Adding to the mystique is a book published in 2009, recently come to my hands: The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes.
The author, Bryan Burroughs, focuses on what he calls “The Big Four,” Roy Cullen, H. L. Hunt, Clint Murchison and Sid Richardson.
Those of us old enough to remember 1930s days of the great East Texas oil boom can relate. For example:
“Overnight the people came in waves, hundreds of them, then thousands of them, by train, automobile, horseback and on foot. The sleepy hamlets of Rusk and Gregg Counties—Kilgore, Henderson, Gladewater and Overton—were overrun. When the hotels filled, the townspeople rented out rooms; when all the rooms were let, the newcomers threw up tents; when they ran out of tents, men slept in the open fields.”
This explains why Gilmer folks rented out bedrooms and apartments were in high demand.The Jefferson Hotel, later the Upshur House (now long gone) was built to meet Oil Boom needs.
My parents made lifelong friends of one Gilmer-renting family that struck it big and ended up in a River Oaks (Houston) mansion.
THOUGH NOT one of the Big Four, Glenn McCarthy was perhaps more interesting, and Burroughs tells his story well.
In 1930 McCarthy, then 22, eloped with the 16-year-old daughter of oilman Thomas Lee. He refused to use any of Lee’s money, and McCarthy and his bride were down to their last $2.65 when their fortunes gradually began to improve.
Cotton magnate M.D. Anderson, who later endowed the cancer center of that name, hired McCarthy to drill a well at Conroe. By 1935 McCarthy had enough money to strike out on his own. There were more ups and downs but by 1945 he was a multimillionaire, and he aspired to build the world’s finest hotel.
Whether it achieved that pinnacle or not, the Shamrock stood for a time south of downtown Houston as a “mammoth, ornate structure . . . a glorious symbol not just of [McCarthy’s] own mushrooming power and confidence but that of Texas as well.”
By 1950 his addiction to high risk taking had pushed his oil interests and the Shamrock into deep waters. Equitable and Metropolitan Life insurance companies tried to keep quiet the news that they had taken over management of all McCarthy properties, including the hotel. That ruse was short-lived, and Equitable soon foreclosed.
JUST A FEW months earlier the eastern novelist Edna Ferber had been “snooping around” the hotel. The outcome of that turned out to be the novel Giant. in which the main characters were thinly veiled.
Jett Rink, the wildcatter, played in the 1956 movie version by James Dean, was McCarthy. The Shamrock was the El Conquistador Hotel in the city of Hermosa and the ranching family, the Benedicts, owned the ranch called Reata.
Rock Hudson played Jordan “Bick” Benedict Jr., head of the ranching clan, and Elizabeth Taylor played his wife, Leslie Benedict.
Reata was based on the vast King Ranch, owned by the Kleberg family.
James Dean has become a cult figure, having died at age 24 in 1955 before either his second film, Rebel without a Cause, or the third, Giant, had been released.
After Dean’s first movie, the hit East of Eden, he started pulling in big bucks and took up race car driving. He fatally drove his Porsche 550 Spyder into another car at a very high speed, according to his Wikipedia biography.
As to the movie Giant, it still turns up on cable television, where I’ve seen it before and no doubt will see it again.