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Monday, April 27, 1998

'Big Daddy' Favor a weighty character for Clint Black

By Bill Whitaker

If tomorrow night's TV movie about Jack "Big Daddy" Favor doesn't quite ring true, none of Jack's kinfolks in Abilene is going to ring up country crooner Clint Black to complain.

To hear them, the nationally known rodeo cowboy convicted of a double murder more than three decades ago was a man of many dimensions - so many, in fact, that members of his own family disagree heartily about his character and background.

At least, they did when I paid a call on them. While we were discussing Jack Favor's colorful life as a rodeo cowboy and convicted felon one Sunday afternoon, Jack's penchant for fistfights came up time and again.

"Of course, the reason he got into so many fights," 67-year-old Garland Cranfill explained, "is because so many people came along and challenged him."

"Yeah," said 48-year-old Richard Favor, who idolized his uncle from childhood, "but that's because he wanted 'em to!"

Nobody would ever call the Eula native an enigma, but Jack Favor did confuse people mightily, his own kin included.

"It's pretty hard to get all of Jack's story in a movie," Richard said of the movie "Still Holding On: The Legend of Cadillac Jack," starring Clint Black and airing tomorrow night. "But then it'd be hard to get it all into a song and it'd be hard to get it all into a book.

"We're all approaching it from different perspectives," he said. "There are just a lot of different sides to Jack."

RIDING HELL'S ANGEL

The side of Jack Favor most people know involves his work as a prison reformer and lay minister, the outgrowth of time spent behind bars for a 1964 double murder. Two hitchhikers he picked up one spring day that year later framed Favor for a murder they committed.

Based on their testimony at the time, Jack received two life sentences in Angola Prison. He spent seven and a half years trying to prove his innocence, too, despite the best efforts by Louisiana authorities to prove otherwise. Later, a second jury found him innocent and he was cleared of the charges.

That is the story Clint Black is bringing to the screen in his first major acting foray.

But even before Jack Favor's clash with the law, he was an intriguing figure. Hailing from the Big Country, this massively built rodeo competitor became a legend for a bulldogging time of less than three seconds, though even here family members debate whether that feat truly happened.

Kinfolks do talk of Jack's skills as a saddle bronc rider, especially the time he successfully rode Hell's Angel, a fierce bucking horse later inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame (unlike Jack, incidentally). Depending on who's telling the tale, Jack had a fractured leg when he rode the bucking equine.

In order to get his chance on the horse and stay in competition, Jack sprayed his fractured leg with ether till he could no longer feel the pain. Then he mounted Hell's Angel and rode to glory, or whatever passes for it here on earth.

"He told me that story before I was even 6 years old," Richard Favor told me. "I loved horses and he was one of my idols and I grew up believing everything he told me. Of course, there's the truth and there's Jack's version."

SO WHO'S NEXT?

Although Jack Favor's obit refers to him as an overlooked rodeo star and prison reformer, family members also recall his tendency to get into fights at the drop of a cowboy hat. For Jack, it was just a matter of establishing bragging rights.

Richard, who owns Maverick Trailer Service, tells of the time Jack and another cowboy were at a ritzy hotel in New York City for a rodeo at Madison Square Garden. One thing led to another in the lobby, the cowboys walked into an elevator and one of them punched the button to the top floor.

When the elevator came back down a few minutes later, Jack dragged the other cowboy out into the lobby. Bragging rights for the toughest cowboy on the premises had once again been established.

"He lived the good life while he was in prison," Richard said of his uncle, 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds in his prime. "That's because he whipped six people as soon as he got there. After a while, everyone there came to call him 'Warden Jack.'"

Before and after prison and all throughout his days as a rodeo performer and later a car salesman, Jack had a penchant for stretching the truth - an honorable pursuit in Texas as long as the tale told is entertaining.

Winnie Favor, 83, married to Jack's brother Dick, recalled whenever Jack told one of his tales, Jack's wife Ponder would nod to Dick but only on occasion: "That was how we knew the story Jack was telling was really true!"

NEVER A CADILLAC

However much a hellion Jack Favor might have seemed, he also had plenty of good in him. During his days behind bars, he helped found a prison rodeo, using proceeds to finance trips for prisoners under guard in times of family emergencies.

Jack also brought Alcoholics Anonymous to the prison and later helped form the Cowboys for Christ organization in Fort Worth. After returning home to Arlington, he continued touring and speaking to groups, especially youth, on how to stay out of trouble. He died in 1988.

Imagining Clint Black as Jack Favor will be a stretch: For one thing, Clint is 36 and trim, while Jack was well into middle age and hefty when his problems with the law arose.

Also, despite Black's song "Cadillac Jack," written about Jack Favor, the nickname was rarely if ever applied to Jack. Kinfolks remember him as "Big Daddy" or "Hollywood Jack" and say he drove Buicks and Oldsmobiles and Chevrolets "but never a Cadillac."

While acknowledging the many outrageous aspects of Jack's life - some not even of his creation - Evelyn Cranfill, 66, Winnie's daughter, hopes the movie tomorrow night serves as an inspiration to the youth Jack so much wanted to help late in life.

For her part, she said she probably wouldn't gather with kinfolks when the movie airs.

"Because," she said, "I know I'll cry!"

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Copyright ©1998, Bill Whitaker, Abilene Reporter-News / Texnews / E.W. Scripps Publications

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