NAIL, ROBERT EDWARD, JR. (1908–1968). Robert Edward Nail, Jr., playwright, director, and creator of the Fort Griffin Fandangle, was born in Wolfe City, Texas, on September 13, 1908. He was the son of Robert Edward Nail, Sr., and Etta (Reilly) Nail. The family moved to Albany, Texas, in 1909. Despite a severe drinking problem, Bob Nail, Sr., had an aptitude for business and was successful in a grocery and dry goods store and later in a feed and seed mill.
Young Bobby showed an early interest in drama and writing verse and graduated from Albany High School in 1926, the year a prolific shallow oilfield was discovered on the Cook Ranch, property of Nail's uncle W. I. Cook. He traveled in Europe after graduation. Influenced by the J. A. Matthews family, whose son Watt had graduated from Princeton University in 1921, Nail headed east to the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, where an English professor, the famous Thornton Wilder, took an interest in him and encouraged him. Bobby, by then called "Spike," had an outstanding record at Lawrenceville that included editorship of the yearbook Olla Podrida and managing editorship of the literary magazine. In the fall of 1929 he entered Princeton and was determined to be a playwright. Among classmates such as Joshua Logan, Jimmy Stewart, Jose Ferrer, and Bill Reynolds, Nail served as the class poet and president of the Theatre Intime. He wrote several plays, one of which, Time of Their Lives, received unanimous acclaim. It was performed his senior year and pronounced "the maturest and best piece of undergraduate playwrighting to come out of Princeton," even when it was given a repeat performance in 1937. Nail graduated with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1933.
Though others expected him to accompany others of his class to New York, a dean advised Nail to go home and see how he could help there. His father, overcome by alcoholism and devastated at the death of his sister, Mrs. Cook, had committed suicide the year before, and Bobby later told friends that he felt a duty to see about his mother. He returned to Texas and directed the Little Theater in Fort Worth from 1933 to 1935, the Dallas Theater in 1936, and the Abilene Little Theater. But the Great Depression militated against theater in Texas, so Nail returned to boom-time Albany to live with his mother. The Aztec Theater on Main Street, along with other new enterprises, reflected the Shackelford County oil boom.
Nail became head of the drama department at Albany High School in March 1938. Superintendant C. B. Downing encouraged the senior class to ask Bob to write and direct a colorful, fast-moving cavalcade portraying the history of Shackelford County. Dr. Shackelford's Paradise had a cast of 200 students; the band, the choral club, and the tumbling team took part. The spectacle, held on the football field, was such a success that the Albany Chamber of Commerce decided to hold a July performance with added adult participation and to rename the show the Fort Griffin Fandangle. Bobby enlisted a talented young artist and music graduate from Baylor University, Miss Alice Reynolds, who had returned to Albany and set up a studio. For thirty subsequent years the two brought entertainment and music of a polished quality not seen before in West Texas.
Bob wrote the beautiful finale song "Prairie Land" for the 1939 show, and it has been the final piece of every show since. Alice incorporated classical themes into the musical interludes of the show, eschewing harsh, crude melodies for more soothing, sophisticated pieces. During the first years many traditional songs were used, but these were largely replaced by home-grown products, particularly the songs of James Ball, who, in combination with Bobby or Alice, wrote most of the show's most popular tunes. By the time of Nail's death, the Fandangle included mostly original songs. Nail wrote or assisted in writing the lyrics for "Let's Settle in this Country," "The Town of Fort Griffin," "Old Red-Eye," "Love Hovers Over You," "There's a Night and a Day," "It's a Gully Washer," "My Love and I Will Marry," "Officer's Ball," "Four Little Girls," "Lonesome," "Work Is a Song," "Shank of the Evening," "You Can't Change Them Ways," "Think Twice," and "Kissin' Kin." He wrote both music and lyrics for several songs, including "Tall Tale," the rattlesnake song, "The Horse that I Ride," "Lottie's Song," and "Prairie Land."
Many saw directing as Nail's greatest skill, however, for he could evoke polished performances from ordinary people, especially young ones. He called the Fandangle the "People's Theater." Its elaborate props, along with Longhorn cattle borrowed from Fort Griffin and herded by real cowboys, resulted from the hard work of many individuals. Local welders and mechanics built the sets, steam calliope, stagecoach, and train, produced by G. P. Crutchfield, an engineer working in Albany for Marshall R. Young Oil Compan