The True Story of Willie Nelson's Song 'Pretty Paper'

Willie Nelson fans are likely familiar with the star's song "Pretty Paper," but what they may not know is that it's based on a true story.

"Pretty Paper" details holiday shoppers bustling past a disabled street vendor crawling "all alone on a sidewalk" and selling pencils on a downtown street, with passerby too busy to stop as they hustle to get their errands done before Christmas.

The Star-Telegram has since cracked the case of the song, revealing that the vendor in question was named Frankie Brierton. Brierton's daughter, Lillian Compte, shared that her father's legs were weakened by childhood spinal meningitis and that he declined a wheelchair and chose to crawl.

Brierton sold his wares near Leonards Department Store in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, something many residents remembered, as did Nelson, who hails from Texas and worked as a radio personality in Fort Worth. The singer has often shared that the song is based on trips to Leonards, which he had visited since his childhood in Abbott, Texas.

In the '50s and '60s, Brierton would position himself on a busy street corner along with vision-impaired couple Herman and Sylvia Douglas, who sang hymns and sold pencils. Compte shared that her father also sold pencils at the Fort Worth Stock Show, at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas and on Main Street in downtown Houston.

"He was my father — that's all I knew," she said. "He sold pencils. He crawled around on his hands and knees. But we never did without."

Brierton passed away in 1973 at age 74.


"It's a pretty song," Compte said of Nelson's tune. "I just never thought of it being about my father."

Photo Credit: Sterling Munksgard /