We all know about Janis Joplin singing at Threadgill’s, Austinite William Sydney Porter gaining literary notoriety as O. Henry and baseball great Don Baylor growing up in the Clarksville neighborhood. And you knew Gucci’s main man Tom Ford grew up in San Marcos, right?
But did you know that Chicago deep-dish pizza was invented in 1943 by a former University of Texas football player? Were you aware that Jimmy Buffett started writing “Margaritaville” here the night he tasted his first margarita? Did you know jazz immortal Teddy Wilson and sitcom mortal Dabney Coleman were born here? Or that Montgomery Clift’s mother and twin sister were longtime residents of Austin? And don’t forget Wynonna — Judd, that is — who was plain ole Christina Ciminella until her Mama started dating former Asleep at the Wheel piano player Johnny Nicholas.These are the little known brushes with greatness, the trivial tidbits that demonstrate Austin’s connections are deeper than you may think.
A Texas-sized pizza
Some people hate Mexican food. Can’t stand the stuff. But when Ike Sewell’s restaurant partner gagged on his first Tex-Mex meal, the rejection paid off in a big way. When the tall
Texan turned to Plan B, he ended up creating Chicago deep-dish pizza.After graduating from UT in 1928, the all-conference lineman from Wills Point, near Dallas, went to work for American Airlines, then got into the liquor business after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Relocating in Chicago to head the midwest division of Fleischman’s Distillers, Sewell pined for the food of his college years at such restaurants as El Pablano Cafe on Congress and New Way Cafe on W. 5th and had plans to open the Windy City’s first Mexican restaurant. He brought the concept to Ric Riccardo, whose namesake drinking hole on Rush Street was one of Sewell’s best customers.Riccardo agreed to invest, but first he wanted to sample the kind of cuisine that Sewell had in mind. The chef cooked up a plate of beef enchiladas, refried beans and rice. Riccardo took one bite and claimed it was the worst food he had ever tasted. He wouldn’t feed it to a dog, he said. Even though the walls were freshly decorated with bullfighters and the grand opening was mere weeks away, Riccardo said he’d pull out of the venture if Sewell insisted on serving Mexican food on Wabash Ave.
At the time, pizza was becoming popular with returning GIs, who’d tasted it in Italy, so Riccardo suggested he and Sewell open up a pizzeria instead. But Sewell had deep thoughts about designing a heartier style of pizza — one that would load the dough with meat, tomatoes and cheese. Pizzeria Uno’s casserole with a crust was an instant sensation and Sewell and Riccardo opened Pizzeria Due a block away in 1955.
Sewell did eventually realize his dream of owning a Mexican restaurant in Chicago. In 1963 he opened Su Casa, without a partner, next door to Pizzeria Due, where it continues to thrive.
`Margaritaville’ starts on Anderson Lane
Househunting Parrotheads, did we have a deal for you back in 2000. For a mere $290,000 you could’ve bought the Northwest Hills duplex where Jimmy Buffett wrote “Margaritaville.” How many other six bedroom pads have a shrine-worthy deck?
Jimmy Buffett started writing what would become his signature tune after drinking his first margarita (followed in quick succession by a few more) at Lung’s Cocina del Sur restaurant in the Village Center strip mall on Anderson Lane. The year was 1976 and that whole boozy bucaneers in tropical shirts phenomenon hadn’t taken off yet, so Jimmy and his Coral Reefer Band would stay at 6109 Shadow Valley Dr., the home of interior designer Victoria Reed and two other women, when they had shows in town. Staying with friends saved on hotel expenses, plus they had good company, not to mention a housekeeper who washed the band’s clothes.
After Cocina del Sur , Reed recalls Buffett sitting on the deck of her house that night strumming a guitar and singing some now-familiar words about flip-flops, pop-tops and a lost shaker of salt. “Jimmy sometimes jokes that, ‘I guess I owe you some royalties,’ ” says Reed, who met Buffett in 1975 when she emceed a party the band performed at in San Antonio. Buffett has turned his fictional town/state of mind anthem into a multi-million dollar a year business, which also sports a clothing line and nightclubs. But you have to wonder what path his career might’ve taken if he’d ordered a beer that fateful night in ’76. “Wasted away again in Coronaville” just doesn’t have the same right ring.
Clift notes: Montgomery slept here
“That’s Montgomery Clift, honey” is a line from the Clash song “The Right Profile,” but it’s also something that could’ve been heard around Austin in the ’50s and early ’60s when Hollywood’s original beautiful brooder made frequent visits here to see his twin sister Ethel McGinnis. She moved to Austin in 1949 and still lived here in 2000. Her famous twin died of a heart attack in 1966.
Montgomery Clift’s mom, also named Ethel, but she went by “Sunny,” lived at the Penthouse Condominiums on Guadalupe St. after her son’s death.
Christina to Christina:You need a new name
Naomi Judd says hearing Asleep at the Wheel’s version of “Route 66” at the Broken Spoke in the late ’70s inspired her daughter Christina Ciminella to take the stage name Wynonna Judd. But the Wheel’s then-drummer Fran Christina remembers it differently. For starters, he claims, the monicker had roots in Sparks, Nev., not Austin, and although the band regularly performed “Route 66” — and its relevant lyric, “Don’t forget Winona” — it was Fran and keyboardist Johnny Nicholas, who was dating Naomi, who suggested the name Wynonna in 1978. They were big fans of R&B singer Wynonie Harris, see, and when Naomi announced that she had dreams of starting a country duo with her teenaged daughter, the Wheelers said she needed a new name and suggested the female version of Wynonie. “That night is crystal clear in my mind,” Fran says of the evening spent at a hotel bar in Sparks, but he concedes it’s possible that hearing that name again in “Route 66” could’ve reinforced the idea of using “Wynonna.
”The future Judds stayed with Johnny and Fran at South Sixth Street whenever the Wheel was off the road, but after Nicholas and Judd broke up, they all lost track of each other. Then one day, about six years later, Fran was in a grocery store checkout line when he saw the mother and daughter on the cover of Time magazine.
“That girl used to sleep on my couch,” he said in amazement when faced with Christina’s transformation into a country superstar.When he saw that she was now calling herself Wynonna, he remembered that night in a bar in Nevada and smiled to himself. The others in line no doubt thought he was mad.
Wilson got his first Teddy here
The Jackie Robinson of jazz, Austin born pianist Teddy Wilson broke a color barrier in 1936 when he joined up with Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa to create the first interracial jazz trio of note. Goodman had been impressed with the sophistication Wilson brought to sessions with Billie Holiday and Johnny Hodges and used him in his small combos until ’39, when Wilson left to form his own band.
Theodore Shaw Wilson was born on Nov. 12, 1912, the second son of teachers James and Pearl Wilson, who lived at 806 E. 11th. James. Wilson left his job as dean of boys at Samuel Huston College (where Jackie Robinson, ironically, taught P.E. in 1945) when Teddy was 6 to take a teaching post at the prestigious Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.Teddy flourished in the school’s music program and moved to Detroit after a year of college to pursue a career as a jazz pianist, much to the dismay of his education-striving parents.The teaching genes eventually prevailed, however, and Teddy taught piano at Julliard from ’45- ’52.Wilson returned to his birthplace in 1966 to play the maiden Longhorn Jazz Festival. He returned in ’73 to headline the College Jazz Festival in Gregory Gym, which was dedicated to Austin-raised bop trumpeter Kenny Dorham. (The Austin High grad, who replaced Miles Davis in the Charlie Parker Quintet in 1948, passed away due to kidney failure on Dec. 5, 1972.)Wilson died in Connecticut after a long illness in 1986.
From dabbler to diehard at Zach’s behest
Like his mentor Zachary Scott, whose biggest role was as a cad in “Mildred Pierce,” former UT student Dabney Coleman (born in Austin in 1932) has been typecast as a properly-dressed scoundrel in such movies as “Nine to Five” and “Tootsie” and the brilliant, short-lived 1983 TV series “Buffalo Bill.” Coleman credits Scott with inspiring his
decision to pursue acting opportunities after a night of drinks at the apartment at 108 W. 15th St. Dabney shared with his first wife. At the time, Coleman had designs on becoming a lawyer, but his wife’s friend Scott convinced him to move to New York City.Director Sydney Pollack gave Coleman his first big break in ’63 when he cast him in “The Slender Thread” with Sidney Poitier.
In ’66- ’67, Dabney had a recurring role as Dr. Leon Bessemer in “That Girl,” the sitcom starring Marlo Thomas. The biggest spike in his career, however, was when he played Merle in “Mary Hartman! Mary Hartman!”
Corpus Christi can also claim Coleman — his family moved there when he was young and he lived there through high school. But let them write their own article.
More astonishing Austin connections
* AC/DC‘s first American concert was at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Oct. ’76. They opened for a Canadian band called Moxy.
* Robert Redford learned to swim at Barton Springs Pool during a summer visit with his grandparents.
* A preteen Priscilla Beaulieu bought her first Elvis Presley record at the BX at Bergstrom AFB, where her father was stationed. She would become Priscilla Presley nine years later.
* Nat King Cole’s longtime guitarist Oscar Moore is from Austin, as is his brother Johnny Moore of Three Blazers fame.
* Lee Harvey Oswald’s daughter Rachel was a waitress at the Texas Chili Parlor for several years in the ’80s. One of the booths she worked had a framed picture of President Kennedy.
* Hank Williams played his very last paying gig at the Skyline Club (at 11306 N. Lamar, where an Eckerd’s now stands) on Dec. 17, 1952, two weeks before he died of heart failure at age 29. How’s this for an eery coincidence? Johnny Horton, who married Hank’s widow Billie Jean, also performed his last concert at the Skyline before dying in a 1960 car accident.
Gospel pioneer Arizona Dranes (1889- 1963) learned to play piano at the Institute for Blind Colored Youth in Austin.