More Than Anna Nicole Smith's Husband: The Oil-Soaked Life of J. Howard Marshall

Recalling the life of a smart and ingenious oil man.

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By Michael Barone, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

I suppose the name of J. Howard Marshall will go down in history, as it has in recent popular media, as the late husband of the late Anna Nicole Smith. But he deserves better than that. A relative of his sent me a copy of his autobiography, Done in Oil, published by Texas A&M University Press in 1994, the year when Marshall turned 89. A fascinating book about a fascinating career.

Marshall was a Philadelphia Quaker who got his start in what Texans call the awl bidness by writing, with an economist co-author, a note in the Yale Law Journal about oil law. In the 1930s and then again in World War II he worked for Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, regulating the oil industry; he rejected price controls as unworkable and was the author of the Connally Hot Oil Act of 1935, which was passed to hold up (yes, hold up) oil prices after the Supreme Court ruled the National Recovery Administration unconstitutional. In between he was a lawyer for Standard Oil of California (today's Chevron) at Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro in San Francisco; after the war he worked for Ashland Oil in Kentucky and Signal Oil in California. Marshall comes across as a fluent writer, a very smart and ingenious man, a backer of markets over regulation but also an admirer of the flinty and punctilious Ickes. He knew just about all the leading people in the oil business over many, many years. It's a fitting companion to the recently reissued classic account of the oil industry by Daniel Yergin, The Prize, which I also read recently.

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