendship grew into 35 years of symbiotic writing and collaborations. “We could finish each other’s sentences,” Diana said. “I often thought our connection might be what identical twins experience.”

Diana even helped Mr. McMurtry pull through a long battle with depression after his quadruple heart bypass surgery when he chose to stay in her guest bedroom for the next two years. The two co-wrote “Streets of Laredo” (TV miniseries, 1995), “Dead Man’s Walk” (TV miniseries, 1996), “Johnson County War” (TV movie, 2002), “Brokeback Mountain” (screenplay, 2005), “Comanche Moon” (TV miniseries, 2008) and most recently, “Joe Bell” (screenplay, 2020).

Middle: Diana and McMurtry after accepting their Golden Globe award for their work on “Brokeback Mountain.”

Photo Courtesy of Diana Ossana

The film “Brokeback Mountain” was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Picture and won three Academy Awards (Best Writing/Adapted Screenplay, Best Directing and Best Original Score), two BAFTA awards (Best Film and Best Actor in a Supporting Role), three Golden Globe Awards (Best Motion Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay), two MTV Awards (Best Male Performance and Best Kiss) and many more.

Diana read Annie Proulx’s short story titled “Brokeback Mountain” in The New Yorker Magazine and was so moved by it that she insisted Mr. McMurtry read it. “Larry never immediately agreed with me on anything, but this time he immediately agreed when I asked him to co-write the screenplay,” Diana remembers. “We both knew that Proulx’s story was a masterpiece. This was a story that needed to be told and shared with the world. I was personally committed to telling all the characters’ stories truthfully, honestly and with respect.”

To bring “Brokeback Mountain” to life on the big screen, Diana stuck with it for eight years, from writing the screenplay to post-production and everything in between.

Top: Diana with Heath Ledger during filming of “Brokeback Mountain.”

Photo Courtesy of Diana Ossana

Diana is listed as producer and screenwriter for the small-budget independent film. She pursued and locked in the Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee. She worked on the film as the first-position producer. She helped choose potential actors, including “having to fight for Heath Ledger to be cast for the part of Ennis Del Mar.” Diana participated in choosing the songs for the award-winning score, and was involved in the pre-production, production and post-production.

“It is important for novels and screenplays to tell convincing stories where the reader or audience can sympathize and empathize with the characters. “Brokeback Mountain” has the power to affect people in ways they aren’t even aware of,” Diana explained. “For example, after only reading the screenplay, the Composer Gustavo Santaolalla wrote the Academy Award-winning instrumental ‘A Love That Will Never Grow Old.’ He began composing the score before filming began.

“Everyone took ownership in their particular role in making this film,” she added. “Once the film was finished, it belonged to the world.”

Over the years, many have thanked the writers for the film’s positive impact in accepting the LGBTQ community and even aiding in legitimizing gay marriage. A film from her most recent screenplay, “Joe Bell,” was released in theatres in July 2021. This film tells the story of a small town working-class father who embarks on a solo walk across the U.S. to crusade against bullying after his son is tormented in high school for being gay.

“Anything creative is a risk. I enjoy screenwriting and mentoring writers in workshops and seminars. My mentees are from Sudan, Paris, and around the globe. I love helping people realize their potential the same way Dr. Robert Matheny and all my other ENMU professors did for me.”

Diana and Director Simon Wincer during filming of the “Comanche Moon” miniseries, which aired on CBS in 2008.

Photo Courtesy of Diana Ossana