Wildcatter McCarthy demanded mannerliness

Texas has always been known for larger-than-life characters, which holds no small amount of fascination for any native who’s been around long enough to have seen at least one such person.

A recent article about Texas’ first venture into the world of professional football resurrected some memories of the state’s most well-known oil and gas wildcatter, Glenn McCarthy.

He was said to be the model for Jett Rink in Edna Ferber’s book, Giant. The movie of the same title starred Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean, who portrayed Rink.

McCarthy built Houston’s first really famous hotel, the Shamrock. In 1949, McCarthy promoted a pro football event, the Shamrock Bowl, which matched the Cleveland Browns, four-time champions of the All-America Football Conference, against an AAFC all-star team.

Ty pical of McCar thy, bowl ticket-holders were treated to music by a well-known orchestra of that day, and entertainment by legendary comedians Jack Benny and Phil Harris and singer Dinah Shore.

The Shamrock Bowl was also one of the first racially integrated sports events in Houston.

Even though he said he lost money on the game, McCarthy later tried to buy an AAFC franchise before the league folded. He wanted to move a team to Houston and said he had plans to build a 110,000-seat, retractable roof stadium.

McCarthy lost a considerable portion of his fortune in the next few years but, up until his death in 1988 at age 81, he managed to dabble some in oil exploration and for many years kept his famous private club, the Cork Club, going.

Before liquor-by-the-drink legislation, the only way to imbibe legally was through membership in a private club. The Cork Club was a place for the famous and nearly-famous to drink and party. In the 1960s, McCarthy’s club sat atop the Central National Bank building on the south side of downtown Houston.

Thirty miles away in Rosenberg, I was publishing a weekly newspaper. A Ford dealer there called me one day to come by with my camera, not an unusual request. When I arrived, the dealer pointed to a Ranchero with a Bronco set up in tow and said he needed me to ride with him into Houston to take a picture of him delivering the vehicles to Glenn McCarthy.

I broke out in laughter and said, “Sure.”“Get in the car and you’ll see.” Away we went.

In Houston, we drove into the bank’s parking garage and up to the roof. We got out and walked into the building and the offices of the Cork Club.

We were greeted by McCarthy’s secretary, then McCarthy who instructed his aide to write a check for the vehicles.Then we took the photo.

Protocol then required a visit to the club with McCarthy. Being on duty, I sat by with my mental tape recorder running as the wildcatter club owner and car dealer swapped tales.

It was late afternoon and the tables began to fill up. One next to ours filled with half a dozen obviously wealthy women, who chatted with McCarthy and the dealer.

Shortly, two men in suits took stools at the bar a short distance away. After two quick drinks, the two began talking in loud voices and using occasional profanity.

McCarthy asked the women, the dealer and me to excuse him “for just a moment.” He strolled over to the two men and quietly asked them to lower their voices and to refrain from profanity since “ladies are present.”

The pair quieted down for just a few minutes, then got louder and more profane. Again, McCarthy asked to be excused, walked over to the two at the bar and grabbed each by their coats from behind, clunked their heads together and said, “You’re out of here,” and instructed some of his employees to take the men’s names, revoke their membership and escort them out of the building.

And, that was my introduction to and understanding of the reputation of Glenn McCarthy, bigger-than-life wildcatter and s aloon owner.

Willis Webb is a retired community editor publisher of more than 50 years. Email him at

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2010-03-04 digital edition

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