Thursday, January 03, 2013

317 (2013 #1). Olympic Affair

by Terry Frei

Subtitled "A Novel of Hitler's Siren and America's Hero," this is a fascinating piece of historical fiction based on a true story - the love affair between American decathlete Glenn Morris and famous German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.  The two met during the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, which is better known for Jesse Owens than this story.  I'd never heard of Morris before this book.

Although she claimed she was not a member of the Nazi party, former actress Riefenstahl had made some controversial pro-Nazi films, such as Triumph of the Will, and was definitely close to Hitler and his cohorts.  She was at the Olympics to make the documentary Olympia Morris went on to short careers in the NFL and in Hollywood. Frei implies the latter was due to Riefenstahl giving him the idea that he could be a big star. He starred in one film, Tarzan's Revenge (along with another former Olympian, 1932 backstroke gold medalist Eleanor Holm), that flopped.

Later in her life, Riefenstahl admitted the relationship, expressing sadness that they did not continue it.  Morris seemed to have grounds for more regret, given that the affair may have broken up his later marriage to his pre-Olympics sweetheart, and pretty much ruined his life.  A small-town boy from Colorado, Morris comes off as rather naive in the book, which he probably was.

Author Terry Frei is a sports columnist for the Denver Post.  The book is well-researched, and includes a bibliography and an extensive author's note at the end that tells what's true and what's not.  I thought the book was a little long, and that some of the repetitious detail about the pre-Olympic practices could have been left out.  Some of the conversations seem a little stilted, especially those with the supposed U.S. governmental agents who meet with Morris about Riefenstahl.

Nevertheless, I'd recommend this book, especially for sports fans. It was fascinating reading about how the 1936 Olympic team was chosen, its journey by ship to Berlin, (most of) the pre-competition practices and recreational activities, the competitions themselves, and the follow-up track meets across Europe.  Even reading about what happened to the oak seedlings gold medalists were given at the 1936 Games was interesting.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[I received this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, in exchange for an honest review.  It will be given to either my university or my local public library.]

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