Glenn Herbert McCarthy (December 25, 1907 - December 26, 1988) was a wildcatter and a charismatic oil tycoon. The media often referred to him as "Diamond Glenn" and "The King of the Wildcatters". McCarthy was an oil prospector and entrepreneur who owned many businesses in various sectors of the economy. McCarthy founded the Shamrock Hotel in Houston, which gained him national fame and inspired the fictional character Jett Rink in Edna Ferber's 1952 novel Giant along with its 1956 film adaptation, which starred James Dean in the role.
McCarthy was born in Beaumont, Texas almost seven years after the discovery of oil at Spindletop. His father, Will McCarthy, worked in the oil fields and from the age of eight Glenn served the roughnecks as a waterboy for 50 cents a day. During an oil drilling boom near Houston, the family relocated to the city where his father gained employment. When he was 17 Glenn enlisted in the U.S. Navy and subsequently returned to San Jacinto High School. He attended Tulane University on a football scholarship but injured his leg. He later attended Texas A&M and Rice University before dropping out of college and venturing into business. When he was 23, McCarthy married 16-year-old Faustine Lee, whose father William Lee was a partner in Yount-Lee Oil Company. McCarthy later claimed he had less than $1.50 to his name when he got married.
He talked his father and brother into working with him drilling for oil in Hardin County, Texas. The first attempt failed but two years later he made another attempt farther south near Anahuac and succeeded. Between 1931 and 1942 he struck oil 38 times. In 1941 McCarthy bought land where the future Astrodome would be built along with 4,800 acres (19 km2) of what is now Sharpstown. During the 1940s he established 11 new oilfields and expanded several others.
Fame and notoriety
"Diamond Glenn" drew much attention from the national media due to his charismatic personality and his rags-to-riches story. Both loved and scorned by the media, his image formed the cultural mythos of the Texas oil millionaire: a charming, lucky, unabashed businessman. In 1949 McCarthy built the luxurious Shamrock Hotel in Houston, spending $21,000,000 for its construction. He then held what has been cited as "Houston’s biggest party" for the hotel's grand opening. Dozens of Hollywood celebrities, many of whom were flown into Houston Municipal Airport on a Boeing 307 Stratoliner airplane which he had recently acquired from Howard Hughes.
Like most wildcatters, Glenn was an aggressive investor. His multiple ventures led to a series of financial up and downs. In 1952 a life insurance company acquired title to the Shamrock Hotel, which was then sold to the Hilton Hotels Corporation. Glenn restructured his business dealings and persisted. His business holdings included KXYZ radio station in Houston, two banks, a bar, a brand of bourbon called "Wildcatter", the McCarthy Chemical Company, a magazine, 14 "throwaway" newspapers and a movie production company known as Glenn McCarthy Productions. He served as chairman of the former Eastern Air Lines and president of the United States Petroleum Association.
McCarthy avoided publicity during his later career and lived with his wife in the La Porte area near Galveston. He had four daughters and one son, Glenn Jr. He died on December 26, 1988. He remains a legend and a symbol of the quintessential Texas oil millionaire.
- "Distinguished HISD Alumni," Houston Independent School District
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- Staff Writer. "Houston’s Aviation History Timeline." The Houston Aeronautical Heritage Society. Retrieved on 2006-11-26.
- Diana J. Kleiner. "Hilton Hotels Corporation." Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved on 2006-11-30.
- Glenn "King of the Wildcatters" McCarthy from the Find-a-Grave website
- George Bush Presidential Library and Museum 100 Tall Texans – Glenn McCarthy
- Glenn H. McCarthy - Great Citizens - 174 Years of Historic Houston
- Glenn McCarthy interviewed by Mike Wallace July 21, 1957 on The Mike Wallace Interview
- McCarthy, Glenn and David Courwright. Glenn McCarthy Oral History, Houston Oral History Project, March 31, 1976.