Saturday, January 19, 2008

Georgia Off My Mind: Rams Owner Georgia Frontiere Dead At 80

Georgia Irwin Geiger Johnson Wyler Hayes Rosenbloom Frontiere moved the (Los Angeles; Anaheim) Rams franchise twice before ripping pro football away from L.A. once and for all in 1995.

The Rams have been married almost as many times as their owner.

Founded on the banks of the Ohio River before the start of World War II, the Cleveland Rams made it to Los Angeles long before the Dodgers loaded up the Brooklyn trucks and moved to the Ravine. In 1946 The Los Angeles Rams became Southern California's first major, professional franchise. Twelve years before the Dodgers, fourteen years before the Lakers, and 38 years before the Clippers... oh, bad example, I said major professional franchise, sorry... and 58 years before Chivas USA.

In all, the Rams have had four lovers since coming of age in 1936, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Anaheim and St. Louis, MO. Which happened to be the hometown of Violet (Georgia) Irwin when she came of age in 1942; the year when, at age 15, she would marry her first of seven husbands. Already in training for the bigger personnel moves that would come later, Georgia finally struck gold in 1967 when, after a ten-year romance with then Baltimore Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom, Georgia divorced her 5th husband and married the future owner of the L.A. Rams.

And that's when the best part of real story of the Vegas showgirl-turned-owner was just beginning.

In 1979, husband Carroll drowned in an ocean swimming mishap of the Florida coast, Mrs. Rosenbloom inherited her late husband's sports empire then, within weeks, fired the team's General Manager Steve Rosenbloom, son of Carroll. The drowning incident was not without questions or controversy. Many in both Florida and Los Angeles questioned how Carroll Rosenbloom, an avid ocean swimmer, could have drowned so easily doing something he enjoyed on such a regular basis. The autopsy ruled the death as an accidental drowning, yet the rumors would persist for several years that his death had been a gambling-related mob hit, and that Georgia had knowledge of at least some of the details. In the years that would follow, it would remain unclear whether the suspicious drowning or the firing of her husband's son would be remembered as the most controversial.

In an interview with the St. Louis Post Dispatch, son Steve Rosenbloom said, "Dad told me he was trying to take advantage of the widows tax exemption (by making Georgia the prime beneficiary). He said he'd rather trust Georgia to do the right thing than to battle with Uncle Sam." Oops. "My dad should be able to see what's happened to his legacy. Dad wasn't dead fifteen minutes and she was in her glory."

The next year, Georgia Frontiere (with husband number 7, composer Domenic, in tow) had gone from a 51 year old former trophy wife and background socialite to a 42 year old (according to the Rams media guide) owner of a Super Bowl contender. And the Los Angeles Rams went from Super Bowl runner-up to Anaheim Stadium before the next season's opening kick-off. And husband number 7 would spend nine months in jail for his part in a ticket-scalping scheme using Super Bowl tickets for the game the Rams lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31 - 19. Upon his release from jail, Georgia divorced Dominic just like she divorced the city of L.A.

From there, it was just a matter of time before the Rams would roll out of California for good, to a sweet-heart deal in the city of St. Louis.

To say that Georgia did great things for the city of St. Louis would be true. To say that the reason their is no professional football in the city of Los Angeles because of the legacy of Georgia Frontiere would be equally true. In 2000, the sight of cars all over L.A. and Orange County sporting St. Louis Rams flags was a vivid reminder that Southern California had not gotten over the bitter divorce it had endured at the hands of the Rams. Like a grieving ex-husband, still pining for the wife of his youth who dumped him and ran off with some tycoon from another state who paid for her new boobs and new nose and new quarterback, then watches pathetically every time "the ex" makes an appearance on network T.V. It would be one thing to watch. Maybe sit there with your buddies and tell jokes about her. But to stare in moist-eyed nostalgia at her while she rubs your nose in it in front of 80 million other viewers...

In December, Frontiere sold her 11,000 square-foot Bel-Air mansion for around $30 million. At the time, she had been in treatment for the breast cancer that would, ultimately, take her life. It's hard to be a son-of-a-bitch on the day of someone's death. Even if it's the someone who stole a piece of your childhood and ran off with it without a care in the world. So, for now, I'll stop.

But so help me, if Frank McCourt does anything to the Dodgers in my lifetime...

Copyright © 2008 Bill Friday