Morris Frank: A Friend’s Tribute

Morris Frank

To most or none of you younger Houstonians, the name of Morris Frank won’t mean a thing. To those us who are old enough to remember the end of World War II, the name Morris Frank shall remain unforgettable. For all the years I haunted the turnstiles of old Buff Stadium in the late 40s and early 50s, Houston Post sportswriter was the public address system’s Voice of the Houston Buffaloes and Buff Stadium. Hailing from his boyhood home of Lufkin, Texas, and speaking with an East Texas accent  that once dominated the few other variations on English that once thrived in this part of the country, Frank’s announcements for the lineups and next batter at each Buffs game were unmistakable.  I can still hear them reverberating down the corridors of my personal memory.

“Now hitting for your Houston Buffaloes …. number 11 …. the first basemen ….. Witte ….. Jerry Witte …. now hitting for the Buffs!”

Nothing like it. And we fans loved him. No one else would have sounded right to our ears. WIth upbeat notes of Miss Lou Mahan’s ballpark organ following the flight and bounce of the ball during pre-game practices, nothing changed until right before game time. Then came the twangy voice of Morris Frank and we all knew that the game was now on.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Buffalo Stadium, the home of your very own Houston Buffaloes!”

I was going to write an article about Morris Frank until I discovered the following post-mortem tribute to him that had been written back in 2005 by one of his old East Texas friends, a fellow named Bob Bowman. Once I read it, I needed no convincing that the better informed Bowman had a closer take on Frank than any other I had ever dreamed, written, or conceived. So, since he wrote the piece as an inclusion to their local hall of history up in Lufkin, I didn’t think he would mind me passing the same on to you here in this more wide-awake-today forum of the Internet.

Enjoy!

My Fried Morris by Bob Bowman

Thirty years ago this month, East Texas lost one of its greatest champions–the son of a Jewish merchant whose legacy of love and humor still endures.

Morris Frank, who gained fame for his newspaper columns in the Houston Chronicle and his speeches throughout America, was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, the son of a merchant who moved his family to Lufkin and expected his son to follow in his footsteps.

Instead, Morris started writing sports for his hometown newspaper, the Lufkin Daily News, joined the Houston Post as a feature writer in 1937, and later signed up with the Chronicle as a columnist. With his broad smile, boisterous laugh and ever-present cowboy hat, Morris soon became one of America’s foremost masters of ceremonies.

“He had a following of countless friends, colleagues, famous people and just plain folks who came to know him by reading his stories and columns…or laughed at his harmless barbs that spared no one–not celebrities, not Supreme Court justices, stars of sports, not those in the high places of government and business,” wrote a long-time friend, John Murphy, a former executive vice-president of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association.

Morris seldom made a speech without mentioning his roots as a sportswriter in Lufkin or his love of East Texas.

But it was his kindness that endeared him to people.

He scrawled thousands of letters in his big, sprawling handwriting, thanking people for acts of kindness, showing sympathy for the lost of family members, congratulating someone for a promotion, getting married, or anything else that he thought was important.

When I was a young newspaperman in Lufkin, and the Chronicle decided to establish a bureau in East Texas, Morris suggested to the Chronicle’s editor, Clayte Binion, who also came from Lufkin, that I would make a good bureau chief.

I still have Morris’ handwritten note congratulating me on the job and I cherish my visits with him in the Chronicle’s city room, where he had a desk with everyone else. If he ever had a private office, he didn’t use it much. He didn’t like to be too removed from crowds, and he always found one in the city room.

Morris was also modest to the core. He once said: “I wouldn’t mind being broke if I were just broke even.”

When someone suggested that he write a book, he said; Well, I have thought about it. And I have a couple of titles in mind: Some of My Best Friends Are Gentiles and Self-Made Failure.”

Once, he was chided for eating ham at a luncheon even though he was Jewish. His retort was: “Listen, my daddy told me it was a worse sin to pass up a free meal than it was to eat ham.”

Morris was always paid for his speeches, but he invariably left a tip for his waiter that was larger than the check he was given. And when he agreed to make speeches in Lufkin, he refused to accept any check. “I don’t want the people of Lufkin thinking they had to pay for any of those sorry sports stories I wrote for their paper,” he quipped.

On July 16, 1975, the day after Morris passed away, the Chronicle published an editorial praising him for his qualities. The editorial concluded with these words: “Will Rogers has often been quoted as saying he never met a man he didn’t like. That was the way it was with Morris Frank, but there was more. With Morris, there never was a person he didn’t love.”

All Things Historical 
July 11, 2005 Column
(Provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman is a past president of the Asssociation and the author of more than 30 East Texas books.)

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4 Responses to “Morris Frank: A Friend’s Tribute”

  1. Shannon Doty Says:

    I knew him. Wonderful man.

  2. R. PALMORE Says:

    I CAME TO HOUSTON IN 1958 RIDING MY THUMB FROM LUFKIN, TX…HOUSTON!! A PLACE WHERE YOU COULD/CAN SPIT ON THE SIDEWALK,,,AND, IT WOULD TURN INTO A $10.00 BILL. PROBABLY A $100.00 NOW!! ANYWHO, MORRIS FRANK HAD CLASS!!! SOMETHING THAT THERE’S VERY LITTLE OF LEFT TODAY!! WHAT A SPORTS WRITER!!

    I KNEW TODD HERRING PRETTY WELL!! WE WERE NEVER REAL CLOSE,,,BUT, I RAN UP AND DOWN TELEPHONE RD. WITH THE SAME “ICE HOUSE”, BAR JUMPING CROWD…YES!! HE WAS A TOUGH “S.O.B.”…BUT, I NEVER SAW HIM KICK ANYBODY ASS WHO WASN’T ASKING FOR IT!! I WAS A PRETTY TOUGH S.O.B. BACK THEN MYSELF,,,AND, HE AND I ALWAYS GAVE THE OTHER PLENTY OF ROOM!! HELL, WE WERE “BIG OL’ BOYS”,,,AND, BIG OL’ BOYS CAN’T AFFORD TO FIGHT!! SOMEBODY MIGHT GET HURT BAD!! I LAST SAW HIM AFTER HE’D GOTTEN OUT OF THE JOINT,,,HAD STRAIGHTENED UP,,,HAD A FAMILY LIFE,,,ETC., ETC…WE WERE BOTH WORKING AT ONE OF THE REFINERIES OFF OF HWY 225 (THE LA PORTE FREEWAY”)…TODD & I WAS A LOT ALIKE IN SO MANY WAYS…WE DIDN’T HAVE “GOOD DIRECTION” WHEN WE WERE YOUNG,,,AND, HAD TO GROW UP TO BE TOUGH…GOD BLESS HIM!! HE WAS A REAL MAN!! SOMETHING THAT’S MIGHTY SCARCE NOWADAYS!!

    ROY PALMORE
    CROCKETT, TX.

  3. lee mcdowell Says:

    I knew him from back in the 50’s and 60’s…have couple of letters he penned (actually with pencil) to me congratulating me for sports accomplishments…

    Heard him at sports banquets and at the once famous SWC pre season basketball tourney.

    Everyone loved Morris Frank!

    Lee McDowell
    formerly of Baytown, now Nacogdoches

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