Ask Mark Spitzabout his place in the world today and he replies, with characteristicbluntness, "I'm a commodity, an endorser." Raise the matter with NormanBrokaw, the Los Angeles talent agent under whose care Spitz is amassing afortune to match his Olympic fame, and you receive an answer rather moreelaborate. "Mark Spitz performs services for several major companies,"Brokaw says. "He's an instant star. He's the greatest hero sinceLindbergh."
In the busy daysbefore Spitz was once again decorated with gold—this time a wedding band on histanned left hand—Brokaw's assessment seemed hardly overdrawn. When Mark andfiancée Suzy Weiner (see cover) drove off one morning to pick up their weddinglicense, they kept their mission secret only to find, as they did almosteverywhere else they went, newspaper photographers lying in wait at the SantaMonica courthouse. Sketches of Spitz' honeymoon wardrobe ("yours forcutting and folding") wound up in the local papers, and the HollywoodReporter called a Spitz-Weiner wedding invitation the hottest ticket in town.Taking time out from writing thank-you notes for the silver trays, chinawareand other gifts that were pouring in, Suzy joined Mark one afternoon aboard hisnew 39-foot racing sloop Sumark 7.
As the boat sailedinto the Pacific, Instamatics clicked alongshore, other vessels reconnoiteredfor a better view of the famous skipper and a small girl aboard a cabin cruiserjumped up and down at the sight of him. "Look at that," Spitz saidhappily. "She sees me."
Spitz' days weredarkened only when the Los Angeles Times suggested that he was beingmerchandised like "a chunk of plastic livestock" and characterized himas peevish and inarticulate. When Mark drove Suzy in his Mercedes 450SL to asteak house named Monty's, the parking attendant sympathized, "They reallydid a job on you, Mr. Spitz." Entering the restaurant, Spitz caused hisusual sensation, although Suzy, in low-slung bellbottoms and with her blondehair flowing, could have turned heads by herself. Suzy has modeled for nationalTV commercials, and she has the wholesome, dimpled prettiness one routinelyexpects of every UCLA coed—which is what she was before meeting Mark Spitz.
May 13, 1973
She was alreadyshowing a willingness, moreover, to stick by her man in sickness as well ashealth. "That story in the Times was demeaning," Suzy said. "Itmade me so mad."
"Some peopleare just going to hate me, and I don't know why," Mark said. "I guessyou can't win them all." He was interrupted when the hostess approachedwith a problem. Mark and Suzy had arranged to hold their rehearsal dinner inthe same restaurant later in the week but in the excitement of landing soprestigious a booking the management had forgotten that the private room thecouple reserved had been taken by the local Kiwanis club. "This is veryembarrassing," the hostess said.
But the confusionwas soon cleared up, the rehearsal dinner went smoothly and, finally, in aSunday-afternoon ceremony at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Mark Andrew Spitz, 23,and Susan Ellen Weiner, 21, became legend and wife. Curiosity-seekers andpaparazzi were kept at a comfortable distance while 300 guests gathered in theCrystal Room, which was festooned with pink and white chrysanthemums and roses.The room was cheerful, if less lavishly decorated than it had been for DeanMartin's wedding reception a few days earlier, a party said to have cost$60,000 for flowers, another $20,000 for food.
Mark's Aunt Katieand Uncle Paul were there, as was Cousin Sherman, the best man. They rubbedelbows with Spitz' old swimming teammates from Indiana, former coaches and withthe lawyers and press agents who oversee his affairs. Also present were Mark'sparents; Arnold Spitz recently lost his job with an Oakland scrap metal firmand now is a paid consultant to his son.
The menu includedChicken Polynesian and California champagne. But first Mark and Suzy exchangedvows beneath a chuppah—wedding canopy—in a traditional Jewish ceremony thatincluded a reading of e. e. cummings poetry selected by the bride andgroom:
for you are and iam and we are (above and under all possible worlds) in love
Spitz wasdashingly handsome, as always, and his bride, in a high-necked English net gownand carrying lilies of the valley, exuded all the warmth her husband hassometimes been accused of lacking. Although Suzy dropped out of college inJanuary, she continues to model and has signed to appear with Mark in TVcommercials for Schick razors, one of the products he endorses. After thewedding the newlyweds left for a two-day appearance for Schick in Florida,which was to be followed by a delayed honeymoon to a destination that thecouple was trying, no doubt vainly, to keep secret. As Arnold Spitz put it,"These newspaper writers have a lot of guts. If we let them, they'd tagalong on the honeymoon."
Behind that lamentis the dilemma of how to keep Mark Spitz' fame flowering while avoiding all thethorns. Spitz is a singular merchandising phenomenon. The potential value ofhis endorsements already under contract has been estimated at $5 million. Hehas made guest television appearances with Bob Hope, Bill Cosby and Sonny andCher, and in recent weeks appeared on covers of publications as disparate asthe Saturday Evening Post, Rolling Stone and the National Enquirer. He pops up,variously, on the sports, business and entertainment pages, and his wedding puthim on the society pages, too.
The exposure isnot always adulatory, witness the Los Angeles Times story. Also unfavorable wasa widely reprinted New York Times piece that dismissed Spitz, witheringly, as"just another pretty face." Subscribing to a similar view, few bookpublishers even nibbled at offers of a full-length Spitz autobiography—Mark'smanagers had hoped for a $100,000-plus advance—and the Chicago Daily Newsrecently quoted an unnamed Schick executive as calling the company'srelationship with Spitz a costly mistake. "That guy is so dumb I can'tbelieve it," the executive said in the News. "He fouls up publicappearances and it's devastating." Schick called the story a fabricationand considered legal action.
Where Spitz'achievements at Munich were perfect and unambiguous—seven swims, seven golds,seven world records—his new career has taken some odd turns. A case in point isthe ubiquitous poster on which he grinningly poses in his swimming briefs andseven gold medals. The poster has sold 300,000 copies at $2 or more each(Spitz' cut is 15¢), making him the most popular pinup since Betty Grable. Butit is arguable whether Spitz' appeal alone brought about the poster's successor whether, conversely, its success helped make Spitz. The poster is popularamong worshipful swim-boppers but has also sold well among homosexuals, forwhom Spitz has become almost a cult figure, and as a gag gift amongsophisticates amused by what they consider his bumbling manner and glossylooks.
Friends say thatSpitz is pained by the ridicule heaped on him, yet he outwardly does aconvincing imitation of a swimmer laughing all the way to the bank. "It'slike a game to see how much money I can make," he says. "It's justamazing to me. I thought maybe I'd make $20,000, enough to pay my way throughdental school. But I guess I've caught on as a symbol or something. I know I'mlucky, but I also feel I'm entitled to make a buck. If Arnold Palmer couldendorse dry cleaners, why can't I endorse razors?" Asked if he still plansto go to dental school someday, he says, "Are you kidding?"
Spitz' game is notsimply to see how much he can make, but also, he says, "How little I canspend." He seems to be winning here, too. The manufacturer of Spartanpools, another product which he endorses, has given Mark and Suzy a free tripto Jamaica, where they plan to spend a few weeks as a second honeymoon. Theywill live in Mark's $1,000-a-month waterside apartment, which he rents, he sayscoyly, for "a good rate—a very good rate." The two-bedroom apartment isin Marina Del Rey, a Los Angeles enclave of boats and dimly lighted restaurantsfavored by tourists and the unattached. A sightseeing boat called Marina Belleplies its waterways, and passengers are alerted by loudspeaker when Mark Spitz'building comes into view.
The apartment isonly a few blocks from the bank where Spitz stashes his seven gold medals. Itis also within walking distance of Sumark 7, a custom-built, $65,000 boat thathe named in honor of his wife, himself and his gold medals. The boat is ownedby Schick, which leases it to Spitz for $1 a year.
Spitzenthusiastically took up sailing after Munich. "It's quiet and relaxing onthe boat," he says. "It also gives me a new challenge, and that's whatI need now." Spitz hopes soon to get into ocean racing, and it was withonly the most fleeting tinge of nostalgia for competitive swimming that heturned on the machine in his living room one afternoon to watch a 20-minutevideotape of his seven Olympic swims, which ABC-TV edited and presented to himas a gift.
Having alreadywatched the film some two dozen times, Spitz knew the narration by heart."Here's where Murray Rose says I have trouble with my turns," hewhispered and then, right there on Mark Spitz' own videotape machine, Rose wentand said it. At the end of the screening, Spitz sat quietly a moment. "Imiss that—the excitement of the Olympics," he said at last. "But Idon't miss the 12 years of busting my butt that went into it."
Spitz has donelittle swimming since Munich. Visiting his fiancée's home in Westwood, he raceda couple of times in the family swimming pool with Suzy's older brother,spotting Steve Weiner a four-length handicap in an eight-length race. Mark wononce, lost once. He also got wet a couple of days before his wedding to posefor publicity pictures for a new line of Mark Spitz swimwear to be manufacturedby Arena, a subsidiary of Adidas. The photo session took place at themagnificent hilltop home of Norman Brokaw, who calls his representation ofSpitz "my greatest coup."
The 46-year-oldBrokaw, a vice-president of William Morris, the world's largest theatricalagency, comes across as flashy and conservative in equal parts. Smooth andlow-keyed, he drives a black 1973 Eldorado and wears dress shirts that arestiffly English at the collar but speak French at the cuffs. Brokaw refers tohimself—in a trait he shares with Hubert Humphrey and the Pope—in the thirdperson. He calls his approach to the merchandising of Spitz "the NormanBrokaw Game Plan," and says of his efforts on his client's behalf,"We're right on target. When Brokaw says he'll deliver, hedelivers."
The first phase ofthe Norman Brokaw Game Plan involves product endorsements, which include,besides the deals for razors, swimming pools and bathing suits, a newpromotional contract with a major manufacturer of men's clothing. Brokawexpects to ease his client into more public appearances—at $12,500 a crack—andhe also plans TV specials as well as the inevitable movie debut. As he puts it,"You can quote Brokaw as saying that Spitz will make movies when a suitablevehicle comes along."
Brokaw insists on"dignity" in everything Spitz undertakes, and he can afford to bechoosy. Spitz' fan mail, an avalanche after Munich, still rumbles in at therate of at least 30 or 40 letters a day. As for business offers, Brokawrejected a proffered $250,000-a-year tie-in with a brewery ("The wrongimage for a hero") as well as a Mark Spitz swimming doll ("Theconstruction was not of high quality") and was honestly compelled to replyin the negative when RCA records sent Spitz a wire asking is IT TRUE THAT YOUSING? Brokaw also maintains what he calls a proposals file, which containsletters of the kind that Spitz received from one young woman, who wrote, "Ifeel I could give you a lot of pleasure. You are probably very tired ofswimming."
With Brokaw'sblessings, Spitz has pledged to raise money for a swim-therapy facility, whichwill be part of Los Angeles' vast new Cedars-Sinai medical complex and becalled the Mark Spitz Swim Center. Last week Brokaw received a visit from a LosAngeles businessman named Irv Terry, who also hoped to enlist Spitz' supportfor a sports center to be built at Israel's University of Haifa as a memorialto the 11 coaches and athletes slain at the Olympics. "Mark is the Samsonof his people," Terry said. Brokaw promised to produce his client at a$500-a-couple fund-raising dinner.
Brokaw would notbe distressed, of course, if these charitable activities helped repair, onceand for all, Mark Spitz' image. In Spitz' case, the line between confidence andcockiness has never been surveyed to satisfaction, and some took it as apresumptuous comparison when the ex-swimmer explained away a particularlywooden TV performance by saying, "Not even Laurence Olivier could have doneanything with the material I had." Betraying few doubts about his potentialas an actor, Spitz is even surer of his ability to handle his new boat. Askedif he needs more sailing experience before he starts racing in a big way, hereplies, "I only need a more experienced crew." He has, in fact, veryquickly become a competent sailor.
Spitz hasdifficulty engaging in the glib, hail-fellow chatter expected of publicpersonalities. Dining one night in a Mexican restaurant in Marina Del Rey, hewas approached by a stranger making a great show of presenting him with a glassof milk, a scene Mark has endured all too often since making commercials forthe West Coast milk industry. "Thanks," Spitz muttered inembarrassment, scarcely looking up. He went off at another moment to a trendyBeverly Hills men's shop, where he was fitted for a matching plaid slacks-vestensemble. "It's the Spitz clan," the salesman said, but Mark was toobusy examining the fabric to appreciate the little joke.
When reporters tryto draw him out, Spitz sometimes babbles on, at other moments abruptly clamsup. He is capable of splendid irrelevancies, as when he said of buying a diningroom table, "It's like going through a book and selecting a face for yourchild." At the same time, he can be a bit of a wise guy. Asked at a pressconference how many endorsement offers he has received, Spitz asked in return,"How many clouds are in the sky?"
The task ofsteering Spitz through the jungle of gossip columnists and other presssharpshooters falls to Jay Bernstein, a 35-year-old transplanted Oklahoman who,in a decade, has become one of Hollywood's most successful press agents.Polite, professional and boyishly disarming, Bernstein travels in a chauffeuredlimousine equipped with TV, telephone and stereo tapedeck, the better to servea clientele that includes Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwicke and George Peppard.He also does publicity for Dr Pepper, which calls itself the most misunderstoodsoft drink. Bernstein obviously feels that Mark Spitz is misunderstood, too,which is why he assumes a beleaguered air when discussing him.
"Mark isintelligent, but he's not an intellectual," Bernstein says. "He's notup on his Socrates. He's also a loner, and everybody knows it's easier to dealwith somebody who's outgoing. Mark simply hasn't learned the art of talking andsaying nothing."
Bernstein'searliest approach to handling Spitz was reminiscent of the Goldwater partisanin 1964 who, during a speech by the GOP presidential candidate, cried in alarm,"There are men out there writing down every word he says!" Bernsteinseldom granted interviews with his client, which left Spitz prey to sillyrumors, as when Los Angeles columnist Joyce Haber reported that he had beenhospitalized to have his nose bobbed. Haber later issued a retraction, but notbefore deftly labeling Spitz "a 23-year-old Howard Hughes."
Denying that heever tried to muzzle his client, Bernstein points out that Spitz was swampedwith so many requests for interviews that it was impossible to honor all ofthem, especially since Mark has only recently recovered from a two-month boutof hepatitis. Bernstein still sits in on most interviews but only, he insists,to smooth over the kind of misunderstanding that occurred when Spitz, talkingin a Hollywood restaurant with syndicated columnist Norma Lee Browning,mentioned that he had been a predental student at Indiana.
"What do youhave to major in to go to dental school?" Browning asked.
Spitz blurted,"Everybody knows it wouldn't be home economics." The columnist huffedout of the restaurant, but Bernstein rushed after her to patch things up andbring her back. "Norma Lee was upset because her cat had died thatday," he says.
To Jay Bernstein'scredit, there were no efforts to promote phony romances for the sake of gettingSpitz into the gossip columns. Of course, there was scarcely time. Not only wasSuzy Weiner the first and only girl Mark took out after becoming aninternational sex symbol at Munich, but their courtship had the old-fashionedflavor of a family arrangement. Suzy's dad owns a scrap iron firm in LosAngeles and at the time Mark's father was still in that line up north. Asalesman who did business with both fathers called on Arnold Spitz one day andshowed Suzy's picture to Mark, who was still living in Sacramento.
Impressed, Spitzcalled Suzy long distance, but she wasn't home. "I talked to her dad,"he recalls. "I said, 'Mr. Weiner, you've got a beautiful daughter.' I feltlike an ass." Later, visiting Los Angeles, Mark took Herman Weiner'sdaughter to dinner at the Beverly Wilshire hotel.
"I was excitedand curious," Suzy says. "I'd read that Mark was arrogant andconceited, and I figured if the guy was what they said he was—forget it."She smiles. "He was lovable and shy."
On New Year's Day,barely two months later, Mark slipped a two-carat marquise on Suzy's finger,and he now notes that "It was a good investment—the prices of diamonds areup," a typically Spitzian remark. Asked why he chose marriage when so manyHollywood starlets were his for the asking, he says, "I'm afraid ofmaternity suits"—meaning, of course, paternity suits. Only when presseddoes he confess, softly, "I've never been so happy as I've been sincemeeting Suzy."
Despite hisrakehell appearance, Spitz seems born to be a family man. He doesn't smoke,drinks only beer—and not even that since contracting hepatitis—and his ownfather says of him, "Mark's so square it's pathetic."
One day last weekSuzy Weiner and Mark Spitz, whose shared taste in furniture runs to strictlymodern, went off to buy a bedroom suite for their apartment. "I told thekids to get themselves a decorator," the manager of the furniture storesaid. "They're doing it the hard way." But Spitz said, "It's morefun decorating the apartment ourselves."
The pleasure Spitzwas obviously deriving from these domestic chores set him apart from JohnnyWeissmuller, with whom he is unavoidably compared. Weissmuller also made moneyafter his Olympic swimming days, only to squander most of it on a succession ofHollywood marriages and bum financial deals. Where Weissmuller was gullible andgarrulous, Spitz' true nature seems harder to define, lending credence to hisown claim that he has more facets than Suzy's diamond. "People want to knowwhat I'm like," Spitz says. "Well, I've lived 23 years, so I'd need 23years to explain everything about my life. I'd be 46 then."
It could be thatSpitz, who is sometimes accused of caring too little about what others think,actually cares too much—which would help explain the importance he attachesthese days to his material success. Puttering around his boat one afternoon,Spitz turned to a friend who had met Suzy for the first time earlier in theday. "What do you think of her?" Spitz asked.
The visitor spokefavorably of Mark's bride-to-be and added that the Indiana swimmers who werecoming to Los Angeles for the wedding would be impressed, too. Spitzenergetically hosed down the Sumark 7's canary-yellow hull.
Then he began tochuckle. Wickedly, Mark Spitz said, "I wonder what they'll think of myboat."