One of the most remarkable parties ever held for the autographing of books took place 10 years ago at the Cokesbury bookstore in Dallas. At most of these affairs the author is a rumpled, lonesome figure, more than a touch embarrassed, sitting at a table beside a placard announcing his noble work, miserably wondering whether anyone further is going to stop by and speak to him now that his mother, cousin, former roommate and publishers representative have left and the clerks have ceased to pretend they are expecting to cope with a crowd.
For this Cokesbury party, however, several hundred people lined up on the sidewalk along the block among the downtown stores and office buildings. They waited with great patience, as if there were football tickets for sale inside. It was said then that only in Dallas would such a crowd have turned out for this particular event, but no doubt that was a prejudiced judgment. The author of the novel called Alpaca would have attracted a crowd in any city in the world where they use money as a reckoning of position.
Inside Cokesbury's, as the line approached the table where the author was smilingly signing his name on flyleafs of paperback copies of Alpaca, a sound could be heard. At first you thought it was...no, no, it couldn't be...yes, yes, it was...singing! Those two little girls, plump and sweet-faced, with ribbons in their hair, holding hands behind the author's chair, were singing:
How much is that book in the window,
The one my daddy wrote?
Although the tune was nipped from a sweetly sentimental song popular at the time, That Doggie in the Window, the author would beam and bob his head to the music and turn ghostly blue eyes toward the people who filed past to buy his book for 50�. The author liked the way the little girls sang. They were his stepdaughters and the family would sing often in the evenings around the piano in the parlor—and, besides, the author himself had written these lyrics.
Alpaca is set in a romantically imagined country of the same name and is the story of a confusion of the hearts of Juan Achala and an opera star named Mara Hani. But it was not for its literary merit alone that people lined up to purchase the book and to have the author autograph their copies. For one thing, in Dallas they liked the ideas expressed in Alpaca—that matters of government could not be discussed on radio or television or at meetings of more than a few hundred, that extra votes should be awarded to citizens who built up fortunes, scored at the top of their class or declined to take money from the government. Perhaps most important to the book's appeal, the author of Alpaca was either the richest man in the world or was so close to it that nobody could say for sure.
Sitting there that day in Cokesbury's signing autographs, Haroldson Lafayette Hunt looked like, if not a deity, then at least a ranking angel, and, in any case, altogether unlike a beginning novelist at his first autographing party. At 71 he had the face of a cherub, with fine white hair and smooth, pink-baby skin. Only recently people had begun to hear about Hunt's youngest son, Lamar, then 27, who had thought up the American Football League and had got it moving against obstructions that maybe only a prince of an international financial kingdom would have dared oppose. But the old man had not previously offered a look at himself to crowds in his home town.
Until 1948 few people in Texas or anywhere else knew about H. L. Hunt. That year LIFE magazine published a rather fuzzy photograph of Hunt on a sidewalk in Dallas, looking like an annoyed chiropractor on his way to the clinic, and in the caption proposed he might be the richest man in the world. The day the photo was taken Hunt thought the photographer was a street operator who was going to hand him a ticket offering six prints for a dollar. When Hunt didn't receive a ticket he figured the photographer was shooting the buildings in the background. Lamar saw the magazine and was startled—he hadn't realized his father was near to such a title. As a kid Lamar had thought a regular Saturday morning was to get a dollar from his mother and go stand in line at the Lakewood Theatre to see the Perils of Nyoka and later have a hamburger and milk shake. Though the old man didn't mention it to them, that photo caused considerable consternation to Lamar and his two closer brothers, Bunker and Herbert. They'd never paid much attention to money; no more would they be able to ignore it.
So is H. L. Hunt really the richest man in the world? J. Paul Getty, who is often said to be, says he would probably be richer than Hunt if position in wealthy corporations were the only consideration, but most of Getty's corporations are publicly owned, whereas Hunt and his large family own practically every piece of their businesses, and thus Hunt is the richer. And, of course, nobody knows where Howard Hughes ranks. All Hunt will say about it is, "If you know how rich you are, you aren't very rich."
After publication of the photograph in LIFE Hunt slowly emerged as a public person. He became known as a patron of Facts Forum and, later, Life Line—two means of presenting Hunt's fundamentalist, anti-Communist views to the people—and he began to write letters to the editor and to phone newspaper writers to issue lengthy warnings about the enemies of America. His appearance at Cokesbury's was somewhat of a coming out. By that time Lamar was already in the newspapers daily with his new football league. Not that the father and the youngest son were in any sort of competition for publicity, of course; the old man had done very well without it.