Since inheriting the National Football League’s most glamorous franchise in 1979 after the drowning death of oil and textiles mogul Carroll Rosen-bloom, his widow, Georgia, has been called “Madame Ram.” But if the team should enjoy less than a spectacular season, that nickname could become something more like “Ms. Mutton.”
True, the Los Angeles Rams set an NFL record with seven straight division championships, culminating with the 1980 Super Bowl which they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and last year made it to the play-offs as a wild-card team. And although the 1981 squad boasts 13 Pro Bowl players, the Rams are up against stiff competition this year. This Sunday they face the Dallas Cowboys, a game which may prove crucial to their play-off chances.
All this would not be so involving for Georgia, 51, if for the past two years she had been content to become a figurehead president. Indeed, recalls Hollywood composer Dominic (The Flying Nun, Vega$) Frontiere, 51, Georgia’s seventh husband, and at the time of Rosenbloom’s death a close family friend, “My first reaction was, ‘Why don’t you sell the team?’ ”
Instead, the 5’3″ platinum blonde decided, as she put it, “to hang tough.” Even while coping with the rest of Rosenbloom’s interests, valued as high as a quarter-billion dollars, she sent mailgrams last year denying a rumor that she was unloading the Rams for $35 million. And, ignoring jibes from sportswriters (“She may think Red Grange was a communist farm union,” wrote one), she began devoting up to 50 hours a week to the club.
Alas, Georgia now concedes, “I can’t expect my men on the field to play their best when my management isn’t working as a team.” And in fact, since taking charge, Georgia has fired the man Rosenbloom seemed to be grooming to lead the Rams, her 36-year-old stepson, Steve Rosenbloom. She has faced a brief walkout by four of her star linemen, shuffled quarterbacks like a riverboat gambler while letting the effective Vince Ferragamo escape to Canada, and been named in a $160 million NFL antitrust suit filed by the Oakland Raiders’ Al Davis (the first jury was hung; the retrial has not been set).
“I used to come home,” recalls Georgia, “sit down and ask, ‘Why, Carroll? Why did you have to go swimming in the ocean? Why did you have to leave me with so many decisions? Why didn’t you teach me everything?’ ” But from adversity, she continues, has come growth: “The trouble with the American system is that boys and girls are taught to be competitive with each other until 12 or 13. Then, all of a sudden, girls aren’t allowed to compete with boys, because if they do, they won’t be ‘feminine.’ I was always afraid to beat anybody for fear they wouldn’t like me,” she confesses, adding, “but Carroll taught me that it was okay to win, that winning is important.”
Interjects Dominic, “It’s ironic that my wife is in a field they call ‘sports,’ and here we are being subjected to the most double-dealing, unsportsmanlike conduct. Georgia has suffered from a big case of prejudice—this is a totally male-oriented world, and these guys are tough. She gets more criticism than is her fair share, because she doesn’t do it by the book. She conducts her own orchestra with her own baton.”
Frontiere’s reversion to musical metaphor is apt, because his wife spent much of her life in showbiz. Born in St. Louis, where she began singing in old folks’ homes, Georgia Irwin moved at 15 to Fresno, Calif., where that same year she wed and then had the marriage annulled. In Fresno she also joined a musical theater troupe. “I believed in never singing on an empty stomach,” she recalls, but during one performance of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, “I let out the biggest burp you’ve ever heard. I thought my career was over.” After losing her second husband in a bus accident and divorcing her third, Georgia and No. 4, a stage manager, eventually moved to Miami, where she got a job as a TV weather girl. When that marriage failed, she wed local TV personality William Wyler; it lasted less than a year. “I guess my problem is I’m old-fashioned,” she reflects. “I thought that you had to marry a man you had sex with.”
Georgia began hobnobbing with society types. One, Joe Kennedy, introduced her to his old pal Carroll Rosenbloom, then owner of the Baltimore Colts. But Carroll was in the 16th year of his first marriage; she left Miami to sing in road company musicals, supper clubs and lounges, and for two weeks was the Today girl opposite Dave Garroway and J. Fred Muggs.
All the while, though, Georgia continued her relationship with Rosen-bloom, to the point of bearing him Lucia, now 19, and Chip, 17. In 1966 Carroll finally obtained a divorce and quickly became Georgia’s sixth husband. Six years later Rosenbloom swapped the Colts for the Rams in a deal that saved him $4.4 million in taxes, and the family settled in Bel Air.
Rosenbloom was 72 when he drowned while the couple was vacationing in Florida. One of the first to fly to her side was Teddy Kennedy. Not far behind in offering condolences was Dominic Frontiere, an Emmy winner (for Twelve O’clock High and a John Wayne special) who had socialized with the Rosenblooms for years. Married last year, Georgia and Dominic live on a five-acre estate off Sunset Boulevard. Since daughter Lucia is married to an accountant and Chip is studying at Eton in England, the live-ins are a New Zealand chef, assorted maids and a personal assistant. Past the swimming pool and tennis courts is Dominic’s cabin studio (he wrote the music for the new Chevy Chase flick, Modern Problems, due this Christmas, and is scoring Robert Stack’s new series, Strike Force). She often joins him there for voice lessons with the coach who has improved Joe Namath’s singing. The Frontieres also maintain a beach house north of Malibu, but during football season their real second home is the Rams’ Anaheim complex, where the owner’s stadium box includes an upstairs hideaway complete with bedroom and sauna.
It is here, often fingering the ring the players gave her this summer—a golden ram’s head with diamond eyes—that Georgia follows the team’s vicissitudes. “I have trouble staying on top of each situation, and until that’s straightened out we are going to continue to have problems,” she laments.
Who knows but that Madame Ram’s dream may still come true. After all, in 1978 that other L.A. institution, Hollywood, released a fantasy in which a man returns from the dead to lead a team to the Super Bowl. And what uniform did Warren Beatty wear in Heaven Can Wait? That of the Rams, of course.