Commentary: The Owner's Owner

By Mace Siegel

Television producer Ed Friendly was a man for all seasons. His hit show, “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” which ran from 1968 to 1973, revolutionized the television industry. It brought comedy to its highest level, and celebrities from the entire entertainment and political world fought for exposure, from Sammy Davis Jr. to Richard M. Nixon. Long before “Saturday Night Live,” it also made legends of its stars, persons such as Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin.

Equally successful was the long-running drama “Little House on the Prairie,” based on the series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and starring Michael Landon. To this day, the show is constantly seen in reruns.

Ed and wife Natalie’s next door neighbor in Bel Air was Quincy Jones. They had an understanding to offer their homes to each other if relocating. When Ed decided to build in Rancho Santa Fe, Quincy was the buyer.

Ed and Natalie’s new home incorporated everything dear to them. It was divided into three zones: Ed’s office and work area, a large entertainment area, and a living area that also included Natalie’s office. They were a great team. Of course, the outside area included a lovely unit where family and friends would have their own privacy.

Family and friends were the essential elements. Ed and Natalie were great hosts and thoroughly enjoyed entertaining others. The entertainment area had huge sliding glass doors with a large patio, infinity pool, and a view of the Pacific Ocean.

Ed’s office was covered with photos of many friends, including most of the elite from the entertainment world.

As gifted as he was as a television producer, and as much as he enjoyed that trade, Ed fell in love with another industry, and those of us in the Thoroughbred industry, particularly in California, are fortunate he did.

Ed and Natalie both loved Thoroughbred horses. There were many, and many with Natalie as part of the name. I used to kid Ed about it and say, “Not another Natalie!” Needless to say, the next one was named “Not Another Natalie.”

Ed loved visiting his horses in the early morning, and was not an owner who relied solely on his trainer’s judgment. He reviewed their progress daily and, as with everything else in his life, he had his own, strong opinions. He did not hesitate to make his feelings known to racing secretaries, as well.

Ed worked with Noble Threewitt on the California Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association for many years before deciding that the owners needed their own voice, separate from trainers, whom he referred to as “our employees.”

He envisioned an equal partnership between track owners and horse owners. Tracks provided the theater and owners provided the entertainment, and if there was one thing Ed knew a lot about, it was entertainment.

The Thoroughbred Owners of California was born from this idea, and from the beginning was led by Ed. For the gestation period, he worked on getting the TOC authorized and funded by the state, as if it were a full-time job. By his firm will, he was able to get support from track owners and the Legislature, and the TOC became the only national industry group made up solely of owners.

Because of support from the TOC, the industry was able to form the National Thoroughbred Association, which would become the group from which sprung the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

When Ed set his mind to do so, he could be both witty and charming. He cut a striking figure with his silver hair, and was impeccably attired for all occasions. He was a wonderful friend, but often his views differed from most in the group and he defended his thinking even if unpopular at the time. His efforts were focused solely on what he thought best for the Thoroughbred industry. 

Ed lost Natalie in 2002 and later married Paula, who shared his last years.

I count myself among those who shared many years with Ed, and I was proud to have served alongside him on the TOC board, a position I still hold. As I contemplate future issues, I shall remember Ed Friendly and the passion with which he supported California racing and the plight of the owner.

We didn’t always agree, but you always knew where Ed stood. That was on the side of the owner, who, like Ed said for years, is responsible for putting on the show. And nobody put on a show better than Ed Friendly.

Owner/breeder Mace Siegel was a founding board member of the Thoroughbred Owners of California.

Most Popular Stories