Days of Cooke's life seem to bubble over with stuff of soap operas


July 12, 1992|By VITO STELLINO

Move over, J. T. Make room for J. K. C.

Now that the nation has grown tired of J. R. Ewing, it's time for a new prime-time soap opera based on the life and times of a colorful tycoon.

Let's call it Middleburg, the home of Jack Kent Cooke's Virginia estate.

Cooke, the billionaire owner of the Washington Redskins, is a larger-than-life character whose rise from door-to-door encyclopedia salesman to tycoon seems made for the tube.

After all, his first divorce was granted by Judge Wapner. Yesthat Judge Wapner. He awarded Cooke's first wife a then-record $41 million before he was a TV judge.

Cooke never looked back.

The strong-willed Cooke put on one of his typical shows of bravado when he showed up at Potomac Yard in Alexandria, Va., to make a grand announcement with Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder last Thursday.

It wasn't Cooke's style to simply announce what had happened: Cooke made a deal with Wilder for Virginia to kick in $130 million of the $280 stadium project and now they would attempt to get the Virginia legislature to approve the deal.

Tycoons don't work that way. Cooke simply announced the stadium as a reality. "Nothing will stop it," he said.

Well, the legislature can, but Cooke treated that as a mere formality. He didn't try to lobby the legislature. He simply called Wilder a "doer" and left it in his hands.

Wilder will have to be quite a doer to go back to Richmond and persuade the legislature to give one of the nation's richest men $130 million.

Can the governor and Cooke pull it off? If nothing else, this stadium effort is just the latest chapter in Cooke's fascinating life.

Meanwhile, any good soap opera needs a good subplot.

Enter Cooke's fourth wife, Marlene Chalmers Cooke, who was at the stadium news conference wearing a large hat and an off-the-shoulder dress. She also keeps in the news.

Earlier this year, she showed up at a hospital with Cooke with a bullet wound in one of her fingers.

The police, who are supposed to be notified of gunshot incidents, found out about it watching television. A mere oversight, hospital officials said of their failure to call.

Meanwhile, there were two versions about what happened. One was that she found the gun in a bureau at their Washington home and it went off accidentally. Another was that she was trying to wrestle it away from one of Cooke's sons when it went off. And then there was the matter about whether it was registered in the District of Columbia, which has strict gun-control laws. Police investigated, but no charges were filed.

That wasn't the end of her problems. Now the Immigration and Naturalization Service has begun deportation proceedings against her. She was born in Bolivia and pleaded guilty in 1986 to a charge of conspiracy to import cocaine. After that conviction -- she served four months in a federal prison before she met Cooke -- she became what is known as a "deportable alien."

Can Cooke prevent the INS from deporting her? Stay tuned.

Then there is the matter of Mark Rypien, the most prominent of the unsigned Redskins with training camp just a week away.

Last year, Cooke called Rypien a "bloody idiot" before he ended a holdout.

Cooke couldn't resist needling Rypien during his news conference about his threat to play in Canada.

"I even thought about moving it [the stadium] to Canada to satisfy Mark Rypien," he said.

Just another day in the life of J. K. C.

About the only thing Cooke won't do is copy another tycoon (Ross Perot) and lay the groundwork for a run at the presidency. Cooke isn't eligible because he was born in Canada, but he'd probably consider it a step down anyway.

Time for recess

After four weeks of testimony, the antitrust trial in Minneapolis will be recessed for two weeks until June 27 while Judge David Doty attends a judicial conference. You get the idea that Judge Doty thinks he has better things to do than listen to the players or owners argue about their millions.

Anyway, this break gives the two sides a chance to hold settlement talks, but don't expect a break in the impasse. No talks have been scheduled and even if they do meet, they seem too far apart to settle.

The players are almost finished presenting their case and then the owners are likely to spend the month of August presenting their side.

The players seem to be doing well, but it's difficult to tell how eight Minneapolis women who have little or no interest in football are reacting to this battle of the big money numbers on both sides.

Problems at the top

One thing that's obvious during the trial is that the leaders of both sides -- Gene Upshaw, the head of the NFL Players Association, and NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue -- aren't coming off well.

Upshaw testified last week that ex-Dallas Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm said during the 1987 strike that "the players are like cattle and the owners are like ranchers."

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