Hollywood Park Memories: Everett Lived Horse Racing

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Former Hollywood Park executive Marjorie Everett with Hall of Fame jockey Bill Shoemaker and songwriter Burt Bacharach Former Hollywood Park executive Marjorie Everett with Hall of Fame jockey Bill Shoemaker and songwriter Burt Bacharach

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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  • Martin Zogg

    “She lived horse racing” and ignored the reality of the business of horse racing. On the even of Hollywood Park’s last day, let’s not venerate misguided judgment, no matter how romantic.

  • Don Reed

    “… Everett tried to fire two men taking a break while working to fix the phone system.”

    His name escapes me, damn it, but the lunatic did it one better.

    The fussbudget ordered all employees to keep the coffee lids on coffee cups (full) while walking in the hallways.

    One day he went past two men, one of whom was drinking coffee from a lidless
    container.

    Mr. X wheeled, pointed his finger at the stranger and ordered the executive with him to escort his coffee mate to personnel – he was fired! And then strode off.

    When he came back to his office a half-hour later, the man who was supposed to
    have been fired was sitting on the visitors coach.

    He rose & introduced himself as an executive vice president of a company that was one of Mr. X’s newly acquired CLIENTS.

    Ray, did Marge ever fire any of her clients for not having their blinkers on?

    (The man’s name was Steven Kumble, whose law firm expanded like the Hindenburg explosion and then went bankrupt in 1988. See? You don’t have to run a racetrack in order to go broke. But it sure helps!)

    • Evelyn Waugh

      What a story, Mr. Reed!

      The “lunatic?”

      • Don Reed

        The Lunatic is Kumble, whose name I couldn’t remember at first. It’s all in a factually true/fascinating but poorly edited book called “Shark Tank” (1990), by Kim (male) Eisler.

        Anyone who borrows money to meet payrolls and is counting on paying the money back because the law firm is going to win cases in a lunatic.

  • 4Bellwether666

    How did she skirt prison???…

    • Bob C

      If my memory serves me correctly she cooperated with government authorities which were focused on convicting Illinois governor Otto Kerner. I recall the late Ray Freeark, owner, breeder and publisher of “The Illinois Thoroughbred” stating “We have a hard time visualizing Marge Everett as a twentieth century Joan of Arc” after she departed from Arlington and Washington Parks.

      • 4Bellwether666

        That’s par for the course…In other words she was a SNITCH!!!…ty…

  • David Beltran

    Caliente had Sunday racing as far back as the 1930′s, the pick 6 (known then as the 5-10 ) since 1956, and an ambulance follwed the horses as far back as the late 1960′s. Nothing new in Mexico, but it was a welcome adition to U.S. racing. And Mrs Everett is the one to thank for introducing those concepts to the racing scene on the north side of the border. The American avertising company that was empoyed by Caliente when it was set to reopen in 1974, found it difficult to advertise the “5-10″ in the L.A. newspapers. Because the bet resembled a ‘lottery’ type bet. So Caliente had to come up with renderings of pinatas with the #’s “5-10″ on the saddle cloth. It was highly speculated that Mrs. E. was the one opposing Caliente’s advertising of the 5-10.
    David Beltran, author “The Agua Caliente Story”

  • David

    My favorite “Marje” story was in the late 80’s when my wife and I had a long layover at LAX on the way down under. So happens it was the 1st day of intrastate wagering in CA. Think the
    dates had Del Mar running live so HP, SA, NO CAL and other ‘satellites’ were co-mingled for the first time with the host track. We cab it out to HP and witnesses a few thousand players do their
    thing. We walk towards the apron to see the place in an otherwise dormant mode and sitting all alone in one of the right-hand rows of seats is Mrs. Everett. I did a double take and then was almost shocked to realize she recognized me. I was a nobody in the biz for about 6 years but had met her very briefly at a couple trade meetings. It could have been the last time I saw her but went away that day thinking you can say what you will about her but this was one sharp Lady.

  • John McEvoy

    I once interviewed Marje for a DRF feature story on her late father. My eight-year-old daughter Julia (years later an Eclipse Award- winning journalist) accompanied me. She sat in the foyer while I was in Marje’s office.
    Before the interview, Marje spoke warmly to Julia, gave her candy. Same thing after the interview was concluded. She couldn’t have been nicer to my child.
    Ten minutes later, when Julia and I were waiting for an escalator, there was the sound of Marje shrieking at some janitor who had been caught not moving his broom fast enough.
    Julia looked up at me wide-eyed. She said, “Is that the same lady we were just with?”

    • RayPaulick

      John, I can just imagine. That sounds exactly like her.

    • William Waters

      I’ve heard it said that the best way to judge someone’s character is how he treats the people who “don’t matter,” the people he doesn’t have to be nice to. Pity the poor janitor.

  • Concerned Observer

    It is a good thing when the person running the business has as much passion for the business as they do for getting every last dollar to the bottom line… in this quarter. A totally bottom line mentality can force a manager into making some very bad long term decisions. We are seeing lots of that in racetrack management right now.

  • Tom Werblin

    A larger than life person. Does anyone remember the guest house on the clubhouse turn at the old Arlington Park where Marje entertained her best friends and customers? “Shoe” and Joe Hirsch were among the many who resided there during the meet.

    • Jay

      Or the guest cottages on the front side at Washington Park which she provided for visiting horsemen.

  • Karen Tracy

    Marge was also the Queen of Promotions. During her reign, there were items given away almost ever single weekend and, in the late 70′s, that meant 70,000 tee shirts on a Saturday when horses like Affirmed or the White Tornado, Vigors, ran. In the mid-80′s, I remember a color-photo flyer of Ron McAnally wearing the upcoming, free Hollywood Park logo “rain gear” which basically looked like a massive shower curtain, HUGE like everything in that decade and in an era when So Cal did sustain rain torrents. We all swore that most-accommodating gentleman advertised it at the behest of Marge, who probably couldn’t get anyone else to do it in spite of herself.

  • David Juffet

    Thanks everybody great stories!

  • Don Reed

    WARNING: CLICKING ON THE RED-LIT DONTBULLY.COM results in being transferred to a site that froze up my computer (had to kill it off by shitting down the tower).

  • Pam Nunn

    We went back to Hollypark for the first time in years (decades) to see Zenyatta win her 17th (?) straight race. I was appalled to see cracks in the apron that had gone un-repaired. I imagine the track owners even then were anticipating this day.

  • 4Bellwether666

    KMA…

  • Evelyn Waugh

    How much I enjoyed this, Mr. Paulick.

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