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Aviation bosses settle dispute the Texas way

Published Mar. 21, 1992|Updated Oct. 11, 2005

A smoldering cigarette hanging from his lips, chain-smoking Southwest Airlines chairman Herb Kelleher won big on Friday by losing an arm wrestling grudge match dubbed the "Malice In Dallas."

Kelleher, a well-known publicity seeker who once got onto the cover of Texas Monthly by dressing up as Elvis and strolling through Southwest's Dallas Love Field terminal, pulled off what was possibly the biggest publicity stunt of his career.

Kelleher, 61, who said he trained for the event by bench pressing a quart of Wild Turkey and smoking five packs of cigarettes each day, lost the best-of-three arm wrestling match to Kurt Herwald, 37, chairman of Stevens Aviation Inc., a general aviation sales and maintenance company in Greenville, S.C.

The two were competing for rights to a similar slogan _ "Just Plane Smart" for Southwest and "Plane Smart" for Stevens.

But after the match, which was proposed by Stevens, Herwald said he will allow Southwest to continue using the slogan.

The event, held at the seedy Dallas Sportatorium wrestling arena, was anything but serious. But news organizations descended upon it anyway. They ranged from the Wall Street Journal to the three major TV networks.

"How much is it worth in publicity?" said Russ Pate, a Dallas columnist for Adweek magazine. "I don't know where to begin to calculate that number."

Kelleher played the match for all it was worth, even conducting post-loss interviews from a ringside ambulance stretcher.

He said he didn't know how much Southwest would have had to pay to get such exposure.

"Why, I never even thought about it in those terms," he said in mock seriousness.

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