Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Will Wilson, an Unpleasant Man
And so, I was at the Houston Post and Galveston was still wide open, and almost out of nowhere came Will Wilson of Dallas, who was attorney general of Texas.Wilson wanted to be governor and he had decided that declaring war on Galveston was the way to go. I don't think he understood Galveston, or even Texas. A lot of people who espouse morality in their home communities in Texas secretly enjoyed Galveston with its rowdy clubs and whorehouses and carefree attitude. You can call it hypocracy if you wish or call it human nature. Will sent the Texas Rangers into Galveston. By the time the Rangers got into the gambling room at the Balinese Room all they could find was a group of gentlemen shooting billiards. The roulette equipment had been dumped into the Gulf. One of my favorite stories involved Mort Jones, a Ranger from East Texas, who ran into Miss Jessie Elliott at a club which he was raiding. "Why Dirty Neck Jessie, I haven't seen you since the oil boom in East Texas," he said. Miss Jessie, who was the madam of the most popular house of prostitution in Galveston, had become a dignified lady. Call it a clash of cultures. Will Wilson was an introvert. In a room filled with more than 100 people he would often be standing alone in a corner. But he did have burning ambition. I was sent to Galveston to cover his crusade. Anthony Fertitta, whom I knew well, said to me: "I do not understand this. People love coming here to Galveston, including more than half the members of the Legislature." It was true that gambling was illegal in Texas in those days, but this fact had been ignored for years. Nevertheless, Wilson was determined to close Galveston. Finally a House investigating subcommittee, headed by a legislator who also wanted to obtain higher office, scheduled a public hearing on Galveston in Austin. They subpoenaed the sheriff, the mayor. the chief of police and most of the members of the mafia, including the operators of the Turf Club and the Balinese Room. I was sent to cover it.