She started out as a Hollywood starlet. She was a glittery blonde who kicked up her heels in stage shows and Hollywood supper clubs, and who played out a career in B movies, TV serials and floor-wax commercials.
Now, at 57, Dori Pye is at center stage in a far different role. As president of the Los Angeles West Chamber of Commerce, she has emerged as one of the most powerful non-elected figures in West Los Angeles--perhaps in all the city, according to some observers.
She acts as the political voice for about 800 chamber members, among them some of the giants of California commerce--Occidental Petroleum, General Telephone, Bank of America, Tishman West Management Corp., Mann Theatres, the Whittaker Corp., and more. She wields clout that has changed cities, her supporters say, and her connections reach all the way to Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
"I can get Mayor (Tom) Bradley," Pye will tell you. "I can call him on the phone, like I did . . . (recently) on a Thursday, when I said, 'I want to see you, I'll be down there about 10 o'clock, Mayor Bradley. . . .' And he didn't ask me what I wanted to see him about. . . . He didn't ask me--he just said, 'OK, if you want to see me, I'll see you.' "
Pye is regarded by some as a stunning success story--a charming and energetic promoter of community-improvement projects and Westside business interests.
Often, her reviews could pass for Variety ads:
"She is a dynamo. . . . "--Mayor Tom Bradley.
"She is a tremendously energetic, bright, engaging and effective person . . . unique . . . a breadth of vision that is broader than the usual narrow focus of most chambers. . . . --Los Angeles Councilman Marvin Braude.
"Dori Pye stands out as a person of passion, commitment and class . . . she travels at 100 miles per hour from start to finish. . . ."--Steve Saltzman, president of the nonprofit Greater Los Angeles Energy Coalition, an agency of city and county government.
Some Call Her Pushy
But among her detractors--many of whom declined to be named for fear of her political power--the criticism is often bitter. They say she can be pushy and ill-tempered, and many brand her a self-promoter.
"She's got an ego that won't quit--an exaggerated, inflated opinion of herself," one former associate said. "It's just her nature . . . to think you can't do anything better than Dori Pye; you can't do anything as good as Dori Pye--she's perfect."
One Westwood Village merchant said, "Nothing would bless the Westside more than if she went away."
Controversy still lingers over a $50,000 loan the chamber was forced to take two years ago, after moving to posh new offices on the 11th floor of a Wilshire Boulevard office tower. According to some critics, the new quarters have doubled the chamber's annual rent to more than $72,000, forcing the chamber into what one former member called "terrible, terrible" financial shape.
Pye's salary--which she places between $70,000 and $90,000 a year--and her membership in the exclusive Westwood Regency Club, which often runs from $250 to $500 a month in membership fees and dining bills, have contributed to the difficulty, former members said.
But chamber board President Chuck Schneider said growth forced the chamber to acquire the new offices, and he attributed the loan to unexpected costs related to moving. Schneider said chamber leaders are optimistic over the addition of seven new members in January and the start of a membership drive Feb. 1.
Schneider called Pye a "top-notch chamber manager," and attributed the organization's growth to her "vital, dynamic personality. She knows every politician there is."
Pye took over the chamber 16 years ago, when it numbered fewer than 100 struggling merchants in Westwood Village. Starting with a "cobwebby" two-room office and no business experience, she has built an empire: an organization that stretches from "City Hall to the sea," its new motto boasts, with offices occupying nearly 5,000 square feet in a gleaming Wilshire Boulevard tower.
She can be seen driving through town in her black Corvette--license plate: DORI P--or in her chamber-supplied Cadillac Eldorado; or found dining at the Regency Club, surrounded by big money and wood-paneled fireplaces; or mingling at campaign fund-raisers, sipping wine and cocktails and chatting with powerful political leaders.
More than perhaps any other Westside executive, her chamber directors claim, she has the power to unite corporate leaders and government policy makers--over issues ranging from regional growth to international trade. She is credited with establishing height limits and cleanup programs in Westwood Village; for helping to ease traffic problems in Century City; and for launching the nation's largest sidewalk art show in Westwood.