Big Tex’s Hands

by Paula Bosse

big-tex_dmn_091248_det1948 State Fair ad: “Hey, Texans!” (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

I stumbled across a State Fair of Texas ad a couple of days ago — a detail of which is above — and it made me wonder if it contained the precursor to our beloved Big Tex (whose annual hoisting-up occurred today). The ad is from 1948, four years before Big Tex’s debut at the 1952 State Fair. When I saw it I was immediately reminded of Big Tex and exclaimed to myself, “THAT’S what he should have been doing with his hands!”

I’ve always wondered exactly what Big Tex is supposed to be doing with his hands. It’s a sort of vague “welcoming” gesture, I guess, but I can remember when I had to draw Big Tex in school that I was confused by that right hand. Was he waving? Was it an Indian “How!” greeting sign? It didn’t really look like either of those, and it really irked me (I was an easily-irked child). And, actually, it has continued to bother me all these years! (I am an easily-irked adult.)

From early sketches, it seems that the right hand was intended to have the thumb hooked through a vest. Jack Bridges, Big Tex’s creator, wanted Tex to symbolize the larger-than-life Texan who wasn’t above indulging in good-humored bragging and tall-tale-telling, and that personality comes through in the sketch and the Big Tex illustration used in the 1952 ads, below.

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via The Legend of Big Tex

By the time Tex debuted, however, the vest seemed to have been discarded (as best I can tell from old photos), but the position of the right hand remained in that weird position (probably just to torment me as a child having to draw him in school).

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A hovering, winking head, via KERA

Speaking of that very first version of Big Tex, in 1952 he had one eye shut, in the middle of a wink. He also had a long nose and wore a huge hat referred to in newspaper articles as a “sombrero.” In a 1983 interview, Jack Bridges said that in later years SFOT officials “made us open his eyes to make a ‘pretty boy’ outta him.” The wink was gone, the brim of the hat was made smaller, and his ears were moved forward. Even though Tex began to “talk” the next year, Bridges said, “I liked him better myself like he was — rugged and more or less caricature.”

The drawing of the man in the ad at the top probably has nothing to do with Big Tex, but dang if it ain’t pretty close! And the position of both hands makes sense! 

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A few articles from Tex’s first year (click for larger images):

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Dallas Morning News, Sept. 21, 1952

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DMN, Oct. 4, 1952

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DMN, Oct. 5, 1952

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Here’s the full 1948 ad from the top:

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DMN, Sept. 12, 1948

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You can listen to a short (13-minute) interview done with Jack Bridges in 1983 as part of a Dallas Public Library oral history project, here. One of my favorite tidbits is Bridges remembering that vandals once painted a “big brown moustache” on the resting, disembodied head of Tex one year. He said that the head and the hat were kept in the Centennial Building when the fair wasn’t in progress, and the rest of Tex was kept in storage in various places around Fair Park. He said it was like making sure the president and vice-president never traveled together — if something happened to part of Big Tex, at least the whole of Big Tex wasn’t affected. (91-year-old Jack Bridges died in 2001; thankfully he didn’t have to witness the fiery … “incident” … of 2012.) 

Click pictures and clippings for larger images.

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

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