The December 30, 1922 cover of “Movie Week” magazine asked the question “Will Pola and Charlie Be Happy?” Pola was Polish actress Pola Negri and Charlie was, of course, superstar Charlie Chaplin, her latest lover.
Pola Negri made such an over-the-top fool of herself at Rudolph Valentino’s funeral in 1926 that her popularity plummeted and her career suffered. Like many stars of the silent era, she did not make a successful transition to talkies. Negri lived her last 30 years in seclusion with a rich Texas benefactoress and died in San Antonio at age 90 in 1987.
A colorful old character went to his grave in HIco, Texas on December 27, 1950 swearing to the end he was none other than “Billy The Kid.”
In the 63 years since Brushy Bill Roberts bit the dust, Hico has turned a modest profit on his preposterous claim as have a few authors. There is something about Old West outlaws that makes many people want to believe they cheated death at least for a little while longer be they Jesse James, Bill Longley, Butch Cassidy or, in this case, Billy The Kid.
The subject of my Texas history column for the week of Wednesday, December 25 through Tuesday, December 31 is “affairs of honor” in early Texas.
Dueling was a nasty business southerners brought with them, and any real or imagined insult could result in crack-of-dawn combat. Sam Houston refused to take dueling seriously and on a written invitation once jotted a note to his secretary: “This is number twenty-four. The angry gentleman must wait his turn.”
Mistaking the Brazos River for the Colorado on December 23, 1821, the schooner “Lively” dropped off passengers and cargo destined for the Austin Colony at the wrong place.
When the ship failed to show, Stephen F. Austin presumed the vessel and its contents had been lost at sea. Rumor became accepted fact, and for years most Texans believed the “Lively” had gone to the bottom. The ship did sink alright but in the summer of 1822 not the previous Christmas while on the return trip to Texas.
Jesse Driskill, a cattleman who made a fortune feeding the Confederate Army beef, hosted the grand opening of the Austin hotel that bore his name on December 20, 1886.
Driskill lost money on his pet project and in 1888 lost the hotel altogether in a poker game. The Driskill was closed as much as it was open until another cattle baron, George Littlefield, bought the place in 1895. The Austin landmark was Lyndon Johnson’s second home, where he took Lady Bird on their first date and where he watched the returns on Election Night 1964.
The “This Week in Texas HIstory” column for the week of Wednesday, December 18 through Tuesday, December 24 is about the lesser known Rote — Tobin.
The cousins were born eight months apart and blossomed into football stars at different high schools in San Antonio. Kyle went onto SMU, where he shared the backfield with the immortal Doak Walker and twice earned All-America honors. Tobin chose Rice and quarterbacked the Owls to a Southwest Conference championship his senior. He played 16 years in the pros and became the only QB to win both an NFL and AFL title.
Plagued by depression, alcoholism and severe arthritis, writer George Sessions Perry waded into the river near his Connecticut home on December 13, 1956. When the body finally turned up two months later, the coroner ruled his death an accidental drowning but everyone knew it was suicide.
Born in Rockdale in 1910, Perry burst upon the literary scene in 1941 with “Hold Autumn in Your Hand,” the first Texas novel to win the National Book Award. As a regular contributor to the “Saturday Evening Post” and other national magazines, he was one of the most popular writers of his day.
What story is “This Week in Texas HIstory” telling for the week of Wednesday, December 11 through Tuesday, December 17? The up-and-down life and career of the Lone Star Republic’s second president.
When Mirabeau Lamar left Texas’ highest office in December 1842, he was a physical and emotional wreck. The stresses and strains of the presidency were just too much for the Georgian, who had little to show for the last 17 years of his life.
Capt. Charles Edward Travis, 26 year old son of the Alamo martyr, was charged on December 10, 1855 with “conduct unbecoming an officer” based on accusations of cheating at cards and unauthorized absences.
Travis was found guilty on all counts in a court-martial convened at Fort Mason and kicked out of the army. He asked Texas lawmakers to clear his name, and both chambers of the legislature passed a resolution calling upon President Pierce to reverse the verdict. Pierce refused, and Buck Travis’ boy died of tuberculosis at his sister’s Washington County home in 1860.
On December 9, 1865, Major Frank McMullan and two other Confederate officers landed at Rio de Janeiro to investigate Brazil as a possible site for a colony of Texas Rebs.
After several setbacks, McMullan returned to Brazil in the spring of 1867 with a group of 154 Texans, who preferred foreign exile over post-Civil War occupation. McMullan succumbed to tuberculosis later that year, but many of his followers stayed in Brazil and their descendants live there to this day.