Living the life of a sportswriter with Mad Dogs
That’s Dan Jenkins summation of the golden era of sportwriting.
That’s the common theme in Steven Davis’ Texas Literary Outlaws, which tells the story of Texas letter writers Bud Shrake, Larry L. King, Billy Lee Brammer, Gary Cartwright, Dan Jenkins, and Peter Gent, who achieved the moniker of “Mad Dogs”.
While each had his zeitgeist (Shrake-Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book; King-The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; Brammer-The Gay Place; Jenkins Semi Tough; Gent-North Dallas Forty) most struggled to earn livings as novelists and were forced to ply their trade as magazine writers.
Why Gent was included is puzzling, because he was not from Texas, not a trained writer and his literary contribution was limited to basically North Dallas Forty, his memoir of his playing days with the Dallas Cowboys.
Gent lived in Texas for several years, but returned home to Michigan where he died.
Coming of age in the 1960s, this group was right in the thick of things in the most tumultuous era in our country’s history.
They took on Texas’ conservative establishment.
Brammer became a press aide for Lyndon Johnson. King used to sneak his liberal stories onto the front page of the Odessa American.
All but Brammer started as a sportswriter and Jenkins, Shrake and Cartwright were hired by beloved Fort Worth Press sports editor Blackie Sherrod.
Who would have thought that the hub of Texas journalism would reside in a tiny Fort Worth newspaper and at the feet of Sherrod.
Davis writes, “For Jenkins and Shrake, being writers represented an attitude as much as a vocation. They hung out in Fort Worth’s restaurants, clubs, bars, roadhouses and honkytonks, practicing their one liners and honing their barroom philosophies.”
They dressed in suits, ties and black fedoras. They smoked cigars in the press box (and everywhere else) while tapping out a lead on deadline.
They bet heavily on the games they were covering. They shared a disdain for pretension. They were obsessed with playing golf.
Cartwright called Jenkins, “the coolest guy I’ve ever met.”
Unfortunately, this “attitude” cost them personally, as all the above were divorced at least once.
They were also always in financial straits, making just $50 a week, which added to the tension at home.
My favorite instance in the book is when Jenkins was first hired by Sherrod and he showed up for his first day of work in a new herringbone suit and tie.
“Puss Ervin, the retired postman who typed a bowling column between sips of bourbon, was sitting at his desk in his undershirt.
“Ervin glared at the debonair Jenkins from across the room and barked, ‘Who’s the damned tap dancer?’”
Jenkins knew he was home.
If you’ll notice, most of the great Texas authors started out as sportswriters. Maybe there’s hope for me yet.
Here are the five best novels by Texas authors:
1. Lonesome Dove—Larry McMurtry.
2. A Trip To Bountiful—Horton Foote.
3. All The Pretty Horses—Cormac McCarthy
4. The Borderland—Bud Shrake
5. Hold Autumn In Your Hand— George Sessions Perry