Goodbye to Bud Shrake: Hipster, Sportswriter, Novelist, Mad Dog, First Guy

[For those wondering about my promised followup to the post onThe Gay Place and Billy Brammer, rest assured Parts II and III are coming. In the meantime, consider this highly relevant background material.]

They buried Bud Shrakeyesterday. At the age of 77, cancer finally got him. Willie sang at the funeral and Jerry Jeff sang at the graveside service in the Texas State Cemetery. That’s where we bury our war heroes, politicians, scoundrels, and other notables, or as the brochure says, “legendary Texans who have made the state what it is today.”

Given that a great deal of what he was best known for ran pretty much counter to what most people think Texas “is today,” Shrake might have taken issue with that bit. Kind of like he questioned, rather famously, the demands of the muggers who accosted himone wild night in New York:

It was there that I heard the story of Bud being
high on LSD walking around New York one night and being stuck up at
gunpoint by two robbers. One of the gunmen demanded of Bud, “Give me
all your money.” Bud said that the demand had seemed really
comprehensive, and since the guy was so insistent, and he was in a
highly sensitive state, he was cooperative. “All my money? All my
money? Well, I can’t give you all my money right now. Some of it is at
home. Some of it is in the bank. We can go to my house and I have
several hundred dollars there, and I can get my checkbook and write you
a check for the rest.” He looked at the robbers very earnestly with a
wild-eyed acid stare. The gunman reportedly said, “This guy ain’t
right.” And they promptly left him standing there with his billfold and
the cash he had still on him.

Probably best known outside Texas as a staff writer forSports Illustrated and co-author of the best selling sports book of all time, the golf bibleHarvey Penick’s Little Red Book, Edwin “Bud” Shrake also wrote 11 novels, a slew of screenplays, and was working on a play (not his first) at the time of his death. He first made his writing bones at the Fort WorthPress, covering the police, in direct competition with his lifetime partner-in-crime Gary Cartwright, who worked the same beat for theStar-Telegram. The two worked in Dallas a few years later, shared an apartment there, and became well known for hosting parties where hipsters, musicians, bums off the street, local celebrities, strippers, polticians, athletes, and probably even cops mixed it up together after hours. It was during this time, in the early 60s, that Shrake came to know local club owner Jack Ruby. This is the backdrop for Shrake’s wonderfully bent novelStrange Peaches. Don Graham describes the book:

Shrake’s 1972 novel brings that world of big money, organized crime,
right-wing politics, and prostitutes, all laced with booze and drugs,
into sharp focus in the months leading up to November 22, 1963. The
narrator, a tall, sardonic Texan named John Lee Wallace, is a TV actor,
the star of
Six Guns Across Texas. Based loosely on Shrake, who
at that time was a well-known sportswriter in Dallas, John Lee drops
out of stardom to return to Big D, where the parties never stop. His
best friend is Buster Gregory, a wild-man photographer modeled on
Shrake’s friend Gary Cartwright (also a well-known sportswriter who is
now a senior editor at
Texas Monthly). Together they set out to make a documentary about modern Texas.

John Lee and Buster later end up along the motorcade route (as did Shrake and Cartwright), filming as JFK’s assassination unfolds in front of them. Later in the novel, a goat eats the footage.

Shrake and Cartwright’s greatest collaborative effort was probably “founding” Mad Dog. What was Mad Dog, you ask? A good question with a lot of answers, the best of themprobably long, incoherent, or lost in a haze.

An attempt at definition: Mad Dog is the chosen name of a band of
rebellious artists — mainly writers and journalists but also musicians
and painters — who lived in Texas, mostly in Austin, in the late
Sixties and early Seventies who partied and wrote in an identifiably
Texan, outlaw manner.

In addition to Shrake and Cartwright, the core Mad Dogs were Cartwright’s wife Phyllis, actors Dennis Hopper, Peter Boyle, and Warren Oates, film producer Marvin Schwarz, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff and Susan Walker, North Dallas Forty author Peter Gent and wife Jody, Bill Brammer and first wife wife Nadine Eckhardt, painter and sculptor Fletcher Boone, civil rights lawyer David Richards and his wife Ann (yes, that Ann Richards), author Larry L. King, and select other movers and shakers from Austin, New York and Hollywood, but mostly Austin. True Mad Dogs were invited, given two pesos or a $2 bill and the Mad Dog calling card. According to Shrake, the last ever inducted Mad Dog was producer screenwriter writer David Milch, ofNYPD Blue andDeadwood fame.

The Mad Dog motto was “doing indefinable services for mankind,” their slogan: “anything that’s not a mystery is guesswork.” In addition to enjoying prodigious amounts of alcohol, drugs, and sex with each other’s spouses, the original Mad Dogs created a fair portion of what would become the modern Texas literary canon, not to mention their impact on music, politics, and the Austin sensibility.

Mad Dogs did what young artists and intellectuals in a notably
conservative environment tend to do: They fought with and changed the
culture. Mad Dog behavior generally fits in with what one hears about
the Sixties counterculture that was being waged on a national level,
but Mad Dog and the counterculture are not the same thing. The
anti-Texas fervor that existed in the nation after the JFK
assassination, coupled with the transformation that was happening in
Texas from a rural to urban society, made Mad Dog artists acutely aware
of their status as creative people from a place that most observers
thought was deeply uncreative. “And when we greeted each other, we
said, ‘Haw yew,’ just like Bill[y] Lee’s characters did,” Jay Dunston
Milner, a novelist, journalist, and professor, writes in
Confessions of a Maddog: A High-flying Romp Through the Texas Music and Literary Era of the Fifties to the Seventies
(1998). “We exaggerated the cadence and flatness of our Texas accents
and articulations, especially when in the company of those we somewhat
snidely regarded as being on the pompous side.” An example of how to
push the envelope (which can be attributed to Bud Shrake, who is 6’6″):
If you are invited to a party thrown in honor of Abe Rosenthal, then
the editor of
The New York Times, dress up as a giant Tampax
and greet him at the door. (Sure! Why not?) This was the party David
and Ann Richards threw at their home in Westlake, a “Mad Dog
sanctuary,” according to Cartwright, and even today, this is a party
that people will not stop talking about.

In short, they kept it weird, and they kept it real.

Finally, it’s not certain (at least not publicly) how and exactly when Shrake and Ann Richards became an item, but it was long after the glory days of Mad Dog. Apparently it started innocently enough, during Richard’s term as Governor – they were both voracious film goers and they liked going to movies together. Shrake was often referred to as “the First Guy” of Texas and the pair remained companions for the next 16 years, until Richards’ death in 2006.

“They were both very mysterious about it, and when you would ask them,
they said, ‘We intend to grow old together,'” according toCartwright.

Shrake was buried next to Richards yesterday.

5 thoughts on “Goodbye to Bud Shrake: Hipster, Sportswriter, Novelist, Mad Dog, First Guy

  1. Great post, B. Thanks for sharing the story of an epic character. It’s also a reminder that the *best* Teaxans are awesome.

  2. Wow! What a kick! I only wish things were this subversive while I was growing up in Houston…
    Just brill, V. Thanks for this.

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