It’s a wonderful spring morning and Michael Wallis Locked inside talks to a reporter from The Daily Oklahoman. One interview after the next. It’s been like this for weeks, ever since it was announced that Doubleday will be publishing his autobiography Frank Phillips.
Everyone wants to know about the author.
“Everything is so exciting now because it is something new. The interest is heartening. After all the work on the book, this is the payoff,” Wallis says with a satisfied smile.
“But maybe after all this promotion, I will get tired of it. Check with me in June.”
Wallis will be living out of a suitcase for the next month or two, busy with signature parties, talk shows, interviews, and the like throughout the Southwest and beyond while promoting his first book, “The Oil Man: The Frank Phillips Story and Birth from Phillips Petroleum.”
Publisher describes 470 pages A book as “a big, bold, colorful autobiography…a story of hopes, fears, tragedies, triumphs, and the birth of an industry and the life of a unique individual – Frank Phillips.”
Weeks before the book was printed, Wallis says he spoke to at least six major motion picture studios about getting the film right. “This could do to Oklahoma what below Ferber‘s “Giant” did for Texas, said Doubleday’s editor. Governor Governor Henry Belmon He was excited enough to loan him a quote of his own on the back of his book dust jacket.
“It’s an epic story,” Wallis explains. “Philips Life stretched into one of the most exciting eras in the history of this country. He was born in Nebraska and died in Atlantic City. It’s American history, really, from the frontier days to the Roaring Twenties and two World Wars. Doubleday likes it so much because ethi He reads like fiction. Phillips’ life intersected with many famous people. will RogersAnd Harry TrumanAnd handsome boy FloydAnd y. Pee GT. was a kind of Mine Akoca of his day.
“Plus The book has all the elements – sex, murder and mayhem. It puts a lot of rumors to rest. And you discover that a lot of rumors are not as good as true stories. IT is much more than juA book on the oil business.
So much about what the book is. How do You are It became a story in itself.
Climbing the carpeted steps to what Wallis calls his “crime scene” (where the book was written), the author enters his office – a large, pine-walled, semi-square-ceilinged, high-ceilinged study littered with everyone. Author’s Trading Tools. And then some.
Brightly lit, the place reflects a man.
“I like to have a lot of irons in the fire,” Wallis says, scanning through piles of reference materials, journals, books, a word processor, notes, and manuscripts. “And I am a natural-born rat,” he said, pointing to a few of the many antiques, memorabilia, Western memorabilia (he loves so much) and plain old junk neatly littered in his office.
“When we were looking for a house and I came here and saw this office, I fell in love with it. The songwriter used to live here. There’s a lot of room. I need it. When I write, I like to post things everywhere.”
In Wallis’ scheme of things, this is the life he projected for himself. And at 42, he was right on schedule. “I went to Hemingway’s writing school. I psychology by experience. “
He says he hasn’t taken the usual route of writing for school newspapers and working with the yearbook staff. A native of St. Louis, he spent his high school days at a military academy; College at the University of Missouri with graduate studies in English and history courses at Southeast Missouri State University. Learn Spanish through a program at the University of Arizona in Guadalajara, Mexico. After that, he joined the Marines and was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant.
By 1970, he had begun writing and working as a reporter for the newspaper in Santa Fe. Here he founded a literary magazine that writes, edits and publishes fiction. “I came by typing through the back door. I spent my twenties learning, traveling and working. I wasn’t into an MBA, a wife and Children scenery,” he says.
Wallis spent the next decade of his life, from his late twenties to late thirties, working for newspapers and magazines, writing and editing all the time while honing his abilities as an investigative reporter. Skills that will serve him well in the years to come.
By 1975, he had become a special correspondent for Time-Life publications, and contributed regularly to a number of national magazines and newspapers. Three years later, he moved to Miami where he covered key stories for the Time-Life News Service.
Wallis came to Tulsa in 1983 and set up a position for himself running the public relations division of Hood, Hope & Associates, an advertising company that merged last year with another agency to form Ackerman, Hood and McQueen. Within a year of arriving here, he helped found an editorial PR/marketing firm, Wallis Gideon Wallis, Inc.
“By age 40, I wanted to start writing books and I’m right on target,” he notes.
For most successful people, “being in the right place at the right time” is suggested as an important contributing factor. easily overlapOooked is the effort required to put himself out there. But Wallis had his share of good luck, too.
Regarding the “Oil Man,” Wallis arguably called the right person to the right place at the right time.
“my wife, Susan, and I enjoy a lot and have home guests frequently,” he says. “A friend of ours, who is an editor at Doubleday, has been visiting for two years and we’ve taken him to all the attractions. He was very fascinated by Philbrook and Wallrock and the man who built them. He was amazed that nothing of any significance had ever been written about Frank Phillips. He told me he wanted me to write a book about Phillips’ life.
Talk about Kismet! When the editor returned to New York, his boss presented him with a massive packet of Phillips biographical information which was sent unsolicited from Phillips’ grandson, Frank. They called me back, and the writing process began.”
Although the book is not authorized by the Phillips family or the company, Wallis says they were very helpful. He took time off work in Tulsa and started gathering information very soon. “I interviewed the people who were there — the slag workers, the porters, the CEOs,” the author said. “Timing was on edge—six of my primary sources had died since I completed writing last fall.”
Along with other materials, he says, the Philips Trade Journal dating from 1920-42 has proven to be an invaluable resource in the writer’s research. “I knew practically everything he did, every single day over those years. I also had his wife’s personal diaries, letters and other major documents.”
His research revealed some new information, such as Phillips’ true relationship with his secretary, fern butler. “She was his mistress, and more than just a secretary by his side. She ran the New York office and became one of the first female officers in a major company—which was pretty cool in those days, especially in the macho oil business,” says Wallis. It was sharp. You don’t get to the position of ‘officer’ just by sleeping with the boss.”
As a writer, he says his greatest strength is his skill as an observer, and the goal is to bring the reader into the scene. Currently, Wallis is working on what he calls a “pop culture” book about tequila. Another is an autobiographical novel set in Santa Fe. He directs his attention to the imagination.
He says it’s hard to get away from writing. When he needs a break, he walks or swims. Runnign It became something of a passion.
“Susan and I travel a lot and do travel stories. Again, everything we do is about writing. She takes a lot of photos for the stories,” he explains. In fact, it was the book tour that brought Wallis to Tulsa. They loved it and stayed.
“If I have a writing weakness, it’s procrastination. I need deadlines,” says Wallis whose delivery varies depending on the mood of the animation, from scrambled, scrambled conversation to fast, fiery speech. It is homogeneous, yet intense, focused, driven by its action. If procrastination is his weakness, he makes up for it more than just planning and promotion, qualities he says are crucial to publishing or any business venture.
He admits that Wallis’ savvy in public relations combined with his company’s marketing skills have served him well in reorienting his writing career.
He adds, “I can’t imagine myself doing anything but writing, but sometimes I wonder why I’m doing it.”
Ready or not, in June he will likely have his answer.
Self-Portrait: Michael Wallis
Place and date of birth: October 7, 1945 in Saint Louis, Missouri.
Occupation / Title: Author / Journalist / Founding Director of Wallis Gideon Wallis.
If I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s this: Never say never.
If I could change one thing: I had played Major League Baseball (for a while).
My mother’s best advice: become a writer.
The person who has had the greatest impact on my life: Susan Fitzgerald Wallis.
Guests at my fairytale dinner party will be: Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keefe.
Favorite comic strip: “Doonesbury.”
Favorite TV Show of All Time: “Our World”.
Favorite magazine: The New Yorker.
Favorite movie: Reds.
Preferred President: John F. Kennedy.
Favorite fast food: Popcorn.
The main meal I would have chosen for my last meal: Chili’s Rellenos.
Favorite Tulsa restaurant: 15NS Street Grill.
Favorite holiday: Christmas.
Favorite colour: Terra cotta.
Favorite sport: Cardinal baseball.
Favorite city outside of Oklahoma: Santa Fe.
Favorite Hobbies: Traveling and Running.
If I gave a starting title, my theme would be: “The value of not taking oneself too seriously”.
My worst habit is: procrastination.
Favorite time of the day: sunrise and sunset.
I’m compulsive about: my writing.
The last book I read was: “The Fire of Vanity”.
Wife’s name: Susan.
Education: Western Military Academy, University of Missouri.