The 35 Biggest Pop Culture Moments in Modern Dallas History

In fighting over what deserved inclusion in the 35 Biggest Moments in Modern Dallas History, we kept coming up with events that seemed noteworthy—if not necessarily important. So we endeavored to identify the 35 biggest pop culture moments, too. Because, after all, “Debbie Does Dallas” couldn’t be ignored.

photography courtesy of Dallas Morning News

8. The Starck Club Parties

What: The Starck Club was the celebrity hangout in Dallas in the 1980s, and the stories of what took place there are legion. (And juicy enough to fill two separate documentaries and a scripted full-length as well, all of which are in various stages of production.) It’s not surprising the nightclub attracted bold-faced names, since it was designed by one (Philippe Starck) and had several among its investors (Stevie Nicks, for one). Nicks and Grace Jones both performed at the club’s opening, a drawn-out affair that stretched across Memorial Day weekend in 1984. Through the years, it attracted the likes of Robert Plant, Prince, and Rob Lowe, back when he was at his Brat Pack best. Also, it was one of the first locations where the drug MDMA became popular. Back then, it was known as Adam. You know it as ecstasy.

Why: See everything we just typed.

illustration by Michael Witte
9. A Blond Cowboys Cheerleader Dominates Monday Night Football

On the week leading up to the events of November 10, 1975, ABC sports producer Roone Arledge temporarily assigned Andy Sidaris, a former Channel 8 director who had gone on to great fame as the genius behind Wide World of Sports, to fill in for the regular director of Monday Night Football. The opponent was Kansas City. The game at Texas Stadium was close and high scoring—and long.

Sidaris—a brash, funny, frequently profane Greek from Shreveport—was known for his love of pretty ladies. As the main college football director at ABC, he was the inventor of what came to be called “the honey shot,” which had already made many a college babe famous on campus. He’d even discovered a particularly fabulous University of Alabama cheerleader who became the wife of his sideline reporter, Jim Lampley. So when Sidaris took his swivel-chair seat in the remote transmission truck for the Dallas-Kansas City game, it was no surprise to anyone when he barked to his cameramen, “Okay, find the honeys!”

As the cameras panned across the sidelines, lingering on each Cowboys Cheerleader, Sidaris said, “That’s the one! The blonde! She’s having sex with the camera!” Then, throughout the evening, Sidaris would return to this particular babe, who winked, flirted, and posed in one of those defining moments that some claim launched the whole Cowboys Cheerleaders franchise. In fact, that moment may be single-handedly responsible for rescuing the fashion statement of hot pants and Daisy Mae halter tops from what should have been early-’70s oblivion so that, long after every Southwest Airlines flight attendant had burned her orange shorts, the tradition lived on in beer commercials, Maxim magazine, and Hooters restaurants everywhere.

On Tuesday, November 11, 1975, at office water coolers across America, the conversation was not about the 34-31 final score (the Cowboys lost), but rather: “Did you see that girl? Who was she?”

And here’s the best part: to this day we’re not sure whom she was. If you ask people who worked in Tex Schramm’s office at the time, they’ll tell you that the girl was Tami Barber, a pert blond beauty who was indeed one of the most popular cheerleaders and had a brief acting career of the Love Boat guest-star variety. But the dates don’t match up: Tami Barber didn’t arrive on the scene until two seasons later, after the cheerleaders were already an international phenomenon, and Andy Sidaris went to his grave claiming it was a girl at this particular game in 1975. The official history of the cheerleaders disagrees with Sidaris and ascribes the sea change in the squad’s fortunes to a winking beauty at Super Bowl X. Indeed there was a winking beauty at Super Bowl X—held in Miami in January 1976—but she was a brunette, and that would just be wrong! And, once again, Sidaris disputed this.

But I actually kind of like the fact that we’re not sure which blond cheerleader launched the myth. Just as the causes of the Trojan War are shrouded in mystery, and the founders of Rome come from a time before history, so the origins of the Dallas Blonde are a fit subject for endless metaphysical speculation, and it will no doubt consume the energies of several generations of the city’s theologians to parse out the best available evidence.
What we can say for sure is this: she came, she conquered, and she was blond.  —John Bloom

photography courtesy of Getty
10. Vanilla Ice Hits No. 1 with “Ice Ice Baby”

What: Vanilla Ice, born and raised Robert Van Winkle in the Dallas suburbs, recorded the first hip-hop single to top the Billboard charts, when his “Ice Ice Baby” landed there on November 3, 1990. It’s fun to laugh about now, but come on: when it came out, you liked it. Yeah, you did.

Why: If you are of the opinion that any press is good press, well, at least Dallas hip-hop got some press. Plus, if you are a fan of schadenfreude, “Ice Ice Baby” set up Vanilla Ice for a fall that never seems to hit bottom.

11. Logan’s Run Runs

What: In the 1970s, Dallas and its environs inspired movie producers to think of the 23rd century. Sounds like a good thing, right? Except the producers were working on 1976’s Logan’s Run, which depicted a dystopian world where “the survivors of war, overpopulation, and pollution are living in a great domed city, sealed away from the forgotten world outside, [and] … mankind lives only for pleasure.” Suddenly Dallas doesn’t sound like such a great place to party. (Or does it?)

Why:  With its recognizable locations—the Fort Worth Water Gardens and Dallas Market Center, among them—the cult classic remains one of the first titles mentioned when talk turns to locally made films. 

Errol Morris photography courtesy of Getty

12. The Thin Blue Line

The film was originally going to be an interview with Dr. James Grigson, known as “Dr. Death.” It was only at his instigation that I started interviewing people who had been sentenced to death in Texas—Randall Dale Adams being one of them. I had no reason to believe he was innocent. I was not looking for miscarriages of justice, nothing of the sort. I just stumbled on one. And it was an appalling story.

I came down, and I interviewed Dr. Grigson on film, and one of the lines that Grigson repeated again and again and again was, “You have to meet these people. They’re different than you and me.”

And so I said, “Well, I’d like to interview some of the people who have been put on death row in part because of your testimony.” And I was given a laundry list of names at different prisons in Texas—Coffield Unit, Wall Unit, Easthman Unit, Barrington Unit. In many instances, these are people who had been taken off death row because of some constitutional infirmity with their case: jury selection, the use of Grigson in the courtroom, etc.

Randall Dale Adams was one of them. He had been convicted of a 1976 murder of a Dallas police officer, Robert W. Wood, during a traffic stop. And I interviewed so many different murderers, but in the end this is the story that grabbed hold of me. I went down to Austin, to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Texas statutes provide for an automatic appeal on a death sentence. So you can go to the Court of Criminal Appeals (that’s where all the appeals go), and in the basement you can sit down and read through transcript after transcript after transcript.

So all these people who I met in prison, I read their transcripts or part of their transcripts, and Randall Dale Adams was one of them. I read it, and it made me uneasy. There was something wrong. The line I’m always fond of citing is a line from a film noir: “I could see the frame, but I couldn’t see the picture.”

Then I started to investigate. And much of my investigation was done without a camera, but much of it was done with a camera as well. Interview after interview with Dallas police officers, with witnesses at the trial, and with friends of David Ray Harris. Before he fingered Randall Dale Adams for the crime, Harris had told his friends he was responsible. But David Ray Harris was a juvenile and couldn’t be given the death penalty, which is why some people think Randall Dale Adams was convicted instead.

I’m trying to think of the moment when I became absolutely convinced that Randall Dale Adams was innocent and there had been a terrible miscarriage of justice. There are so many steps along the way. I’m often fond of pointing out that most documentaries are not investigative; they’re illustrative. They take a story that someone already knows, and they illustrate it—whereas The Thin Blue Line was really an investigation.

I had no idea where I was going and where I was going to end up. My last interview was with David Ray Harris. My camera broke, and I had to do the interview on a tape recorder. But he essentially confessed to the murder. And he was executed. Not for that murder but for a completely different murder that he had committed after I started talking to him in connection with this case.

When I interviewed the people, I had no idea what I was going to hear. It was those interviews, both copies of the interviews and transcripts of the interviews, that were introduced into court, both into federal and state court in Dallas. That led to the conviction being overturned. In the film, people without even knowing what they’re saying are admitting to perjury. Maybe they had just forgotten to lie.

The Thin Blue Line, which came out in 1988, is considered the only movie that actually led to overturning a capital murder conviction. It’s something that I am immensely proud of doing. And I often tell people that I’m not sure I’m a good filmmaker, but I do believe I’m a good investigator. I’m glad I did what I did. —Errol Morris

Errol Morris is an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker and regular contributor to the New York Times.

photography courtesy of Newscom
13. Jessica Simpson Goes Rogue

What: Before that game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys fans could pretend the relationship between Tony Romo and Jessica Simpson was all a creation of the tabloids. A figment of Papa Joe Simpson and TMZ’s fever dreams. It wouldn’t have been the first time. But, no, there she was, and the FOX cameras kept finding her. Not that they had to work very hard. Standing in her seat, she posed and preened and popped her white jersey with the pink No. 9, all while her new boyfriend played one of the worst games of his career. If anyone doubted Simpson was a distraction, the events of December 16, 2007, removed all possibility of that theory being proved false. As much as we’d like it to be, nothing is ever quite so literal as that.

Why: It actually went downhill from there. Romo and Simpson (who had, by then, been dubbed “Yoko Romo”) took a trip to Mexico during the team’s off week before its divisional playoff game against the New York Giants, which it lost. The controversy continued until the couple called it quits in July 2009. But the damage had been done. Cowboys fans will always remember Jessica Simpson, and they will always remember her in that white jersey with the pink No. 9, mugging for the cameras.

photography courtesy of Newscom
14. Mark Cuban Works at Dairy Queen

What: After Mark Cuban said the NBA’s head of officiating, Ed T. Rush, “wouldn’t be able to manage a Dairy Queen,” the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks received an invitation from the company to do just that. Or, at least, work at one for a day, which he did—amid much media coverage—at the DQ outpost in Coppell on January 16, 2002.

Why: It continued branding Cuban as the up-for-anything face of the franchise, while further distancing the team from its no-hope days in the 1990s. Say what you will about Cuban: he knows how to boost his, and his team’s, national profile.

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