A light rain fell here yesterday, a nicely maudlin touch, as Houston began saying its truest goodbye to the late Candace Mossler, acquitted of a charge of murdering her multi-millionaire husband Jacques in a sensational 1966 trial.
It was a sendoff in a style to which the flamboyant Candy Mossler was much accustomed and which she doubtlessly would have loved - a circus of media and money focused on the auction of her estate, a four-day extravaganza that amounts to a quarter of a million dollar garage sale.
Candy Mossler is a little hard to capture in print if you don't recall her from the Miami murder trial. Her husband Jacques compared her to Marilyn Monroe, and in her younger days there's little argument that she was as beautiful and exuded a direct sexuality.
Percy Foremen, the legendary Houston criminal lawyer she hired for a king's ransom in 1964 to defend her lover and supposed nephew, Melvin Powers, from charges that he conspired with her to kill Mossler, calls her "an intense egoist" - which coming from him must be reckoned as a compliment.
Foreman also allowed, after Mrs. Mossler died at age 62 on a business trip to Miami last October, that "she enjoyed being indicted and tried - she enjoyed the newspaper publicity . . . she had difficulty distinguishing between fame and notoriety."
In recent years the newspapers locally didn't pay much attention to her, except to report an occasional court fight. She must have felt the lack, however, because each year when the Houston Fat Stock Show and Rodeo opened she bought bunches of billboard ads around the city and pictured her duded up in her Western leather, ostensibly welcoming visitors to the event.
Mossler earned a kind of grudging appreciation for being herself. She wasn't just a person, she was a bigger-than-life phenomenon - a poor girl from Buchanan, Ga., who made it big, a kind of country music queen without the music but with all the grand gestures, spectacular costumes, elemental passions and lachrymose sentiments that are their stock in trade.
All that is reflected in the thousand or so items being auctioned here beginning yesterday - a huge lynx bedspread, literally tons of gold-gilded French Provincial furniture, statues and several paintings of mothers nursing their babies, and many saccharin paintings of big-eyed waifs, knock-offs in the Keene mode. And of course the jewelry.
After examining some of her gems, an appraiser brought in by Hart Bros. Antiques, a newly opened gallery using the auction to put itself on the map, acknowledged with a shrug that "She certainly wasn't a perfectionist."
It was a nice way of saying that someone with better taste would have bought a finer, smaller stone for the money than, say, the nine-carat, pearshaped diamond solitaire on platinum ring.
But it was showy, and the auction makes clear that appearance was something Candy Mossler cared about as much as reality. Take, for example, a painting she used to boast about, the Thomas Gainsborough portrait of a gentleman. Auctioneer Jerry Hart wasn't willing to vouch that it was truly a Gainsborough although he left the Gainsborough nameplate on it because "That's the way it came."
The sale does include a genuine, if modest, etching by Goya, whom she once described as "a famous Mexican painter." She told that to Mark Goodman, who was profiling her for Esquire as the archetype of Houston nouveau riche and who ventured at the time that he thought the artist was Spanish. Mossler was only too happy to talk to visiting journalists like Goodman - with the proviso only that they not again dredge up that awful murder trial.
Bidding was spirited yesterday. A.B. Cass Jr., an antique dealer, observed that "most of the stuff here is going or retail or better," an average of 20 per cent higher, he calculated, than it would have brought without it's attachment to Mossler. "On some things her taste was quite good," said Cass, who bought two French scent bottles for $65, which he expects to resell for $150. He added that on some other things, "it was terrible."
Phil Green, a local criminal lawyer whose $400 bid won a reproduction Louis XIV chair, opined that the items being auctioned yesterday were "mainly a bunch of junk" that was going for exceptionally high prices. He said, however, that the few genuine antiques seemed to be selling relatively cheaply. Green left early but said he would be back at subsequent auctions, mainly to bid on the lynx bedspread.
Houston oilman E.J. Fourti, who shelled out $650 for a marble-top coffee table and $250 for an upholstered bench among other purchases, also said he was "disappointed in the quality" of most of the auctioned items.
"I'm just getting the pieces that would fit in my house," he said, adding that "I did not admire her very much."
Mrs. Jerry Hart, wife of an owner of the gallery, said a number of people who attended previous showings of the auctioned items wanted to know exactly where in the Mossler mansion a given piece had been located.Another attending the auction, Dorothy Earthman, who lives in River Oaks, the wealthy Houston neighborhood Georgian mansion also was located, said she felt no resentment toward Mossler and said it was "not for me to judge" about the Mossler case.
"She was tried and proven innocent," Earthman said. "I understand she was an excellent businesswoman. Afterall, she did have $27 million." CAPTION: Picture, no caption; Picture 2, Candace Mossler in 1966,; Picture 3, sold at auction: nameplate for $85, mailbox for $55 and a statue, "Mother and child," for $1,300. Photos by United Press International