Category Archives: Celebrities

D.W. Griffith: A Little Bit of Hollywood in Mineral Wells

D.W. Griffith, Crazy Water Hotel Roof ~1929

D.W. Griffith, Crazy Water Hotel Roof ~1929

Legendary Hollywood movie director D.W. Griffith was an early pioneer of film in America, known for his silent movies between 1908-1924.  Some of our nation’s very first movie stars like Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin starred in Griffith’s films. He is also largely credited for inventing many important features of the craft, including the “close up,” the “fade out” and the moving camera.  Griffith was the first to attach a camera to a moving vehicle (and even to a custom-built elevator!) in order to get moving action shots and wide, panoramic views.

However, Griffith’s work was not without controversy, and his famous film “The Birth of a Nation” was criticized as being highly racist.  He was also not able to make the jump from silent films into “talkies” in the early 30s – and his films with full sound failed to resonate with audiences and critics.  It’s possible that his unfortunate situation may have lent some inspiration to the 1952 musical comedy “Singin’ In the Rain.”

According Richard Schickel’s biography of Griffith, the director visited Mineral Wells “to dry out” during the “last spring of the decade.” The year was 1929, just before the Baker Hotel opened in November.  Griffith stayed at the Crazy Water Hotel according to telegraph records, and there’s a great picture of him standing on the roof of the Crazy Water (Photo taken from “Time Was in Mineral Wells” by A.F. Weaver).

Local folklore has it that the “WELCOME” sign on East Mountain inspired the famous “HOLLYWOOD” sign, and that D.W. Griffith has some connection to that. Unfortunately the timeline doesn’t match up, and the legend is likely a false one.  However, it is true that the big white Mineral Wells “WELCOME” sign on East Mountain went up in 1922, a year before the famous “HOLLYWOODLAND” sign in 1923. It’s also true that Mineral Wells was a resort mecca for Hollywood types back in the ’20s.

So who knows? Maybe there’s a little Hollywood magic in Mineral Wells.

Hollywood Sign, Welcome Sign

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , ,

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”:

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Will Rogers At The Baker

450px-Will_Rogers_-_1940s_-_colorThe Cherokee cowboy-philosopher, humorist, and actor known as Will Rogers was perhaps one of the world’s best known celebrities throughout the 20s and 30s. Known as “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son,” he penned countless stories and newspaper articles, starred in vaudeville shows and motion pictures, and perfected his own unique brand of folksy political satire and humorous social commentary that spoke to the heart of the culture of the time.

Sometime in the early 1930s before Rogers’ untimely death in 1935 (at the young age of 55) he visited the famous Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells. The photograph below shows him standing on the front steps with Mineral Wells Mayor Charlton Brown along with other unidentified local citizens. The banner behind him says: Welcome to Mineral Wells, Where America Drinks its Way to Health.

Will Rogers at Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells in Early 1930s

Will Rogers at The Baker Hotel (Early 1930s)

Tagged , , , ,

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

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Judy Garland’s Stay at The Baker

Judy Garland visited Mineral Wells in 1943 as part of a USO tour, entertaining the men in basic training at nearby Camp Wolters, which was the largest of four infantry replacement training centers in the US during WWII.

She stayed at the Baker Hotel in room 703, and made several appearances in town.  The photograph below shows her mailing a letter at the post office, just up the hill from the Baker Hotel.

In a story printed in the Mineral Wells Index in November 2009, local resident Betty Scott remembers the day that her husband, who worked in the maintenance department at the Baker Hotel, got to meet Judy Garland:

“Lawrence wanted to see her so the guys in the maintenance department said that the air conditioning in Miss Garland’s room had a problem and they sent Lawrence up to her room to take care of it. Miss Garland was in her room at the time, as the story goes. She was sitting at her vanity in her dressing gown. She let Lawrence in to work on the air conditioning and he got to see her in person. This was probably one of his greatest moments because he told everyone back then he got to see her in person and that she was very nice.”

Judy Garland mails a letter at the Mineral Wells Post Office (1943)

Judy Garland mails a letter at the Mineral Wells Post Office (1943)

Tagged , , ,
%d bloggers like this: