Nick and Phyllis Morrow were planning a trip to Hong Kong two years ago when, as luck would have it. Nick struck oil again in Louisiana and couldn't get away. To console themselves for the canceled trip, they threw a party, a Texas-type party, one so big, so extravagant, so, well, Texan, it would be two years before they would do it again.
Saturday night, with ice carvings of '79 and '80 melting away, was the Morrows' second "pre-New Year's" bash. It was even bigger, and in Texas bigger also means better.
After all, 1977's had been put together in a rush; this one they started working on last September.
The invitation, map and instructions on how to get to the Morrows' 13,000-acre ranch 45 miles south of San Antonio went out in brown cardboard boxes -- to protect the 45-rpm record inside. The map included this notation: b
Cotulla Omni, 115.8, 351 degrees, 20 DME.
That was so people flying in for the party would know where to land their jets.
There were press releases, one of which read:
The affair is billed as the world's most elegant picnic. Invitations for the 600 guests are printed on record jackets with a copy of Micky Gilley's just-released recording, "My Silver Lining."
The party will take place in a magnificently decorated tent which boasts crystal chandeliers and 50,000 blinking lights. The tent top will be completely lined with silver fabric . . .
Most of the decorations and interior layout were designed and created by Phyllis Morrow. This Texas style "picnic" is estimated to be a six-figure extravaganza.
By Saturday afternoon, when Phyllis Morrow was curled up on a side chair near a display of stuffed wild turkeys, a full-length sable coat pulled over her like a blanket, she allowed as how she and Nick were hoping it would be "closer to $100,000 than $200,000."
Champagne will flow from a wooden whickey barrel and the center of attraction will be a barbecued steer suspended above the service table. Entrees include "longhorn tartare," roast pig, omelettes with exotic fillings, hoe cakes, and of course, Texas barbecue. Appetizers range from caviar to escargots in tin cups and oysters on the half shell served from an antique wagon.
"I told the caterer," Phyllis Morrow says with a sweep of her sabled arm, "I don't want a bunch of s --- that looks pretty and tastes bad."
In keeping with the theme of celebrating the rise of the urban cowboy, country-western disco fever, and the elegance of the setting, the attire for the affair is "fancy duds."
There were men in dinner jackets wolfing down dripping, freshly made tacos and tearing meat off barbecued beef ribs. There were men in denims and leathers and business suits, and some had names like Pops, Rance and Dub.
There were women in cowgirl clothes and ranchwear and women draped loosely in designer cut fabric or wrapped tightly in acrylic stretched to its outer limits. Furs had been checked at the door at what Phyllis Morrow labeled the "pelt check."
Two girls had sequins pasted on their faces. Some of the women had names like Kay Linda, Bibi, Bunny and Kitty.
But the fashion show belonged to none other than Phyllis Morrow, little Phyllis, the one-time dance instructor from Kermit in west Texas, the daughter of a working couple, Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Shockley. Mom taught school, Dad checked oil well pumps for Phillips Petroleum.
Now, here Phyllis was, 37 and the belle of the ball, having hired one of the nation's leading country-western acts, Mickey Gilley and the Red Rose Express, to play at her picnic, on her dance floor, in her tent. Did she ever think it would turn out like this?
"Oh sure. I just always knew -- or was determined -- I would make myself in a position to handle whatever I chose big or small."
But doesn't Nick ever worry about spoiling her?
Big laugh from Nick, head thrown back. He has silver hair and was dressed in a three-piece western suit and shirt and tie. All white. "You can't stop her. You can't slow her down. That's the way she is."
Addendum to press release:
At this "Texas extravaganza," Mrs. Morrow's "fancy duds" for the evening will include three changes -- all created by Dallas designer Les Wilk and coordinated with the three different bands that will be performing. Each band has a style that is distinctly all its own, as will each of Mrs. Morrow's costumes.
Seven o'clock, the cars are creeping up the road to the Morrow's ranch house.A black Caddy limo in front of me bears the license plate TCM 3. Nick's real name is Thomas Cleveland, and Tcm 2 is also a Cadillac, TCM 1 is the El Dorado kept in Houston, where the family spends perhaps half its time.
For this occasion, however, the Houston chauffeur and the Pearsall chauffeur are both present. Seven full-time family employes have worked with Phyllis to prepare for her picnic.
It has also been a busy day for the rainbow-painted jet of T.C. Morrow T. C. Morrow Industries, Nick Morrow's proprietorship of oil and ranching interests, including 10,000 head of cattle.
"You do know," says Phyllis, "my husband is a self-made man."
A poor kid from a high place in the road in east Texas called Mount Enterprise, Morrow borrowed $700 from a sister to buy a truck and went into business hauling lumber in 1940. Later he bought a one-man LP (liquefied petroleum) gas business with 220 customers. The time was ripe for LP gas and Morrow was ready for it. He eventually built his Wanda Petroleum Co. into the largest independent marketer of LP gas in the world.
He owned 99 percent of the company and sold it a decade ago for $15 million. He bought the ranch 12 years ago; a few years ago they struck oil on it.
But before the ranch, Nick married Phyllis. They were introduced by a Houston dentist. Phyllis, as it happens, is one year older than Nick's oldest child by a first marriage. Nick is now 62.
How much is the ranch worth? "Thirteen thousand acres times a thousand dollars an acre," answers Phyllis. "How much is that?" She is told $13 million. "That's without the minerals." Outfit 1: Exotic
At the cars arrive at an Arabian tent portico, attendants park them. The walkway is carpeted in red, and red and white azaleas line it in a gingham pattern. The door is flanked by more red and white azaleas, nine tiers high.
And there is Phyllis in outfit one. A floor-length dress with brown sequins and trimmed with wild-turkey feathers gathered from the ranch's 1,500-acre exotic game preserve. A pillbox hat matches. Guests tell her how great she looks.
About 700 will pass through the front door. But alas, none of the big-name celebs, who have attracted Time magazine to the party, show up: John Connally, Farrah Fawcett, John Travolta, Wayne Newton, Dan Pastorini, Percy Foreman.
Time magazine is disappointed. The reporter's wife feels sorry for Phyllis that the heavies didn't show, that she went to all this trouble just for the rich and not for the famous.
Everyone agrees, though, that it's a great party. The press release has come true and then some. A thousand people were invited; five bands played; the caviar was served in avocado halves; margaritas were served from two wagons; Gilley's beer was served in Kerr canning jars from a Perrier cart, and caterer Don Strange, standing near the thousand pounds of cheese, says the eventual cost will probably be about $17,000.
Even John Lyons, president of a Houston-based international energy consortium, is impressed. In 1976, he had 1,200 to his 400-acre ranch near La Grange. The theme was the Bicentennial. "We dyed all of our Charolois [cattle] red, white, and blue. It was the greatest party in the United States. We had two helicopters take people up to see the cows. They looked like Easter eggs in the green grass." p
Phyllis explains that her party is an opportunity to repay social obligations, of which there are more each year than there are days. "Hell, if I went out every night I couldn't get around to all of them."
So she has brought them here . .
"My philosophy," says Strange, the caterer, "is you should come for four or five hours, relax and have music and food. Take a person out of his tough everyday life.
"This may be their only chance to relax for three months." Outfit 2: Western
Nine o'clock. Phyllis Morrow is in an all-white outfit with a silver-sequined shirt, pants with luster-bead fringe and a white mink jacket with fringe. Her western hat has ben specially designed. She looks great again.
Don't get the idea that the Morrows get everything they want. At the 1979 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, they wanted the grand champion steer raised by a kid named Jim Bob Beam from South Plains, Tex. Nick quit bidding, though, at $67,000. Eventually it sold for $72,000 a world record. Nick and Phyllis, disappointed, then set a record for a swine sale by bidding $25,000 for the grand champion barrow.
The livestock show is a major concern of the Morrows. It raises scholarship funds, and Nick is a director. Phyllis serves on four committees.
Ben and Julie Rogers and their 33-year-old daughter, Regina, flew in for the party. From Beaumont. Ben is an owner of Texas State Optical and is also into real-estate development. He is president of the Joe Louis Foundation and once held an interest in Caesar's Palace.
They had to land in San Antonio and come to Pearsall in a limousine because the Pearsall runway, at 4,000 feet, was too short for their plane.
What kind of plane? "A star jet or a jet star, whatever you call it," says Julie Rogers. "I don't know." On Sunday morning they will leave for Palm Springs.
Where is her husband now? "Somebody who wants to open a shopping center probably cornered him. You think I'm kidding. They get him off in the corners."
Daughter Regina and I dance. Before I can steal her heart, her parents steal her. Outfit 3: Glitter
This sort of party is the perfect place to search for the stereotypical beautiful Texas woman. None really seems to qualify, although there are a large number of good-looking women. In Texas, that is the result of culture, not genetics. Women just seem to try herder at being delicately feminine.
Perhaps the best-looking guest is Bibi Barrow, who claims to be 18 but appears several years older. She is wearing black cowboy boots, black leather designer jeans, black cowgirl shirt with stitchwork, and black hat with a pheasant feather.
She is asked if she considers herself a cowgirl, and she says yes. "To me it means to be a real Texan, to have the spirit, to be down to earth, to be real."
She finds women from other states somewhat phony, and says Texas women "state how you really feel. I like to be crazy, I like to have fun out of life. Texas women are prettier, their prettiness comes from the inside."
More dancing with Mrs. Morrow. She is wearing a dress of red sequins with black cock-feathers. The dress is in honor of the Tommy Graham group, which has a new single record due out in February.
The stage is also decorated in their honor. It is a six-foot red and silver revolving horseshoe, and around the letters spelling out Tommy Graham, scores of dollar bills have been folded into little flowers and stuck amid the silver fabric.
Phyllis Morrow selected that touch in honor of the group's new song. It's called "Only In It for the Money."