They exist in every city: the local icons whose TV commercials ran late at night, or whose billboards adorned off-ramps, reminding residents who to call if they needed a personal injury lawyer, a used car, or new furniture. Just mentioning someone’s name will often spur locals—who grew up with some guy (it’s usually, but not always, a guy)—to sing a jingle, recite a slogan, or cite the beginning of a phone number.
Of course, everybody in every city thinks that their local legend is the best one. But it is our job to assess the candidates and give them to you, the good people of Texas, in a ranked and highly subjective list.
We compiled this list of twenty after searching through our archives, consulting with Texans from around the state, and doing a lot of YouTube sleuthing. Many of these legends are from Houston and Dallas, the state’s largest media markets; others are from the Rio Grande Valley region, El Paso, and other cities throughout the state. Many are personal injury lawyers or car salesmen, but the world of weird late-night TV ads and random highway billboards is wider than its most easily recognized industries. Some are from the eighties and nineties—the heyday of local advertising—while others are more recent, having availed themselves of new technology (some are both!).
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Our methodology, while subjective, gave points for creativity, longevity, production values, and commitment to the premise; points were lost for pandering, self-consciousness, or having obviously been talked into the whole gambit by a family member.
20. Allen Stanton, Stanton’s Beef Sticks (Alvin)
Let’s start things off with our man Allen Stanton. He’s a friendly-looking guy in a leather apron and a very fine hat, selling visitors smoked beef sticks, “one of [his] favorite creations.” Stanton’s family has been in the Texas meat business for almost a hundred years, and this “I was a proud member of the Texas A&M Meat and Livestock judging team” expertise is a big part of his persona. Stanton isn’t flashy—instead, his approach to selling the dried sausages—or fertilizer, or deer processing services, or jerky—is to explain, in a laconic drawl, what exactly it is he’s selling you and why you might enjoy it on a family fishing trip. Stanton’s ads are extremely confident—he is willing to literally show you how the sausages get made—and the soothing, dulcet tones that he uses before proudly displaying the beef sticks available at his shop are irresistible. Stanton has just one job here—to introduce you to a single product from his store, in great detail—and he does it effectively.
19. The Texas Law Hawk (Fort Worth)
In 2015, North Texas lawyer Bryan Wilson branded himself the “Texas Law Hawk” with the explicit intention of attracting a viral online audience, and it worked! Wilson’s ads, which in 2015, made him the toast of Reddit. The ads are certainly memorable—look at him, screaming the words “Texas Law Hawk!” and running around with an American flag, talking about his “talons of justice,” and bursting through walls like the Kool-Aid Man—and the production values are high (the ad budget clearly had a line item for explosives!). The best ads are obviously doing it for the attention, sure. But also, on some level, you can believe that the person who made these has something they desperately need to express—about who they are, or the world, or why they really are offering the best product or service to you, the customer. Wilson’s ad is made for the internet to say, “Get a load of this guy,” and once that has been said, what else is left? It’s certainly not enough to rank higher on this list.
18. Funk & Associates (Austin)
Austin personal injury lawyer Yaniv Funk’s phone number is 472-FUNK, and that is not a coincidence. While Funk (and his associates) may not make the most memorable ads and billboards, you gotta give ’em credit for recognizing that you don’t need much else when your name is “Funk” and you’re not afraid to own it. (See also: Missouri-based attorney Dale Funk, who went even further with a “Funk Those Guys” campaign!)
17. Dick Poe Dealerships (El Paso)
Mild-mannered El Paso car salesman Dick Poe was an icon of advertising in the Sun City until his death in 2015. His approach? He told viewers his name, and then a staff of affable Dick Poe Dealerships personnel waved back and shouted “Hi Dick!” Viewers ate it up. It’s not a dramatic bit, but the combination of turning the impersonal experience of car shopping into a friendly one and giving El Paso high school students an excuse to shout “Hi, Dick!” to each other in the hallways definitely worked for Poe.
16. Scott Elder, the Nickel Pickle (Austin)
I mean, the dude routinely dresses in a pickle costume and offers low-money-down deals on Mitsubishis. Elder has made such an impression in Austin that at least one parody of the ads has higher production values than the ads themselves.
15. The Western Playland Girl (El Paso)
The El Paso–area (technically New Mexico) amusement park Western Playland’s most famous ad involves a little girl who is asked, “What would you do to go to Western Playland?” She replies, “I’d eat my broccoli,” before eating her broccoli and making a face. It sounds cute! Sadly, it’s the rare time capsule that doesn’t appear to have been preserved on the internet—but anytime someone in the El Paso area mentions going to Western Playland on social media, somebody makes a broccoli girl reference. The fact that this lives only in memory makes this stand out more, not less.
14. Pee Wee Dalton’s Boots (Odessa)
Since the eighties, Pee Wee Dalton has been telling viewers what a good deal they can get on a pair of boots by catching some thrown to him from someone off-camera. That, combined with a memorable—if somewhat indistinct—tagline (“please come see us!”) made Dalton a West Texas name. Like many of the best pitches, Pee Wee Dalton’s comes from someone who doesn’t actually exist (his real name is Jack Mousa), but who only looms larger in the local imagination because of it.
13. Charlie Clark’s Nana (Rio Grande Valley/El Paso)
Any car salesman can dress in a silly outfit, and it’s not rare for them to bring an attention-hungry son or daughter out and plop them in front of a camera, too. But Charlie Clark, who runs a chain of dealerships in the Rio Grande Valley (and one out in El Paso), elevates the game by bringing on his nana to lighten the spots. She fully participates in whatever pitch Clark is running, for a fun surprise at the end of what would otherwise be a pretty boilerplate local car dealership ad.
12. Thomas J. Henry (San Antonio)
Thomas J. Henry’s TV ads are marked by a few things: their near-ubiquity (it’s not rare to see several in a row in some Texas markets), their dramatic cinematography and scores, their ostentatious displays of wealth, and their high production values. The message is clear: Thomas J. Henry is such a successful lawyer that he can afford to blow money on ads that shows him on a private jet, looking out the window with flinty-eyed determination, so he can definitely handle my personal injury case! It’s an approach that has been successful so far for the San Antonio–based lawyer, and it definitely builds a different brand for the guy by positioning him as some kind of mogul you’d be lucky to have on your side, rather than a shark out for your business.
11. Betty Blackwell (Austin)
Austin criminal defense attorney Betty Blackwell’s most famous ad goes straight in on the drama: A woman’s son has been arrested, and she’s just received a call from a concerned party who wants to help. She’s nervous, her hand jittering as she holds her reading glasses. What does she do now? And then, like manna from heaven, an answer is conveyed to her over the phone: Betty effin’ Blackwell. “Oh,” she says, “You do know Betty Blackwell?” And then, boom, we cut to Blackwell herself, who offers a calm, reassurance presence. “Call me,” Blackwell tells the camera. “I can help.” Then we cut back to the dramatized version of events, offering a resolution of sorts: The woman from before, her hands no longer shaking, clutches the telephone cord like a lifeline as she speaks into the receiver. “Can I speak to Betty Blackwell?”
At parties, for years after this ad, Blackwell probably had to endure someone saying, “Now I know Betty Blackwell,” but that is the price of local fame. So, too, is this surrealist edit of the original ad.
10. Curbside Larry (Houston)
— Harris County Public Library (@harriscountypl) July 22, 2020
The newest entry to appear on this list, Harris County Public Library pitchman Curbside Larry is a parody of the other ads on this list. He’s a good one, though, and most of these ads come with some degree of self-awareness. Aren’t they all parodies, in some way, playing off the viewer’s knowledge of what a local TV ad is supposed to be, then subtly inverting the tropes? Are they really any different from Curbside Larry? Are any of us? Aren’t we all just fulfilling the expectations of those around us, to some extent, or turning them on their heads when they feel too constrictive? Is this aspect of our personalities and this tendency of humanity to respond to those around us by becoming Jungian shadow figures something you’d like to further your heuristic understanding of? Then order some books from the library and Curbside Larry will bring them out to you.
9. VIA Metropolitan Transit (San Antonio)
This here’s just a real good singing bus.
8. Westway Joe Greed (Dallas)
Joe Tigue, like many a car salesman before him, reinvented himself as an outsized personality: Westway Joe Greed, who moved to the Metroplex in 1982 with a dream in his heart to revitalize a local car dealership and make a bunch of memorable ads. Joe Greed, whose aesthetics and persona were clearly influenced by late-eighties pro wrestling (and who sometimes just had a pre-WWE Ultimate Warrior stand around behind him in ads), was a huge success in his giant cowboy hat, ostentatious suit, and truly absurd sunglasses. He sold the chain in 1997, but lives on forever in the hearts of many a North Texan.
7. The Schlitterbahn Girl (New Braunfels)
Schlitterbahn’s longstanding promise was to show you the hottest and coolest times in Texas. It didn’t feature a wacky pitchman making the claim—largely, the chain’s marketing during the nineties and aughts was built around images of people having fun on waterslides. While most commercials on this list were about big personalities, the New Braunfels park’s 1992 ad is such a landmark of meta-advertising that it’s worth singling out anyway. The thirty-second spot starts as a standard-issue waterpark ad, full of happy people splashing around. Then it pulls back, and we see that the images we’ve seen aren’t just on our TV; they’re also on a TV in an anonymous living room. Pulling farther back, we see a little girl wistfully staring at all of the fun she’s not having—as she and a little boy enjoy the slow trickle of a garden hose, gradually filling up a kiddie pool. While she appeared in only the one ad, if you’re thinking about the famous figures from local Texas TV ads, you can’t really leave this one off of your list, which was so famous that the company remade it with another kid 25 years later.
6. Crazy Willie (McAllen)
The ads for the McAllen furniture store at 1900 S. Twenty-third made the place seem like a party. The employees were whimsical and friendly, goofing off, and slashing prices while the boss—Willie—was absent. ¿Dónde está Willie? No one knew! He wasn’t in the fridge! He wasn’t under the comforter! Time to cut prices. The campaign featured a handful of ads, only one of which appears to have been preserved online, but the idea of selling a product not with an iconic pitchman but with his absence is some arthouse stuff. Viewers didn’t need to know where Willie was. They didn’t need to know the name of the store (which was probably called “Willie’s,” but nobody seems to remember for sure). They just needed to know what things cost and how long the warranty lasted, from a group of salespeople who couldn’t find Willie.
5. Bob Lovell, Bless Your Heart (Dallas)
Bob Lovell, of Dallas real estate company Home Marketing Services, has a simple shtick: he sits at a desk, condescends to viewers about why they should buy instead of rent, and then lands a perfectly placed “bless your heart” in the truest North Texas fashion. A number of the ads were clearly shot on the same day—Lovell wears the same charcoal blazer and pink T-shirt, or white jacket and black tee, in many of them—with framed photos of celebrities (Tony Romo! Ron Perlman? Is that Nikki Sixx??) behind him. The smugness of Lovell’s persona is the point (the company’s website is literally blessyourheart.com), as if the best way to turn viewers into customers—and homeowners!—is to gently nudge them into submission. Bless his heart, it seems to work.
4. Jim Adler, the Texas Hammer (Houston/DFW/San Antonio)
Every lawyer who has ever talked at a camera about how tough he is secretly just wants to be Jim Adler. The implication of every personal injury lawyer ad—from the Texas Law Hawk to Thomas J. Henry—is that you’ve got a fierce advocate on your side who isn’t intimidated by the insurance company or the trucking firm that you’re trying to sue. Adler self-applied the nickname “The Texas Hammer” in the late nineties, and he’s stuck with it to the point that it earned him not one but two spots on HBO’s Last Week Tonight. There’s also Bill Adler, Jim’s son, who is also called the Texas Hammer, the way that both Christian Bale and Ben Affleck are both Batman. He barks and growls at the camera, suggesting that if he’d do that for free on your television, he’ll definitely do it in the conference room when it’s time to negotiate a settlement on your behalf, swinging his hammer like Thor.
3. David Komie, the Attorney That Rocks (Austin)
The “Keep Austin Weird” slogan requires a locally famous personal injury lawyer, obviously, who’s doing his part to keep it weird. David Komie built himself that exact persona in 2011 without changing anything about who he is: his gimmick isn’t that he’s the toughest or the richest, it’s that he, like (presumably) you, rocks. The city is littered with billboards advertising this precise credential: “David Komie,” they read, “The Attorney That Rocks.” The giant face of said rocking attorney gazes down from his perch high above the road, his face framed by approximately fifteen pounds of white-dude dreadlocks and a goatee that suggests that he knows when it’s party time. It has made him bizarrely famous even in a city that’s something of a celebrity haven.
When David Komie shows up at the AFS Cinema everyone is abuzz about it. They have well known people in there all the time but when David Komie is there – Wow
— Mike Blizzard (@emblizario) August 5, 2020
What is it about Komie that lends itself to such mythologizing? It’s partly the dreadlocks, of course, and partly the idea of a guy who is both an attorney and someone who rocks—imagine!—but beyond that, it’s that he figured out that he could build a law practice around the fact that he plays guitar in a band (they’re called “Dharma Kings”). Does that make a difference when negotiating a settlement for a motorcycle accident? Who knows. But in the event that we needed to hire an Austin personal injury lawyer, we’d at least give the guy a call to say that we did.
2. Father Amco (Houston/South Texas)
The full Father Amco oeuvre spans nearly seventeen minutes, an eternity in a world built around thirty-second television spots. It stars Amco Insurance/Furniture founder Rehmat Peerbhai (Amco, for a time, sold both) as the title character. We’ll get into the Father Amco persona in a moment—but first, you should know that, despite the campaign ending sometime in the late nineties or early aughts, Peerbhai was so proud of his work as Father Amco that he uploaded the entire filmography on YouTube himself in 2017, ensuring that future generations could see his performance.
And what a performance it is. The Father Amco character is all over the map. He starts out as a sort of parody of Marlon Brando in The Godfather, but Peerbhai quickly seems to have found that interpretation of the role too restrictive, using the costuming (a standard tux) as a starting point to reimagine Father Amco as a James Bond–like hero, saving people and defeating dastardly villains. That, too, proved insufficient for Peerbhai’s creative ambitions, and the Father Amco cinematic universe was born, with the character performing stunts like driving a Humvee to blow up an opposing insurance company’s office with dynamite(!!) in a Terminator riff, or occasionally taking an anti-hero turn, vaporizing Amco execs right there in the boardroom for suggesting that they raise rates.
When Peerbhai decided to enter the furniture business, he announced the move with a Father Amco ad in which a narrator explained that, while you’ve seen him everywhere selling insurance, he was contemplating expanding his entrepreneurial vision. It then ends on a cliffhanger that’s immediately discarded—the next series of ads takes place in outer space, on a spaceship!—as the character morphs into a furniture salesman with an even wilder vision. He’s still the Father Amco fixer who can solve your problems, but now he’s beaming furniture into your spare room!
The campaign wound down as Peerbhai entered the furniture market in the early aughts. In some ads, the character barely appeared in new narrative footage at all, with a focus instead on retrospective clips and deals on sale at the Amco Furniture locations in Houston, over an epic choral score. The series concluded not long after Peerbhai began selling furniture, wrapping up with a mysterious ad in which Father Amco—shot from below, looking older, with a goatee—spoke directly into the camera, bathed in blue light. “A dangerous game is about to begin,” the patriarchal figure intoned. “Slashing prices.” Perfect.
1. Mattress Mack, Gallery Furniture (Houston)
James McIngvale adopted the Mattress Mack persona back in the eighties, advertising his Gallery Furniture in a series of ads that aren’t much different from any other local huckster’s—fast-talking, self-referencing, goofy-yet-serious-enough spots telling you about the deals within his store’s walls. As the years turned to decades, McIngvale found new gimmicks—he’d place bets on the Astros or the Rockets, promising to refund the money of anybody who bought a mattress if the home team won a championship (he lost $13 million on the Astros’ 2017 World Series victory). As local celebrity pitchmen go, Mattress Mack was a long-lived one, in a market that nearly doubled in size since 1980, with some fun gimmicks in his pocket—but still, he was just another local character.
But in 2017, as Hurricane Harvey bore down on the Gulf Coast and devastated Houston, McIngvale stepped up. He rented two dozen moving trucks, sometimes traveling himself in the vehicles to rescue stranded locals. He called upon others in the area to help out, asking anyone with a commercial driver’s license to join him in rescue efforts. People who’d been displaced by the hurricane could post up at a Gallery Furniture location for the night, where they slept on the mattresses and La-Z-Boy recliners that McIngvale would have sold to them under better circumstances. And two years later, during Hurricane Imelda, he offered the same help. And this year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he turned his Gallery Furniture locations into food distribution centers and offered mental health and job support services.
Mattress Mack’s outsized persona and his philanthropic efforts inform one another: If he didn’t have decades of history as a public figure making bets and shilling for furniture, his civic contributions would attract less attention. If he were just another pitchman selling something, he’d be memorable to a few who remember the eighties. But he’s ultimately a lesson for anyone who finds themselves with any amount of local notoriety, under whatever unusual circumstances it may have arisen: fame is a tool, and one that can be used for good.
Correction 08/14: A previous version of this article stated that Bob Adler, Jim Adler’s son, also goes by “The Texas Hammer.” This article has been amended to reflect that his name is Bill Adler.