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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