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Posted December 10, 2012
Terry Frei gives a remarkable account of the improbable and little known story of America’s greatest athlete and his torrid, politically charged love affair with Nazi Germany’s most famous woman in a war ready Germany in Olympic Affair: A Novel of Hitler’s Siren and America’s Hero.
Olympic Affair rediscovers the legend of Glenn Morris, America’s long forgotten hero from a tiny farming town in Colorado who won Olympic gold in the Decathlon at the 1936 Berlin Games, and brings his conflicted life back into the consciousness of America. Mr. Frei recounts how Morris, in the days around his ascending to the title of “The Greatest Athlete in the World”, won something even more unexpected, the heart and passion of Leni Riefenstahl, Germany’s renowned actress and producer who gained infamy as “Hitler’s Film Maker” for her 1935 Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will.
Morris and Riefenstahl, at great personal and professional risk, plot to avoid the watchful eyes of the omnipresent Gestapo and the casual observations of ordinary citizens to conduct their clandestine affair amidst the backdrop of a flourishing and edgy Berlin. The drums of war can be faintly heard in the background before and during the Games as Mr. Frei weaves a story that leaves one wondering; Is Riefenstahl a star struck lover, a ruthlessly ambitious filmmaker, or a manipulative Nazi?
Leni Riefenstahl, using her celebrity and singular force of will, maneuvers the political quagmire of the Nazi propaganda machine, led by the vulgar Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, in order to make her greatest film without the meddling of the Gestapo and German Olympic officials. She, with myopic vision, drives her Olympic Games documentary, “Olympia”, by pitting fear of the Fuehrer against anyone meddling in her aspirations. Glenn Morris, with his simple country values, helps to unite a racially divided Olympic team while trying to remain focused on his goal of Olympic gold and a future away from the farm. While Leni tries to open his eyes to a new world and unimagined future, Glenn struggles between the seductive pleasures of the present versus the moral expectations of his past.
Mr. Frei details the racial, political and petty sexual machinations of America Olympic officials and sets them against the grander, evil maneuvering of the Nazi Party, who orchestrate the Games as a tool to deceive the world into believing that Germany is a peaceful and tolerant nation. Racism, anti-Semitism and back door political dealings all coalesce in a shocking appeasement of Hitler to save embarrassment to the Nazi party.
Terry Frei revives an age when humility was an American trait, when a world class athlete hoped for a few crumbs from a benefactors’ table, when faithfulness to the girl next door was as American as a Rockwell painting. His Olympic Affair: A Novel of Hitler’s Siren and America’s Hero, is a well crafted tale of triumph, love and deceit as two giants of their times weave between love and expediency. He evokes a pre-war time when bureaucrats appeased a dictator and common citizens and athletes from around the world lived with hope, trepidation and suspicion. Interspersed with the stories of Jesse Owens and the forsaken Jewish sprinter, Marty Glickman, “Olympic Affair” roils with personal and political intrigue and love stretched to its boundaries. It is a story not to be missed.
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