Confident that he was clever, resourceful, and bold enough to escape any predicament, he was almost incapable of discouragement. When history carried him into war, this resilient optimism would define him. Louie was twenty months younger than his brother, who was everything he was not. Pete Zamperini was handsome, popular, impeccably groomed, polite to elders and avuncular to juniors, silky smooth with girls, and blessed with such sound judgment that even when he was a child, his parents consulted him on difficult decisions.
He ushered his mother into her seat at dinner, turned in at seven, and tucked his alarm clock under his pillow so as not to wake Louie, with whom he shared a bed. He rose at two-thirty to run a three-hour paper route, and deposited all his earnings in the bank, which would swallow every penny when the Depression hit. He once saved a girl from drowning. Pete radiated a gentle but impressive authority that led everyone he met, even adults, to be swayed by his opinion. Even Louie, who made a religion out of heeding no one, did as Pete said. Louie idolized Pete, who watched over him and their younger sisters, Sylvia and Virginia, with paternal protectiveness.
But Louie was eclipsed, and he never heard the end of it. Sylvia would recall her mother tearfully telling Louie how she wished he could be more like Pete. But it never occurred to anyone to suspect Pete of anything. Nothing about Louie fit with other kids. He was a puny boy, and in his first years in Torrance, his lungs were still compromised enough from the pneumonia that in picnic footraces, every girl in town could dust him.
His features, which would later settle into pleasant collaboration, were growing at different rates, giving him a curious face that seemed designed by committee. His ears leaned sidelong off his head like holstered pistols, and above them waved a calamity of black hair that mortified him.
It did no good. And then there was his ethnicity. In Torrance in the early s, Italians were held in such disdain that when the Zamperinis arrived, the neighbors petitioned the city council to keep them out. They compounded his misery by holding him back a grade. He was a marked boy. Bullies, drawn by his oddity and hoping to goad him into uttering Italian curses, pelted him with rocks, taunted him, punched him, and kicked him. He tried buying their mercy with his lunch, but they pummeled him anyway, leaving him bloody.
He could have ended the beatings by running away or succumbing to tears, but he refused to do either. As Louie neared his teens, he took a hard turn. Aloof and bristling, he lurked around the edges of Torrance, his only friendships forged loosely with rough boys who followed his lead. Though he could be a sweet boy, he was often short-tempered and obstreperous. He feigned toughness, but was secretly tormented. Kids passing into parties would see him lingering outside, unable to work up the courage to walk in.
Frustrated at his inability to defend himself, he made a study of it. His father taught him how to work a punching bag and made him a barbell from two lead-filled coffee cans welded to a pipe. The bully shrieked, his tooth broken, and fled. The feeling of lightness that Louie experienced on his walk home was one he would never forget. He socked a girl. He pushed a teacher. He pelted a policeman with rotten tomatoes. Kids who crossed him wound up with fat lips, and bullies learned to give him a wide berth.
He once came upon Pete in their front yard, in a standoff with another boy. Both boys had their fists in front of their chins, each waiting for the other to swing. Hit him, Pete! And then he runs! The police always seemed to be on the front porch, trying to talk sense into Louie. Adoring his son but exasperated by his behavior, Anthony delivered frequent, forceful spankings. Louie absorbed the punishment in tearless silence, then committed the same crimes again, just to show he could. Louie was a copy of herself, right down to the vivid blue eyes.
Loving mischief, she spread icing over a cardboard box and presented it as a birthday cake to a neighbor, who promptly got the knife stuck. One Halloween, she dressed as a boy and raced around town trick-or-treating with Louie and Pete. A gang of kids, thinking she was one of the local toughs, tackled her and tried to steal her pants. Little Louise Zamperini, mother of four, was deep in the melee when the cops picked her up for brawling. Knowing that punishing Louie would only provoke his defiance, Louise took a surreptitious route toward reforming him.
Louise suddenly knew everything Louie was up to, and her children wondered if she had developed psychic powers. Sure that Sylvia was snitching, Louie refused to sit at the supper table with her, eating his meals in spiteful solitude off the open oven door. He once became so enraged with her that he chased her around the block. Louie flushed her out by feeding his three-foot-long pet snake into the crawl space. He ran away and wandered around San Diego for days, sleeping under a highway overpass. He tried to ride a steer in a pasture, got tossed onto the ragged edge of a fallen tree, and limped home with his gashed knee bound in a handkerchief.
He hit one kid so hard that he broke his nose. He upended another boy and stuffed paper towels in his mouth. Parents forbade their kids from going near him. As Louie prepared to start Torrance High, he was looking less like an impish kid and more like a dangerous young man. High school would be the end of his education. With flunking grades and no skills, Louie had no chance for a scholarship. It was unlikely that he could land a job. The Depression had come, and the unemployment rate was nearing 25 percent. Louie had no real ambitions. At one Illinois mental hospital, new patients were dosed with milk from cows infected with tuberculosis, in the belief that only the undesirable would perish.
As many as four in ten of these patients died. A more popular tool of eugenics was forced sterilization, employed on a raft of lost souls who, through misbehavior or misfortune, fell into the hands of state governments. By , when Louie was entering his teens, California was enraptured with eugenics, and would ultimately sterilize some twenty thousand people. When Louie was in his early teens, an event in Torrance brought reality home. Louie was never more than an inch from juvenile hall or jail, and as a serial troublemaker, a failing student, and a suspect Italian, he was just the sort of rogue that eugenicists wanted to cull.
Suddenly understanding what he was risking, he felt deeply shaken. The person that Louie had become was not, he knew, his authentic self. He made hesitant efforts to connect to others. He scrubbed the kitchen floor to surprise his mother, but she assumed that Pete had done it. He doled out nearly everything he stole.
Each attempt he made to right himself ended wrong. He holed up alone, reading Zane Grey novels and wishing himself into them, a man and his horse on the frontier, broken off from the world. He haunted the theater for western movies, losing track of the plots while he stared at the scenery. In the back bedroom he could hear trains passing. The sound of it brought goose bumps. Fourteen-year-old Louie was in a locksmith shop when he heard someone say that if you put any key in any lock, it has a one-in-fifty chance of fitting.
Inspired, Louie began collecting keys and trying locks. He had no luck until he tried his house key on the back door of the Torrance High gym. When basketball season began, there was an inexplicable discrepancy between the number of ten-cent tickets sold and the considerably larger number of kids in the bleachers. In California, winter-born students entered new grades in January, so Louie was about to start ninth grade. The principal punished him by making him ineligible for athletic and social activities. Louie, who never joined anything, was indifferent. He told the principal that Louie craved attention but had never won it in the form of praise, so he sought it in the form of punishment.
He asked the principal to allow Louie to join a sport. When the principal balked, Pete asked him if he could live with allowing Louie to fail. It was a cheeky thing for a sixteen-year-old to say to his principal, but Pete was the one kid in Torrance who could get away with such a remark, and make it persuasive. Louie was made eligible for athletics for Pete had big plans for Louie. A senior in —32, he would graduate with ten varsity letters, including three in basketball and three in baseball. But it was track, in which he earned four varsity letters, tied the school half-mile record, and set its mile record of , that was his true forte.
Looking at Louie, whose getaway speed was his saving grace, Pete thought he saw the same incipient talent. In February, the ninth-grade girls began assembling a team for an interclass track meet, and in a class with only four boys, Louie was the only male who looked like he could run. The girls worked their charms, and Louie found himself standing on the track, barefoot, for a yard race. When everyone ran, he followed, churning along with jimmying elbows and dropping far behind.
As he labored home last, he heard tittering. Gasping and humiliated, he ran straight off the track and hid under the bleachers. The coach muttered something about how that kid belonged anywhere but in a footrace. From that day on, Pete was all over Louie, forcing him to train, then dragging him to the track to run in a second meet. Urged on by kids in the stands, Louie put in just enough effort to beat one boy and finish third.
He hated running, but the applause was intoxicating, and the prospect of more was just enough incentive to keep him marginally compliant. Pete herded him out to train every day and rode his bicycle behind him, whacking him with a stick. Louie dragged his feet, bellyached, and quit at the first sign of fatigue.
Pete made him get up and keep going. Louie started winning. He finished fifth. But to Louie, training felt like one more constraint. Louie resisted, a spat ensued, and Louie threw some clothes into a bag and stormed toward the front door. His parents ordered him to stay; Louie was beyond persuasion. As he walked out, his mother rushed to the kitchen and emerged with a sandwich wrapped in waxed paper.
Louie stuffed it in his bag and left. He was partway down the front walk when he heard his name called. When he turned, there was his father, grim-faced, holding two dollars in his outstretched hand. Louie took it and walked away. He rounded up a friend, and together they hitchhiked to Los Angeles, broke into a car, and slept on the seats. The next day they jumped a train, climbed onto the roof, and rode north. The trip was a nightmare. The boys got locked in a boxcar so hot that they were soon frantic to escape.
Then they were discovered by the railroad detective, who forced them to jump from the moving train at gunpoint. After several days of walking, getting chased out of orchards and grocery stores where they tried to steal food, they wound up sitting on the ground in a railyard, filthy, bruised, sunburned, and wet, sharing a stolen can of beans. A train rattled past.
Louie looked up. He stood up and headed home. When Louie walked into his house, Louise threw her arms around him, inspected him for injuries, led him to the kitchen, and gave him a cookie. Anthony came home, saw Louie, and sank into a chair, his face soft with relief. After dinner, Louie went upstairs, dropped into bed, and whispered his surrender to Pete. In the summer of , Louie did almost nothing but run. Each morning, he rose with the sun, picked up his rifle, and jogged into the sagebrush. He ran up and down hills, over the desert, through gullies. He chased bands of horses, darting into the swirling herds and trying in vain to snatch a fistful of mane and swing aboard.
He swam in a sulfur spring, watched over by Cahuilla women scrubbing clothes on the rocks, and stretched out to dry himself in the sun. On his run back to the cabin each afternoon, he shot a rabbit for supper. Each evening, he climbed atop the cabin and lay back, reading Zane Grey novels.
When the sun sank and the words faded, he gazed over the landscape, moved by its beauty, watching it slip from gray to purple before darkness blended land and sky. In the morning he rose to run again. The restiveness, the self-consciousness, and the need to oppose disappeared. All he felt was peace.
He came home with a mania for running. He gave up drinking and smoking. To expand his lung capacity, he ran to the public pool at Redondo Beach, dove to the bottom, grabbed the drain plug, and just floated there, hanging on a little longer each time. Eventually, he could stay underwater for three minutes and forty-five seconds. People kept jumping in to save him. Louie also found a role model. In the s, track was hugely popular, and its elite performers were household names. Among them was a Kansas University miler named Glenn Cunningham.
As a small child, Cunningham had been in a schoolhouse explosion that killed his brother and left Glenn with severe burns on his legs and torso. It was a month and a half before he could sit up, and more time still before he could stand. Unable to straighten his legs, he learned to push himself about by leaning on a chair, his legs floundering. He graduated to the tail of the family mule, and eventually, hanging off the tail of an obliging horse named Paint, he began to run, a gait that initially caused him excruciating pain.
Within a few years, he was racing, setting mile records and obliterating his opponents by the length of a homestretch. By , the modest, mild-tempered Cunningham, whose legs and back were covered in a twisting mesh of scars, was becoming a national sensation, soon to be acclaimed as the greatest miler in American history. Louie had his hero. In the fall of , Pete began his studies at Compton, a tuition-free junior college, where he became a star runner.
Nearly every afternoon, he commuted home to coach Louie, running alongside him, subduing the jimmying elbows and teaching him strategy. Louie had a rare biomechanical advantage, hips that rolled as he ran; when one leg reached forward, the corresponding hip swung forward with it, giving Louie an exceptionally efficient, seven-foot stride. In January , Louie began tenth grade. As he lost his aloof, thorny manner, he was welcomed by the fashionable crowd. Capitalizing on his sudden popularity, Louie ran for class president and won, borrowing the speech that Pete had used to win his class presidency at Compton.
Best of all, girls suddenly found him dreamy. While walking alone on his sixteenth birthday, Louie was ambushed by a giggling gaggle of cheerleaders. One girl sat on Louie while the rest gave him sixteen whacks on the rear, plus one to grow on. When the school track season began in February, Louie set out to see what training had done for him. His transformation was stunning. Competing in black silk shorts that his mother had sewn from the fabric of a skirt, he won an yard race, breaking the school record, co-held by Pete, by more than two seconds. At another meet, he clocked a mile in Three weeks later, he set a state record of By early April, he was down to ; by late April, Yes, this means that Zamperini guy!
Almost every week, Louie ran the mile, streaking through the season unbeaten and untested. When he ran out of high school kids to whip, he took on Pete and thirteen other college runners in a two-mile race at Compton. Though he was only sixteen and had never even trained at the distance, he won by fifty yards. At the halfway point, he was an eighth of a mile ahead, and observers began speculating on when the boy in the black shorts was going to collapse.
After he flew past the finish, rewriting the course record, he looked back up the long straightaway. Not one of the other runners was even in view. Louie had won by more than a quarter of a mile. It was from the realization of what he was. Pete is running up from behind to greet him. Pete would dash back and forth in the infield, clicking his stopwatch, yelling encouragement and instructions. Then there would be autograph-seeking girls coming in waves, a ride home, kisses from Mother, and snapshots on the front lawn, trophy in hand. Louie won so many wristwatches, the traditional laurel of track, that he began handing them out all over town.
Periodically, a new golden boy would be touted as the one who would take him down, only to be run off his feet. He found out Saturday. Running in what was celebrated as the best field of high school milers in history, Louie routed them all and smoked the mile in He felt too fresh. Had he run his second lap faster, he said, he might have clocked It stood for nineteen. Torrancers carpooled to his races and crammed the grandstands.
Embarrassed by the fuss, Louie asked his parents not to watch him race. Louise came anyway, sneaking to the track to peer through the fence, but the races made her so nervous that she had to hide her eyes. Now he latched onto a wildly audacious goal: the Olympics, in Berlin. The Games had no mile race, so milers ran the 1, meters, about yards short of a mile. Cunningham had been racing since the fourth grade, and at the Games, he would be just short of twenty-seven.
But Louie was already the fastest high school miler in American history, and he was improving so rapidly that he had lopped forty-two seconds off his time in two years. Louie believed he could do it, and so did Pete. Louie wanted to run in Berlin more than he had ever wanted anything. In December , Louie graduated from high school; a few weeks later, he rang in with his thoughts full of Berlin.
The Olympic trials track finals would be held in New York in July, and the Olympic committee would base its selection of competitors on a series of qualifying races. Louie had seven months to run himself onto the team. In the meantime, he also had to figure out what to do about the numerous college scholarships being offered to him. All day, every day, he lived and breathed the 1, meters and Berlin.
All Who Wander Are Not Lost | Page 2
He was simply too young. He was heartbroken. In May, Louie was leafing through a newspaper when he saw a story on the Compton Open, a prestigious track meet to be held at the Los Angeles Coliseum on May The headliner in the 5, meters—three miles and yards—was Norman Bright, a twenty-six-year-old schoolteacher. America would send three 5,meter men to Berlin, and Lash and Bright were considered locks. Pete urged Louie to enter the Compton Open and try his legs at a longer distance.
The idea was a stretch. He had only twice raced beyond a mile, and the 5,, like the mile, was dominated by much older men. But he had nothing to lose. He trained so hard that he rubbed the skin right off one of his toes, leaving his sock bloody. The race, contested before ten thousand fans, was a barn burner. Louie and Bright took off together, leaving the field far behind. Each time one took the lead, the other would gun past him again and the crowd would roar. They turned into the homestretch for the last time dead together, Bright inside, Louie outside.
Ahead, a runner named John Casey was on the verge of being lapped. Officials waved at Casey, who tried to yield, but Bright and Louie came to him before he could get out of the way. Bright squeezed through on the inside, but Louie had to shift right to go around Casey. Confused, Casey veered farther right, carrying Louie out. Louie sped up to go around him, but Casey sped up also, carrying Louie most of the way toward the grandstand. Finally, Louie took a half step to cut inside, lost his balance, and dropped one hand to the ground.
Louie took off after him, gaining rapidly. With the crowd on its feet and screaming, Louie caught Bright at the tape. He was a beat too late: Bright won by a glimmer. He and Louie had clipped out the fastest 5, run in America in On June 13, Louie made quick work of another Olympic 5, qualifier, but the toe injured in training opened up again. He was too lame to train for his final qualifying race, and it cost him.
He was invited to the final of the Olympic trials. Fearing that the suitcase made him look brash, Louie carried it out of view and covered the nickname with adhesive tape, then boarded his train. According to his diary, he spent the journey introducing himself to every pretty girl he saw, including a total of five between Chicago and Ohio. When the train doors slid open in New York, Louie felt as if he were walking into an inferno.
It was the hottest summer on record in America, and New York was one of the hardest-hit cities. In , air-conditioning was a rarity, found only in a few theaters and department stores, so escape was nearly impossible. In Manhattan, where it would reach degrees, forty people would die. Louie and Norman Bright split the cost of a room at the Lincoln Hotel.
Like all of the athletes, in spite of the heat, they had to train. Sweating profusely day and night, training in the sun, unable to sleep in stifling hotel rooms and YMCAs, lacking any appetite, virtually every athlete lost a huge amount of weight. By one estimate, no athlete dropped less than ten pounds. One was so desperate for relief that he moved into an air-conditioned theater, buying tickets to movies and sleeping through every showing. Louie was as miserable as everyone else. Chronically dehydrated, he drank as much as he could; after an meter run in degree heat, he downed eight orangeades and a quart of beer.
Each night, taking advantage of the cooler air, he walked six miles. His weight fell precipitously. The prerace newspaper coverage riled him. Don Lash was considered unbeatable, having just taken the NCAA 5,meter title for the third time, set a world record at two miles and an American record at 10, meters, and repeatedly thumped Bright, once by yards. Bright was pegged for second, a series of other athletes for third through fifth. Like everyone else, Louie was daunted by Lash, but the first three runners would go to Berlin, and he believed he could be among them.
On the night before the race, Louie lay sleepless in his sweltering hotel room. He was thinking about all the people who would be disappointed if he failed. The next morning, Louie and Bright left the hotel together. It was a hair short of 90 in the city, but when they got off the ferry, they found the stadium much hotter, probably far over degrees. All over the track, athletes were keeling over and being carted off to hospitals. At last, they were told to line up. The gun cracked, the men rushed forward, and the race was on. Lash bounded to the lead, with Bright in close pursuit.
Louie dropped back, and the field settled in for the grind. They were in agonies. Pete was so frustrated that he considered putting his foot through the radio. Unable to bear the tension, Louise fled to the kitchen, out of earshot. The runners pushed through laps seven, eight, nine. Lash and Bright led the field. Louie hovered in the middle of the pack, waiting to make his move. The heat was suffocating. One runner dropped, and the others had no choice but to hurdle him.
Then another went down, and they jumped him, too. Louie could feel his feet cooking; the spikes on his shoes were conducting heat up from the track. In terrible pain, he took a staggering step off the track, twisted his ankle, then lurched back on. The stumble seemed to finish him. He lost touch with Lash. When Louie and the rest of the pack came up to him, he had no resistance to offer.
Still he ran on. As the runners entered the final lap, Lash gave himself a breather, dropping just behind his Indiana teammate, Tom Deckard. Well behind him, Louie was ready to move. Angling into the backstretch, he accelerated. Looking at the bobbing head of the mighty Don Lash, Louie felt intimidated. For several strides, he hesitated. Then he saw the last curve ahead, and the sight slapped him awake. He opened up as fast as he could go. Banking around the turn, Louie drew alongside Lash just as Lash shifted right to pass Deckard.
Louie was carried three-wide, losing precious ground. Leaving Deckard behind, Louie and Lash ran side by side into the homestretch. With one hundred yards to go, Louie held a slight lead. Lash, fighting furiously, stuck with him.
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Neither man had any more speed to give. With heads thrown back, legs pumping out of sync, Louie and Lash drove for the tape. With just a few yards remaining, Lash began inching up, drawing even. Zamperini, he said, had won. Standing in the kitchen, Louise heard the crowd in the next room suddenly shout. Outside, car horns honked, the front door swung open, and neighbors gushed into the house. As a crush of hysterical Torrancers celebrated around her, Louise wept happy tears.
Louie and Lash at the finish line at the Olympic trials. But the announcer was mistaken. The judges ruled that it was Lash, not Zamperini, who had won. Deckard had hung on for third. The announcer soon corrected himself, but it hardly dimmed the celebration in Torrance. The hometown boy had made the Olympic team.
A few minutes after the race, Louie stood under a cold shower. He could feel the sting of the burns on his feet, following the patterns of his cleats. After drying off, he weighed himself. He had sweated off three pounds. He looked in a mirror and saw a ghostly image looking back at him. Across the room, Norman Bright was slumped on a bench with one ankle propped over the other knee, staring at his foot. It, like the other one, was burned so badly that the skin had detached from the sole. He had finished fifth, two places short of the Olympic team. There was even one from the Torrance Police Department, which must have been relieved that someone else was chasing Louie.
That night, Louie pored over the evening papers, which showed photos of the finish of his race. In some, he seemed to be tied with Lash; in others, he seemed to be in front. The first three would go to the Olympics, but Louie felt cheated nonetheless. As Louie studied the papers, the judges were reviewing photographs and a film of the 5, When Sylvia returned from work the next day, the house was packed with well-wishers and newsmen. Pete walked around town to back slaps and congratulations. Louie Zamperini was on his way to Germany to compete in the Olympics in an event that he had only contested four times.
He was the youngest distance runner to ever make the team. There were no official world high school records. Later sources would list the time as Because different organizations had different standards for record verification, there is some confusion about whose record Louie broke, but according to newspapers at the time, the previous recordholder was Ed Shields, who ran In , Chesley Unruh was timed in Cunningham was also credited with the record, but his time, Eventually he went blind, but he kept right on running, holding the end of a rope while a guide held the other.
Olympic team to Germany, was barely past the Statue of Liberty before Louie began stealing things. Mindful of being a teenaged upstart in the company of such seasoned track deities as Jesse Owens and Glenn Cunningham, Louie curbed his coltish impulses and began growing a mustache. As the voyage went on, Louie and the other lightfingers quietly denuded the Manhattan. Everyone was fighting for training space. Gymnasts set up their apparatuses, but with the ship swaying, they kept getting bucked off.
Basketball players did passing drills on deck, but the wind kept jettisoning the balls into the Atlantic. Fencers lurched all over the ship. Every large roll heaved most of the water, and everyone in it, onto the deck, so the coaches had to tie the swimmers to the wall. The situation was hardly better for runners. Louie found that the only way to train was to circle the first-class deck, weaving among deck chairs, reclining movie stars, and other athletes.
In high seas, the runners were buffeted about, all staggering in one direction, then in the other. Upon rising, the athletes sipped cocoa and grazed from plates of pastries. At nine, there was steak and eggs in the dining room. A coffee break, lunch, tea, and dinner followed, nose to tail. Between meals, a ring for the porter would bring anything the heart desired, and late at night, the athletes raided the galley. Inching around the first-class deck, Louie found a little window in which pints of beer kept magically appearing. He made them magically disappear. When seasickness thinned the ranks of the diners, extra desserts were laid out, and Louie, who had sturdy sea legs, let nothing go to waste.
His consumption became legendary. On the evening of July 17, Louie returned from dinner so impressed with his eating that he immortalized it on the back of a letter:. Shortly before the athletes came ashore at Hamburg, a doctor noted that quite a few were expanding. One javelin competitor had gained eight pounds in five days. Several wrestlers, boxers, and weightlifters had eaten themselves out of their weight classes, and some were unable to compete.
Don Lash had gained ten pounds. The Germans chased down the train, searched the baggage, repatriated the glasses, and sent the Americans on to Berlin. Wo ist Jesse? Owens leapt back onto the train. The athletes were driven to the Olympic Village, a masterpiece of design crafted by Wolfgang F? A new technology called television was on exhibit in the village office. There were wooded trails, over which bounded a multitude of imported animals. The Japanese athletes were especially taken with the deer and began feeding them treats in such volume that the Germans discreetly moved the deer out.
One British wag wondered aloud where the storks were. The next day, two hundred storks appeared. Louie was housed in a cottage with several other athletes, including Owens. Louie swam in the lakes, ate appalling quantities of food, and socialized. The hit of the village was the Japanese contingent, whose tradition of prodigious gift giving made them the collective Santa Claus of the Games. On the first of August, Louie and the other Olympians were driven through Berlin for the opening ceremonies. Every vista suggested coiled might. Nazi banners had been papered over everything.
As much as a third of the male population was in uniform, as were many children.
Military units drilled openly, and though powered aircraft were forbidden under the Versailles Treaty, the strength of the burgeoning Luftwaffe was on conspicuous display over an airfield, where gliders swooped over impressed tourists and Hitler Youth. The buses had machine gun mounts on the roofs and undercarriages that could be converted into tank-style tracks.
The city was pristine. Even the wagon horses left no mark, their droppings instantly scooped up by uniformed street sweepers. The buses drove to the Olympic stadium. Entering in a parade of nations and standing at attention, the athletes were treated to a thunderous show that culminated in the release of twenty thousand doves. As the birds circled in panicked confusion, cannons began firing, prompting the birds to relieve themselves over the athletes. With each report, the birds let fly. Louie stayed at attention, shaking with laughter. Louie had progressed enough in four 5,meter races to compete with Lash, but he knew that he had no chance of winning an Olympic medal.
When Louie watched them train, noted a reporter, his eyes bulged. Louie was too young and too green to beat the Finns, and he knew it. His day would come, he believed, in the 1, four years later. In the last days before his preliminary heat, Louie went to the stadium and watched Owens crush the field in the meters and Cunningham break the world record for the 1, but still lose to New Zealander Jack Lovelock. The atmosphere was surreal. Each time Hitler entered, the crowd jumped up with the Nazi salute. According to the swimmer Iris Cummings, the slavish nationalism was a joke to the Americans, but not to the Germans.
The Gestapo paced the stadium, eyeing the fans. A German woman sitting with Cummings refused to salute. On August 4, three 5,meter qualifying heats were run. Louie drew the third, deepest heat, facing Lehtinen. The top five in each heat would make the final. In the first, Lash ran third. In the second, Tom Deckard, the other American, failed to qualify. Louie slogged through heat three, feeling fat and leaden-legged. He barely caught fifth place at the line. While he was waiting, an envelope arrived from Pete. Inside were two playing cards, an ace and a joker.
The best in the bunch. The highest in the deck. Take your choice! If the joker does not appeal to you, throw it away and keep this for good luck. On August 7, Louie lay facedown in the infield of the Olympic stadium, readying himself for the 5,meter final. One hundred thousand spectators ringed the track.
Louie was terrified. He pressed his face to the grass, inhaling deeply, trying to settle his quivering nerves. When the time came, he rose, walked to the starting line, bowed forward, and waited. His paper number, , flapped against his chest. As the runners surged forward, he kept his stride short, letting the pacesetters untangle.
Lash emerged with the lead, a troika of Finns just behind him. Louie floated left and settled into the second tier of runners. The laps wound by. Lash kept leading, the Finns on his heels. Louie pushed along in the second group. He began breathing in a sickening odor. He looked around and realized that it was coming from a runner ahead of him, his hair a slick of reeking pomade. Feeling a swell of nausea, Louie slowed and slid out a bit, and the stench dissipated. Lash and the Finns were slipping out of reach, and Louie wanted to go with them, but his body felt sodden.
As the clumps of men stretched and thinned into a long, broken thread, Louie sank through the field, to twelfth. Only three stragglers trailed him. Ahead, the Finns scuffed and sidled into Lash, roughing him up. Lash held his ground. Lash folded abruptly, in evident pain.
The Finns bounded away. They entered the eleventh lap in a tight knot, looking to sweep the medals. Then, for an instant, they strayed too close to each other. He rose, dazed, and resumed running. Louie saw none of it. He passed the deflated Lash, but it meant little to him. He was tired. The Finns were small and distant, much too far away to catch. He found himself thinking of Pete, and of something that he had said as they had sat on their bed years earlier: A lifetime of glory is worth a moment of pain.
Louie thought: Let go. Nearing the finish line for the penultimate time, Louie fixed his eyes on the gleaming head of the pomaded competitor, who was many runners ahead. He began a dramatic acceleration. Around the turn and down the backstretch, Louie kicked, his legs reaching and pushing, his cleats biting the track, his speed dazzling.
One by one, runners came up ahead and faded away behind. As Louie flew around the last bend, H? He was chasing the glossy head, still distant. He heard a gathering roar and realized that the crowd had caught sight of his rally and was shouting him on. Even Hitler, who had been contorting himself in concert with the athletes, was watching him. The shining hair was far away, then nearer. Then it was so close that Louie again smelled the pomade. With the last of his strength, Louie threw himself over the line. He had made up fifty yards in the last lap and beaten his personal best time by more than eight seconds.
His final time, He had just missed seventh place. As Louie bent, gasping, over his spent legs, he marveled at the kick that he had forced from his body. It had felt very, very fast. Two coaches hurried up, gaping at their stopwatches, on which they had clocked his final lap. Both watches showed precisely the same time. In distance running in the s, it was exceptionally rare for a man to run a last lap in one minute. No lap in those three historic performances had been faster than In the 5,, well over three miles, turning a final lap in less than 70 seconds was a monumental feat.
In his record-breaking Olympic 5,, Lehtinen had spun his final lap in After cleaning himself up, Louie climbed into the stands. Nearby, Adolf Hitler sat in his box, among his entourage. Louie had never heard of him. Goebbels asked him his name and event, then took the camera, moved away, snapped a photo, spoke with Hitler, returned, and told Louie that the f? Louie was led into the f? Hitler bent from his box, smiled, and offered his hand. Louie, standing below, had to reach far up.
Their fingers barely touched. Hitler said something in German. An interpreter translated. Happy with his performance, Louie was itching to raise hell. He had hoped to pal around with Glenn Cunningham, but his hero proved too mature for him. Instead, he found a suitably irresponsible companion, donned his Olympic dress uniform, and descended on Berlin. In an automat, they discovered German beer. The serving size was a liter, which took Louie a good while to finish. Buzzing, they went walking, then circled back for another liter, which went down easier than the first.
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Trolling around Berlin, they stopped across the street from the Reich Chancellery. A car pulled up and out stepped Hitler, who walked inside. Studying the building, Louie spotted a small Nazi flag near the doors. It would make a swell souvenir, and it looked easy to reach. Louie just had a hankering to steal in his head and two persuasive liters of German brew in his belly. Two guards paced the apron before the Chancellery.
Watching them walk, Louie noted that on each pass, there was a point at which both had their backs to the flag. As the soldiers turned, Louie ran to the flag and immediately realized that it was much higher than he had thought. He began jumping in the air, trying to catch the edge of it. He became so absorbed in his task that he forgot about the guards, who ran toward him, shouting. Taking one last lunge for the flag, Louie snagged the edge and fell to the pavement, tearing the banner down with him, then scrambled to his feet and ran like mad.
He heard a crack! He stopped. The guard grabbed his shoulder, spun him around, saw his Olympic uniform, and hesitated. He asked Louie his name. The guards conferred, went inside, and came out with someone who looked more important than they. The new German asked him why he had stolen the flag. Louie, laying it on thick, replied that he wanted a souvenir of the happy time he had had in beautiful Germany.
The Germans gave him the flag and let him go. In one version, Hitler himself had allowed him to keep the flag. In another, Louie had concealed the flag so cleverly that it was never discovered. He had done it all, went the story, to win the heart of a girl. On August 11, Louie packed his belongings, the flag, and an array of other stolen Teutonica and left his room in the Olympic Village.
The Games were winding down, and the track athletes were leaving early to compete in meets in England and Scotland. A few days later, fireworks brought the Games to a booming close. The world was full of praise. The American basketball player Frank Lubin lingered in Berlin for a few days. His German hosts had invited him out to dinner, so they cruised the streets in search of a restaurant. Lubin had won a gold medal in Berlin, but when he left, he felt only relief. Something terrible was coming.
The cottages became military barracks. He killed himself.
Less than twenty miles away, in the town of Oranienburg, the first prisoners were being hauled into the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. On the evening of September 2, when Louie arrived in Torrance, he was plunked onto a throne on the flatbed of a truck and paraded to the depot, where four thousand people, whipped up by a band, sirens, and factory whistles, cheered.
Louie shook hands and grinned for pictures. Lenny, born in , was two years older than Randy, but the two boys were best buddies more or less from the nursery onward. In those days, before Pro Tools, click tracks, and little video monitors, the sight of movie music being made was a majestic thing to behold: Al Newman on the podium, arms waving, eyes trained on a giant screen before him, watching a projection of a work print of the newest Fox movie— All About Eve, perhaps, or The Robe —while an piece orchestra faced him, following his cues. The boys sat right on the soundstage, in chairs some distance from the musicians.
It screwed me up—it still does. It all had a major impact on me. And, certainly, on Randy. There would be no such fate for Randy. The musical Newmans are as storied an Old Hollywood family as the Goldwyns, Warners, or Zanucks, if less recognized as such. As is often the case where Old Hollywood is concerned, the roots lie in the shtetl. Michael and Luba, who actually met in the U.
Alfred, born to Luba when she was 17, was recognized early on as a piano prodigy. The talkies were starting, and here was Hollywood waiting for people to come from New York who had the training, who could do music with a sense of dramatic context. The fanfare has since been re-recorded several times—twice under the baton of his son David Newman. Emil and Lionel followed Alfred into movie music, while another brother, Marc, became an agent specializing in the representation of film composers, and still another, Robert, known as Bobby, was a film-production executive, working for Goldwyn and Howard Hughes, among others.
Basically, you slow down, speed up; slow down, speed up—in an expressive way. The Fox Orchestra was all about this vocal playing, like they were singing all the time. In the late s, shortly after marrying his third wife, a comely blond shiksa and former Goldwyn Girl named Martha Montgomery the mother of David, Tom, and Maria , Al Newman commissioned Lloyd Wright, the son of Frank Lloyd Wright, to build him a dream home out among the avocado groves of the still-wide-open Palisades.
I am of the neoclassical school, which prefers the logical dissonances of Rachmaninoff to the brilliant creations of Arnold Schoenberg. The result was a sprawling, right-angle-free house with a sunken performance space in the living room ideal for chamber music. To this day, most of the musical Newmans live west of Interstate in Los Angeles, with Randy and Tom in the Palisades and many of the others clustered in Malibu, where Alfred and Bobby Newman had the foresight to buy land when it was cheap.
Randy lives just a couple of miles from where he grew up, in an airy but unflashy stucco modernist house whose most eccentric feature is that it was designed, at the behest of his second and current wife, Gretchen, by the then new husband of his first wife, Roswitha. Newman has two children in their 20s with Gretchen, and three older children with Roswitha, the eldest of whom, Amos Newman, works as an agent for William Morris Endeavor—representing, like his great-uncle Marc before him, film composers.
Family lore has him constantly getting into fistfights and contretemps, including, it is said, a cursing match with Nancy Reagan in the parking lot of the Brentwood Country Mart.
rkisracethillcho.ga Some of this anger was rooted in authentic experiences of bigotry. Because medical schools still set quotas on Jewish students in the s, he was compelled to transfer as an undergraduate from New York University to the University of Alabama, whose School of Medicine promised him a spot if he spent his senior year in Tuscaloosa. It was during his time at L. They were married in Even after the war, Randy and his mother, along with his kid brother, Alan, born in , continued to spend their summers down South. All of these ingredients conspired to make Newman the idiosyncratic songwriter he became.
When Randy started writing original songs, Waronker nudged him into going pro. Before Lenny and Randy were even out of college the former at U. Curiously, the clutch of songs that Newman wrote in the early to mids proved more popular with British artists than American ones, with such U. Records, then at the dawn of its glorious run, under its charismatic chief, Mo Ostin, as the most artist-friendly company in music.
Later, in the s, Waronker was promoted by Ostin to the position of president of Warner Bros. That makes me feel very important. Also present at the earliest sessions for the album, which took place late in , was none other than Alfred Newman.