Sam Malone And The Film Canisters

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Sam Malone died 15 years ago, a few weeks shy of his 80th birthday, which was on March 2 — Texas Independence Day. That is also Sam Houston’s birthday, and Sam was proud to have been born on that day. He was my first newspaper mentor and a good friend. We rode the roads together for five years to dimly lit football stadiums in towns nestled deep behind the Pine Curtain — Newton, Hemphill and Shelbyville, to name a few.

Sam grew up in the country newspaper business out in Seminole, in West Texas. His dad, Big Sam Malone owned a weekly and taught young Sam how to put type back in the case after the paper was printed. That’s when type often was set at country papers one metal letter at a time. Newspapering back then was bone-crushing work. Now it’s just mind crushing.

He was the archetypal country newspaper editor. He kept a bottle of Evan Williams whiskey in his desk drawer, a loaded 12-gauge shotgun in the corner, and a foul-smelling cigar clamped between his dentures. He had piercing blue eyes and wore a crew cut. He was a Marine during World War II in the Pacific theater but didn’t want to talk about that. That was one of the few areas where Sam was reticent about expressing himself. He did a daily radio show for the Center station called “San Augustine Speaks,” on which he gave the news, told listeners who had died and when they would be buried, and his views on whatever came to his mind.

Sam and I became compadres, co-workers and partners in crime thanks to an article on San Augustine by Richard West in 1978. West recounted how this crusty newspaper editor took on the entire school board and got a slate of reform candidates elected. One of the losing candidates cocked Sam with her purse. He had the presence of mind to take a photo of her from the ground, and ran it in the next issue of The Rambler, the weekly he had started there in 1967.

On a whim, hoping to escape the mind-numbing drudgery of working as a bureaucrat in Austin, I called Sam to see if he had any spots available. He told me he had sold the paper the year before to a fellow who also owned the Center paper 18 miles up the road but still owned a print shop in the same building as the newspaper office. The new owner was looking for a managing editor. A few weeks later we were driving a U-Haul truck to San Augustine, where I took the job for about half what I was making in Austin. And thus my education into country journalism began — and some lifetime friendships were formed.

For example, nearly 33 years later I am back working for the same guys who took a chance on me in San Augustine. Sam and I remained close until his death, even after I left San Augustine five years later. He dispensed advice on how to deal with unhappy advertisers, covered football for me so I could shoot the game, and became Grandpa Sam to our two young daughters.

Here’s my favorite Sam Malone story. We were getting ready to cover our first football game together. As I said, I would walk the sidelines shooting the action, while Sam would be in the pressbox taking notes to write the game story. It is 1982, so I was shooting film. About an hour before time to leave, I noticed Sam had lined up about a dozen 35-mm plastic film canisters on the counter at the rear of his print shop, just outside the darkroom

“Sam, I can’t possibly shoot a dozen rolls of film,” I protested. “That’s too much money, and it would take forever to process the film.”

He sighed and shook his head. Rookies, he was thinking.

“Do you know that a 35 mm film canister can hold an exact shot of whiskey,” he said. “These are for me.”

As soon as we got to the stadium, Sam would buy a large Coke and pour a couple canisters of Evan Williams rotgut into the cup. He would freshen that drink throughout the game with the film canisters. Needless to say, I was the designated driver home. But the man could hold his liquor and always cranked out a flawless game story.

My days of shooting film have long passed now that we are in the digital age. But I can’t see a film canister found in a junk drawer or somewhere without thinking about Sam Malone. He broke the mold and taught me a lot about country journalism.

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  • W. Floyd


    And Sam said "....

    • admin


      I just reposted it. I missed cutting and pasting the last four paragraphs. Sorry about that. gb

  • Dyson Nickle


    He was a great Christian and and wonderful friend!

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