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CHRIS ERSKINE / FAN OF THE HOUSE

Marge Hearn remains a Lakers gem

Marge Hearn, wife of the late, great Chick Hearn, gives the Lakers a sparkling sense of continuity.

April 02, 2011|Chris Erskine
  • Marge Hearn and her great-granddaughter Kayla Hearn watch the Lakers play the New Orleans Hornets on Monday night at Staples Center.
Marge Hearn and her great-granddaughter Kayla Hearn watch the Lakers play… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

We forget how special a Lakers game is, the best absurdist theater since Beckett. Cruise here. Kardashian over there. Jack ruling over this Cuckoo's Nest as if he's playing ball again with the Chief. "Hit me, Chief, I got the moves!"

But there, just behind the opponents' bench, a stone's throw from some weirdo in a cowboy suit, sits the regal Marge Hearn, widow of the late, great Chick. She's almost 94 now, and as far as anyone can tell, just entering her prime.

That's right, amid this zaniness, we still have Marge, who kept her husband grounded during his record stint as the best announcer in basketball history, who got him to the airport, packed his bags and smiled gamely as he needled her on the air.

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"Marge could've made that shot" or "Marge couldn't go to her left either."

"He was such a comic," she says now. "He would rib me on the air, and people would say, 'Why do you let him do that?' I told them because I thought it was funny."

"I would challenge anybody on how many games they saw," she says. "Because I saw them all."

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Most probably, no one alive has seen more Lakers games than Marge Hearn. And she's not done yet.

Marge Madness. Catch it.

You know how you immediately like some people right away? Well, I'm pretty sure Marge doesn't feel that way about me, but I work on her as we watch last Sunday's game together from her season seats. Like most nights, Staples is afire with those famous faces, but none glows the way hers does.

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"You know, you're the prettiest woman here," I say, and I think I heard her giggle.

You'd think I'm just pouring on the graciousness, but if you saw her, blue eyes sparkling, and proudly wearing a blingy championship ring, you'd be a little gaga too. She'd pass for 75 — and a good 75 ... a California 75. Still drives. Still stays active. Has a Dove Bar every night before bed.

"You've got to have something to look forward to," she says wryly.

Indeed, Marge Hearn is the ultimate Laker Girl, yet let's back up a bit, to when she and Chick met as teenagers. They would be together almost 70 years, a love story with stone-cold heartbreak — they lost two children — but plenty of joy.

"I thought he was a big showoff," she says of when they met back in high school. "He was entertaining the crowd even then."

That was in Aurora, Ill. Marge was the third oldest of 11 children. Chick was the son of a laundry truck driver. She would be selected as the girls' basketball player of the year in Illinois. Chick, differently blessed, would soon go on to Bradley University and eventually become the best play-by-play man ever to grace the hardcourt.

"When he first came over, I asked my mom to tell him I was an only child — I just thought it was weird to have such a big family," Marge says.

"Mom agreed and locked the front door, but as soon as Chick showed up, my brothers and sisters started pouring out of the house."

Trivia time: Who called the first Ali-Frazier fight?

Chick Hearn.

Who was the voice on the radio on "Gilligan's Island"?

Chick Hearn.

Who ran Chick Hearn to the airport in the middle of the night, kept the bags packed, kept their Encino home up and running while he was away for what seemed like half the year?

Well, that would be Marge, of course.

"I'd have to do a lot to help him," she says. "He was doing pro and college, two games at a time. But he did it and he loved it.

"I used to sit three rows in front of his press box spot," she explains. "He'd holler down to the refs before the game, 'Hey, have you guys met Marge?'"

You know, it's amazing to think that Chick's been gone almost nine years now, passing away in the summer of 2002. Seems like those Chickisms were still ringing around our TV rooms just yesterday.

The door is closed ...

the lights are out ...

the eggs are cooling ...

the butter's getting hard ...

and the Jell-O's jigglin'.

To a Lakers fan, Robert Frost.

But life goes on. Marge held on to their Encino home for five more years, then entered a retirement place in Fullerton to be closer to her granddaughter Shannon and great-granddaughter Kayla, 15.

Now, the three of them make the trek up to Staples for Lakers games, hanging on every shot, checking out the celebs, munching kettle corn, just like the rest of us.

"We're so lucky," Marge says, "to have all this."

At one point, Kayla leans over and says, "Grandma, I'm wearing colored contacts, and Mom hasn't even noticed. … I've been wearing them all day."

A shared aside. A laugh. That giggle.

And, for yet another night at a Lakers game, the Hearn legacy lives on.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter.com/erskinetimes

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