Christmas songs: Pretty Paper

Pretty Paper was written by country music singer and songwriter Willie Nelson in 1963.

In October 1963, while walking in his farm in Ridgetop, Tennessee, Nelson was inspired to write the song after he remembered a man he often saw while he lived in Fort Worth, Texas.  The man had his legs amputated and moved with rollers, selling paper and pencils in front of Leonard’s Department Store. To attract the attention of the people, the man announced, “Pretty paper! Pretty paper!”

In early 1963, Nelson sang Pretty Paper for Fred Foster of Monument Records.  The song was then forwarded to Roy Orbison in London.

Orbinson recorded the song in one take with a 102-degree fever.  His version became a hit.

Nelson recorded his own version of the song in November 1964.

Numerous other artists such as Glen Campbell, Randy Travis, Emmy Rossum and Kenny Chesney have also recorded the song.

In 2013, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram identified the man as Frankie Brierton, of Santo, Texas. Brierton refused to use a wheelchair, choosing instead to crawl, as he learned to move while growing up after his legs were affected by a spinal disorder. Brierton sold pencils in Fort Worth, Dallas and Houston.

According to the Fort Worth star, Brierton’s daughter ” says he refused all offers of government assistance. “He didn’t want to depend on anybody. He wanted to be on his own and take care of his family.” Brierton sold pretty paper in downtown Fort Worth for years and died in 1973 having never heard Willie’s song. His daughter says he was anything but lonely or miserable, though. “He was married seven times.”