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Growing Up Hofheinz


Dene and Frank Sinatra briefly
dated and remained lifelong friends.

By Melanie Saxton

As the daughter of Judge Roy Hofheinz, mayor of Houston from 1953 to 1955, Dene Hofheinz Anton remembers well how her father brought Major League Baseball to Houston and was later inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, as a 10-year-old she asked her dad after a slew of rainouts, “Why can’t we play baseball indoors?” Her question was answered in 1965 when the world’s first multi-purpose, domed sports stadium opened. The Astrodome became home to the Colt .45s, a team which later became the Astros.

Anton fell in love with this marvel dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and the world flocked to see “the spaceship that landed on the prairie.” Her father developed Astroturf as well as an abiding concept: An Astrodomain that included AstroWorld, built in 1968 (and closed in 2005).

 

Celebrities Visit Houston

In fact, Anton wrote jingles for the first enormous electronic scoreboard at the Astrodome and gained PR experience working with Lee Solters and Bill Giles. She showed Grace Kelly and Billy Graham around the premises, and when Elvis dropped by she gave him a tour of her father’s private Astrodome suite, complete with a circus room and a bowling alley. All the astronauts visited, as well as Governor John Connally and Lyndon B. Johnson. So did Gene Kelly, Tony Curtis and other movie stars. Gossip columnist Maxine Mesinger contacted Anton for scoops. Oh, and she dated another visitor to the Dome — Frank Sinatra — and to this day keeps a photo of him draping his arm around her and shaking hands with her father.

Anton later became a creative director at Astroworld. Fred Hofheinz, her brother, was mayor of Houston in the 1970s as the Astrodomain became part of Houston’s nomenclature.

 

Public Service

“It was a joy to know that both my father and my brother were willing to take the heat as public servants and make the sacrifice to help grow the fourth largest city in the country,” says Anton. “Houston has been named in Forbes Magazine and USA Today as “the coolest city to live in in America.” It’s safe to say the Hofheinz family helped Houston earn the distinction.

As for being a part of a family of mayors, “Dad was the most controversial because he was a reformist. He tried to change the way business had been done in government. NO favoritism to supporters. Always in the best interest of citizens of all ethnic, geographical and economic circumstances. He was there to serve all the people,” says Anton of her father, who quietly integrated Houston and Harris County by removing the word “Colored” from every place it existed: water fountains, libraries, public restrooms. “There were no riots as in other southern cities because, like Nike, he ‘just did it!’” Anton mentions that with the help of his children and supporters, the segregating word was scraped off with army knives and painted over.

 

A Go-Getter

“Dad had served as County Judge when he was 24 — the youngest in the county, and he had already been in the Texas State legislature at the age of 21,” recalls Anton. “His career came with the help of our Mama, the first Dene Hofheinz, who always managed his campaigns. She also helped him get his law degree at what is now U of H, studying law there herself and graduating when they were just 19.” Anton’s parents lived a beautiful love story.

“Dad lost his father when he was only 15. He was killed by a drunk driver who ran a red light and hit him broadside while driving a laundry truck. Daddy, an only child, was then left to support his mother and himself,” says Anton. “One of his first jobs was as a DJ at KTHT — Keep Talking Houston Texas, as he’d say on air. He LOVED our county and our hometown and gave his life to it.” Needless to say, the loss of his father made Judge Roy Hofheinz appreciate family all the more.

 

And The Beat Goes On

“I got my love for music from Dad,” says Anton, who lives in a high-rise off Post Oak Boulevard but splits her time between Houston and Nashville. She began her music career at the age of 10 warming up the audience at the Shamrock Hotel in Houston for the TV show “Queen for a Day.” Her website, denesongs.com, is the “Home of the Houston Hummingbird.” She recorded her “Texas Soul” album and coined the phrase “Texas Soul Music.” She was manager of a very young Lisa Hartman, and co-wrote an album with Jeff Barry and Brad Burg. She wrote her first No. 1, “Saying Hello, Saying I Love You, Saying Goodbye,” as well as Lynn Anderson’s hit, “He Ain’t You.”

Ron Anton, who was head of BMI West Coast, proposed in 1979. The couple retired to Nashville where she eventually wrote “Even God Must Get the Blues,” which was recorded by Jo Dee Messina. As a champion of songwriters all over the world, a very honored Anton received the Helen King Award by the National Academy of Songwriters in Los Angeles as well as her cherished White Hat Award by the Nashville Songwriters Asso­ciation International. Her star on the Palm Springs Walks of Stars as “singer-songwriter-actress” was presented to her the same week as President Reagan’s.

 

From Tragedy Back to Music

In a horrific accident, Anton was suddenly widowed in 2000 due to a fiery explosion caused by faulty wiring in her home on Hummingbird Hill in Nashville. “Ron died in his sleep and my survival is a miracle,” says Anton, who continues to work in his honor. She lost irreplaceable cherished letters and mementoes of life with her father, the Astrodome, her son’s photographs, cards from her parents, and pictures of her and Ron with friends Paul Simon, Barry Manilow and Quincy Jones.

But Anton is resilient. She is once again heavily involved in songwriting and has formed two publishing companies: Shoebox Songs (with BMI) and Dene Dreamsongs (with ASCAP). She is also busy writing her memoirs.

 

An Ambassador to the Astrodome

Anton serves on the Board of Directors of the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. She is also active in saving the Houston Astrodome from demolition. This is her passion, as she feels the landmark was built to stand the test of time. As Houston grapples with the fate of the Astrodome, Anton is lobbying for its restoration and wants to see it put to good use. This issue weighs heavily on the shoulders of city government, investors and taxpayers. “The Astrodome symbolizes Houston in a unique way. I’d like to see it serve Houstonians well into the future,” says Anton of the Houston icon. Judge Ed Emmett agrees, as well as many fans of historic Houston.

Visit denesongs.com for more on the life and times of Dene Hofheinz Anton. Her journey is one of the most compelling historical testimonies to the wonders of Houston.

Dene Hofheinz Anton, singer-songwriter

Andy Williams and Dene

Dene and Dionne Warwick

The Astrodome: The world flocked to see “the spaceship that landed on the prairie.” Anton is active in saving the stadium, once dubbed “The Eighth Wonder of the World,” from demolition.

Dene Hofheinz Anton’s star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars

(Front and back) A One Million Houston Bucks certificate issued by Mayor Roy Hofheinz when Houston hit one million residents, July 3, 1954 (“M” Day). Photo courtesy of Barbara Bell Lewis.

(Front and back) A One Million Houston Bucks certificate issued by Mayor Roy Hofheinz when Houston hit one million residents, July 3, 1954 (“M” Day). Photo courtesy of Barbara Bell Lewis.


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