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Stratton Earned Chick's Trust

August 23, 2002|LARRY STEWART

Although Chick Hearn was a devoted husband for nearly 64 years, there was another woman in his life.

She was Hearn's frequent companion on the road, always sitting in the seat next to his on Laker charter flights. She met him for lunch on game days and hung on his every word in the evenings.

It certainly wasn't love at first sight, but Hearn grew fond of her.

So did Hearn's wife, Marge.

Susan Stratton became a dear friend to both.

Stratton, who has been producing and directing Laker telecasts for Channel 9 since 1977, was on the road with the Lakers when Chick had heart surgery in December, but she was with Marge in the hospital when he had hip surgery in February. And she stayed by Marge's side after the fall that led to Chick's death Aug. 5.

"She is almost like a sister to me," Marge said this week.

When it was mentioned that Stratton was "the other woman" in Chick's life, Marge chuckled.

"Just be careful how you write that," she said.

When Stratton first got the Laker assignment, few women were working in sports in any capacity. Certainly none were producing and directing NBA telecasts.

Stratton had been a sports fan as a youngster in Auburn, Pa., where her father was the principal and basketball coach at a tiny 12-grade school. When she went to work in television at WMAL in Washington, her duties included being film editor for "The Sonny Jurgensen Show" when Jurgensen was the Redskins' quarterback.

She met her husband, Dick Stratton, at WMAL. They were married in 1971 and came to Los Angeles the next year, when Dick was named executive producer at Channel 11.

Susan did some free-lance directing before landing a job at Channel 9, where in 1974 she volunteered to produce and direct Ram exhibition games, as well as the weekly show starring Coach Chuck Knox.

When Channel 9 got the Laker package before the 1977-78 season, the station's general manager at the time, Lionel Schaen, named Susan the producer-director.

Hearn was not pleased.

"He was against it," Stratton said. "No woman had ever produced and directed an NBA telecast, but it wasn't just that I was a woman. I had no professional basketball experience."

What Hearn and Stratton soon learned was that they had one important thing in common. Each was a perfectionist.

"He wanted to get it right, and I wanted to get it right," Stratton said.

The turning point occurred about a month into that first season, when the Lakers were in Piscataway, N.J., to play the New Jersey Nets. The Nets and Rutgers shared the arena and Rutgers had played there earlier in the day.

"We had no time to set up and I told everyone we couldn't go on the air," Stratton recalled. "Well, we did anyway, and it was a disaster. Audio problems and everything else."

Stratton said then-Laker owner Jack Kent Cooke called the next day. She figured her days as a Laker producer-director were over. But it was just the opposite.

"Mr. Cooke told me that he had heard that I had tried to cancel the telecast, that the problems weren't my fault and that he supported me," Stratton said. "And he told me that Chick also supported me.

"From then on our relationship began to improve."

Hearn, interviewed in 1996 about Stratton, said, "I figured she'd be gone after one telecast. Boy, was I wrong. If there is a hall of fame for women directors--forget the women part--she belongs in it."

Hearn no doubt would have said that Susan Stratton also belongs in the hall of fame as a friend too.

Honors Keep Coming

Marge Hearn said she has committed to five charity functions at which her late husband will be honored.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D--Sherman Oaks) visited her home in Encino on Monday and presented her with a flag that had flown at half-staff in honor of Chick over the Capitol in Washington.

Sherman plans to introduce a bill in Congress on Sept. 4 to rename the post office in Encino after Hearn.

The Replacements

The Lakers are still at least a month away from naming the replacements for Hearn. It will take three broadcasters to fill the void--a TV play-by-play announcer, a radio play-by-play announcer and a radio commentator.

Paul Sunderland remains the front-runner for the TV job and his longtime friend Chris Marlowe has applied for the radio play-by-play job. Another candidate for that job is Fox Sports Net's versatile Bill Macdonald.

Terrible Idea

It's bad enough that Channel 9 delayed two Angel telecasts from New York and will delay two more from Boston--tonight's and Monday night's.

Making matters worse was what happened Tuesday night in New York.

On the telecast, which was delayed an hour, the Angels were leading the Yankees, 5-2, in the third inning. Meanwhile, a real-time score of 5-5 in the fifth was shown on the bottom of the screen.

Just another reason to show the games live.

Unusual Doubleheader

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