Bum Bright

Bum Bright

Harvey Roberts (Bum) Bright (October 6, 1920 in Muskogee, OklahomaDecember 11, 2004) was an oilman who was best known as owner of the Dallas Cowboys from 1984 to 1989.

Early career

After graduating from high school Bright worked in the Texas oilfields. He later entered Texas A&M University and received a degree in petroleum engineering in 1943. He then joined the Army Corps of Engineers.

After the Second World War, Bright worked for Sun Oil Company. He later used $6,500 he had saved from his Army pay to begin trading oil leases with his college roommate. The two men eventually started Bright & Co., an exploration and production company.

By 1950, Bright had become a millionaire. He used his wealth to invest in real estate, trucking and financial services, eventually owning more than 120 companies. During his career, Bright earned much respect and criticism for his style of business practice. He was sometimes seen as an intimidating figure and was involved in one of the most infamous political episodes of Texas history.

His politics

Bright developed extreme right-wing political opinions and along with his friends, Clint Murchison, Sid Richardson, George Brown, Herman Brown and Haroldson L. Hunt, was a supporter of the John Birch Society. They also funded politicians in the United States Senate to ensure the preservation of the oil depletion allowance, which permitted oil producers to treat up to 27.5% of their income as tax exempt.

In 1962, John F. Kennedy started to take on the oil industry. The Kennedy Act, passed on 16 October, removed the distinction between repatriated profits and profits reinvested abroad. While this law applied to industry as a whole, it especially affected the oil companies. It was estimated that as a result of this legislation, wealthy oilmen saw a fall in their earnings on foreign investment from 30 per cent to 15 per cent.

In a speech made on 17 January 1963, President Kennedy suggested that he intended to bring an end to the depletion allowance. As he pointed out: "no one industry should be permitted to obtain an undue tax advantage over all others." It was estimated that Bright and his friends might lose around $300 million a year if the oil depletion allowance was removed.

Bright, along with Edgar R. Crissey and Nelson Bunker Hunt, helped to pay for the full-page, black-bordered anti-Kennedy advertisement that ran in the "Dallas Morning News" on the day that President Kennedy was assassinated. The advert, placed by Bernard Weissman, attacked Kennedy's foreign policy as being anti-American and communistic. This included the claim that Gus Hall, "head of the U.S. Communist Party praised almost every one of your policies and announced that the party will endorse and support your re-election in 1964". It also attacked Kennedy's domestic policies. Another passage asked why Robert Kennedy had been allowed "to go soft on Communists, fellow-travelers, and ultra-leftists in America."

Rumours began to circulate that Bright might have been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Madeleine Duncan Brown, claimed in an interview on the television show, "A Current Affair" that on 21 November 1963, she attended a party at the home of Clint Murchison in Dallas. Others at the meeting included Bright, Haroldson L. Hunt, J. Edgar Hoover, Clyde Tolson, John J. McCloy and Richard Nixon. At the end of the evening Lyndon B. Johnson arrived. Brown said in this interview: "Tension filled the room upon his arrival. The group immediately went behind closed doors. A short time later Lyndon, anxious and red-faced, reappeared. I knew how secretly Lyndon operated. Therefore I said nothing... not even that I was happy to see him. Squeezing my hand so hard, it felt crushed from the pressure, he spoke with a grating whisper, a quiet growl, into my ear, not a love message, but one I'll always remember: "After tomorrow those goddamn Kennedys will never embarrass me again - that's no threat - that's a promise." The alleged meeting of the "anti-Kennedy business/oilmen" and Nixon on November 21 1963 was portrayed in the 1990s Oliver Stone movie "Nixon", one of the oilmen was played by Larry Hagman (of J.R. Ewing TV fame). LBJ's presence was not addressed in the movie scene.

Later years

Bright's later years involved two significant forays into the football business. In 1982, Bright was influential in Texas A&M's hire of Jackie Sherrill as head coach.

In 1984, Bright purchased the Dallas Cowboys from Clint Murchison. According to R. C. Slocum: "When the Cowboys thing came up, he was so worried they were going elsewhere. Buying the Cowboys was a business deal, but a big part of it was also keeping the Cowboys in Texas."

Like Murchison, Bright was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the Cowboys, leaving those responsibilities to team General Manager Tex Schramm. Compared with the other owners, the Cowboys were least successful under Bright, only reaching the playoffs once in Bright's five seasons and winning no playoff games. In fairness, Bright owned the team far fewer years that his predecessor Murchison or his successor Jones. During his tenure, Bright had a strained relationship with legendary Cowboys head coach Tom Landry (who had been friendly with Murchison). After a loss to Atlanta in the 1987 season, Bright said he was "horrifed" with Landry's play calling and said nobody in charge "other than Tex" seems to know what they're doing, viewed as a thinly disguised shot at Landry. Bright sold the Dallas Cowboys to Jerry Jones in 1989.

When a local TV station reported the deal, all Jones and Bright had was an agreement in principle on a single legal-sized sheet of paper. It is said that in the days leading up to the sale, another potential buyer added $10 million to Jones' offer, but Bright told him he had already given Jones his word.

Bright gave a great deal of money to charity. For example, he donated $5 million to Children's Medical Center of Dallas. In 1996, Bright made an unrestricted endowment of $25 million to Texas A&M University.

Harvey Bright died at his Highland Park home on 11 December 2004.


* Sandy Sheehy. "Texas Big Rich: Exploits, Eccentricities, and Fabulous Fortunes Won and Lost." Morrow, New York. 1990. ISBN 0688048196.

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