There's a 52-foot tall cowboy in Dallas' Fair Park. He used to be a 49-foot Santa in Kerens, 75 miles away, but the novelty lasted all of two Christmases before Santa was purchased, disassembled, and reinvented for the fair. The beard made of lengths of unravelled rope came off. The awkward chest-height waving hand remained. In a few years the cowboy's paper-mache skin was recast in fiber glass. He had facelifts to hinge a Howdy-Doody-esque jaw, a jaw to let him talk and then later to talk in sync with the PA system, so he might greet the crowds with a trademark, "Howdy, Folks!" and have the chin drop on the right words.
Big Tex turns 60 this year, and his voice is broadcast live twelve hours a day for 24 consecutive days. Indeed, not much has changed about Big Tex in the last 50 years except who does the voice and who sponsors the outfit. For such a radical initial identity change, he's become a stalwartly stable icon since.
Still I wonder about the first Big Tex, about the Santa-cum-Cowboy of 1952. Why couldn't he keep his hooked nose, that pronounced drooping prominence lost in the 1953 facelift? And when the same artist decided that same year to change the eyes, to correct what Nancy Wiley describes as "a lascivious wink," what was it about the accordion crush of the eyelid, those sweet wrinkles at the corner of the eye? What was so important to say that it had to come out of the hinged-jaw on a straight face? And when this same expression was on a small town Chamber of Commerce St. Nick, did anyone call it "lascivious"? Did anyone object at all?