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Interview with: Dick Gottlieb
Interviewed by: Louis Marchiafava
Date: June 25, 1976
Archive Number: OH 066
LM: 00:12 How’d you make the transition from TV entertainment into politics when you first ran for the city council?
DG: The true story on my entering into politics came as a result of having had a tremendously successful 9, 10 years in fundraising in the Houston market. And utilizing television to the fullest in that regard, I had been able to raise around $9 million for the March of Dimes and through telethons and the multiple sclerosis organization which I headed and the various other local and national charities. And I’d been out of this type of work for about a year and a half devoting all of my time to my advertising agency business, when all of the sudden it struck me one day that if I have, sure enough, that much of an affinity for this type of work and that much of a rapport with the people of Houston, then perhaps I could do some good in the area of public service as an elected official.
So in 1969, out of a clear blue sky with urgings from absolutely no one—and you know politicians always say thousands of people asked them to run, I mean nobody asked me to run—I decided to take a shot at a city council race. Now I knew I could not win. What I wanted to do was to see if a television image could give me enough votes to encourage me 2 years later to run a serious race. And if that happened—enough votes—then I would spend those 2 years visiting city council—which I had never done—studying city government, talking to department heads, seeing how it operated, and then sure enough in ’71 come in with a serious race.
In 1969 I ran against a 10-year incumbent, and an incumbent councilmen had not been defeated in Houston, I believe, since 1943. When the primary was over, in a 6 candidate race—6 candidates in the race—Bob Webb, the council incumbent, had 47% of the vote. I had 22% of the vote, but strangely enough in a runoff with him. In the runoff, I defeated him by slightly over 2000 votes in what was a miraculous upset. Two very stunned people in Houston, Bob Webb and me, and I became a councilman overnight.
In 1971, upon reelection, I received 156,000 plus votes—which today, June 25, 1976, still stands as a record in our city. As a matter of fact, it’s the most votes ever gotten by anyone in the state of Texas running for a municipal office. And that huge vote is what led to my running, for sure, in the 1973 mayor’s race because people said, “Anyone who could lead a ticket like that and be that much of a vote-getter, probably can win the mayor’s seat.
LM: Was there a particular issue which you used in your initial campaign?
DG: In the council campaign?
LM: Yes. Uh-hunh (affirmative).
DG: 03:42 Absolutely none, just what politicians use so often, “It’s time for a change.” And very frankly, I didn’t know what I was doing, and my total expenditure was around $4200. As compared to a mayor’s campaign in 1973, where we reported close to $750,000 to run that race.
LM: What do you feel is the reason for your overwhelming success?
DG: No question about it, it was the television image and the first in this city’s history. And as a matter of fact that’s true even to this day. The fact that I did win put me into a national television magazine—TV Guide—alongside with Wes Wise of Dallas who is a television performer—sports- and newscaster—who became the Mayor of Dallas, and a man who almost became a Mayor of Los Angeles. I forget his name now, but he gave Mayor Yorty a very close—a very hard battle, and it was a very close race. And his votes were attributed to a television image. The TV article compared Wes Wise and me to Senator Murphy—George Murphy—Ronald Reagan, Shirley Temple—who didn’t go into an elective office but became an appointee by the government. But anyhow, television definitely did it, no question about it. And around the country, beginning around 1965 I guess, there were a number of people who had been successful in television, who had decided to enter the political arena and were successful in getting offices around the nation.
LM: But this was your first elected office?
DG: My very first try at politics, 1969.
LM: Was it difficult breaking into it?
DG: Well, I didn’t know what I was doing. I found myself in the middle of meetings where people were asking me questions about city government that I simply had no knowledge on and could not answer. And the only thing I could do was to be terribly honest with them and tell them that I will certainly file this in my memory bank, and if I’m elected I will do everything I can to learn more about what you’re talking about, and see if there’s anything that I can do positively about it. When in confrontation—and there were, I think, 3 or 4 times that that happened—direct confrontation with my opponent, Bob Webb—who by the way, was a friend of mine and a fellow Aggie, and I had nothing in the world against the guy.
LM: That really made it rough?
DG: Yeah, it really did. But Bob and I in a number of—3 or 4 confrontations on radio interviews, I found it tough to stay up with him. So I just let him carry the ball. He would come in with a briefcase full of papers and information on various problems of the time, be it mass transportation or our garbage situation—we were having somewhat of a crisis at the time. I just merely said I would do what I could.
LM: How were you received by the other city councilmen?
DG: 07:19 Oh, they had developed a very tremendously large animosity towards Bob. He was an unpopular devil’s advocate on council. So they—
LM: Why was that, by the way?
DG: Well, I don’t know. He just—if the mayor said something was black, he would say it was white—just it appeared to be different. And as a result of taking this attitude, he did not endear himself to the mayor or the council, and his role— (phone rings; recording interrupted) His role of being a devil’s advocate for no good reason did not endear him to the public. Obviously he did not win an overwhelming victory as they suspected he would in the primary, where he only got 47% of the vote. So he was, I guess, vulnerable. And my relationship with the councilmen was just tremendous—just really fine from the very start. I had a tremendous amount of minority support in the 1969 race. As a matter of fact, I received 85% of the black vote and somewhat over 50% of the Mexican-American vote. That same percentage for the blacks held through in 1971 for reelection, and I gained in the Mexican-American community. I did not lose a box in the 1971 reelection. Won everything overwhelmingly, got 84% of the total vote cast in that race. I did have 2 opponents in the 1971 reelection.
LM: Did you find in city council alignments between certain councilmen on certain issues? Did you have trouble adjusting to these situations?
DG: 09:31 Absolutely not, and that is to the extent that it caused tremendous rifts on council. Which leads me very quickly to say how very unhappy I am that we’ve come to this situation in Houston, Texas where if we don’t—on our city council—vote to go district voting, then the courts will force it on us. Now as a councilmen, I have attended mayor’s conventions—as councilmen do—national mayor’s convention, National League of Cities conventions, and the Texas Municipal League conventions. And I would talk to councilmen and mayor’s of small and large cities and aldermen, all of whom would say—all of whom would say to me, “It would be so nice if we could emulate Houston’s city form of government, which is a strong mayor council form of government.” Though you have district councilmen still, everyone is elected at large. So if your councilman in your district doesn’t please you, you have 8 other people to go talk to freely, and people who will have an interest in what you’re saying because they’re elected by the entire city.
I was proud to be on that council when our first black was elected as a councilman. And I think Judson Robinson—it wasn’t just that the timing was right, he was an outstanding candidate and he did a terrific job. I saw Leonel Castillo win overwhelming and come in as controller. I have always been convinced that the right candidate, doing the right things, and from the minority area can—and it has now been proven—win citywide races. I believe very strongly that if we go to district councilmen—overwhelmingly so, I think that we are opening Pandora’s box for ward dealing. I think we are going to have councilmen against councilmen—the very thing you just asked about. “Did I find alignments.” I think you’re going to find mayor against councilmen and councilmen against mayor. And I think the city is going to be the victim of this type of government that is going to be forced on us. Now the reason, of course, for it is to get more minority representation. I have no qualms about more minority representation, but I sure wish it could come about under the present form of government rather than district voting. But we are going to have districts, I can see. The court is going to force it if the council doesn’t bring it about by themselves.
LM: During your—the years that you spent as city councilmen, you didn’t notice any sharp alignments?
DG: Mayor Louie Welch lobbied me one time in the 4 years that I’ve served. He wanted a particular program—federal program for manpower—where there was manpower funds available kept under the city. The blacks who talked to me, blacks whom I respected, and members of the Mexican-American community whom I respected believed that it would be better operated under the county commissioners and the county judge. So being brand new on city council, at first I said, “Sure Mayor, I’ll go along with you,” and then actually did have to call the mayor back and say, “I’m sorry, I have changed my mind.” But he did push very hard for that particular program. I did change my mind, it did go under county jurisdiction, and that is the only time that the mayor ever lobbied me or pressured me—tried to pressure me into voting his way.
LM: Is there a certain leadership in the city council, perhaps headed by senior members? Is there any certain leadership at all within the city council among the city council members?
DG: 13:31 I can only speak from my own standpoint. I had a tremendous amount of respect for the veterans—more respect for some than others. But as issues came up, I found myself listening to those councilmen who had more knowledge on that particular issue than other councilmen. So it depended on the issue and it depended on the moment rather than a constant leadership by some of the veterans like Johnny Goyen or Frank Mann. I felt that they had—and Frank Mancuso for instance, they were all old timers—and Homer Ford on the council when I got there. But I did not see one councilman whom I could say was the leader of the pack in any anti-Welch moves or anti-issue moves or pro-issue or pro-Welch or pro-budget, against the budget. We’re pretty much individualists, and that’s one of the reasons I like this present form of city government in Houston. A man stands up and speaks out his conscience for what he believes is right for the city, and not what someone has led him into to doing or politicked him into doing or traded him into doing. (phone rings; recording interrupted; 10 sec. pause)
LM: Were you—frequently one hears of the lobbying efforts of special interest groups. Did you find that—did you have any experience with that while you were a city councilman?
DG: Yes, but not to the extent that you read about in the newspapers. In other words, I was seldom threatened that I would be cut off from campaign funds or I could expect adverse things to happen to me once I got out of politics in my personal and business life. Where I got pressured the most, believe it or not, happened not to be on existing issues at the time, but on personnel appointments. For instance on the port commission, the union leaders wanted union representation on the port commission. As you well know, the city of Houston appoints 2 people, the county commissioners court appoints 2 people, and then the commissioners court and the city council get together to choose the chairman of the port commission. When an opening occurred at one time, I had visitations in my office as did all the councilmen for certain people, and it got pretty tough. I mean, they let their feelings be known that they weren’t going to—they just weren’t going to support me, if you wish. Not necessarily in terms of dollars, but in terms of just getting out and getting the vote out for me if I didn’t do certain things. Union people would say that, downtown establishment would say that.
There was some pressure on me on an issue, and I think it was as tough as any that came up during the time I was on council, and that happened to be the placement of the sports arena. The downtown interests definitely wanted the sports arena in the Civic Center. We have a piece of property in the Civic Center, and the engineer appointed by the city to draw up feasibility plans finally told us, “By golly, it just could not go there.” It just didn’t fit, it knocked out the main fire station downtown, there was a definite aversion by people to coming to the downtown area at night, it wasn’t convenient. So we began to think in terms of where else it might go. The only other piece of property that was offered to us was in Greenway Plaza. So the decision had to be made do we revise the rendering and the architects idea of what this stadium should be about, make it smaller and put it in the downtown area, should we go to Greenway Plaza, or should we forget the sports arena all together. It turned out after a great deal of pressuring by the downtown area—the downtown establishment people, so to speak—that the council believed we ought to have a sports arena in keeping with all of the other viability of this city. That we ought to have something other than the music hall and the coliseum, and something very attractive because hockey was getting exciting, basketball was getting exciting—Houston was a big league city in every way, and that if we moved away from the downtown area it would be best. We chose to go Greenway Plaza. The downtown establishment for the most part ignored me in the 1973 race in terms of dollar support.
LM: 18:53 When you say the downtown establishment, who are you really talking about?
DG: Oh, I’m talking about the large property owners, the building owners, the head of the major oil companies. I’m talking about—there were representatives from the major contractors who, rightfully so, want downtown Houston to continue to remain vibrant. And I did too, and Houston’s downtown is vibrant. But the sports arena just simply couldn’t go down there. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t have other properties made available to us inexpensively or free such as Greenway Plaza’s proposition. Allen Center—Trammell Crow did make a proposition to us, I’ll have to back that. He did offer us a piece of the ground behind the Allen Center, the huge building—the one building that’s there now, and now there’s a big parking garage back there. But what he did was offer us a $2 million—I think a $2 million piece of ground for a million dollars, and we saw no need for that. So we really didn’t have much to choose from. The vote, by the way, was 8 to 1. Frank Mancuso did continue to—what would be the councilman designate of the downtown establishment, so to speak, fighting for it to go downtown. But we did vote 8 to 1 for it to come on out to Greenway Plaza. And now as I look at that beautiful summit out there, and see the ease with which people get to it and away from it, and the attractive place that it is, I’m quite satisfied that we made the right decision.
LM: Did you suffer any repercussions from that?
DG: 20:40 I just got a lot of folks who—there were a lot of folks in the 1973 mayor’s race who either gave me nothing in terms of dollar support or cut way down on what they might have given me had I gone along with them.
LM: Were there any other issues like that that generated that much interest during your council career?
DG: One of the things that I’ll recall the rest of my life because it was a traumatic thing for me—as a matter of fact, I told our great city secretary Margaret Westerman who had been a city secretary for 50 years—she was still with us my first term as a councilman. But after going through the garbage crisis, I told Margaret, “I didn’t need this, and I didn’t know this was what city politics was all about, and that I surely would not run for reelection. Margaret Westerman told me, “Dick, the political bug bites deep and you will run for reelection.” I said, “Margaret, those people in that council chamber out there are spitting fire.” The issue was the continuation of and the reestablishment of a new garbage dump—for lack of better term, that’s exactly what it was. And by golly, I know I wouldn’t want a garbage dump—a sanitary landfill by my home, and those people had a right to be as mad as they were in not wanting one by their home. Problem was, the city had so many tons of garbage to pick up every day, and it had to put it down somewhere. And until modern technology can come along and find—give us a way to dispose of garbage quickly and away from peoples residences, we had to go the sanitary landfill. It was a tough period up there. Emotions were high, women were crying. Out in the field, they were lying down in front of bulldozers. Civic clubs in the area were coming up and they were vicious, absolutely vicious. It was a trying time for this brand new rookie, I’ll guarantee you. And I’ll never forget it because people can get mighty, mighty tough on their elected officials in a situation like that. We finally resolved it and did everything we could to placate the folks that resided near the sanitary landfill, but you never can make everybody happy in a situation like that—it’s impossible.
LM: Wasn’t there a plan to disperse the incinerators around the city rather than have them—?
DG: 23:24 Every plan that we could look into, we did. Now that’s one thing I’m proud of during the time I served in city government. Whether it was mass transportation, garbage, or what have you, all manner of feasibility studies—that I considered necessary, not money down the drain—or where we would get help from the business community—dollar-a-year people—or just out and out volunteers trying to help us find ways to do things easier, better, and less expensively and less of a burden on the taxpayer. Yeah, we finally bought some mini incinerators. They have turned out, unfortunately, not to be good. But I thought we ought to try them, the other councilman did too, so did the mayor and we bought some. They handle like 20,000 tons a day, which is well below what the massively large incinerator out at the—oh gosh, the name escapes me—the major dump that we used to have out on the southeast end of town. But they’re just—and they had an afterburner where there was no pollution going into the air. But with the environmentalists and the ecologists also pressing, the big incinerator was closed down by the Hofheinz administration, which also presented a problem because that handled an awful lot of garbage tonnage. Yeah, we did go to the mini incinerator, and to this day still looking for a place to find where we can dispose of our garbage. I would, without fear of contradiction, predict that we will have another garbage crisis here very soon. That sanitary landfill that we have is filling up.
LM: Did the city lose much money on this idea of dispersing the incinerators?
DG: Oh, I don’t know that you can say they lost money, but it probably was an expenditure that we did not get our dollar value out of.
LM: How do city councilmen spend most of their time actually—what are they involved in primarily?
DG: You know our charter says that a city councilman is part time job.
LM: Yes, that’s what I was—
DG: And it pays $300 a month plus $100 expense, and of course that is ridiculous. But I didn’t go into the city council job expecting to get rich overnight or to have a substantial income. I knew what the pay was. The city councilmen, by and large, end up spending a great deal more time on city business than they ever anticipated when they get into the job. I can testify to that, my business suffered. The first year I was up there, I erroneously believed that if I wasn’t in my office at city hall, that city hall would burn down and the city would just be in rubble. I felt like I had to be there. I felt as one of the so called 9 city fathers it was incumbent upon me to be there, and I spent fully 90% of my time in my office. But in addition to doing what research you can on every situation that arises in that council chamber—and you have to do it almost all on your own because the only thing a city councilman has to work with is a secretary. They have no research department available to them. They have to call department heads and department head assistants on their own. That takes a great deal of time. Then there is a mountain of invitations, most of which you should avail yourself of. Not just for political purposes of being seen around, but to just stay on top of what’s happening in the city—to keep your finger on the pulse.
In 1970 when I first went in until 1973 when I went out, the city had 4 very exciting growth years. New corporations were moving in all along the way there. It seemed like every week there was 1 or 2 cocktail parties announcing the coming of a corporation or the opening of their offices or the opening of their building. There would be new subdivisions, new residential areas announced opened—shopping areas, industrial parks. And those people want their elected representatives to come out when they have these various affairs. And then there are the political meetings. And when you serve 3 months as a mayor pro tem, you not only inherit the—you not only have the invitations that you normally get as a councilman, but you have the mayor’s to attend. And that’s an interesting thing, mayor pro tem, because it works out just perfectly. There are 8 councilman, and during the 2-year period, the mayor assigns 1 councilman a 3-month period to serve as mayor pro tem and it works out to 24 months. And during that time, you preside over council—which takes some time—when the mayor is not in the city, and you take all of the mayor’s assignments on top of your own. It’s a very—very much a full-time job.
LM: 29:17 You mentioned just a moment ago that your business, your personal affairs actually suffered from your participation in—
DG: They sure did.
LM: Indirectly, one would think that it would actually help—that the publicity, the contacts with people in the community. Doesn’t that have a positive effect, particularly if you’re in business?
DG: I really can’t speak for the other councilmen. I’m in a service business—advertising agency requires my being on the spot. I represent my clients publicly. I have to devise copy for them, go to the TV station and video tape it or go to the radio station and audio tape or go through long sessions doing my best to make sure that the layout for the newspaper—every I is dotted and ever T is crossed. And I just couldn’t be with my clients and serve the city too. So I really all but lost my business in the 6 years that I was in the political arena, absolutely. And right now, I’m trying to put the little dog and pony act back on the center stage. Yeah, it—now I don’t know whether it helps other councilmen. By the way, if I wasn’t in the service business it probably wouldn’t have helped me either because I came in with a name that was so well know throughout this city because of television—not because of me, not because I have any talent. It’s just being on television at the right time and the right place just made my name a household term. So I didn’t need the publicity that being a councilman gives to some people.
LM: Well, what made you enter the mayor’s race in ’73?
DG: 31:14 Louie Welch decided that 10 years was enough and he was moving onto other things—as it turned out, president of the chamber of commerce—and the seat was open. Again, the 156,000 plus votes that I received in 1971 pretty much interested the establishment people in the city, the downtown establishment even, the little guys and gals in the civic clubs all over town. And it appeared that Houston was doing good and that it would be all right with the electorate to have a man in who would perpetuate the policies of the past 10 years of Louie Welch. And of course as we got into the campaign, then the opposition began to say that I was establishment, that I would be—that the orders to run the city would be coming from the chamber of commerce building, and that I was nothing but Louie Welch’s alter ego and what have you. And so there was a time during the ’73 campaign—a percentage of that campaign had to be devoted to establishing myself as my own man and not the man upon whom Louie Welch had placed the mantle. But there wasn’t anybody around that appeared—that could be the vote-getter that I could be in the face of the so called very liberal opposition coming from the Fred Hofheinz’s can. The city, by all polls, still checked out to be moderate to slightly to the right, generally speaking. So the majority of the people then feared the liberal philosophy of one Fred Hofheinz. Now what some people had forgotten was that Fred Hofheinz ran a tremendous race against Louie Welch in 1971. As a matter of fact, this absolute newcomer and very young man came within 15,000 votes of defeating this very popular, respected veteran mayor. So someone had to be in there that was a vote-getter. It just couldn’t be some nonentity or unknown to run or for sure Fred would be mayor, so I was the chosen one. The polls also indicated that I would do better than anyone else.
LM: 33:48 What was your campaign strategy, at least in the early stages of the—?
DG: Turned out it was wrong. The campaign strategy was the same throughout, and that was to run a very low key, low profile campaign. I was as near being an incumbent as one could be. I wasn’t an incumbent mayor, but I was a councilman. No councilman has gone direct from his council seat to mayor in this city’s history. Louie Welch was a councilman for 8 years—4 terms, but he lost 3 times before he became a mayor. Nobody has stepped directly from his council seat into the mayor’s seat. But my advisory group suggested that being establishment and having the Hofheinz forces constantly throwing the Welch image—and at that time the Herman Short image at me because Herman Short was a persona non grata in the black community and the Mexican-American community—that it would be best if I just continued to go around the city saying, “Houston was in good shape, let’s keep it that way, let’s have no radical changes.” By doing this, I failed to exert leadership qualities or knowledge of city business because I did not get into specific issues at length.
LM: Let’s back track just for one moment. You mentioned Short because he did play an important role in your campaign as a symbol of the Welch administration.
DG: He was an extremely important figure in the 1971 campaign for Louie Welch. He surfaced and he began to make public speeches—radio, television, and at civic club meetings, and political gatherings in support of Welch. I did not surface him, but you’re right, as a symbol this police chief was used by the Fred Hofheinz forces to completely rally the blacks into a block vote against me. In other words, you get Dick Gottlieb you’ve got Herman Short for another 2 years for sure.
LM: Did Short deserve the animosity he received? I mean, there was so much publicity and so much talk in the black community about it, but you saw him—as a city councilman you had an opportunity to see the workings of the police department, I would imagine, closer than most people would. Did he deserve that reputation?
DG: I can see where the blacks would have used a police chief no matter what the man’s name was or who he would have been. That is one person that you can use to literally destroy an incumbent administration or a candidate you do not like if that candidate is in support of the police chief. It’s the times. It’s a strange thing because the black community that gave me 85% of its vote in ’69 and ’71 gave me 6% of its vote in the mayor’s race in 1973. And at the expense of sounding dramatic, I want to tell you that it broke my heart. I could not understand it except that’s the game that’s played in politics. Fred very cleverly, very adroitly used Herman, and that is what caused the blacks to come to the polls as a block vote. Whether or not he deserved that is hard for me to say, I’m not black. I do know from the black community that there is a group of people that are crying out for protection and legitimate, equal, good solid law enforcement in their area—it’s the blacks.
The country went through a period of riots and uprisings and violence and mischievousness and what have you. Houston generally was cool. A great many people attributed that to Herman Short and his type of tough administration of a police department. I have another idea about that. I say that Herman Short deserves some credit and the police department deserves some credit, but in my opinion a great deal of the credit goes to the black community itself because, I think, in no other city throughout the United States were working conditions, during that period, better than in Houston, Texas. And some of the leadership was saying, “Hey, let’s don’t upset the apple cart. Things are good here. Why create white animosity and start getting a bunch of us fired.” That’s my own opinion. I can’t really pin that down, but I know that when civil rights legislation first came through, Houston was one of the first to find, then negros, in our restaurants—and no problem. Houston was the first to respond to this type of situation. So the city just had a lot of solid, good black citizens who recognized that per capita income was pretty good in Houston. And except for a smaller community when if the mills are going real great—I think the per capita income was greater in Birmingham by some few dollars, but in a huge city like Houston, the black community was thriving. I believe that had a lot to do with the fact that we had one upsetting situation at TSU and one upsetting situation in a shoot-out on Dowling Street. And outside of that, very little.
LM: 39:59 What tactic did you use to try to overcome this strong opposition from the black community?
DG: Well, there really wasn’t anything I could say except what the law dictated. As an incumbent councilman, voting on 4 budgets up to that point as to what our police chief was going to receive in salary and how he administers that department, the law very clearly stated that I was not in a position to say whether I was going to fire or hire anyone. Because that gets—that runs afoul of—I forget the exact verbiage of the law, but you just can’t promise anybody anything—whether you’re going to let him go and give somebody some hope or whether you’re going to keep him. And so when I was asked whether I was going to keep Herman Short as my police chief, I stood behind the law. Fred Hofheinz said he’d fire him. Herman Short said, “I wouldn’t work for Fred Hofheinz.” And so it was a clear-cut situation. The only way that I possibly could have won the 1973 mayor’s race was that if the white community had not succumbed to complacency and apathy. By the way—though this may sound very self centered, I apologize for it—many people thought I was a cinch. What with 4 years as a councilman, a tremendous TV reputation, and big vote-getter and all, that I would win anyhow. But anyhow, that apathy and complacency kept one heck of a lot of people at home. And with all of that happening, Fred Hofheinz and I end up in the closest mayor’s race in the city’s history. About 1%—about 0.6 change in the vote would have made a big difference in that race. I would have won it instead of Fred.
LM: In the course of the campaign, it appears that there was quite a bit of bitterness between you and Fred Hofheinz. And it seems ironic—if this is true, it seems ironic since you were very close with Roy Hofheinz.
DG: 42:12 Well, I saw Roy Hofheinz and Fred and Roy’s wife Mary Frances at the Astro Hall—Astro Hall Hotel Ballroom for the gridiron dinner. And I walked over to the table, and the judge that evening was in one of his more or less reveries where he really, kind of, decided he wasn’t going to be very talkative that night. So I called Mary Frances over and I said, “Mary Frances, it’s just unbelievable that I find myself in a race with Fred.” Because Roy Hofheinz was my first employer. Five days out of Texas A&M I was employed at KTHT radio, and Roy Hofheinz is a man whom I admire. And if you say anything bad about Roy to me, I’m going to argue with you. You can have your own ideas about how he conceived the Astrodome or whether he was a good county judge or whatever he was. I say the man has a brilliant mind and did one fantastic thing for Houston in the Astrodome. I told Mary Frances at the time, “There may be some bitterness arise in this campaign. I will never say anything about the judge, you can depend on that.” Fred said I did in the campaign, but I never did. I really admire the judge. And as far as Fred is concerned, it’s just philosophically we’re north and south poles. I am a conservative—not a John Bircher, not a radical right-winger, but I am what I think Houston is, and what the polls tell me Houston is. I’m just moderate, slightly to the right, so therefore conservative. Fred was very liberal. Not so much today as he was then, but—because he’s moving more and more toward the center as he, I’m sure, grooms himself for a national elective office or appointed office—which is what Fred really wants. But be that as it may, I don’t think there was great bitterness in ’73.
The one big issue that arose that I think he beat me down on pretty good was LEAA funds. He did a good job there because it appeared that I did not want LEAA funds because it would cause a preponderance of hiring of blacks and Mexican-Americans, especially on our police force, and that just simply was not the case. I just believe with all my heart—Herman Short didn’t have to tell me nor did anyone else—that no bureaucrat in Washington had enough sense to run our police department in Houston, Texas. And that we had already discovered that there were strings attached, that certain things were being required of police departments that took LEAA funds, and I just couldn’t go along with. But every time they asked me what strings were attached, everything was so completely minor compared to what people had in their own mind—and I couldn’t change it—and that was that it stopped the hiring of blacks and the Mexican-Americans. Of course you’ve been reading recently how the LEAA program just simply has not been successful, just a tremendous waste of funds. And they’re trying to revise the whole idea, maybe continue LEAA, but take a—back off and come at it again in an all together different manner. And I could have predicted that that would have to be the case. But otherwise, at the time, he used it very effectively against me.
LM: You mentioned the philosophical difference, and I’ve heard rumors that actually Roy Hofheinz was closer to your camp than his sons.
DG: I’m told that’s true.
LM: And that in fact, he indirectly or directly helped support you rather than his son. Is there any basis in that?
DG: 46:04 If he gave me any support I’m not aware of it, financially or otherwise. But he didn’t help his son, that’s for sure. There is a family problem there. The father and the son, for business reasons I would think more than anything else, just simply do not get along. (phone rings; recording interrupted) I think it’s all business, but it has caused quite a rift so I’m told. I don’t know this for an absolute fact.
I think what kind of stunned everybody is that I was able to receive the services as my financial advisor and manager Ben McGuire. And Ben McGuire was the one man who put together the financing for the Astrodome, and is like a brother to Roy Hofheinz. But just as much as Ben McGuire liked Roy Hofheinz, that’s how much he disliked Fred. So it was kind of a strange coalition. But the reason I went to Ben McGuire had nothing to do with Roy Hofheinz, whether the community ever wishes to believe me or not. I needed a strong business leader to be my finance manger, and that is not easy to come by because it means that whatever you’re doing in your business, you’re going to have to set it aside for about 6 months and work on this campaign. And Ben McGuire was willing to do that. Three or 4 others that I talked to ended up supporting me tremendously, but did not have the time to work on it, and there is a great deal of work. There’s some arm twisting to get money at the time you need it for more television, more radio, more vocal support whatever, and he is an important cog in the campaign. The finance manager, he is really an important man. When Ben said yes, I almost fell off the chair. Matter of fact, I don’t really know why I went to him except that his standing in the community was very high—in the business community.
LM: 48:12 One of the really important issues—not an issue, but an outgrowth of the campaign occurred at the end of it actually, the charges by you of fraud. How did you come about the evidence? Did you have investigators work on it?
DG: First let me say that the lawsuit was really tough for me. I agonized a long time before I affixed my signature to that lawsuit, Louis. I know the minute I sign that thing I stick my wife’s neck out and my children’s and my own. And I said this on the campaign trail a number of times in just this way, “I’m sticking our neck out to being called a sore loser, sour-grape sort of people, and to heck with you.” Let things—let a sleeping dog lie and come back in a couple of years and run, but he beat you and stop cry-babying. But there was something greater than whether or not we turned around that mayor’s race, and that is the most difficult thing to get across to the public.
First of all I never thought we’d get kicked out of the state district court. The judge indicated otherwise, and we did. That stunned me. We won 3 times at the appeals court level and 3 times at the Supreme Court level—Texas Supreme Court. But by the time all of these decisions took place, through the clever legal manipulations of Butler Binion and Vincent Elkins, Fred Hofhienz’s 2-year term was over with. And sure enough in 1970—after the ’75 race, my lawsuit became moot. The documentation came because we knew we had made a mistake in not having a great many really strong poll watchers on election day in ’73. The reason we knew this is because after the election, after the runoff, we began to get calls. I began mostly to get calls in my office of irregularities that people noticed at the polls. Now at first, we thought that these were just friends of mine saying, “Dick, you was robbed,” that kind of thing, which occurs after every election and we didn’t place much credence in it. But there was a preponderance of such calls continuing on into January. The runoff election was in December—the first part of December. So I reported this to Ben McGuire, and along with a young, former ACLU attorney, David Berg—which kind of puts me in a strange bed with a guy. I’m not a great supporter of a lot of ACLU activity. But be that as it may, they began to peruse the books that you find at the polls where you sign in. They set up a secret war room in a building in the southwest end of town. They put a lot of the law students of the University of Houston mostly—well, probably a 100% supporters of Fred Hofheinz—on the books. And these youngsters were coming up to me after 3 weeks of working saying, “Dick, you won this race.” There were so many obvious irregularities, Louis, it was incredible. My attorney and Ben McGuire finally determined that they could prove beyond any shadow of a doubt in excess of 4000 irregularities.
Give you a good example, we sent some people out in the field, went to a black man’s house. This is exactly the report that I got back. There were 2 people on our so called investigative staff who went out there and they said, generally, these words to the black man who opened the door, “We do not want to embarrass you. We are not going to cause you any trouble whatsoever, take our word for it. We merely want a little information. We noticed that your son voted in the runoff election between Mr. Hofheinz and Mr. Gottlieb. Could we talk to him?” “My son has been a sergeant of the United States Air Force and has been in Germany for 3 years,” and slams the door. But his son voted that day. You can believe it, Louis, his son voted that day. And that’s what we were finding out throughout the area.
Now I honestly would like not to have turned the mayor’s race around because that’s no way to become a mayor. I would not—we have it in our pleadings that in the event we get into the courtroom and I win, that the judge not appoint me a mayor because I would not have taken it. If I get to be a mayor that way, I got more headaches than all the mayors in the United States put together—to get the office in that manner. I probably would have acquiesced to a new election, but I wouldn’t have been too happy about that. I kept checking with David Berg, with the attorneys helping him, even with our former city attorney Bill Olsen, on how we can win this thing and I still not have to run for reelection—I mean, run for election. But I think the greater thing involved here was to prove to the people that this stuff ought to stop. It’s been going on for years here, Cook County, Illinois, down there where Parr was working in Alice, Texas. It ought to stop.
LM: 54:07 Was there a pattern to it?
DG: Yeah, mostly black unfortunately, and that didn’t endear me to the black community. But doggone it, David Berg, who had both a practice on assisting people in the black community said, “Dick, what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong, and these irregular votes are wrong,” and was willing to represent me also sticking his neck out. But like I say, the legal maneuverings of the 2 very large law firms employed by Fred were able to bring about one delay after another until the 2 years passed, and there was just nothing I could do about it. If I had it all to do over again the same way, I would still file that lawsuit.
LM: What led you to try it again after that experience?
DG: Well, when I—
LM: It’s an unpleasant experience, I’m sure.
DG: Yes, it was a heartbreaking thing. It had a, I think, a real rough effect on—well, folks like my wife who—any family as close as ours, if someone in the family we feel has gotten cheated, it kind of breaks our heart to see an attempt for, reaching out for some success that doesn’t come. But she got over that in a few months and so did I. And I went—I was ready to get back into my business when I was not let alone by the people. Now this time, as opposed to 1969 when nobody asked me to run, everybody was saying, “Dick you’ve got to get back in there.” And so I took an office over on Westheimer, did very little television—did very little advertising agency work, took on a little television show that I was asked to do by Channel 26. And that was somewhat therapeutic for me, just something to do. And we began to build toward the ’75 campaign. The ’75 campaign, I think my greatest problem was I could not convince anybody quickly enough that I had leadership quality and could get out there and really blast at the shortcomings of this administration. Everybody believed that I would still run a low key, low profile type campaign, and would surely get beat badly this time if I ran that same kind of campaign. And the emphasis shifted in terms of dollar support to Frank Briscoe.
LM: 56:58 Now there was great difference in the amount of money you collected for the second campaign.
DG: Oh, we didn’t—I think our total report was around $140,000 or something like that. It was—I forget the exact figures—very low. I couldn’t get money. I was cut off. The feeling was that I ought to go ahead and drop out of the race and let Briscoe have at it. I was on the fence after Briscoe got in the race as to whether or not I should do that until I saw Frank on the campaign trail. And though I think he’s a fine man, he did not appear to me to be a very aggressive campaigner. And I felt that it—the one thing that shouldn’t happen is Fred should not be able to be given a mandate to win very big, but that’s exactly what ended up. I think 57% of the vote is a mandate. When you talk about 50.5 for Fred in 1971 and 49.5 for me as opposed to 1975, 57% for Fred and 43% for Frank, that’s a big win. And I felt that if nothing else, if Frank could stay real close, that in itself helps keep the mayor’s feet to the fire, which I think, by the way, is healthy for the city also. But he wasn’t, as I say—excuse me for being redundant, he’s a fine man, but he wasn’t a very strong campaigner.
LM: You mentioned just a moment ago that you were requested or people came to you and said you should get into the race. Was this before Briscoe decided to go into the race?
DG: Oh, this was back in ’74.
DG: Yeah. As a matter of fact, my organization never left me—that is the working organization, the people who do the nitty-gritty work. The money left me.
LM: 58:55 Did the money go to Briscoe?
DG: Yes, and a lot to Fred.
LM: Why did it go to Briscoe?
DG: A tough DA, hard-boiled image, can take this city and put it back where it ought to be. Those who believed in those things about Briscoe where the same ones who believed that Fred was ruining the city, and so they looked for that tough guy image or the leadership qualities. A guy that would reestablish law and order, so to speak, in a way it was needed, particularly after Fred had gone through such a horrible experience with Chief Lynn. I mean, it looked like the police department had just been disintegrated. So who is best to put it back together again? A real tough, hard-nosed district attorney—former district attorney. And the shift was on, and I recognized it earlier than the polls because 3 weeks before the election date in ’75, the polls read 42% for Fred, 36% for Gottlieb, 22% for Briscoe. And it looked like with no money at all I was in the runoff, and then things could be different. But sure enough on election day, I received Briscoe’s votes and he received mine, and he was in the runoff and not me. I’m a much better vote-getter, if I may be so bold as to say this, then the 47,000 votes I received in ’75. I wasn’t just in third place, I was in a poor third place. And I think that tells me something about my future in politics here. As I go around Houston, I find that the television image and the fact that I did put my neck out on the block and serve in our community as inured to my benefit. But I have my own ideas about my viability as a political candidate from this point on. I don’t think I have it any longer, and 99% sure that I will never run for a political office. First of all, I would never want to go to Austin, no desires whatsoever to go to Washington. I would like to serve the city and I just don’t want to play councilman again. I served 4 years. I never intended to make a career out of that in the first place, so I would not run for council. The only thing left is the mayor’s seat.
LM: In the second election as in the first one, except probably in the second one you suffered even more from the lack of votes in the black community.
DG: I got 6% of the black vote in 1973, and I think it was 4% or maybe 3% in 1975. Briscoe getting 2, 2.5%—something like that, but Fred again, 94%.
LM: In some of Briscoe’s campaign literature and advertisements on the radio, he hit hard at Judge Jefferson resigning his position and joining the campaign. And he kept hinting that there was some connection he was going to benefit from. Was there any truth in that? Did he gain advantages from this?
DG: 1:02:22 Absolutely none, obviously. Hold on just one minute. (recording interrupted) No I don’t think that the manner in which Briscoe attacked the Jefferson situation helped him. The Jefferson deal still remains a mystery to me. I don’t understand it. I believe that he had built a fine reputation as a judicial talent.
LM: And if he did, that was surprising in that he left it.
DG: Yeah, and he was the first elected black man to that type of post—that high of post. And I believe that he probably was on his way to even greater successes in the judicial field had he continued. To just all of the sudden drop out and join a political campaign, it raises a lot of questions. But it was Briscoe who attacked Jefferson, I did not.
LM: No, I know you didn’t. I said that.
DG: Yeah. That statement by the way, that I just made about a fine judicial talent, generally that’s how my press release was worded. I aimed it at Fred. I said that, “Fred had robbed the bench of a fine judicial talent and the city of a man whose service was obviously best performed in that capacity.” So I aimed it a Fred and Briscoe took after Jefferson pretty good.
LM: Yeah, he did. Some of the radio advertisements were quite biting. Do you see over this period that you served, both as a city councilman and in your campaigns for mayor, any shift in the political power structure in the city in the last—well, it covers approximately 10 years?
DG: 1:04:30 Yeah, I think that I see this happening. I think the—and by the way, I don’t really know if anybody understands what I say when I speak of a liberal or a conservative. I don’t know if I understand what you say if you say liberal or conservative. I don’t know if anybody understands, but for a lack of better terms right now I see tremendous liberal influence in our city government. The kind of thing that parallels what’s happening in Washington. I am my brother’s keeper, and I do believe in helping those who need help, and I, by golly, have shown that over the years on television. (recording interrupted) I will get shot down I’m sure by a lot of people who would never agree with what I’m saying, and you get into a great debate or huge philosophical argument. But I am afraid that there is an exploitation of sorts going on as a result of the civil rights movement, so to speak. The exploitation comes about through people like Fred who are hiring a great many nonessential workers at city hall to appear even more—or to make one’s self appear even more popular—be more popular in the minority areas. And that bothers me a great deal because it escalates the cost of running a city tremendously, and puts a huge burden on the taxpayer. It also causes a great deal of animosity among city employees. There are many, many city employees who are this day waiting to retire. They have seen a great many young blacks and some Mexican-Americans, but primarily blacks brought into our city government at very high—fairly high salary—starting salaries, and given positions of supervision or promotions over the folks that have been there 15, 18, 20 years. It is a form of reverse discrimination that has got to be causing some trouble. I believe with all of my heart that I would have hired some of the finest black, Mexican-American talent there is available in this city without upsetting the situation at our city hall. To the extent that we may end up with an awful lot improperly trained people doing very important jobs here because experience old heads have just had it and gone because they weren’t treated right.
LM: Can you give me a particular example of that in line with why you’re—?
DG: Well, the water department is just a good example where there are just a ton of members of the minority elements of our city have been hired who are—I said this during the campaign and I know it’s true because I got it from too many sources at city hall including some of the blacks that had been hired—they don’t have any work to do. It’s a person sitting at a desk with very little work. Certainly the work isn’t commensurate with the salary, but it builds a huge political force for the mayor. I don’t know that that’s liberal, I don’t know what that is. All I know is that—well, all I feel is that it’s wrong to go this far because I don’t think anybody including the person that’s hired is benefited. And so many of these people have been hired under government programs, are given—where a rosy picture is painted about the longevity of the job they’re in. Whereas in fact government programs are the scariest programs of all. The carpet can be pulled out from under you overnight. The funding is gone and sure enough these people will not have their jobs. And those that start out under government funding but must be assimilated in the city, if they’re assimilated into jobs that are created just to hire a person, and the tax burden is there, and the individual’s doing nothing productive in terms of city work, there’s something wrong about that. There’s got to be a better approach to government hiring of minorities. I think for instance, we don’t have enough supervisory minority personnel. And I’m not trying to be nice, I’m not running for anything, but I thought that when I was a councilmen. I think we could use 1 or 2, very quickly, minority department heads. I think his choice in that area has been wrong. In civil service he hired a fellow named Richelle from Foley Brothers who never was our civil service director. The old heads there had to run that department. This guy knew nothing about it. He had no qualifications whatsoever for that job. Now the young lady that’s there now is even less qualified. So the manner in which Fred is approaching the business of becoming more charming, more popular with the minorities, it’s a—it’s the liberal viewpoint. Let’s just do it and we’ll worry about the consequences later because that’s—it’s very popular these days to do these things. I think the approach is all wrong.
LM: 1:11:36 This is due to the shift in the political balance that took over?
DG: No question about it. The minority elements of our city and elsewhere in the nation, much to their credit, are coming to the polls. As a result of their coming to the polls, they have felt their clout. They have muscle and, by golly, they do. They are getting up off their duffs and voting. And it looks like the so called other elements of our city have just thrown in the towel. Like there is no tomorrow, there’s no sense worrying about it, I’m not going to the polls to vote. And so we’ve come across a couple of words like apathy and complacency and what have you. But the appeal these days by a politician had better be very strong in the black community and in the Mexican-American community in Houston too now because that community is growing very large. It’s still for some reason or another a very small vote. I can’t understand the complacency there where if they came to the polls, commensurate with the number of registered voters they have, they would have a lot more clout at city hall. But the registration is there and is going to grow, but on election day they don’t show up in very strong numbers. Matter of fact, very poor. But the blacks come to the polls. I think something like an amazing 62% or 63% of the blacks showed up in the 1973 mayor’s race—63% of the registered voters. Whereas something like 31% of the so called white registered voters came to the polls in ’73. That begins to tell you something.
LM: Are there any areas concerning your political career that I haven’t touched on that you would like to discuss now—any points?
DG: 1:13:35 Only this, I think it’s disgusting what we have allowed news media to do to the people who run our government—making the bad actions or ill-advised actions of one reflect on everyone trying to serve. Without trying to be love of mother and flag and apple pie and all that, I can see around me—common sense tells me that we must have had some pretty good leaders along the road because we have developed into a tremendous nation here. We’ve probably let our affluency get the best of us and we’ve overstepped our bounds, and we’ve got to reassess things and get them back into focus. But, by and large, we’ve made great progress here in this nation and I just don’t think it was done by a bunch of crooks. The 4 years that I served as councilman were 4 of the most exhilarating years of my life. It was not a feeling of power, I didn’t get that out of it. I just felt so elated when I was able to be 1 of 9 votes that brought something very positive, productive, and helpful to the great majority of the people of the city at the time I took that vote. Now that is a heck of a good feeling. And yet, I was looked upon, I’m sure, by a great many people as, “What’s he getting on the side?” And that disturbs me. I just can’t understand the attitude that people take towards folks who will stick their neck out and get into that public arena because it is not nice in there, it’s tough. And I would like to see that attitude change.
I think the boys at the newspapers—and I’m just talking in general terms now—and the gals, and the radio and television station, they need good solid spanking. I mean, they need to get brought down. I just don’t know who in the hell they think they are. I’m sick and tired of this business of making a politician undress on main street because he wants to run for office. There’s not a soul in the world that needs to know all of my resources. You just don’t need to know that much about me. I think you ought to know my business connections. I think you ought to know—I think you ought to be an investigative reporter and follow me while I’m in office to see if I am up to hanky panky because it is true everybody isn’t pure as the driven snow. But by golly, you just don’t have a right to know that much about me. I don’t expect to know that much about the next man or woman that runs just because they want to serve the public. And the question arises, if I have to come through with such full disclosure simply because I want to serve the public, how about the people in the newspapers, radio, and television who exert so much influence on the movement of freeways, on politics, on business. What’s there take and how come we don’t get a full disclosure on them? What is their—what are their interests? What investments do they have? I just don’t know where they got to be so high and mighty and the politician so low. There’s an imbalance there. It’s needs correcting and I don’t know what form I could use to get out there and speak. But I really believe that every anchorman on NBC and CBS and ABC, and every one in every town because of the tremendous influence that they exert through that tube, if they’re going to require and push for full disclosure on me as a politician, I want it on them. And maybe they’ll see how it feels. And believe me, television is more powerful than most people think. I can tell you from experience that by reading an article—that when reading an article, a flick of an eyebrow is an editorial. A smirk tells the people how you feel, and begins to exert an influence. (recording interrupted)
LM: Well, we have drifted over into an area I wanted to discuss sometime during this interview and that’s your early career in television. You worked for the first TV station in Houston, 1949. And I was wondering if you might give us some insights into that early period. What was television like and how was it directed?
DG: 1:18:42 Television was started by a man in this city known as W. Albert Lee. My understanding was his total investment was $500,000 and in 1950 he sold to the Houston Post Company for $750,000. During the July 4th period of 1950, KPRC officially took over the station. They’d bought it June the 1st of 1950. July 2nd, 3rd, and 4th out at the Plantation on Main Street, we had a remote telecast for 3 days—celebration. And the call letters changed from KLEE-TV to KPRC-TV. The KPRC radio station was basically an NBC affiliate. But KPRC television, being the only television station in town at that time, the manager took the best of what was available in what was know then as kinescope recordings. They were filmings of television shows that we would get on a delayed basis from all the networks at that time, NBC, CBS, SBC, and the DuMont Television Network. And we worked the best programming—he thought the best programming available to give Houston a wide choice of shows to be entertained by. The local programming was enormous in those days. We had—we were in a little Quonset hut behind the Pin Oaks Horse Stable on Post Oak Road—that little Quonset hut is still there—prior to moving out on Post Oak Road, into really huge and beautiful studios. But even at the little Quonset hut, we had 1 live show backed up to the other. One was rehearsing in the garage while the other one was on the air. Our equipment was magnificent in those days but crude by comparison to today’s more sophisticated equipment that the stations have. But it was a tremendous challenge. If we would have technical difficulties in the early days, people would call up and say, “Is it you or us?” And if we said it was us, they say, “We’re with you all the way. Just let us know when you can get it fixed.” Today if you have technical difficulties, they scream and yell and curse at you. When the Houston Post Company bought KLEE-TV it was in the red. The sponsors here had just not found out how powerful television could be. But the turnaround came almost immediately. Like 6 months later KPRC-TV was operating in the black, and from that point on has become just an enormously successful television station.
LM: What was the change? Why did this happen?
DG: Oh, there were some good programs, some exciting things happening on television that the newspaper began to—even they couldn’t avoid talking about or writing about. Such as all of the stores in New York closing up at 7 o’clock on Tuesday night in order to catch Uncle Miltie—the Milton Berle show sponsored by Texaco. We would get the kinescope recording of the Milton Berle show, and the few people that saw it down here began to spread the word. And before long, even though the little 7 and 10 inch screens were costing enormous amounts of money like color television today, people began to buy them. And before long block parties began to develop, the TV dinners and what have you. The guy that had the television on the block, you went over and watched Philco Television Playhouse. And all of the sudden, everything that you used to see in the movies or on live stage or on vaudeville was coming into the front room. And it was inevitable that the turnaround would come very quickly because of the fascination. And all of the sudden, before very long, here came the World Series. Who in the world ever thought they could see the World Series. And who in the world ever thought that they could see their politicians, their leaders talking to them almost on a daily basis. So it had to happen.
LM: 1:23:09 Did the change in management have any effect policy wise?
DG: Yes, yes. The Houston Post had considerably more funds than W. Albert Lee who was reluctant to invest in a venture that, at the time, was in the red. And the minute the Post came on, they did a great deal more promotion of television. They began to hire more people, they brought in more equipment. We were very quickly doing all of the—every home game of the Houston Buffs, then Texas league baseball franchise here in town. A very popular baseball team. Every home game was on television. I did them. As a matter of fact, very quickly, to make a long story short that’s how my name became a household term in Houston, Texas. There were about 25,000 television sets in the area at the time. On June the 11th, 1950, when my wife were expecting our first of 5 children, a man came up and sat next to me at Buffs Stadium. Buffs Stadium being located where the huge Finger Furniture complex is now. We worked in an open area because the cameras could not fit into the press box above the roof, so we were in an open area. The camera had to turn to me in the middle of each inning with a little light above it so that I could give a Henke & Pillot or Hamms beer commercial, or WT Grant commercial in the middle of each inning. This guy comes up and sits next me—actually in a metal chair that was between me and my audio engineer. He sat down and was actually touching both of us, and he grabs on my elbow and he says, “Dick Gottlieb, I’ve got to talk to you.” Now he’s obviously very drunk, and in those days you just didn’t let that kind of thing happen on television. So I put my hand over the microphone—my left hand—and motioned him away with my right and said, “Not now sir,” and looked back out to the pitcher’s mound. And the next time he pulled on my arm, my elbow, and my shoulder and everything, he almost pulled me out of my chair. “Dick Gottlieb, I’ve got to talk to you now.” Well, that really burned me up. I told him, “Not now sir,” and looked out to the mound. The next thing comes is a huge explosion, and I thought the world had come to and end. And I turned around and I’m looking at a man who has blown off half his head. I’m covered with blood, my audio engineer is covered with blood. My score sheet I can’t read, and I could not believe what I was looking at. Now we were still KLEE-TV but we had just been bought by the Post June the 1st. So in a humorous way, I said later that I didn’t know what their policy was on suicides.
1:25:53 But what happened was, I said, “Ladies and gentleman, a terrible thing has happened here. Apparently a man has just shot himself. Momentarily, we return you to our studio.” (recording interrupted) “We return you momentarily to our studio.” And they were absolutely sound asleep at the studio in the middle of a very dull ball game, and they didn’t take. They left it out at Buffs stadium—audio and video. At the time that I said that, the cameraman to my left said to the director who was in the mobile unit underneath the stadium, he said, “Dick is right, a guy just shot himself here.” And the director said, “Let’s see it.” So he turned the camera onto the man. And he, falling over on the counter and down on the floor, was on the screen approximately 8 seconds, would be my guess, before the crowd gathered around him and cut off the cameras view. But on the screen long enough for the justice of the peace at his home to give a verdict of suicide. He called in from home, he says, “I’ve seen enough, that’s suicide.” And the incident received international publicity. I have, I think, a newspaper from somewhere in Europe—Paris, Rome, something. It was a big story because earlier that day he had been telling everybody, “Watch the middle of the 6th inning, I’m going to kill myself on television,” but he was drunk. This all came out in the newspaper the next day. The people then were saying that this man had visited them, but nobody believed him of course.
LM: 1:27:33 In the early days of television here, how did salaries rate for announcers and other TV station personnel?
DG: Mr. Lee paid very little. As a matter of fact, when I first started with him, I did play-by-play football—high school football on KLEE radio Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night for a talent fee of $25 a night. I worked Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at the television station for $10. So my total income was $85 a week, and the $10 was—he was reluctant to pay me that. But I really wanted to find out if I had anything to offer television and whether television had anything to offer me—if we had any kind of a thing going for us. So salaries were very low. But when KPRC-TV took over, I had an immediate increase in salary to where it became livable and—but like everything else, the salaries in those days were nothing compared to what they guys are earning today.
LM: What about the ability to attract advertisers in the early years—first couple years particularly here. Did they have much success with that?
DG: In all due respect to my dear friends who are the salesman at the television station, especially KPRC, I must say that they really had to be nothing more than order takers. I had an afternoon television show for 6½ years. I did 12,000 live performances, a thing called Matinee. It was a fantastic show. I was the only one on the show that had no talent, everybody else was sensational. Johnny Nash the little colored—in those days, the little colored boy, today a little black student from Yates who came onto my program without a bit of training—voice training. Sang 2 songs, I believe and With These Hands, and gave us all goose bumps. Arthur Godfrey took him away from me 2 years later. Marietta, who still produces and is active in the entertainment field in this town, went with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. My 2 dancers became choreographers on Broadway. Howard Hartman won a nationwide NBC talent contest—won a Nash Rambler, some bonds and I don’t know what else—suits of clothes and luggage. Larry Hovis who was on Hogan’s Heroes was on my show a number of times. And his sister, a gorgeous little girl who a beautiful voice on my show, even appeared on Studio One on the network for a dramatic presentation. They charged a premium for Matinee—$90 a minute in those days, and we were always sold out. Ninety dollars a minute was considered high for an afternoon television show. And you may have heard me just a little while ago say that 30 seconds on KPRCs news today is $1000. And if you bought 30 seconds before Sanford and Son—one of Houston’s highest rated television shows—I would imagine now, it’s around $1400—30 seconds. Yeah, tremendous difference.
But in the early days, Louis, what I do recall is that the challenge to get something viewable on that screen. To do something for a beer company like we did for Hamms, create snow falling from the Land of Sky Blue Waters. To create a very warm restaurant atmosphere if we were advertising an eatery in our town. The prop makers, the artists, the announcers would get in and help build sets. Anything to be tremendously creative, to try to get something on that screen that people would not laugh at, they would really appreciate. And especially in the early days when we were dealing with black and white television. Today, the guys at the station, by and large, sit down and take the network. There are practically no local shows—a couple of talks shows. Some of the minority groups have shows on the weekends—again mostly talk shows—and the news. But local variety and shows that require an input of creativeness in order to get something very entertaining and very acceptable on that screen hasn’t been there a long time. It’s too easy to ride the network. It’s too easy to have the tenth rerun of the Dick Van Dyke Show than to go into a local production.
LM: 1:33:02 Well, it’s completely canned now is what you’re—?
DG: Yeah, it really is.
DG: That’s right.
LM: Well, you’ve given generously of your time, and you did say you only had about 10 minutes and I think we’ve used that. I do want to thank you very much for your participation in this project.
DG: My pleasure.
LM: You’ve given so generously of your time.
DG: I don’t know if my comments are worthwhile, but that’s how I called it. That’s how I saw it.
LM: Thank you very much.