Fisher, Larry Jene (1902–1953)


By: Penny Clark

Type: Biography

Published: October 20, 2020

Updated: October 20, 2020


Larry Jene Fisher is best-known as the photographer of folkways of the Big Thicket, and he earned the title the Renaissance Man of East Texas as he was not only an organist and music teacher but also a vaudeville producer and director, a pilot, a publicist, a newspaper columnist, a playwright, a firefighter, and a filmmaker.

He was born Lawrence Orsino Fisher on June 18, 1902, on a ranch at Wichita Falls, Texas, to Gustave Henry and Lena (Frey) Fisher. Both of his parents were of German descent. His father, a jeweler and watchmaker, was forced into bankruptcy and, after a brief stay with his in-laws, departed for California and left his wife and child behind. Fisher’s mother worked at various jobs, including boomtown hotelkeeper, milliner, and servant, to support herself and her child.

Fisher grew up in Dallas and was educated at a Catholic school, St. Joseph’s Academy. St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and Academy was an integral part of a German American community located east of downtown Dallas. At St. Joseph’s, Fisher was active in music performances. He later recalled that, at the age of four or five, he had learned to play a pipe organ. He also played piano. When Fisher was only fifteen years old, he embarked on a career as an organist at silent movie theaters. He worked for the Warner Brothers Company and also for Publix Theatres Corporation and performed in many different states. Fisher was the consummate showman, adopting the stage name “Larry Jean Fisher,” organizing vaudeville performances, and, when not in the Lone Star State, performing as the “Texas Organist” with cowboy music and attire.

Reportedly, he studied with well-known organist and composer Clarence Eddy (in Philadelphia) as well as organists Pietro Yon and Edwin Arthur Kraft. He also performed on various radio stations across the United States. His stops included stations in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Omaha, Oklahoma City, and KRLD in Dallas. In 1930 Fisher taught organ at East Texas State Teachers College (now Texas A&M University-Commerce) at Commerce, Texas.

In 1931 Fisher became the organist at the million-dollar Jefferson Theatre in downtown Beaumont. Lauded for his extensive music library and repertoire, he appeared daily at the Jefferson and gave daily organ concerts via KFDM radio station and at area churches. Fisher also managed musical events, including the music program at the South Texas State Fair.

Fisher was active in the life of the city and had a wide array of interests beyond music. In 1933 he was elected president of the Camera Club, where he introduced other members of the club to using color and film in their work. A busy man, he wrote newspaper articles and served as music teacher, manager, and publicist for the Perricone Quads, the world’s first documented male quadruplets to survive.

Fisher was an early aviation enthusiast and earned his pilot’s license in 1931. He served as president of the Wing Over Club, an organization which held air shows and raised the visibility of aviation. At the beginning of 1935 Fisher left the Jefferson Theatre to pursue a career in aviation. He opened the Larry Fisher Aviation Service and offered charter trips, flying instruction, air express service, pleasure flights, air ambulance, or aerial photographs. 

While flying between Beaumont and Dallas, he noticed the Big Thicket, a densely-wooded region north of Beaumont. It boasted a wide array of plant and animal life, including bear, alligators, and four of the five types of carnivorous plants in North America. Fisher became especially intrigued by the thicket when he learned that the thicket boasted many varieties of orchids, which offered rare beauty to a photographer. He quickly became aware of the need to preserve the natural world of the Big Thicket, especially after he gained the acquaintance of self-taught naturalist Lance Rosier, who took him to see fauna and flora few had ever seen before.

While Fisher was learning about the thicket, a new organization, the East Texas Big Thicket Association (ETBTA) had formed and was headed by former Santa Fe Railroad conductor, R.E. Jackson. Members of the ETBTA wanted to preserve a portion of the Big Thicket in its natural state, and they saw a national park as ideal. It was vital to document the amazing array of plant and animal life. They obtained Hal B. Parks and Victor L. Cory, two of the most prestigious biologists of the state, to write a small book listing the fauna and flora of the region. Fisher accompanied the men on their treks through the Big Thicket and took photographs which were published in the book Biological Survey of the East Texas Big Thicket Area. Fisher gained the title of the official photographer of the ETBTA.

Fisher’s talents in photography, vaudeville, writing, and publicity were boons for the East Texas Big Thicket Association. As secretary of the organization, he utilized his photos as promotional tools for the preservation of the Big Thicket. He gave presentations about the “botanical paradise” and showed color slides and films to civic groups, schools, and the Texas Academy of Science which made him a member in 1938. He brought scientists, including members of the Texas Herpetological Society, to the Big Thicket where they learned firsthand of the biological richness of the area and lent credence to the importance of the preservation of the thicket. Fisher also traveled to Washington, D.C., where he lobbied members of U. S. Congress on behalf of the creation of a national park.

But Fisher valued and recorded not just the Big Thicket natural resources but also its folkways which were part of a Southern way of life which was rapidly being destroyed by progress. He quickly became immersed in Big Thicket life, as a newspaper reporter noted: “He has gone hunting, chewed the rag (and ‘tobaccy’) with old codgers, fed sugar cane to old-fashioned mills, helped build stick-and-mud chimneys—in fact, participated a la native in all of the Thicket’s normal and every day activities in order to get first-hand information, photographs and atmosphere for his files.”

Fisher’s fascination with the Big Thicket’s history and folklore spurred him to write and produce a play, The Keyser Burnout, a story set in the Civil War about men, known as Jayhawkers, who hid out in the dense woods of the Big Thicket to evade draft into the Confederate Army. The play was an opportunity for Fisher and his cast and crew to share Big Thicket folkways, including depicting a live Josey Party, a version of a square dance for which Fisher also collected authentic music. Many of the actors were direct descendants of the characters depicted in the play, and some walked as far as six miles to take part in rehearsals. The play boasted the use of props of actual Big Thicket antiques, including a 150-year old spinning wheel.

While Fisher had many interests, his work as a music teacher paid the bills. He taught accordion and had four studios in four different cities. His top students comprised a band known as the Accordionaires who performed at many different venues.

World War II brought great changes not only to Fisher’s life but to the East Texas Big Thicket Association as well. With the advent of the war, the demand for lumber skyrocketed, and the organization’s effectiveness was lessened. Fisher joined the Civil Air Patrol, an organization composed of civilian pilots who flew over the Gulf of Mexico in order to halt Nazi submarine attacks against American shipping. Fisher was stationed in 1942–43 at Base 10 in Beaumont where he not only flew more than 300 hours on missions over the Gulf, he also served as archivist/historian of the base and recorded photos of everyone at the base at work and play. After Base 10 closed, he continued with the Civil Air Patrol and moved to College Station where he worked to establish the Texas Forest Service’s forest fire patrol. He also headed the audio-visual department of the Texas Forest Service.

After the war, Fisher was again at the forefront of cutting-edge technology. He produced Which He Hath Planted, a color 16mm film with audio that depicted Texas forests and included narration of Biblical quotations. Fisher also wrote the soundtrack for the film. It was named one of the ten best non-theatrical films of 1946 by Movie Makers magazine, an industry trade journal.  By 1946 he had changed his name slightly and spelled it Larry Jene Fisher. He moved to Denton in 1949 where he produced films and television programs under the name Fisher Films.

Larry Jene Fisher died on July 6, 1953, in Nashville, Tennessee. After a Requiem High Mass at the Cathedral of the Incarnation he was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Nashville. He was survived by one sister, Anna Renas of Comanche, Oklahoma.

In 1970 Lamar State College of Technology (now Lamar University) received a collection of Fisher’s photograph albums and negatives from the family of Lance Rosier. The collection is best-known for its depiction of Big Thicket fauna and flora, history, and folklife, which resulted in the book Big Thicket People: Larry Jene Fisher’s Photographs of the Last Southern Frontier (2008) by Thad Sitton and C.E. Hunt. The collection also has documentation of many aspects of Texas life, including oil drilling crews in the Permian Basin, the dedication of a Catholic church in Port Arthur, and a cattle roundup at High Island.

Francis E. Abernethy, ed., Tales from the Big Thicket (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1966). Beaumont Enterprise, October 16, 17, 21, 1932; March 26, 1932; July 17, 1932; June 9, 1933; April 12, 1934; December 14, 1934; January 2, 1935; August 24, 1937; December 27, 1937; May 2, 1938; August 7, 1938; January 24, 29, 1939; February 10, 1939; April 20, 1939; May 28, 1939; November 10, 1940; January 19, 1941; March 2, 19, 1941; April 2, 6, 13, 26, 1941; November 5, 1941; December 22, 1946. Beaumont Journal, March 26, 1932; February 15, 1936. James J. Cozine, Jr., Saving the Big Thicket: From Exploration to Preservation, 1685–2003 (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2004). Crowley Daily Signal (Crowley, Louisiana), November 10, 1934. Denton Record-Chronicle, October 30, 1949. The Eagle (Bryan, Texas), March 21, 1944; May 17, 1946. Larry Jene Fisher Collection, Special Collections and University Archives, Lamar University. Michael Frary and William A. Owens, Impressions of the Big Thicket (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973). Pete A. Y. Gunter, “R. E. Jackson and the Early Big Thicket Conservation Movement, 1929–1957,” East Texas Historical Journal 37 (1999). Houston Chronicle, May 12, 1940; January 10, 1960. The Redbird (Lamar State College of Technology), April 10, 1970. Thad Sitton and C. E. Hunt, Big Thicket People: Larry Jene Fisher’s Photographs of the Last Southern Frontier (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008). The Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee), July 7, 1953.

Categories:
  • Aviation and Aerospace
  • Education
  • Educators
  • Music and Drama
  • Journalism
  • Newspapers
  • Music
  • Business, Promotion, Broadcasting, and Technology
  • Genres (Country)
  • Genres (Folk)
  • Stage and Film
  • Performing Arts
  • Visual Arts
  • Photography
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Screenwriters
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
Places:
  • East Texas
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • Beaumont

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Penny Clark, “Fisher, Larry Jene,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/fisher-larry-jene.

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October 20, 2020
October 20, 2020

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