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Interview with: Harris Masterson
Date: October 9, 1981
Archive Number: OH JLO1
[00:02] This tape was produced on October 9, 1981, by volunteers of the Junior League of Houston at the Houston Public Library. It is one of a group of tapes on the history of volunteerism in Houston, which form a segment of the Oral History Collection at the Houston Metropolitan Archives at the library. The interviewers are Deirdre Denman Glober and Dorothy Knox Howe Houghton. The subject of this interview is Mrs. Carroll Masterson.
I: Ms. Masterson, we would like to ask you first about of some of your earliest memories of Houston. You are a native Houstonian. You’ve lived here since you were a small child?
S: I was born here.
I: Ok. Where did you go to school here?
S: I went to Kincaid School all but two years of my growing up period of life, and I went—I started in Montrose School because I wanted to go to a public school desperately, and I was in it three weeks. And I took what was then called double pneumonia, and I was very, very ill. And after I did recuperate, why, my mother and father sent me back to Kincaid. And then when I finished Kincaid School, they wanted me to go off to school, and I wanted to go to San Jacinto High. It was the place to be, and they let me do that. My mother always said that San Jacinto High School ruined me, and I’ve always said it was the only great experience of my life. [laughing] The only reason I really know so many people of the city of Houston. Because, everybody went to San Jacinto School if they could. Everybody you knew, you know, was there. And of course, you always wanted to do what everybody’s doing, so I did. And ah––.
I: What was San Jacinto High like at that time? Was it in the same location that Houston Technical Institute is now?
S: If that is what they call it. I think they took the performing arts school there—didn’t they for a while?
S: And then it moved. San Jacinto High School was over on, what, San Jacinto and––
I: Wasn’t it Caroline and Holman? Or––
S: Well, actually––
I: Caroline Street dead ends into it.
S: Caroline dead ends into it, is right.
I: Houston didn’t have established performing arts companies at the time you were a child in nearly the extent that it does now, I believe.
S: [09:46] I don’t think it had any, per se, that I know of. If so, I didn’t experience them. But, of course, we had great artists of the time brought into Houston and people enjoyed that. Then, of course, marvelous Miss Saunders came along, and she brought in all sorts of interesting and wonderful amusements, both dramatic and operatic and every kind of entertainment you could want. And I must say that our mothers were very eager that we be exposed to anything that came to town, and so it was all—it all took place originally at the city auditorium. And ah, we saw Nijinsky, Madame Schumann-Heink, and all that sort of thing.
I: Here in Houston?
S: In Houston. And I don’t know what age I was, but I would assume that I must have been somewhere around 8 years old or—more or less. It’s hard to remember.
I: When you say “our mothers” you are talking about your friends, the other little girls?
S: The other—yes. Most of us—we would be taken to these things.
I: Was there a need for active involvement in support of the arts in the way that there is now and, did the adults that you knew provide that kind of support?
S: [14:18] Because there really—as far as I know there were no professional nor semiprofessional anything. And that came along—I wouldn’t know just when—but I would think that like Miss Ima—who everybody knows—was instrumental in starting so many wonderful things, particularly that have to do with the arts in the city of Houston. I don’t really quite remember, but what is, for instance, the age of the Museum of Fine Arts? It all exploded at—the people were working on it and in the educational community there were the things that one always finds in universities and colleges that were being performed and being done as far as acting, music, you know, drama, that sort of thing. But I don’t really know—I’m sure that many women had their musical clubs. I don’t know what there names were, but I know that they had them and they held them in people’s homes. But the thirst for the arts in Houston—I would say people struggled when I was growing up, really struggled for the symphony. And it was not—it was not easy for them. And we went and sat through hours and hours of things that would be awfully ho-hum today. [laughter]
I: Do you remember your family being involved in any particular activities to support the symphony? You were—the museum––
S: Well, you know, they always a box, but they were not particularly––. I don’t know how to say it. They were interested in the arts, but they were not participants in the arts. They contributed and that was the way it was.
I: What do you think has led you to have as strong a feeling of civic responsibility as you demonstrated in your volunteer commitments?
S: Well, I must have given you the idea that my family weren’t interested in civic things. They were interested, very, but they were not involved, as I have become involved. But when you are a young woman and you marry and you are eighteen years old and you live in a very small town and you move back home and there are a great many things that you are very enthusiastic about, you find yourself volunteering. And once you start volunteering there’s no stopping. [laughter]
I: That sounds so familiar.
S: You know, you always think, “Well, I’ll remember this time. I won’t hold my hand up and give anyone any ideas,” because they generally turn around and say, “That’s a lovely idea, why don’t you do it.” [laughter] That’s how I got involved. I held my hand up.
I: What do you member about your neighborhood when you were a child? Did you live on Holman Street or thereabouts?
S: [07:22] No, I didn’t. I lived—I was born in Houston, and I was adopted and my mother and father lived in Saratoga, Texas, wild and wooly boomtown, which of course I remember nothing of because they brought me back to Houston when I was about 3 years old. And up until I moved to Mexico City I lived in a radius of about eight blocks until I was—what was I—29 years old. We first lived on Kenwood, and then my Uncle Ross opened an addition called Rossmoyne, and Rossmoyne ran into Yoakum. And Yoakum was shell and so was Rossmoyne, And Richmond crossed it, and it was gravel. And we moved from––
I: Richmond was gravel?
S: Yes, or maybe it was vice versa. I really don’t—anyway they were––
I: ––not paved––
S: ––either¬¬––they were not paved by any means. And then we moved from Kenwood a block and a half to Rossmoyne, and I lived there. And I married and moved to Richmond, Texas, and I lived there until my first child was born. I moved back to Houston, and we built a house on Chelsea Place, as we call it. And it still sits there, Number 7. And so, all of that was from—well, I forgot to tell you—I lived on South Boulevard when married. But all of that is within about eight or nine blocks. So, I knew that area very well and I tell you it was very sparse. [laughter] There was not much around.
I: Trinity Episcopal Church in that area was built in 1919, and I know you’ve been involved with it for some time.
S: I have.
I: Was it your church when you were a child?
S: No. I became an Episcopalian when I was an adult. And ah––
I: So, when did you become involved?
S: Involved in Trinity Church? When I was about 21 years old, I guess. I had gone with Robert Quinn, the bishop’s son, and we were very good friends, and I admired the entire family so much, and I went to church with him. And I decided that I really, really liked the Episcopal religion, and I liked the form of the church. And of course I started in Trinity, and I had my children baptized at Trinity, and of course I was confirmed at Trinity, and I had almost—well a lifelong love affair with Trinity Church and I think it is a beautiful church for one thing. It’s a very lovely church, and I’ve been very interested in it, and I want to see it continue to grow. It’s in a very bad spot as you can well imagine. It’s in the inner city, and it’s had a difficult time.
I: We understand that there’s been a great deal of structural repair work there made over the past three, three and a half years and that it’s really getting restored. Have you been working on that?
S: [10:45] I have, and not really in any way physically nor even asking for help, but I have talked to friends, and we have contributed a bit to it. And it has been cleaned and major repairs have been done. And they have a drive on now, and I am sure they will make their goal and ah—well it’s just really lovely. And it’s nice because it’s sort of a rebirth down there. And there are an awful lot of young people who have been coming involved in Trinity. And of course, this is what you need. You must have young people.
I: When you first became involved with Trinity Church was the congregation—how much of the congregation was there at that time?
S: It was an enormous congregation when I first became involved. You know, so many of the churches splintered off of Trinity, as Trinity did Christ Church.
I: Oh, really?
S: And I think St. Johns—I would say that—and I certainly am talking about something I really don’t know too much about—but I would say that most of St. Johns original people who had a great interest in seeing the church built came from Trinity. They may have come—or their families—from Christ Church, but they did come to Trinity. And then Trinity, they left, and they came out her. And they lost a great deal of their primary support, and this is why I think they’ve such a struggle.
I: Is this because the people who had been at Trinity Church originally had originally lived in the neighborhood––
S: [12:28] Well, Trinity was closer to Rossmoyne for instance—or South Boulevard—than it was to Christ Church. And so, people found it a little bit more convenient and easier to get to for services.
I: I mean the people who moved out to St. Johns and places like that, they—I am assuming that perhaps they had originally lived in the area surrounding Trinity and then when they moved away from there they––
S: I think that probably is true. But they were, you know—River Oaks didn’t come along and didn’t get built up—somewhere between, what, like ‘25 or ‘6, 1925 or ‘26. It grew so rapidly. I’m sure that the bishop felt they desperately needed a church in the River Oaks area.
I: We understand that the Rockwell Foundation has provided funds to maintain the grounds of the church. Has that been for a long time? Has it been an ongoing––
S: I think that they have had a Rockwell fund at the church for perhaps as much as twenty years. And it’s a sizeable sum, and I don’t know that it’s completely restricted to the maintenance of the grounds. I can’t answer that.
I: Do you know—was there a Rockwell family that belonged to the church or do you know why that came about?
S: I think they did belong to the church, and then I think each one went their separate path, and I think perhaps they ended up back in the fold. I do know that two of them married girls—women—who were members of Trinity, and perhaps that is the way that it came about. I don’t really know. I believe that they were originally Methodist, the Rockwell brothers.
I: What can Trinity Church do to continue to draw a younger congregation? What’s gotten started there?
S: What could it do? Is that what you asked me?
I: What do you think the plans are there?
S: Well, I think they are very, very busy. I think it’s a new trend in all social organizations. And all organizations—whether they be religious or otherwise—that sometimes they almost have too much going on. But I believe they have learned over the course of time, if you don’t keep people busy and active, then they die. You just don’t get anything done. So, they have an awful lot going on. They have youth programs. They have revived some of the ones that they had, and they are making a real earnest plea for the Sunday School Department. It had sort of fallen apart because most of us were older people, and we did not have younger children. Well, they do have the young now, and they do have lots of little children. And they are beginning again to make their Sunday School Department, I believe, a very good one.
I: [15:36] Where are these people coming from? Do the––
S: Well, I think a great many of them are actually are coming from inner city. Of course, a whole lot of them are the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of the original communicants. But, they have a lot of very new members, and they are all—it seems to me—they look very young to me. And I think it’s quite stimulating.
I: You lived in Mexico City, as you’ve mentioned. That was starting in about 1943?
S: It was 1943.
I: 1943 until about 1950?
S: Yes, exactly.
I: Is that where you first joined the Junior League? I knew you were a member there.
S: I did join the Junior League in Mexico City in 1945.
I: What kind of activities was it involved at that time?
S: Well, it had a very interesting and very stimulating and very busy course I can tell you. We ran all the time. It had a shop called the Casa Nueva, which meant “almost new.” And as you can imagine, we sold clothes and anything we could get our hands on. And then, of course, its great, great program was the program for the blind. And the Junior League in Mexico City did all the braille—all the countries in Latin America—there were no others anywhere. And so we had a tremendous burden on our shoulders, which they worked very diligently and very hard to do. Of course, my Spanish was so limited I was not very much of a help at the blind school nor in doing the braille.
I: You mean they taught the braille or they taught use of braille books?
S: [17:24] They taught braille. They had a blind school. They taught and they had books that volunteers did themselves, and they were sent to all the Latin American countries. It was the only way they could get any braille books that I know of in all of South America, Latin America. And it was a—as you can well imagine—of course, what it finally led to was the interest of the Mexican government and the Mexican people themselves to enlarge and finally do the braille themselves. But it awakened them to a tremendous need, because Mexico has a huge population of blind or near-blind people. I guess because of all kinds of infections—I don’t know—under-nourishment before birth and at the time of birth. But they did a fantastic job, and it was a real challenge to be a member of the Mexico City Junior League. It was unique.
I: Did the League make an active effort to increase the government in doing that work or was it just that it was so obviously needed?
S: I think it evolved because in Mexico—naturally most of the members of the League at that time were American citizens whose husbands were employed there. And there were very few Mexican members. Now they have a tremendous membership of Mexicans—natives and those who have become Mexican citizens. But they saw a need, and so they asked if they could go into the blind school, which was very small, and they got permission. And then they realized, there they were, and what really were they to do except to read to them and to education them? That’s not a very easy way to educate people—to have a group of volunteers go down and read to people. And I guess they saw the desperate need for braille, and so they started it. And then, it spread—I suppose the word got through Latin American that the Mexico City Junior League did do braille. And so, they did the braille. And we had to have permission to do anything. You would have thought that we were a bunch of escaped convicts or something. [laughter]
I: You mean governmental permission?
S: Governmental permission—we had to be very, very careful to have their consent to do anything we did. Well so, of course, going before the government to say, “This is our need and this is what we think you need,” I guess it opened their eyes. I know it did lead to a tremendous program. And one man told me, he said, “You know, you will never do anything until you have interested the Mexican himself in his own predicament. And when once they realize how bad the need is, they will do it for themselves.” So––
I: Did you work some in all of those projects or did you focus on one?
S: [20:43] I did a little. I would go to the blind school, and I would sing. And I have no voice at all. [laughter] But they seemed to like me—hear me sing Don’t Fence Me In. [laughter] They need a little laughter in their life, too, you know. So I was pretty funny, and my Spanish was hysterical, I can assure you. [laughter] And then I worked—oh, we had a lending library, which was very important to the American and British colony there.
S: A lending library. And I worked in it, and I don’t know how to type so I did—I was chairman of the library, and I would type for the books, you know, peck away with one finger here and one finger there. We always got the books. It was a nice experience living in Mexico. It was a challenge.
I: How do you think your experience in that League carried over into your later volunteer activities? Has it?
S: Oh, I think it had a great deal to do with me, not only volunteering myself, but carrying on after I became sustaining. I suppose I really have been a whole lot busier in certain areas, in certain ways than I was when I was an apprentice. [laughter]
I: What um—did you become with the YWCA also in Mexico City?
S: No, I really didn’t. My daughter went there for certain classes—let me see—what they called the Girl/Guy (?? 22:27), or something like that. I think it was really something more British than it was American. And she went there for that. And a lot of the children would learn to swim at the YWCA in Mexico City. And a lot of programs were carried on for the American and Mexican children in the YWCA there. But I did not become involved with the YWCA until I came back to Houston after Harry and I had come back from the wars. That’s when I became very interested. But you know Harry’s mother, ah mother, grandmother, was a founding person of the YWCA.
I: Did you know her?
S: [23:11] Yes, I did. She was a most incredible woman. She was a wonderful woman. And she—there was no gray to (s/l Nan-nan ?? 23:19). She was a magnificent woman and when she believed it was right, boy she pursued it to the bitter end. She was a very courageous lady.
I: Now this is Mr. Masterson’s grandmother––
S: That’s right.
I: ––your’re talking about. She was one of the founders of the Y here––
S: Yes, in Houston.
I: ––and she was also—she was a delegate to a—Women’s Peace?
S: I’m sure she was, but I don’t know about that.
I: Women’s Peace Conference in 1925, I think, is what we read.
S: She probably was.
I: In Washington, I think, or someplace.
S: You know, Onie Doggett, one of our League members is her granddaughter. She’s really Harry’s step-grandmother, but his only grandmother he ever knew. She was married to Mr. Masterson, Judge Masterson, many years before Harry was born. And so, it was the only grandmother on the paternal side that he had.
I: Was it she who interested you in the YWCA here or did you have other friends involved
S: Well, I tell you. Some friends called and asked me if I would run for the YWCA board. And I said, “Oh, yes.” And I really didn’t know too much about the YWCA. I didn’t think I could say no, because I knew that (s/l Nan-nan ?? 24:45) had been so involved, so interested in it, and she was still living. And I thought, well I’ll have little to do, to not say yes, I’ll run. Well, I did not realize that it was a very democratic organization. You are put up and you are elected by popular vote to the YWCA board. And it never dawned on me I wouldn’t be elected. But when I got back from Europe, I said “Oh, dear. Now I’ll have to do YWCA work”, and so on and so forth. And I got back in found out that a Mrs. White had been elected instead of Mrs. Masterson, and Mrs. White was black. [laughter] So it became a very interesting experience, and Miss White and I became very good friends. But sure enough, in about, I suppose five months, there was a vacancy on the board and so Mrs. Harris Masterson III was on the board of the YWCA. And that’s when I became very, very interested in it. And as you know, they had a drive for monies, and I cochaired it.
I: [25:57] Was that in 1960?
S: 1960-61. And it went over to ‘62.
I: That raised over two million dollars?
S: A little over two million dollars. I felt like I had done a very poor job. [laughter] But they seemed to think I did a pretty good one.
I: What were the main goals of that campaign?
S: Well, we needed everything in the YWCA. The building was old and so was the residence. And we did not, at that time, realize that a residence was going to be something no one really needed because it was the 60s, and the great revolution came around where young people coming from the country were no longer tentative and afraid, and the parents couldn’t tell them they couldn’t go until they had a proper place to live. So, we had a drive to—primarily to—redo our building. And then some way or another we got off track and we were given a bargain in a hotel. And the majority decided it would be a good move and we moved. And it was a disaster, as you all probably know.
I: Was that the Ben Milam––
S: Ben Milam.
I: ––hotel? And it didn’t go well?
S: It was too big—the YWCA tries to keep things as reasonable as possible so that the great majority can enjoy its facilities. But, you see, half of it was residence, and there was no need for residence any longer. And it was just a tremendous expense and a terrible, terrible burden, and they had to get rid of it. So, we took all the money that we raised in that campaign, we revamped some of the satellite Ys, the Blue Triangle and I believe the Spring Branch—I am not really sure—and finished the (s/l Paden?? 27:55) Center. And then moved into this building that was just completely what we did not need, you know. And it cost a fortune and it was a tragedy, really.
I: [28:10] And when did that all—that come to an end?
S: Well, now that—I’m not real sure––
I: The building—I mean the Ben Milam Hotel?
S: I am not real sure when we moved over on Allen Parkway. Maybe you all know—I don’t.
I: I remember when it happened, and I’ve only been here since 1970, in Houston, so it’s––
S: I would say that it’s less than ten years, but I’m not really sure about that because I did not get active again with the YWCA until they came and asked me if I would chair this drive, and I told them I couldn’t, but I’d try to help them. And so they made me honorary chairman, and we got a perfectly marvelous young man, Rusty Wortham, and he has been tremendous help. I can’t tell you how helpful he’s been. But I got a little bit more involved than I intended to. [laughter] You would’ve thought I would’ve learned my lesson, but I didn’t.
I: This current drive is to help fund a new building for the downtown branch?
S: Yes, that’s what most of it will have to go for at the moment, because—and a swimming pool at the Blue Triangle—because we have not made our goal. We’re still working very hard and praying a lot, I might add.
I: I hear that they will be moving this week or––
S: They are moving. I believe they are going to move today.
I: Are the—is the intention to have a little more space or is that building on Allen Parkway just too run down or what is the––
S: No, the reason is that the building on Allen Parkway is a disgrace in that the program is so vast, so desperately needed, and such a good program, and they had to bus people to do have the things that are done and this is not right.
I: You mean bus them on––
S: No, I mean bus the—people who were using the program—there’s no swimming pool there and the young and the—they use the pool more than almost anything in the summer, and it’s supervised and it’s cared for. The daycare center is a wonderful program they have. Well, you can imagine—if you’ve every looked at that building down there—that building is completely inadequate for anything, and they had the principal executive offices of the Y in it. So everything that was done, they had to be taken some other place, more or less. They have a few classes, of course, you know—Reach for Recovery, and the nutritional classes for the mothers and that sort of thing and aerobic dancing. They can do those things there but it’s just completely inadequate, and they are going to have a beautiful building, and they’re going to have a tremendous program, too. Because I think the YWCA is much more needed now than perhaps ever, except when it first came into being.
I: Let’s pause for a minute.
I: [31:25] Among the most interesting programs supported by the Y is Women in Dialogue. Can you tell me a little bit about it and how it started? It was interesting to me. You may have others in mind that you’d rather talk about.
S: No, I really don’t know too much about Women in Dialogue. I tell you what I have been is really a fund raiser, and I’ve been out of town so much. And I told them the other day that I was very sorry that I had not been around as much as I would have liked to have been, because I’m not really up-to-date on the programs. I know a little about the senior citizen programs, and they are starting a satellite on that in the Woodland area, I believe. They have a marvelous program going in the Heights area, and of course, they will try to keep the satellites because it’s not very convenient to bring older people. You want it centered in a location where they can get there, hopefully, themselves—by themselves. And ah—of course, they will have a senior citizen program at the new YWCA. I know more about that than I do Women in Dialogue, but I believe Women in Dialogue is where they get together and express themselves and tell their needs, right?
I: Yes, and apparently they try to have women from other countries as well to these––
S: Yes, they have these programs, I know of maybe like four to six times a year with simply very, very interesting people in the community—the councils’ wives generally and they come and speak and bring their country’s native—the things that they make and the books and all sorts of very interesting things, and I have been to one of them. But, I don’t know too much about it.
I: The YWCA has a strong commitment to promoting interracial understanding. Can you tell me how you see the Houston Y contributing to that in Houston?
S: [33:47] I think the Houston Y does a very fine job in understanding all groups of people—minority groups, whatever kind of group. They have never had any trouble, and they have been instigators in making the change in this world of ours come about in a very peaceful, not objectionable, manner. And their educational program to the members I think is very, very good. And I think the Y has been able to expose a great many people in the city of Houston to the fact that some people appear stupid, because they’ve had no opportunity to appear other way. By that I mean they have not had the opportunity of education, recreation, or anything else. And the Y does do that. They believe in educating, and they believe in recreation, and they believe in exposure to all kinds of programs, you know. They try to teach about beauty, They try to take field trips to help people who that maybe are not as fortunate as you and I where they can be exposed to those things that they might never know about. I think that they have done a fantastic job on integration and of course, as you know, the main purpose of the national Y and the worldwide Y is that they shall eliminate racial prejudice.
I: I was going to ask a little bit about the senior citizen program. You said you know a lot about it. You know more about it.
S: Well, I don’t really know too much about it, but I am very aware of the fact that they had never concentrated on the senior citizen up until maybe three years ago, and then they realized that there was such a tremendous need. Because more and more people are living to be older and older with no partner and maybe their children are not around or maybe they have complications of their own. And that one of the big problems of America today is that old people can still contribute, and they must be permitted to do so. Instead of just being put out someplace, like, you know, like to pasture. It’s a terrible thing, and their main problem is loneliness. So they have an active program where they can come and do their little creative things and make whatever they can make, a social hour and a little bit of food. Some of them, I suppose, these senior programs are a way that a great many of them get a good meal a day. But, it’s new, it’s comparatively new for the YWCA in Houston, and they see it, I believe, as one of—one of their future great aims is to help the elderly.
I: Mrs. Masterson, according to our research, you first were elected to the board of Houston Grand Opera in the fall of 1961. How did this come about?
S: I really don’t know. I [laughter, inaudible] I probably never said so.
I: [inaudible] ––you were there.
S: [37:34] We, of course, had been very interested in the arts, too. I think Harry is perhaps more inclined towards the arts. I am more inclined towards the social service organizations, and he helps me, and I try to help him. Mainly I help him by not asking too many questions. [laughter]
I: Mr. Masterson first appears in the Opera’s records as a member the governing board in 1978-79. Both of you are active members of a number of boards of directors. Can you tell us how you divide your responsibilities to organizations such as the Opera where both of you serve as board members?
S: I think for the most part, since the very early part of my membership on the board of the Houston Grand Opera has been complimentary. We have—as you know—have underwritten, along with my mother, a number of operas and I think it’s more a courtesy to me, really. Now, Harry is extremely—always active in anything he becomes a member of, and I think his interest in the Opera—when he came on the board—is what led him to his present capacity of whatever he’s called now, the Chair I believe, or the Chairman of the Lyric Theatre. And I guess there will be a permanent one eventually, but at the moment, I think that probably is what led to this and it would have been sort of extraordinary for him not to have been on the board when he’s working.
I: Of the Lyric Theatre?
S: Yes—I mean the Opera board or the Ballet board if he was going to try help them get a Lyric Theatre and he is certainly working very hard.
I: Is that something he has envisioned for many years? It sounds—or are—
S: Well, he has envisioned it ever since he took the temporary chairmanship of the Ballet Foundation because of an illness—the president was ill and they asked him if he would fill in, and he did. And when you get very active in something you realize the need, and I think that he realized that Jones Hall is absolutely perfect and it’s beautiful and it’s wonderful—the symphony—but it in no way serves the purpose of either ballet or opera. I think then he realized that yes, they have to have a larger area to perform in.
I: Why does it not serve the purpose of ballet or opera? You are talking about––
S: [40:20] I’ll tell you one thing—or anything else—it’s because the symphony has to rehearse in another part of the theatre because it is so booked—Houston has grown so and become so interested in all things artistic—that there’s no place for anyone to do anything. And it’s hard to draw a great many people to a city when you don’t have a proper rehearsal hall, a proper time—in other words, we have outgrown Jones Hall.
I: You mentioned your interest in and your underwriting some of the opera’s new productions, I think starting with Fidelio in 1970 and––
S: Was it that far back?
I: ––a number since then. Is that—why is that your way of supporting the Opera? Why underwrite––
S: That isn’t the only way support we give.
I: I’m quite sure not, but that’s certainly a conspicuous way––
S: Well, I tell you they budget, as you know. You know a little something about—a Junior Leaguer would now a little something about budgeting from year to year. And sometimes you get an opportunity to be creative and to do something that hasn’t been done before, or at least not in your area—a new set, or a new designer, or a new concept of an opera. And they want to bring the opera, but with their budge they cannot afford to bring it. So, they come to you and present it to you. And if you are interested, you say, “Yes, I’ll see what I can do.” And so, if you can do it yourself, why, you do it yourself. And if you can’t, you get several people to help you. But, I think this is the way all that came about. You get these things done and then other opera companies use your production—a certain (?? 42:25), a scenery, the costumes, or the whole concept and ah––
I: So the effect of the creativity you’ve been able to support––
S: The creativity—and that is what they need the extra money for, is to put on a new production, so to speak.
I: And it really multiplies in that other companies can then use––
S: It’s just like the Ballet, you know. They get these ballets, and they’re created by the Houston Company and year after year after year other companies, hopefully, will use them.
I: [43:05] As we were just saying, you were the first persons to give special production funds for an opera and in the ensuing ten year period you and Mr. Masterson had either underwritten or partially underwritten seven other productions and five of the productions you were joined by Mrs. Turner. How did you determine which productions you would underwrite?
S: Well, actually, I am not sure that I decided anything. [laughter] I think Harry did most of that, and I was perfectly willing to go along because I feel he knows more about opera and more about symphony and more about ballet than I do. And my mother would just almost always, if Harry went to her, or I went to her, or we both went to her, and said “Now, they think this is something that Houston needs,” she’d say, “Well, if they think it, and if you think it, I’ll be very happy to do it.” So, it was just that simple on those.
I: I was wondering if the Opera came to you and said, “We want to do this one production,” or if they would give you a choice of several productions?
S: No, they generally come to us with an idea that they have.
I: I see.
S: That’s the way it goes.
I: Do you feel—well, we’ve already—you feel that the example that you have set has been followed by others as time has gone by?
S: Well, I don’t know whether it’s our example, but at least other people have been willing to do it and are very happy to do it, both the ballet and the opera. If we had any influence on them, I’m very happy about it, because I think most of them have proven that they were needed and appreciated, you know.
I: Are you taking an active role in assisting Mr. Masterson’s efforts to raise the necessary funds to build the new Lyric Opera Theatre?
S: No. [laughter]
I: Mrs. Masterson, over many years you and Mr. Masterson have been deeply involved in the efforts which have resulted in most of Houston’s major performing arts institutions as well as the Museum of Fine Arts. How do you view the great mushrooming of this cultural scene that we have in Houston, which you were very instrumental in, in the very beginnings.
S: [45:28] I view it as a most stimulating, most wonderful experience. And I think to be alive and to live in Houston, Texas at this particular point is one of the most exciting things anyone could ever want. And I think it’s just started. I think when we get this new Lyric Theatre—and we will get it, you know—when we get this new Lyric Theatre you are going to be amazed to see—we feel like there is so much going on. I think we are going to see so many things that we never dreamed that we would were going to be able to see in the city of Houston. And I see it only as a positive, onward march to whatever one might call glory. [laughter] It’s a wonderful city. Don’t you feel that it’s—that it’s very stimulating?
I: Yes, indeed.
S: It must be sort of like New York was say seventy-five years ago. The city of New York, I mean.
I: Before it got as difficult as it is now. How did you first become involved with the Alley Theatre?
S: Well, I really don’t remember how I got involved with the Alley Theatre except I have always loved drama and musical comedy and light operetta, and that sort of thing. And naturally, the Alley did such wonderful things in that little tiny space it had. And you would go there and you would think this woman, she is a genius, and you wanted to help her. And I don’t even remember when I was asked on the board. I can’t remember at all, but it was quite some time ago. And then, they came to me one day and asked me if I would start a—call it anything—I don’t remember what we called it—a club, I guess—maybe that’s what almost everybody calls it—anyway, the Alley Theatre Guild. And I said, “Well, I’ve had a great deal of experience in volunteer work, but I have never, ever, ever thought of putting something together.” The other people had been the geniuses that put it together and just came and said, “Carroll, would you just ring doorbells or something?” And I just couldn’t say no. And I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had a great many of people who surrounded me who knew what they were doing, and they helped me a great deal. They really deserve credit. But the Alley Guild has done a wonderful, wonderful job for the theatre.
I: I believe that was in 1970 when––
S: [48:10] Yes, I think it was.
I: ––the Alley Guild was—well I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what these people envisioned as a function of the Guild?
S: Well, we started out—and I think its purpose still—is just to be supportive to the board and the Alley Theatre. And then we found out all the things that the Alley Theatre really needed help on, and so we did it. And it doesn’t seem like it would be too much work, but it does call for somebody to paid to stuff an envelope. And we started out sort of stuffing envelopes. Then we realized it cost the Alley a great deal of money to feed the players between the Saturday performances. Because there is a rule, a union—I don’t know what you call it, a rule or something—that when performances come between a certain number of hours that you have to see that the company is fed. And so, the girls started doing the feeding. And it cut down a tremendous amount of money per year, as you can imagine. Then we realized if wanted people to come here—and we wanted to attract the best—that if we made it sort of warm and hospitable—so they have a hospitality committee. And they furnish these young players with all sorts of utensils, and they meet them at the airport, and they try to provide them a place to live. And just one thing has led to another. Then, of course, people had heard of the Alley all over the world. And they come here and you’d be surprised they’re interested in seeing the Alley. So there’s a group takes them on tour. And just one thing lead to another, just as it always does.
I: Were you at all involved at all when the Ford Foundation gave the money to build the present building?
S: I was on the board, but I was not involved in that other than raising my hand and saying yes and no, you know.
I: Did your interest in the Alley Theatre spring from your and Mr. Masterson’s efforts to produce Broadway plays?
S: No, I think we were interested in the Theatre very much before we tried to produce plays on Broadway. We’ve always been interested in the theatre. That is one interest in we have in common and together––[laughter]—is the theatre.
I: How do you go about enlisting the participation of others in the Guild’s activities.
S: Well, we met, and we made out a list of people who we thought would be interested in the theatre, and if not interested in the theatre at least interested in seeing that people who are interested in the theatre had an opportunity to go there. And, of course, it is another situation where it had outgrown its facilities completely. So, they certainly needed the new Alley Theatre. And when you—on the Guild, we sat down and made out a list and wrote letters and told them what we thought at that time we were going to do and frankly admitted that we were just going to be there to be of assistance to the Alley, to the board of directors, and to Nina Vance, and to everybody involved in the theatre. And the response was very, very good indeed, and it’s better now.
I: [51:55] We understand that Mr. And Mrs. Dudley Sharp have been among the strongest supporters of the Alley Theatre through the years. Can you tell us something about how they became involved and what they have done for the theatre?
S: Well, they have done a great deal for the theatre both in time and effort and giving time and money to the theatre. I really just don’t know—I don’t know the answer to that at all. Would you find out? I want you to let me know. [laughter] But they have done a tremendous job, and they are both interested in it.
I: Did their involvement predate yours or do you remember were they already––
S: Yes, it predated mine. It did. She is the one who came along with others and asked me if I would take the formation of the guild and I said, “Why don’t you?” and she said, “I go hunting and out of town so much.” [laughter]
I: In December of 1969, the Association for Community Television, otherwise know as ACT, was formed to raise money and support Channel 8, Houston’s public broadcasting affiliate. Membership dues and an annual public auction were their major sources of revenue. In 1977, you were asked to be the first chairman of The Friends of Act, a special group of people who donate one thousand dollars a year or more to ACT. How did you happen to take this job?
S: [laughter] I wish I knew. Anyway, it was something I felt needed to be done. Community Television is a wonderful thing, and it is an extremely expensive thing. And they work so hard, and they’ve had so little, and they do such a fantastic job that once I realized what they were doing on so little, I didn’t feel I could say I wouldn’t try. So, I did try, and it wasn’t any great chore, really. But we just wrote letters to friends. You see, we had a problem. We didn’t want to interfere with regular membership and, as you know, they have now what they call a silent drive, and they have the auction. But we didn’t want to interfere with those, and we didn’t want to contact people who were generous in the regular drive or at least they did at least as much as they could, we felt. And we tried to get people that we felt a thousand dollars wouldn’t mean too much to. Not that a thousand dollars doesn’t mean a lot to anyone, but you do know what I mean. We would try to think of people who weren’t members. We would try to think of people who would say, “Well, I would rather do that than get two dresses,” or a person that it meant no sacrifice to, whatsoever. And it was quite amazing. We found quite a few, and it helped to upgrade the station. It gave that little bit of extra money where they could go out and do something on their own.
I: [55:03] Were you involved in Channel 8 before this time or was that the first time?
S: Yes, I was on the board—let’s see, about a year and a half or two years, I guess—when they thought about The Friends of Act.
I: Also, in 1977, ACT and the University of Houston signed an agreement in which ACT became the development department of Channel 8. Because tax revenues cannot be used for broadcasting, the university was not able to support Channel 8’s programming. However, the university now pays the salaries of ACT’s employees. Were you involved in these negotiations between ACT and the University of Houston?
S: No, I wasn’t.
I: In spite of its new relationship with Channel 8, ACT remains a nonprofit volunteer organization. How are decisions made about what programs ACT will fund? I guess I am really asking about how the relationship works, because that’s a rather unusual situation.
S: It is an unusual situation, and I’ve never quite understood it. But the programming is left up—as far as I can figure out—to the—what is his title—to the staff, to the executive staff, the professional staff. They choose and then the board does pass on it. It is discussed and it is presented and it is passed on. And, as far as what, or how much say—of course, I do know when they voted to show that perfectly disgusting—I say disgusting, I haven’t seen it and I don’t want to see it—about the beheaded princess and all of that stuff—I do know that they got into a terrible hassle with Pat—what’s Pat’s name, isn’t that awful—Nicholson, and I think he was right. But of course, a lot of people don’t think he was right. But I know that they had the final say on it—not showing—the University of Houston must have had the final say on not showing that program. So how they interrelate, I really don’t know, because he was the person who came to the board meetings and you presented anything that the ACT board felt needed to be discussed between the University of Houston and ACT. And I don’t suppose that we could just go off and do anything we please since we are interrelated to such an extent with the University of Houston. But I don’t now how that—I’ll try to find out. That’s an interesting question you asked me.
I: [57:56] Channel 8 was organized in 1953, and it was the first public broadcasting station in the United States. What were its sources of revenue before ACT was formed in 1969?
S: That, I don’t know because I hadn’t been on the board that long and I don’t know—it is a very complicated situation with a head and then another head and a volunteer organization. I supposed that they realized that the University of Houston couldn’t handle all of this by itself and didn’t have the funds. And I assume that they started—they asked someone—and I think it must have been Marty Levine. And she took it on, and it just took flight because it was needed. And she got a lot of people who are very interested in the city of Houston. I don’t know what we’d do without, really, without Channel 8.
I: Well, I was gonna ask you. Do you think that cable television will someday replace public television and thus leave those who cannot afford cable TV with no educational television at all.
S: Oh, I hope not.
I: Well, because of the funding cuts and all the things going on right now, I just was wondering if there was a possibility?
S: I thing we are just going to have to work very much harder. The only person I know there is a person on the board of ACT, and he is one of the big moguls in the commercial television, and he doesn’t seem to think it’s going to hurt at all. In fact, he says that he thinks it’s going to make public television even stronger.
I: Why is that?
S: I don’t know. I don’t understand enough about television to tell you anything. I think that we must have public television. I think we must have it where you can do just what you do now. If you are fortunate enough to own a television set—and most people seem to—you ought to be able to have choice programs as well as a whole lot of the other things that one does pick up on television. And the only way they are going to get it is public. So we’re gonna just have to give more money to it. [laughter]
I: What role do you think that public television has played in building audiences for live performances? It’s made them available to so many more people.
S: [1:00:36] Well, don’t you think anytime you see something on the screen or on television or hear something that interests you even on radio where it isn’t visual, that you always think, “Boy, would I like to see that in the flesh.” And I think that when you educate people, they are not just content the rest of their life to turn on the television. They also want to go and see it if it happens to come to town or if they happen to go to New York or San Francisco or Chicago. I’m not playing any favorites, but somewhere they can see what’s going on. I know I feel that way. I never have ever seen a movie that I thought was as good as the thing I’ve seen on the stage.
I: Mrs. Masterson, you and Mr. Masterson are founding life members of the Texas Arts Alliance, which was organized in 1976, I believe. Can you tell us something about that organization?
S: I can’t.
I: According to its literature, the purpose was to increase public and private funding for the arts, and the organization works closely with the Texas Commission on the Arts, which provides financial support and so on to arts organizations throughout the state. What do you think is the proper role of government in the arts?
S: I think that the government should participate in every way it possibly can in the arts and encourage people to do so. Perhaps even to—well, certainly not any withdrawal of the privilege—if you were fortunate to give, that you also can take advantage of tax-wise. But I think the government has done probably its best job in supporting the arts, because as far as I know it has never interfered with the execution of those things that they have helped to finance. They have not told you what you must do or how you must spend it. Not as far as I know in anything in this city. And I think that if you can—you can have government support—if you don’t have government support we are going to have to do without a whole lot of beautiful things that could happen in this life, I’m afraid. Things are just so expensive and you need support. But in so many areas, if you get the government involved people feel resentful, because they try to tell you exactly what you should do. As far as I know, they’ve never tried to do that in the arts, ever.
I: But if they did, you, I gather, wouldn’t––
S: I would not approve of that. No.
I: [1:03:45] Do you believe that increasing government support is inevitable because the private sector can no longer meet the increasing costs or do you think that business should be able to fill the void where the private can no longer contribute?
S: I think we are going to need all three. And I do not feel—that up until now—that business has supported the arts as much as it should, or any other social service organization. I feel that they have been very remiss in not realizing that—particularly in the artistic community—that it is a great A+ to them. And that people do not go to cities where there isn’t something to offer the young who come with their companies. And they must realize that they must support it more than they have in the past. And I believe they are beginning to realize this, don’t you?
I: I think so—in the last few years. Over the years, you have been extremely generous to open your home for meetings and fundraising parties benefiting many different nonprofit organizations. Aside from the funds raised at such events, what affect do you hope your hospitality will have on the community at large.
S: Well, I haven’t thought about that. It’s just been a pleasure to do it. I think if one is blessed with—and more fortunate than other people, that it’s very nice to share with them. And I’ve found people always most appreciative. And, it’s a joy—to those who much is given a great deal should be demanded. And if they don’t give it on their own, then they ought to be forced into it some way or another. [laughter]
I: Well, I am sure it creates a great deal of good will.
S: Well, it’s a pleasure, and it’s extremely interesting to see people come into something that is beautiful. I know someone thinks this house is hideous, but that’s all right. They have a right to their own opinion. But the great majority of people who have come here have been most appreciative. And they have considered it a real treat and they are very dear, whether they are from Houston or from out of city or out of state or out of country. We always get some very warm and glowing thank yous that make you feel good and glad you did it. I do a lot of stewing before I do it, but then I’m always glad after it’s over that I did do it. And ah—don’t you think that it’s nice to share with people?
I: Oh, I do indeed. I do indeed.
S: And ah––
I: And you’re more generous than most people, really.
S: [1:06:35] I don’t know about that. It’s always—it really has been a pleasure. And I’m sorry that times have got where now we are a little bit leery about who we open our home to, or the garden. And that makes me very sad because it was a pleasure, and besides that, it gets you very neat. [laughter] You just do the best cleanup job in the world. Your garden looks like it hasn’t looked in two or three years. [laughter] But it’s a pleasure, and I believe when people see something they think is attractive it makes them want to make their surrounding more attractive and then I think they also think, you know, someday, “Gee, I’m gonna share, too.” And so, it’s a two-way street.
I: We’ve appreciated so much hearing about your varied activities and I’m amazed at how you can accommodate all them. And thank you very much for your time.
S: I have gotten a lot of credit where credit is not due. I could tell you a lot of other people have worked a lot harder than I have, and I get the credit. That’s the way it is.
I: We thank you very much for your generous hospitality.
S: Thank you.
I: Thank you.
S: Thank you for coming. It was a pleasure.
[tape ends] 1:07:57