The Wildcatter’s Wildcatter

Glenn McCarthy is the stuff of which legends are made.
McCarthy in 1956 with a wildcatter’s favorite Christmas present: an oil well.
Photographs courtesy of Houston Post

When Houston oilmen circle their Eldorados for the night and hunker down around the campfire at the Petro­leum Club to talk about the good old days, sooner or later one name always pops up.

Glenn McCarthy.

The loner. The poor boy who made good. The rich boy who made bad. The Wildcatter. The model for Jett Rink in Giant. Remember the time he made a half-million from a field that all the oil companies said was dry? That’s nothing, once he was a million and a half in debt, so he built a $700,000 house just for the hell of it. And remember the Shamrock opening in ’49, broadcast nationally on radio, when everybody who was any­body was there? And the time the Hous­ton Country Club wrote him a letter saying that, all in all, they’d rather not have him around the place?

Yeah, those were the days, when—at least to the outside world—he was the personification of Houston, Texas, USA, 1950. Feast and famine, gusher and duster, whenever two people got together to fight or wheel or deal or all of the above, one of them was a smiling Irishman with curly brown hair and a dark mustache—Glenn Herbert Mc­Carthy, the Wildcatter.

He came from Beaumont originally, the son of an itinerant oilfield worker, William McCarthy, who was a driller at Spindletop. Young Glenn was eight then, and carried a water bucket from the pump to the sweating workers. As he grew up, football became his thing. He was a star fullback at San Jacinto High School in Houston, then played freshman ball with Tulane. He went on to Texas A&M but was expelled (for hazing) even before the season started. He later played for Allen Academy at Bryan and for Rice.

When he was 23, McCarthy wooed and wed Faustine Lee, the 16-year-old daughter of T. P. Lee, a rich Texas oil­man. Lee was upset, since Faustine had run away from high school to marry, but by then, Glenn could hold his own. After all, he was an oilman too—and soon he owned his second service sta­tion. So there.

But the oil game is like politics—once in the battle, it’s no fun sitting around on the sidelines. He sold one of his sta­tions and bankrolled himself into a po’ boy hunt for oil. By the time McCarthy was 26, he had found two oil fields and extended a third. By the time he was 30, McCarthy rather had the hang of it. He struck at Anahuac, where the major oil companies had already poked around, finding nothing. Their geologists agreed it was futile, so no one paid much atten­tion when a smiling young Irishman came in and started drilling. He drilled dry holes, too, just like the big boys. Then he started going deeper than ever, and, well, uh, it seems that there was some oil under Anahuac all the time.

In 1940, McCarthy struck again, this time in League City south of Houston. He hit it big. Real big. So big that he could go even deeper into debt, joy of joys, to $34 million, which the Equitable Life Assurance Society soon called in.

McCarthy was left with

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