The Man Who Created the Nickname “Big D”

by Paula Bosse

pop-myres_wolf-brand-chiliLee “Pop” Myres — ALSO the spokesman for Wolf Brand Chili!

by Paula Bosse

When writing about WFAA’s Saturday Night/Nite Shindig program, I kept coming across the name of Pop Myres — not only was he Shindig’s emcee during its first incarnation as a half-hour show of homespun humor and music (1944-1951), he was also a member of the cast who appeared as the genial proprietor of a fictional General Store — a character whose name just happened to be “Pop Myres.” Yes, the folksy, deep-voiced Myres was a popular performer who portrayed a character much loved in the homes of radio lovers across Texas, but that’s not the reason that he may well be one of the most important people you’ve never heard of in the cultural history of Dallas.

Carlos Lee Myres (1902-1972) grew up near Cleburne, in the teeny-tiny communities of George’s Creek and the amusingly-named Fort Spunky. During his broadcasting career in Dallas — which began in 1928 at KRLD and ended in 1956 at WFAA — he hosted numerous shows and worked as an announcer, a presenter, an actor, and a singer. When he left WFAA, he went into advertising for a few years, and after retiring to the family’s Johnson County property, he dabbled in politics and continued to do the occasional local radio gig.

Apart from his radio career, why should Lee Myres be known as one of Dallas’ top pop culture icons? Two reasons. First, Myres was the face and, more immediately recognizable — even today — was the VOICE of Wolf Brand Chili in the 1960s and early 1970s. If you can’t finish the sentence that begins, “Neighbor, how long has it been…” — well, you don’t deserve to call yourself a Texan!

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BUT, what propels Myres into the stratosphere of Important People in Dallas History, is the fact that he is the man who coined the name “Big D.” I’ve been able to find very little on how “Big D” came into existence, but in Lee Myre’s 1972 obituary, this little tidbit appeared:

“Lee ‘Pop’ Myres, 69, who was credited with coining the nickname ‘Big D’ for Dallas, died Wednesday in Fort Worth. […] Myres was said to have coined the ‘Big D’ nickname on a breakfast radio program during the Texas Centennial in 1936.”

“Big D” is a bit of a difficult term to use in searching databases, but after an afternoon of searching here and there, the first mention I found was in the Lubbock newspaper in September of 1936 — the Centennial year — in an article about a trip to the Cotton Bowl to watch a football game.

big-d_lubbock-avalanche-journal_090636Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Sept 6, 1936

In fact, almost all of the early mentions of “Big D” were used by sportswriters in Texas towns other than Dallas. The first use I found in The Dallas Morning News was in a society column in March, 1938 (I’m sure this wasn’t the first use in the DMN, but it’s the first one I was able to find).

big-d_society- column_dmn_032038DMN, March 20, 1938

By 1938, “Big D” was being used everywhere. And I’m sure Pop was both bewildered and amused.

Now, of course, “Big D” is as synonymous with Dallas as “The Big Apple” is with New York City. Frank Loesser even wrote a song about it — “Big D” from 1956’s smash Broadway hit The Most Happy Fella. For some reason, the city never really seemed all that enthusiastic about it.

big-d-song_dmn_082484_a-c-greene
A. C. Greene, DMN, Aug. 24, 1984

And now it’s going to be stuck in your heads the rest of the day! Thanks, Pop! (Song kicks in below at about the 1:10 mark.)

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pop-myres_hillbilly-music-dot-com“Pop” on “Saturday Night Shindig,” 1940s

pop-myres_dmn_070856-photoDMN, July 8, 1956

pop-myres_hood-county-news-tablet_123159Hood County News-Tablet, Dec. 31, 1959

myres_wolf-brand-chiliThe man, the voice, the chili…

pop-myres_dmn_062251DMN, June 22, 1951

pop-myres_dmn_012072-obitDMN, Jan. 22, 1972

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Top photo of Myres with Wolf Brand Beef Stew from the Cowboy Campfire Tales website, here.

Photo of Myres in front of the Shindig microphone found at HillbillyMusic.com.

To read a short history of the Myres land in Johnson County, which had been settled in 1871, see the page from the Johnson County Genealogical Society’s publication Finders Keepers, here. Lee Myre’s uncle was S. D. Myres, the celebrated maker of saddles, holsters, and other Western leather gear; read about him here.

I’d normally link to the Wolf Brand Chili site, but as it’s no longer a Texas company and it no longer tastes the way it should (for shame!), I will instead recommend a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading several years ago when it was still in print, Neighbor, How Long Has It Been? A History of Wolf Brand Chili, A Texas Legend by Wallace O. Chariton (Plano: Five Points Press, 1995). It’s now long out-of-print, and I see only one affordable copy available online — but keep your eyes peeled for one at second-hand bookstores (…and while you’re at it, keep your eyes peeled for second-hand bookstores…), or try your local library.

For a completely delightful version of “Big D,” watch the 1962 television performance of the song by San Antonio native Carol Burnett and Julie Andrews, here. For more on the musical The Most Happy Fella, see here.

And because I’ve been hanging onto this for a while now and have nowhere else to put it:

ad-most-happy-fella_state-fair-musical_19581958

As always, click pictures and articles for larger images.

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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