Schwarzkopf basks in the glow of being a national hero--but for how long?

June 23, 1991|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun

He has hammed it up with Mickey Mouse. Posed for photos with the glamorous Ziegfeld girls of Broadway's "Will Rogers Follies." Been knighted by royalty. Ticker-taped by a city. He has even been invited to judge this year's Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, N.J.

His schedule, it turns out, won't permit his participation in that annual battle. Still, the postwar maneuvers of the latest U.S. hero, Desert Storm commander Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, have been so far-reaching, frequent and often fanciful that some cynics have started chirping about his turning up on "Hollywood Squares."

Are we in danger of having too much of a good thing when it comes to America's favorite man in fatigues?

"I think we're at the dessert stage," says Democratic media consultant Michael Sheehan, whose clients include a number of senators. "We've had the appetizer. We've had the main course. I think we could do with a little sorbet, and then enough already."

"America wants to revere him quietly now as a hero," agrees Jackson Bain, head of communications training for the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton.

"We're just about done with the parades. There will be one more spasm of mass patriotism on the 4th of July, and then I think we want to get on with our lives. Schwarzkopf now needs to make a transition from a military hero to a leader in other ways."

But not everyone has had enough of the 56-year-old general who gained popularity as commander of the allied forces in the Persian Gulf.

"I don't know [that] you could see enough of him," says Baltimore-based political media consultant Robert Goodman. "He can do no wrong in a way."

"There's always a danger of over exposure for anyone, but he's almost a special exception," agrees Washington media trainer Susan Peterson, a former television correspondent for CBS and NBC.

"A hero is a hero is a hero -- and we haven't had a good hero in a long time. America needed him.

There's a lot of built-in admiration and respect that will last through lots more photo ops. Right now, he's Golden Boy."

And he is commanding golden sums. Top publishing houses are battling over the rights to General Schwarzkopf's memoirs, reportedly offering advances of $3 million to $4 million to the 35-year Army veteran, who plans to start writing when he retires late this summer.

Marvin Josephson, the general's agent and the chairman of International Creative Management, whose clients include Woody Allen, Eddie Murphy and Julia Roberts, says the agency has received requests hundreds of requests for speaking engagements for General Schwarzkopf.

Mr. Josephson would not disclose the asking price for such speeches or name any groups requesting his client, but it has been reported that an appearance by the general commands $50,000 to $85,000.

"He's fulfilling a symbolic role, acting out a role that people

want," says Stephen Wayne, a Georgetown University professor government. "It's nice to have a hero, a larger-than-life figure you can put your faith in, someone who has the ability, figuratively, to lead you to the Promised Land."

In fact, even with hefty, five-figure price tags, "People have not worried about what he's going to say," Mr. Josephson says. "They're just delighted that he's going to speak."

But Mr. Josephson and Bernard Swain, owner of the Washington Speaker's Bureau, which is handling General Schwarzkopf's engagements in conjunction with International Creative Management, say that his appearances will be limited.

"No more than a few each month," says Mr. Josephson, adding that most of the general's time next year will be spent on his book.

There is no danger of reaching a saturation point with his client, says Mr. Swain, because "he's conscious of it. He's a quiet, private person anyway. The parades and celebrations he was obligated to do -- it was not a conscious act on his part. But now the parades are over, most of the activities are over, and you won't see him very much."

When he is seen, speaking to business groups and trade associations, he will be talking about "things we learned from the war, not the war itself -- leadership, teamwork, strategy, all things that apply to individual success and business success," Mr. Swain says.

Addressing such larger issues, consultants say, is how General Schwarzkopf can best maintain his popularity and make the transition from a hero in time of war to an all-around respected leader. But even then, they say, the nation is quick to move on to other obsessions.

Mr. Bain thinks the war hero will have to demonstrate some other "facets" -- perhaps proposals regarding domestic problems -- within 90 days to sustain public interest.

For the long term, a number of possibilities have been mentioned for the career soldier: college president, author, journalist and, following the path of victorious generals throughout history, politician.

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