The family that made the Dallas Cowboys into America’s team were friends with John Wayne and helped finance the first movie he ever directed.
Both Clint Murchison Sr and his sons, Clint Jr and Dabney, gave large chunks of money to help John Wayne get The Alamo off the ground.
The Murchisons were one of the most prominent oil families in Texas, a state knee deep in them. Clint Sr was a former wildcatter who got into the oil business right after World War 1. He formed Southern Union Gas Company. Then, with his sons by his side, Murchison broadened his business holdings. He even bought Field and Stream magazine, a Bible for hunters and fishermen.
Murchison also liked to get away from the Texas heat during the summertime. So he built an opulent, 50-room hotel outside La Jolla, Calif and called it Hotel Del Charro. This was in 1951. The hotel flew a Texas flag and attracted a ton of Hollywood stars, including John Wayne. They’d watch the horse racing at Del Mar, then adjourn to the bar at night for mint juleps and other, refreshing adult beverages. Other big stars who would party with Murchison and other Texas millionaires included Elizabeth Taylor, Jimmy Durante, Betty Grable and Joan Crawford.
When John Wayne needed financing to make the movie, The Alamo, he turned to Clint Murchison and two of his sons, Clint Jr and Dabney. The Saturday Evening Post reported that Wayne used $1.5 million of his own money, while each of the Murchison’s contributed huge chunks, too.
“Every last damn dime I have in the world, I tied up in this thing,” John Wayne told Limelight in 1960.
The movie was a perfect investment for a Lone Star oil family, given that the battle that happened at the Alamo in San Antonio helped Texas secure its independence from Mexico in 1836. John Wayne portrayed Davy Crockett.
At about the same time, Clint Jr was securing the Dallas Cowboys, an NFL franchise. He hired Tom Landry as the team’s first coach and Tex Schramm as its general manager for the team’s debut season in 1960.
But back to John Wayne and The Alamo. Wayne had been trying to do a movie about the Alamo since 1945. To bring it to life, Wayne needed to put a second mortgage on his home and ask his Texas oil buddies to kick in some cash.
The Murchisons insisted that the movie be filmed in Texas. So movie production built an Alamo set on a ranch near Brackettville, a small town in West Texas. The Texas investors also made Wayne play Davy Crockett. Initially, he was going to take a smaller role, playing Sam Houston, the first president of Texas, so he could concentrate on directing the movie. But the money guys wanted to make sure John Wayne also starred.
The movie had a budget of $18 million. For context, that would be a budget of $166.5 million in today’s dollars.
The movie garnered a best picture nomination at the Academy Awards and it was one of the most successful movies of 1960. But John Wayne didn’t earn back his investment until he sold the rights to United Artists.
by Suzanne Halliburton