Behind the Lines
SENIOR EDITOR GRIFFIN SMITH JR.’s comprehensive study of the great law firms of Houston (page 53) ranks among the most important writing ever printed by this or any other Texas publication. It goes to the heart of a group of institutions whose influence upon our state is incalculable, and whose influence on their own members—among whom must be counted our society’s intellectual elite—may be incalculable as well. Lawyers have traditionally helped men of vision and energy found empires; in Houston they have founded empires of their own, including the third and fourth largest law firms in the world.
Into such private preserves the outsider is not easily welcomed; even less welcomed when his purpose is to hold up to the light the self-perpetuating assumptions upon which these institutions are built. Luckily, Smith is himself an attorney. His background stood him in good stead during his long odyssey through the substance and the accoutrements, the Byzantine intrigue and complexity, of bigtime law.
When Alexis de Tocqueville made his historic journey through the America of Andrew Jackson, he observed that the United States was a nation not only of laws, but of lawyers. We still are. And while lawyers exist to resolve controversy, few of the lawyers in Smith’s story are controversial. While they represent business operators or politicians whose names may be household words, few of them are known beyond a select circle of friends and business contacts.
This magazine is proud to print Smith’s story, both because it is such a fine piece of work and because it brings men and institutions with such influence and such power into the public domain for the first time. A magazine naturally addresses itself to the glittering domain of the prominent; it must also turn into the gray world where power and significance far exceeds visibility. Smith’s story does that, and does it brilliantly.
Gary Cartwright has two stories in this issue, one about a man visible to all who follow the Dallas Cowboys. Gary has been observing Tom Landry, and trying to separate the reality from the myths that surround him, for 14 years. Back then Gary was a sportswriter and Landry was up-and-coming coaching material. Since that time Landry has become one of the most successful, and least understood, figures in the game.
The Hundred Yard War, Gary’s novel about professional football, pretty much debunks the sport and its followers. Still, Gary has a surprising affection for Landry, a man whose cerebral approach to football and whose fundamental approach to religion would not seem to make Gary and him see eye to eye. On the contrary, Gary is fascinated by Landry, and remembers the times when his columns would enrage Cowboy fans and traditional sports writers, whose fanlike adulation would lead them to ask Landry in press conferences if it wasn’t time “to put Cartwright on waivers.”
“Landry always defended me,” Gary says. “He never once took advantage of such an opening, and considering the circumstances, I wouldn’t have blamed him if he had.
“Instead, he would give a little lecture on the importance of the First Amendment and the need for a free press. He would say that writing about the games was my job and that he might have handled the story the same way if that were his job. I’d be so filled with gratitude that I would tell myself I’d have to write something good about the team. Then they’d blow another game and I just couldn’t do it.”
Gary is one of those figures who somehow always seem to master life a little before the rest of us. He was able to bring not only to Tom Landry (page 64) but also to undercover narcotics agents (page 81) a detached, human perspective, no mean feat considering his long involvement in sports and the fact he himself was arrested five years ago for possession of unlawful drugs. (His case was dismissed.) Like a benign Mr. Moto behind his Japanese submarine commander moustache. Gary seems always to be ferreting out what makes individuals tick. He had already done it twice in this magazine, and both times memorably: his profile of Duane Thomas in our February issue and his moving requiem for Bigun Bradley, the Marlboro Man. in our September issue. He has done it again this issue, and done it twice.
Alexander Cockburn, author of Mother of the Decade (page 78), had not set foot in Texas prior to his trip to interview Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother for a BBC magazine. Since he was English and had never been to Texas before, I gave him some contacts in Dallas to help him with his story. Among them was Dave McNeely of The Dallas Morning News, himself a contributor to these pages. When I called Dave to check up on Alexander, Dave said, in his occasionally gruff but always endearing way. “I was going to help him, but hell, he had the story wrapped up and had gotten stuff a Dallas reporter would have had a hard time coming up with. He’s got a funny accent, but he’s a damned good reporter.”
Indeed he is, and from Dave that is considerable praise. Alexander’s view of Mrs. Oswald offers a fresh perspective on an embattled woman’s own, very special way of being a footnote to history.
Occasionally in the rush of deadlines, small, but important, bits of type can be left off. That was the case in our October issue when we failed to give credit to Bill Wittliff of the Encino Press for furnishing the fine old pictures of Dallas high fashion for Texas Yesterday. Bill is a frequent contributor of photographs, ideas and encouragement to the magazine, and runs the best regional press in the country besides. But that story will wait another telling.