BEST WEIGHT WATCHERS LEADER 2007 | Gretchen | People & Places | Phoenix
We're quite certain she has a name, but we know her only as Gretchen — sort of like Madonna. Or Prince. Because this woman is truly a rock star of the weight-watching world. There's nothing really special about Weight Watchers, one of the oldest and most ubiquitous diet programs in the country. You go to a meeting once a week, you weigh in, you sit for half an hour and hear some person yammer about how they lost weight and offer tips. Then you eat a prescribed amount each day (you're assigned points for food, based on calories, fat and fiber, and you get more points if you exercise). When it comes to WW meetings, it's all about the leader's personality, and Gretchen has charisma by the gallon. Her Thursday noon meeting is usually standing room only, and it won't take you long to figure out why. (She leads others, too. Call Weight Watchers for details.)

Gretchen may be serious about weight loss, but she doesn't take herself — or her members — too seriously. She's also not perfect, although she is at her lifetime goal weight (damn her). For example: She'll dutifully pimp a Weight Watchers product, like their ice cream bar, starting off so good: "They're delicious and only 2 points a bar!" And ending so bad: "But let's see, there are eight per box, so that means 16 points." She knows us too well, and that makes us want to stay on the straight and narrow. And she's a goof. She waves a metallic pompom each week, leading the group in a cheer to those who've earned a ribbon for losing 10 pounds, and threatening to add weight next week for anyone who doesn't at least mouth the words. Our favorite WW moment was when Gretchen sang one of her original songs — a cappella — set to the tune of "All That Jazz" from Chicago. Her version is called "All That Fat" and we're not going to share the words here (although we still remember them). You'll have to pay the membership fee and go to the meeting yourself.

We used to make it a hobby of sorts, collecting glowing references to John McCain in the national media. It got so obvious that for a while, his deliciously bitchy staff used to send copies along, just to be sure we didn't miss anything. Sadly, we had to take up beading when the B.J.s stopped coming for our state's senior senator, and these days, his Straight Talk Express appears to have permanently derailed in Baghdad. But we were amused not long ago when we noticed Mrs. McCain gracing the pages of a recent issue of Harper's Bazaar. We weren't sure, at first, that it was our Cindy McCain, because John's wife is almost 20 years his junior, but this chick looked like she could be his granddaughter. But no, that's Cindy Hensley McCain, and she looks fabulous.

A little too fabulous, if you ask us. Poor Cindy's been through a rather embarrassing Percocet addiction and a serious heart attack, not to mention that she's still in a marriage to a notoriously mean man, and the beer heiress has managed to come out smelling like a rose, hanging from a tire swing in a ball gown (really) and looking like — well, looking like she's had some work done. Photo retouching, even in the pages of Harper's, wouldn't transform anyone quite this much. Even more than her expressionless face, we couldn't stop staring at, um, an extension of Cindy's face — her hair. Hey, more power to you, Cindy, and good job of turning your personal story around, too. We love the Harper's headline: "Myth vs. Reality."

Maria Baier locked, as of press time, in a heated run-off battle for control of Phoenix City Council District 3 – is, by far, the most interesting candidate of the year, and we include all national political figures in that assessment.

For one thing, she's a staunch conservative backed by an unlikely but powerful lobby, the firefighters. That could have something to do with the fact that her brother, Bob Khan, is the city's fire chief. Beyond that, she's certainly a qualified candidate, and, we hear, a heck of a nice lady. Baier has a lot of credentials, many of which she lists on her campaign Web site. She went to law school, worked for 10 years in the governor's office (most interestingly, as a speechwriter for Fife Symington) and she was the spokeswoman, way back, for the state attorney general. She now works in the field of land conservation (that could mean so many things that we won't even go into it), as a consultant (ditto). And she's on the board of the Phoenix Zoo.

But Baier's most fascinating gig gets short shrift. At the end of her bio, she mentions that she worked as an independent contractor with the San Francisco Examiner. She must have run out of room, because she didn't tell the backstory: Long before she went to law school, worked for Symington, got married, and had a beautiful family (you can see them on her Web site, too) she worked for the San Francisco Examiner along with her beau, Hunter S. Thompson, who was writing columns for the paper. Yes, the Hunter S. Thompson. (Sadly, the late Hunter S. Thompson. He killed himself in 2005.) You're right, it does sound like an unlikely match. But check out Thompson's dedication in his 1988 collection Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the '80s and read the first line:

"I dropped Maria off in front of the tattoo parlor just before midnight."

We don't know if Baier will prevail in the run-off November 6, but we gotta admit, we're rooting for her. How many current Phoenix City Council members do you think have tattoos?

Hey, the man sent J.D. Hayworth packing. It doesn't matter if he fails to do anything else for two whole years; Arizona and New Times readers everywhere owe him big time.
Okay, so his name sounds like the punch line to a joke about local theater, but Phoenix native Max Crumm made us all proud when he took home top honors as one of two winners of NBC's You're the One That I Want this past March. The show went looking for male and female winners to play the leads in the new Broadway revival of Grease (talk about a grand prize!) and 21-year-old Crumm nailed it. The Desert Vista High graduate got his start in kiddy theater in the Valley before bolting for L.A. and dreams of stardom. After a grueling five-month audition process, he squeaked into the final spot, becoming the latest Broadway Danny Zuko. We couldn't be happier to have contributed to the Grease legacy with one of our own, especially because Crumm started out as a Danny underdog, criticized for his "slacker" attitude and bowl-shaped haircut.

Go, greased lightning — and bravo, Mr. Crumm!

We admit we were bowled over by 17-year-old Jordin Sparks from the moment she first performed on this perennial pop music fest, but we were so busy being crushed out on Melinda Doolittle that we forgot to root for our hometown girl.

That is, until Week 5, when Miss Thing stood there in an evening dress, belting out the most exciting version of "I (Who Have Nothing)" we've heard since Shirley Bassey made it famous a hundred years ago.

After that, it became clear that this statuesque home-schooled songbird was our fave — and she still is (in spite of that first single, "This Is My Now." Yikes!), even if we're not entirely convinced she's not actually a 34-year-old because, really, how can a Glendale teenager sing so beautifully and with this much style? One last question about our favorite songstress: Where's that debut album?!

We can't stop thinking about Superbad, the late-summer smash starring Seth Rogen and Jonah Goldberg of Knocked Up fame. (Another of our favorite summer movies.) That blood, those drawings... Okay, sorry, we're digressing. Go see it. Here's another reason: How cool is it that one of the Superbad girls hails from Scottsdale? Super-cool, we say! It seemed as though, mere minutes after heading for Hollywood, the actress formerly known as Emily Stone began getting great roles in cool TV shows and hot indie films. First, she turned up in an episode of NBC's Medium, then just as quickly, scored as a member of the cast of Fox's high-profile auto race drama Drive. Not too shabby for someone who started out playing Eeyore in Valley Youth Theatre's A Winnie the Pooh Christmas Tail, and whose first professional job was as Laurie Partridge in The New Partridge Family. And now, she stars in our favorite movie of the moment. When she lived here, Emily/Emma was, briefly, a Xavier High School Prep girl. We should have known, because her Superbad character Jules does have that Xavier look. But Jules is way nicer. We bet Emma is, too, and we wish her all the best!
We're not 100 percent sure that Kate Walsh (of Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice fame) has never been to north Scottsdale, but if you think you've seen her wandering around Kierland Commons, chances are good that it wasn't her. Debra Rich Gettleman — a Valley resident with the same red hair and an uncanny resemblance, both in face and figure, to the good Dr. Addison — gets stopped often by would-be adoring fans. Coincidentally, Gettleman's an actress — albeit a bit less famous than Walsh. So someday, maybe people will stop Kate Walsh on the street, mistaking her for Debra Rich Gettleman.
In Phoenix, it's not six degrees of separation — it's more like two. This summer, those two degrees got cozier when John Spiak, a curator at the Arizona State University Art Museum, married Cassandra Coblentz, a curator at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Originally from Orange County, Spiak has been an arts-scene cheerleader for more years than many of us have lived here. Coblentz, also from SoCal, arrived in Arizona to take the SMoCA job in 2005 and hit the ground running; one of her primary responsibilities was the southwestNET series, a showcase for artists from the region. Spiak champions video art and is the force behind the popular ASU Annual Short Film Festival, while over at SMoCA, Coblentz curated a painting show with the goal of demonstrating that abstract art is still relevant. What they'll do together is anyone's guess, but it should be interesting, and good for the rest of us — if they stick around. Local contemporary gallery, anyone?
We are sad to report that two of our area's brightest lights recently packed up and moved to that snooty little one-horse town known as Santa Fe, New Mexico. So why the "Best of"? Just because Lowenthal and Cedar, a husband-wife team with big, big hearts, deserve recognition and thanks for what they added to our community.

We remember seeing Lowenthal — a beloved and longtime ASU law professor (and all-suffering Sun Devils basketball fan) — tooling around campus on his one-speed bicycle, hurrying back home from teaching a constitutional law class to play with his young daughter, Angela.

And we remember Cedar, a devoted teacher and counselor who ran the beloved Family School for years, leaving it in capable hands that will miss her sorely.

These two have spent their lives doing for others. Now, as they sidle into well-deserved retirements (well, not quite — they already have more on their collective plates than most folks who haven't hit 40 yet), we applaud their new life, but just selfishly wish more than a little bit that they hadn't known the way to Santa Fe.

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