Fast Facts About the “King of the Wildcatters”
“King of the Wildcatters,” Glenn “Diamond,” McCarthy, didn’t start off his oil career as the foreman of an oil tycoon. Much like others in the early days of the oil and gas industry, Glenn used sheer will and determination, mixed with a little bit of dumb luck, to make a name for himself. McCarthy went on to become one of the most famous wildcatters in history, and set the stereotype for the bombastic Texas oil baron.
McCarthy Married into an Oil Family
McCarthy married Faustine Lee, daughter of Thomas Peter Lee, or T. P. Lee, a big-shot Texas oilman. T. P. Lee was a founder of the Yount-Lee Oil Company, one of the most successful independent oil producers of its day. Yount-Lee was responsible for the Second Spindletop boom that began at Beaumont, Texas in 1925. The story goes McCarthy met his future bride While pumping gas one day in 1930, when Faustine Lee pulled into his station driving a Cadillac convertible.
McCarthy’s marriage is at times attributed as one of the reasons for his drive to succeed. A broadcaster once quoted a friend describing McCarthy as “a poor boy. He got a lot of pushing around. He married a rich girl and her family didn’t like him. So he vowed that he’d show them he could do just as good as they did. He had a grudge.”
McCarthy Didn’t Strike Oil Until His 30’s
At the time of his marriage, McCarthy was the owner of an oil service station and soon bought another station. However, McCarthy didn’t want his oil career to stop at just owning a few service stations, he wanted to be an oil tycoon. So, shortly after his marriage, McCarthy sold off one of his service stations and bankrolled his search for untapped oil rich lands. At the age of 30, McCarthy found himself in Anahuac, where he began drilling, despite the lack of success major oil companies had in the area. After many dry holes, McCarthy finally struck oil. By 1949, his estimated worth reached $200 million (about $2 billion today).
McCarthy Built the Most Lavish Hotel in Houston’s History
After his first taste of striking black gold, McCarthy found himself in League City, just south of Houston. He was drilling again, but this time, McCarthy struck it big. So big, in fact, that he was able to p finance the construction of the luxurious Shamrock Hotel.
The Shamrock Hotel had an 1,100 room capacity, and was considered the largest hotel outside of the metropolitan hubs of New York or Los Angeles. Not only was the hotel immense, but so was its famed pool, which was 165 feet long and frequently described as one of the largest outdoor pools in the world. The grand opening of the Shamrock Hotel in March of 1949 has been termed by the Houston Chronicle as “one of the largest social events in Houston’s history.” Life magazine called it “the most dazzling exhibition of evening dresses and big names ever seen in Texas.” The opening drew an estimated crowd of 50,000 Houtonians, and over 175 celebrities, including Hollywood icons Lana Turner and Ginger Rogers.
McCarthy Invested in Movies and Bourbon, Too
McCarthy had many business holdings such as the KXYZ radio station in Houston, a brand of bourbon called “Wildcatter,” the McCarthy Chemical Company, and a movie production company known as Glenn McCarthy Productions, 14 newspapers, a magazine, two banks, and the Shell Building in downtown Houston.
McCarthy Was Played in a Movie by James Dean
Glenn McCarthy’s life as a wildcatter inspired the fictional character Jett Rink in Edna Ferber‘s 1952 novel Giant. The book was later adopted into a movie, also titled “Giant”, starring James Dean. The film was one of James Dean’s very last roles before his death.
McCarthy Died An Oil Legend
Despite the swaggering legend, near the end of his life, McCarthy’s fortune turned. Poor financial decisions and the construction of the Shamrock Hotel had led the oilman into massive debt, debt which he couldn’t repay. His later years were spent in relative obscurity, in search of a fortune that he was never able again to regain. Nonetheless, he had left his mark on history. Glenn “Diamond,” McCarthy lived to the age of 81 and died in December of 1988. Henry Groppe, a charter member of the Texas Governors Energy Advisory Council said of McCarthy: “He had an almost mystical confidence that he could do anything he decided to do at a level that you only see in fiction.”