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$15.22-Million Winner Breaks ‘Big Spin’ Jinx

Times Staff Writer

Three weeks ago, Eve Paige Spencer was bedridden by a setback in her recovery from cancer surgery. On Saturday, Spencer, 65, won the $15.22-million grand prize in the California Lottery, the biggest “instant game” payoff in lottery history.

Spencer’s husband, Donner--whose great-great-grandfather George Donner led the ill-fated Donner party across the Sierra--was listed to spin, but he asked his wife of 25 years, a former radio show writer, to take his place “to give her a lift,” he said.

The most that the Spencers, who live in Saratoga in Santa Clara County, had previously won on a lottery ticket was $5. “This is quite an improvement,” said Donner Spencer, 64, of their “Big Spin” winnings--$608,800 after taxes annually for the next 20 years.

Although they have no definite plans for the money, Eve Spencer said she would like to take a trip to the Orient for a month. “Now you can walk there,” Spencer told his wife. “Yes, on air,” she replied.

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When Big Spin show host Geoff Edwards told the new multimillionaire that she would become an instant celebrity, she quipped: “Will I have time for a face lift?”

Notified Friday the 13th

Spencer was recovering from a setback after her September cancer surgery when, on June 13--Friday the 13th--her husband learned that he was going to be a finalist in the Big Spin.

“Donner said: ‘I’d like you to spin. You’re the only person whose lucky enough,’ ” she said, smiling at her husband.

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Eve Spencer said she has had “26 different careers,” from acting and writing to her current love of making enamel doors.

“I started out as an actress, but decided it would be more lucrative to work behind the camera,” she said, beginning her writing career in the 1940s in New York for radio shows--including “The Kate Smith Hour” and “The Shadow"--and then television, including “Robert Montgomery Presents.”

Donner Spencer worked for his father’s radio station, now KWIZ, in Orange County from 1946 until 1960. He also worked for KTTV (Channel 11) in Los Angeles.

In 1977, the Spencers published “Treasure of Trivia, or Frankly Dear Eve, I Don’t Give a Damn.” The book has a small cult following and “uses trivia as a springboard to comedy,” Donner Spencer said.

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When the lottery began in October, “we went to town,” Eve Spencer said, buying $6 to $8 worth of tickets a week. But when they have guests, Donner Spencer heads to his local liquor store and comes home with a handful for everyone to play.

Sigh From Lottery Officials

Lottery officials gave a collective sigh of relief when Spencer’s ball landed in one of the three grand prize slots, breaking the jinx of 188 finalists in the 12 preceding weeks. The Spencers’ payoff is the biggest in lottery history for an “instant game.” There have been several bigger lotto winners.

There were two winners of $1-million annuities--Irving Rottenberg, 50, of El Cajon, an unemployed ship builder’s inspector, and Emerito Twano, 35, a Navy dispersing clerk from San Diego. They will get annual checks of $40,000 for 20 years.

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