GENE AUTRY WROTE “ RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER.”
Fortunately, that’s not why the original singing cowboy will go down in his-to-ree; the Tioga native merely performed this novelty tune. The songwriter was Johnny Marks, of New York, who specialized in annoying holiday ditties (“Holly Jolly Christmas” is his too). Still, Autry’s 1949 recording sold a blitzin’ two million copies, and it’s still the second-best-selling Christmas song ever, outdone only by “White Christmas,” the classic first crooned by Bing Crosby.
Q. This Christmas I want to get my wife a nice piece of jewelry that’s uniquely Texan. (No burnt-orange-rhinestone-studded Longhorn earrings or anything like that; I’m thinking diamond.) Is there really such a thing as a “Lone Star cut”?
A: Fa-la-la-la-la-la-ooh-la-la! There is, and it refers to the five-pointed star a jeweler can create inside your choice of stone. And speaking of that choice, you might want to nix the diamond and go with a blue topaz; it’s been the Texas state gem since 1969, and inside our borders, it’s found only in a swath of the Hill Country near Mason. Where do you go for such a gift? You’ll get good advice and custom work from most independent jewelers, but if you patronize a chain store, consider Zales. It’s now the largest jeweler in North America, with a total of 2,315 outlets, but it started with a single store in Wichita Falls back in 1924.
Q: My son’s class is studying the Exxon Valdez incident, and I started wondering why it’s so famous. Wasn’t there a much bigger oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico once that slimed Padre Island?
A: You’re thinking of the mega-mess better known as Ixtoc I. That was the name of an offshore well operated by Mexico’s national oil company, Pemex; in June 1979 it suddenly blew out and caused crude oil to gush into the Gulf. By August, currents had carried a slick measuring some 4,200 square miles northward, contaminating most of Texas’s coastline. Twenty-five years later, Ixtoc I still ranks as the world’s largest accidental oil spill; the well pumped out 140 million gallons of crude before it was finally capped. That’s some twelve times as much as the Exxon Valdez lost in 1989. But one reason the latter incident remains more famous is that, during the cleanup from Ixtoc I, Mother Nature lent an unexpected hand in the form of heavy storms, which washed away most of the oil and left only thick black tar. Also, the media seized on rumors that Valdez captain Joe Hazelwood had been drinking while on duty. Though a jury eventually found him not guilty, that charge, for a while, made the spill look like the worst drunk-driving incident in history.
Q: Remember the Three Stooges’ Texas skit? Was one of them from here?
A: No, but their boss was, and he probably inspired the “state of [clap, clap, clap, clap] Texas” routine. Houston-born vaudevillian Ted Healy hired brothers Moe and Shemp Howard and Larry Fine for his slapstick troupe in Hollywood in the twenties. But by 1934 the men had split permanently from the hard-drinking Healy, who sued them — unsuccessfully — for stealing his material. He died three years later, at age 41, from injuries suffered in a barroom brawl. Note to knuckleheads: You can catch the Stooges doing the supersilly Texas skit in the Frank Sinatra-Dean Martin western 4 for Texas (1963).