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David Wallechinsky and Jerry Weintraub are our guests this week.
Show produced by Katherine Caperton.
Original Air Date: June 9, 2012 on SiriusXM Satellite Radio “POTUS” Channel 124.
Polioptics airs regularly on POTUS on Saturdays at 6:00 am, 12 noon and 6:00 pm.
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In my NBC days, we communications types often joked that we wanted to come back in the next life as “talent.” This week my dream came true when Josh King invited me to fill in for my former White House colleague Adam Belmar as guest co-host on Polioptics. Already in New York to visit a KSC, Inc. client, I met Josh at the SiriusXM studios on Columbus Circle ready for action – and ready, finally, to be the one who gets to ask the questions.
Our first guest was preeminent Olympic historian and allgov.com founder David Wallechinsky, who joined us by phone from Los Angeles (had he been in-studio, Josh would have undoubtedly asked him to autograph his dog-eared copy of Wallechinsky’s seminal, “The Book of Lists,” published in 1977).
Beginning July 27, the London Olympics – with an unprecedented 5,355 hours of TV coverage (that’s the equivalent of 231 days) across the networks of NBC Universal – will for 17 days divert America’s attention from the presidential campaigns. Ready for a taste of the action? Watch below:
Wallechinsky offered compelling insights into the frequent intersection between the Olympics and politics. For many of us of a certain age, the memories remain vivid. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter ordered a U.S. boycott of the Games in Moscow to protest the invasion of Afghanistan, a protest that was joined by 60 other nations. That favor was returned four years later, when the Soviets were absent from the Games that Peter Ueberroth helped to organize in Los Angeles.
David’s knowledge of the Olympics is encyclopedic and his opinions are sharp and unfiltered. For example, Wallechinsky told us he believes the IOC has erred in deciding not to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of the tragic murders of Israeli athletes and coaches at the 1972 Munich Games.
As for the prospect that future games will ever again be marred by a boycott, David doubts there will ever be another action similar to the U.S. pullout in 1980. A shrewd observer of the optics of the Olympics, David believes that a far more poignant statement 32 years ago would have been for the U.S. team to make their presence felt in Moscow, both through their performance on the track, field and pool, and also at the Opening Ceremonies, where the athletes could have held aloft Afghan flags as a symbol of international solidarity.
With fewer than 50 days to go before the Olympic Flame is ignited in London, and with the Eurozone in a state of unprecedented economic crisis, there is little doubt that the world’s focus will again present opportunities for protest groups to make their presence felt. David is also aware, as are we all, that the prospect of terrorism, perhaps not at a hardened Olympic venue but rather a softer target in and around London, is very real as well.
As always at the Olympics, there is the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. All too often, too, is the presence of politics.
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As a 13-year-old in the summer of 1972, I paid $4 for a general admission ticket to see the band, Chicago, in concert. When the Ticketron agent handed me my ticket, the first words I read across the top were, “Jerry Weintraub Presents.” I remember thinking, what a cool job that guy has.
Jerry Weintraub and Susie Ekins
Well, 40 years later Jerry Weintraub still has a cool job. He was Elvis Presley’s and Frank Sinatra’s concert promoter, among many other big acts, and went on to produce dozens of films, including Nashville; Diner; Oh God!; The Karate Kid and the recent Oceans 11 films. Films like Robert Altman’s Nashville and Carl Reiner’s Oh, God! contained overt political overtones and messages and helped to drive the debate in the 1970’s.
Weintraub is a larger than life figure, a giant of the entertainment industry whose influence spans over a half century. Weintraub’s effervescence was captured in a 2008 profile by Vanity Fair writer Rich Cohen, who later collaborated with him on an autobiography, When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man.
Josh got a healthy dose of the Weintraub powers of persuasion when he and Susie Ekins dropped by the SiriusXM studios in Manhattan on their way to Kennebunkport, Maine for the premiere of the new HBO documentary, “41,” of which Weintraub was the executive producer, which offers an extremely personal portrait of the 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush.
Just as the Olympics and politics have always intersected, so too have Hollywood and politics. When Josh worked in the White House for President Clinton, Harry and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, and Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, were often present in the Executive Mansion. During the term of Clinton’s predecessor, Jerry Weintraub provided a Hollywood connection to the Republican President.
In turns out that Weintraub gave President Bush a lot more than an entertainment industry connection, and vice versa. The deep friendship between the two men goes way back, well before George H.W. Bush ascended to the White House. When Weintraub married his first wife, Jane (from Newton, Mass., of all places, a hometown she shares with Josh), they also became residents of Kennebunkport, Maine. But in the middle of the 20th Century, a Jewish kid from the Bronx like Weintraub wasn’t always welcome at some of the restricted Downeast institutions that provided a summer haven for the Bush family. That didn’t sit well with Prescott Bush and his kin, who fought to open doors not just to Jerry and his wife, but to many others who ventured north.
In fact, having screened “41,” the new HBO documentary, which premieres June 14, that’s the image that the viewer takes away about George H.W. Bush, a gentleman whose civility and humanity is only now starting to be fully appreciated by a new generation. Here’s the trailer for the film:
Bush lost his bid for reelection to Bill Clinton in 1992, an outcome affected certainly by the 18.9% of the popular vote won by the independent candidacy of H. Ross Perot, but Bush’s life before and after the White House has been fuller than most people appreciate. The nuanced portrait of a husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather enjoying the sunset of his life at Walkers Point in Kennebunkport, Maine comes through in an uncluttered film presented in the former President’s own words, punctuated by archival footage and still images of an oversized family centered around the core of George and Barbara Bush. In the documentary, the four years in which Bush occupied the Oval Office is seen as only one part of an extraordinary life focused on family, sports, education, military service and public service to the nation.
Josh and Jerry have a spirited, wide-ranging conversation about President Bush and the full, rich live he has lived, the many highs and the few lows, and the optics of politics and entertainment that even today remains very much front and center. Jerry’s friend and star of his Oceans 11 movies, George Clooney, has taken a very visible role supporting President Obama, along with the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker and Anna Wintour, whose “Don’t Be Late” video is well on its way to earning viral status on YouTube.
As Josh and Jerry discussed, the symbiosis of the two coasts was very evident in past administrations as well, as one of the most famous acts in the Weintraub stable, Frank Sinatra, established his closeness with Kennedy’s Camelot. A decade later, another entertainer in Weintraub’s orbit, Elvis Presley, made his presence felt in the Oval Office with Richard Nixon.