Five days later Pearson added a new entry: “Al Friendly, of the Washington Post, was not so friendly this morning when I called him up regarding the column on Colonel Moore and the Irish stallion he received from Clint Murchison, Texas oil man.
“The Post killed the column, despite the fact that I had sent Larry Berlin all the way to the Moore farm in Virginia, had spent a couple of days of careful checking, and talked to the Murchison people. Friendly claimed it was lack of space, but I’m sure there was a lot more to it than that. Some of the Texas oil men must have put in an emphatic word with the Post.”
Murchison and Richardson were also chummy with Joe McCarthy, the anti-communist Republican Senator from Wisconsin, who arrived for his first visit at Del Charro in August 1953. McCarthy, like the Texans, was a drinker and gambler and spent hours at Del Mar. “I tell you, I think he’s done the greatest possible service to his country,” Murchison told the New York Post in July 1953. “He fears nobody and he’s certainly got those communists feared to death of him.”
“When Joe McCarthy hauled a bookie before his Senate investigating committee and claimed that bets were being taken in the Government Printing Office, Joe must have been very hard up for headlines,” wrote columnist Pearson, a longtime McCarthy foe, in September 1953.
“Just a couple of days before Joe posed as the righteous cleaner-up of gambling, in the government printing office, he himself was playing the ponies at the Del Mar race track near San Diego along with J. Edgar Hoover, Clint Murchison the Texas oil king, and Sid Richardson, also of the Texas oil aristocracy.”
In August 1954, the GOP senator returned for another stay at the hotel. “McCarthy said on his arrival that he was making his second ‘working vacation’ visit,” the Associated Press reported. “He will address a Republican fundraising dinner at San Diego this weekend. He and Mrs. McCarthy are accompanied by Mrs. Robert A. Vogeler, wife of the American held prisoner by Hungary’s Communist government two years ago.”
The senator cut a colorful swath. “McCarthy was virtually on Murchison’s payroll,” Allan Witwer told Athan G. Theoharis and John Stuart Cox, coauthors of The Boss, in 1988. “He’d get drunk and jump in the pool, sometimes naked. He urinated outside his cabana, flew everywhere in Murchison’s plane.”
Though he was a good-time party boy and voted consistently for bills deregulating natural gas and other legislation favored by Sid and Clint, McCarthy ultimately made an implacable foe of Eisenhower, the ex-general, when he broadened his anti-communist crusade to the Army.
As a result, in Murchison’s view, McCarthy was attracting too much negative press and not spending enough time on the oil industry’s agenda. In the middle of McCarthy’s 1954 Del Charro stay, Clint by one account bided his time, then picked the moment to cut him loose.
“After many drinks too many, McCarthy began insulting his wife, Jean, and then stood up and madly flung her, fully dressed, into the swimming pool,” writes Jane Wolfe in The Murchisons in 1989. “Clint shot up from his chair and made his way to his cottage. Early the next morning he sent an associate to McCarthy’s room. The messenger had only a few short words for McCarthy: ‘Pack your bags and get out.’”
Another guest who became persona non grata was movie queen Joan Crawford. “Everyone around the country knew that Sid was a billionaire and there had been a lot of press about him right at that time when we introduced Joan to him,” Murchison’s widow Virginia told biographer Wolfe.
“She followed him around so much that he finally came and sat on the couch between me and Effie Cain, so that Joan couldn’t get near him. He was very shy around women, and he didn’t like it at all when they flirted with him.”
Richardson — known as “Uncle Sid” to the wives and girlfriends of his cronies, according to Wolfe — never married, purportedly because he feared golddiggers, though questions about his sexuality were also inevitably raised. Of women in general, he once said, “They’re all wantin’ a landin’ field, but mine’s fogged in.”
When Richard Nixon, then vice president, and his wife Pat came to La Jolla for their customary Del Charro stay, he stopped off at the Naval Training Center to review the troops and visit his recently enlisted brother Edward. As for his evening with Hoover, he said it was “a personal, social visit, no official business,” according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
Years later, Neil Morgan, who had been a young columnist for the Copley-owned Evening Tribune during the Murchison era, checked in with a distant recollection. “Waiters told me that Clint and Richardson had their breakfast beside the pool of their hotel each morning at three o’clock, between long conversations on phones with long cords,” he recalled in a 1986 Tribune piece.
“I promised to stay quiet if they’d let me have breakfast with them one morning and eavesdrop. So I woke up at two and was there in a deck chair waiting when the waiter started setting their breakfast table.
“Richardson nodded as he took his seat. Clint didn’t appear to notice me at all. They kept open lines to secretaries in Dallas who patched in calls to New York and Europe.
“I didn’t understand a lot, which is why they didn’t mind my being there. They were buying and selling bulk oil and oil futures and a few oil fields too. They were dabbling in silver futures and even pork bellies. In London, Clint was buying an office building; in Frankfurt, negotiating for a hotel.
“Mostly I just heard grunts: yeses and noes and damns. Both men did a lot of listening.”
Did the two oilmen really allow Morgan to sit in on their morning routine, listening to their oil and real estate trades? Did they trade pork bellies? Perhaps, though, they were notoriously secretive when it came to their business.
Continue to Part II