He supervised the Academy Award balloting for 21 years, proving it is actually possible to keep a secret in Hollywood. And his profession was in accounting, having spent 36 years at Price Waterhouse.
So if someone assumed on the basis of job history that Franklin Johnson's first year at the helm of the U.S. Tennis Assn. would be marked by secrecy and excessive financial caution, well, they would be wrong.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 28, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Women's tennis -- A tennis roundup in Wednesday's Sports section said Kim Clijsters of Belgium has won 14 singles titles, half of them in California. Clijsters has won 24 singles titles, seven of them in California.
Johnson has been remarkably candid, a somewhat unusual trait for the top official of a sports organization. Within days of reports that the Indian Wells tournament had financial troubles, he was accessible and said the USTA would consider getting involved to help save the event, instead of issuing a statement layered with spin.
And one of his first acts as USTA president took some by surprise.
In March, the USTA announced it would spend $10 million the next two years to develop new programs designed to elevate tennis' profile in the United States and increase player participation.
Johnson was able to get the board to commit $6 million to the project in 2005 and $4 million in 2006.
To do so, he had to challenge some previously held assumptions.
"We're a non-profit, our mission is to grow the game, isn't that what we should be doing?" said Johnson, who grew up in San Diego and played on UCLA's national championship tennis team in 1956. "Shouldn't we have been spending this money to further our objectives?
"It was an easier sell than I thought. I challenged everybody: You want to change a losing game. Tennis has been flat for years. We tried a lot of things, spent a lot of money. Obviously what we're doing isn't working. We've got to try new things. We'll keep what we think is good, but obviously we're not getting the job done, so let's try some new ideas."
Said Arlen Kantarian, the USTA's chief executive of professional tennis: "His experience, leadership and smarts are taking us to places we haven't been before."
Bob Kramer, the Mercedes-Benz Cup tournament director, agreed, saying Johnson is a consensus-builder, and is different than most executives with an accounting background.
"He's more approachable," Kramer said. "He's not some remote executive. He gets right down into the playing field. He knew a lot of them as [younger] players, so Franklin is not afraid to walk into the locker room if there's a problem."
Johnson, who has been the Mercedes-Benz Cup tournament chairman for 12 years, returned home to Los Angeles after a weekend board meeting at Charleston, S.C., and said the USTA has decided to spend $3.5 million each of the next three years to fund a grass-roots program to be run through its sections, hiring about 50 tennis service representatives to reach out to tennis clubs, public parks and schools.
The future of the struggling Indian Wells tournament was also on the board's agenda. The USTA is considering an equity investment to help prevent the tournament from moving to China in 2007.
Johnson said the board has agreed to "take a serious" look at it, and a committee will be appointed to do so, with a potential proposal to come in October.
"There were some comments I welcomed," Johnson said. "[Former pro player] David Wheaton said it would be terrible if this tournament went away."
Kim Clijsters of Belgium has lost matches in California in the past, but not many.
Of her 14 career singles titles, half have been won in California.
"There must be something in the water because I have always enjoyed playing here," Clijsters said in a conference call on Tuesday.
She won Indian Wells twice, Palo Alto twice, the season-ending WTA Championships twice, and Carson once.
The Carson title was in 2003 and Clijsters became No. 1 in the world by winning there, marking the occasion by cutting slices of cake and handing them to fans and the media.
Not surprisingly, Clijsters is playing all three California hard-court tournaments, starting this week with the Bank of the West event at Palo Alto. Next week is the Acura Classic in Carlsbad, and she will conclude her pre-U.S. Open schedule at Carson, at the JPMorgan Chase Open, Aug. 8-14.
Also playing that event is defending champion Lindsay Davenport, Maria Sharapova of Russia, Serena Williams, Elena Dementieva of Russia and Mary Pierce of France.
Clijsters won back-to-back events in the spring, at Indian Wells and Miami, then had the unfortunate assignment of facing Davenport in the round of 16 at the French Open and Wimbledon, losing both matches in three sets.
"This has been a trip that I have been looking forward to since I finished playing in Miami," she said.
"My clay-court season was a little disappointing for me and as soon as I finished at the French Open, I got really motivated and decided to work harder again and to get myself ready."
It is expected to be announced today that an electronic line calling system will not be used at this year's U.S. Open. Testing has been overseen by officials from the International Tennis Federation (ITF) at various smaller events this year. Most recently, the Hawkeye system was tested last week on Arthur Ashe Stadium at the National Tennis Center but apparently did not meet sufficient standards.