texasmonthly.com: When and how did the idea for this special issue come about?
John Morthland: Far as I know, it’s been kicking around for quite some time.
Brian D. Sweany: We really started thinking about this idea after we saw the Sports Illustrated issue from July 31, 2000. It featured William “the Refrigerator” Perry on the cover as a bricklayer in South Carolina. It was brilliant, because his fame with the Chicago Bears was so fleeting, yet everyone knows who he is. And the image—you couldn’t have asked for anything better. It was the perfect combination of image and subject. So at lunch one day Evan, Jane, Quita, and I began kicking around our own ideas. We all agreed that we could do a special issue ourselves—no Reporter, no columns—just “Where Are They Now” stories. And I think it worked. I think that anyone who is truly interested in Texas is going to find a few stories in here that make them think, “Oh, man, I had forgotten all about that person.”
texasmonthly.com: Who decided on the five subjects (politics, business, sports, texana, and culture) and why these topics?
BDS: I think the topics just came naturally. They’re really pretty basic, similar to what we’ve done for our millenium issue or other special issues of Texas Monthly. I think they cover the bases in a way that is flexible yet clear. For example, Susan Powter could have fit in a number of categories: Culture, Texana, TM stories. In that sense, we had an embarrasment of riches.
texasmonthly.com: Where did the list of people included in the issue come from? Why these and not others?
BDS: That’s a good question, and it’s one that we wrestle with each issue. We have so many people on staff who know so much about the state, we just started asking everyone for ideas about what they thought would work. And a lot of the same names came up over and over. I had wanted to do a story on Ben Barnes for a long time, and it just worked out that we did him here. But other ideas were specific to this issue. We wanted to do Baby Jessica, for example. She’s a natural for this kind of issue. The second you say her name, people recognize it instantly, and they are immediately taken back to those images of her being rescued from the well.
texasmonthly.com: How did you find the person you wrote about?
Anne Dingus: One of my two stories was on Fess Parker, who grew up in San Angelo and graduated from the University of Texas in 1950. He’s a big icon for baby boomers, because in 1954 and 1955 he starred as Davy Crockett in the Disney TV series Disneyland. He was a huge star, and his turn as Davy sparked a nationwide craze for coonskin caps and Alamo kitsch. He wasn’t hard to find, as he—a loyal Texan, despite having lived four decades in California—is a Texas Monthly subscriber. He’s written letters to the editor, and of course, he’s also been the subject of stories in the past. He was simply delightful.
I also interviewed all three former Miss Americas from Texas. The most famous is Phyllis George, who won the crown in 1971, and she was the hardest to reach (a subject’s celebrity can often be an occupational hazard for journalists). It took a month for my requests to her publicist to produce an actual telephone interview, which finally happened two hours before I was scheduled to leave for the airport to go on vacation. Whew! The other two former Miss Americas were much easier to find. I asked the Miss America organization to help me contact Jo-Carroll Dennison, the 1942 winner, and she called me back almost immediately. Shirley Cothran Barret, who won in 1975, has her own Web site, so she was the easiest of all to track down. All three ladies were most entertaining and accommodating.
JM: Nancy “Shaggy” Moore was one of the first people I met when I moved to Texas late in 1984, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. So I already knew where she was, how to reach her, and much of what she’d been doing since the first article about her appeared in the magazine some fifteen years ago.
Patricia Sharpe: The only person who was a challenge to find was the anonymous young woman in the swimsuit who appeared on our June 1995 cover. We had no idea who she was when we chose that picture from a photo service. She was just cute and the picture looked old-fashioned, which is what we wanted. It seemed to be from the fifties. One of her sons saw the picture in a grocery store in Corpus Christi and either called or wrote the magazine and talked to our art director, D. J. Stout. They laughed at the coincidence. So I started my search by calling D. J., and he recalled that the woman had lived in Brackettville. Then I e-mailed the newspaper in Brackettville and sent them a copy of the picture, hoping that they could run a little story on it—something like “Do you know this woman?” One of the editors at the newspaper knew her, as it turned out. She was the mother of an old classmate of his. He e-mailed me right back and sent me a copy of her obituary: Molly Ardrey had died of cancer two years before, in 1999. Too bad, because she sounded like a neat person and I would have loved to talk to her.
JR: Earl Campbell’s business number is in the phone book.
Skip Hollandsworth: In December 1976, when I was a sophomore in college, Gary Cartwright wrote a cover story for Texas Monthly that I never forgot. It was a story that captured the life of Candy Barr, the infamous Dallas striptease dancer of the late fifties and early sixties who became a landmark figure in American life when the Dallas police department and district attorney’s office tried to get her sent to jail for life for the possession of an Alka Seltzer—size bottle of marijuana. Her freewheeling lifestyle was so unique that she broke almost all social barriers. She made Americans question their notions of morality and women’s rights and, ultimately, the nature of justice. For years, I could not get her story out of my head—and when I heard that we were doing this “Where Are They Now” issue, I started looking for her. But I couldn’t find her. She was not at her last known address in Brownwood. People said she had moved to South Texas, but they did not know where. Or they would not tell me. At least one man, who knew where she was, wouldn’t tell me anything. His wife was in the house, and he didn’t want her to hear him talk about Candy. Finally, he told me the town where he thought she was living. I tracked her down from there, and spent days trying to get her to talk. She was finished with public life—she lived in a small home, she was broke, and she was content to live out the rest of her life that way—but after I told her that she was such an integral figure in Texas life, this symbol of desire to an entire generation of Texas men in the fifties, as well as a symbol of blatant immorality to others, she agreed to talk.
We arranged to meet in the town of Edna—she didn’t want me to know where she lived. For me, it was still hard to understand how a striptease dancer could have such a walloping impact on a culture. Topless bars and topless dancers are a dime a dozen these days. How could one woman have caused such controversy? Then she walked through the door of my motel room—and a piece of amazing history came alive. She is now 66 years old, a little stooped over from a bad back, but her personality is as feisty and frolicsome as ever. She is a woman who has been through so much—abuse from men, unfair persecution from prosecutors, three years in state prison, and now poverty as she lives an anonymous life in a rural part of South Texas—yet she does not complain in any fashion about the way life has treated her.
Kathryn Jones: I interviewed Rod Canion, one of the original three founders of Compaq Computer. In my previous life as a high-tech reporter for the Dallas Times Herald, I had covered Compaq in the early eighties when it was a start-up (yes, that really dates me!). And then in the mid-nineties I had covered Compaq again, this time for the New York Times. So I had some perspective about the company and Canion’s career. He’s kept a much lower profile in recent years; he’s not one of those guys who is a self-promoter at all. When I needed to track him down for this piece, I simply did an Internet search and found a reference to him and the new company he chairs, Questia Media in Houston, which is in the process of building a massive online library for students and others who do research in the humanities and social sciences.
texasmonthly.com: Did you get to talk to the person you wrote about? If so, what was the most interesting thing that person told you?
PS: I talked to all three people I wrote about. The most fascinating thing to me was that while each of these people had suffered tremendous personal or career reversals, each had bounced back and was not letting that keep them down. Georgette Mosbacher’s husband had filed for divorce after twelve years of marriage, which came as a surprise to her. Former pastor Joel Gregory had resigned his position at the First Baptist Church of Dallas in front of the Wednesday night congregation; he walked out of the church sanctuary that very night, never to return. And Tio Kleberg had been maneuvered out of his position at the King Ranch, a job which meant the world to him.
AD: Oh, if I hadn’t gotten to talk to my hero, Fess Parker, I would have pitched the hissiest of fits! He was so helpful—we both had tight schedules to work around, and he let me call him at seven in the morning California time at home before he hit the road for a personal appearance. Now, that’s genuine old-style Texas friendliness. He told me many wonderful things, most of which made it into the story, but here are a couple that didn’t. He told me that in 1960, he was living in Los Angeles in an apartment complex that had been built on the site of Norma Shearer’s former home. The apartments ringed the swimming pool. “One day I was at the end of this sixty-foot pool,” he said, “and I saw a beautiful girl at the other end, and I managed to find my way down there. Turned out she was a singer, singing out at a hotel on Wilshire Boulevard called the Town House. The next night I went to hear her and managed to make two beers last all night.” He and the singer, Marcella Rinehart, hit it off, all right: They’ve been married forty years. One final poignant remark he made is that sometimes he thinks of all the little boys he met during the Davy Crockett craze of the mid-fifties, and wonders how many of them grew up and joined the Army and went to Vietnam—and never came home.
Katy Vine: Dew Westbrook’s most interesting comments are in the story, but there were a few tidbits for which I didn’t have room: 1) He makes a mean chicken-fried steak, 2) He is a fantastic two-stepper, and 3) We went dancing at a place called the Texas Saloon, and two fistfights broke out at about one-thirty in the morning—one fight between two women took place inside at almost the exact same time that a cowboy and a biker were duking it out in the parking lot. Dew and a couple of the other guys had run outside to help break up the parking lot fight, but they regretted that they hadn’t been inside to see the women fight.
JR: When Earl was a rookie he told Oilers head coach Bum Phillips that he had never lifted weights and didn’t intend to start.
Paul Burka: I talked to Ben Barnes several times by phone and got to accompany him for his appointments on Capitol Hill. I was most interested not in what he told me but in what he told the two lawyers for his clients. I had always heard from other lobbyists in Austin that Barnes’ greatest skill as a lobbyist was in lobbying his own client (the implication being that he impressed the client with puffery but really wasn’t a very good lobbyist with members of the Legislature). The first part turned out to be true—but the way he lobbies the client is positive and empowering, not slick and hustling—and the second, implied point was totally false. He was completely up-front and forthcoming with his client, telling them who he was going to see and what he hoped to accomplish; after each meeting he talked with them about what had just occurred; he gave them full rein to enter into the discussion and gave them tips on how to make an effective presentation; if something went wrong (and something did, late in the day, although I didn’t mention it in the story), he moved quickly to correct it; he didn’t just go see friendly politicians but took the lawyers to see a Texas congressman who was dead set against them. It was, in a sense, lobbying the client, because when the client got the bill, they would think, “Boy we really got our money’s worth that day.” Yet everything about the way he worked was impressive. I came away with a renewed appreciation of how good Barnes is at politics, and also really impressed by the self-confidence of a lobbyist who would take two really smart lawyers and a reporter along on his rounds. Most lobbyists want the client as far away from themselves as possible.
It really wasn’t hard to find Babe Schwartz. We’re both from Galveston, I used to work for him, and we remain friends; our families frequently dine together on Sunday nights.
KJ: I was surprised when Canion said he thought Questia faced far fewer of the start-up obstacles than Compaq did. Looking back, it seemed like Compaq had such quick, easy success. But those early days were difficult and risky because there was so much competition and uncertainty about where PC technology was going. It was interesting to hear a seasoned veteran like Canion talk about launching a start-up like Questia with the benefit of hindsight. And he’s really come full circle in his career, piggybacking on the PC revolution he helped to create and now taking advantage of the opportunities created by the Internet. He commented that, until Questia came along, nothing else he’d done since co-founding Compaq really compared with the excitement of those early days in the PC business.
texasmonthly.com: Did you find this assignment more difficult than others? Why or why not?
BDS: Well, it’s difficult in the sense of how you explain the story to your subjects. There’s this feeling that if they’ve qualified for a “Where Are They Now” issue, they’ve reached a certain point in their career. But I don’t think that’s really true. It doesn’t make a great story if the person isn’t really doing much of anything. The fact that famed running back Ken Hall has his own barbecue restaurant or that Ronnie Dugger, the former editor, publisher, and owner of the Texas Observer, ran for senator from the state of New York is really interesting. Then, once you have the interview, it either goes well or it doesn’t. I’ve been fortunate that my interviews all went really well. My favorite interview was with the former legislator Craig Washington. It’s always a thrill to talk to people you’ve read and heard so much about. He was great—smart, funny, and a marvelous conversationalist.
JM: I nearly always find it difficult to write about people I already know, but this went much more smoothly than usual.
PB: Barnes—This story was quite easy to write—which, for me at least, is unusual. I majored in history, and so I love to write about the past and connect it to the present. I have to fight my tendency to tell too much about the past, but in this issue I didn’t have to worry that the reader might find it boring or irrelevant.
PB: Schwartz—I used to work for Babe. I had to compress five years of material into 250 words. My first draft was more than twice as long as it was supposed to be.
PS: This was a pretty easy assigment as these things go.
JR: Yes and no. The story quickly came down to what Earl Campbell had to say to me, so I was pretty nervous going to the interview. After about half an hour, the conversation suddenly took off.
KJ: I didn’t find this assignment more difficult than others, but it was certainly different. I don’t do many retrospective pieces. But what I liked about the story I wrote about Rod Canion was that it wasn’t all just looking back. Canion didn’t just take the fortune he made from Compaq and retire on his already-formidable accomplishments. As a true entrepreneur, he was driven to go out and get involved in more high-tech companies. His career parallels the evolution of Texas’ high-tech industry. Canion has seen it all and he has the calm, broad perspective of someone who’s been through the industry’s many ups and downs.
texasmonthly.com: Do you think readers will find this issue interesting? Why or why not? Who do you think readers will be most interested in reading about?
PS: Well, anybody who’s been around Texas for awhile will remember these names, but I don’t know about all the newbies. I wonder if they identify with the state the way we older Texans do.
JR: Yes, because readers love to be reminded of people who engaged them in years past. But the concept works only if the stories make them seem as interesting and surprising now as they were back then.
I don’t have any idea which of these pieces will be the most well read. The photographs have a lot to do with that. They hold the eye and get the readers started.
JM: Sure they’ll find it interesting—”Where Are They Now” issues almost always are—but I don’t know who they’ll be most interested in.
PB: The likelihood is that the interest of readers will depend upon whether they lived through the events that we are writing about.
KJ: Sure. How many times do you hear someone say, “I wonder what ever happened to . . .”? Hopefully, this issue will answer a lot of those questions. And the answers will be a total surprise in some cases. Some people featured in the issue, like Compaq Computer co-founder Rod Canion, are doing similar things but have taken a new direction. Others have really changed their lives. The issue should tie up some loose ends and jump-start a lot of conversations: “Hey, did you hear what happened to so-and-so?”
texasmonthly.com: What was the most surprising thing you learned while working on this story?
KJ: I learned that something that sounds so simple, like turning a book into a digital format for an online library, is an incredibly complex and expensive process. Even with so many advances in technology, it seems the pen is still mightier than the microchip.
JM: Nothing really stands out, but then, like I said, I have kept up with her all this time.
AD: I was tickled by this one wonderfully coincidental piece of Texas trivia: Jo-Carroll Dennison, Miss America 1942, has served as a pageant judge only one time in her life, at the 1971 Miss Texas competition—and she helped pick Phyllis George as the winner. Great little footnote in beauty-pageant history.
JR: Earl once ran over Bevo, the University of Texas’ mascot Longhorn steer.
KV: I don’t know that I was surprised, but I learned that the men in Pasadena sing all the words—all of them—to each song in your ear as they take you around the dance floor. Most of them have tough jobs and they work long hours in the sun. But when they cut loose, they’re a wild, fun bunch of folks. They’ve known each other for about twenty years, so everybody is an outrageous flirt but little offense is taken. Also, the women really take care of themselves: The weekend before I visited, a beautiful, petite blonde named Connie had punched a guy in the face and laid him flat on his backside for calling her a bitch.
texasmonthly.com: What was a question you wished you would have asked the person you wrote about? Why?
PS: What kept you up during the difficult period in your life?
BDS: I wish that we could have done a piece on Don Meredith, but he wasn’t interested in talking to us. I think he would have been great on the cover—people would have really responded to that. He was on the first cover of Texas Monthly, so it would have been a nice touch for this issue. And even though he was a Cowboy—if you haven’t heard, there are a lot of Cowboy haters out there—he transcends that. It’s a shame we couldn’t have pulled it off.
texasmonthly.com: Is there anything you would like to add?
JR: I would have liked to quote Earl talking about his children and being a parent—it was very moving—but he wants them to have lives that are as private as possible. We agreed beforehand that I wouldn’t get into that in the story.
JM: I really became aware of how weird it must feel to someone as young as Shaggy to have her life put under a microscope a second time. But once she decided to do it, she was very cooperative and worked hard to be open about it.
SH: One thing I wanted to talk to Candy about was her early teenage life, when she was forced into prostitution in Dallas. But she would not talk about it. It is still a heartbreaking, horrible experience for her. After all these years, the life on the streets she endured still has the deepest scars.
AD: This issue made me start wondering about here-and-now celebrities of our fair state. Where are the now-famous Texans of today headed? What will the likes of actress Sandra Bullock, Governor Rick Perry, and golfer Ben Crenshaw wind up doing down the road? Give us a couple of decades, and we’ll let you know.