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Press prizes and problems The following article was written for the Houston Journalism Review. It is reprinted with the permission of the H.J.R.Ed. Austin The Headliners Awards, given each year by the Headliners Club of Austin, have become, for reasons we are about to explore, the most prestigious journalism awards in Texas, veritable Lone Star Pulitzers. Actually, they are not formally called Headliners Awards. They are formally called The Charles E. Green Journalism Awards. If you knew as much about Texas journalism as you should, you would recognize that as the punchline of a cruelty joke: you would here and now fall off your chair laughing and gagging at the thought of prestigious awards for distinguished journalism named after Charles E. Green and I wouldn’t have to write the rest of this story. But life is not easy. The late Charlie Green, God rest him, was for many years the editor of the Austin American-Statesman. The Austin American-Statesman was not and is not a prestigious paper noted for its distinguished journalism. Former Secretary of State Bob Bullock, who is lamentably addicted to plainspeaking, once referred to it as “that sad rag masquerading as a newspaper.” Sam Wood, a ,Inan whose sincerity must be respected, is now the editor of said paper. Wood says that Charlie Green was “dedicated, a very dedicated man.” But Charlie Green did some tacky things during his lifetime. “He wasn’t a malicious man, there was no evil in him,” said Ronnie Dugger. But he did some tacky things. For example, there is a Texan named John Henry Faulk, who was once a popular humorist with a network radio show. When the Headliners Club was formed, Green asked Faulk to become one of the charter members. But a few years later, Faulk made the mistake of opposing the McCarthyite blacklisting system in show business. For his pains, he was himself blacklisted. When Faulk returned to Austin, dead broke, blacklisted, no longer a famous and influential entertainer, Charlie Green made it clear that Faulk was not welcome at the Headliners Club. But even old wounds heal. The Headliners annual stag luncheon is a popular affair at which important, and some not so important folks, gather to hear one another merrily and satirically roasted. The script for these occasions has for the past several years been written by Cactus Pryor, a clever Austin toastmaster, and by John Henry Faulk. One of the endless Charlie Green stories concerns one of Green’s visits to New York City. He was taken to a restaurant at which 8 The Texas Observer Greer Garson and Rex Harrison happened to be dining that night. Green insisted on being introduced to Harrison, who quite obviously wanted to be left alone with Ms. Garson. Harrison was conspicuously unimpressed with Green. “Tell him who I am, tell him who I am,” Green hissed at the person making the introduction. Green’s friend dutifully announced, “Mr. Green is the editor of the Austin American-Statesman.” Pause. “Uh, that’s in Texas.” Rex Harrison raised his eyebrows and let out with a massively underwhelmed, “Really?” “Just want ’til that smartie comes to Austin,” Green raged later. “We’ll show him, we’ll show him how we can ignore people. I won’t give him an inch in the paper.” ACCORDING TO Sam Wood, the Headliners Club was once merely a gleam in Charlie Green’s eye. During World War II, says Wood, then-Navy Lt. Charlie Green was sitting under a palm tree in the Pacific, or some such, when it occurred to him that when he got back to Austin, it would be a Nice Thang to have a club, a club made up mostly of newspaper people, but also of “professional people, doctors, lawyers, bankers and others friendly to the newspaper business.” Green finally got around to carrying out his palm dream in 1954. He phoned a bunch of likely prospects in Austin, all of whom told him it would never work. But the Headliners Club has been in the black since the day it was founded. According to the charter in the secretary of state’s office,’ the Headliners Club is “an association of gentlemen in journalism, the arts; sciences, government, business and the professions, and of those who, by their appreciation of the finer things in life, are deemed eligible.” Among the first members were some extraordinary men, including J. Frank Dobie and Walter Prescott Webb, two of the most civilized, independent, cantankerous Texans who ever lived. The Headliners Club opened on the ground floor of the Driskill Hotel, sandwiched between a drugstore facing on Sixth Street and the hotel kitchen. The club was open on Sundays and Green, at one point, thought it would be a dandy attraction to have some soft piano music on Sunday afternoons. That fetched him a celebrated letter from Dobie that began, “Dear Charlie, Yesterday I went to the Headliners Club to have a drink and meditate. But that God damned piano player . . .” The letter went on at some length, each paragraph ending with “. . . that God damned piano player.” Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby tells the story of how he came to Austin several years ago on business and, not feeling sociable, retired one night to a snug chair at the fleadliners to read a book. He glanced up to find a tall, white-haired gentleman staring at him fixedly. Hobby, afraid that he had usurped the old gentleman’s favorite chair, offered to move. But, no, that wasn’t what the gentleman wanted. “Young man,” he growled, “when this club was founded, I insisted that they put in a reading room. I would like you to know that in all the time I have been coming here, you are the first person I have ever seen reading in it!” The man was Walter Webb. Seven years ago, the Headliners Club Westgate Building, across the street from the west face of the state capitol. Stiff drinks, medium-good food and standard country club decor combine to make the place “one of Austin’s finest” that being a few cuts above Keokuk and not far behind K.C. The club is frequented by the likes of former Gov. Allan Shivers, UT Regent Frank Erwin, “Diamond” Jim Yancy, the lobbyist, Everett Collier of the Houston Chronicle, etc. If you lived in Austin you might think the Headliners Club was simply a place where the elite meet to eat and drink and drink and drink. But no, lo, Sam Wood assures us the only reason there is a Headliners Club, its essence, its raison d’etre, its whole, sole, soul purpose, is to promote good journalism in Texas. Propter hoc, the awards. Originally, Wood said, the money for the awards came from donations by groups or people interested in certain areas of journalism, like the Texas League of Municipalities, syndicates, and so forth. But that didn’t work terribly well, so the club took to sending out Christmas letters, hitting up all 900 members for everyone contributes, but enough people kick in so that this year there were two $500 awards, two for $350, one for $250, three for $225 and on down the line, with lesser amounts thrown in for second and third places. The lowest they go is 50 bucks, which is a major windfall to most reporters. The contest is open to the editorial staffers of every daily paper in Texas. For the past two years, there has been one category apiece for radio and television reporting, but Wood says those categories aren’t terribly popular. But the 13 divisions in newspaper reporting drew over 1,500 entries this year. The awards process is not graced by even a semblance of democracy. By tradition, and because nobody has had enough sense to do anything about it, the awards are invariably handled by the editor of the