Dallas’ Texas Centennial Exposition vs. Fort Worth’s Frontier Exposition — 1936

by Paula Bosse

tx-centennial-postcard_old-man-texas_smWelcome to Dallas (and/or Fort Worth)! (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

The Texas Centennial Exposition opened in Dallas at Fair Park in June, 1936 — 80 years ago this week. It was described in newsreels as “A New City, A Great City, A City of a Thousand Sights and a Thousand Wonders.” Which I guess it kind of was. I’ve written about the Centennial before, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned that my favorite part of the Centennial’s taking place in Dallas is that it seriously rubbed “Mr. Fort Worth,” Amon Carter, the wrong way. Carter’s distaste of Dallas was well-known, so it was no surprise, really, that this caused him to blow his top and, damn it, he created his OWN competing celebration: the Fort Worth Frontier Centennial Exposition. The Dallas-Fort Worth rivalry had already been going strong for years, but the Centennial pushed it into Hatfield-and-McCoy feud territory (although one gets the feeling that most of it was an act that generated a lot of great publicity for both sides).

Watch film footage of ol’ Amon’s blood pressure spike into the danger zone here, in a moment from a March of Time newsreel as he proclaims that Fort Worth will teach “those dudes over there” (in Dallas) a thing or two by outdoing Big D in sheer gigantic spectacle. …And sex. Or, “whoopee.” Nudity was on display absolutely everywhere at both Centennial expositions. Dallas had always planned on having the titillation before Amon Carter got into the act, but the involvement of Billy Rose on the Fort Worth side probably encouraged Dallas to, um … augment the fleshy offerings on display in Fair Park.

Broadway impresario Billy Rose was hired by Amon Carter to sex-up the Fort Worth expo and to do everything he could to draw more visitors to Fort Worth than to Dallas. Rose went so far as to have a HUGE electric sign (supposedly the second largest electric sign in the world) placed on top of a building on Parry directly opposite the entrance to Fair Park which read:

“Fort Worth Frontier — Wild & Whoo-pee — 45 Minutes West.”

Which is pretty hilarious. (Same view today?)

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(See a giant image of this photo in the UTA digital collection, here.)

I’m not sure whether the Dallas Centennial organizers were miffed or amused, but one can only imagine that Amon Carter was thrilled to bits when he saw his sign appear (fleetingly) in the Gene Autry movie The Big Show which had been shot in Fair Park during the Centennial.

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Fort Worth was all about the “whoo-pee,” and the tag-line to their show was “Come to Fort Worth for Entertainment, Go Elsewhere for Education.”

frontier_FWST_071436-detFort Worth Star-Telegram, July 14, 1936

The “feud” (i.e. the publicity machine) really cranked up when the producers of the March of Time newsreel sent their people to film in Dallas and Fort Worth. The result — a splashy look at the inter-city rivalry titled “Battle of a Centennial” — was shown in DFW-area theaters, and boisterous audiences either applauded for Dallas and hissed at Fort Worth (or vice-versa), depending on their allegiance.  (Click ad below for larger image.)

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Dallas Morning News, June 17, 1936

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John Rosenfield, DMN, June 21, 1936

In the end, the celebrations in both Dallas and Fort Worth were successful (although Dallas was the clear winner!), but the rivalry and competitive showmanship from the two cities probably made the shows much more entertaining than they might otherwise have been. So, thanks, Amon!

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via Pinterest

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DMN, July 30, 1936

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FWST, July 12, 1936

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Variety article reprinted in Decatur (Illinois) Herald, June 3, 1936

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via oldimprints.com

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Source of postcard at top unknown.

Photo of the “whoo-pee” billboard is from the book Billy Rose Presents … Casa Mañana (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 1999) by Jan Jones. Jones writes that the billboard was on top of the building at Parry and First.

The shot of the billboard hovering over cowboys is a screengrab from the interesting-but-dull Gene Autry movie, The Big Show, shot mostly on the grounds of Fair Park during the Centennial. You can watch the full movie here.

The clip of Amon Carter shaking his fist at “those dudes” in Dallas is from the 1936 March of Times newsreel, “Battle of a Centennial.” I have been unable to find the entire film streaming online, but you can watch a whole bunch of clips (about 13) from Getty Images, here. The full thing appears to be available for purchase here, but only if you are affiliated with a school or institution. (If anyone has access to the full newsreel, let me know!)

Watch a different newsreel/film on the Centennial Exposition — the 11-minute Texas Centennial Highlights, shot and produced by Dallas’ Jamieson Film Co. — at the Texas Archive of the Moving Image site, here.

For more on Fort Worth’s horning-in-on Dallas’ Centennial, read the entertaining article “Makin’ Whoopee — Amon Carter Couldn’t Make Either the Depression or Dallas Go Away, But He Sure Tried” by Jerry Flemmons (D Magazine, April, 1978), here.

Unfortunately, I’m unable to embed the video I linked to above of Amon Carter sputtering about Dallas hosting the state’s Centennial, but I encourage everyone who’s ever been amused by the Dallas-Fort Worth “feud” to watch it here — it’s well worth 17 seconds of your time! As John Rosenfield wrote in the above Dallas Morning News review of this March of Time newsreel, “The best actor from across the river is Amon Carter, long a leading man among Texas political Thespians.” Newspaperman Carter knew how to parlay outrageous remarks about exaggerated competition into sweet, sweet publicity for himself and his newspaper. Check out the photo of a smiling Carter with his arm around “bitter rival,” G. B. Dealey of The Dallas Morning News, here. Amon knew a thing or two about a thing or two….

Pictures and clippings larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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