Jeanie took her parents' divorce hard. She was seven when they broke up, and she felt emotionally abandoned. In fourth grade a kid on the playground said, "I never see your dad. Where is he?"
Not sure how to answer, Jeanie said, "He's dead."
At 17 she moved in with her father. The house they shared was Pickfair, the 42-room Beverly Hills estate once owned by silent-screen royalty Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Jeanie treasured the house and became such an expert on it that she led guided tours. Strapped for cash, Jerry sold the place in 1987 to Hollywood mogul Meshulam Riklis and his wife, Pia Zadora, who promptly gutted it.
For Jeanie the razing of Pick-fair resonates in the Lakers' and the Kings' imminent vacating of the Forum. To stay competitive with the nonunion Pond in Anaheim, she has engineered a landmark deal with her union stagehands at the Forum. To fill seats, she hopes to lure a minor league hockey team. The Sparks will stay put, so Jeanie and Johnny will remain estranged bedfellows. Still, trouble thunders in the distance, for them and for Jerry. How will Jerry contend with the Murdochs and the Disneys, who swallow small-time owners whole? How can he compete against corporate octopi with tentacles in TV and movies and other parts of the world beyond sports?
Today at the Beverly Hills restaurant, Jeanie's most immediate concern is a tempest called Johnny. "Every success I have makes it harder for him," she says, cupping her face in her hands. Tears trickle through her fingers. "I feel his pain—we all have pain—but it won't go away unless he does something about it."
She thinks her father's Three Bussketeers idea is wishful thinking. "I can see us all having a role in the business," she says, "but Dad needs to designate one of us the leader." If that one were Johnny, Jeanie would resign. "I wouldn't be crushed," she says. "I'm pretty marketable, and I know I could find a good job."
Eighty miles east of the Forum, in the horse country of California's Lake Elsinore Valley, Janie Buss Drexel presides over a two-acre farm she calls Skunk Flats. She shares the spread with her husband, their two toddlers and scores of orphaned animals: stray dogs and cats, broken-down horses and ponies. Standing on her front porch, she points out a toothless, nearly sightless foundered pony named Pumpkin. "Most people would put him to sleep or send him to the junkyard like an old car" she says. "I just want to take care of him."
Janie is the 35-year-old Buss baby. "I consider myself the best adjusted of my siblings," she says. "Jeanie was always trying to please my dad, entering beauty pageants, getting good grades. Me? I couldn't have cared less. All I wanted was to ride my horse. Maybe that's where all the animals fit in. They filled the emptiness."
She has been on the Forum's staff since 1987. Before signing on, Janie went to seven colleges and had four majors, finally getting a psychology degree from Cal State-Dominguez Hills. "I didn't do a thing with the degree," she says. "Does anybody?" In the last 11 years she has worked as everything from secretary to her current position as an executive in the community relations office, which allows her to work out of her home. "I have zero interest in managing the business," she says. "I associate that with my father's always being away from home."