Monday, April 11, 2005

The "golden age" of Houston columnists

Morris Frank, dean of Houston newsmen
If you think you're a longtime observor of the Houston newspaper scene and you can't remember when the city had three dailies, then you're just a pup.

Wanda Orton, a longtime reporter/columnist for The Baytown Sun, recently wrote two columns about Space City's long-gone newspaper scene and the columnists she remembers reading.

I learned that Jack Valenti once wrote a column for The Post. Valenti, of course, later went to Washington to work for LBJ, then worked for the motion picture industry.

Most of the folks Orton writes about are gone now, and most of them I never knew. One who is gone but I did know was Harold Scarlett of The Post.

Nearly everything we needed to know about the environment but was afraid to ask could be found in Harold Scarlett’s articles in the Post. He really did help to make a difference in our quality of life by keeping us informed.

While covering numerous state and federal hearings on environmental issues, I should have gotten to know Scarlett but never did. Reserved and quiet, he rarely spoke to the rest of us stationed on duty at the press table. He always looked worried. (I guess he was worried about the environment.)

That sounds like the Harold Scarlett I remember from my days at The Post. He never had much to say and worked quietly in an out-of-way corner of the newsroom. When he retired, I asked him if he planned to do freelance writing and he looked at me like I was crazy. But I heard later that he did continue to do some writing for some environmental organizations. I don't know for sure if that's accurate or not.

Other columnists Orton remembers: Margeurite Johnston, Hubert Mewhinney, Hubert Rousell, David Westheimer, Margaret Young Page, George Fuermann, Ann Valentine and Jane Christopher of The Post, and Morris Frank, Maxine Mesinger, Sigmund Byrd, Ann Criswell, Jane Benefield and Allison Sanders of The Chronicle.

Morris Frank apparently was a larger-than-life newsman back in the day, Orton writes:
He was every reader’s best friend. Frank enjoyed a special kind of popularity in Baytown, being a frequent toastmaster at civic and school banquets, and visiting often with his buddies, Fred Hartman and Dan Stallworth. Whether he greeted a friend or stranger, Frank’s traditional salutation was, “Howdy, howdy,” big grin and warm handshake included.

Orton notes that Mesinger was Houston Press columnist Bill Roberts' "Girl Friday" when he wrote for The Press. When Roberts moved to The Post, "Miss Moonlight" got his columnist job at The Press, then at The Chron. She was a genuine celebrity in Baytown, Orton recalls:
For example, when Mesinger attended a Doc Severinsen/ Robert E. Lee Band concert here, she drew center attention. As the spotlight beamed on Miss Moonlight in the audience, she graciously stood up and waved to her fans.

Curiously, Orton does not include Lynn Ashby or Leon Hale in her pieces. I guess they're just too young to be included in what she calls the "golden age" of Houston columnists.


Anonymous said...

While Thompson appropriately dedicated "Fear and Loathing" to the drug-tinged Dylan epic "Mr. Tamborine Man," I've always preferred the master's more plaintive missives such as "Nashville Skyline Rag" and "To Ramona." I guess my eternal optimism is what will always separate me from the good doctor.
-- H. Brute
Sharpstown, TX

Anonymous said...

Banjo, that Orton leaves out former Post sportswriter Jack Agness among his Golden Agers is a huge oversight. Jack's writing was so crusty that he made Dan Jenkins look downright diplomatic.

Banjo Jones said...

I remember the Agness columns well. I guess Wanda wasn't a sports section reader.

H. Brute,
I think you commented on the wrong post. I know, it can get confusing. But I appreciate you taking the time.

Lou Minatti said...

Lynn Ashby is still around. He's writing for the "community" (i.e., free and thrown on your driveway every Thursday morning) newspaper in Katy/Ft. Bend. Same old boring columns as always.