When we all get to California
Back in 1947 Bob Graves, Joe Swan and I often walked home togesther from work at the Lyric Theater. Brownwood had a bus that ran from behind the Southern Hotel (on Center Avenue) out Third Street nearly to Bob's house but we preferred to walk. The bus usually quit running long before we closed up the picture show.
Often under a corner street light we would sit on the curb and talk about going to California. In that kinder and gentler time there were no drive-by shootings or drug pushers on our corners. We talked as young people have always talked -- about all we wanted to do in the future. We were all going to get rich in Hollywood writing much better movies than those we saw over and over as ushers.
Bob and Joe eventually made it to California. Both had families by then but the riches did not come in as planned. When I finally made it to California it was only to catch a ship for Taiwan. None of us got rich in material things. It probably would have ruined our lives had we become wealthy.
Bob became manager of the California Orchard Company in King City and wrote some good short stories, mostly cowboy yarns. Before his sudden death at 47, Bob even sold a detective story. He was not familiar with the market nor the magazine that purchased the story. Had he known he would never have submitted the story. When he got his free copy with his story he learned to his chagrin it was a "girlie" magazine (a tame publication compared to today's such magazines). Bob was too embarrassed to show anyone his success.
Joe went to San Jose State University and later headed the Department of Photo Journalism program. We continued to make California a rest stop and never settled down there. Once, Jody and I were in Los Angeles and Dinah Shore waved to our tourist bus as it went by. She probably did that for all the tourists.
When we moved to Waco, Joe was anxious to visit us. Not so much to see us, but to see the tombstone of a journalist "idol" of his. Also Joe's great-grandmother, Doshia Melinda Burleson Underwood of Gorman, Texas, was a cousin of former Baylor University President Rufus Burleson. After taking Joe's picture with the Burleson statue (the one where he holds out his hat as if taking up offering) we went to the Oakwood Cemetery and the final resting place of William Cowper Brann, founder of The Iconoclast, which claimed in 1895 to be the only American magazine that ever secured 100,000 readers in a single year.
Joe's interest was in the writer, William Cowper Brann,who was shot -- in the back, where his suspenders crossed -- and killed April 1, 1898, on the corner of Fourth and Austin in Waco. What Joe wanted to see was Brann's unusual tombstone. On it there is a bas-relief depiction of Brann's profile. Right in the profile's temple is a bullet mark. Legend says it was one of his enemies that wanted just one more shot at him. Brann did have enemies. In fact he seemed to bring out the worst in people.
The self-taught Brann, whose father was a Presbyterian minister, acquired an amazing vocabulary that made readers use their dictionaries. He loved the classics and made reference to them in all his works. His grandson, Donald Brann, wrote "My grandfather had a vitriolic pen. It got him fired for a lot of jobs. He didn't pull punch one. He was a sensationalist. But boy, could he write."
Kent Keeth, director of Baylor's Texas Collection said about him, "I think he greatly oversimplified for effect. His prose though, was admirable. He could do amazing things with language. His problem is that he didn't know where to stop. He overplayed his hand."
From the cemetery we drove over to the Order of Red Men Museum to see the .41 caliber Colt revolver Brann used in the shoot-out that cost him his life. It was a strange feeling to hold an instrument that had been used to kill another human being. There probably never has been a real kinder and gentler time. There could be, if we had writers, film producers and television networks that cared more about quality of life than quanity of violence.
--- May 5, 2000Previous Menu Next