Page 16


a motley collection of returnees from the late unpleasantness with the Axis powers, many of whom were expert at outwitting editors and front office scrooges long be-‘ fore Lucky Strike Green went off to war. Their ‘tastes ran strongly toward wine and women, and to hell with song. The Old Gang included by adoption a few young lawyers who worked diligently at not practicing their craft, an insurance peddler we loved because .he hated his racket and skulk in doorways in order to avoid looking at his multi-color Family Plan Premium Chart, a couple of radio Voices admitted on probation, and a few bush league politicians who never could mouth the trite abracadabras of public men with faces straight enough to permit their passage to the major leagues in Washington, or even the high minors in Austin. We largely chased our wild dreams in separate company from wives and dependent children, though we did keep about our clay feet some rather casual lady-girl types with whom we had less formalif more pleasurablealliances. It saddens one to take present account of all those swinging, crazy, whoop and holler gay blades and note how many withered away to slothful lives as District Judges and corporate lawyers and Assistants to Congressmen and gentlemen ranchers. Though toll has been taken by The Establishment, a hardy few of us have remained loyally shiftless and no-account. Odessa then, was a lusty, brawling boom town of transient oil-field workers and gypsy rebels and slick salesmen of Mexican uranium stock; named Sin Town by common agreement of all who came upon its bare-belly, bourbon-and-banjo culture. \(Of course, it did not last. Preachers and squires knew better than to permit the poor folks too much pleasure. City dads were shortly to bring in a police chief from Dallas to sweep clean fore and aft. The chief was sour on sport and took away everybody’s stabbing dirks and locked up all the friendly princesses of amorous suggestion who frequented East Eighth Street watering holes, and in other fashion blame near ruined the town forevermore. All in the name of Progress and Jesus Christ. Where once was the Nip-N-Sip fun castle featuring brawls, balling Belles, and booze, there now is a book store partial to Birch Society tracts, and next door a Christian Scientist reading room. On that evidence, I submit that Odessa has gone to the hot place in a fast freight and deserves its loneBut in those days we scorned the Establishment, and spoilsports had not yet closed our spots of revelry. So on a frying afternoon in 1950, The Gang gathered for to lift mugs of cheer and play shuffleboard and find out who was holding. Wee Willie Shoopman, who weighed in excess of 300 pounds and owned a great thirst of like structure and who was a photographer for the American, lamented the necessity of parting with many gold dollars for to have his house painted. Within minutes our best brains had devised a plan which cried to be carried out. We sold Willie on the idea that his house could be more economically painted by friends and fellow revelers than by professional painters. It would be our pleasure, a high honor, and our Christian duty. Shoopman hied off and bought ninety bucks worth of assorted liquor and a whole side of frozen deer and enough white paint to burden the backend of a 1937 Chrysler, and soon we gathered at the appointed spot on North Washington Street. We gorged on venison steak singed by Wee Willie’s charcoal grill, swilled of his liquid benevolence, and quoted dabs from Chaucer and great gobs from Mickey Spillane, who was having a grand year and had not yet became a Jehovah’s Witness. There was one very interesting hair-pulling number on the program, starring a certain reporter’s legal spouse and less-legal lady friend, and it ended in tragedy, to wit: the poor fellow was crestfallen when it developed the fracus derived not from dispute over his charms but over who owned title to the last shot in a bottle of Old Crow. \(He never night we commenced to paint under homefashioned floodlights \(automobile beams, table lamps, flashlights, captured lightning True, we ran out of white paint and had to make-do in the wee hours with mustard yellows and bilious greens borrowed from neighbors and we trimmed the windows in amber steak sauce, but no doubt it was cheaper. Even including the telephone calls to Life Magazine staffers in Dallas, Chicago, and ultimately New York. See, Shoopman had cheerfully snapped photographs of the proceedings and we had this terrific idea to sell them to Luce and Company. It would be a big spread and show American ingenuity at work and prove several other things I have forgotten, and which we never could satisfactorily explain to the Life folks, though we took turns trying. Wee Willie was not chagrined, however. He got hooked on the notion of using the same spread in the American, but never delivered the prints and somehow nobody pushed the issue. I think the Ad side took up the slack by selling a Church page. IT WAS in that same era when it fell my lot to cover a particularly odious rape trial. Harold Young, court-appointed defense attorney for the indigent defendant who had done his mischief as wandering minstrel of the road, was moving for change of venue. Warren Burnett, then a fiery young District Attorney hot in search of greater glory later to be his, was striking for the Supreme Penalty and quite naturally coveted home-field advantage. On the eve of the trial, defense counselor Young invited your correspondent to his Odessa diggings for beer and skittlesnot of itself an unusual act, since Harold and I frequently bent elbows in common cadence. The evening was wonderful. Harold spun certified yarns of his New Deal days in Washington \(where he had served as No. spoke with erudition of Faulkner, Hemingway, Kipling, the Old Testament; boomed great cheer, poked holes in the air with his cigar, happily pawed spilled ashes on a generous expanse of abdomen. And he was quick with the jug for his guest. Oh my, yes ! Your impressionable young Mikado of journalism crossed the spiritous equinox on that night of nights. Dimly recalled is that point in time when host Young drew casual admission from his mark that, indeed, the defendant might have a tough time getting due process in Ector County because of publicity attendant to the act of carnal carnage. Quite promptly, it now seems in retrospect, Young capped his jug and showed me the door. Came the dawn, bringing with it firm pledge to quit stout liquids. Sitting headin-trembling-hands in the American newsroom, this child of woe was served with subpoena as witness for the defense in said rape trial. My dehydrated brain did not grasp the significance of Young’s ploy, but I transported puzzled countenance to 70th District Court by agony of motion. There to be sworn by unimpressive ritual and forthwith left to the mercy of evil men. The first of whom was my recent host. “Tell the court,” lawyer Young purred as softly as the dream of a little girl, “whether you think this defend-ant can obtain fair and impartial trial in Ector County, Texas.” I opined by mumbles that yeah, sure, hell, I reckoned so. Lawyer Young rose up in full majesty possessed to historic wrath: “Didn’t you tell me personally less than six hours ago,” he railed, “that in your honest opinion he could not so be given fair trial in this county because of inflammatory and prejudicial news stories?” There was little chance to explain that well, not exactly in those words, nor to relate how I had been entrapped by drink and cunning host. Young’s roaring demands to answer “Yes or No!” washed away opportunity for reflection. So I muttered a shamed affirmative. Lawyer Young smiled his gratitude, tied me -down as author of said “inflammatory and prejudicial” stories, and after having legally qualified me as expert in the field of yellow journalism, bowed sweetly to D.A. Burnett by way of surrendering the witness. Burnett and I were extremely social animals of the same lair. \(This being before had heard the same laughter in sweet ether dreams, dropped nickles in the juke box to sing along with Ernest Tubb, railed shoulder-to-shoulder for Ralph and Adlai, and lifted tequila toasts to the memory of Caso March. But I saw a stinginess of . cameraderie in my old friend’s eyes. He had been done in by Brutus’ hand most foul. “Are you,” Burnett thundered in that voice like God-on-the-Mountain, “the one and the same Larry King who has been thrice convicted of bilking widow women and ragged little children out of their rightful inheritances up in Oklahoma?” The presiding judge, in on the action, shielded his face behind a handy hand and in saccharined tones directed the witness September 4, 1964 7