CVIndependent

Wed09182019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Brane Jevric

Editor's Note: Allene Arthur died on Friday, July 31. She was 91 years old.

Independent contributor Brane Jevric was a dear friend of Arthur's; he often drove her to various social events. And on Jan. 30, 2014 at CVIndependent.com, and in the February 2014 print edition of the Independent, Jevric toasted his dear friend with a story talking about this fabulous woman and journalist.

I was so impressed by something Arthur said in the piece—“I write for the reader—not the advertiser or the people being written about, but the reader!”—that it was the motivation for my Editor's Note in that print edition of the Independent, in which I railed about the unethical pay-for-play "journalism" that is so prevalent in our valley and our world.

In honor of this amazing woman, we're republishing Jevric's piece below. Allene, you're greatly missed.

—Jimmy Boegle


After close to a century, Allene Arthur finally came out about her age.

I’d driven Miss Arthur to numerous social events over a period of 15 years. We covered those posh events together—and until recently, I had no clue that she started writing her column before I was born. That’s how good she is at keeping secrets.

Well, now we know her age: About 100 people showed up at Seven Lakes Country Club (in January 2014) to help her mark her 90th birthday.

This seasoned journalist started writing her lifestyles/scene column in 1959—and has no intentions of stopping anytime soon. Yes, she’s been covering big events for a long time—including the royal wedding of the (20th) century, of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, in 1981.

‘‘I phoned the story in from London, and it appeared on the local daily’s front page the same day as the wedding,” she told me during our one-on-one at her Palm Springs home.

In the media business, things can change in a heartbeat, sometimes tragically, after a story is published. In 1994, Arthur experienced such a moment following an exclusive with DinahShore for a local magazine.

Palm Springs Life printed my feature interview with Dinah in which she spoke in present tense!” she said. “Unfortunately, she died just about as the magazine was to hit the stands. There was no time to change her quotes into past tense.”

As the decades went by, Arthur experienced various changes in technology—which, of course, changed the way she did her job. One of the biggest changes came while she was working at the local daily as a society editor.

“I was 55 when computers came around, so here at the paper, we went to the classes to learn about it,” she recalled. “Soon, the classes split into advanced and slow ones. I ended up in the ‘dumb’ class—as did the publisher and editor-in-chief, who were my generation.

“The younger reporters got into the computers faster, and I bet you the fifth-graders would beat us all to it!”

Arthur’s personal story is that of a strong-minded woman who raised her son (after a divorce) while working as a single female in a tough corporate environment. The long hours, multiple events to cover and many pages to write—all on deadline—may have left a small impact on her health.

“I did have a minor stroke a few years back, but it did not hamper my column-writing in the slightest,” she said. “It was not a downer in that way.”

Here, Arthur paused. She smiled, remembering something. “Well, Kirk Douglas had a stroke, too,” her hazel eyes flashed, “but he was so charming and engaging when I was taking his quote, you couldn’t tell.”

Allene Arthur has written more than 2,500 columns so far—and that’s just locally! Twice, she said, she quit writing her column. “After both of these interruptions, I’m told there was a considerable letter campaign from The Desert Sun readers that my column be restored. Once again, editors asked me to return to my regular column.”

On this rare occasion, Arthur offered an exclusive: She revealed who the hardest celebs were to quote.

“Frank Sinatra was, by far, the worst one!” she said. “I’d been at his Palm Springs home several times, covering events he and Barbara hosted. Sinatra was always cold and distant. He hated journalists! Also, another former local resident, novelist Harold Robbins, was so blunt and rude!”

President Gerald Ford was just the opposite, according to Arthur.

“I was so impressed by Ford!” she said. “He and Betty were at several social events I covered. At one, where he was the guest of honor, we were introduced during the pre-dinner cocktail hour and fell into conversation. He was a gracious gentleman. And I was seated next to the first lady during the dinner.”

How does Allene Arthur keeps going? What keeps her feeling young?

“I love porn flicks!” she joked with a bright smile. “I never run out of material; there’s just not enough space to publish everything I want!”

We talked about the place of columns in American journalism, and Arthur mentioned that her idols were Erma Bombeck and Ogden Nash. That’s when Arthur pointed out an ingredient of the master columnist: “I write for the reader—not the advertiser or the people being written about, but the reader!”

It would take up a whole story just to list all of the awards Arthur received for her “first century” in journalism. Instead, I took a picture of her by her “vanity wall.” They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but there’s always another word to be written—until the final column, that is.

That leads to my last question for Allene Arthur: When’s the time to quit for good?

She answered without hesitation.

“I’ll end it when I run out of something to say, or when publishers decide to eliminate me—whichever comes first!”

Two days before the highly publicized recent New York prison break, a local K-9 apprehended a suspect who was wanted for questioning regarding a robbery in Palm Springs.

There were no cameras present. There were no reporters on the scene. There was not an army of police officers, nor were there numerous K-9’s tracking the escapes.

There was just one police dog and one officer patrolling Indian Canyon Drive after 9 p.m. Kane, the 5-year old Belgian Malinois, who has been with the Palm Springs Police K-9 unit since 2011, simply did his job: As the suspect ran from the scene, Kane was released by his handler, officer Luciano Colantuono, and Kane caught the suspect a short distance away.

I briefly met officer Colantuono while he was patrolling with Kane. As I spoke to Colantuono, Kane was inside the SUV barking—and the sheer force of his movement was shaking the whole SUV. Yes, the power of a trained Malinois K-9 is formidable.

Israeli Special Forces have used these dogs for years now to fight terrorism, and the U.S. Secret Service combs the White House grounds with these exceptional dogs as well. They look like German Shepherds, but are a bit smaller—though their abilities are legendary: A Malinois is capable of jumping a 10-foot wall.

“The Palm Springs Police department has been utilizing apprehension K-9s since 1980,” said Lt. Gustavo Araiza, the lead officer of the K-9 program. “In 2003, we started utilizing bomb-detection K-9s at the Palm Springs International Airport.”

Kane is one of two Malinois currently on the force. Once upon a time, there were four K-9s with the department. Kane has never been injured during a patrol related incident, nor has he taken fire.

However, Kane has been fortunate.

“Kane replaced K-9 Ike, who was killed in the line of duty in 2011,” recalls Lt. Araiza. “Ike was shot by a suspect.”

Ike is the only Palm Springs police K-9 ever to be killed in the line of fire. Officer Colantuono, who was also Ike’s handler, was wounded in the incident. The officer is media-shy, does not seek publicity and is a man of a few words.

When off-duty, Kane lives with Officer Colantuono, a 10-year PSPD veteran.

“I’ve been with Kane since day one when he came to the department,” Colantuono said.

The bond between Kane and his handler is unbreakable. The officer is the only person who feeds his K-9. They work four days a week, and they often train together—and they train hard, as you can see in the photo. 

Kane is not a simple family pet. A police service dog is extremely active and requires a diet formulated to meet its increased energy and nutrient demands. Simply put, it takes a lot to take care of a K-9.

“The cost of a dog with handler training runs approximately from $15,000 to $18,000, and the fee for the K-9 is generally paid through donations,” said Lt. Araiza, a 15-year department veteran.

Public donations for the K-9 program are accepted at the Palm Springs Police K-9 Unit, P.O. Box 1830, Palm Springs, CA 92263-1830.

For more information, visit the Palm Springs Police K-9 Unit Webpage.

Best-selling author Andrew Neiderman holds two prolific jobs.

The Palm Springs resident writes novels under his own name—46 so far, in fact. Seven of his novels have been made into films—most notably The Devil’s Advocate, starring Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron.

He’s also the ghostwriter for the famed V.C. Andrews series, for which he’s penned 73 novels. The franchise by the late Virginia Andrews was at 30 million books sold after Andrews’ death in 1986—and is now at 106 million books sold. It’s one of the world’s biggest and longest-lasting literary franchises.

Every time I’ve visited Neiderman at his south Palm Springs home over the last 15 years, he’s been working on yet another project—a book, a script, a play or a production venture. His newest novel, The Terrorist’s Holiday, was published March 10.

The Terrorist’s Holiday was a novel always in my mind to write,” Neiderman said. “I grew up in the setting, the Catskill resort area of New York State. It was basically a resort created by Jewish hotel owners. Movies like Dirty Dancing depict the ‘season.’ My familiarity with the area and the resort world helped me bring it to life on the page.”

In this novel, Neiderman touches on a subject that’s all over the news nowadays—terrorism—and connects sentiments from the past with today’s political realities.

“I remember all the major hotels were always opened during the Jewish holidays,” he recalls. “Many times, there were visiting dignitaries from Israel, so I imagined that period of time, those events and a major opportunity for terrorists to strike at Israel. I wanted to create a pair of terrorists who were ambiguous about their motivations and challenges. The New York City detective who stumbles on the plot is Jewish as well.”

The novel’s publishing date couldn’t have been more timely, given that it fell just one week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech to Congress. Neiderman said he actually met Netanyahu, in the United Kingdom, on the day of the 2005 London bombings.

“I was at The Langham hotel across from the BBC,” Neiderman remembers. “We met in the hallway the day of the bombing, July 7, 2005. Since the Brits were somewhat critical of Israel and its stance at the time, I talked about the irony of him being there that day, when England was suffering at the hands of the same terrorists.”

Neiderman gave me an advance, uncorrected copy of The Terrorist’s Holiday before the book's release. Such copies are printed for marketing purposes—and for movie producers. There’s always a chance that another one of his novels will reach movie audiences in a big way, like The Devil’s Advocate did in 1997.

“Unless (the book) gets picked up by a major studio, it can’t be as big as The Devil’s Advocate, because a feature from a studio opens up world markets,” Neiderman said. “However, we are getting great reviews and reception, and hope to see it do very well.”

A few years back, Neiderman told me it took him only a one-line pitch to sell The Devil’s Advocate’s movie rights to Warner Bros. The line was: “It’s about a New York law firm that represents only guilty people—and never loses a case!”

The Devil’s Advocate continues to pay dividends for Neiderman. Warner Horizon has been developing The Devil’s Advocate as a TV series for NBC, while Neiderman is working on developing The Devil’s Advocate into a musical for British and German theaters. The Devil’s Advocate is set to be a stage play in Holland later this year. Neiderman has already written Judgment Day, a prequel to The Devil’s Advocate, and Pocket Books/Gallery has a contract to publish it.

Judgment Day is going to be published in June this year,” Neiderman confirmed. “The novel depicts Satan, who took over a New York law firm. It introduces a prime new character in the guise of a detective with spiritual insight.”

Since moving to the desert in 1989, Neiderman has written quite a few novels that take place in Palm Springs. Among these notable titles are Dead Time, Unholy Birth, Angel of Mercy and The Magic Bullet.

Now 74, Neiderman is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, his contract to write V.C. Andrews novels continues through at least 2017.

We’re living in a video world. Cameras are everywhere: on streets, tablets, smart phones and satellites.

Cameras can also help protect the public and law enforcement alike when placed in key public areas and—increasingly—on police officers themselves.

However, you won’t find very many law-enforcement cameras in the Coachella Valley. For instance, Palm Springs Police Department officers do not wear body cams, nor do their police vehicles have dashboard cams. The same goes for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, which enforces law and order in Palm Desert, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and elsewhere.

An early February request to talk about cameras with Alberto Franz, the Palm Springs chief of police, was answered by an assistant who stated that the chief was busy until the end of month. On the contrary, San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman was happy to talk, both one-on-one and via email.

“I am a huge proponent and completely support the use of body-worn cameras on our police officers,” Zimmerman said. “We have 600 officers wearing cameras. By the year’s end, all of our officers working in a uniform patrol assignment (about 1,000) will be wearing them. Having officers wearing body-worn cameras is a win-win for both the officer and the community.”

Meanwhile, here in Riverside County, the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association, the union that represents deputies, is going to court in an attempt to stop the county from issuing body cams to on-duty deputies. Deputy Armando Munoz, the public information officer at the sheriff’s Palm Desert station, stated that “nobody … will talk about the body cameras at this point since the whole issue is still in court proceedings.”

While Chief Franz declined to talk about possible body cameras, Sgt. Harvey Reed, the Palm Springs Police Department spokesperson, did talk. He said management has started looking at different makes and models of cameras. Of particular interest is a clip-on camera that attaches to an officer’s shirt below the collar. It shows the area directly in front of the officer, as well as slightly to the left and right, and records in color with sound.

“When policies and procedures are developed, privacy expectations will be taken into consideration,” he said.

Certainly, when it comes to cameras, privacy issues are important. In fact, former police dispatcher Laura Crawford, now enjoying retirement in Rancho Mirage, remembers when officers’ unions even didn’t want global-positioning systems activated in police cruisers.

“It was vital to me as a dispatcher to know where an officer was if all hell broke loose,” Crawford said. “Body cameras have the same issues, as officers feel everything they do is under scrutiny.”

San Diego’s Chief Zimmerman, however, believes the positives of body cameras far outweigh negatives.

“A body worn-camera can be a very valuable training tool for the officer,” Zimmerman said. “Currently, at my department, we are hiring many police officers, and having the ability to see the video will only enhance the training of our officers.”

Surveillance cameras and traffic cameras can also be useful in combating crimes. Yet desert cities are lagging behind when it comes to adopting this technology as well.

David Hermann, the public information officer at the city of Palm Desert, confirmed there are no monitored traffic cameras on public streets in Palm Desert.

Mark Greenwood, Palm Desert’s director of public works, said the city does have a few traffic signals equipped with cameras that allow the signal to change more quickly based on the presence of vehicles. However, these low-resolution cameras do not record, and are not monitored. Palm Desert also has five portable, motion-detecting cameras that are meant to discourage vandalism and graffiti; they take still photos when they detect motion. However, when I spoke to Hermann in February, he said none of the cameras were deployed.

Palm Springs police dispatchers have the ability to monitor 11 cameras, mostly in the downtown area. The video from these cameras, according to Sgt. Reed, is recorded and retained for a period of one year. Palm Springs has 80 intersections with signals.

In the near future, Palm Springs will proceed with the construction of a new Traffic Management Center and Citywide Traffic Signal Interconnect Project. According to Marcus Fuller, an assistant city manager and city engineer, the federally funded, $2 million-plus project will include numerous new traffic cameras, although it has not yet been determined if and how data will be stored.

Stay tuned.

At 6 foot 5 inches tall, chef Tom Hogan stands above the crowd.

His stature doesn’t just involve his height. He stands out because he’s cooked for five presidents: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. That’s quite a resume for a chef who calls the desert home, and has done so off and on since 2005.

Chef Tom—that’s how he’s known in the restaurant business—has been cooking for 39 years now. He started learning the trade as a kid in his aunt’s hotel in Atlantic City, right on the Boardwalk.

“I’d go down there to vacation with my parents, but I’d rather stay in the hotel’s kitchen with chefs, fascinated with cooking,” Hogan said.

From then on, Hogan, 53, followed his gastronomical passion all over the United States.

“My first job was in my birthplace, Holyoke, Mass., at The Log Cabin, one of the first farm-to-table restaurants in New England during the late ‘70s,” he proudly states. “After that, I moved to L.A. and got a job at the Hard Rock Cafe.”

Hogan’s career took off following his apprenticeship at the renowned Beverly Hills Hotel. He continued his culinary education under the tutelage of Elka Gilmore, a pioneer chef in fusion cuisine.

“Elka taught me how to think outside the box in the kitchen,” Hogan said.

Hogan later joined the Along Came Mary catering company, famous for its service to numerous stars and Hollywood studios. That’s how Hogan learned how to throw grand parties—from owner Mary Micucci, generally recognized as one of Hollywood’s biggest culinary names.

Hogan then reached for the stars—the movie stars, that is. His cooking for celebs such as Barbra Streisand eventually led to attention from the political world. Naturally, the Secret Service needed to check Hogan’s background, and he received security clearance to cook for presidents.

“Reagan was the first president I’ve cooked for,” Hogan said. “It was a small intimate gathering for 12 people in L.A., and the president and the first lady were among the guests. President Reagan entered the kitchen. He said: ‘Boys, what are we having for dinner? Mommy said we’re going out peas!’ I thought it was a little odd. Then Nancy came in and said, ‘Hi, guys, I heard we’re going to have a great meal!’ She held the president’s hand and led him out of the kitchen.”

He later cooked for Jimmy Carter, after his presidential term had ended. Hogan said his experience with Carter was special, because they were able to chat a bit.

“President Carter was speaking at a large gathering in Holmby Hills in L.A.,” Hogan said. “Security was very tight, but Carter came into the kitchen. He gravitated toward me. He asked me my name and where I was from. We talked a little about my father, who was a postman. We had a nice conversation. He gave me a tap on the shoulder and shook my hand.”

A fancy meal is not always necessary to please a presidential palate, according to Hogan. President Reagan enjoyed a roast leg of lamb, while President Carter loved Hogan’s pecan pie. For President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle, a buffet with roasted baby veggies, rosemary potatoes and shrimp cocktail was sufficient.

“President Bush and Vice President Quayle were getting off the plane at the Santa Monica Airport,” Hogan said. “We did a buffet for them, but we were unhappy with where the kitchen was set up. It was in an airport hangar, and although I was told I’d meet President Bush, I didn’t get a chance to do so.”

On another occasion, President Clinton, delighted by Hogan’s fried chicken, asked to meet the chef.

“It was a fundraiser at a private estate in Malibu,” Hogan said. “I made a mean fried chicken! President Clinton asked the host of the party, ‘Who made this fried chicken?’ The president was expecting someone with a Southern background. He told me it’s something like his mom would make! I told him that I created that recipe for Streisand’s Prince of Tides premiere. We talked for maybe five minutes, about my fried chicken, basically. I told him, ‘I’m just a Yankee.’ He started laughing.”

Then there was a fundraiser for President Obama, up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Hogan’s not certain where the event was held, exactly, since he was driven to the location.

“I think it was a Larry Ellison estate,” Hogan said. “There were lots of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and San Francisco-area politicians. President Obama came into the kitchen to thank everyone. I found him and President Clinton to be extremely charismatic. The moment they’d walk into the room, they both immediately became the epicenter of attention.”

Today, Hogan—who spent a four-year stint at Tropicale in downtown Palm Springs—primarily works as a private/executive chef here in the desert and elsewhere. He said he may join forces with Dr. Jane Smith, the owner of a local historic ranch, for a pure organic-food venture. In other words, the chef to the presidents has come the full circle—back to farm-to-table cuisine.

For more information, visit www.mycheftom.com.

Famed novelist Sidney Sheldon was a fervent supporter of the Palm Springs Library. Sheldon and his wife, Alexandra, even donated a bighorn statue to the library, which is on display by the entrance to the building on Sunrise Way.

I once interviewed Sheldon, who died in 2007, at the library, and he passionately talked about the importance of reading: “The kids of today must read books, because some of them will be politicians of tomorrow, and they will be making decisions that influence all of us!”

Sheldon is gone now, but his books are still there on the shelves. The library reportedly has 172,000 volumes, and is the leading library in the valley by its numbers. However, in recent months, a series of incidents at the library, at Sunrise and Baristo Road, has been troubling.

On Aug. 7, according to Palm Springs Police records, Garrett Kevin Jennings, 54, allegedly stole a bike from the rack at the library entrance—in broad daylight! The library was still open, with patrons passing by, as he cut the lock off with a bolt-cutter and rode away on the stolen bike.

“I saw him as he threw the lock and removed the bike from the rack,” said Esteban Gallegos, a library security guard. “I took a picture of the suspect while he was pedaling from the library entrance through the parking lot.”

Gallegos reported the crime to the police and submitted the suspect’s picture. A detective recognized the perpetrator: Jennings had a criminal history.

On Aug. 13, Jennings was arrested at noon on Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. He was riding a different bike, but still had a bolt-cutter on him, according to police records. He was booked on suspicion of committing a theft, possession of burglary tools and violation of probation.

According to Gallegos, who’s been a guard at the Palm Springs Library since June 2006, the number of incidents at the library has skyrocketed in the past year.

“Yes, it’s a fact. I’ve been doing more reports than ever before, and I’ve got a big file to prove it,” he said.

His account is confirmed by Merrit Chassie, a 20-year veteran of the Palm Springs Police Department. “We've got a lot going on there at the library park, and we’re often called in, sometimes by Esteban,” Chassie said.

Another alarming library incident, this time involving Gallegos as a victim, happened on Aug. 19. Police Sgt. Harvey Reed said the suspect was 19-year-old Derrell Celestine of Palm Springs, who was later arrested for grand theft and violation of probation.

Gallegos described what took place.

“The suspect was permanently banned from the library for stealing DVDs. He was trespassing, so I took my phone to take a pic of him as proof to the police,” Gallegos said. “I was adjusting the camera when he ran fast toward me. He pushed me, poked me in my left eye and took my phone. For a moment, I couldn’t see, but I ran after him. He escaped with my phone.”

The stolen phone was never found. Gallegos said he’s glad his eye is OK now, and that Celestine was captured by the police.

Gallegos also mentioned finding small, empty bags at times on library shelves, and on one occasion, there was a fist fight at the library door.

Shortly after the bike and phone incidents, I personally witnessed a raucous scene at the library entrance: An elderly man was pushed to the ground by someone. Within minutes, two Palm Springs police cruisers with four deputies showed up. The deputies drove onto the park grass in a search for a possible suspect wearing a red shirt.

These days, an armed guard has occasionally been seen inside the library. I tried to talk to him. Once he learned I was a reporter, he declined to speak to me, saying that he could get fired if he did so.

I also sat down with Jeannie Kays, the library director. While she was happy to talk about more cheerful subjects, she declined to discuss the increase in problems at the library.

I wonder what Sidney Sheldon would say about that.

Promotion is everything when it comes to sports events. Dinah Shore knew that; that’s why, back in 1972, she attached her name, and fame, to a brand-new women’s golf event at the Mission Hills Country Club.

To this day, many still call the LPGA’s first major of the year simply Dinah. Soon, that might be the only name this tournament has.

As of Monday, April 7, what has been known since 2002 as the Kraft Nabisco Championship will cease to exist under that name. The food giant, associated with the tourney since 1982, will not be the title sponsor anymore. Instead, the LPGA will take over the event, and the hunt for a new sponsor will start.

Remember the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, the other famed local golf extravaganza? A while after Hope’s passing, Chrysler dropped out, and the event struggled to regain its former glory. Thankfully, Humana and the Clinton Foundation eventually stepped in, in 2012, as sponsors.

I’ve covered the Kraft Nabisco Championship for 15 years now. I’ve watched the great champions like Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa and Karrie Webb jump into the lake adjacent to the 18th hole after wining the tourney. That victory leap is one of the most notable traditions in the game.

So how do you sell golf history nowadays? I asked Annika Sörenstam, a three-time winner here at Mission Hills, that very question. The now-retired golf superstar is optimistic about the tourney's future.

“I’m pretty sure that the tournament will stay here,” she said. “First of all, this is a major championship. There’'s so much history here. This, I think, is a really an exciting opportunity for a company to be involved with. It's just a lot of positive energy. I’m very optimistic that the things are going to go well here.”

Sorenstam isn’t the only person who is optimistic about the tourney’s future. Tournament director Gabe Codding is optimistic, too—and his job could be on the line thanks to the uncertainty over the sponsor.

“With this year’s event, we’re celebrating the 30-year legacy of Kraft Nabisco as a sponsor, and I was there for 20 years of it,” he said. “This tournament has emerged as the most historic event on the LPGA tour. So right now, it’s all about finding the right partner who loves the location, who loves the history and who loves to be involved with the first major.”

Codding is confident that a new title sponsor will be found, perhaps within six to eight months.

"We will take a time to find the right sponsor, to make sure that the chosen sponsor stays with the tournament for a long time," he said.

As for his future with the tournament, Codding said that he started working at the event when he was barely 18, and is prepared to exit if needed after serving more than five years as the director.

“The day I know that there’s somebody who can contribute more to the tournament than I can, I'll be ready to step aside. I'll be OK with it!" Codding said.

There are sporadic rumors that the tourney could move to Arizona or even Nevada. However, that’s unlikely to happen.

The tournament’s traditions include a statue of Dinah Shore at the 18th green. How could you move a monument to Dinah—the first lady of golf—and the legacy she created here at Mission Hills to Las Vegas? Let’s hope she will forever stay here, greeting the champions on their way to history. 

I first met Serena Williams in 1997. She was playing doubles with her sister Venus, here at the Hyatt Grand Champions. The crowd loved them. In a sense, the Indian Wells tennis tournament helped make them: It was their first big tournament together, when they started to show the sports world the power of the Williams tennis family.

Later, I had lunch with their father and trainer, Richard Williams, and he told me that Venus and Serena would be playing in many Grand Slam finals—as rivals. Personally, I thought he was crazy, but as a journalist, I liked his quotes. I grew to like Richard Williams even more after I learned that he taught himself how to play tennis by watching video-tape lessons!

Flash forward to 2001, when the Williams sisters were set to play each other in the semifinals of what is today the BNP Paribas Open. Despite a live TV broadcast, fans filled the Tennis Garden. You could feel the excitement in the air.

I believe that I was the only reporter who watched as the Williams sisters, both looking fine, warmed up on a side court. (Everyone else was entering the stadium for their match.) Both sisters knew me from various press conferences—and the moment Venus spotted me, she mysteriously stopped hitting the ball. She then did two knee bends and then walked off the practice court.

Based on the way they were acting, I had a feeling that there would be no semifinal.

I went to the media room, looking for Bud Collins, the legendary tennis broadcaster. (We shared the same media spot at the top of the stadium.) He wasn’t around, so I walked over to the Los Angeles Times’ Lisa Dillman, and told her what had happened. At first, she doubted my suspicions; after all, the match was about to start.

Then we looked down and saw that the singles net was being exchanged for a doubles net.

As Dillman and I walked into the players’ lounge to speak to the Williams’ sisters, all hell broke loose in the main stadium: As the announcer announced that the semifinal match was cancelled, the crowd erupted! They booed loud and long, just like at wild soccer matches I used to cover in Europe. These people had paid good money to watch the Williams sisters’ match. Instead, they watched a doubles match that was moved into the slot from another court.

Back in the interview room, I opened with questions, asking the Williams sisters to confirm what I saw down on the practice court. They confirmed my account. (I still have press clips from back then, as I was quoted about it.)

The official explanation was that Venus Williams pulled out due to a knee injury. The unofficial explanation, believed by many in the media room, was that Richard Williams ordered Venus to drop out of the semifinal match, so that Serena could go into the finals. (At the time, Venus was way ahead of Serena in winnings, money and fame.) Some sources also said that it was too emotional for the sisters to play against each other back then, so a family decision was made to avoid a head-to-head match in Indian Wells.

Many others had a different opinion and believed that Venus Williams was indeed injured. For example, I asked Bud Collins, and he flatly refused to believe that any such deal was made. (For the record, I adore the Williams sisters and have written about them many times for European publications.)

When Serena later faced off against Kim Clijsters in the final, thousands of fans were still pissed about what happened at the semifinals. They booed Serena (and Venus, as she watched) from the start to the finish of the match, which Serena won. In my 18 years covering this tournament, I’ve never seen such a fiasco! After the match, Richard Williams claimed that a fan insulted him by using a racial slur. Ever since, Venus and Serena Williams have boycotted the Indian Wells tourney.

To this day, some media outlets claim that the whole affair was based on racial discrimination. I believe that most of the crowd anger came not from racism, but from Venus’ suspicious last-minute decision—mere minutes before the match’s scheduled start—to forfeit. The fans felt betrayed! These same fans had embraced the Williams sisters in the previous years; after all, they were the big American tennis hopes for years to come!

Well, 13 years have passed since the scandal. In the months leading up to this year’s BNP Paribas Open, Serena hinted that she might be coming back to the desert this year. Alas, it didn’t work out this season.

She’s still the biggest and richest female tennis star on the planet—and such a grand tourney needs the greatest champions, especially the greatest American tennis champions. Let’s all hope for Serena Williams’ return to Indian Wells in March 2015.

There was no Indian Wells Tennis Garden back in 1996. That’s when I started covering what’s now known as the BNP Paribas Open. Back then, the tourney was held at the Hyatt Grand Champions.

The tournament’s champions come and go, but some of the folks responsible for what the tournament has become are here to stay. In this case, a hippie tennis star from South Africa, and a girl from Boston who taught herself tennis by hitting a ball against a backboard, were instrumental in bringing what is now the BNP Paribas Open to its current glory.

The hippie is Ray Moore, the Tennis Garden and tournament CEO, and the girl is Dee Dee Felich, assistant tournament director and the former senior VP.

In 1981, Felich, then 23, arrived in Palm Springs to meet her new boss, Charlie Pasarell. He was working on a new tennis tournament at Mission Hills. The tourney was called the Xerox Grand Champions.

“Everyone was on their hands and knees sorting out numbers and letters for the scoreboards, so I joined the group and did whatever needed to be done,” remembers Felich.

When the tourney moved to the La Quinta Resort, Pasarell and Felich had a miniature office. She’d have to go under the table to pick up a call when they were both working the telephones—and they’d back into each other every time they had a visitor!

When the tourney moved to the Hyatt Grand Champions, Felich used her lunch break to breast-feed her newborn son in a hotel room. There was no time to go home.

Once, she recalls, the desert wind was so strong that it was knocking the advertisement plaques off of the courts.

She asked: “What now?!” Pasarell told her: “Hold on!”

She’s still holding on, decades later.

“I may not be doing as much facility ops, as we have a whole team for that, and they’re the best in the business, but we still pitch in whenever we are called upon,” says Felich.

In the mid ’80s, Ray Moore became Pasarell’s partner in what would become the fifth-largest tennis tourney in the world. Over the years, the Indian Wells event climbed up right behind the Grand Slam tournaments: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

In 2009, Pasarell sold his dream tournament to billionaire Larry Ellison. The package included the Tennis Garden as well. The rumored price, never confirmed, was $100 million.

Today, Moore is the man in charge, reporting only to Ellison. Moore is an impressive businessman—with a surprising other side.

The first time I walked into his Tennis Garden office, some 10 years ago, there was a sign at the door that read: The Hippie. Hanging on the wall was—and still is—a John Lennon self-portrait!

“Lennon signed it,” Moore proudly grins while gesturing toward the framed drawing. “I bought four autographed pieces; the other three are up in my house.”

During his career as a tennis player, Moore was heavily into music, as well as Zen and other spiritual stuff. He was introduced to meditation by his tennis pal Torben Ulrich.

Years ago, Moore took Torben’s son Lars to a Deep Purple concert. It left a lasting impression on the kid. Years later, that kid, Lars Ulrich, co-founded a band called Metallica.

There is a framed picture of Metallica in Moore’s office, too. Lars Ulrich dedicated it to Amanda, Moore’s daughter. He wrote: “You know, your dad is indirectly responsible for all this!”

There is one thing Moore hasn’t yet accomplished, he told me: He has not yet played tennis with Larry Ellison. The flamboyant owner of BNP Paribas Open is an avid tennis player.

For time being, Moore is a happy CEO, because Ellison has poured tons of money into the tourney’s infrastructure. As a result, according to Moore, the BNP Paribas Open may soon surpass the French Open and Wimbledon in attendance.

“My goal is to get a half-million people to attend our tournament during its two weeks in March,” Moore says.

If the Indian Wells tennis tournament were to eventually surpass all four Grand Slams in size and attendance, what would happen then? Only time will tell.

The BNP Paribas Open takes place Monday, March 3, through Sunday, March 16. For more information, visit www.bnpparibasopen.com.

After close to a century, Allene Arthur finally came out about her age.

I’d driven Miss Arthur to numerous social events over a period of 15 years. We covered those posh events together—and until recently, I had no clue that she started writing her column before I was born. That’s how good she is at keeping secrets.

Well, now we know her age: About 100 people showed up at Seven Lakes Country Club recently to help her mark her 90th birthday.

This seasoned journalist started writing her lifestyles/scene column in 1959—and has no intentions of stopping anytime soon. Yes, she’s been covering big events for a long time—including the royal wedding of the (20th) century, of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, in 1981.

‘‘I phoned the story in from London, and it appeared on the local daily’s front page the same day as the wedding,” she told me during our one-on-one at her Palm Springs home.

In the media business, things can change in a heartbeat, sometimes tragically, after a story is published. In 1994, Arthur experienced such a moment following an exclusive with DinahShore for a local magazine.

Palm Springs Life printed my feature interview with Dinah in which she spoke in present tense!” she said. “Unfortunately, she died just about as the magazine was to hit the stands. There was no time to change her quotes into past tense.”

As the decades went by, Arthur experienced various changes in technology—which, of course, changed the way she did her job. One of the biggest changes came while she was working at the local daily as a society editor.

“I was 55 when computers came around, so here at the paper, we went to the classes to learn about it,” she recalled. “Soon, the classes split into advanced and slow ones. I ended up in the ‘dumb’ class—as did the publisher and editor-in-chief, who were my generation.

“The younger reporters got into the computers faster, and I bet you the fifth-graders would beat us all to it!”

Arthur’s personal story is that of a strong-minded woman who raised her son (after a divorce) while working as a single female in a tough corporate environment. The long hours, multiple events to cover and many pages to write—all on deadline—may have left a small impact on her health.

“I did have a minor stroke a few years back, but it did not hamper my column-writing in the slightest,” she said. “It was not a downer in that way.”

Here, Arthur paused. She smiled, remembering something. “Well, Kirk Douglas had a stroke, too,” her hazel eyes flashed, “but he was so charming and engaging when I was taking his quote, you couldn’t tell.”

Allene Arthur has written more than 2,500 columns so far—and that’s just locally! Twice, she said, she quit writing her column. “After both of these interruptions, I’m told there was a considerable letter campaign from The Desert Sun readers that my column be restored. Once again, editors asked me to return to my regular column.”

On this rare occasion, Arthur offered an exclusive: She revealed who the hardest celebs were to quote.

“Frank Sinatra was, by far, the worst one!” she said. “I’d been at his Palm Springs home several times, covering events he and Barbara hosted. Sinatra was always cold and distant. He hated journalists! Also, another former local resident, novelist Harold Robbins, was so blunt and rude!”

President Gerald Ford was just the opposite, according to Arthur.

“I was so impressed by Ford!” she said. “He and Betty were at several social events I covered. At one, where he was the guest of honor, we were introduced during the pre-dinner cocktail hour and fell into conversation. He was a gracious gentleman. And I was seated next to the first lady during the dinner.”

How does Allene Arthur keeps going? What keeps her feeling young?

“I love porn flicks!” she joked with a bright smile. “I never run out of material; there’s just not enough space to publish everything I want!”

We talked about the place of columns in American journalism, and Arthur mentioned that her idols were Erma Bombeck and Ogden Nash. That’s when Arthur pointed out an ingredient of the master columnist: “I write for the reader—not the advertiser or the people being written about, but the reader!”

It would take up a whole story just to list all of the awards Arthur received for her “first century” in journalism. Instead, I took a picture of her by her “vanity wall.” They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but there’s always another word to be written—until the final column, that is.

That leads to my last question for Allene Arthur: When’s the time to quit for good?

She answered without hesitation.

“I’ll end it when I run out of something to say, or when publishers decide to eliminate me—whichever comes first!”

Page 4 of 5