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No dumb blond jokes about Georgia here

T.J. SIMERS

January 20, 2008|T.J. SIMERS

OH, HOW she hated it, never allowing it to appear anywhere attached to her name.

But it was the second sentence in almost every published story about Georgia Frontiere's death Friday, "She was 80," and it would've just killed her.

"There's no denying it -- she never liked seeing her age written," said John Shaw, Rams' business partner and longtime confidant, "but she was like a lot of women in that regard."

Maybe so, but unlike most women, she was an NFL owner, born "Violet Francis Irwin," her birth certificate altered three years later to read, "Georgia Lee," good practice as it would turn out for the number of name changes in her life.

She showed up late for husband No. 6's funeral, and then fired her stepson, the same woman who would later oversee the "Greatest Show on Turf" and hear thousands of people chanting, "We love you, Georgia."

Mocked for her reliance on astrology charts, she would be one step ahead of the great Al Davis and strike a much better business deal to leave L.A.

Every year she'd remind folks how vain she could be, delaying the team's media guide in search of a picture that might flatter her. The same woman would step forward, but out of public sight, to hand Rick Smith, retired then as Rams' PR director, a $25,000 check after he lost his home in a San Diego fire.

Georgia Frontiere was something else, all right. When the Rams won NFL approval to move to St. Louis, it was going to be front-page news, as part of the story Georgia agreeing to sit down over dinner for an exclusive interview.

With the clock moving toward a rigid newspaper deadline, Georgia decided to start talking about her marriages, the first at 15 to a young Marine -- the union never consummated -- the second to a man with "a hairy back and it was all about sex" until he died in her lap following a car-bus accident a few weeks into the marriage.

We made it to No. 4, but knowing there were seven, I had to split. But then I guess she was used to that.

MONTHS LATER we got back to No. 6, and the drowning of Carroll Rosenbloom. We also got around to No. 7, the Super Bowl tickets stuffed in her mattress and husband Dominic Frontiere serving time in prison.

No one can say life with Madame Ram was uneventful.

But much has been said by those who believe she did them wrong by taking away their football team, some writing her off as some kind of evil scoundrel.

"For those of us who knew her, it's probably completely different than the public perception of her," said Shaw, one of many employees to remain with her for more than 25 years.

She was an easy target, the former chorus girl and weather girl who went through husbands the way the McCourts go through PR folks. There's a lot to be said for a punch line in a pinch, or as noted on Page 2 in 2000 when Tennessee GM Floyd Reese said getting to a Super Bowl was "better than sex," Georgia was unavailable for comment.

I liked her, but loved teasing her more, which didn't always go over well. I guess you could say we separated when she moved to St. Louis.

When we were together, she expected a peck on the cheek. I'm married, so I was already used to such demands.

At times she came across as a ditz, but only because you and I wouldn't tell someone we were going to bake a cake for Jim Everett to lift his spirits. When conversations went deeper, she came across much brighter than advertised, and always showed the good sense not to read me any of her poetry.

She could be naive, but after reading the headline across Christine Daniels' column Saturday morning, "She didn't get it," I presume the newspaper will run a correction.

Georgia not only got it, history has shown her to be 100% correct in her decision to move to St. Louis -- sour grapes the only rebuttal in L.A. now from those who still don't get it.

Rosenbloom, upset in 1978 with the condition of the Coliseum and the lack of luxury boxes, signed a 35-year lease with Anaheim five months before his death. Per his wishes, she followed through on his planned move.

L.A. didn't have a money-making NFL stadium when Rosenbloom's Rams were here, and 30 years later L.A. still doesn't have such a stadium.

The Rams were entering the new age of NFL free agency in 1994, and lacked the money raised from luxury boxes to compete with the rest of the league.

"Economically it was a no-brainer to move," Shaw said, "but it takes the owner to move the team, and Georgia showed tremendous resolve when things got tough."

The move to St. Louis made the Rams richer annually by more than $20 million. Georgia went shopping, the joke just one more time in her honor, while the Rams won the Super Bowl. For an NFL owner, this is success.

FOR MANY years Shaw has been Georgia's shield in NFL circles, but there was a time, "when the owners knew me as a wife," she said, "but couldn't accept me as one of them."

There wasn't much more support at home either. "It all started when Carroll drowned," Shaw said.

His death was ruled an accident, but others weren't so sure, and "it took on a life of its own," Shaw said. "When she fired Steve Rosenbloom, it only added fuel to the fire."

Right away folks in Anaheim began urging her to sell the team, the NFL years later almost insisting she do so before allowing the move to St. Louis.

But the bimbo/buffoon/ditz, or however some folks might want to dismiss her, remained resolved. And on her watch, the Rams advanced to the Super Bowl three times, winning a Lombardi Trophy in 2000, and maybe now someone will loan it out to San Diego so the Chargers owners can see what one looks like.

"We all have our eccentricities," Shaw said, "but she was a pioneer in the sports industry for women, a very caring person and a loving mother."

Probably not the picture of the woman most L.A. fans would prefer to remember, but maybe a more complete one.

--

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to

latimes.com/simers.

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