North's popularity may be fading

By THOMAS FERRARO  |  Aug. 9, 1987
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WASHINGTON -- Despite some bullish markets, 'Olliemania' is showing signs of becoming 'Olliefadia.'

A book on Lt. Col. Oliver North's testimony to Congress was on The New York Times 'Bestseller List' Sunday, bringing smiles to quickie publisher Pocket Books.

Yet other entrepeneurs, like T-shirt peddlers along the boardwalk in Ocean City, Md., are grim-faced and believe their big splash with the charismatic Marine is fading.

'A couple of weeks ago, on a good day, we'd sell six or seven dozen Ollie North T-shirts. Now, maybe we sell six a day,' said Adele Tebele, manager of Zack's Boutique.

America embraced North during his six July days before Congress, seeing him as a John Wayne of guy, willing to do whatever it takes to free American hostages and to get aid to Nicaraguan rebels.

This attraction, which human behavior experts attributed to North's boyish good looks and ability to portray heroic qualities, spawned defense funds, fan clubs and Ollie North 'hero sandwhiches' and haircuts.

Yet some experts predicted that North, the self-described 'fall guy' in the administration's Iran-Contra scandal, was a flash in the national celebrity pan.

They said he was more of a 'hero' on the lines of actor Clint Eastwood and singer Bruce Springsteen than President John Kennedy or civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

At Fred Helmintoller's barber shop in Roanoke, Va., men are still talking about North, but the number of boys getting Ollie-style close-cropped cuts is shrinking.

'It's trailed off some,' said Helmintoller. 'During the hearings, he had been doing a half dozen (Ollie cuts) a day. Now, it more like just three or four.'

In recent weeks, two home videos have come out with highlights of North's congressional testimony, complete with his admission that he had earlier lied to Congress and his vow to tell all now -- 'the good, the bad and the ugly.'

Jaffer Ali, vice president of sales for MPI Home Video of Oak Forrest, Ill., makers of one of the videos, 'Oliver North: Memo to History,' said:

'We're getting mixed returns from the stores,' he said. 'We're doing very well in Washington, New York and Los Angeles.'

Yet, said Ali, 'We're not doing well in other places, like Chicago or Georgia. We're not doing well at all in Michigan.'

A nationwide poll by CBS News and The New York Times, conducted July 9, during North's testimony, found that that 64 percent of those responding consider the Marine a 'real patriot.'

A survey by ABC News, conducted July 11, found that only 19 percent of its respondents viewed North as a 'hero.' Instead, 64 percent said they thought of him as a 'victim.' Just 8 percent called him a 'villain.'

Soon after North was sworn in on Capitol Hill, enterprising photographers put up a life-size cardboard likeness outside the White House. Tourists are charged $5 to have their pictures taken beside it.

Bridge Reinhardt of Luminary Figures, which has snapped photos of tourists with a cardboard likeness of President Reagan since 1984, said, 'There's been no slack in demand for Ollie. But tourists pick Reagan 3 to 1.'

Frank Enten of Bethesda, Md., who has been peddling buttons of political candidates and celebrities since the 1960s, has sold thousands of North, many emblazoned with such words as 'Ollie 1, Congress 0.'

'Other than the pope, he has done better than any button I've seen for one person,' said Enten. 'He's almost like a Charles Lindbergh.'

Enten said he does not foresee a decline in demand for North buttons until at the first of next year. He predicted, however, that the demand would soar if North is indicted in the Iran-Contra affair.

'I hope he doesn't get indicted. But if he does, button sales would take off. People would be banging on the doors for buttons,' said Enten.

The veteran button man is prepared. His newest button reads: 'Mr. President, Please Pardon Ollie.'

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