He was born and raised in East Texas, attended Baylor University and, in 1938, married Virginia Webb. Soon after the couple married, Virginia's father passed away, and Happy was asked to take over management of the family ranch, now known as the Shahan Ranch, location of Alamo Village. When Happy moved to Brackettville with his new wife it was a prosperous little town. Fort Clark was still operating as an Army base, and the town was growing. Happy opened a lumber yard and a feed mill that help support the ranch, but in 1944, the Army pulled out, leaving Brackettville nearly deserted.The town lost more than half its population and 90 percent of its business. Happy, who by 1950 had become mayor, decided to turn to Hollywood for help. He was sure the ranch and Brackettville would be perfect for western movies. He suggested this plan at a town meeting but was laughed at for coming up with such a far-fetched idea. "Why would anyone want to come to Brackettville and make movies?" was the response from the town leaders.
This did nothing but encourage Happy to prove to the City Fathers of Brackettville that, not only could it be done, but he would do every thing in his power to have it become a reality. Happy was quoted in several interviews, saying "I didn't know anything about making movies, but I did know something about putting packages together." So he bought a ticket to California and allowed himself 10 days in Hollywood to do what the leaders of the town of Brackettville said was impossible. On the 10th day, he still had no deal, and it was beginning to look as if they had been right.
Then, a secretary at Disney was nice enough to listen to his story and he broke through. The movie was Arrowhead" with Jack Palance, Brian Keith and Charlton Heston. This gave Happy confidence. He knew if one movie had come, then more would surely follow.
Happy then turned his attention to John Wayne, who had announced he was making a film about the battle of the Alamo. Unfortunately, Wayne said he was going to make it in Mexico. Once again, Happy was sure he could get Wayne to change his mind and make the movie in Brackettville instead. "I told him the Daughters of the Republic of Texas wouldn't stand for that," Happy said. "Wayne later got a letter from the Daughters saying that if he filmed "The Alamo" in Mexico, it would not be shown in one Texas theater. Wayne thought I had put them up to it, but I didn't." John Wayne finally gave in to Happy, and Brackettville got ready for another movie. This time, no one was laughing.
Originally, the plan was for Happy to build the town and Wayne would use it, with much of it being destroyed during the filming. But Wayne found himself running into financial trouble, so Happy altered the deal. He came to the Duke with a plan to borrow enough money to keep the construction going and having Wayne as the cosigner. However, the new deal called for the town to be spared. Wayne agreed, and the Alamo movie set was built. More than 1.25 million adobe bricks, 12 miles of water pipe and 30,000 square feet of imported Spanish roofing tile still remain as part of Alamo Village today. Happy then realized that not only would his movie set attract other films, but tourist as well would pay to see the place where the Duke had filmed his famous movie. Happy got this idea after mending the fences several times. John Wayne fans kept cutting Happy's fence and sneaking onto the ranch to see the Alamo replica, leaving Happy no choice but to open the gates and charge admission.
With motion picture production secured at Alamo Village and always looking for another mountain to climb, Happy decided to try his hand at singing. He went to Nashville with the same vigor he had used in going to Hollywood -- this time selling himself instead of his West Texas ranch.
Happy signed a recording contract and cut several records, with none other than the Jordanairs providing back-up. One song gained moderate success. "Everybody Wants to See the Elephant" got a lot of air play before Happy decided he was better suited to ranching than singing.
But the thrill of Nashville never left Happy's soul. Even after his music career ended, he found himself training and promoting young talent from all over the country. He had the perfect place to do it, too. Alamo Village needed labor, and countless young talent needed someone who would groom them and then take them to Nashville. It was the perfect situation. The kids had the energy to do the ranch and Village work and Happy had the connections in Nashville they needed to fulfill their dreams.
Not everyone became a Star at the hand of Happy Shahan, but most who spent their summer working for him, came away with a better sense of who they were and what they could do.
Happy pushed his people, insisting that they try harder, think higher and reach further than they ever had before in their young lives. His training forced them to reach within themselves and discover what they were truly made of. For some, this was not a pleasant experience.
Happy was a man who look passed circumstances and saw possibilities.
It was Happy's vision to extend this same gift of insight to every young
person who came to him for training. Only a few, however, were able to share
Happy's vision. A few more saw the vision and understood Happy and his
ways only after leaving Alamo Village, and some were never able to
understand his reasons for doing the things he did.
Those people were dreamers only. Some have called Happy Shahan a dreamer. This was indeed true. He had many dreams. But Happy pursued those dreams and turned them into reality. That raised him up from being only a dreamer and on to becoming a legend.