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‘Olliemania’ Fades Away

September 4, 1987

PHILMONT, N.Y. (AP) _ The Oliver North Sandwich, Ollie T-shirts and Ollie and Betsy dolls have gone the way of the hula hoop, the lava lamp and 3-D movies.

″Olliemania,″ the national craze that followed the Marine lieutentant colonel’s congressional testimony on his role in the Iran-Contra affair, has faded as fast as his image from the nation’s TV screens.

″The people out there are not as excited about Ollie and never were, at least according to my sales, as they seemed on the news,″ said John Lee Hudson, a San Francisco business consultant whose attempt to market dolls of North and his wife, Betsy, was far from a smashing success.

Hudson and his wife, Shana, designed the dolls, modeling them after Ken and Barbie, shortly after the fired National Security Council aide’s testimony July 7-13. Hudson said his $20,000 investment has returned $1,200.

Philmont, North’s hometown about 30 miles south of Albany, honored its local hero with a parade Aug. 15. Entrepreneurs did a brisk business in T- shirts and buttons, but the excitement didn’t translate to sales of a U.S. News and World Report tribute to North.

Of an initial order of 250 of the magazines, Harry Avery’s convenience store has sold only 30 to 40, the owner said.

″It’s $4.95, that’s probably one of the reasons why,″ Avery said. ″I don’t think people wanted to pay that much.″

At a T-shirt store in Albany, North has been replaced as the centerpiece of the window display by Spuds MacKenzie, Budweiser Beer’s canine pitchman. Gone is the flag-bearing shirt that proclaimed ″God, guns, guts and Ollie made this country.″

″Believe it or not, people bought it,″ said store manager Anita Dickey.

In Tulsa, Okla., Great American Products Unlimited churned out thousands of Ollie bumper stickers and T-shirts, and owner John Smucker said he was amazed by Olliemania.

However, Smucker said he couldn’t interest large stores in the shirt, and he barely broke even.

Three days after North’s testimony ended, Pocket Books’ ″Taking the Stand,″ a 753-page paperback transcript of North’s testimony, began rolling off the presses.

The publisher expects to sell only about half of the 775,000 copies printed, said Anne Maitland, a company vice president. Pocket Books is hoping for continued sales to libraries and schools needing a reference book, Maitland said.

″I think the unfortunate thing is some publishers are coming out with books in the next few weeks and the Olliemania people may not be out there waiting for these things to come out,″ she said.

One book has done much better than its creator anticipated.

A satirical coloring book lampooning North, congressional investigators and even veteran target Richard Nixon has sold 250,000 copies in just over two weeks, said Paul Burke, president of a Detroit publisher. Burke said he expected to sell 20,000 to 50,000 copies.

″Ollie’s name was everywhere,″ he said.

However, there may be no truer barometer of public taste for North than the fate of the Oliver North Sandwich at the Old Man River Doghouse in Tonawanda, near Buffalo.

Restaurateur Chuck Miano’s culinary creation included ″red-blooded American beef″ and shredded lettuce. Naturally, it all came on a hero roll.

Hundreds of people bought the sandwich, and some even photographed relatives munching on them. But the hero lost its popularity, and Miano recently replaced it with a pork barbecue sandwich.

″It’s the fickle finger of fame,″ he said. ″People are famous for one minute and then the public moves on to someone else. Such is the case with Ollie.″

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