The new star on Broadway last week was not onstage, but in the audience. The crowd at the hit musical The Will Rogers Follies saved its warmest applause for a beefy, barrel-chested military man who has become the brightest star in the American firmament: Persian Gulf War conqueror Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf. A 1990s version of Second World War heroes Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, the commander of allied forces in the Gulf was poised to trade his desert fatigues for civvies and market his medals into a multimillion-dollar book contract. Political operatives keep mentioning his name as a possible national candidate. Marvin Josephson, Schwarzkopf’s literary agent and host at New York City’s Palace Theatre last week, said that the Broadway reception “was the first time I saw every single person in a New York audience give someone a standing ovation.” He added: “It was so emotional—it was unbelievable.”
The emotion hit a fever pitch on June 8 in Washington, where Schwarzkopf led 8,800 Desert Storm troops in the largest military victory parade since the Second World War. The Pentagon even provided some of its hightech weaponry for the occasion, including the Stealth fighters, Tomahawk cruise missiles and Ml AÍ tanks that pounded Iraq during the sixweek war. Not to be outdone, New York Mayor David Dinkins boasted that his city’s festivities on June 10, featuring Schwarzkopf along with 10,000 lb. of ticker tape and a million yellow ribbons, would be the “mother of all parades.” Ronald Walker, managing director of the Washington office of Korn/Ferry International Inc., an executive-search firm, said that “the parades reflect the euphoria and the excitement about winning a brief but decisive war.” He added: “We may have overdone it a bit as a nation, but the underlying principle is that out of this short and successful combat is the victory that escaped us in Korea and Vietnam.” Schwarzkopf, a decorated commander who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, is the most potent symbol of that sentiment. The balding, six-foot, three-inch general, nicknamed both “the Bear” and “Stormin’ Norman,” managed to convey a sense of caring for the individual American soldier even as he embodied crushing military muscle against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. “People loved the war,” said Mark Miller, media studies professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, “because it offered a fantasy—it was a great vicarious kick.” In the postwar afterglow, supermarket tabloids have purred
over the “240-lb. pussycat” with his “bulky chic”—the National Enquirer pronounced him America’s sexiest man. “Norman Schwarzkopf is the number 1 star in America today,” said Warren Cowan, chairman of Rogers and Cowan Inc., a Los Angeles public relations firm. “More than Madonna.”
In fact, offers have poured in to Josephson’s International Creative Management (ICM), one of Hollywood’s top talent agencies, with requests for Schwarzkopf to endorse everything from action-man toys to men’s cologne. Ameri-
ca West Airlines has even launched a Schwarzkopf look-alike ad campaign, which stars comedian Jonathan Winters as a hefty general clad in desert fatigues and championing the carrier’s “air superiority.” Josephson insists that his client has spurned crass commercial exploitation of his celebrity. “He’s not a matinee idol,” Josephson scoffed. “He’s a four-star general who has touched a real chord in Americans.” Josephson said that ICM has screened 400 letters and calls each day, and rejected all endorsements and commercials—even pleas from eager entrepreneurs to telephone the Saudi royal family, with whom Schwarzkopf worked closely while in the Gulf, to arrange business deals.
Corporate America has also invited
Schwarzkopf into its boardrooms with offers to apply his management style to everything from savings-and-loan bailout agencies to football teams. In the political arena, Florida Republicans are trying to persuade him to run for the Senate. And conservative columnist William Safire even suggested that the “Big Guy” could capture the Democratic presidential nomination as easily as he routed the Iraqis. Schwarzkopf belongs to neither political party. And although he has declined to rule out politics altogether, he has expressed no interest in joining the fray in the near future.
Instead, Schwarzkopf, who had long planned to retire from the military in August, has chosen ICM’s Josephson, whose other personal clients are Henry Kissinger and Barbara Walters, to represent him in a book deal that could top $5 million. “The most important thing he wants to do is to work on his memoirs,” said Josephson. “It gives him a chance in a dignified way to make the money he never had the chance to do before.”
Still, some critics have questioned the com-
mercialization of Schwarzkopf’s celebrity status—especially because the Gulf victory was followed by a bloody civil war and the mass exodus of desperate Kurds fleeing Iraq’s army. “It’s a mess over there,” said Gerald Meyers, a business professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “What the hell did we win?” Added Johns Hopkins’s Miller: “The war was a big massacre, ultimately pointless, and I hate to see anyone become hugely salable because of it. Schwarzkopf’s quickness to exploit his standing connects him with the Ronald Reagan era.” For millions of Americans, however, Schwarzkopf remains an untarnished hero, poised to collect the spoils of war.
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