When the staff of Texas Monthly began assigning stories for its February 1973 debut issue, one of the most urgent tasks was to get in touch with Gary Cartwright, who lived in Austin after years of writing attention-grabbing sports stories for Dallas and Fort Worth newspapers. One Cartwright column about Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith began, “Outlined against a gray November sky, the Four Horsemen rode again Sunday in the Cotton Bowl. You remember their names: Death, Famine, Pestilence, and Meredith.”
To discuss a possible assignment, founding editor Bill Broyles and managing editor Greg Curtis met Cartwright for drinks at Austin’s Scholz Garten. Broyles had scraped the budget and made Cartwright the best offer he could: $500 for a feature on the enigmatic Cowboys running back Duane Thomas. He hoped Cartwright wouldn’t feel insulted.
Cartwright, to Broyles’s relief, agreed to the fee and penned a six-thousand-word deep-dive profile. He was hired soon after as a staff writer, and until a few years before his death, in 2017, he wrote one electrifying story after another, about topics as varied as private investigator Jay J. Armes, the historic Waggoner Ranch, gambling icon Benny Binion, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the Marlboro Man, and oil tycoon Cullen Davis, as well as personal essays on his sex life and the death of his son.
“Nobody had ever heard of any of us,” said Curtis of the magazine’s staff. “When Gary came on board, that gave us a real shot of credibility—‘If Gary was going to associate himself with these guys, maybe we should take another look at them.’ ”
In the 1975 story about Jack Ruby, Cartwright wrote about a figure who was familiar to most Americans for killing Lee Harvey Oswald. But even a dozen years after Oswald’s death, Cartwright was able to give readers context they’d never read anywhere else. He had known Ruby as an operator in Dallas’s seedy underbelly of strip clubs and poker rooms. “Gary knew that whole world,” Curtis said. “It would have been unusual if he did not know Jack Ruby, because of who he was and because of who Jack Ruby was. Ruby actively made friends with journalists and anybody that he thought could help him.”
Curtis added, “I think by the time this story came out, we had begun to hit our stride. This is the kind of story that we held ourselves to. I mean, this is the kind of story that we wanted, and boy, Gary really delivered.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “The Story Behind the Story.” Subscribe today.