Fallout in the Family

Eranium made Charlie Steen rich. But the fortune became too hot to handle.

For themselves, Charlie and M.L. erected a modernistic, tri-level, six-bedroom, six-bathroom house high above Moab with a glorious view of the desert and mountains. The clock on the mantel was set at 5:05 p.m. It was always cocktail hour.

After first boning up on art books, they visited the Louvre. In fact, says Sue Brown, "they took Europe by storm."

And Africa. And South America. And the rest of the world.
"Yeah," M.L. recalled, "we were jetsetters before there were any jets."
They took the boys with them, too. But they also yanked them out of the overcrowded, understaffed Moab schools and sent them to military school in Texas for their education.

And Charlie continued to work. He wanted to find more, do more. He flew to New York, L.A. and Chicago for business meetings. He still spent time in the field, but he increasingly found himself surrounded not by rocks, but by lawyers and accountants.

Others had their hands out, too. Maxine Steen Boyd says her brother is "the most honest person I have ever met." But she adds, "We were not raised as businesspeople."

Charlie still tried to get by on handshakes. Although cantankerous, he also was generous. And he believed every hard-luck story he heard.

"I've always had a good sense of character," M.L. recalled. "I can tell in a very short while. But Charles just loved everybody. All they had to do was pat him on the back and tell him how great he was and say, 'Can you let me have about $50,000, Charlie?' He loved them all."

Grinning, Charlie added, "I was taken by all of them, too."
"He was entirely too trusting," says a longtime friend of the Steens who asks not to be identified. "He created a number of millionaires. He believed what people told him, and it isn't possible to do so.

"Charlie wouldn't have survived ten minutes in the business world today. By no means was he dumb. But he was trusting of people who didn't deserve it."

Lots of people partied at the Steens' expense. On one anniversary of Discovery Day, a crowd of 8,000 descended on Moab for an all-day celebration. And the house on the hill was the scene of numerous get-togethers, often with bands playing poolside while guests oohed and aahed over Utah's beautiful sunsets. One night the company filming Warlock--Hollywood crews often shot Westerns in the area--was invited to the Steens' for an already scheduled party. Director Edward Dmytryk warned the cast and crew not to drink because they had to start work at five the next morning.

"Well, they all came, including Dmytryk," M.L. recalled. "But the only one who drank was Henry Fonda. That, Dorothy Malone told me, was because he was so established as a great actor that even Dmytryk was very cautious around him. So ol' Hank got stoned out of his mind, and I went upstairs for something--I went into the kitchen, I don't know what for--and he and two or three other people were sitting at the kitchen bar, and he fell on the floor, just flat on his back. And he just laughed! I said to him, 'Oh, hey, you should have let your stuntman take that fall.' And he just laughed some more. God, he had the most beautiful blue eyes I've ever seen. But whenever I think of him, he's lying on the floor, just laughing."

Charlie and M.L. both knew how to laugh, too, but Charlie's ornery side flared up often. He may have been trusting, but he was also very opinionated. And cocky as hell.

In November 1958 he was invited back to the Texas College of Mines to receive the Outstanding Student Award at the homecoming banquet. The school was now called Texas Western College, and Charlie just couldn't accept that.

"I know the proper way in which to accept this award," he told the sizable crowd. "I am expected to say 'thank you' and sit down. However, inasmuch as I did not seek this award, and as Dean Thomas reminded me last night that I was the only son of a bitch he knew who had made a career at being one and was a success as a result, you need not expect the proper response."

Charlie then laced into the El Paso Chamber of Commerce and the university administration for changing the character of the school from a mining college into a more general liberal-arts institution. He derided some of the courses in the college catalogue, like baton twirling and public relations, and sarcastically suggested a few more, including "Beer Guzzling, a course in how to chug-a-lug beer out of a gallon pitcher without getting a permanent crease on the bridge of your nose."

Saying he rejected "the badge of the neither-fish-nor-fowl institution that now exists in El Paso," Charlie added, "this son of a bitch previously mentioned at 39 years of age is a living legend of the uranium boom that he helped create, a boom that raised the U.S.A. from a 'have not' nation to a number-one position in uranium reserves of the world. Whether he dies a multi-millionaire or a broken-down, ragged-ass, prospecting tramp, his place in the mining history of our country is secure. History, if true, will show he graduated from the Texas College of Mines."

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