The Best of the Texas Century—Culture


Painter of the Century

He was born in Missouri and lived the last fifty years of his long life (1898—1994) in Oklahoma, but Alexandre Hogue was Texas’ premier artist. Only six weeks old when his family moved to Denton, Hogue settled in Dallas in the twenties after pilgrimages to New York and Taos (he was also a regular on the Big Bend sketching expeditions led by Longhorn painter Frank Reaugh, Texas’ first distinctly Western artist). Writing for the enormously influential Southwest Review , Hogue declared independence for Texas artists, exhorting them to stop imitating European and East Coast fashions and instead establish their own identity. As the leader of a group of regionalist painters known as the Dallas Nine, Hogue proved a gifted practitioner of what he preached: His Drouth Stricken Area (1934), a viscerally sere vision of a small ranch vanishing into the Dust Bowl dunes, remains one of the century’s classic images. More than just a Depression-era icon (it appeared in Life magazine in 1937), Hogue’s painting prophesied the vast mid-century exodus of Texans from the land—and the transformation of Texas from a rural into an urban state. Runner-up: Robert Rauschenberg. Arguably the most influential artist anywhere during the last half of the century, he rates merely as runner-up because he fled his native Port Arthur as a twenty-year-old and never looked back, reinforcing the notion that Texas was a place protean geniuses needed to leave in the dust. Michael Ennis


Voice of the Century

The trilling style of Lydia Mendoza was beyond ethereal, so light and airy it earned her the title of La Alondra de la Frontera , the Lark of the Border. Her songs, many original, were sometimes loaded with scorn and spite, as was the case with her first hit record and signature piece, “Mal Hombre” (“Bad Man”), which, in its contempt for boorish male behavior, was half a century ahead of the women’s liberation movement. Her recording career—begun in 1928, when she was only twelve, in San Antonio—is so storied and extensive that it continues to cast a long shadow over those of many other Hispanic songstresses, including Kingsville’s Laura Canales, the queen of tejano music, and Corpus Christi’s Selena, whose tragic death in 1996 elevated her music and her image to iconic status. Neither of them could begin to match Mendoza’s voice or her status as the greatest Mexican American female performer ever to grace a stage. Runner-up: George Jones of Saratoga, whose uncanny ability to convey emotion by stretching out phrases through clenched teeth has blessed him with a long, albeit star-crossed, career. Joe Nick Patoski


Fictional Character of the Century

“The best way a man can live is by hard slugging, and the best way he can die is with his boots on.” That was the philosophy of writer Robert E. Howard , the creator of Conan the Barbarian, and it conveys the essence not only of his most famous character but also of the mythic tall Texan. A rogue warrior who rescues damsels in distress, avenges lost loves, and hacks his way through seemingly impossible battles, Conan exists in a fantasy frontier, but like any good cowboy, he lives by his own uncompromising code of honor. He embodied the fantasies of Howard, an isolated, emotionally disturbed man who lived most of his life in Cross Plains and who fancied himself a rough-and-ready adventurer (a favorite pastime was driving around the countryside, gun leveled, as he scanned the horizon for bushwhackers). Since Howard’s first Conan story appeared in Weird Tales in 1932, the superhero has inspired hordes of illustrators (notably Frank Frazetta), television and film producers, and other authors. The commercial success of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian (1982) made Howard’s character a household name. More recently, The Whole Wide World (1996), starring Vincent D’Onofrio and Renée Zellweger, examined the writer’s troubled life. He killed himself in 1936 at the age of thirty, but today, thanks to a syndicated television show and Marvel Comics, Conan lives on. Runner-up: Old Yeller, pioneer pet extraordinaire, hero of Fred Gipson’s 1956 novel and the 1957 Disney film. Jennifer Olsen


Rock Star of the Century

He was born Charles Hardin Holley on September 7, 1936, in Lubbock, but the world knows him as Buddy Holly . His rock and roll band, the Crickets, was one of the first to pioneer the combo format of two guitars, bass, and drums. He wrote his own songs—which was unusual in the fifties—including a handful that were destined to become classics: “Not Fade Away,” “That’ll Be the Day,” “Rave On,” and “Peggy Sue.” He had seven Top 40 hits. He was a major influence on the Beatles— in fact, their name paid homage to the Crickets. He made the Fender Stratocaster a cultural icon. He wore glasses onstage. He was killed in the first rock and roll plane crash, in 1959, at the dawn of an era that would have sounded very different had he never plugged in his Strat. He was 22 years old. Runner-up: Roy Orbison—also a West Texas boy (he grew up in Wink), also bespectacled, also dead too soon. Michael Hall


Photographer of the Century

Eugene O. Goldbeck took Texas-size photographs of the state, the country,
and the world. The San Antonio native, born in 1892, first used a panoramic Cirkut camera for group shots at everything from beauty contests to river baptisms. He later recorded the likes of the Grand Canyon and the Great Pyramids—perfect subjects for his prints, which were often more than four feet long. He was also famous for “living design” pictures, especially a 1947 shot that used 21,765 men to recreate the Lackland Air Force Base insignia. The thousands of details in his photos continue to aid and amaze historians and nostalgia buffs today. Runner-up: Russell Lee, who made his name with images of the Great Depression and later documented daily life and social woes in mid-century Texas. Anne Dingus


TV Show of the century

For pure Texas-stereotypin’ pleasure,

More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...

Most Read

  • Viewed
  • Past:
  • 1 week