Category Archives: Crazy Water Company & Hotel

Crazy Water & The King of Western Swing

Bob Wills, "The King of Western Swing"

Bob Wills

In 1931, long before “Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys” fiddled their way through the South, a group of struggling Texas musicians in Fort Worth came up with a bright idea.  The Depression was hitting them all hard, and they needed to come up with a plan.

Radio advertising was a brand new frontier, and musicians Bob Wills, Herman Arnspiger and Milton Brown saw the opportunity. Together, they approached the President of Burrus Mills Flour Company (who happened to be future governor W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel) and pitched him the idea of putting together a band to advertise flour on the radio.  They were probably inspired in part by Hal Collins’ Crazy Crystals radio show already underway in nearby Mineral Wells.

The Original Light Crust Doughboys (1931)

The Original Light Crust Doughboys (1931)

O’Daniel was initially resistant to the idea, and  he was not a fan of “that hillbilly music.”  But possibly because of Crazy Crystals’ success, he gave the boys a chance, and “The Light Crust Doughboys” got their start.  At first, O’Daniel proved to be a tough employer, and for the first few weeks he made the boys work full-time in the mill in addition to playing on the radio.  Later, when it became apparent that the ads were working well, he set them up to work on music in an on-site studio for 8 hours a day.

The Original Light Crust Doughboys, Bob Wills, Pappy O'Daniel

The Original Light Crust Doughboys (Bob Wills on Left)

The Doughboys played both original and traditional folk songs in the radio ads, and they also performed throughout the region at conventions and appearances.  Some band members even occasionally moonlighted on the Crazy Crystals radio show in Mineral Wells for extra money.   Eventually, O’Daniel finally lightened up and accepted the group as a true marketing success: the boys appealed to O’Daniel’s political aspirations and asked him to be their official emcee on the radio.  It’s possible that through the Doughboys, O’Daniel discovered his new passion: public speaking. He soon became known to the public as  “Pass the biscuits, Pappy!” O’Daniel, later parodied by the Cohen brothers in film.

Pappy O'Daniel and The Hillbilly Boys

Pappy O’Daniel and The Hillbilly Boys

According to some, however, O’Daniel and Wills did not get along, and their clashes were possibly exacerbated by Wills’ drinking habit. O’Daniel reportedly fired Wills after he missed one too many performances. But the Doughboys’ popularity continued to soar, and they were featured in at least one Gene Autry film in the mid-thirties. (Click the link above to see them perform “Tiger Rag” in the Autry film Oh, Susanna!)

O’Daniel was later fired from his position at Burrus Millls, and his early hatred of “that hillbilly music” must have mysteriously disappeared, because he founded his own flour company called “Hillbilly Flour” and a new band called the “Hillbilly Boys.” (Click on the link to listen!)

Meanwhile, Bob Wills was busy forming the beginnings of his legendary band “The Texas Playboys.”  In 1934, a year after leaving the Doughboys, the band signed a contract with Hal Collins and the Crazy Crystals company to play for thirty minutes every day from 12:30-1pm on Tulsa radio station KVOO. The band wasn’t exactly paid for the shows, but Wills knew that everybody in the area listened to the radio at lunch-time, and it was a great way to get their name out in order to book more shows. The tactic worked.

Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys

Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys

Pappy O’Daniel appeared in Wills’ life again, and asked him if he’d like to merge the Hillbilly Boys with the Texas Playboys.  Wills respectfully and politely declined. There are even some who say that O’Daniel also tried to get O.W. Mayo’s job as the Playboys’ manager. But obviously, Wills turned that proposal down too.

O’Daniel, of course, would go on to win a campaign for Texas Governor in 1938  by using the Hillbilly Boys on the road and employing many of the same musical advertising techniques.   The Collins brothers in Mineral Wells even got in on the act, even allowing O’Daniel to use the airwaves on their Mexican radio station to campaign in South Texas.

Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, of course, went on to become the stuff of country music legend.

Here’s Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys performing “That’s What I Like About the South”:

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The True Story of “Little Lorraine”

Note: This wonderful story has been paraphrased from The Sacred Harp blog – click here to read the complete story!

Mineral Wells native Lorraine Miles McFarland has been singing as long as she can remember.

Lorraine Miles McFarland Washboard Swingsters WBAP Fort Worth Mineral Wells

Lorraine on WBAP Radio with The Washboard Swingsters (Later known as “The Crazy Gang”)

She got her start singing as a little girl at home with her family and with the Sacred Harp Singers in Mineral Wells.    But soon, she became well known on WBAP radio in Fort Worth as the “yodeling schoolgirl,” singing with the Washboard Swingsters (later known as the “Crazy Radio Gang.”)   When Hal Collins’ began his Crazy Crystals radio program in Mineral Wells, Lorraine joined the cast of characters, broadcasting right from the lobby of the Crazy Water Hotel.

At fifteen, Lorraine was performing to packed crowds at the famed Fort Worth nightspot “The Silver Spur,” and it seemed that her career was about to take off.   But unlike her contemporary Mary Martin, who also got her start on the Crazy Radio Show, Lorraine decided that showbiz life was not for her, and she turned down a contract with an agent who wanted to take her out to Hollywood.

In 1941, at a USO dance in town with some of the men from nearby Camp Wolters, Lorraine met the love of her life: handsome nineteen-year-old Sergeant A.J. “Mac” McFarland.  The two married not long afterward.

Hal Collins, Crazy Radio Gang Campaign tour for Governor in 1941

Hal Collins, Lorraine, and the Crazy Radio Gang on the campaign trail (1941)

Lorraine then agreed to join Hal Collins’ gubernatorial campaign road tour along with  the Crazy Radio Gang, and incumbent Texas Governor W. Lee “Pass the Biscuits, Pappy” O’Daniel. The group traveled by bus, performing from the back of a flatbed truck around Texas.  As loosely parodied by the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Hal Collins and Pappy O’Daniel did indeed use memorable old-fashioned songs and slogans on their campaign trail in order to make an impression on potential voters.  Collins gave away a free mattress to one family at every campaign stop, and Pappy often carried a broom, with which he promised to “sweep out corruption.”

Hal did not win his 1941 bid for governor, and Mac and Lorraine went on to raise a family and travel the world together.

And while no one will ever know for sure what might have happened if she had agreed to go out to Hollywood many years ago, one thing is for sure: this beautiful woman is still singing.

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“We Went Out And Got Rich”

Carr P. Collins, V.A. Collins, Hal Collins Family Photo

L-R: Carr P. Collins, V.A. Collins, Hal Collins

When young Dallas entrepreneurs Carr P. Collins and Hal Collins decided to get into the hotel business in 1926, they had no idea that they would soon be competing directly with one of the most prominent hotel men in Texas: T.B. Baker.

As it happened, Carr owed his older brother Hal some money.  So when he decided to purchase the Crazy Water Company and Hotel in Mineral Wells, he gave him a call.  From the biography Carr P. Collins: Man on the Move:

“Hal,” Carr told him, “you have $35,000 worth of stock in the new Crazy Hotel at Mineral Wells.”

“That’s just great,” replied the puzzled Hal. “Where am I going to get $35,000?”

“Oh,” his brother explained nonchalantly. “That’s the $35,000 I owe you.”

Crazy Water Hotel, Mineral Wells Texas

Crazy Water Hotel, Mineral Wells

And so the brothers began their new venture in Mineral Wells, starting by rebuilding the recently burned down Crazy Water Hotel.  They made a good team: Carr had a sharp mind for numbers and was already a semi-successful insurance executive in Dallas, and Hal had been busy building a career in sales, advertising, and local politics.

Their father, lawyer and Texas Senator V.A. Collins, would later recall: “A very nice six-story hotel was built on the old hotel site and it was wonderfully arranged and beautifully furnished, but of course it was not without a large investment.  They felt sure when the hotel started it would soon earn enough to take care of all expenses and pay interest on the investment.  They soon found that they were much disappointed in that.  I never saw Carr and Halley get very badly frightened over business before this occurred, but they saw they were falling behind with everything they could do to make ends meet and they became alarmed.”

By the early 30s, the brothers were in deep trouble. The stock market had just crashed, and to make matters worse, the Baker Hotel had just opened in town – and it was twice as tall, had twice as many rooms, and boasted twice the luxury.  The Crazy Water Hotel suddenly found itself obsolete, just two years after its opening, and the brothers’ financial situation was grim.

“The sheriff was two steps behind us,” Hal would later admit.

Hal Collins

Hal Collins

So, out of desperation, they came up with a wild proposal for hotel man T.B. Baker, according to the book Carr P. Collins: Man On The Move:

“With two hotels in operation in Mineral Wells,” recalls Hal, “We decided we were nuts to buck Baker. So we made an appointment with him.  Our suggestion was that our two companies could divide the business, with his taking the hotel profits and ours taking the product profits.”

Baker heard them out silently, then, according to Hal, refused flatly to discuss their proposition.  Says Hal summarily, “We bristled like javelina hogs and went out and got rich. He went broke.”

Their father, V.A. Collins, also wrote:  “They have always been very resourceful and when they saw they could not get through one way they turned to something else, so they began to manufacture Crazy Crystals by the tons and Hal went on the air advertising Crazy Water Crystals. I do not think there was ever a better radio advertiser than he.”

Crazy Water Crystals Plant in Mineral Wells, Texas

Crazy Crystals Plant in Mineral Wells (1930s)

Thanks to several groundbreaking marketing decisions by Hal to advertise on the radio, as well as to launch an old-fashioned musical variety show, product sales quickly soared.  Over the next decade, the brothers would indeed go out and get rich: sales of Crazy Crystals topped $3 million a year for several years.

In the early 40s, the FTC and FDA cracked down on health product claims, and the brothers eventually dropped the business altogether.  Crazy Water, however, is still sold today.

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Mary Martin: Weatherford Whiz

Mary Martin

Mary Martin

Weatherford native Mary Martin was already something of a local legend by the time she opened up her second dance studio in Mineral Wells, Texas, at the top of the Crazy Water Hotel.   Martin, of course, would later go on to star in South PacificPeter Pan, and  many other movies and Broadway shows in her lifetime.  Her son would also be destined for show business: What would Dallas be without Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing?

In the early 1930s, Martin struck an arrangement with Carr and Hal Collins, the owners of the Crazy Water Hotel.  In exchange for giving her full use of the rooftop ballroom for her weekly dance classes in Mineral Wells, Martin would agree to sing on their Crazy Crystals radio show two days a week – Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The Collins brothers had invested in the hotel and water business in Mineral Wells just prior to the depression.  But economic troubles, combined with waning spa tourism and stiff competition from the newer hotel in town, the Baker, meant that the brothers were in a tough spot.   In order to keep from going bankrupt, they identified the one product they offered that could be shipped all over the country on the cheap: Crazy Crystals, made by evaporating their famous mineral water into a white powdery substance.  They claimed that when a small amount was dissolved into normal drinking water, it was just the same as drinking the healthful water of Mineral Wells.

Crazy Water Hotel, Mineral Wells Texas

Crazy Water Hotel, Mineral Wells, TX

Hal Collins was one of the first marketers in the country to truly take advantage of radio’s potential for advertising – he knew that in order to sell a product, it had to connect with people emotionally – and what better way to do that than on the radio?  Hal knew that most people were looking for a diversion when they turned on their radios: music, stories, and reminders of better times.  And so, the Crazy Crystals Radio Show was born – as part variety show, part sermon.   The old hillbilly folk songs, shouts and announcements seemed to capture the enthusiastic, knee-slapping gusto of old-fashioned country revival.

The show was recorded and broadcast daily, right from the lobby of the Crazy Hotel, and featured Jack Amlung and his Orchestra, the Crazy Gang of musical comedians, and the Light Crust Doughboys.   Many musicians over the years found regular paying jobs playing on the Crazy Crystals program, probably including Western swing legend Bob Wills, who had been playing with the Doughboys.

Soon, the show began to find its way into living rooms all over the country, and the Collins brothers would eventually open up satellite Crazy Crystal offices as far away as Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta.  Some of these offices, including the Charlotte office, launched their own Crazy Radio Shows for regional audiences. Crazy Crystals soon became a national craze, and a multi-million dollar empire, sold for only 60 cents or $1 a box.

Crazy Radio Gang Promotional Appearance

Crazy Radio Gang Promotional Appearance

Although Martin later admitted that she hated singing the hillbilly tunes (she said that she preferred songs like “Stormy Weather”) the performance training and vocal practice she received at the Crazy Water Hotel proved invaluable for the future star.  It was there that she learned how to sing into a microphone, and she learned how to whistle and yodel, too.  From bandleader Jack Amlung, she learned how to manipulate her voice in order to sing the blues, and adapt it based on musical style.  Soon, she became known on the show as “Mary Hagman, the Crazy Girl.”

“This was my first singing job,” Martin said, “Although no money changed hands.”

Martin began to attract a following, and booked her own shows in Fort Worth, Dallas, and beyond.  During this time she continued to teach dance and voice at her studios in Weatherford and Mineral Wells.

In the mid thirties, however, a local man who believed that dancing was a sin burned down her Weatherford studio. Martin was distraught, and eventually decided that it was time for her to move on.  Not long afterward, she left to go try to make it as an actress in Hollywood.

In California, she earned the name “Audition Mary” because of the many roles that she auditioned for.  But her persistence finally paid off when she sang at one such audition for the great Oscar Hammerstein II…  and the rest, as they say, is showbiz history.

Mary Martin, Peter Pan, Broadway

Mary Martin as “Peter Pan” on Broadway

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