Goodnight, Miss Moonlight

Maxine Mesinger departs for the big swankienda in the sky

Other times, Maxine rallied to Lorna's defense. In the early '90s, when Julia Phillips's insider book You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again was rocking Hollywood, Maxine reported Lorna's outrage. Phillips claimed to have snorted coke with Liza at the '76 Golden Globe Awards, but Lorna said Liza hadn't even attended the ceremony. Lorna filled in for her sister that night, and she didn't even see Phillips in the bathroom, where the incident supposedly took place. "People who live in glass houses shouldn't get stoned," Lorna sniffed.

A close reading shows that Lorna never claimed that she and Liza were drug-free; Lorna didn't even deny snorting a line at the Golden Globe Awards. All Lorna said was that she didn't remember seeing Phillips in the bathroom. Maxine, however, wasn't one for close readings.

Years later Maxine praised Luft's own tell-all memoir, Me and My Shadows, in which Luft described battling her addictions -- and also dished about the dark sides of her more famous mom and sister. Liza stopped speaking to Lorna. Maxine sided firmly with her favorite, reporting that Liza was mad only because Lorna had urged her to stop drugging. "Incidentally," wrote Maxine, "the tabloids are now saying that Liza is in a rehab center. This, if true, Liza would never admit -- at least not until she's out and drug-free again…"

Jeremy Eaton

But perhaps Maxine seemed most Luft-struck in '95, when she reported that Lorna had just returned from a "93-city, six-month tour of England." It sounds glamorous for a second, until your brain kicks in: 93 cities! In England! There's London, York, Manchester and… what? places where traveling acts perform in a high school gym? Yet Maxine spun that item as best she could, and for a moment, Lorna sounded as glamorous as Maxine wanted her to be…

Now it has been told: "She made me famous," said eulogist Frank Horlock. Maxine used to identify him as a "former Houston beer distributor and biz exec." He was Maxine's kind of guy, a "fella" who lived in a "swankienda," attended "big bashes" and jetted to "playcations."

Maxine notified readers when Frank and his wife, Mary Grace, celebrated their 50th anniversary, when they moved to a ranch near Kingsville and even when they snared a low-wattage celebrity houseguest, Harve Presnell (he played Daddy Warbucks in the road tour of Annie Warbucks). She seemed thrilled to report a legitimate brush with greatness: Frank once rescued George and Barbara Bush, who'd been stuck at an airport near the Horlocks' ranch, by arranging for a buddy, Hugh McCall of NationsBank, to fly them to College Station.

At Maxine's funeral, Frank told how she'd connected him to Paul Newman. In '71 Horlock was the distributor of Pearl Beer, and he desperately wanted his product shown in the movie Newman was making about Judge Roy Bean. Frank called Maxine, and Maxine called Newman's agent, who owed her a favor. The next day Frank and Maxine flew to Tucson. Newman himself was waiting at the airport -- a testament to Miss Moonlight's power.

Maxine helped her friends, and they helped her. Maxine made Tony's the place where Houston's rich and famous came to watch each other chew; Tony Vallone comped Maxine's meals and gave her a place to hold court. She wrote frequently about Vincent and Mary Kickerillo; Vince, a real estate developer and chairman of United Bank, appointed her to his board despite her notable lack of banking expertise. Cadillac dealer David Taylor appeared frequently in her column, and after he died, Maxine reminisced, "I could always trust him to steer me to a car that was right -- and affordable -- for me."

In the '70s the IRS sued Mesinger because for years she had lived rent-free in a swank apartment building owned by John Mecom. In court, Mecom testified that he wasn't trading publicity for real estate; he was just helping a friend.

The court ruled in Maxine's favor, but another newspaper still might have fired her for the obvious conflict of interest. Another newspaper, too, might have nudged her into retirement: By the time of her death last week, she was 75 years old and wheelchair-bound, and was frequently hospitalized for bouts of multiple sclerosis. Her column would disappear for weeks at a time.

The Chronicle, though, remained loyal to Maxine. After she died, editor and associate publisher Jack Loftis offered this quote to his own newspaper: "My relationship with Maxine over the past 35 years probably has been more personal than professional." In other words, Maxine was a friend, and you take care of your friends.

Sometimes, quietly, society types would wonder why Maxine herself didn't choose to retire; surely she no longer enjoyed staying up late, tripping the light fantastic. The polite answer, the one you heard at the funeral, was that she loved writing the column.

The less polite answer -- the one Maxine would have said out loud but would never have written -- was that she adored the column's power. "They don't love me for my pretty blue eyes," she used to say, in private, about her rich and famous coterie. They loved her for her column, and she wanted them to keep loving her, so she kept writing the things they wanted to read…

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