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Arts & Culture

The man who punked Fiesta — and created a royal mess

Screenshot 2022-04-11 143657.jpg
freeze frame from My Story's video production The Prince of Iran
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Homayoun Beklik in the back seat, Fausto Yturria in front passenger seat

Now that Fiesta is in our collective rearview mirror, perhaps there’s time for just one more Fiesta story. It’s the tale of how one man fooled the entire city, punking the Battle of Flowers Parade and causing a minor international scandal in the process.

The central character here is Fausto Yturria. He told his amazing tale in 2012 to San Antonio video production house My Story.

The Prince of Iran comes to San Antonio?... A huge prank in the 60s played on the Fiesta Commission

“I started coming to Fiesta in about 1956. I was a senior at A&M and it was so much fun here, I would try to come every year,” Fausto said.

Originally from Brownsville, he made a lot of San Antonio friends. In April of 1961, he was partying with those friends at Alamo Plaza’s Menger Hotel.

“One thing led to another and I said, ‘Well, I'm going to be in the parade tomorrow. When I go by, you guys just wave at me.’ And of course, everybody laughed and thought I was joking, and I wasn't joking,” Fausto said. “We wound up in the parade the next day, and it was the biggest scandal to hit San Antonio in years.”

To understand how he could pull that off, you need to know that for Fiesta, San Antonio creates playful royalty — King Antonio and duchesses who wear incredibly ornate dresses in the Battle of Flowers Parade. These royalty get assigned motorcycle escorts, which escort them around town in the weeks before Fiesta for their many public appearances. Also important to Fausto’s story was a San Antonio friend of his.

“Shearan Moody was very wealthy and his family owned the Menger Hotel,” he said.

And Moody had a pair of off-duty motorcycle cops — a police escort — available to him.

“And then a friend of ours from Corpus Christi, Bob Henderson, happened to be here that same year and had a very beautiful, classic old Rolls Royce that he was driving home, that he had bought in New Orleans,” he said.

The gag needed one last element to work, and Fausto found it. Or more accurately, him.

“Shearan had a friend of his that I had met previously, who was from Iran, and his name was Homayoun Beklik, and he had studied at the University of Houston,” Fausto said. “So we decided that Homer being from Iran — and we called him Homer, not Homayoun — was going to be the Prince of Iran. So here we go.”

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Tom Shelton, UTSA Libraries Special Collections
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San Antonio Express-News article on Sunday, April 23, 1961

They bought a couple of American flags at Woolworths and attached them onto the Rolls’ antennas, then piled into it to head for the assembly point for the Battle of Flowers parade. Tens of thousands of San Antonians had gathered along Broadway.

“As we were going down Broadway, I remember people were yelling, ‘Who is it?’ And we had a motorcycle escort on each side and they were saying, ‘It's the Prince of Iran.’ I remember a woman holding up her little 4-year-old daughter and saying, ‘Look, sweetheart, it's a real prince!’ Oh my god; here we go.”

And this is all just as they’re riding to the parade’s starting point. There was still no assurance they would be allowed into the parade.

“We go pulling up with sirens, screaming to the formation of the Battle of Flowers parade. This young man wants to know who I am and I say, in a fake accent, ‘Could you please tell me, what is the position for His Royal Highness?’ And this kid said, ‘excuse me’ and runs off. And pretty soon this woman comes running up and she said, ‘I'm Betty Witherspoon and I'm chairman of the parade. What is this?’ And again, I said, ‘Could you please tell me what is the position for His Royal Highness?’ She goes, ‘Oh my God!’”

She quickly found a place for the Rolls Royce right in front of King Antonio’s vehicle. The idea that a Middle Eastern prince was going to ride in the parade spread quite quickly.

“The next thing I know somebody is tugging on my elbow. And this man says, ‘I'm Mayor Kuykendall, the mayor of San Antonio, and I want to meet his Royal Highness.’ I said, ‘Very good, sir.’ The mayor grabs his arm and gets down on one knee. Oh my god. Now I know we're going to go to jail!” Fausto said.

Mayor Kuykendall greeted the so-called Prince, calling him “your majesty” then excused himself, and the parade started down Broadway.

As was tradition at the time, VIPs from the parade would stop in front of the Alamo when the parade passed and lay a wreath in front of it in honor of those who fought and died there. Fausto had called the Menger Hotel flower shop beforehand and had a huge wreath made. So as the Rolls pulled to a stop in front of the Alamo, something unexpected happened.

“And right across from the bleachers is my future wife. I didn’t know she's going to be my wife, but there she is with all of her friends from St. Mary's Hall and she's screaming, ‘Hello Fausto, hello Fausto!’ Well, I'm scared to death and ignored her,” he said.

Fausto and the Homayoun got out with the wreath and placed it in front of the Alamo.

“And somebody comes down and says, ‘could your highness come up and greet the officials here on the grandstand?’ So we go up there and the first person I met was a general from the Pentagon representing President Kennedy. And he says, ‘Please tell His Highness that I would like to have a review when he's in Washington,’” Fausto said.

They go on to meet every senior officer of San Antonio’s five military bases. Then they head back to the wreath. In the meantime, Fausto’s friends were next door at the Menger Hotel, partying.

Prince.jpg
Tom Shelton, UTSA Libraries Special Collections
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Article from Sunday, April 23, 1961

“And they always had mariachis. Well, they sent three mariachi trumpet players over. And they were hiding behind a tree on the south side of the Alamo,” he said. “So when Homer goes to put these flowers down, they start." He makes the sound of trumpets, "‘Da da da da da da da da da da da!’ And I hear this noise and look around and all these generals are standing like this at attention. Now I'm convinced we're going to prison!”

Homer and Fausto head back to the Rolls Royce, pull away, and end up at the Menger Hotel, where they do what San Antonians do during Fiesta: party. The next day a very serious Homer found Fausto, and he was incredibly worried.

“He said, ‘I just got a call from the Iranian embassy in Washington, and the day after tomorrow, I'm supposed to report to the Iranian consul in Houston and explain my actions impersonating a member of the royal family.’ And he said, ‘Fausto, this is very, very serious. They can put me in prison for life!’”

Fausto took him to his room, poured him a strong drink, and then made him drink it. He had an idea. A weird one that might just work.

“‘Look,’ I said, ‘it's only 11 o'clock. They haven't put the Sunday papers to bed yet. They're still working on them,” Fausto said. “Get in a taxi and go over either to the San Antonio Light or the Express-News. Pretend like you can barely speak English and tell them that you have realized that a terrible, terrible mistake has occurred, that you never wanted to impersonate a member of the royal family. You thought they referred to you as a prince because you have King Antonio. You've got the queen of the Coronation. You've got the beauties of this that the other. And so if everybody's a king, everybody's a prince and dukes and so forth, and you thought they were referring to you as a prince of Fiesta. Well he did that and of course, it was on the front page of the newspapers the next day.”

The brilliant plan did work. Sunday morning headlines labeled the Prince of Iran episode as simply a prank. All those years later, Fausto reflected on the prank as a positive event.

“In the end, everybody loved it. It just put a sparkle of Fiesta that year,” he said.

He even went back and talked to the woman who allowed him in the parade.

And I remember going to Mrs. Betty Witherspoon and apologizing to her and saying, ‘I'm sorry that we did this to you. We should have been horse whipped.’ She laughed and understood that it was really in great fun and we just pulled a tremendous hoax on the city of San Antonio,” Fausto said. “And I think in the end, they loved it. There was royalty at Fiesta in San Antonio and this little tale has haunted me since 1961, and it's something very dear to me and I'll always remember.”

As will no doubt tens of thousands of San Antonians. Now this year’s Fiesta is officially put to bed.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Arts & Culture News Desk including The Guillermo Nicolas & Jim Foster Art Fund, Patricia Pratchett, and the V.H. McNutt Memorial Foundation.