Tony Castro Archives

About Tony Castro

TONY CASTRO is a Harvard and Baylor University-educated historian, Napoleonic scholar and author of several books, including the landmark civil rights history Chicano Power, which Publishers Weekly acclaimed as “brilliant… a valuable contribution to the understanding of our time.”

He is also the author of critically recognized biographies of Ernest Hemingway and baseball legends Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, as well as a dual biography of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

He is currently working on a biography of Napoleon Bonaparte.

When We All Wanted To Be Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway, just days before turning 60, steps out of the swimming pool at the Davis family villa where he spent the summer o 1959. (From 'Looking for Hemingway' (Lyons Press)

Ernest Hemingway, just days before turning 60, steps out of the swimming pool at La Consula, the Davis family villa in Malaga, Spain, where the world’s most celebrated writer at the time spent the summer of 1959. (From Looking for Hemingway: The Lost Generation and A Final Rite of Passage, Lyons Press)

A CHILD OF THE BOOMER generation, I grew up desperately wanting to be Ernest Hemingway. To run with the bulls in Pamplona. To hunt big game in Africa. To roam the streets of Paris with the Lost Generation. To live the adventurous life of Nick Adams. Years later, I would learn that I was hardly alone among young people of my age. We all wanted to be Ernest Hemingway.

Today, those of us who have survived can take great pride. We are Hemingway.

Sadly, though, we likely are the Ernest Hemingway that I’ve written about in my new re-issued (in softcover) book, Looking for Hemingway: The Lost Generation and A Final Rite of Passage. It is the Hemingway at that age we all dread of being: Old, losing our train of thought, unable to do what once came so easily, too quick to show our frustration at our slowness but still holding on to the hope of one last glimmer of youth.

I recently read a quote – I can’t recall by whom (that thing about losing our train of thought perhaps) – that you can’t really face getting old without having the courage for it. And I thought that was such a Hemingwayesque thing to say: grace under pressure and that whole Hemingway credo about life.

Hemingway entertains two young women he added to his entourage traveling from bullfight to bullfight in Spain, 1959. (From 'Looking for Hemingway,' Lyons Press)

In Pamplona, Ernest Hemingway entertains two young women he added to his entourage that traveled with him from bullfight to bullfight in Spain, 1959. (From Looking for Hemingway: Spain, The Bullfights and A Final Rite of Passage, Lyons Press)

And there was another quote, this one from Dame Muriel Spark, the Scottish novelist, that “being over 70 is like being engaged in a war — all our friends are going or gone, and we survive amongst the dead and the dying as on a battlefield.”

Ernest Hemingway undoubtedly would have loved all that talk about war, the dead and those dying on a battlefield.

So you get what I’m driving at. Getting old was no more kind to the author of The Sun Also Rises, For Whom The Bell Tolls and The Old Man and The Sea than it is to most of us. And most of us still here are now older than Hemingway when he was found dead of a self-inflicted shotgun wound in the head at his home in 1961, just 19 days shy of his 62nd birthday.

51huzvrohyl-_sx329_bo1204203200_Looking for Hemingway is about the Nobel Prize laureate two birthdays earlier, set in Spain where he celebrated his 60th in a magnificent celebration attended by actress Lauren Bacall and many of his other famous friends. He was, after all, the most celebrated literary figure of his time and few saw him as being in the twilight of his life. Hell, he was Ernest frigging Hemingway.

Hemingway was there on a quixotic quest to recapture the sentimental Spain of his youth in the 1920s when he had written The Sun Also Rises, his breakthrough novel that made him fabulously famous. His plans were to write an epilogue for a reissue of his bullfighting nonfiction classic Death in the Afternoon. But it turned into a summer-long extravaganza following the two greatest matadors in the world — the young, dashing Antonio Ordoñez and his much older brother-in-law Luis Miguel Dominguín — who were facing off in a mano a mano, a bullfighting World Series and Super Bowl rolled into one.

The adventure would be Ernest Hemingway’s last hurrah. And it would almost kill him — and possibly contributed to his end.

At 59 years of age, Hemingway had the stamina if not the strength of his youth. He and his entourage criss-crossed mountainous Spain numerous times traveling from one corrida to another, partying and drinking themselves to exhaustion each night, as he tried to pick up every pretty girl he met.

Hemingway was traveling with his fourth wife Mary, but you can sense he might have been looking for wife No. 5. He treated Mary cruelly in front of his friends who allowed it. Traveling across Spain, he forced her to ride in a following second automobile while he gave a seat in his car to the attractive young women who had joined his cuadrilla. By the end of the trip, Mary returned to America alone, seriously thinking of leaving him.

But she sensed what no one else did. That while Hemingway sought to catch an inspiring last taste of the past, he had a tragic short life ahead. And that is the unexpected twist of Looking for Hemingway as it became a portrait of a prismatic vision of the dying artist, a complex and profoundly dramatic story of a man’s extraordinary effort to stay alive.

For me, there has always been in the story of Hemingway and Spain an allure so sharp and fresh that there was never any question of writing this book. There was, from the start, the joy of rediscovering the world in which he walked and traveled, both in the 1920s and again in 1959. Here was a canvas as generous, colorful, and grand as any in Hemingway’s life. As the story pushed forth, there was at every turn the excitement of history never told, of connections hidden for decades, of old mysteries answered.

My friend Teo Davis chats with Ernest Hemingway pool side at the Davis family villa in Spain, La Consula, where the author lived for months in 1959.

My friend Teo Davis chats with Ernest Hemingway pool side at La Consula, the Davis family villa in Spain, where the author lived for months in 1959.

The story of Hemingway the icon was well known. The story of Hemingway the man on this last romantic journey had been largely buried. Getting that story was slow work. After a good while, I felt I had become the crypt of Hemingwayolé en España. As my patient wife Renee used to say (but seldom aloud – for which I thank her) about this project, great effort went in but nothing came out until now.

For me, too, as a child of the 1950s who read The Old Man and The Sea thinking I was the boy Manolin in the story, I suppose I have been looking for Hemingway all my life, and perhaps it seems fitting that I found him at an age when I now see myself in the novel’s old man Santiago. For some this is not an easy age to face, publishers in particular. More than a few just flat out said they didn’t think any readers, especially Hemingway fans, wanted to read about him as an old man, pathetic at times, feeble and paranoid.

Being a life-long Hemingway lover, I found that hard to believe, unless it’s just simply old age some of us don’t want to face, whether Hemingway’s or our own. For those who fear this life stage, I can only say that I found it inspiring in the research to learn that Pablo Picasso in his sixties was having affairs with gorgeous youthful women more than forty years younger – young enough to be his granddaughters.

Today, the aging, dying Hemingway is one I have come to love and appreciate as much as the young romantic Hemingway, for in his mortality lie the same fears, regrets and self-recriminations that all of us face in our own way as we reach that stage in our lives.

Hemingway’s final adventure would produce his posthumously published book The Dangerous Summer, and that mano a mano bullfighting circus proved to be a story made to order for the dying man’s need not to die.

Not surprisingly, Hemingway would end up creating the two brave matadors – and, by extension, himself — as more than just heroic. He portrayed them as immortals, of course, for isn’t that the way famous people avoid the reality of old age and death?

Tony Castro, a former political reporter and columnist, is the author of seven books, the most recent being Looking for Mantle: The Best There Ever Was (Rowman and Littlefield).

Prince Tut in Excelsus

PUBLISHED: November 12, 2002, The Los Angeles Times


LOS ANGELES — The most brilliant man I’ve ever known died last week, far too young in life and certainly too premature for me to tell him how much he had meant to me.

John Tuthill at Choate, 1963

But chances are that my friend, John Tuthill, who died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 57, wouldn’t have wanted to hear it. Tut, as I called him even long before the name became commonplace in our culture, was also the most humble person I ever knew.

I met him in Dallas, but it would have been inaccurate to say he was from Dallas. He was born in Washington, D.C., educated at the Choate school in Connecticut and the University of California, Berkeley, and later lived in Minneapolis with his late wife and son and daughter.

Most people who met Tut when I knew him were initially intimidated by him. For most people, it was his height — he was six feet, six inches tall and appeared even taller — and his looks. Tut had eyes the color of the Pacific at dawn and, though starting to lose his hair prematurely, he could strike the pose of an Olympic god. 

But I was also intimidated by Tut’s mind, which is why I was hesitant to be his friend at first. Tut, however, wouldn’t allow me to slide out of his life. A couple of drinks led to several dinners, then some sets of tennis and a Dallas Cowboy game or two. Soon Tut was a regular weekend guest at the new home my wife and I had just moved into.

We were fascinated by each other’s backgrounds. I enjoyed hearing Tut talk about going to prep school at Choate, where President John F. Kennedy had been educated, and about being at Berkeley during the free speech protests of the 1960s. Tut wanted to hear my stories about growing up in the heart of the Bible Belt, about the identity crisis I was going through, having grown up Latino but feeling Anglophile, about being a newspaperman and the struggles of marriage.

Often we filled our Saturdays playing chess and tennis and poured out our souls about our dreams and our insecurities. Tut wanted to write but feared he couldn’t, even though he had shown me notebooks filled with promising prose and short stories. 

The most memorable of those stories was an account of how he and his fraternity pals at Berkeley would often skip classes for long drives south to Los Angeles to watch John Wooden’s great UCLA basketball teams of the 60s that featured Lew Alcindor, who later became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But the story smacked not only of UCLA basketball, but of the free spirit of his youth, a 1960s Jack Kerouac. 

Tut, meanwhile, was the only person to whom I ever confessed the nagging insecurity that I then felt. I had been the first person in my family to graduate from high school as well as college. Yet every time I traveled back east, as I had several times for fellowship and job interviews, I felt extremely inferior intellectually — a phenomenon not uncommon then for Southerners I would learn later from Southern writers such as Larry McMurtry and the late Willie Morris.

One day Tut showed up at my home with a book by Robert Hutchins, the noted educator who championed a renaissance in liberal arts education in America and the Great Books program at the University of Chicago. Tut insisted I read the book and that I begin reading Plato’s ”Republic.”

Over the next months, our weekend games of chess and tennis became backdrops to Socratic dialogs about the books Tut was having me read — from Aeschylus to Augustine, from Homer to Hobbes, from Dante to Darwin. I often joked to friends that I was only then getting the education that I had missed at Baylor, my alma mater. It sounded clever, but sadly it was true.

Several years later, I studied Homer at Harvard under Homeric scholar Robert Fitzgerald, who gave me the best compliment I think I have ever received. He said I had a good mind. I was speechless, but I knew who was largely responsible. Tut.

It’s strange what happens with friendships, especially with teachers. Although you move on in life, part of them stays with you. I moved from Dallas. My personal life at the time was unraveling as Tut’s was taking hold. He married and started a family as I was going off on a writer’s sojourn. 

Every so often we would touch base. I think a part of Tut envied my seemingly romantic existence as a writer in Los Angeles. I envied his stability as a businessman in the Midwest. I remarried, had two sons and developed a completely new set of friends in L.A., and many of them came to know that someone named Tut had been one of the most influential people in my life.

Some friends thought I had made him up — that Tuthill was a make-believe friend I had concocted to explain why I had bothered to read Plutarch or could quote Long Day’s Journey Into Night or recite the prelude to The Odyssey in the original ancient Greek. Maybe, as someone once said about Mickey Mantle, if he hadn’t existed, we would have had to make him up. But Tut was real.

Once when I used his name for a character in a screenplay that was in pre-production, I called just to make sure he didn’t mind.

Tut was intrigued. “Who do you have in mind for my character?” he wanted to know.

“Nick Nolte,” I answered.

“Yeah?” he said. “Well make sure he’s sober. Is there a love interest?”
I told him I had written her with Kim Basinger in mind.

There was a long pause before I asked him what was wrong.
“Nothing’s wrong,” he said. “I’m just fantasizing.”

That was Tut. Insisting on living out dreams. Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Children of Two Worlds, Two Cultures

PUBLISHED: March 20, 2008, The Los Angeles Daily News


HOLLY DAGRES MIGHT BE ONE of the few women who can steal some of the thunder from Hillary Clinton at one of the senator’s presidential campaign rallies. 

Dagres drew much of the attention at a recent rally at the California State University, Northridge, Grand Salon, distributing souvenir combs engraved with the name and office number of her boss and Clinton backer Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks. 

Holly Dagres in 2016 when she married CNN Cairo correspondent Ian James Lee.

Tall, blond, model-svelte and elegantly dressed in black, Dagres looked more confident than her intern position would suggest, disarming a questioner who wondered whether she had ever used the long silk scarf around her neck as a mantilla at church. 

“Actually, when I lived in Iran, I used it to cover my head and shield my face,” Dagres said. “I’m also Iranian. Actually, I’m half Iranian.”

Dagres, an honor student at Pierce College and an aspiring clothing designer, offers a window into an American experience rarely seen: The children of Iranian-American marriages crossing ethnic, religious, cultural and even racial barriers. 

It is an issue especially poignant as Iranians in the United States celebrate the Persian New Year – Norooz – that began last night and occurs every year at the spring equinox, the first day of spring. 

In the San Fernando Valley, many of the region’s 200,000 Iranians gather annually at Balboa Park to indulge in traditional food, dancing and cultural activities and to shop the booths of vendors. 

On March 30, those vendors will include the 22-year-old Dagres and her upstart clothing line, much of it bearing ancient Persian designs. 

“I consider myself truly American and Iranian, and I celebrate both cultures and heritages,” Dagres said. “I can’t separate one from the other.”

It is an unusual pedigree, not unlike the children of other mixed marriages that have continued the historic cultural blending in the U.S. – African-American and white, Latino and white, Latino and black, Asian and non-Asian, Jewish and non-Jewish, Muslim and non-Muslim. 

There are no exact numbers of offspring of Iranian-American marriages, but Dagres and other Iranian-Americans estimate there are hundreds – if not thousands – in Los Angeles alone. 

Getting assimilated

At Pierce College, Dagres’ entourage of friends includes several from mixed marriages – among them Star Safari, 18, of Granada Hills, the daughter of an Iranian father and an African-American mother. 

“I consider myself to be very blessed with my background and the fact that I am able to speak Farsi better than many of my Iranian friends whose parents are both Iranian,” said Safari, whose mother insisted that she immerse herself in the culture by living in Iran from 1999 to 2004. 

“It was not the easiest of transitions going there and later coming back to the United States. It was quite hard, in fact. But I would go back there in a heartbeat.” 

Today, Safari is a nursing student at Pierce, where she befriended Dagres. Experts say they and others like them are just part of the phenomenon of Iranians as the latest immigrant group becoming Americanized over time. 

“We as a community are becoming more assimilated,” said Nahid Pirnazar, professor of Iranian studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. 

“So having an American member in the family is not an inconvenience but a sign of sophistication.” 

Those unions, however, have not come without their problems. 

Dagres had her childhood in the San Fernando Valley turned topsy-turvy by her parents’ bitter divorce. At one point, she said, her father accused her mother in court of being a terrorist – an inflammatory claim in the charged atmosphere of family court. 

By age 13, Dagres found herself in culture shock, living with her Iranian-born mother and her new stepfather in Tehran, Iran, where Dagres attended an international school. 

Sense of alienation

A sense of alienation and of not belonging soon became a daily staple. Not only was she a light-skinned, hazel-eyed American girl living in a world that despised Americans, she also wore a back brace to correct a spine condition. 

“I was not only too shy to do what the other girls did, but I was also scared, too,” Dagres recalled. “I was an American living in Iran. I wasn’t safe. Everyone told me I wasn’t safe.” 

Dagres also had to struggle with religious isolation in Iran – as did Safari, who is Baha’i. Dagres’ father is Christian, her mother Muslim. 

“I don’t consider myself Christian or Muslim,” she says. “I consider myself a part of all religions, even Jewish.” 

Dagres returned to the United States in 2006 at the age of 20, after trading the traditional American teen experience of malls and cheerleading for exposure to a side of her heritage that she found equally as important. 

“It also opened my eyes to the reality of life and everything here that we take for granted,” said Dagres. “It makes you appreciate it all the more. 

“But I also came to appreciate being part Iranian. I didn’t look Iranian, and (in Iran) I sometimes had to explain that, especially speaking Farsi with an accent. 

“When the kids there would find out that I was also American, they’d say, `Are you crazy? Why aren’t you in America?”‘ 

A new understanding

Today, Dagres lives in Northridge and hopes to develop her design line – Nekropolis Clothing – as she continues her education. She also is interested in studying international relations, hoping to one day work at the United Nations. 

“I know that I can help America reinterpret its understanding of Iran,” Dagres said. “Just as I know that I can help Iran reinterpret its understanding of America. 

“Despite their differences, the United States and Iran – and their respective interests – are interwoven historically and economically. And there will be a time in the future when we all come to understand that.” 

Last summer, Dagres returned to Iran to re-establish ties with former classmates – many of them also the offspring of mixed marriages. 

“I think I offer a unique window to a part of America and a part of the world that is different from the mainstream, but which is becoming part of it,” she said. 

“When I left Iran, I left with many hopes and dreams, even if, in a sense, back home I have felt so out of place. 

“I am American – but not a typical one.” 

PUBLISHED: January 16, 2008, The Los Angeles Daily News


VAN NUYS, Calif. — It was the picture perfect setting for Barack Obama’s first visit to the San Fernando Valley. 

A fan palm waved behind him. The branches of orange, tangerine and lemon trees hung overhead. A light breeze kicked up, the first sign of the Santa Ana winds that would soon arrive.

Senator Barack Obama meets with Southlanders in the backyard of Mimi Vitello’s Van Nuys home for a discussion on the economy Wednesday, January 16, 2008.

“I wake up to this every morning,” his host, Mimi Vitello told the Democratic presidential candidate as they walked from her small home into her backyard where the media horde, down to Inside Edition, prerequisite of all super stars, awaited them Wednesday afternoon.

“I love it,” said Obama, smiling confidently and looking at ease in shirtsleeves. “You have a nice home.”

In the backyard of a cozy Van Nuys home, the presidential campaign had finally come to the Valley.

Fresh off the warm and fuzzy Democratic debate the night before in Nevada, Obama joined with Vitello and three other Valley residents for what his campaign called an “economic roundtable” discussion on the economy. 

The four Valley residents listened intently to Obama outline a $10 billion program to provide financial relief to homeowners in danger of foreclosure, a cornerstone of his plan to deal with the lending crisis he said has cost the California economy $23 billion.

The Illinois senator also pledged to provide tax credits to 10 million middle class homeowners struggling with out-of-control mortgage costs — among them 850,000 homeowners in California alone.

In turn, the four Valley voters put a human face to the economic problems he says are facing America’s middle class. 

Kerry Bryant, an African American woman who has stumbled into credit card debt helping finance her son’s college education.Carlos Garcia, a Latino school maintenance worker who has been turned down repeated trying to consolidate his debts and worries about how his high-school age son will pay for college.Gustavo Lizarde, a Latino auto repair shop owner who has fallen increasingly into debt that he can long longer pay for the health insurance he needs.And Vitello, 52, a registered nurse, concerned about the improvements she needs on her house and about the adjustable interest-only $335,000 loan on the 980-square-foot home in the 14300 block of Miranda Street.

Vitello especially offered Obama the ideal jumping off place to talk about the home foreclosure crisis.

As he did in the previous night’s debate, Obama criticized Countrywide Bank for its role in the subprime lending debacle and the controversy surrounding Countrywide’s former CEO getting a $110 million resignation package.

“That’s outrageous,” said Vitello, putting her hands to her mouth.

“This is a Countrywide mortgage, isn’t it?” Obama asked.

Vitello nodded.

“Well, maybe you can get him to help you with (repairing) your fence.”

Obama drew laughs from his roundtable partners and many in the news media corps.

“My priority as president,” said Obama, “is going to be to restore a sense of fairness and a sense or responsible oversight in the lending industry.”

Possibly the most moving account of their problems was detailed by Lizarde, the small business owner who said his credit card debt mounted with increased interest rates until he could no longer pay his $700 health insurance premium.

“The question is: When does this stop?” Lizarde asked “I’m not the only person in the country in this situation. There are thousands of people.”

“Millions of people,” said Obama, who appeared moved by the accounts.

If elected president, Obama said he would crackdown on unscrupulous lenders and introduce a “credit card bill of rights” requiring disclosure of hidden credit costs to protect consumers lured by low credit card rates only to wind up over their heads in debt.

As he was leaving the backyard economic roundtable, Obama was asked about reports that he has compromised his attacks of the role of big money in politics and the influence of corporations by taking money from Wall Street interests.

“There’s no doubt that I got money from Wall Street because that’s where the money is,” he said. “We have a lot of supporters and a lot of contributors. We’ve raised, frankly, an awful lot of money in this campaign.”

Obama maintains that the bulk of his fund-raising has been from small contributors.

He was also asked how many credit cards he owns — two, he said, both with a zero balance.

“It hasn’t always been the case,” he said. “These stories are familiar to me.”

Obama said that it had not been too long ago that he and wife Michelle had debts from college loans and used credit cards to get by. 

“When I got out of law school and we got married, our combined student loan debt was higher than our mortgage,” he said. “It took us 10 years to pay that off, which meant that we couldn’t save.

“It meant that we weren’t socking away for our kids’ college education. It meant that there were times where you had to use the credit card to close the gap. There was a time when we had some significant balances.”

The Obama financial picture changed with publication of his best-selling autobiography, “Dreams From My Father,” and a $1.9 million publishing deal for future books.

“We’ve been blessed over the last several years, but that’s a blessing,” Obama said. “It’s not that I somehow was smarter than everyone else.”

The Inevitably of Hillary… or Not

PUBLISHED: January 18, 2008, The Los Angeles Daily News


NORTHRIDGE, Calif. – Thousands of supporters braved chilly conditions Thursday in the San Fernando Valley to hear Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterate her plans to stimulate the country’s troubled economy on a day when fears of a looming recession sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunging more than 300 points. 

But hundreds of backers were left out in the cold at the Clinton rally at California State University, Northridge, where her campaign had booked the campus’s Grand Salon, which could seat only 250. 

Reaching out to those left in the elements, the New York senator personally greeted and shook hands with many outside the hall who had waited for hours. 

“Thank you! Thank you for coming!” Clinton said to some of them, waving to the crowd along with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, one of her national co-chairmen who campaigned with the former first lady throughout the day.

Clinton earlier appeared in Compton, where she invoked the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. to the African-American congregation of the Citizens of Zion Missionary Baptist Church. 

Clinton’s visit to the Valley and elsewhere in Los Angeles was part of a two-day political blitzkrieg by the three remaining major Democratic candidates less than three weeks before California’s Feb. 5 presidential primary. 

Sen. Barack Obama campaigned in the Valley on Wednesday, and former Sen. John Edwards exhorted labor leaders for support Thursday in downtown Los Angeles. 

In his rally, Edwards called his campaign the “cause of my life” and appealed to union workers to create a “tidal wave of change to sweep across this nation.” 

“All of us together, we have a message for all America,” Edwards told more than 300 SEIU Local 721 workers gathered on the rooftop of its downtown Los Angeles building. “We are engaged in a battle for change.”

The rally signaled the start of Edwards’ effort leading up to Feb. 5. In his remarks, Edwards touted his proposals to provide health care for Americans and fight for the middle class. 

“The difference between living in poverty and the middle class … is being a member of a union,” Edwards said. 

The Los Angeles campaign swings come just two days before the Nevada caucuses and South Carolina GOP primary and just two days after a near love-in Democratic debate, but there were indications the gloves had begun coming off. 

At CSUN, Clinton renewed an attack on her chief rival by questioning Obama’s experience and leadership abilities. 

Both Villaraigosa and Rep. Brad Sherman, who represents the surrounding 27th Congressional District, stressed the need for political experience and leadership. 

“Many people have raised their hand to be president and though some are very qualified, Hillary Clinton stands heads and shoulders above them!” Villaraigosa told cheering Clinton supporters. “Because experience matters!” 

Experience is the reason Emily Ysais, a small-business owner from Van Nuys, said she is backing Clinton. 

“I have been waiting for her,” said Ysais, who attended the rally with her girlfriends. “She is experienced. She knows what she is talking about, and she’s a true leader … simply a strong woman.” 

Clinton’s gender was noted by many of the women in the crowd, though some said their support for her transcends that single issue. 

“I wouldn’t support just any woman,” said Shaina Lunde, a CSUN art history student. “But I support her.” 

In his remarks to the crowd before Clinton’s arrival, Sherman also alluded to Obama’s appearance Wednesday in Van Nuys where he held an economic roundtable discussion. 

“He met with four residents in the backyard,” Sherman said, contrasting that with the more than 2,000 people who showed up for Clinton at CSUN. “We did all this in a day and a half!” 

But Clinton herself seemed conciliatory, especially in a question-and-answer session when Carlos Aguilar of Arleta – a Cuban-born American who has lived in the Valley 41 years – asked whether she would consider Obama as a running mate. 

“Let me say that I can’t think that far ahead because it’s bad luck,” said Clinton. “I’m very superstitious and I don’t want to be presumptuous – but he is an extraordinary man, and he has so much to give our country, and I hope that however this works out that he will be a major figure in American politics for years to come … I certainly support that.” 

In her remarks, Clinton again vowed to push tough measures to help distressed homeowners. 

If elected, she said, she would impose a 90-day moratorium on home foreclosures and call for a five-year freeze on interest rates. 

Clinton also said she would move quickly to help the 47million Americans without health-care insurance by proposing that uninsured people be covered by a variation of the program that insures members of Congress. 

Clinton’s health-care work dating back to husband Bill Clinton’s administration appeared to be one of the reasons some of the supporters Thursday were willing to stand in line for hours to see her. 

Among them was Jennifer Strigle of Canyon Country, who said that under the Clinton administration she was able to receive government funding for a series of treatments for epilepsy. 

“She was there for me when I needed her support,” Strigle said. “She did a lot then, and she is still talking about making the health-care system better now.” 

In a lighter moment during the question-and-answer session, Abraham Lutfi, who said he was an Iraqi by birth but had been in the United States for 47 years, addressed Clinton as “Madame President.” 

Clinton responded with a smile. 

“That sounds good,” she said. 

Lutfi said he was a doctor who had just returned from treating U.S. service members for the past three years, and he told a touching story about soldiers who would ask him why they were fighting in Iraq. 

“I don’t know,” he said, then proceeded to feign not knowing Vice President Cheney’s first name. 

“Dick,” said Clinton, unaware she was playing Lutfi’s straight woman. 

“Oh, that Dick,” said Lutfi. “You’re right.” 

The crowd – even those outside in the cold listening to the exchange via loudspeakers – roared. 

America’s Celebrity Culture Presidency

PUBLISHED: January 29, 2008, The Los Angeles Daily News


WITH A LIFE-SIZE REPLICA of the Oval Office, the seal of power gleaming off Air Force One and reams of White House documents, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley may be the ideal setting for today’s Republican presidential debate. 

Just as Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre – the site of the Oscars, next to the handprints of movie greats at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, with characters from Spiderman to Darth Vader panhandling outside – may be the perfect venue for Thursday’s Democratic debate. 

From historic to Hollywood, the contrast between the venues highlights not only Los Angeles’ own idiosyncracies but a culture of celebrity reflected in both campaigns. 

“They really have become – on the Democratic side – celebrities in the truest form,” says Elizabeth Currid, a USC professor who specializes in the sociology of fame and pop culture.

“When you talk about their charisma, when you talk about (Barack) Obama and you talk about his youth, his beautiful family, his ability to mesmerize a crowd – these are the same attributes that we bestow upon Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt or any other celebrity. 

“Ironically, I think that in the Republican party, the celebrity appeal is actually being used against Mitt Romney. He’s the only one there that has classic good looks and (is) All-American … with his hair that looks too perfect.” 

And it all makes the two settings perfect for the debates. 

“Reagan is the iconic figure of the Republican Party, plus (the presidential library is) outside of town – it’s away from the mid part of the city so they can all sort of worship at the shrine of Ronald Reagan,” says Raphael Sonsenshein, government professor at Cal State Fullerton. 

“That’s kind of Republican L.A., on the outskirts of town, north and northwest valley. And the Kodak Theatre is right in the middle of Hollywood, which now is the most liberal voting area of Los Angeles, and it’s in the celebrity crowd that tends to be drawn more to the Democrats and in the shadow of the writers’ strike. 

“I couldn’t imagine them obviously reversing the two locations. It wouldn’t make any sense.” 

For all their celebrity – or noncelebrity – the debates will be the last before next week’s Super Tuesday primaries across the country, when half the delegates to this summer’s national conventions will be chosen. 

Democratic voters in 22 states will go to the polls Tuesday, and California stands to be the biggest prize of this primary season with a bitter showdown between the two most charismatic candidates in either race: New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, the leader in polls in California, and Obama, the fast-rising senator from Illinois. 

“The Clintons – for all the good and bad publicity they are given – they are still a glamorous, charismatic couple,” says Currid, author of “The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City.” 

“They are a fixture in American life, and that is a part of who they are.” 

The debates hit California after the most dramatic two weeks of the campaigns so far. 

With wins in South Carolina and Florida, Arizona Sen. John McCain has emerged as the front-runner in the GOP race, and he and Romney have become combative.

And after losing in South Carolina to Obama, Clinton has seen her front-runner status threatened while Obama has picked up endorsements including longtime party icon Ted Kennedy. 

The drama is expected to continue at the Democratic debate in Los Angeles, where the ANSWER Coalition and other peace groups have planned an anti-war protest and picket outside the Kodak Theatre. 

Families who have lost their homes or are facing foreclosure also have vowed to set up a “Save the Dream Tent City” a block from the Kodak Theatre, hoping to draw attention to their plight. 

Among those involved is Tommy Beard, a cook at St. Francis Hospital, and his wife, Deborah, a teacher’s assistant, who are threatened with the loss of their home. 

Their adjustable rate mortgage loan takes a big jump next year, and the Beards are already behind on their payments after medical problems forced Deborah to miss work several months. 

Their call for government action on interest rates and bankruptcy laws already falls on sympathetic Democratic ears. 

Obama, Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards all favor legislation that would ease the problems of homeowners suffering from rising mortages.

But on Hollywood Boulevard, the tent city could just as easily be mistaken by tourists as simply another attraction amid the stars of Charlie Chaplin, Fred Astaire, Vivien Leigh and Tyrone Power immortalized on that particular strip of the Walk of Fame. 

Still, the celebrity shine is not confined to the Democratic contenders. Among Republicans, McCain boasts the endorsement of Sylvester Stallone, and Mike Huckabee claims the backing of Chuck Norris. 

It is a phenomenon that extends even beyond Hollywood, says Currid. 

“We’re not even talking about necessarily traits that we associate with good political leadership,” she said. “This is certainly not to say that these politicians aren’t good, because they are extremely competent. 

“But to say that the things the media is focusing on is less about political traits and more about the ephemeral, charismatic traits that we also associate with celebrity.” 

Of course, tourists on Hollywood Boulevard won’t see any real stars, unless they buy a $12.50 ticket for one of the flicks at Grauman’s. 

Or unless they hang out outside the Reagan Presidential Library – where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who followed the route of Reagan from Hollywood star to governor, will attend today’s debate and escort Nancy Reagan to her front-row seat, as he did at the first debate last May. 

This time, however, there will be half as many candidates on the GOP stage as there were in the first debate and the scene will be different as well. 

While the May debate took place in what appeared to be an airport hangar with the retired Air Force One dwarfing the scene, a new floor has been built to the level of the plane’s fuselage and the debate will take place on a newly constructed tier. 

The Reagan Library also will display to the public – for one day only – rare presidential and historical documents from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee. 

At the Kodak Theatre, the closest thing to a historical document on display could well be the handprints of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks in cement nearby. 

In a town without an NFL team and with the finals of “American Idol” still weeks away, the debate at the Kodak could wind up being a hot ticket.

“I need a ticket to the Democratic debate next week at the Kodak Theatre. I work in entertainment, so I can trade tickets to other events or I can pay cash.” 

The Mayor’s Rise from Poverty to Power

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA HAD PROMOTED his ambitious trade mission to the Far East for almost an hour when he slipped into a monologue about Chinese food and chopsticks.

“It’s funny, but I’ve been addicted to chopsticks since I was a kid. My kids have, too.”

Those thin, metal chopsticks were another matter, the mayor said, trading stories of their difficulty with editors and reporters before drift
ing back to memories of his childhood.

“I’ve been using chopsticks since I was a kid …”

He rolled his head slowly and gazed upward as if the ceiling tiles were television monitors sho

wing old home movies of his youth when he caught himself and bit his lip.

“That’s not true. I think the first time I went to a Chinese restaurant was when I was 19 …”

As chroniclers of Antonio Villaraigosa invariably come to discover, sometimes what comes out of the Los Angeles mayor’s mouth – particularly when it’s about his past – and what ultimately turns out to be true are not always entirely the same.

Now in his final year in office, Villaraigosa, 59, is catching himself in some of those inconsistencies – those embellishments of the past or his tendency to exaggerate or bolster his importance – flaws that can often simply be attributed to a faulty memory or political hyperbole.

Childhood tale

Ironically, a window to understanding why Villaraigosa tries so hard may be in the very Horatio Alger-like tale the mayor himself has often told about his childhood: Abandoned by his alcoholic, abusive father while he was in kindergarten, raised by a mother he describes as “a woman of indomitable spirit who never stopped believing in me,” and further traumatized when his father sired another son as part of another family and christened him with the same name he had given Villaraigosa at birth – Antonio Ramon Villar Jr.

In that rocky upbringing, some experts say, lies the seed for the drive, ambition and, yes, even the indulgent bravado behind the self-reinvented Villaraigosa, as well as many others in public life.

“The typical politician,” Beverly Hills psychiatrist Carole Lieberman said, “is someone who is unconsciously trying to compensate for feeling powerless as a child.

“Even after being successful, this feeling of smallness and inadequacy from when they were children stays with them. They remain insecure and don’t know if people would vote for them if they knew how powerless or small they still believe themselves to be, so they fabricate stories about themselves to make themselves seem more heroic.”

It may explain why Villaraigosa, more than any Los Angeles mayor since the late Tom Bradley, has so thoroughly enveloped himself in the trappings of the office.

Celeb photo ops

He moved from his home in Mount Washington to stately Getty House, the official mayoral residence just outside Hancock Park. He seeks photo ops with the famous and the powerful: Hollywood celebrities at the Academy Awards, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mexican President Vicente Fox, former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

When Blair was in Los Angeles for a visit to UCLA in August 2006, Villaraigosa boasted that London’s Guardian newspaper had called him “the Latino Tony Blair.”

“He knows that real leadership is about challenging your friends and allies,” Villaraigosa said, “and from this distant perspective in sunny L.A., that’s always been the genius of Tony Blair’s record of public service.”

In Villaraigosa’s mind, experts say, the greater, the more heroic the person rubbing elbows with him, the greater, the more heroic the “Latino Tony Blair.” It’s all part of sustaining an image of perfection and personal invincibility and attempting to project that impression to others, as well.

But over the years the patina rubbed off some of the stories that Villaraigosa himself says have made him “the poster child of the American dream.”

Weary of the story

In June, The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles reported that retired Sherman Oaks teacher Herman Katz had grown “weary” of the yarn Villaraigosa has often told of how Katz dramatically turned his life around while the teenage Villar was struggling at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights – almost making it seem as if Katz had become his surrogate father, paving his course to eventual political stardom.

It wasn’t that Katz hadn’t taken an interest in young Villar. But the way Villaraigosa had built up the relationship – introducing him during his inaugural spectacle in 2005 in glowing, almost familial terms – may have made it seem more than it was.

“It wasn’t a `this-kid-could-be-mayor-one-day’ type of thing,” Katz told The Journal. “It just so happened that this was at a time when he needed somebody who showed a little interest, who would give him the encouragement, and that’s what it really was.

“This story is important because it shows people how important an educator can be when you don’t even realize it. You never know how you’re going to affect a kid.”

In fairness to the mayor, experts say, everyone is subject to what W. Keith Campbell, associate professor of psychology at the University of Georgia and a “narcissism expert,” calls “memory distortion.”

“It’s a self-enhancing direction in which people destroy the past to make themselves look better,” Campbell said. “I don’t know if it’s the politician doing it or handlers doing it because they know it creates a good story.

“If you’re someone like (U.S. Sen.) John McCain, you have a good story to begin with. As for others, I don’t know how much of it is made up and how much is a memory distortion.”

Even the moving story Villaraigosa has often told of having been raised by a single mom singularly devoted to him has come under scrutiny.

It turns out that Villaraigosa’s late mother, Natalia Delgado, remarried and had a second family – including another son, Rob Delgado, the mayor’s half-brother – while Antonio was still living at home.

For Villaraigosa, those childhood recollections may simply be what he would like it to have been, something Campbell said is not unusual.

“Memory is not a tape recorder or a video recorder,” he said. “People sometimes remember something from their childhood that they swear is real but which turns out to be something from `The Brady Bunch.”‘

Still, some of the psychologists and psychiatrists who were asked to familiarize themselves with Villaraigosa’s early life say that the most compelling impact on his development may not have been the influence of his mother – who he says spoke five languages and read him Shakespeare.

Father’s influence

Instead, they said, it may be the traumatic, unresolved relationship with his estranged father, a retired butcher and cab driver with whom Villaraigosa has spoken only a few times since his childhood.

Lieberman, a nationally recognized expert in father-son and other family estrangement issues, has never seen Villaraigosa professionally but studied his relationship with his father and says it is the root of the mayor’s motivation, both personally and politically.

“The mayor would have felt replaced and inconsequential, replaced in his father’s affections by another child given the same name,” Lieberman said. “There’s always going to be jealousy and rivalry for the father’s affections and the feeling of being abandoned.

“The fact that his father had another family and made the situation worse with a son (to whom he gave) the same name … would drive him to be seen to have some identity since his father robbed him of his own identity.”

There are other questions about Villaraigosa’s stories of his childhood.

“God knows that I was never an alcoholic and that I never hurt his mother or abused my family,” Antonio Ramon Villar Sr. said in an interview, denying the mayor’s long-accepted account of his difficult childhood.

“I know the public has been poisoned against me, but this is the truth, so help me God.”

Villaraigosa’s claim that his father later gave another son the exact same name he had given him also is inaccurate.

That other son was christened Anthony Gustavo Villar, and today he is a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Anthony Villar, 51, has gone so far as to personally contact Villaraigosa to challenge him on why he has publicly vilified their father, said Estela Villar, Anthony Gustavo’s mother and the wife of Antonio Ramon Villar Sr.

The second family of Villar Sr. portrays a husband and father who has been gentle, loving, kind and deeply religious – and who in over 50 years of marriage to Estela has never abused either his wife or their four children, nor shown any hints of alcoholism.

“I don’t believe a man can change so dramatically in the way he behaved around one family and another,” Estela Villar said in a three-hour interview at the couple’s Montebello home. “If he were the way (Villaraigosa) describes him to have been, he would have shown signs with our family – and there were none.”

Estela Villar said her spouse was the “model father and the model husband,” who from the very beginning of their marriage turned over his paycheck, gave her freedom in running their household and to this day asks for only $40 a month spending money, most of which he uses to buy treats for their 11 grandchildren.

“My husband has never talked about his life with his other family, and I haven’t pried. But I have my doubts that (my husband) was the kind of spouse and father that (Villaraigosa) has portrayed him to have been.

“What his motivation for that is, I don’t know. Could it be for political reasons? Someone else would have to answer that. Do I forgive him for what he has said about my husband? I am still working on that because it hurt my family deeply.

“All I can see in this is that (Villaraigosa) is a very bitter man.”

Villaraigosa’s mother, Natalia Delgado, who had three of her four children with Antonio Ramon Villar Sr., died in 1991.

Villar Sr. said he and Villaraigosa’s mother dissolved their civil marriage in the late 1950s. Antonio and Estela Villar married in a Roman Catholic ceremony in 1960.

According to Villar Sr., his ex-wife remarried and with her new husband moved with her family by Villar – including son Antonio Ramon Jr. and two daughters – into the City Terrace house where Villaraigosa in later years has said he was raised by a working single mother.

“I saw Antonio sporadically, three or four times later – chance meetings, but I wasn’t close to them,” Villar Sr said. “It just seemed better not to prolong matters. They were a family, and I had a (new) family.”

Anthony Gustavo Villar would not talk beyond a brief telephone conversation about his half-brother.

“I can only see that it is only being reopened for a political reason, but I don’t see that it would help Antonio (Villaraigosa) to govern,” he said.

“At this point, it’s a family matter, and we have no wish to have my father’s life written about or investigated.

“What’s important is that the truth is going to be known to those who matter.”

Mayor’s response

Despite repeated efforts to interview the mayor about this story, it was not until late Friday that the subject was engaged.

In a statement that reflects Villaraigosa’s deep emotions about questions being raised about his family, he passionately defended his mother and his portrayal of early childhood.

“I am outraged by the suggestion that my mother was anything less than the brave single mom she was,” he said in a statement.

“She overcame unspeakable violence in a home plagued by alcoholism. Through her strength, she gave her children the opportunities to enjoy the greatest success America has to offer. Her abuser will never be able to take that away.”

In a separate statement, Villaraigosa’s cousin – Ramon Villar – who along with his mother lived with Antonio and Natalia Villar until he was 5, said, “I personally witnessed the abuse of my Aunt Natalia, and my uncle knows that he should take responsibility for that.”

On Saturday, a mayoral spokesman said the reason Villaraigosa had insisted that his father had given the same name to his half-brother is that the mayor had gone by “Anthony Villar” as a youngster.

Reinventing an image

The change of Villaraigosa’s surname – the joining of Villar with ex-wife Corina’s maiden name Raigosa when they married in 1987 – was another attempt to reinvent his identity.

For Villaraigosa, the name change was only part of the reinvention. A low-rider image cultivated from the time he led student protests in high school and later at UCLA was discarded, down to having “Born to raise hell” tattoos removed from his arms. He replaced it with a look out of Gentlemen’s Quarterly, including a personal tailor and professionally bleached teeth.

One of those in whose memory the transformation remains embedded is longtime Democratic activist and Villaraigosa critic Art Pulido, who has known the mayor since 1978 when he met the then-25-year-old Tony Villar at the Olympus Health Spa in Montebello.

“He walked in and reminded me of Zorro,” Pulido recalled. “His hair was slicked back, and he had a little thin mustache, and he reminded me of Tyrone Power in (`The Mark of Zorro’) movie.”

Pulido, then 24, was a body builder who trained other body builders at that gym and remembers an extremely slender Villar introducing himself and asking to join the body-building group.

“He said he’d had an operation and needed to build up his chest muscles,” Pulido recalled. “He said, `I wanna be part of this (body-building) team,’ and we got to know each other.”

For the next year and a half, Villar sporadically worked out with Pulido and his group. Pulido recalls that Villar grew stronger, though he didn’t put on much muscle bulk because he was working out with lighter weights and concentrating on repetitions and not weight.

When Pulido saw Villar about 10 years later at a political fundraising event, a transformation had taken place.

“He no longer had a mustache,” Pulido remembered. “His hair wasn’t slicked back anymore – it was parted on the side like he wears it now. He was in a suit, and he was wearing these little specs that made him look like a college guy.

“I almost didn’t recognize him. I said, `Tony, what happened to you?’

“He said, `My name’s Antonio.’ I said: `Antonio? So you’re not Tony anymore?’ He said, `Yep.”‘

Transformations such as Villaraigosa’s, of course, are part of today’s political culture and the grooming and selling of political candidates.

“It’s all about marketing,” said Nancy Irwin, a Tarzana-based psychologist. “Politicians like the mayor are in the business of selling themselves and appealing to the broadest number of people.”

Irwin, whose specialties include sports psychology, took particular interest in an account of how Villaraigosa has sought to pump up his athletic past, especially in a City Hall where his contemporaries such as City Council President Alex Padilla and City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo can boast of sports careers – both having excelled as athletic stars at the high school and collegiate levels.

In 2005, Villaraigosa was often heard using sports metaphors to describe his second mayoral campaign. In at least one instance, Villaraigosa said the campaign had forced him to use his “quick feet.”

“I’ve always had quick feet,” he said. “Quick feet from being a running back. That’s what I played in school. I wasn’t first string, but I had quick feet.”

In fact, Villaraigosa’s organized athletic career was limited to playing on the Cathedral High School team in ninth grade.

“There’s tremendous pressure to fit in with the guys, and sports is one of those ways,” Irwin said. “If the mayor really didn’t play football, he wouldn’t be the first politician to say he did when he didn’t.”

Why do politicians make those kinds of claims, claims that so often can be so easily disproved?

“Because they’re politicians who have fallen victims of politician narcissism – they’ve bought the T-shirt, and they’ve come to believe that they are what they want to be,” veteran political consultant Randy Economy said.

“These sometimes are very bright people, but they say and do some very stupid things because they’ve gotten carried away with themselves and the image they’ve created.”

`Are you real?’

All of which raises the question: Who is Villaraigosa really? What is his true “self”? Why does he pursue all he seeks, including power, with such manic speed? What kind of mind, what kind of an intellect, does he have? Or, as City Councilman Dennis Zine put it, after witnessing Villaraigosa’s near-manic exhibition of endurance during the recent Asian trade trip: “Are you real?”

Often what has been written about Villaraigosa has offered little insight into his psychology but instead usually consisted of glowing phrases about his charisma and energy, vignettes of him in action, but few insights into his sometimes contradictory responses about his life.

No wonder then that the composite of “Villaraigosa” has instead presented an enigmatic figure.

If he doesn’t have a photographic memory, as some have said he does, he has something that approaches it, with an amazing gift for faces and names. But his memory, with an ability to sometimes recall an obscure event from the past, has been part of his endearing charm and often substituted for an intellectual life. He was never an outstanding student, as his four failed attempts to pass the state bar exam would underscore.

But, as experts note, there is no way of knowing how traumatic experiences affect the intellect and development of children who have been abused or who are products of homes in which there was domestic abuse – “the terror,” as Villaraigosa put it, that “a drunken man in a rage can create in a child.”

“I saw my father beat my mother,” Villaraigosa said in a story that has become part of the lore of his early years. “I remember my sister hiding under the bed when he’d come in screaming in a drunken rage.”

Villaraigosa has also talked frequently of how as a child he helped his mother make ends meet by taking a bus downtown to shine shoes and sell newspapers.

“I used to sell La Opinion in front of the Olympic Auditorium on the boxing nights,” the mayor has said. “I’ve been working since I was 7 years old.”

Not surprisingly, out of that childhood, too, has come incredible anger, on which the mayor admittedly acted out in the high school brawl that prompted his expulsion from Cathedral High School in 1969 and the fight in 1977 that led to misdemeanor assault charges that were dropped after the jury deadlocked with an 11-1 vote for acquittal. Villaraigosa has said that the charges stemmed from a restaurant fight in which he responded to insults to his mother and sister.

Longtime Villaraigosa watcher Gregory Rodriguez, a fellow with the New America Foundation, said he thinks an apparent quick-trigger temper resides just beneath his skin, noting in a Los Angeles Times opinion article that in the 2005 mayoral debates, Villaraigosa “repeatedly lost his cool. … (He) visibly seethes, furrowing his brows and clenching his jaw.

“His volcanic reactions … are beginning to reveal what political insiders have known for years: The former Assembly speaker can be thin-skinned, easily angered and even vindictive. Although great politicians learn to distinguish between what is political and what is personal, Villaraigosa has not. He can try to hide this side of his personality, as he has erased his tattoo, but, so far, he can’t make it go away.”

Perhaps Villaraigosa’s incredible success and popularity since his election have helped to rid him of some of those emotional ghosts and demons, maybe recalling him to his own one-time exhortation that campaigns should appeal to “the better angels within us.”

`An American story’

“My story is the story of redemption,” Villaraigosa said shortly after his election. “It is uniquely an American story: That you can start off growing up in a home with domestic violence and alcoholism, a high school dropout – kicked out of high school before that – and turn your life around. I believe that is what America has always been about. It is about second chances.”

“There are strong similarities between Mayor Villaraigosa’s early childhood experiences and those of President Clinton,” Lieberman said. “President Clinton also grew up in an abusive atmosphere, with an abusive stepfather to deal with, and he, too, wasn’t able to protect his mother or himself from this and grew up feeling inadequate and that he had to compensate for something.

“So in a sense, it’s that (abusive childhood) experience that drives some people to great accomplishments, especially in politics.

“If you look at his traumatic childhood, as he’s portrayed it, and where he is today, it’s not difficult to see that the mayor is driven by some tremendous desire to prove that he’s not the underachieving kid from the wrong side of the tracks.”

That drive and that braggadocio was again in evidence during his Asian trade mission, where, after climbing the Great Wall of China, he couldn’t help but boast:

“I’ve done my cardio, baby. When I get back to the hotel, I’m going to lift some weights.”

Then, as if that weren’t enough, he felt compelled to add:

“I’ve been climbing mountains my whole life. I can climb the Great Wall.”

Published in the Los Angeles Daily News, Nov. 18, 2006

Jerry Brown’s Graying Brownies

They called themselves “Brownies” – the starry-eyed young activists who in the 1970s made possible Jerry Brown’s quixotic first two terms as governor.

Many had worked hard getting him elected. Others worked even harder during his eight years in office. They all saw in Brown the California political dream and an inspiration that renewed youthful idealism dampened by Vietnam and Watergate.

Jerry Brown campaigns in San Francisco’s Union Square in 1976.

“We were young. We were idealistic. And I think that in Jerry, we saw a chance to claim California for ourselves,” says Irene Tovar, a Mission Hills political activist who served in the Brown administration as president of the State Personnel and the Public Employment Relations boards.

“In Jerry, we saw hope – hope to make California right, the country right and the world right.”
Brown, now 72, will be sworn in to a third term as governor on Jan. 3, having served his first two from 1975 to 1983. In the intervening years, he remained in the public eye with a variety of political posts and activities, from presidential candidate to mayor of Oakland and, currently, state attorney general.

Those who followed his career over the decades said Brown now has a chance to revisit some of the issues and goals he first tackled – perhaps ahead of his time – in the 1970s.

“The young Jerry talked about a vision for this country and this state that was so advanced – the environment, the greening, solar and wind energy and satellite communications – that are just happening today,” says former state Assemblyman Richard Alatorre, a political contemporary and longtime Brown watcher.

“The supporters who followed him faithfully were just enamored by his intellect, and I wouldn’t say his disdain but close to disdain for all institutions and all people in them. They saw in him a chance to change and revolutionize this state, and maybe this is a second chance for that to happen.”

More than three decades later, Brown’s second go-round as governor finds many of those Brownies — like Jerry himself — older and less politically intoxicated than in the 1970s. But, unlike Brown, many are now in retirement — or no longer alive — and others retain only vague memories of that time.

“For those of us who are still around, it’s a little like Jerry has said – we might have a little more common sense but we might not be as interesting,” says onetime anti-war activist and early Brown supporter Jeanne Londe of Reseda, who will turn 90 in April.

“But we’re still right there with him in spirit.”

Perhaps even more poignantly, other Brownies say the experience of their movement and Brown’s first go-round as governor may offer a teaching moment for those whose political infatuation with Barack Obama helped elect him president.

Brown biographer Roger Rapoport, who co-authored “California Dreaming: The Political Odyssey of Pat and Jerry Brown,” believes that Brown in the 1970s, like Obama in 2008, was able to tap into the young and others who felt estranged from the mainstream.

“Brown was talking to a lot of progressives who didn’t really have a voice in politics except through him — the Daniel Berrigans of the world, if you will, and he captured a lot of that movement,” says Rapoport, alluding to the activist Jesuit priest involved in anti-war protests during the Vietnam War.

“Some of it was very offbeat, but a lot of it, albeit controversial, represented a great opportunity for the disenfranchised. And Obama did that, too, especially in the minority communities.”

Attorney Herman Sillas, who worked on Brown’s 1974 transition team and later was appointed director of the Department of Motor Vehicles, said the new governor specifically set out to bring in new blood into government.

“The first thing he said to me when I joined his transition team was, `This doesn’t mean you’ll be part of the administration,”‘ he said. “He told us to go out and find people who might not have experience that would have precluded them from being appointed in the past but who had the intellect to do it.

“I see the same pattern today. He’s seeking people and ideas regardless of prior commitments or affiliations. I see that parallel today to 1974, and I find it gratifying.”

Ray Bishop, a Tarzana retiree who in the 1970s was involved in progressive politics and the labor movement, said many have forgotten the energizing impact Brown had on the young, especially on the so-called Brownies in that first gubernatorial campaign in 1974.

“My boss went out campaigning with Jerry at a college, and I remember that all the kids wanted to do was touch him like he was some kind of rock star in those days. He was like a guru, and there was a spiritual way about him.”

Barbara O’Connor, director emeritus of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at California State University, Sacramento, said she had just come out working in George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign and sensed Brown had picked up its mantle.

“The Brownies found Jerry messianic – they were true believers,” said O’Connor, who was appointed by Brown to serve as chairwoman of the California Public Broadcasting Commission. “He had a galvanizing, `We can fix this’ mantra. He viewed problems in a different way, and he was young and telegenic and smart as a whip.

“But (Brown) had such an ambitious agenda (that) he didn’t deliver on all he wanted to. He was way ahead of his time. Anybody who had any futuristic inclination, he was very appealing to.

“And so I think the analogy to Obama is very true. There’s having to deal with limi
ted resources, the drag of the infrastructure, partisanship, people who don’t want to change as quickly as you do.”

More importantly, according to old Brownies, is that these were the same traits and characteristics that they saw in themselves.

“He was like the rest of us, a grass-roots activist,” recalled Wayne Fisher of Sunland, formerly head of the Valley’s Democratic Party. “He was down-to-earth fiscally responsible, much like he said he was when he campaigned this year.

“He didn’t live in the governor’s mansion. He lived a very austere lifestyle, and he had a hands-on approach. If he wanted something, he went to see someone directly.”

Fisher, 72, recalled the time in the mid-1970s when he was manning one of the Democratic Party’s Valley offices in Reseda and the then-governor walked in unannounced.

“We all were very surprised,” said Fisher. “I think he wanted to shore up support for a bill and came in and started talking to us. He was a populist, just like Obama, and he wanted to make sure that we were on board with what he wanted and that it was what we wanted.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News, Dec. 14 , 2010.

The Horse Whisperer: Candi Cane Cooper

CHATSWORTH, Calif. – If the polo ponies on Ralph Lauren’s famous trademark needed a shrink, Candi Cane Cooper would be the one to see. 

It’s not that she drives to the stables in a sleek black Mercedes roadster, or that at 51 she looks decades younger, or that the owners of the horses she talks to swear by her. 

Horse Whisperer Candi Cane Cooper

“It’s that the horses talk to her,” says Rena Surrette of Woodland Hills, whose 16-year-old chestnut bay thoroughbred, Will, is about to figuratively recline on Cooper’s couch. 

Cooper is a horse whisperer – a horse psychologist and healer. Among her mystical talents, she says, is the ability to communicate with animals.

“Every animal owner, especially horse owner, feels that they have a special connection to their horse, and that it’s just normal,” says Cooper, a certified hypnotherapist. “But about five years ago, I came to find out that I was really talking to my horse.” 

Cooper says horses tell her things through words and images. While she says she can speak to dogs and other animals too, her business focuses on horses. Horse owners witnessed Cooper’s special relationship with her horse Zero, either in the barn or on the trails. Word spread quickly and people began asking for her help for things like building confidence in their horses before competitions and shows. 

Today, her client list includes horse show competitors, Olympics equestrian hopefuls and horse owners as far away as Florida. Her Southern California clients include Carole Rose, wife of baseball legend Pete Rose, a couple Cooper has known since Rose’s playing days with the Philadelphia Phillies in the early 1980s. 

In her sessions, Cooper says she helps horses with everything from a bad case of nerves to building confidence in horses that compete in equestrian events. She calls them “performance athletes.” 

Sometimes, the issues are similar to those a child psychologist might tackle, such as excessive biting. She recently had to do a little investigating to determine who was biting Will – a task made much easier if you can talk to the animals.

“Who bit (Will)? And which side (did it come from)?” says Cooper. “From Mambo or from Bull? But Bull has a bite, too. So … I’ll just ask them,” she says. 

Mambo and Bull are housed in stalls next to Will at the Ride-On Therapeutic Horsemanship stables in Chatsworth. 

Cooper talks to the horses in a soft, soothing voice barely above a whisper. It is hypnotic at times, and for moments, she seems to drift into a metaphysical connection with the animals, which may not be unusual, considering her own family. 

“My two older sisters are astrologers, so I grew up kind of, I call it, `in the purple zone’,” she says. “My family, do they think I’m crazy? They totally support me.” 

It seems that trying to get information from a horse involved in a biting incident is a lot like getting kids to confess who started a fight. 

Bull, a 19-year-old quarter horse, has been a patient of Cooper’s for almost two years. She has treated and cured him of the biting habit, according to his owner, Katherine Dahlgren of North Hills. 

“Bull, who bit you? Which horsie did that to you?” Cooper asks her patient. She draws near the horse’s neck and, though Bull doesn’t appear to neigh or snort, she smiles and nods knowingly. “They are completely telepathic,” says Cooper. 

Dahlgren, who has owned Bull since he was 5, agrees. “Because I care about him … if it’s possible to talk to him, I’d like to know what’s on his mind,” Dahlgren says.

“It’s Will. He says Will bit him!” Cooper announces, then turns back to Bull. “Who started it? He says, `Everybody blames me.’ But you didn’t start it? Will did it? You say, `He’s silly.’ Were you playing or were you fighting? You were being nosy? You were watching him, and he just bit you? We’ll ask Will.” 

Minutes later, Cooper begins her session with Will, a magnificent but much higher-spirited horse who wants to be taken outside his stall to the nearby corral. There, he makes a quick dash, then returns and begins rolling in the dirt as if to scratch his back before moving next to his shrink. 

“He says he bit Bull,” Cooper tells Will’s owner moments later. “He says he felt funny because Bull’s been watching him, and it makes him nervous.” 

“I told Will that we’ll tell Bull to quit staring at him so much,” says Cooper. 

Then turning back to Will: “Did you bite Mambo, too? Yep. He did. Why did you bite Mambo?” Cooper listens to Will as he nudges her playfully. “He says he bit Mambo because he said he was a better horse than Will.” 

Will’s owner lets out a howl: “My horse believes he’s the hottest horse in this stable!” 

Unlike Dahlgren, Surrette is a relatively new horse owner, having bought Will in early 2007. 

“He was the horse that everybody told me not to get,” says Surrette, alluding to the reputation thoroughbreds have for being high-strung and nervous. “And I had to get him … My midlife crisis.”

But a year and a half or so later, Surrette – who is an inexperienced rider – has yet to ride Will. With Cooper’s help, though, she says she has built up her confidence. “I got on him Sunday,” says Surrette. “And I’ll ride him soon.” 

The session over, Cooper wanders through the rest of the stables. The horses appear to gravitate to her. 

“When I come into a place like this, it is like `Dr. Doolittle,’ where I hear them all talking as soon as I walk in,” says Cooper. “And I never turn it off because I don’t want to. I love the animals.”

PUBLISHED: September 25, 2008, The Los Angeles Daily News 

Napoleon & The Shroud

Napoleon and The Christ-2

‘An inspiring book about a primal force of history and faith’

“Almost since the beginning of time, armies had marched into war bearing symbols of protection from higher powers. Plutarch wrote that in leading his troops Alexander the Great would shift “his lance into his left hand, and with his right appealed to the gods… praying (to) them, if he was really sprung from Zeus, to defend and strengthen the Greeks.” In Biblical times, the high priest Aaron served as a religious figure who traveled together with the military. In feudal Europe, armies carried papal flags to show that their campaigns had the blessing of the church. So, too, Napoleon in his first presiding military assignment to Italy had ignored orders from the French Revolution’s ruling Directory to dethrone Pope Pius VI and shutter the church. Instead Napoleon outfitted each of his regiments with imperial standards that had been blessed by the pope.”

From Napoleon and The Christ, the forthcoming book from author Tony Castro and Lyons Press.

DID NAPOLEON UNVEIL an astonishing truth concealed for centuries? When Napoleon came to power he had the Musée du Louvre, located on Paris’ Right Bank, renamed in his honor — and soon the Musée Napoleon was overflowing with the artistic spoils of war as Bonaparte’s Grand Army swept across the continent. Among the cultural artifacts that made their way to Paris were hundreds of paintings and sculptures, including every image Napoleon could find of Jesus Christ,as well as the sacred relics from the crucifixion. Why? Why this obsession from the conqueror who had fought endlessly with Pope Pius VII who ultimately excommunicated him? What did Napoleon know that had eluded everyone else for over seventeen centuries?



“I owe no account of my administration

to the pope — only to God and Jesus Christ.”

                                    Napoleon Bonaparte

In Napoleon and The Christ, Napoleon Bonaparte is on a quest perhaps even more mystically enchanting than that for the Holy Grail as he conquers Europe and amasses troves of art treasures looking for the mysterious, possibly even magical religious relic of Jesus Christ that he believes holds the key to his ultimate destiny.

Napoleon Bonaparte wasn’t an emperor — he was a Christ in his own mind. This eccentricity was the product of his ambition and his faith, and Napoleon and The Christ is the story of arguably the two most remarkable figures of world history — and how their lives intersect in the French Revolution era: the greatest military general searching for answers in the believed-to-be-miraculous burial shroud of Christendom’s prince of peace.

The new French ruler had all of France and much of Europe under his thumb, but what obsessed and drove him mad were the relics of the Passion of Jesus Christ: a piece of the cross, a nail from the crucifixion, the crown of thorns, and, most of all — the Shroud of Turin, the linen cloth bearing the image of a crucified man believed to be the historical Jesus of Nazareth. He rescued many of these relics from the leaders of the French Revolution who wanted them destroyed and then had them protected under guard at Notre Dame Cathedral.

Ah, but the shroud. Napoleon and The Christ unveils how Napoleon finally came to possess the burial cloth, which wasn’t seen at Turin from shortly before Bonaparte took power until after his defeat.

The relationship between Napoleon and the Roman Catholic Church was an important aspect of his rule, as well as his life… and one long misunderstood by the world outside Catholicism. Napoleon was born on August 15, 1769, the Feast of the Assumption, one of the major feast day celebrated by the Church. He was, if not religious, deeply spiritual and superstitious to a fault. He also greatly understood the power of a religious majority in Europe.

Scholars in the fields of history and religion have historically explored the subject of Napoleon’s complicated relationship with the church. However, none of these works have addressed the specific topic of Napoleon and the single religious icon that numerous popes, before and since, have proclaimed to be the Catholic faith’s “most splendid relic of the passion and the resurrection… a powerful symbol of Christ’s suffering” — the Shroud of Turin, the linen cloth bearing the image of a crucified man who is believed to be the historical Jesus of Nazareth.

Napoleon was one of those rare men who move history and mold the destiny of their own times and of generations to come — in a very concrete sense, our own world is the result of Napoleon,

TONY CASTRO is a Harvard and Baylor University-educated historian, Napoleon Bonaparte scholar and author of several books, including the landmark civil rights history Chicano Power: The Emergence of Mexican America, which Publishers Weekly acclaimed as “brilliant… a valuable contribution to the understanding of our time.”

He is also the author of critically recognized biographies of Ernest Hemingway and baseball legends Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, with a forthcoming dual biography of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig (Triumph Books) in April 2018.

He is currently working on a biography of Napoleon Bonaparte.

As a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, Tony studied under Homeric scholar and translator Robert Fitzgerald, Mexican Nobel laureate Octavio Paz, and French history scholars Laurence Wylie and Stanley and Inge Hoffman.

The dust jacket photo for Napoleon and The Christ is from a painting at Versailles known as Bonaparte au Pont d’Arcole, 1796, by Antoine-Jean Gros, showing Napoleon leading his troops in storming the bridge.

‘Un livre inspirant sur une force primale de l’histoire et de la foi’

“Presque depuis le début des temps, les armées avaient marché en guerre, portant des symboles de protection contre les puissances supérieures.Plutarque écrivit qu’en dirigeant ses troupes Alexandre le Grand déplaçait” sa lance dans sa main gauche, et de sa droite appelait les dieux … en les priant, s’il était vraiment issu de Zeus, de défendre et de fortifier les Grecs. “Dans les temps bibliques, le grand prêtre Aaron a servi comme une figure religieuse qui a voyagé avec l’armée En Europe féodale, les armées ont porté des drapeaux De même, Napoléon, dans sa première affectation militaire présidentielle en Italie, avait ignoré les ordres du Directoire de la Révolution française de détrôner le pape Pie VI et de fermer l’église. régiments avec des normes impériales qui avaient été bénis par le pape. “

De Napoléon et Le Christ, qui commémorant le 250e anniversaire de la naissance de Napoléon Bonaparte.

DAP NAPOLEON DÉVOILE-T-IL une vérité étonnante cachée depuis des siècles? Quand Napoléon est arrivé au pouvoir, il a renommé le Musée du Louvre, situé sur la rive droite de Paris, et bientôt le Musée Napoléon débordait du butin artistique de la guerre alors que la Grande Armée de Bonaparte traversait le continent. Parmi les artefacts culturels qui ont fait leur chemin à Paris étaient des centaines de peintures et de sculptures, y compris chaque image que Napoléon pouvait trouver de Jésus-Christ, ainsi que les reliques sacrées de la crucifixion. Pourquoi? Pourquoi cette obsession du conquérant qui s’est battu sans relâche avec le pape Pie VII qui l’a finalement excommunié? Que savait Napoléon qui avait échappé à tout le monde pendant plus de dix-sept siècles?

Napoléon et le Christ


“Je ne dois aucun compte de mon administration

au pape — seulement à Dieu et à Jésus-Christ. “

                                  —Napoléon Bonaparte

Dans Napoléon et le Christ, Napoléon Bonaparte poursuit une quête peut-être encore plus mystique que celle du Saint-Graal alors qu’il conquiert l’Europe et amasse des trésors artistiques à la recherche de la relique religieuse mystérieuse, voire magique, de Jésus-Christ qu’il croit détenir la clé de son destin ultime.

Napoléon Bonaparte n’était pas un empereur – il était un Christ dans son propre esprit. Cette excentricité était le produit de son ambition et de sa foi, et Napoléon et le Christ sont sans doute les deux figures les plus remarquables de l’histoire du monde — et comment leurs vies se croisent à l’époque de la Révolution française. le linceul d’enterrement du croyant à être miraculeux du prince de la paix de la chrétienté.

Le nouveau dirigeant français avait toute la France et une grande partie de l’Europe sous son pouce, mais ce qui l’obsédait et le rendait fou, ce sont les reliques de la Passion de Jésus-Christ: un morceau de croix, un clou de la crucifixion, la couronne d’épines, et, surtout, le Suaire de Turin, la toile de lin portant l’image d’un homme crucifié, supposé être le Jésus historique de Nazareth. Il a sauvé un grand nombre de ces reliques des dirigeants de la Révolution française qui voulaient les détruire et les a ensuite protégés sous la garde de la cathédrale Notre-Dame.

Ah, mais le linceul. Napoléon et le Christ dévoilent comment Napoléon finit par posséder l’étoffe funéraire, qui ne fut pas vue à Turin peu de temps avant que Bonaparte prenne le pouvoir jusqu’à sa défaite.

La relation entre Napoléon et l’Église catholique romaine était un aspect important de sa domination, ainsi que de sa vie … et longtemps incomprise par le monde extérieur au catholicisme. Napoléon est né le 15 août 1769, la fête de l’Assomption, l’une des grandes fêtes célébrées par l’Église. Il était, sinon religieux, profondément spirituel et superstitieux à une faute. Il a également beaucoup compris le pouvoir d’une majorité religieuse en Europe.

Les chercheurs dans les domaines de l’histoire et de la religion ont historiquement exploré le sujet de la relation compliquée de Napoléon avec l’église. Cependant, aucune de ces œuvres n’a abordé le thème spécifique de Napoléon et l’unique icône religieuse que de nombreux papes, avant et depuis, ont proclamé être la «plus belle relique de la passion et de la résurrection … un puissant symbole de la souffrance du Christ ” — le Linceul de Turin, la toile de lin portant l’image d’un homme crucifié qui est censé être le Jésus historique de Nazareth.

TONY CASTRO est un historien diplômé de Harvard et de l’Université Baylor, érudit de Napoléon Bonaparte et auteur de plusieurs livres, y compris l’histoire historique des droits civiques Chicano Power: L’émergence de l’Amérique mexicaine, que la publication Publishers Weekly acclamé comme “brillant … une contribution précieuse à la compréhension de notre temps.”

Il est également l’auteur de biographies critiques d’Ernest Hemingway et des légendes du baseball Mickey Mantle et Joe DiMaggio, avec une double biographie de Babe Ruth et Lou Gehrig (Triumph Books) en avril 2018.

Il travaille actuellement sur une biographie de Napoléon Bonaparte.

En tant que boursier Nieman à l’Université Harvard, Tony a étudié sous la direction de Robert Fitzgerald, érudit et traducteur homérique, Octavio Paz, lauréat mexicain du prix Nobel, et Laurence Wylie, Stanley et Inge Hoffman, chercheurs en histoire française.

La photo de la jaquette de Napoléon et du Christ est tirée d’un tableau de Versailles, connu sous le nom de Bonaparte au Pont d’Arcole, de 1796, par Antoine-Jean Gros, montrant Napoléon menant ses troupes à l’assaut du pont.

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