Thursday, June 1, 2017

Jett Rink, Cowboy, and Liquor By the Drink

Cletus "Cowboy" Davis is beginning semi-retirement today, leaving the building he has shared with me and his son, Kyle, for the last dozen years or so after moving to Bryan from Houston. A man with as great a name as Cletus, and a nickname of "Cowboy" has stories to tell.

So he does. Cowboy is a living, breathing history book.

I write about only one. It involves Jett Rink. 

Yep, THAT Jett Rink. 

For the uninitiated, Jett Rink is a iconic, fictional Texan. He was a character in Edna Ferber's bestselling 1952 novel "Giant."  In 1955 it was made into a big budget, legendary movie starring the trio of Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and, of course, James Dean in the role of Jett Rink. It was James Dean's last film before he died in his beloved Porsche Spyder along a California highway. It only added to the legend. Heck, there are kids my sons age named Jett. 

Ferber's hell raising, rebel, wildcatting character of Jett Rink was based on Houston oilman Glenn McCarthy. This is where Cowboy enters, stage right.

In the early 1970s Texas did not allow liquor to be sold by the drink. That means you could not walk into a bar in Texas and order a mixed drink unless it was in a private member bar. Most Texans brought their own bottles of liquor to non-private clubs and there purchased what were called "set ups," ice and mixers like water and cola.

Among the many things Cowboy Davis has done for Texas is to serve as a member of the Texas House of Representatives. His district was the upscale Memorial section of Houston. In the early 1970's he carried liquor by the drink legislation in the Texas House. This did not sit well with folks who had significant investment is private clubs. For goodness sakes, who would pay to join a private club if liquor by the drink could be sold anywhere?

At the time, McCarthy, who build the iconic Shamrock Hotel near the area now occupied by the Houston Medical Center either owned or had a significant investment in the Petroleum Club of Houston. It was the go-to private club of that era located at the top of what was then named the Humble Building in downtown Houston. One night, Cowboy and his wife Betts stepped into the elevator in that building, destined for the club.

Then in stepped McCarthy. 

As Cowboy tells it, McCarthy was already several drinks into the evening. He proceeded to upbraid the then young Texas House member for the legislation, using the confined space to leverage his expletive laced tirade. His alcohol soaked point was the legislation would render clubs like the Petroleum obsolete except for niche customers. Not just anyone can claim a tongue lashing from the likes of McCarthy. 

No matter, the legislation passed, and Texans now have basically never known a time when they could not go into a dance club, bar or venue and not order a mixed drink. You have
Cowboy Davis to thank for that, despite the best efforts of Jett Rink. 

That's Cowboy to the left, on the Texas House floor with Kyle on the opening day of the legislature, sometime circa 1971. A different time, and a different kind of Texas House of Representatives.

And that is just one story. The man is a walking history book. I hope you ask him. He is here, in my town, still practicing law at 87 years of age. A good man. A man of experience and history. A lawyer's lawyer.   

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