Gary Cartwright, teller of Texas stories, dies at 82
By Alyson Ward
February 22, 2017
Texas writer Gary Cartwright died in Austin Wednesday at 82. The longtime Texas Monthly writer had a deep talent for storytelling, and he made his name telling the stories of Texans.
Cartwright studied journalism and government at Texas Christian University and wrote for Texas newspapers including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Dallas Morning News, as well as national magazines such as Esquire and Rolling Stone. But his writing for Texas Monthly made him a boldface name in his home state: One of the first writers hired when the magazine started in 1973, he retired as a senior editor in 2010.
In the '60s and '70s, Cartwright ran with the "Mad Dogs," an outlaw crew of hard-partying writers, journalists and others in and around Austin. His friends included Bud Shrake, Dennis Hopper, Jerry Jeff Walker, Larry L. King and Ann Richards, who would later be elected governor.
"Those years were a lot of fun," said Jan Reid, an author and longtime Texas Monthly writer who became a "junior member" of the crowd in the mid-'70s. "There were some casualties. But it was a great time to be young and getting started in the profession and having such a remarkable set of talented friends."
Cartwright made "one serious attempt" at writing fiction, Reid said, a novel about pro football called "The Hundred-Yard War." "But nonfiction was his gift, and he knew that."
He spent some time as a sportswriter, but he started his newspaper career on the police beat, Reid said. "He loved the chase, and that was a big part of what he went on to do."
Eventually, Cartwright specialized in-depth crime stories. Two of his most successful books were based on crime reporting he did for Texas Monthly: "Dirty Dealing," about drug smugglers on the Mexican border; and "Blood Will Tell," about the trial of Cullen Davis, the Fort Worth oilman who was acquitted of shooting his estranged wife and murdering her lover and her daughter. "Dirty Dealing" also became a TV movie.
Evan Smith, CEO of the Texas Tribune, first met Cartwright more than 25 years ago, when Smith was hired as editor of Texas Monthly.
Cartwright was an icon at the magazine by then, but "he never lorded his status over anybody there," Smith said. "He was not a prima donna. He was the exact opposite of that."
Instead, Smith said, Cartwright was the magazine's institutional memory, an invaluable link to a Texas that is fast disappearing.
"You'd go to Gary and say, 'Talk about the [Dallas] Cowboys in the [Tom] Landry days,' or 'Talk about Jack Ruby,' or 'Talk about the police in Dallas back in the day of [prosecutor] Henry Wade," Smith said. "Gary was a link to another time in Texas that was the backdrop for everything that was happening."
In his 2015 memoir, "The Best I Recall," Cartwright wrote frankly about his "careless" and occasionally violent decades of drinking, smoking and partying. That era of his life ended abruptly in 1988, when he had a heart attack and quintuple bypass surgery. The clean living he embraced became fodder for his book "HeartWiseGuy."
Cartwright married four times. His son, Mark Cartwright, died in 1997 of acute leukemia.
"He lived a hard life, and he lived in all the corners of it," Smith said.
As a writer, Cartwright "had great range and durability," Reid said. "I don't have any idea how many magazine articles he wrote, but it seemed like it was always rolling — a rolling, continuing panorama of where we're living."
Born: 8/10/1934, Dallas, Texas, U.S.A.
Died: 2/22/2017, Austin, Texas, U.S.A.
Gary Cartwright’s westerns – writer:
JW Coop – 1971
Pair of Aces - 1990