Texas Myth #29

THE TV SHOW DALLAS WAS FILMED IN DALLAS.
Hey, we’re talking Hollywood here. The hit show, which ran from 1978 to 1991, was filmed at MGM Studios, in California. A few exterior shots showed Big D skyscrapers and Southfork Ranch, the putative home of the oil-rich Ewings. Still, when the City of Dallas learned this spring that a feature film of the show was likely to be shot out of state, it organized a campaign called “Shoot J.R. in Dallas.”

Q: Is the Panhandle really the flattest place in Texas? Or even in the U.S.?
A: The answer is a flat-out no. The much-maligned Panhandle acquired its reputation as a topographical tortilla chiefly because most people see it only from Interstate 40, which bisects it at its most horizontal (i.e., cheapest-to-pave) section. But the region—Texas’s top 26 counties—encompasses some dramatic features, such as Palo Duro Canyon. And by “flattest,” many visitors actually mean “featureless,” as the highway vistas are uniformly dusty and treeless, which for many folks from greener climes translates to “ugly.” Spokesmen from various governmental agencies agree that, because of the multitude of factors involved, determining Texas’s flattest spot, whether a single square mile or an entire county, is difficult. It may lie somewhere along the Gulf Coast—where lush foliage disguises the levelness of the land—or in the Llano Estacado, the dry, empty swath that is the southern end of the High Plains. The name Llano Estacado is usually translated as “Staked Plains,” supposedly because the sixteenth-century explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado had to drive stakes into the ground to serve as landmarks. Though the Staked Plains overlap the Panhandle, Texas’s ultimate flat spot is likely closer to non-Panhandle Lubbock, where nearby towns are named, fittingly, Brownfield, Plainview, and Levelland. As for the nation at large, places that outflatten the Panhandle include California’s Great Central Valley, an agricultural hotbed 450 miles long, and Nevada’s Great Basin, which is off  U.S. 50, the so-called Loneliest Road in America. And that info is on the level.

Q: Why does actress Bryce Dallas Howard—the daughter of director Ron Howard and a California resident—have a Texas city as her middle name?
A: She was conceived there. Her parents were in town while Dad was directing Skyward (1980), a TV movie starring Bette Davis as a flight instructor at a small Texas airport. Bryce was born the following year on Texas Independence Day. At Ron’s direction, her younger siblings also have names that reflect their place of conception. Jocelyn Carlyle and Paige Carlyle moved from twinkles in the eye to twins in the making at New York’s Carlyle hotel, and Reed Cross, the only boy, got his entire moniker from a London street (prompting his father to explain that “Volvo isn’t a very good middle name”).

Q: I recently scraped my bare backside against a mesquite tree (don’t ask). It burned like hell and took weeks to heal. Is mesquite poisonous?
A: Quite the opposite. Its sweet bean pods are a common source of food for cattle, sheep, and goats (as long as the livestock don’t pig out too much—like kids with green apples). Humans can eat mesquite beans too; they were long a staple for Plains Indians. Still, most people share your hostile sentiments toward the mesquite, but for different reasons. Many Texans have run afoul of the tree’s fearsome thorns, and farmers and ranchers labor long and hard to dig up, burn out, pull up, or poison mesquite, which has a forty-foot taproot that slurps up precious water. Given your dermatological reaction, though, you might have a hypersensitivity to the plant, says Allan McGinty, who works for the Texas Cooperative Extension in San Angelo, or you might have been exposed to a different botanical allergen nearby (such as poison ivy). Another possible cause is bacteria on the mesquite that was left by animals—say, raccoons, which like to climb the tree and grace it with their feces. ( P.S. You weren’t alone, were you? I’m dying to know!)

Q: Is it true that the founder of Braniff Airways, the defunct Dallas airline, died in the crash of one of his own jets?
A: Thomas Elmer Braniff did die in a plane wreck at the age of seventy, but by then the aviation millionaire was flying too high, financially speaking, to have to travel in a commercial airliner. He was in a small Grumman Mallard that went down in an ice storm on January 10, 1954, near Shreveport, Louisiana, killing both pilots and all ten men aboard. Among the passengers—all executives who had been duck hunting—was San Antonian Edgar Tobin, a member of Eddie Rickenbacker’s ace flying squadron during World War I.

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