name once was a household word in Texas, but only
a few aficionados of Texana know it today.|
He wrote 17 books -- more than
J. Frank Dobie.
He reported for and edited newspapers, regaled countless civic clubs and Chamber
of Commerce banquets with Texas anecdotes, worked in Hollywood as technical consultant
for a blockbuster movie starring Clark Gable, ran twice for lieutenant governor,
wrote a column that ran in 200 newspapers, had a weekly radio show and was a member
of the by-invitation-only Texas Institute of Letters.
Most of his books
went through numerous editions with thousands of copies printed. One book sold
more than 200,000 copies. Some of his stories appeared in The Saturday Evening
Post, the top national magazine of its day.
Chances are, you’ve never
heard of Boyce House. But he deserves to be remembered.
improved the communities he served as a hard hitting newspaper editor, he made
a couple of generations of Texans laugh and he offered himself as an unsuccessful
political candidate. What he did best, however, was collect Texas stories --folktales,
jokes, history--and preserve them in books, articles and newspaper columns.
in Piggott, Ark., in 1896 as the son of a country newspaper editor, House lived
in Texas for several years and attended schools in
Taylor and Alpine.
When his father died, his mother moved to Memphis, Tenn., where House graduated
from high school. He cut his journalistic teeth as a cub reporter on the Memphis
Commercial-Appeal in 1916.
He came to Texas
in 1920 because of ill health, but soon recovered. He wrote for or edited newspapers
in the oil boom towns of Eastland,
Cisco and Ranger
and later worked for papers in Olney
and Fort Worth.
covered one of Texas’ biggest crime stories, the so-called Santa
Claus bank robbery in Cisco on
Dec. 23, 1927. He broke the story of "Old
Rip" (for Rip Van Winkle), the
horned toad that supposedly survived for 30 years sealed in the cornerstone
of the Eastland County
Courthouse. This almost certainly was a Chamber of Commerce trick, possibly
concocted by House himself, but many folks swore it was true. One thing for sure,
Rip" made great newspaper copy and focused national attention on Eastland
County and the man who wrote the stories about it.
His newspaper career
in Eastland County coincided with one of Texas’ most prolific oil booms. At the
height of the drilling activity, $1 million worth of oil gushed every 72 hours
from wells around Ranger. House wrote
four books that remain excellent sources of information on this wildcat period
of early 20th-century Texas history: "Were You In Ranger?" (1935), "Oil
Boom" (1941), "Roaring Ranger: The World’s Biggest Boom" (1951) and
"Oil Field Fury" (1954).
|This expertise in
the lore of the oil patch got him a job in Hollywood as technical adviser for
the 1940 movie "Boomtown" and the material for another of his books, "How
I Took Hollywood by Storm." |
After he came back to Texas
from Tinsel Town, House started writing a humorous newspaper column as well as
books featuring Texas tales and humor. His best seller was "I Give You Texas,"
a collection of humorous Texas stories.
Soon after House’s “Roaring
Ranger” came out, the former boom town declared April 6, 1951 “Boyce House
Day.” Following an invocation, speeches, a glowing introduction and music
by the 36-piece Ranger High School band, House spoke at the old Arcadia Theater
to a packed house.
House’s last book was "As I Was Saying" (1957),
a collection of anecdotes mostly centering on the newspaper business. He dedicated
the volume to "The Home Town Editors."
in 1927, he and his wife, Golda Fay, did not have children, House died in Fort
Worth on Dec. 30, 1961. News of his death even made the New York Times.
Most of his books had been published by the old Naylor Co. in San
Antonio, a firm that went out of business in the early ‘70s. None of his titles
are in print today. |
for a time House’s chief rival for the title of "Mr. Texas," called his fellow
writer of Texana "a poet as well as historian and wordwielder."
"New Handbook of Texas" offers this assessment of House’s work: "Analysis
and interpretation are lacking in House’s scholarly efforts, and he relied heavily
on secondary sources; nevertheless, he was a powerful writer..."
his material lacked "analysis and interpretation." House was a newspaperman of
the old school. His generation of journalists viewed analysis and interpretation
as cardinal sins, worse than using someone’s name in a story without giving the
House simply was a reporter who knew a good story when he
heard or saw it and how to tell it even better. He left us, not a gasoline-like
refined and boring academic product, but good old Texas crude, a body of work
that in time will be recognized as having captured the color of Texas’ early oil
days before it flared off like so much waste gas into the darkness of time. His
collected anecdotes played a significant role in developing a part of the Texas
Maybe Boyce House will be like the tenacious horned toad he made
Rip" It’s time for this Texas writer’s work to be freed from the musty cornerstone
of literary obscurity and be appreciated by another crop of Texas readers.
"Texas Tales" March
19, 2009 column
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