Texas independent oil producer who “rocketed into the national imagination in the late 1940s.”

As giant oilfield discoveries created Texas millionaires after World War II, people started calling “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy the reigning King of the Wildcatters. Some historians have said a $21 million hotel McCarthy opened in 1949 put Houston on the map. 

Glenn H. McCarthy’s petroleum career began with a 1935 well 50 miles east of Houston when he and partner R.A. Mason completed their No. 1 White well with production of almost 600 barrels of oil a day. The well extended by three miles to the north the already productive Anahuac field, which McCarthy had discovered earlier.

TIME magazine February 13, 1950, cover featuring oilman Glenn McCarthy.

After discovering 11 Texas oil fields, Glenn McCarthy appeared on the February 13, 1950, cover of TIME.

By 1945, McCarthy had gone on to discover 11 new oilfields and extend others. In Brazoria County a year later he drilled the highest-pressure gas well drilled to that time. Described as a “bombastic, plucky Irishman best known for building the famous Shamrock Hotel,” the Texas independent oilman would be featured on the February 13, 1950, cover of TIME.

Born in Beaumont, Texas, on December 25, 1907, Glenn H. McCarthy worked as an eight-year-old water boy in the Beaumont oilfields, where father Will McCarthy worked for a wage of 50 cents a day, according to HoustonHistory.com.

The family moved to Houston in 1917, and McCarthy excelled in football at San Jacinto High School. He eventually won a scholarship to Tulane University and later transferred to Texas A&M. Although recruited to play fullback at Houston’s Rice Institute, McCarthy dropped out of college and entered the oil business. He soon owned two Houston gas stations.

While pumping gas one day in 1930, McCarthy met his future when she pulled into his station driving a Cadillac convertible. When he later eloped with Faustine Lee, daughter of a successful oilman, McCarthy decided to get in the same business — without any help from his father-in-law, Thomas P. Lee.

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“At the time of his marriage and his quitting college, he claimed that he had less than $1.50 in his pocket. according to a 2020 article on the Texas Handbook Online. After drilling wells for others, McCarthy, 24, explored for himself in Hardin County, Texas, but failed to find commercial quantities of oil.

More dry holes followed, but two years later McCarthy made his first major oilfield discovery at Anahuac, near Trinity Bay on the Gulf Coast,

Hollywood Friends

By late 1940s McCarthy had more than 400 producing oil and natural wells in Texas and was president of the United States Petroleum Association. As his reputation as a hard-charging, hard-drinking wildcatter grew, his estimated worth reached $200 million (almost $2.5 billion in 2023 dollars).

Poster for "The Green Promise" movie, produced by oilman Glenn McCarthy

Glenn McCarthy in 1949 produced “The Green Promise,” which reportedly was the first independent production approved by Howard Hughes Jr. after he took control of RKO Pictures a year earlier.

Increasingly known as “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy, in 1949 he produced the RKO movie “The Green Promise,” starring a young Natalie Wood and fellow Irishman Walter Brennan.

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McCarthy’s many Hollywood friends included Errol Flynn, Pat O’Brien, John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Dorothy Lamour, Howard Hughes Jr., and Eddie Rickenbacker of Eastern Airlines.

According to his 1951 authorized biography, Corduroy Road: The story of Glenn H. McCarthy, he reportedly was the inspiration for the character Jett Rink in Edna Ferber’s 1952 novel Giant, portrayed by James Dean in the 1956 film adaptation.

Postcard of "Diamond Glenn" McCarthy's 18-story Shamrock Hotel, circa 1950.

“Diamond Glenn” McCarthy arranged for a sixteen-car Santa Fe Super Chief train to bring the stars he had met in Hollywood to his 1949 opening of the Shamrock Hotel.


In addition to his McCarthy Oil and Gas Company, McCarthy would eventually own the Beaumont Gas Company, the Houston Export Company, KXYZ Radio, the McCarthy Chemical Company, the McCarthy International Tube Company, fourteen newspapers, a magazine, a movie-production company, two banks and the Shell Building in downtown Houston.

“Glittering Shamrock”

Constructed between 1946 and 1949, the 18-story, 1,100-room Shamrock Hotel was the largest in the United States. McCarthy spent $21 million to build it. He reportedly spent another $1 million for its opening day gala on St. Patrick’s Day.

The Shamrock’s opening made Houston a star overnight, one newspaper reported the next day, March 18, 1949. The opening gala – where McCarthy also introduced his own label of “Wildcatter” bourbon – was dubbed Houston’s biggest party.

diamond glenn

The Shamrock’s swimming pool was 165 feet by 142 feet, big enough for water ski demonstrations. Photo courtesy celticowboy.com

“The hotel had a shamrock motif, 63 shades of green colors in the interiors, the reception desk pen wrote in green ink, the Steinway piano in the lobby was green, out front, above the entrance, Irish flags flapped in the breeze. The Shamrock was something to see,” noted one observer.

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Although built far from the downtown business district, something unheard of at the time, more than 5,000 attended (invited and uninvited) the hotel’s opening. McCarthy arranged for a Santa Fe Super Chief 16-car train to bring his Hollywood friends to help him celebrate.

A headline in the Houston Press proclaimed, “Glittering Shamrock Debut Transformed into Champagne-Popping ‘Subway’ Rush.” Events of the evening before at the new Shamrock Hotel were indeed unlike anything Houstonians had witnessed before, explains a 2011 article in the Houston Business Journal.

"Diamond Glenn" McCarthy pictured in December 1986.

“Diamond Glenn” McCarthy pictured in December 1986. Photo courtesy Glenn Lewis, Houston Chronicle.

“The hotel had a swimming pool large enough to accommodate water-skiing demonstrations, a lobby the size of a football field with Brazilian mahogany paneling carved from one gigantic tree, and a television set in every room, notes reporter Betty T. Chapman. Houston had only one station at the time with very limited programming.

The Shamrock’s Emerald Room would soon rival Las Vegas with headliners like Frank Sinatra, Burns and Allen and Sophie Tucker. On opening night, actress Dorothy Lamour agreed to broadcast the festivities.

A wrecking ball demolishes the Shamrock Hotel in 1987.

Although some Houstonians rallied to preserve the Shamrock Hotel (including an elderly Glenn McCarthy), it took the wrecking ball crew just two weeks to demolish the famed hotel in 1987. Photo courtesy the Sloan Gallery.

“Part of the entertainment was a live broadcast of Dorothy Lamour’s national radio show from the Emerald Room,” Chapman reports. “Lamour was shut off the air after 10 minutes because of colorful language used by a network engineer in Chicago referring to the poor transmission from Houston’s station.”

Although the show resumed, Chapman says, “the incident gave the Shamrock opening some notoriety that would become part of its ongoing legend.” 

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From 1949 to 1953, a national radio show, “Saturday at the Shamrock,” was broadcast from the Emerald Room – the only regularly scheduled national radio show to broadcast from Texas.

McCarthy once said he built his hotel to last 100 years, but the Shamrock was demolished in 1987 by the Houston Medical Center, which had bought it from the Hilton hotel chain. Despite his years of success, by 1952 he found himself overextended and in debt (see Glenn McCarthy, Inc.).

"Wildcatter" label whiskey oil derrick bottle of oilman Glenn McCarthy.

The Irish oilman introduced his own “Wildcatter” label whiskey at the Shamrock’s 1949 opening.

Although he would recover financially, in 1955 he sold the Shamrock to the Hilton Hotels Corporation, a company that got its start thanks to a Texas oilfield (see Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel).

Hilton Hotels in 1954 had assumed management of the hotel before buying it one year later. The Houston Independent School District’s DeBakey High School for Health Professions opened in 2017 on the site of McCarthy’s once famous hotel.

In his later years, Glenn McCarthy lived quietly in a modest two-story house near La Porte. He would live to see his hotel torn down and turned into a parking lot. McCarthy died on December 26, 1988, and was buried in Glenwood Cemetery next to his wife, Faustine.

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The legend of the Shamrock and its grand opening has lived on, according to the Houston Business Journal, “because on one March night in 1949, the Shamrock introduced Houston as a dynamic city of the future to the rest of the nation.”

The journal cited an article in Vanity Fair, which proclaimed, “the stereotype of the raw, hard-living, bourbon-swilling, fist-fighting, cash-tossing, damn-the-torpedoes Texas oil millionaire did not exist before Glenn McCarthy rocketed into the national imagination in the late 1940s.”

Learn more in “The Man Who Was Texas,” in Vanity Fair, excerpted from the 2009 book The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes, by Bryan Burrough.


Recommended Reading: The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes (2009); Corduroy Road: The story of Glenn H. McCarthy (1951); Wildcatters: Texas Independent Oilmen (1984). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2024 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Diamond Glenn” McCarthy. Authors: B.A. and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/diamond-glenn-mccarthy. Last Updated: March 11, 2024. Original Published Date: July 19, 2015.

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