THE RACING LADY OF CHICAGO - Sports Illustrated Vault |
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Her pace is furious and her manner brusque, but Marjorie Lindheimer Everett is bringing new vitality to her sport in the Midwest. She has spent millions to see that her patrons get the best, and now she offers the richest race of them all

The richest horse race in the world will be run at that newly plush and certainly pleasing Chicago track, Arlington Park, on September 8. It is a seven-furlong dash for 2-year-olds known as the Arlington-Washington Futurity; its gross purse will be about $350,000 and it is merely one of the achievements of a youthful, imperious, chocolate-soda-eating woman who has turned Chicago racing into a kind of seven-furlong dash of her own. Her name is Marjorie Lindheimer Everett, and if her $350,000 sprint is one of the biggest developments in horse racing, so is she.

Marjorie Everett is the only woman in America who owns and operates racetracks—and around Chicago you will sometimes hear it said that one is plenty. She heads Chicago Thoroughbred Enterprises, Inc., a company that owns three tracks: Arlington Park, Washington Park and Balmoral. Mrs. Everett owns 70% of the company's 300.000 shares, so from the moment in 1960 that she took over most of the holdings of her late father, B. F. Lindheimer, there has been no question about who is boss. Not that the question would ever have arisen in her mind, certainly, for she is singularly free of self-doubt. It is this very trait that has enabled her to achieve her considerable accomplishments for Chicago racing.

Chicago is an island of Thoroughbred sport between the glamour of California and the functional commercialism of some major eastern plants. In Mrs. Everett's eyes it is an island of some potential—like, say, Manhattan. Since 1960 she has gone to her "partner" (which is how she refers to the First National Bank of Chicago) and borrowed $7.5 million to gamble on the future of Midwest racing.

"For years our tracks could be considered country tracks, not for lack of conveniences but because they were inaccessible," she says. "It used to take an hour and a quarter from the Loop to Arlington and an hour to Washington. With new toll roads the driving time has been cut to 35 minutes and 25 minutes respectively. Because of this—and because of what we have done at our plants—we believe the Chicago tracks have more chance to increase business than any others in the country."

Those Chicagoans who have seen Mrs. Everett's plants this year know where the $7.5 million has gone. Excellent accommodations, a Lindheimer trademark long before Aqueduct was even on the drawing boards, have been expanded to the point where today's grandstand customer is as well off as most clubhouse patrons at other tracks. Both Arlington and Washington are air-conditioned by a reverse blower system that also provides heating in cold weather, and their Classic Club and Derby Room provide track-facing dining facilities for more than 1,500 at a time.

Two and a half million dollars has gone into Washington, which, with its ugly, top-heavy superstructure, has always looked more like an about-to-be-sunk Japanese World War II battleship than a grandstand. The Everett empire is getting into a new business there. This fall, for 42 nights (September 3—October 20) it will rent to a new group known as the Washington Park Trotting Association, which will bring major trotting to Chicago for the first time.

Nor has Balmoral been forgotten. Although racing hasn't been conducted there since 1954 (when it was called Lincoln Fields), Chicago Thoroughbred Enterprises intends to use the one-mile track as a year-round training center. It is Mrs. Everett's plan that Balmoral will house several stallions as an impetus for Illinois' growing breeding business (in 1957, 37 stallions, 360 mares; in 1961, 238 stallions, 1,654 mares).

Most people admire busy Mrs. Everett, though some prefer to do this from a distance, and many also regard her with the sort of nervousness James Thurber exploited in his drawings and prose sketches of ferocious ladies. Mrs. Everett takes naturally to the catbird seat.

Her appearance is certainly disarming enough. Forty-one years old, she is brunette and has blue-green eyes. She is tall (5 feet 9 inches) and has the build of a sportswoman. She doesn't drink or smoke, but she does worry about her weight—140 pounds. With a slight lisp she says: "I find I've got a bad habit of eating things like sodas and candy to get rid of nervous energy." Some of the 1,500 people who work for her in her $35 million business suggest that she gets rid of the energy not by chewing on chocolates but by chewing out the help. Ex-employees, of whom there are a lot, criticize her furtively, somewhat like fugitive slaves. "For a few years," said a Chicago writer, "paddock judges flew through Arlington faster than a field of horses." To that, Mrs. Everett might answer, "So what!"

"A person at fault should be made to feel that he did wrong—and should be made aware of it now, not called in and lectured tomorrow," she explains.

One of her Arlington directors has said diplomatically, "If Marje Everett has one chief fault, it is a willingness not to listen to other people's advice." Another detractor said, less diplomatically: "Her needs are simple. All she wants out of life is her own way about everything."

Mrs. Everett is aware that she has her critics. "I'm not out to win a popularity contest," she says—one of her rare understatements. When she feels she is right (and that is most of the time) she believes it would be cowardly to care what other people think of her.

Mrs. Everett was educated to independence of spirit by her father. She was adopted by Benjamin Lindheimer when she was only 10 months old. She knows nothing about her real parents—knows only that her birthplace was Albany, N.Y. She was the third adopted child of the Lindheimer family; the others were her sister Pat, 20 months older than herself, and brother Walter, age 9 at the time she joined the family.

Her father, B.F., was already a successful Chicago politician and real estate operator when she was an infant, and as she grew older she molded herself in his image. By temperament she was his heir apparent, and when he died in June 1960, she inherited something that interested her vitally—a share of the tracks. Within months she bought controlling interest.

She speaks of her father with affectionate admiration. "He gave a great deal of time to his kids," she said recently. "I loved his company more than anything else, from the earliest time I can remember. He loved sports and I loved them, too. I never liked going out on dates. When my sister was going out I preferred to go to the track with Dad."

There wasn't much closeness between me and the rest of my family. As a matter of fact, this relative business is overrated. I believe in the old saying about being able to choose your friends but not your relatives. At any rate, I soon discovered that I preferred being with older friends of Dad's to making small talk with friends my own age."

She was only 7 or 8 when her father first took her to Arlington Park, and the track has been important in her life ever since. In 1939 she left Northwestern, where she had lasted as a coed for a mere two months, and soon thereafter went to work at Arlington. "I suppose I had the best of it, being the boss's daughter, but because of that I tried to work that much harder," she says.

"I started by doing a lot of menial jobs, including operating the switchboard. Then I began taking on more and more responsibility—under Dad's supervision, of course. He made me his personal observer and pretty soon he had me going around the country trying to solicit horses for our meetings. I enjoyed every part of it, and the politics that went along with it. I always loved politics anyway. Dad taught me how to deal with people."

Deal she does, as she dashes through her day. By 7:30 a.m. the executive phones are crackling at Arlington Park. Between cups of coffee she issues her commands:

"Send our van to O'Hare field to pick up a horse flying in from California. I've fixed it up with United Air Lines to use their unloading lift, but be sure they have it there in time. I want no slipups.

"There are chunks of tar coming off the road by Mr. Hooper's barn. I want that road repaved by 4 this afternoon.

"Tell the crew at Washington Park I'll be there in an hour with my architect and I want to consult with the track superintendent and the chief electrician.

"The Lieutenant Governor and his party are coming out and I'll meet them in the Director's Lounge at 1:30. Got it? O.K., and you can reach me at Washington Park from 9 to 11."

Her tracks are responsive to her telephonic system of command; all of them have dozens of phones at special locations so that she can issue instructions as fast as they occur to her.

Mrs. Everett not only works at Arlington, she lives there in a luxurious house attached to one end of the old saddling shed, with a glass-enclosed porch looking out on the paddock and clubhouse. Near by is a five-room cottage where she stables her guests. She has been married for five years to 65-year-old Webb Everett, a highly respected racing official, who serves as a sort of prince regent, chief consultant and member of the board. The Everetts employ three full-time cooks, so strenuously do they entertain, and it is as a hostess in her home that Mrs. Everett displays a genuine and generous warmth that is carefully concealed when she is behind her executive desk On a typical evening at home she may have as guests visiting owners, perhaps a trainer, a jockey or two, members of the Illinois Racing Board. Sometimes he even invites members of the press, with whom she is not on uniformly cordial terms. This is part of the Lindheimer tradition. She recalls with brooding satisfaction: "My dad once called up a publisher and asked that a certain reporter never be assigned to our tracks. He hasn't been back."

The softer side of Mrs. Everett has an eloquent witness in William Hal Bishop, the country's leading trainer in number of wins.

"You surely got to respect her," he said recently. "She'll spend more money than any living person to make things nice for backstretch help. She's given them a trailer park to live in, recreational facilities, movies, a swimming pool, a playground and even a church. From a trainer's point of view—and an owner's—she has never failed to give the horsemen more than she has to."

Such is the way of the world, however, that most racing people find Mrs. Everett more interesting as a figure of controversy. In 1960 she withdrew her tracks from the Thoroughbred Racing Associations. Her reasons were these:

"My father worked a long time in the interests of the TRA, but in the years before he died he, and some other track owners, felt very strongly that the TRA should be separated from the TRPB." This latter is the Thoroughbred Racing-Protective Bureau, headed by Spencer Drayton, a former FBI man. The Lindheimer group believed that the TRA should be run by a highly salaried racing' administrator, one with influence in Washington and other high places. They believed that the policing function-should be left to the TRPB.

"When Drayton was put in charge of the TRA, while still running the TRPB, I felt it was time to get out," she says, and she hasn't changed her mind.

"The TRPB says they keep gangster elements out of tracks," says Mrs. Everett. "Well, they don't." She tells of once pointing out a big Chicago bookmaker to TRPB men who had overlooked him in her own Post and Paddock Club. She now has her own track police. This costs her $100,000 a year more than it used to, but is claimed to be more effective. "It better be!" says Mrs. Everett. "We've thrown out dozens of undesirables," she adds, "including a bookmaking relative of mine who is racing right now in New Jersey."

In all ways, Marje Everett is her father's daughter, and believes herself destined to realize some of his dreams. "Making money on a business investment is only one part of it with me," she said in a reflective moment the other day. "This is true even though every single cent I inherited or could borrow has gone into these Chicago tracks. The other part of it, and something that is on my mind every day of the year, is what is racing's future? How can we make it a better sport; give it more taste, more dignity; make it less commercial, and more fun?"

And then she reached for the phone, with the air of a woman about to give an order. It was sure to be a firmly stated order, and the odds are it would be one that would help Chicago racing.