TEXAS RICH: The Hunt Dynasty from the Early Oil Days through the Silver Crash by

TEXAS RICH: The Hunt Dynasty from the Early Oil Days through the Silver Crash

By
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Why did the world's richest man brown-bag his lunch, and have three separate families of progeny (one bigamous), totaling 70 living direct descendants, at his death in 19747 Well, partly because Haroldson Lafayette Hunt--a Colonel Sanders lookalike--thought he had an obligation to people the earth (or at least Texas) with his ""genius gene."" Born in Illinois, baby in a brood of eight, taught at home by his bright mother and breast-fed until seven (when his father rebelled), June--for Junior--was an infant prodigy with numbers and soon the family's unbeatable card and checkers player. He was early made health-conscious by his father's beef-raising methods and was himself raised on Social Darwinism. He left home at 16; became an abstemious card sharper and gambler, as well as a real-estate trader; and made and lost fortunes by 24. After marrying Lyda Bunker, he made his big breakthrough in the E1 Dorado, Arkansas, oil boom, and also opened two gambling houses. His family grew, oil leases came in, and he was well off by his mid-thirties--but still a gambler; then his daughter was asphyxiated, mid-life crisis hit hard, he sold everything, went alone to Florida (to clean up in the land boom) and met his second wife Frania whom he married bigamously. For June the ordinary rules did not apply. His first colossal coup was getting Dad Joiner, a 74-year-old con artist, to lease him a wildcat well for $1.5 million--by which deal June made over $100 million and entered the ranks of the Rockefellers. But suspicions of bribery and illegality clung to Hunt thereafter. Pregnant with their fourth child, Frania confronted him with her discovery of his true identity. He set her up in Great Neck, Long Island, meanwhile moving his first family to Dallas and a replica of George Washington's Mount Vernon manse. When blackmailers threatened Frania, she and Lyda had a sit-down at a restaurant; but later June talked Frania into a settlement and she remarried. Hardly had she gone before he began his third family with sweet-tempered, Bible-reading secretary Ruth Eileen Ray, 25. He was now 54, a grandfather. His oldest son Hassle, a hot-headed razzle-dazzle businessman in Pa's image, came down with mental problems, had fistfights with Hunt, was given electro-shock treatments, then a lobotomy, and has never recovered. In 1946, raking in a million a week, June was drilling 300 new wells a year to beat taxes. After Life and Fortune both named him richest man on earth, delusion set in, with paranoid arch-conservatism--exemplified by the Hunt-sponsored Fact Forum and friendship with Joe McCarthy. On Lyda's death he married Ruth, gave up gambling, got religious. . . and so it goes--target of Kennedy assassination theories, family business rifts, going to psychic Jeane Dixon, his sunset years as ""just plain folks,"" then death, the contesting of his will by Frania, the boys' disastrous attempt to corner the silver market. . . . A fabulous story but stickily told, with numberless ""incredibles,"" ""remarkables,"" and ""mysteriouses""--when the facts here don't need any help.

Pub Date: May 26th, 1981
Publisher: Norton