Favorite moments in the 30 years of Texas Monthly.
AN ANNIVERSARY JUST WOULDN’T be an anniversary without a dose of nostalgia. So on the occasion of our thirtieth, we’ve decided to take a trip down memory lane with those who’ve shaped the words and images of this magazine throughout the years (dates indicate term of service to the magazine, title reflects current or last position held). Read on as current and former writers, editors, and art directors share some of their favorite moments:
1974-1979, Art Director
As the first design director of Texas Monthly, I experienced the exciting challenge of charting new territory for editorial design in Texas. Back in the days before computers, stylists, modeling agencies, and magazine photographers and illustrators in Texas, I was faced with the task every month of how to stage a cover shot with a big idea and a little budget, using photographers and artists who had never done work before for a magazine. In looking back at all the covers I did, I think the earliest turning point for the magazine in terms of sales and awareness was the Redneck cover (August 1974). It was a daring concept for the 1970’s, editorially as well as graphically. Back then I didn’t have a budget for models, so I would have to cajole people into modeling, and this was one of my toughest sells. Close to deadline and not having found the right “neck” among my usual suspects of staff, family, and friends, I hit the streets, as I did many times for my models. I finally found “the neck” in the paint department at Kmart. He was a long-time salesman there and worked on his off-time painting houses—hence his red neck. I told him I’d like for him to be on the cover of Texas Monthly—but I only wanted to photograph the back of his neck. Amazingly, he agreed. Before he could change his mind, I ran to the pay phone, called the photographer, and told him to get ready. I bought some blush and a white T-shirt as I was leaving Kmart and met the paint salesman at the photographer’s house. I enhanced his already red neck with the blush, he put on the white T-shirt, and we got a great cover shot. When it came out on the newsstands, people grabbed it off the shelves! I know because I actually went to stores that month and watched people in check-out lines pick up the magazine. They looked at the cover and then picked it up. They thumbed through it, glanced at the layouts, photographs, illustrations, and headlines—and then bought it! I knew I’d done my job when they took it off the newsstand in the first place because of the cover. From then on there was no stopping us, artists and writers together, as we marched through all the Texas icons, dissecting them with loving glee for the purpose of better understanding ourselves and all of Texas too.
D. J. Stout
1987-1999, Art Director
Of all the covers I created during my thirteen years as Texas Monthly‘s art director, the July 1992 cover of Ann Richards on a motorcycle is my all-time favorite. I have a vivid memory of looking at the printer’s proof of that cover and thinking to myself that it was the perfect cover for that particular moment in Texas. I couldn’t wait for it to get printed and circulated across the state.
I have always admired the classic Esquire covers of the ’60s created by George Lois for the brilliant editor Harold Hayes. Lois was an advertising man who wasn’t even officially on the Esquire staff. Hayes gave him the creative freedom to create what were often controversial and vital cover ideas that became legendary because they had a strong point of view and they were timely. Sometimes Lois would create a cover idea that didn’t even have a written piece to go with it. Those covers were usually based on something that was going on at that very moment in America, and that’s why they would resonate so strongly with the audience. The “White Hot Mama” Texas Monthly cover featuring then Governor Ann Richards on a Harley Davidson “Hog” was the closest I ever came to that ideal.
I remember being in the editorial meeting when we began to discuss the cover story. I had noticed a short story in the local newspaper where Ann Richards had been quoted saying that for her 60th birthday she wanted to learn how to ride a Harley. The Harley Davidson Company had heard the statement as well and sent her a custom Harley as a gift. When we started talking about how Ann was really “riding high” in her popularity and how she was this feisty, unapologetic Texas character, the vision of her riding the motorcycle came to me all of a sudden, and I blurted out the headline, “Red Hot Mama,” which we altered to “White Hot Mama” to go with her trademark white hairdo. At the time, Ann Richards was at the height of her popularity. She had been selected to chair the National Democratic Convention, and there was speculation that she was in a position to take a run for the presidency. The subhead for our cover story was “Ann Richards is Riding High. Can She Be the First Woman President?” Time would prove how wrong we were with the premise of that story, but the cover itself has lived on to become an all-time favorite and a Texas Monthly icon.
D.J.’s favorite Texas Monthly moment:
When I was interviewing for the art director position in 1987, I was told over and over again that Texas Monthly was “a writer’s’ magazine.” Thirteen years later Texas Monthly marked its twenty-fifth anniversary with a major celebration of its photography. Of all the great moments that I experienced during my tenure as Texas Monthly‘s art director, the twenty-fifth anniversary stands out the most.
Obviously Texas Monthly has built its reputation as one of the best regional magazines in the country by maintaining a high level of literary quality, and I have nothing but the highest respect for the writing talent that has been featured within its pages over the years. On the other hand Texas Monthly has distinguished itself from other run-of-the-mill regional publications, and most national publications, by being a showcase of original and meaningful photography and illustration.
For the twenty-fifth anniversary I convinced Texas Monthly to celebrate its rich photographic heritage in a variety of ways. We created a special issue of the publication that featured one hundred of the magazine’s most memorable photographs and the stories behind them. We also published a beautiful coffee table book and mounted an exhibition of the photographs that traveled to museums and galleries all over Texas and then to New York and Los Angeles.
The opening of the exhibition at the LBJ Library was attended by a massive crowd. Lucy Johnson told me that she had never seen that big of a crowd at the LBJ Library. The speakers at the opening ceremony were Publisher Mike Levy, Editor Greg Curtis, photographer Keith Carter, First Lady Laura Bush, and myself. When it was my turn to speak I was so overwhelmed by the size of the crowd and by the enormity of that special moment that I got all choked up and forgot to thank about half the people I had written down in my notes. It was and always will be the highlight of my career at Texas Monthly.
2000-present, Art Director
My favorite cover is the February 1994 issue featuring Joaquin Jackson, the former Texas Ranger. If there was ever a cover that exemplified everything the concept of Texas and more importantly, Texas Monthly, this would be it. Joaquin is the ultimate Texas man/character, and Dan Winters’ elegant and proud depiction of him is really breathtaking. I remember the first time I saw this cover—I was struck. I stared at it for hours wondering about that place and that man. The type is clean and classic. Basically, it’s the perfect cover—intrigue, drama, lore, perception v. reality, and one larger than life character—all rolled up into one.
Here’s what comes to mind for me. Back in April or May of 1983, I published “The 89 Greatest Texas Bars,” a sodden exploration of the state’s bar culture. It was a big hit. Then in July 2001 I published “Sober,” a chronicle of my (successful) battle with alcoholism during the early nineties. It’s not often that you get that kind of life-story arc over 20 years or so in a single magazine with a single writer. So those would be my first two.
Third, a story I did in May 1987 entitled “Coots” comes to mind because it was fun—and, I’m told, funny—and it did chapter-and-verse on a Texas type: the old coot.
The fourth and fifth stories I’d suggest are crime stories I wrote in the late eighties, when I was writing about crime (and hanging out in bars). Both were ahead of their time and described a trend before it had truly emerged and become part of conventional wisdom. The first was “The Desperate Search for Christie Meeks” (June 1985), which turns out to have been prescient by a decade or two, since it chronicled the search for a missing little girl up here in Dallas and all attendant crises, characters, etc., that we’ve become so familiar with since the disappearance of Elizabeth Smart. The second of them was “The War Zone” (November 1988), which I’ve been told was one of the best and most succinct descriptions of the crack epidemic in depressed inner city neighborhoods (in this case, South Dallas) written during the crack era of the late eighties.
1973-present, Senior Editor
“Who Was Jack Ruby?” (November 1975). I knew Ruby in Dallas and was around him a lot during the days just before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. For me, this was a story that personified Dallas in the late fifties and early sixties and shed light on one of the signal events of the twentieth century. Later, in light of new revelations, I changed my mind about some of my conclusions in the story—for example, I’m now convinced that Ruby knew Oswald and was involved with the New Orleans Mob that may have ordered the killing of the president. Nevertheless, this remains one of my best stories.
“Leroy’s Revenge” (August 1975). This piece has become a semi-classic among magazine groupies and is my single best piece of work. Because of the subject matter—professional dog fighting—nearly every magazine in the country turned it down, mostly because their staff members (and sometimes their wives) were revolted by the mere idea of killer dogs. Later, Esquire editor Geoffrey Norman, who had rejected the story when he was articles editor at Playboy, but apparently didn’t remember, asked me why I never sent any really good pieces like this to him. I had to beg Texas Monthly editor Bill Broyles to accept the story, though he loved it once he saw it in print.
“Candy” (December 1976). Candy Barr was a Texas legend, a Dallas stripper after whom the “power daddies” lusted and “their obedient wives” loathed. That’s the reason narcotics agents planted marijuana in her room and sent her to prison. As in the case of Jack Ruby (who was one of Candy’s friends and benefactors), this was a story in which I became emotionally involved. People that I meet at parties still remark on this story a quarter of a century later.
“The Last Roundup” (February 1985). This story was nominated for a National Magazine Award. The subject is the famous Kokernot 06 Ranch in Fort Davis, one of the last ranches in America that still cowboys the traditional way. The story contrasted the 06 with a neighboring ranch that used modern methods taught at Texas A&M. Interestingly, the owner of this second ranch was Clayton Williams, who got to be much better known a few years later when he ran for governor and lost to my friend Ann Richards
“Benny and the Boys” (October 1991). This was the story of Benny Binion, king of the rackets in Dallas during the 1930s and ’40s, later a pioneer casino owner in Las Vegas. Researching this piece, I learned that Dallas was wide open back in the days of the Depression and that the gang wars rivaled those fought in Chicago. This was also the era of Bonnie and Clyde, who I wrote about in February, 2001. The Depression was a fascinating time in Texas, especially in Dallas—the city of my birth and with which I’ve had a lifelong love-hate relationship. By the way, Benny is a featured character in the novel I’m writing now, as are Bonnie and Clyde. Though my book is fiction, it is largely based on the research I did for those two stories in Texas Monthly.
1997-present, Senior Editor
Three years ago, I wrote an article for Texas Monthly called “The Outsiders” (November 1999). The article was about a high school football player in Amarillo who killed a punk teenager. The trial was a good way at looking at the community’s values, since the football player was only given probation for his crime. (After the article was published, the football player violated the terms of his probation; he is now serving a ten-year prison term for that violation.) The story was an important one to me because I thought it laid bare many of the false assumptions people have about appearances; the football player was no more a “good kid” than the punk teenager was a “bad kid.”
The next year I wrote a story called “The Sins of the Father” (April 2000) about a former Klansman, Bobby Frank Cherry, who the FBI had long suspected of having had a hand in the famous 1963 bombing of a black church in Birmingham, Alabama, that left four girls dead. The article focused on Cherry’s son, who lives in East Texas, and who was at the time wrestling with his love of his father, and his suspicions that his father might have been involved in the bombing. The Cherrys’ story provided an opportunity to look at an unusual and difficult relationship between a father and son and touched on important themes—loyalty, love, justice. (After the article was published, Bobby Frank Cherry was indicted, tried, and found guilty of the church bombing.)
Later that year I wrote a story called “They Haven’t Got a Prayer” (November 2000) about a legal battle over school prayer that began in the tiny town of Santa Fe, Texas, and went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The story was nominated for a National Magazine Award last year in the category of Public Interest. This was a difficult story to write, given people’s strong emotions about the subject, but I’m proud of the story because it is extremely evenhanded.
Last summer I wrote a fun story called “Queen of the Rodeo” (August 2001) about a rodeo queen pageant in the Hill Country town of Llano. I like this story because it was not so much about the pageant as it was a meditation on the difficulties of being a teenage girl.
This spring I wrote a piece called Does Napoleon Beazley Deserve to Die?” (April 2002) about the case of a seventeen-year-old honors student from East Texas who murdered the father of a federal judge. The story looked at whether the death penalty was the appropriate punishment in the case—a horrific crime that had been committed by a juvenile. Napoleon Beazley was put to death in May. This story was an important one to me because it presented the pain of both families involved—the victim’s family and the killer’s family—and left it up to the reader to decide what was the appropriate punishment.
1973-present, Senior Editor
I’ve done scores of stories for Texas Monthly since I started working for the magazine, which will be exactly twenty five years on January 30, 2003. Because I’ve written so much on so many topics, I thought at first that I’d find it impossible to pinpoint my five favorite stories. Also, I have such an interesting job that my various duties have included such onerous assignments as staying home for a week and watching two dozen Texas movies so I could jot down quotes about the state for a special film issue. But I surprised myself by immediately coming up with five favorite articles and sticking with the quintet of stories I picked, even after pondering the subject off and on for a few weeks. Below is a list of the chosen few.
“The Belle Curve” (September 1998). Of all the text I’ve ever written, this is my all-time favorite story. It’s about an admittedly fluffy subject, the Miss America pageant, and how four long-time friends and I gather annually to watch the competition. The tradition started out as just a girls’ night out and has now become a vacation of several days, in which we meet in a different city every year for sightseeing and shopping. But the high point of the trip is always, always, the Saturday night broadcast of the Miss America pageant. Along the way we’ve become experts at Miss America trivia—names, talents, scandals, and more—and we ourselves “compete” for the title, taking notes and rating the contestants. We even wear sashes with our own self-conferred titles on them (I’m “Miss Pampa,” after my Panhandle hometown—strictly unofficial, I assure you), and we award a glittering tiara to the “winner.” It’s all great fun, and readers agreed: I got dozens of letters, all positive. I was certain I’d hear from angry feminists, but no one wrote to complain; instead, I heard from women of all ages who hosted similar Miss America parties and, to my surprise, from even more men, who obviously enjoyed my candid (okay, sometimes catty) comments.
“Fess Parker” (September 2001). It’s always fun to interview a celebrity. After all, how many people can go out with their friends for dinner and casually remark, “Oh, I was talking to Matthew McConaughey today. . .” Of all the celebs I’ve dealt with, though, tall Texan Fess Parker is my hands-down favorite. I grew up in the fifties and sixties and, like millions of other kids back then, faithfully watched him on TV playing first Davy Crockett (a role that sparked a national craze) and then Daniel Boone. Though I knew Fess was just the actor, not the actual frontiersmen, I still regarded him as a hero. So when Texas Monthly planned a “Where Are They Now?” issue, I immediately volunteered to interview Parker, who today is a hotelier and vintner in California. Good thing he has nothing unsavory in his background, as I, given my background, was unlikely to paint anything but a flattering picture of him. My friend Cynthia later said of the story, “I thought you did a beautiful job of stopping just short of gushing.” Later she and I (and our fellow Miss America friends) had the honor of meeting Fess himself and spending a day with him. He is still Texan through and through—wears boots and jeans, loves beef—and I doubt Texas has ever produced another person who is so friendly, funny, and generous. Oh, and did I mention good-looking?
“More Texas Sayings Than You Can Shake a Stick At” (December 1994). The idea for this article came from D. J. Stout, who was then Texas Monthly‘s art director. He thought it would be funny to commission artists to illustrate venerable Texas sayings such as “nervous as a whore in church” and “happy as a hog in mud.” He asked me to start assembling other rural expressions to list along with the artwork, and I did—eventually amassing more than six hundred of them. The article was a huge hit with readers, and garnered more mail than anything else I’ve ever written. Hundreds of people wrote to say how this saying or that reminded them of Grandpappy or Aunt Addie or whoever, and most included several sayings I’d missed. (Some contributions weren’t exactly sayings, but they were hilarious, such as one reader’s explanation of the difference between “naked” and “nekkid:” “Naked” means “no clothes on,” and “nekkid” means “no clothes on and up to something.”) Ultimately I published a book, using the same title of the article that included a grand total of 1,440 sayings. I hadn’t had so much fun since the hogs ate Sister.
“Pecos Bill” (April 1999). For several years I wrote a column called “Texas Primer,” which was a mini-bio of a famous Texan. The subjects ranged from Alvin Ailey, the dancer and choreographer, to Abraham Zapruder, whose amateur video of John F. Kennedy’s assassination is now part of the National Archives. One year, as an April Fool’s joke, I decided to focus on Pecos Bill, the Paul Bunyan of Texas, but instead of rehashing all the well-known legends associated with him, I just made up a lot of new stuff. I figured, since he was a wholly folkloric character, what the heck. My article claimed that, among other things, he was born during the siege of the Alamo, cross-bred a jackrabbit and an antelope to create the jackalope, and earned the nickname “Longhorn” from his girlfriend. It was the kind of assignment where I find myself thinking, “And I get paid for this!”
“Wish We Were There” (April 1992). I loved working on this feature, which starred Texas-related items from my vast collection of vintage postcards. I started amassing old postcards in college (some thirty years ago), and today I have five thousand or so, from sappy, flowery Valentines to famous outlaw portraits in black and white. My “research” for this story was conducted at home in shorts and T-shirt and consisted of sorting through the thousand or so Texas cards I store in shoeboxes in an old oak filing cabinet. With the help of the art department, I winnowed my first cull of a couple of hundred down to a final thirty, which included pictures of turn-of-the-century swimmers in Galveston, the forties-era singing-cowboy star Gene Autry, and a curly-haired toddler picking grapefruit in the Rio Grande Valley. Nostalgia is contagious—readers loved this piece and a lot wrote in to say so. In fact, many wanted to know where to get a copy of the postcard called “A Texan’s Map of the United States,” which shows the Lone Star State taking up half the nation. It’s a hoary old joke, but it’s a classic too. Back then I could only suggest that they try searching antique stores; now, thanks to eBay and other online auction sites, these nostalgic old postcards are much easier to find. Not cheaper, of course—but easier to find.
1974-present, Contributing Editor
When I first started writing for Texas Monthly, I had no training as a reporter and, to be honest, only a polite interest in journalism itself. By temperament, if not yet by accomplishment, I was a novelist, and as I look wincingly back on my early attempts at magazine writing I can see a number of potentially good stories that were sabotaged by my showboating prose. It took a number of years for me to get the balance of style and content right, to locate subjects that were expansive enough to interest my novelist’s soul and at the same time to recognize when it was time to climb down off my literary high horse and just get the information across to the reader. The best of my Texas Monthly stuff has been collected in two books of essays, A Natural State and Comanche Midnight, but I think the pieces in the latter are where I really hit my stride. I changed some of their titles for the book, but when they first appeared in the magazine they were called The Lost Tribe” (February 1989), “The Temple of Destiny” (July 1989), “Vigil at Treaty Oak” (October 1989), “Highway One” (January 1981), “Worked to Death”(October 1988), and “On the Set of Lonesome Dove” (June 1988).
Joe Nick Patoski
1974-present, Senior Editor
My favorite Texas Monthly stories? All the less-than-obvious music stories, for starters. No offense to the stars and celebs. I’ve enjoyed every minute on Willie’s bus, hanging on the Letterman set with ZZ, watching Natalie Maines prepping for a photo shoot, and being mesmerized by Selena backstage. But it’s the obscure stories that have stuck with me: the homage to my hometown blues hero Robert Ealey and the New Bluebird Nite Club (my first Texas Monthly music story, published in 1974), the Joe Ely Band when they were still a local band in Lubbock, the Thibodaux family of Cajun musicians who ruled the Rodair Club near Nederland, chasing Clifton Chenier and Lightnin Hopkins across the Sabine to a roadhouse where music and cockfights were the feature attractions, doing the Saturday night Zydeco dance circuit in Houston Catholic church parish halls, watching Sleepy Johnson die on stage on the last song of a Texas Playboys concert at Bob Wills Day in Turkey, meeting the president of Mexico with Little Joe, hearing how Jose Morante, one of the last corridistas, chose his subject matter, watching Mingo Saldivar blow away Flaco Jimenez at an accordion shootout at the Rockin’ M in Lockhart, sitting in the home of Narciso Martinez, the greatest accordeonista of all time, and saying goodbye to my old friend Sir Doug Sahm. They’re all folks who made and make music for the sheer joy of it all rather than the money, underscoring the too-rarely-recognized role music plays in defining Texas culture as the finest of the fine arts that Texas has to offer.
Copper Canyon: the hardest thing I’ve ever physically done. The reward was seeing one of the most beautiful places on earth as few people have, and getting up close and personal with the Tarahumara Indians, a people who have managed to survive and thrive while modern Western civilization creeps ever closer at bay, a battle I’m afraid they’re finally losing. And only a four hour drive over the state line.
Over the years I’ve driven the entire coast, the Hill Country, the Valley, the mountains, River Road, the South Plains, the Panhandle, the Big Country, the Cross Timbers, the Piney Woods, the Arklatex, the Golden Triangle, and every border town across the Rio Grande in service to this magazine, racking up close to a half million miles. The first time I completed my favorite drive of all, Pinto Canyon Road from Marfa to Chinati Hot Springs near the Rio Grande, I thought I’d found a place that is as remote and isolated as Texas can be, especially after the last thirty miles of bad gravel. But within ten minutes, I saw a white Suburban crawling through the rocks. Squinting through the desert sun, I saw the vehicle had a Texas Monthly logo on the door. It was my colleague Dick J. Reavis, logging miles for his tour of every known road in Texas. My immediate reaction was, “It’s a small world for such a big state.” Since then I’ve realized two humbling truths: While I’ve seen a whole lot of Texas, I still haven’t seen it all. Dick has. And that in the long run, there’s not much of our great state that’s escaped the eyes of our writers.
The Davis Mountains story about land use in the most gorgeous part of Texas: Identifying conflict comes naturally to a writer. Finding a solution is a trickier proposition. But I managed to do both in the Davis range where ranchers and the Texas Nature Conservancy are working together to keep wide open spaces wide open through a tool called a conservation easement, which encourages landowners to doing what they’ve been doing for generations—preserving and enhancing land through stewardship while keeping big ranches from being broken up or developed. Three years after the fact, the story’s still playing out, as Davis Mountains Organic Beef is about to hit the grocery shelves of H-E-Bs statewide.
Water stories: From the “Ten Best Swimming Holes in Texas” to “The Wild Coast” to “Boone Pickens Wants to Sell You His Water” to the fight for the soul of Caddo Lake, I’ve been drawn to water stories, especially now that the Legislature has made laws that effectively made water into a commodity to be sold and marketed for profit like oil. In the coming years water availability will be the driving factor that not only determines how Texas grows but what kind of place it will grow to be. Don’t mess with Texas water.
1997-present, Assistant Editor
“Family Circus” (August 2002). I had a great time hanging out with the Fearless Flores family. They’re proud and thoughtful and totally determined to continue an anachronistic tradition, and as a subject, they implicitly brought modern American customs into sharp relief. Oh, the anecdotes I had to cut from this story…
“Wichita Falls to Brownsville on U.S. 281” (May 2002). I think 281 is one of the more interesting highways in the state. It offers many different versions of Texas, from the dairy farms of German Catholics on the north side to the bustling shopping district near the Texas-Mexico bridge in Brownsville. As a personal project, I also sampled many of 281’s pies.
“Love and War in Cyberspace” (February 2001). The week that I spent at Walden, an apartment complex in Houston aimed at introverted high-tech workers, most residents told me that their complex had turned into a social experiment, and that their community was falling apart. I knew I had a great story on my hands when a couple who had met online told me they were getting divorced, giving me a dramatic but manageably sized mirror for the Walden group.
“Check Mates” (August 2001). This piece about chess’s young grand master Yuri Shulman and the UT-Dallas chess team was very short, but Yuri remains one of my favorite subjects. When I interviewed him, he had recently beaten Viktor Korchnoi and told his teammates in a thick Belarusian accent, “Sometimes you need some special feelings to crush somebody…”
“Jandek and Me” (August 1999). During the interview for this story, the subject, a prolific Houston musician named Jandek, refused to confirm that he was in fact the man who made the music. (This, despite the fact that he looked like the blond on the covers and knew everything about the music.) So we discussed Jandek in the third person. The absurdity of the interview was appropriate for the profile, and I think the subject’s secrecy made the story more interesting.
My favorite story is in the Best of Texas Monthly when Mike Levy steps into the swimming pool. I also loved the time Billy Lee Brammer couldn’t find his hands late at night back when we only had one IBM selectric and all the writers had to share it, the time Giles Tippette smashed his fist into my wall and left blood on the sheetrock, the time Gary Cartwright and I had to crash with Pete Gent in Dallas, the trip Richard West and I made to Mexico to find an old homesteader, the way we’d have to get the magazine on the bus every month to get it published, the way we’d rearrange the copies on the newsstand so TM would be in front, the way we had to explain who we were in the old days: well, it’s a magazine, and it’s about Texas and it comes out once a month… and so on.
My favorite Texas Monthly story of all time is Mimi’s (Swartz) piece on Bill Moyers (November 1989). Here’s a guy you thought you knew all about, and the story just kept peeling the onion. It solidified for me what journalism should be. I was working at a small magazine at the time that wasn’t doing that kind of journalism and thought that’s the kind of journalism we should be doing.