About Wilbert Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel
Wilbert Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel (March 11, 1890 – May 11, 1969) was a conservative Democratic Party politician from Texas, who came to prominence by hosting a popular radio program. Known for his populist appeal, Pappy O'Daniel was the governor of Texas and later its junior U.S. senator. He was also the only person ever to have defeated Lyndon B. Johnson in an election. O'Daniel was also a songwriter who composed "Beautiful Texas".
The 2000 Coen Brothers film O Brother Where Art Thou featured a character loosely based on O'Daniel, although set in Mississippi.
O'Daniel was born in Malta, Ohio, and as a young child moved to Reno County, Kansas, where he lived on a cattle ranch. In 1925, he moved to Fort Worth, Texas, to work for Burrus Mills, a flour-milling company.
In the late 1920s, O'Daniel assumed responsibility for the company's radio advertising. To that end, he wrote songs and hired a group of musicians to form an old timey band. Originally called the Light Crust Doughboys, notable musicians such as Bob Wills got their start with O'Daniel. After the Doughboys split up, O'Daniel formed the Western swing band, Pat O'Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys. The new group was named after O'Daniel's Hillbilly Flour Company. The show extolled the values of Hillbilly brand flour, the Ten Commandments and the Bible.
O'Daniel's noontime radio show not only gave him his nickname "Pappy" after a catchphrase used frequently on air, "pass the biscuits, Pappy"; it also propelled him into the public spotlight. By the mid 1930s, W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel was a household name in Texas. As a national magazine reporter wrote at the time: "At twelve-thirty sharp each day, a fifteen-minute silence reigned in the state of Texas, broken only by mountain music, and the dulcet voice of W. Lee O'Daniel."
In 1938, he ran for governor of Texas as a Democrat. O'Daniel's campaign hailed his flour and the need for pensions and tax cuts. He promised to block a sales tax and raise pensions. O'Daniel won the Democratic party primary election easily with 51% of the vote over 12 opponents. In office, he proposed a new sales tax, which was voted down by the Texas Legislature. He handily won re-election in 1940. In both elections, his main competition came from Texas Railroad Commissioner Ernest O. Thompson, the former mayor of Amarillo.
In 1941, O'Daniel ran for the United States Senate in a special election. He defeated Lyndon Johnson by 1,311 votes in one of the more controversial elections in state history. His victory made him the only person to ever defeat Johnson for elected office. As a senator, O'Daniel was ineffective, and most of his legislation was defeated. He endorsed the anti-Roosevelt Texas Regulars in the 1944 presidential election. O'Daniel refused to run for another term in 1948, but ran for governor of Texas in 1956 and 1958 and claimed that the Brown v. Board of Education decision was part of a communist conspiracy. He finished third in the Democratic primaries both times.