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Willie Nelson’s ‘Pretty Paper’ Has Real-Life Inspiration

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram readers from Palo Pinto County, and a family from Conroe helped to solve a bit of a Christmas song mystery. Willie Nelson’s song ‘Pretty Paper’ is a liltingly beautiful tune inspired by a real-life disabled street vendor who sold “pretty paper, pretty ribbons” for pennies while crawling a downtown Fort Worth sidewalk. In 1963, Roy Orbison recorded the song, and it became a Top 15 hit on the Billboard pop chart. The following year, Willie recorded his own version, and for forty years, the identity of his protagonist remained a mystery. In 2004, columnists for the paper set out to see who in fact he might be, and what his backstory was. Their telephone interviews and research comprised the following:

“…Wrap Your Presents to Your Darling From You…”

Willie Nelson’s ‘Pretty Paper’ Has Real-Life Inspiration

Photo: Facebook/Glennie Fry-Thorn

Since the 1963 recording and the many subsequent versions by various artists, the sad and sweet ballad has pulled at the heartstrings of listeners relating to the lonely description of the man selling the finishing touches to “wrap your presents to your darling from you” without ever really knowing there was a person behind those sweet, lyrical lines. But Star-Telegram readers who once shopped at Leonard’s Department Store, downtown Fort Worth, remembered the vendor, who so inspired Willie Nelson. Nelson was once a Fort Worth country radio personality before his move to Nashville and had seen the gentleman peddling his wares downtown.

Who Was Frankie Brierton?

Willie Nelson’s ‘Pretty Paper’ Has Real-Life Inspiration

Photo: Pinterest/Kelly Mitchell

For so long, people only recalled that the man traveled from Santo, in Palo Pinto County. Then there was a “break in the case,” so-to-speak, when a nearby rancher, Bob Neely, of Santo, called in regarding his former neighbor, named Frankie Brierton. “You could always hear him in town, dragging himself along the gravel street,” Neely explained. He crawled on all fours up and down Throckmorton or Houston Streets, outside of Leonard’s. He wore kneepads fashioned from old tire treads, large gloves and a custom-made leather vest including a built-in pencil rack and coin box on the back.

“But We Never Did Without.”

Willie Nelson’s ‘Pretty Paper’ Has Real-Life Inspiration
Photo: Pinterest/Robert Frank

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