Glassell, Jr. wasn’t your typical Texas oilman, if there is such a thing. He was
part of the “Big Rich” that author Bryan Burrough chronicled in in his book of
the same name about the Texas oil fortunes and the men who accumulated them. Burrough’s
book is full of fascinating and often outlandish detail but Glassell is barely
Glassell’s name is more often associated with another book,
Ernest Hemingway’s classic “The Old Man and the Sea.” Hemingway based the book
on a true story he heard about a poor village fisherman who hooked a 1,500 pound
black marlin and struggled to bring it to dock only to have it mutilated by sharks;
this turns out to have been a minor literary trend in the early 20th century.
Hollywood filmed the movie, one of the people they went looking for was Alfred
Glassell who, like the Santiago character in Hemingway’s book, hooked an enormous
fish. Not only that but Glassell’s two-hour battle to land the huge fish was filmed.
Some of the scenes of fighting the fish that you see in the movie version of the
story starring Spencer Tracy was taken from Glassell’s footage.
Glassell, Jr., son of an energy tycoon, was born at Cuba Plantation, Louisiana
in 1913. He fell in love with fishing when he was three years old and caught a
four-pound bass. He fished the lakes and bayous of his home state and all up and
down the Gulf Coast but he kept dreaming of bigger fish. He had the means to pursue
the dream, and he did.
After finding the waters off the coast of southern
Florida lacking, Glassell commissioned marine biologists from Yale and Miami to
analyze the Pacific’s currents and how they affected wildlife. The scientists
found that two powerful currents, the Humboldt Current from Chile and an Equatorial
current from the Bay of Panama, merged at the western point of South America,
creating a bonanza of plankton and other nutrients off the coast of Peru.
went to a village called Cobo Blanco with his ship, Miss Texas, and built the
Cobo Blanco Fishing Club. He usually took with him members of his family and fellow
sportsmen like S. Kip Farrington and a rod and reel that he hoped would stand
up to the rigors of landing a thousand-pound marlin, which the aficionados call
“granders.” Glassell was the first one to catch, land and document an officially
recognized 1,000 pound marlin. Writer and sportsman Zane Grey was for a while
recognized as the first to land a “grander” but the record was rescinded because
Grey’s marlin was “mutilated” by sharks.
Glassell’s world record marlin
weighed 1,560 pounds and was caught using a Fin-Nor reel, a 130-pound linen line
and a bamboo rod about seven feet long. He used a five-pound mackerel for bait
and fought the fish for the better part of two hours before landing it. Glassell
took one look at the fish on the boat and said, “Let’s head for the docks, boys.”
The picture taken of him with the fish appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated
later that year. Farrington referred to Glassell’s feat as “the rod and reel Young
Man and the Sea.”
Hemingway was among the many angling notables who visited
the Cobo Blanco Fishing Club. Late in his life Glassell remembered the writer
as “a damn good fisherman” and “a big drinker.”
“That’s one of the reasons
were glad to get him to go down to the club,” Glasses told journalist C.J. Schexnayder
a few years ago. “His bar bill kept us operating for a year. As the owner of the
club I had to say I was happy about that.”
moved to Houston in 1946 and is remembered
and revered there for his philanthropy, especially in regards to the Houston Museum
of Fine Arts which he helped fund and run and to which he donated more than 1,000
rare gold artifacts as part of West African, Indonesian and Pre-Columbian art.
He funded a number of marine biology research projects, and not just as a way
to find more and bigger fish. An avid supporter of Texas wildlife conservation
efforts, he established a professorship in quail research at the Caesar Kleberg
Wildlife Research Institute at Kingsville.
Glassell died in 2008 at the age of 95. It’s a tribute to the richness of his
life that the 1,560 pound black marlin he caught on a rod and reel in 1953 is
only a piece of his legacy.
3 , 2012 Column
"Letters from Central Texas"
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