ANGUS WYNNE, BLUES BROTHER
Reprinted with permission of The Dallas Morning News
By Larry Herold
He hasn't enjoyed the visibility of younger sibling Shannon, but the firstborn son of the man who built Six Flags Over Texas made his mark by bringing rhythm and blues to Dallas. Then came a Texas Woodstock, a booking agency, a music magazine, a modeling agency . . . Angus G. Wynne has a frozen iris in his left eye, a III tacked onto the end of his name and once danced onstage with James Brown. That sets him apart from most of us right there. But there is more. Part of his left side does not sweat, and somewhere in his attic there is a barbecue-stained paper plate signed by Otis Redding. At the moment, he has a platter of fried pickles in front of him and he's staring up into the eyes of a stranger who is wagging a finger in Wynne's face.
"I know you,' says the stranger. "You
are . . . ' We are sitting at a window table in the Catalina Cafe on Greenville. Wynne glances over at me with a pained wince on his face. "They never can quite remember,' he says. He looks back at the stranger and offers a name. "Tom Landry,' he says.
"You're right. That's it. That's it,' says the man. He takes a step back from our table, then leans forward. "Hey,' he says, "how 'bout that Tony Dorsett?'
On one hand, it is hard to sympathize with the stranger's gaffe, what with it being fairly common knowledge that at the time of this conversation, the Cowboys and the only coach they've ever had are in Thousand Oaks, Calif., for training camp. On the other hand, the mistake is understandable. This stranger is just one of many people who have a hard time figuring out who Angus Wynne is.
Part of Wynne wants to be a regular guy. That's the part that eats at Lower Greenville restaurants and doesn't tell people his real name. Another part wants to be a social guy; that part was once president of a Dallas men's social club (Terpsichorean, 1966) and attended this year's Cattle Baron's Ball. Yet another part longs to be an entertainment magnate; that part owns a booking agency (Wynne Entertainment), a casting office (Central Casting), a modeling agency (Industry/Dallas), manages a band (Ultimate Force), and runs a concert hall (the Arcadia).
Until recently, Wynne's business reputation seemed spotless. In June, a magazine he founded folded, leaving a string of bad debts behind. Until July, Wynne was part owner and a director of the Tanya Blair Agency, Inc., the second-largest modeling agency in Dallas. He resigned amid charges by Blair that he was "trying to steal the agency.' Shortly thereafter, Wynne opened his own modeling agency, Industry/Dallas.
Smooth and well-mannered, Wynne seems to be able to move effortlessly between the Starck Club and the Longhorn Ballroom, to mix a wide variety of talents. The 41-year old Wynne, included in an international list of "Men Who Look Great' in a recent issue of M
magazine, could end up playing a spastic dancer in David Byrne's upcoming film True Stories.
He is a man of contradictions, one who floats in several social circles, apparently able to alter his persona to fit the group. Some call that being able to relate to different kinds of people; others call it playing the chameleon, shifting colors as the need arises. In Wynne's case it may be a little of both, but few people cover more ground than Angus -- "Ango' to his friends.
Wynne's grandfather, Angus Sr., moved to Dallas during the 1930s from Wills Point in Van Zandt County. He was named after Angus Gilchrist, a one-time mayor of Wills Point. A lawyer, he helped establish the Texas State Bar. During the 1940s, Angus Jr. created Wynnewood, one of the first planned home/apartment/shopping communities in the country. During the 1960s, he came up with the concept for Six Flags Over Texas, created the Arlington theme park and ran it. In 1964, he built and ran the Texas Pavilion and the Music Hall at the New York World's Fair, a financial disaster that eventually forced him to declare bankruptcy.
Angus III was born to Angus Jr. and Joanne Wynne on Christmas Day, 1943. Two brothers and a sister came along later. David, now 39, owns a restaurant in Santa Fe. Angus' sister, Temple, 37, is a homemaker in Dallas. His brother Shannon, 33, is best-known for helping create some of the city's trend- iest nightclubs and restaurants, including Eight-O, Nostromo and Tango. Their father died in 1979; their mother still lives in Highland Park.
Though Angus III is eight years older, it is Shannon who has had the greater public visibility in Dallas. "I haven't been as eager to employ the press,' says Angus, pointing toward the "great deal of dollars that have gone toward the furtherance of the images' of the companies Shannon has worked with. But Angus has had his share of publicity too, much of it on the society pages. "People are al- ways asking me, "Who does your press?' ' he
says. "But I tell them I've never hired a personal press agent in my life.'
Wynne, it seems, can relate to just about anyone. OK, so he drives a $50,000 German car, so he wears Italian suits and gets his nails manicured at a Highland Park barbershop every week. But somehow, when you talk with him, Wynne is able to make you forget those things, make you forget that the snake ring on his finger identifies him as a "blood Wynne,' that he could fill a social register with the names in his Rolodex. The blue eyes, which look a bit dull whenever his picture turns up in the society pages, sparkle up close. He listens intently, openly, and has a way of making each person he talks to think they and he are secretly sharing the same joke.
I feel good!'
James Brown is screaming into the telephone from his New York City hotel room. The Godfather of Soul is excited but a little perturbed; he explains that last night, he was on Late Night With David Letterman. The Godfather thought the lights and closeups showed a little too many of his 58 years. But when talk turns to his friend Angus Wynne, Brown's funk dis- appears. "Angus Wynne is a beautiful man, one of the soulful people throughout the world,' he says.
Brown was at the height of his powers the first time Wynne saw him wreak his soulful havoc at the Empire Room on Hall Street during the 1950s. Later, as a promoter, Wynne brought Brown back to town. One night as Brown's show at Tango wound to a frenetic close, the Godfather demanded that Wynne join him onstage and the two danced demonically into the night.
The phone reverberates with Brown's scratchy yell. "The Godfather loves Angus Wynne. He's a clean, intelligent man. Dallas should love Angus Wynne. He's given them entertainment and soul. What else can a man give you?'
How did a white kid from Dallas end up on James Brown's soulful list? For Angus, it began with an obsession with vinyl, specifically the vinyl 78 rpm records owned by his parents, Joanne and "Big Angus' Wynne. By the age of three, Angus III could pick out the record that contained any song his mother hummed. He couldn't read yet; instead, he had memorized which record label went with which song. Soon he was passing afternoons lurking around the record store. Among his first purchases: "Heartbreak Hotel' by Elvis Presley and "Why Do Fools Fall in Love' by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.
Surrounded by a family full of lawyers, Wynne grew up with the expectation that he too would study law. But like so many other kids growing up during the mid-1950s, he felt plugged into a new, high-voltage current when he listened to the radio. "I remember I was riding in the back seat of my mother's station wagon the first time I heard Little
Richard sing "Tutti Frutti,' he says. That was 1956, and neither Wynne nor anyone else had ever heard anything like it.
While Wynne, barely a teen-ager, was walking the aisles of Ernstrom's Records on Lovers Lane, popular music was hurtling toward a revolution. During the first week of September, 1955, the No. 1 pop song in the country was "Yellow Rose of Texas,' by goateed band leader Mitch Miller. Twelve months later, during the first week of September 1956, the top song was "Hound Dog' by the surly, sensuous sensation, Elvis Presley.
Wynne's interest in music grew, fueled by garage bands fronted by friends like Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs. Even when his social class asserted itself -- he was packed off to prep school in New Jersey -- Wynne found a way to stay in touch with music: He and some classmates started an underground radio station, WMOC (Wild Music on Campus). It lasted a few hours, until the FCC got wise. When Angus Jr. was asked to build and run the Music Hall and the Texas Pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair, Angus III, then 21, went along to co-manage a 500-seat dinner theater in the Pavilion.
Despite the musical diversions, Wynne was still planning to become a lawyer when he entered the University of Texas in 1962. But study time was taken up by projects such as draping nooses all over the Austin campus for the world premiere of Cat Ballou and promoting a Johnny Mathis concert. He also dropped out twice because of medical problems, and a third time to work at the World's Fair. Having a then-unknown Sergio Mendes and his group, Brazil '65, sleep on his floor was more fun than studying, and in 1965, Wynne quit school for the fourth -- and final -- time.
Of all the music he encountered, Wynne
loved the "energy and audacity' of rhythm and blues the best. "He was the only other white person who was as passionate about R&B as I was,' says friend David Ritz. Ritz, who now lives in Los Angeles, went on to collaborate with Marvin Gaye on his hit song "Sexual Healing' and recently wrote a Marvin Gaye biography called Divided Soul.
"Liking R&B for most people usually meant they went home and listened to a couple of records and that was it. He took it further, checking out the clubs, going to see music and managing bands. A lot of people liked R&B,' says Ritz. "Angus lived it.'
Not a million- aire, never have been. Not even close,' is all Angus Wynne will say when asked how much he's worth. He considers any greater detail "vulgar.' What amazes and infuriates him is the idea that anyone would ever think that he might be a millionaire. "People assume an awful lot because of my name,' he says.
Beneath Wynne's eighth-floor of- fice, in a bank building just off Central Expressway at Fitzhugh, Dallas sprawls like a chess board with pieces on every square. Inside a medium-sized office, tinted glass takes the place of one wall, and the muted sunlight streams in.
"It's true that some folks in my family are pretty well-heeled,' Wynne says. "But people don't realize that that doesn't necessarily extend to all of us. If I were a millionaire, I'd be out on the beach instead of sitting in this office.' Indeed, when Wynne personally assumed the $40,000-a-month overhead during the last days of Xtra, his entertainment-oriented magazine, he was forced to redeem a number of stocks and bonds to meet expenses.
And for all the press coverage devoted to his family over the years, Wynne says there's no magic in the name itself. "People keep wanting me to say it's a big deal, but it ain't,' he says. "It doesn't help me get credit at a bank. They look at numbers, not names. Sure some connections help, but it also hinders. People think you don't have to work for anything.'
He says the public image he seems to have -- that of a lighthearted social-
ite living off an inheritance -- is mad- dening. "I don't appreciate people thinking I've had everything handed to me. I've worked hard for what I have. Sure, I've had a lot of opportunities -- I can't measure all the opportunities I've had. But I've worked hard.'
Never harder than in the last year, when Wynne's carefully plotted path was suddenly full of potholes. The biggest blow came when Xtra, his regional music-film-fashion-art magazine folded after eight issues. Founded in the summer of 1984, the monthly collapsed in June of this year with more than $100,000 in debts. Phyllis Arp created the proposal for Xtra and sold Wynne on the idea. With Arp serving as publisher, Wynne and six other investors funded the magazine's startup. The original cost projections proved too low, and Wynne asked the six to come up with more cash. All refused.
Wynne, who put a total of $150,000 of his own money into the project, has repeatedly asked those he owes -- writers, photographers and suppliers -- for patience, and as of early September, none had filed suit. But he admits that the magazine has no more funds and that any future payments will have to come from his own pocket. As of this writing, Wynne was strongly considering declaring the magazine bankrupt. Will any of the those holding IOUs get their money? "I don't know,' he says.
While the magazine was slipping away, trouble arose on another front.
On July 26, Wynne resigned as a director of the Tanya Blair Agency Inc., the Dallas modeling agency of which he was majority owner for three years. Agency founder and president Tanya Blair had invited Wynne to buy in in 1982, saying she needed immediate cash and credit to compete with the well-established Kim Dawson Agency. Wynne says the Blair agency was a "hand-to-mouth' operation when he arrived. "Here we had people who had a head for modeling but just didn't know how to run a business,' he says.
Over the first few months, Wynne installed new bookkeeping procedures and controls that he says were crucial to Blair's emergence as a strong challenger to Dawson. "My involvement there was the factor in making that agency work,' he says. Tanya's husband, agency vice president Ron Blair, disagrees strongly, saying Wynne's input was minimal. "It's my opinion that Angus knows absolutely nothing about the modeling or the talent business. I'd like to know what input he was talking about,' he says. "Angus sounds like an expert in the business,' says Tanya Blair, "but he only spent 15 minutes in our offices in all the years we were in business together. He's trying to sound like Mr. Wonderful and Mr. Involved when he was really Mr. Thorn-in-the-Side.'
Five employees, including the agency's two top talent "bookers,' walked out the same day Wynne did, prompting acccusations by the Blairs that Wynne was trying to sabotage the agency. Wynne and the Blairs sued each other and eventually settled out of court. But their battle continues. Ron Blair says that ex-secretary/treasurer Wynne left his major area of responsibility, the company's books, in disarray. "That part of the Tanya Blair Agency is in a great mess. It's gonna cost us about $8,000 (in accountants' fees) to get the books back into shape,' says Ron.
Immediately after the legal settlement, Wynne opened the doors of Industry/Dallas, a modeling agency that quickly drew a number of models from Blair -- exactly how many is one more thing Wynne and the Blairs can't agree on. By the first week of September, Wynne said he had signed 10 models from Blair, while Tanya put the number of transfers at six.
Wynne may soon be facing another problem. Ultimate Force was a struggling R&B band from Tuskegee, Ala., when Wynne first saw them. In 1981, he convinced them to move to Dallas and hire him as their manager. The band had some early success, but bookings have dropped lately and a hoped-for recording contract has not developed. "It's not really working out the way we thought it would,' says lead singer Glenn Ray. "We haven't had a serious meeting (about getting a new manager) but we've talked about it.'
Ray and Wynne agree that the band's failure to submit enough new material has stalled any record offers and its reputation for arriving late to shows has hurt bookings. But beyond that, Ray says, the band and Wynne seem to have grown apart over the years. "When we wanna meet with him, it's always, "Let me check my schedule and get back to you,' ' he says.
But there's a flip side to Wynne's year. Wynne Entertainment will do well over $1 million in business this year, booking 40 to 50 bands and acts a week for parties, fashion shows, weddings and charity balls. Central Casting, headed by Wynne's partner, vice president and casting director Mary Anna Austin, is in demand as a procurer of talent for commercials and films. (Austin cast the parts of Sally Fields' two children in Places in the Heart.) And the Arcadia, the 58-year old theater that Wynne leased and renovated last year, has staged sold-out performances by numerous mid-range acts such as Michael Franks, Robin Trower and Lords of the New Church. While band promoters complain that the $1,000-a-night rent at the Arcadia is too high, they continue to book acts there, largely because the 874-seat theater is the only one of its size in the area. Regardless of how many tickets are sold, Wynne gets his rent, plus the profits from hefty liquor sales.
Wynne is skilled at orchestrating diverse pursuits, but some say his ability as an overseer of projects outstrips his abilities as a manager of people. "I don't think he realizes how much work goes into things,' says one employee. "A lot of times, you'll work hard on a big project for him and when you hand it in, all he'll say is, "Fine.' ' Employees and Wynne himself say impatience is his biggest
flaw. "I wish I wasn't quite so quick on the trigger,' he says.
Wynne can't seem to slow down, saying he could never be satisfied in a more stable profession. In the course of his work, he gets to hear all types of music, meet the people who make it and influence the cultural life of the city. That dovetails nicely with his love of music. "His hobbies and interests and career are all part of the same package,' says Carolyn Day, who has known Wynne for seven years.
Wynne says he is motivated to play the role of guide, a tuxedoed master of ceremonies who pulls back the curtain to reveal new forms of exotica to an astonished crowd. "I get a thrill out of watching people get turned on,' he says.
A few years ago, doctors told Wynne he had a tumor the size of an orange in his chest. "I really had to do some fast thinking,' he says. The operation that successfully removed the benign tumor left him with a slightly drooping left eyelid, a frozen iris in his left eye and disabled sweat glands on the left side of his upper body.
Since then, Wynne has concentrated on gaining more control of his various ventures. "The tumor could have turned out differently,' he says. "I realized I needed to start getting into some reward situations, instead of working and working and having nothing to show for it.'
While Wynne says the operation also convinced him of a need to relax and enjoy life a bit more, he says business has prevented him from doing so. In fact, business seems to dominate his life. "All of his friends that he grew up with are now in a position where they can slow down a little and enjoy themselves,' says Day. "But not Angus. He never has. He just will not quit.'
Front-page headlines in both Dallas newspapers screamed about 50,000 wild-eyed rock 'n' rollers taking over
Lewsiville. On that hot Labor Day weekend in 1969, locals feared "scores of LSD bad trips and freakouts,' and a newspaper editorial raged on about the "strident ear-splitting cacophony' and "moral and ethical anarchy' of the assembled masses.
They had come from all over to the Texas International Pop Festival to hear the music of 30 rock groups -- from Santana to Led Zeppelin to Chicago -- and to groove on the mood that had been created at Woodstock two weeks earlier. They swam naked in the nearby lake, begged for food at local farmhouses and partied until 4:30 a.m.
To blame for all this were a couple of Highland Park rich kids with long hair. Friends since childhood, they had become buddies when they discovered they were both organizing frat parties and promoting concerts at different universities -- Angus Wynne at UT and Jack Calmes at SMU.
At first, it had just been for fun; they pulled together a Texas-OU bash at Market Hall in 1964 that was headlined by Chuck Berry. But when they split an $8,000 profit, they decided to add a New Year's Eve Bash, and another Texas-OU Bash and then another. Through Wynne's social connections, they booked bands into debutante parties. Soon they opened a booking and promoting office in the Quadrangle, naming their venture Showco.
Angus' parents were less than thrilled with the direction their son appeared to be taking. "Our dad always thought there was an element there that Angus clearly didn't need to be asso-
ciated with,' remembers Shannon, Angus' younger brother. But Big Angus relented once he saw the business could be profitable. He even sat on the front row when his son brought an up-and-coming Bob Dylan to town, but left after two songs with his hands over his ears.
Angus' mother was unenthused. "Those Texas-OU deals were always drunken brawls,' says Shannon, "and a lot of people in the business are kind of slimy. I think our mother always thought it was . . . ' he pauses, searching for the right word. "Distasteful.'
Wynne and Calmes kept at it, and in 1967 they opened the Soul City nightclub on Greenville Avenue near Mockingbird, where Bowley and Wilson's is now. The popular club lured national acts -- Stevie Wonder, Jackie Wilson, Kenny Rogers and the First Edition and Ike and Tina Turner. One night, a sheriff tried to serve papers on Jerry Lee Lewis during "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On' and The Killer almost caused a riot. Though it still heads the list of all-time great Dallas nightclubs, Soul City was more fun than profit, and the two founders sold out in 1968.
They came up with the idea for a Texas pop festival
after seeing a similar one in Atlanta. Wynne headed to Woodstock and noted the numerous mistakes there. He and Calmes paid acts like Janis Joplin and Sly and the Family Stone $15,000 apiece and took $3,000 from a then-unknown Grand Funk Railroad to let them open the show all three days. The big surprise came when Wynne and Calmes sat down to count their profits: The three days of fun had cost them $100,000 more than they had brought in. Showco was dead.
Wynne headed off to get a real estate license and Calmes went on to resurrect Showco and help it become the sound and lighting behemoth that it is today. (He left the company in 1980.)
Despite the festival's financial losses, neither Calmes nor Wynne has any regrets. Says Wynne proudly, "People still come up to me and say, "Man, the first time I ever heard any good music was at the Pop Festival.' '
Stage No. 1, a Dallas theater company, was in trouble in 1983 after the president of its board of directors suddenly resigned. Wynne, a long-time supporter, agreed to step in temporarily. The theater's finances were a mess; an audit commissioned by the board of directors revealed that the company had a debt of $57,000. Under Wynne's guidance, the board brought in professional management for the first time; the new staff balanced the budget within a year and paid off half the debt.
The company is still struggling; many donors who responded to last year's emergency plea cautioned the theater they would not be as generous again. But the 1985-86 season is due in part to Wynne's efforts. Though the theater's managing director, Ernest Fulton, hesitates to slight the efforts of the other board members, he will say, "You could call (Wynne) somewhat
of a savior for the organization.'
That not-for-profit effort by Wynne does not surprise many who know him; he seems to donate time and money regularly. A friend from high school who contracted meningitis (and has since recovered) says Wynne was one of the few friends who came to see him during his illness. A friend's daughter says Wynne helped her get into SMU at the last minute, then lent her spending money throughout her time there. The woman who manicures Wynne's nails every Wednesday at 1 p.m. confides in a conspiratorial whisper: "He's one of my best tippers.'
Several friends call Wynne a man who knows how to have a good time. But Wynne, who has never been married, says he doesn't go out as much as he used to. (It was rumored that during his struggle to find new investors for Xtra, he was rebuffed by members of the social set who said it was the first time they had talked to him in years.) Instead, he stays home -- he has lived in the same Oak Lawn house for 13 years -- and reads between 30 and 40 periodicals a month, from Vanity Fair to American Film to the Village Voice.
When he does go out, it is with a purpose: to hear new music or check out a new place. "He has a reputation among the restaurant people for being the first one in,' says Shannon. "But the moment the place becomes the least bit cliquish, he's gone, and he'll never come back. He thinks a place is uncool if it's been discovered. But he sure likes to tell everybody else to go there.
"He wants to be the coolest kid on the block, from having the freshest ground coffee to the great clothes,' says Shannon. "That's why he reads so much, so he can always be a step ahead.'
Playing the role of visionary in less-than-progressive Dallas sometimes backfires. "I booked (guitarist) Stanley Jordan into the Arcadia when he had the top-selling jazz album in the country,' says Angus. "We sold 60 tickets.' (The show was moved to Poor David's Pub.) Wynne also booked all of the talent for Tango, the nightclub Shannon helped open; it closed in the spring of 1984. Many of the acts that played there were unknown at the time; some, such as Los Lobos, later became successful. "But maybe he booked some bands too far ahead,' says Shannon. "A lotta times, nobody came.'
Following the recent court fights and the subsequent opening of his new modeling agency, Wynne says he wants to slow down and look for ways to streamline his operations. But he seems as motivated as ever. "I think he's trying to do what his family has always done,' says Melinda Austin, a lifelong friend. "Make a name for himself and leave a mark on the city.'
From the World's Fair to the Texas Pop Festival to Industry/Dallas, Wynne's life has always been interesting. "I've led kind of a charmed life,' he says. "I wake up all the time thinking how lucky I am to have done the things I've done.'
As always, the music is what holds his life together. One of his proudest possessions is a 1967 snapshot of him and Jimi Hendrix. He owns between 6,000 and 7,000 albums and has a concert-going history that stretches back to seeing Elvis in the Cotton Bowl in 1957.
"Angus could have made a lot more money in other fields,' says Calmes. "He just loves the music.' Larry Herold is a regular contributor to Dallas Life Magazine.
PHOTOS: (1) James Brown flanked by Shannon (left) and Angus Wynne,
during an engagement at Tango in 1983. (2) Wynne in his offices at
Fitzhugh and Central Expressway. (3) Phyllis Arp served as publisher
of Xtra, Wynne's entertainment oriented magazine, from startup in the
summer of '84 till it folded in June. (4) Glenn ray, lead singer of
Ultimate Fore, says the band has discussed replacing Wynne as manager.
(5) Jack Calmes. Wynne's childhood friend and former partner in a
series of musical ventures, including the Soul City nighclub and a
Texas Woodstock staged in Lewisville in 1969. (6) Mary Anna Austin is
vice president and Wynne's partner in Central Casting; she cast the
roles of Sally Fields' children in Places in the Heart. (7) Ernest
Fulton, managing director of Stage No. 1: "You could call (Wynne)
somewhat of a savior for the organization." (SOURCE: John Rhodes)
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