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and Bud Shrake, who attended Fort Worth’s Paschal High School in the forties, when Fort Worth was a little city with cafes that knew how to fry a steak just right, a busy nightlife full of hepcats, and a tight power structure that just hated Dallas. After graduating from TCU both ended up working in the truly crummy offices occupied by the Fort Worth Press, an afternoon paper whose morning deadline was perfect for writers who caroused all night and then stopped by the office. Jenkins was a charmer, Shrake a bit laconic, and both benefited from the tutelage of sports editor Blackie Sherrod, who taught his charges to compose memorable leads and gave them S.J. Perelman and Mark Twain to read. The paper appeared to be the bottom link in the Scripps-Howard chain. It was so cheaply run that the writers could only get a new pencil by turning in the stub of an old one, yet the soot-filled newsroom, full of strange characters who occupied the fringes of Texas journalism, appealed to the middle-class Paschal boys. In 1956, a new reporter arrivedGary Cartwright. Soon he and Shrake became friends and began making the rounds of Fort Worth’s gangland slayings, nightclubs, and high school football games. Davis points out that the low-circulation Press created the perfect environment for what would later be called the New Journalism. Under Sherrod’s innovative example, the reporters were much more interested in asking why, instead of the conventional who, what, where, and when. “We survived on the assumption that no one read our paper anyhow,” Cartwright told Davis: “It is the same feeling you get on a college newspaper or on mindexpanding drugs. There are no shackles on the imagination; there is no retreat, only attack?’ Meanwhile, down in Austin, Bill Brammer had become managing editor of a new liberal political paper, The Texas Observer. It was an odd fit at best between the politically committed editor, Ronnie Dugger, and Billie Lee, whose taste ran to the offbeat, such as the witty report he filed from Marfa, where the movie Giant was being filmed. Brammer’s real differences with the idealistic fortnightly were made clear when he and his wife Nadine accepted jobs as staffers for the big enchilada of Texas politics, Lyndon Johnson. At nights and in his spare time, Brammer was working on his political novel set in Austin, whose lead character is a Johnsonian Texas Governor named Arthur “Goddam” Fenstemaker, who alternately curses like a sailor and quotes Bible verses. In Washington Brammer quickly crossed paths with an outgoing congressional aide from Texas, Larry L. King. The two hit it off, and soon Brammer was reading him chapters of The Gay Place as quickly as he finished them. The story of King’s career is clearly one of Davis’s favorites and for good reason: It’s an astonishing adventure in self-creation. Compared to the others, King seems to belong to an earlier era. His territory was the hardscrabble dirt farm and oil patch country of Callahan County, deep in West Texas. Having a friend like the precocious and charming Brammer, who was turning out a fine book, only increased his own determination to write fiction. Long delayed, modern fiction arrived in Texas in 1961 with the publication of The Gay Place, and Larry McMurtry’s Horseman, Pass By. The Gay Place, really a collection of three novellas, reminded many of Brammer’s literary hero F. Scott Fitzgerald, in its lyrical language and insight into fallible human nature. The book made Billie Lee a reluctant celebrity in Austin. By this time, Blackie Sherrod had taken the head sportswriting job at the Dallas Times-Herald, and was quickly followed by his pupils Jenkins, Shrake, and Cartwright. Soon Jenkins’ dream of working for Sports Illustrated materialized. He moved to New York, where his panache and magazine expense account made him a fixture on the high-end bar and restaurant scene. Cartwright began distinguishing himself as a sportswriter with a unique Texas voice. He and Shrake had moved to the higher circulation Dallas Morning News, and Cartwright covered the Dallas Cowboys, a plum assignment. He became famous with one particular lead paragraph after Dal las quarterback Don Meredith snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by throwing an interception in the waning seconds of a game. Cartwright’s words, which were picked up all over the country, harkened back to Grantland Rice’s description of a Notre Dame backfield: “Outlined against a gray November sky, the Four Horsemen rode again: Pestilence, Death, Famine, and Meredith?’ Shrake and Cartwright quickly became friends with the Cowboys’ leading rebel, a former basketball player from Michigan named Pete Gent, a talented player who endured injury after injury. His attitude is captured by Davis, who reports that, after seeing a Dallas rookie reading the team’s thick play book, Gent commented, “Don’t bother reading it, kid. Everybody gets killed in the end.” Meanwhile, partying took on a harder edge; sportswriters had access to the same painkillers and speed that kept the football players operational. Davis’s eerie description of the day of Kennedy’s assassination is worth the price of Texas Literary Outlaws. It starts with Jack Ruby waiting for Shrake at his Dallas Morning News desk just a few hours before the Kennedy motorcade drove through town. During the procession, Cartwright and Shrake were on the front row when Kennedy’s car passed by. Nine years later Shrake published Strange Peaches, a fine novel set in Dallas during the assassination. But as Davis points out, the writer most affected by the assassination was not in Dallas that day. Larry L. King’s trip from Washington had been cancelled. In 1963 King was doing just fine, supporting his family as a congressional aidebut he still harbored a desire to write. The assassination jolted him into thoughts of mortality and lost ambition, and he quickly quit his job, planning to make it as a freelance writer and novelist. By this time, he had a contract for an uncompleted novel and some acquaintances in the newspaper and magazine world on the East Coast. Other major changes followedhe separated from his wife and children and grew a beard befitting an Old Testament prophet. He grew so desperate for money that he continued on page 45 8/13/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31