Marjorie Everett didn't invent the concept of “management by walking around” but she certainly practiced it during her nearly 20-year reign as the Hollywood Park “boss” from 1972-'91.
Everett ran the Track of Lakes and Flowers during some glorious years after being booted out of Chicago following a racetrack stock bribery scandal that sent former Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner to jail. Everett was an unindicted co-conspirator in the scandal.
The adopted daughter of racetrack operator Ben Lindheimer and wife of racing secretary Webb Everett, Marje was demanding and tough to work for – impossible some might say – but she was all about racing, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Track safety for jockeys and horses was paramount. The customers mattered.
She was competitive and put a premium on winning. Hosting the first Breeders' Cup was important, and she promised that Hollywood pals like Liz Taylor and John Forsythe would be on hand to bring some glitz and glamour. But, just to be on the safe side, she donated $200,000 to the Breeders' Cup, too. Some say that clinched the deal.
I lived in Southern California for almost half of Everett's tenure on the Hollywood Park board of directors. For some of those years she didn't even have a title, but there was never any question about who was in charge. Later on, she took on the official positions of chairman of the board and chief executive officer.
Everett carried a walkie-talkie with her on her endless rounds throughout the track, barking to subordinates that the third-floor carving station was almost out of corned beef, the clubhouse bar was low on ice, or the first floor grandstand needed cleaning. If she spotted weeds in one of the gardens, she'd go in and start pulling.
She saw the big picture, too. Everett lobbied to bring Sunday racing to California, added wagers to the betting menu like the Pick Six and the carry-over. When a jockey went down she was on the track almost before the ambulance was there. In fact, some credit Everett for being the first track executive demanding that an ambulance follow the horses around the track.
She fired people like some of us add friends on Facebook. Indiscriminately. Biff Lowry, in his book on Hollywood Park, “From Seabiscuit to Pincay,” tells the story of how Everett tried to fire two men taking a break while working to fix the phone system. Only problem was they were employed by the phone company, not Hollywood Park. Executives under Everett lasted about as long as New York Yankees managers during the early days of George Steinbrenner. There were 12 general managers over an 18-year period, according to Lowry.
One former executive, Kenneth Dunn, told me the story of being summoned to Everett's mansion in Holmby Hills shortly after he was hired. He was greeted at the door by his new boss and her two dogs. “Here,” she said, handing him a pair of leashes. “They need to go for a walk.”
There was a book written in 1978 by Hank Messick about Everett's Chicago days, entitled “The Politics of Prosecution: Jim Thompson, Marje Everett, Richard Nixon & the Trial of Otto Kerner.” Everett is said to have sent out staff members out to buy every copy in the Los Angeles area and have them destroyed.
Once, while I was employed in the Los Angeles office of Daily Racing Form in the mid-1980s, I inquired about a job opening in the Hollywood Park publicity department. I sat down first with publicity director Nat Wess, who said Everett also wanted to meet with me.
It was terrifying.
After putting me through the wringer, testing my knowledge, attitude and willingness to work hard, Everett looked at me with steely eyes. “I have a very, very special relationship with (then DRF publisher) Mickey Sandler and the Racing Form,” Everett said, in that distinct Barbara Walters-like accent, turning L's and R's into W's. “I don't ever want to do anything that would damage that relationship.”
Thankfully, I didn't get the job.
Everett was her own worst enemy. As part of being named host of that first Breeders' Cup, she needlessly expanded the Hollywood Park main track from one mile to a mile and an eighth and sunk millions of dollars into a new building, well past the line, initially dubbed Pavilion of the Stars and later the Cary Grant Pavilion (for her actor friend and fellow Hollywood Park board member). It was a disaster and a money-pit.
Then Everett purchased Los Alamitos on borrowed funds and that proved a financial loser, too. Eventually, she was overthrown like Captain Queeg in “The Caine Mutiny,” losing a proxy fight that put R.D. Hubbard at the helm of Hollywood Park. Her days had passed her by as racing entered an era of simulcasting and downsizing of on-track business.
In a strange, nostalgic way, though, I yearn for more racetrack managers like Marje Everett. Yes, she was tough on employees and anyone who got in her way. She made some big mistakes that finally did her in. But Everett cared. She cared about the game, the people in it, and the fans who supported live racing. She didn't make decisions based on customer surveys or spreadsheets or complain that she needed casinos to make ends meet. Marje Everett had a connection to the game and inherent knowledge of the business that could only come with a lifetime of commitment and experience. She lived horse racing.
She was the heart and soul of Hollywood Park in the golden era for racing in my lifetime. Everett died in March 2012 at the age of 90. It's probably for the best that she's not around to see what has become of the racetrack that meant so much to her.
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