YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

All the Right Moves : The Gretzkys Get Personal About His Trade to L.A., Her Role in the Decision and the Uproar It All Prompted

August 21, 1988|BETH ANN KRIER | Times Staff Writer

Is she the siren who selfishly lured "The Great One" away from his adoring Canada to a new life in Hollywood?

Or is she the devoted wife who suddenly and unfairly became the scapegoat in the sensational, tear-filled trade of Edmonton Oiler hockey great Wayne Gretzky to the L.A. Kings?

In Canada and the United States, the news media decided fast--and furiously. Actress Janet Jones Gretzky was swiftly branded a "blond Jezebel" by a radio station in Canada, where Gretzky is considered a national treasure ranking with the maple leaf. On the Los Angeles airwaves, Gretzky's bride of one month was compared to Yoko Ono, the woman blamed for the Beatles' breakup.

USA Today concluded the morning after the trade that "Jones, 27, is the big reason Gretzky is making the move to Los Angeles." And on "The Tonight Show," guest host Garry Shandling echoed the situation's soap-opera dramatics without assessing blame. Every time Shandling uttered something crazed or superficial, he turned to the camera and smiled: "Wayne, you're gonna love it in L.A."

It is a question, it would seem, that neither spouse would prefer to address. After initially agreeing to an interview, Janet Jones repeatedly postpones it, then cancels all together and finally agrees again. As a one-time Playboy cover girl and an actress who has been featured in such films as "The Flamingo Kid," "A Chorus Line" and, most recently, "Police Academy V," she is no stranger to the press.

But she is clearly a bit spooked on this stage, with the flood of attention on both sides of the border, and she later calls to apologize for the delays: "It's this roller coaster we've been on." When she finally arrives for the interview, she is 1 1/2 hours late.

Wayne Gretzky is on time, the interview scheduled to coincide with an appearance on the Prime Ticket cable network, which carries Kings games. While waiting for his wife to arrive, he apologizes and fields questions himself. Taking off an exquisitely tailored Versace jacket and placing it on the back of a folding chair on the grass at UCLA's Drake Stadium, he sits down to talk.

"She deserves a medal," he says, twisting his gold wedding band. ". . . We knew Janet was going to take some heat. . . . My dad said it best when he said this was the only time he'd ever heard of a man doing an $18-million favor for his wife."

Gretzky, who led the Oilers to four Stanley Cup championships in the last five seasons, made newspaper front pages all over the world the day the trade was announced. But in the next day's press he was accused of egomania and faking tears at his press conference. He refused to fight back.

His wife, however, could not resist. From Los Angeles, she told a reporter for the Edmonton Sun by phone that "(Oilers owner Peter) Pocklington is the reason Wayne's gone. . . . You don't make deals for $18 million to satisfy Wayne Gretzky's wife. If this is to help my movie career, I wouldn't be expecting a child at this time. I brought my car to Edmonton and we had every intention of living the rest of our lives in Edmonton and spending time in Los Angeles in Wayne's off-season when we could."

Now, as Gretzky reflects on the tumultuous events of the past week, has he in fact agreed to keep mum about who initiated the deal that brought him to Los Angeles? He smiles and offers a relaxed, unabashed "No comment."

As for his reluctance to enter the fray: "I don't think anybody needs to get into a war of words . . . a classy person keeps their mouth shut. . . . I get frustrated and upset like everyone else. I'm fortunate my wife takes the brunt of it, or my friends. She's pretty open. She speaks her mind pretty well. What you see is what you get.

"I just walk away from it. . . . If I order a steak medium rare and it comes back well done, I eat it. I've got more things in life to worry about."

A genial and unassuming man, Gretzky is a wonder to observe even in a simple interview situation. He is more attractive than in his photographs, laughing easily and flashing light-blue eyes the same shade as his pale-blue jeans.

But it's his focus, his ability to concentrate intensely yet serenely on what's happening in the moment, that's most riveting. As he sits outdoors at the stadium and talks, Gretzky simultaneously manages to sign an autograph and to acknowledge the arrival of Kings owner Bruce McNall, track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee (also a guest on the Prime Ticket show) and several others.

Family Before Careers

He knows when fans are lining up to watch him. He instantly notices when his wife finally arrives. And in the meantime, he talks freely and enthusiastically about how committed both he and Jones are to their their family. Indeed, he claims, they both put their relationship and their family (they are expecting a baby in January) ahead of their careers.

Hockey is not No. 1 for the world's No. 1 hockey player?

Los Angeles Times Articles