Edwin Allen “Bud” Shrake, Jr., journalist, sportswriter, novelist, and screenwriter, was born on September 6, 1931, in Fort Worth, Texas. He was the son of Edwin Allen Shrake, Sr., and Ruth Lee (Swift) Shrake, their first born, and he showed an interest in writing and painting from an early age, writing his first short story in the fifth grade. He attended Paschal High School in Fort Worth where he met Dan Jenkins, another future sportswriter, who worked with him on the school newspaper, the Paschal Pantherette. After high school, he went to Texas Christian University (TCU) and the University of Texas at Austin and ultimately graduated from TCU with a degree in English and philosophy. At TCU he met his first wife, Joyce Elaine Rogers, a fellow English major and future Shakespeare scholar. They married in 1953, divorced that same year, and then remarried in 1955. The couple had two sons—Ben and Alan—before they divorced for good in 1961.
Shrake began his journalism career while he was at TCU, when he took a job at the Fort Worth Press and worked with his former schoolmate Dan Jenkins and sports editor Blackie Sherrod. In 1953, after graduating from TCU, he was called for active duty in the U. S. Army Reserves and served for two years before he returned to Fort Worth and his job at the Fort Worth Press, this time as a police reporter. In 1958 former Press colleague Blackie Sherrod convinced Shrake to write sports for the Dallas Times Herald. In 1961 he went to work for the Dallas Morning News. While working at the Times Herald and Morning News, he began writing fiction and published his first novel Blood Reckoning (1962), a Western set in Texas.
About 1964 Shrake began work as an associate editor at Sports Illustrated in New York City. In 1966 he married Sports Illustrated colleague Charlene “Doatsy” Sedlmayr and lived in New York City until 1967, when they moved to Austin, Texas, when he was given the opportunity to work remotely. The couple later divorced in 1978. Shrake, who stayed with Sports Illustrated until 1979, worked on novels in his spare time and took advantage of traveling assignments, both nationally and abroad, to also research and write his novels. He completed some of his most famous works, But Not for Love (1964), Blessed McGill (1968), and Strange Peaches (1972), during his time as an editor at Sports Illustrated. Strange Peaches especially distinguished him, because it was about Dallas during and around the Kennedy assassination, and Shrake had unique insight into the event as he was working at the Dallas Morning News when the assassination took place. He was also a friend of Jack Ruby.
Larry McMurtry, in his controversial 1981 assessment of Texas literature, published in the October 23, 1981, issue of the Texas Observer, compared Blessed McGill to John Barth’s The Sot-Weed Factor in their shared “grandiloquent and stilted” style that became dated too soon, although he appraised Shrake’s Strange Peaches as a real achievement for its nuanced portrayal of modern, urban life in Texas, something that McMurtry believed was lacking from the literature of the state at large. Despite focusing on traditionally Texas subject matter, Shrake’s writing could also be experimental. His 1973 novel Peter Arbiter, for example, was a modern update to Satyricon, with the Texas oil barons playing the role of the decadent Romans that first-century writer Petronius satirized in his classic work. Shrake’s novels were often funny and displayed an “appreciation for the absurdities of existence,” according to critic A. C. Greene.
In 1969, after watching the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Shrake decided, after realizing he could make more money, to start writing scripts for Hollywood. His first screenplay, originally called Dime Box, was picked up by Twentieth Century Fox and turned into the film Kid Blue (1973), with Dennis Hopper in the title role. With his longtime friend, Gary Cartwright, Shrake also worked on the script for J.W. Coop (1972). He went on to write the scripts for Nightwing (1979), a horror film about bats; and Tom Horn (1980), a Western meant to revive the career of actor Steve McQueen. McQueen specifically chose Shrake for a rewrite of the script based on his appreciation for the writer’s Blessed McGill. Shrake also wrote Songwriter (1984), starring Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. His 1984 script Pancho Villa’s Wedding Day had successful runs as a stage play locally—at Austin’s Zachary Scott Theater and the Austin Opry House.
Years of hard drinking affected Shrake’s health, and in 1985 he became sober after finding out he had diabetes. He commented at the time that he could not write without a cigarette in his hand and a cocktail at the end of the day but, then sober, successfully completed the novel Night Never Falls (1987) without the use of either as a challenge to himself. In 1988 he published a biography of his friend Willie Nelson using the artist’s own words and interviews with his friends to construct a tapestry of his life. Willie became Shrake’s first commercial hit. Shrake used the same method for an “as-told-to” biography of the football coach Barry Switzer in 1990. That project introduced him to more opportunities for sports writing. He next wrote a series of golfing advice books with golf coach Harvey Penick, including Harvey Penick’sLittle Red Book: Lessons and Teachings From a Lifetime in Golf (1992), a golf guide that became the best-selling sports book in publishing history.
Shrake was a bachelor again in the late 1980s when he reconnected with his old friend and future governor Ann Richards. He was often seen by her side during her election campaign in 1990, and they remained close friends and companions until her death in 2006. He was not religious but became ordained in the Universal Life Church as a doctor of metaphysics in the early 1970s to allow himself to officiate at his friends’ weddings.
Shrake’s experiences of the social and political upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s were reflected in his writing. He experimented with drugs and alcohol and worked in a new medium of reporting that took the journalist’s subjective point of view more into consideration than traditional reporting. He also applied this technique to his “as-told-to” biographies, which relied on the subject and his or her associates to tell their biography from their own point of view. In that way, he was part of an overall movement at the time to emphasize subjective experiences over objective reporting, sometimes referred to as “gonzo” or “new” journalism. He did not reach the same national fame of some other writers from his generation, but, according to Larry McMurtry, he was the best of Texas’s “journalists–novelists,” and “an intriguing talent, far superior to most of his drinking buddies.”
Called a “lion of Texas letters” by the Austin American-Statesman, Shrake received a star on the Texas Walk of Fame in 1987. He received the Texas Book Festival Bookend Award in 2002 and the Lon Tinkle Lifetime Achievement Award from the Texas Institute of Letters in 2003. He was inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame in 2004. He continued to write for the rest of his life and worked on plays and novels up until his death. In the fall of 2008 he learned he had terminal lung cancer. He died on May 8, 2009, at St. David’s Medical Center in Austin. He was buried next to Ann Richards in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. Shrake’s book, Hollywood Mad Dogs, about his time working with Steve McQueen in Hollywood was published posthumously in 2020.
Gary Cartwright, “Shrake’s Progress,” Texas Monthly, April 2000. Dallas Morning News, May 9, 2009. Edwin “Bud” Shrake Papers, Southwestern Writers Collection, The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University (https://www.thewittliffcollections.txstate.edu/research/a-z/shrake.html), accessed October 13, 2021. Texas Observer, October 23, 1981. Washington Post, May 9, 2009. Austin American-Statesman, January 19, 2021. Find A Grave Memorial (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/36996164/edwin-allen-shrake), accessed October 20, 2021.
Editors and Reporters
Sports and Recreation
Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
Dramatists and Novelists
Texas Post World War II
Texas in the 21st Century
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
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