Along about the time livery stables began to install gasoline pumps, my grandmother's brother Billy left Alabama for Texas, expecting to strike oil every time he dug a hole. There was plenty of oil, all right, but there were also plenty of men ahead of Billy. After leaving a trail of dry wells across Texas, he finally came down with pneumonia while sleeping in an unheated tent near Conroe and died. My grandfather never quite got over Billy's failure. "It just doesn't seem fair somehow," he always said, "because Billy was just naturally endowed to be a Texas millionaire. He was loudmouthed, opinionated, wore $2 shoes and never tipped more than a nickel in his life."
Texas millionaires have come a long way in the last 40 years. Some of them are dollar-pinching louts, to be sure, and some of them throw their money around with flamboyant bad taste, but most of them live richly and stylishly, wear ordinary hats and carry attach� cases, read books, attend plays, collect what passes for art and sometimes even ride to the hounds in pink coats. Yet it does seem to be a fairly conspicuous fact that Texas millionaires, by the very nature of things, are not altogether the same as ordinary people. In the whole splendacious state there probably is no more obvious example of this than Clint Williams Murchison Jr., a compact, brush-haired Dallas millionaire who is president and majority stockholder of the Dallas Cowboys' professional football team, as well as an all-round sportsman with a happy gift for mixing business and pleasure while doing his level best to make a profit out of both.
"I have never felt repressed by money," he explains pleasantly. "I think Joe E. Lewis, the comedian, had it about right when he said, 'I've been rich and I've been poor, and, believe me, rich is better.' "
Actually, Clint Murchison (pronounced Murrkisson) has never been poor, but he has long been—even by Texas standards—a most unusual millionaire. He wears horn-rimmed glasses, normally has a polite and deceptively mild manner, shuns ostentation, refuses to dabble noisily in politics and enjoys a bit of nonsense as long as it is not passed off as the solemn truth. So strangers sometimes conclude that the only reason Clint Jr. is considered unique is that he is a thoroughly nice guy who looks and acts pretty much like anybody's next-door neighbor. As far as it goes, this is true. He also has an IQ of 140-plus, which puts him near the genius category, owns a Phi Beta Kappa key, holds a master's degree in mathematics from MIT, shows an acerbic aversion to dimwits and climbers, sometimes is brusque with associates and always operates on the cocky assumption that the bigger a business opponent is the harder he will fall. So foes claim that Clint Jr. is unusual because he is as aggressive as Pecos Pete and as coldly calculating as an IBM computer. This also probably is true.
From the time he first set out for school with his lunch under his arm, Clint Jr. has been fiercely determined to make his mark in the world and to enjoy himself while doing it. He has succeeded admirably. Although he has not yet turned 40, his name not only is as readily recognizable as the ring of a bright silver dollar in any cow town in Texas, it also commands attention in oak-paneled citadels of finance from Wall Street to Manila. Since one of the things Clint Jr. enjoys most is a rousing good fight, he has mauled both the sensibilities and pocket-books of some pretty powerful and vocal opponents. He has also killed stone-dead an old Texas adage that any millionaire who begins his career with more than 50� in his jeans is hardly worth bothering about.
Nobody can deny that Clint Jr. started out with some impressive natural advantages. In the first place, he is the younger son and namesake of Clint Murchison Sr., a salty Texas entrepreneur of such awesome shrewdness and verve that he has become a legend in his own lifetime. Clint Sr., now 67, stacked up his first four or five million trading in oil leases, with another legendary trader, the late Sid Richardson, as partner. About the time Clint Jr. was born, Old Clint formed an oil-drilling partnership with Earnest R. Fain and eventually pieced together a sprawling financial empire that included everything from banks to book publishing. While Old Clint did not actually invent the technique of operating on credit, pledging the shares in one company to acquire a slice of another, he probably did as much as any one man to refine it into the ingenious art it has become today. Until a stroke forced him into semi-retirement half a dozen years ago, sniffing out profitable freewheeling deals had become something more than a business with him. Except for fishing, which he dearly loved, it was his favorite sport. He also was a horseplayer of distinction. He acquired control of Del Mar racetrack and diverted the profits into a charitable organization he set up called Boys Incorporated of America, which is now headed by Clint Jr.
Besides supplying his sons with advice, savvy and, most important, a well-filled poke, Old Clint has enriched Texas folklore with any number of pungent comments on life in general and wealth in particular, one of which Clint Jr. has adopted as a sort of working motto: "Money is like manure. If you spread it around, it does a lot of good. But if you pile it up in one place, it stinks like hell."
Even Texas millionaires have to take the fathers they get, but they do have a free choice when it comes to picking business associates, so it is not altogether correct to say, as most people do, that another of Clint Jr.'s natural advantages has been his brother John, two years older, who is his partner and trusted sidekick. Yet the brothers work together so smoothly, complement each other so perfectly, and their combined assets give them such an impressive wad of working capital, that each is fully aware he could not have been nearly so successful on his own.
Like Clint Jr., John Dabney Murchison has inherited Old Clint's craggy features, which, while agreeable enough, look as if they had been hastily punched out of soft Texas loam. But John is taller than Clint Jr.—which probably is the reason he looks more like a Texan—and where Clint Jr. can be curt, John always maintains an almost courtly charm. Clint Jr. usually bustles along in a hurry, but it is virtually impossible to get behind John when going through a door. Clint Jr. is inclined to be quick on the draw in a business deal, snaps, "I'll take it." John likes to check the wind and adjust his sights, says, "I'll think it over." People often wonder how two brothers can be so alike in some respects and so utterly different in others. Part of the answer, at least, is that Clint Sr. planned it that way. Old Clint was solely responsible for his sons' upbringing because their mother died when Clint Jr. was 4 and John was 6. He suffered another blow when his youngest son, Burt, died as a child. The successive losses of his wife and son hit Clint Sr. hard and help explain why, no matter how busy he was with his many deals, he found such an extraordinary amount of time to spend with his boys and why he was so determined that they should have rugged Texas boyhoods even though he was an extremely rich man.
Clint Jr. posed a special problem. He was a frail and sickly youngster, and for a couple of years after his mother's death he was watched over so carefully by doctors and was so pampered by a succession of nurses that years later Old Clint described him as "the worst spoiled brat that any parent ever had to deal with." Finally, though doctors warned that Clint Jr. shouldn't swim, play ball or exert himself in any way, Old Clint made a characteristically tough decision. He sent the nurses packing, ignored the doctors' protest and started raising Clint Jr. as a normal healthy boy. If Clint Jr. suffered any bad effects, even at first, everybody has long since forgotten about them. To provide his children with plenty of room to grow in, Old Clint bought the grounds and clubhouse of the defunct Dallas Polo Club, a tract of 200-odd acres a few miles north of downtown Dallas. It was a noisy, high-spirited and competitive household, where the boys learned to play poker and practical jokes with Old Clint and his cronies, and there was enough acreage for them to ride and hunt squirrels and anything else that moved. Usually in the spring and fall the boys and their friends went to Murchison-owned Mattagorda Island off the Gulf Coast, where Old Clint taught them to fish and shoot quail. Besides being a renowned, wing shot, Old Clint was an expert on migratory birds and had a special permit from the state game commission to make a collection of the species that visited the Texas coast. The boys often trudged along with him while he used a special gun to collect a phalarope, dipwitcher or oyster catcher. His collection of more than 200 species was later presented to Southern Methodist University.