Mark Spitz, who began as a swimmer and ended up as an aquatic demigod, has now become—in accordance with the current version of the American dream—a commodity peddled by the William Morris theatrical agency. He had barely toweled off from winning an unprecedented seventh Gold Medal at the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich when agents were telling Mark—and the world—that he was “the greatest hero since Lindbergh,” worthy of “the greatest merchandizing of any athlete in history.”
Spitz was soon making $12,500-a-shot personal appearances and hawking electric razors, hair dryers, milk, swimming pools, a water-polo game and even Mark Spitz underwear. There is no doll so far except what his hovering phalanx of agents and flacks have turned Mark himself into at age 24: wind him up and he says nothing. The only deal in the two years since Munich that Mark has been allowed to make on his own—but the one that may yet be his greatest success—is his marriage 14 months ago to Susan Weiner, 22. Around Suzy, the once-sullen, self-absorbed Mark the Shark becomes a positively frolicsome Mark the Seal.
Spitz, whose former fiancée and old Indiana U sweethearts were deep-sixed along with his dental school plans after the Olympics, was introduced to Suzy because both their dads were in the scrap-metal business. An industry salesman who knew both showed a picture of Suzy to Mark, who phoned and wound up talking to her father. “I said,” Mark recalls, ” ‘Mr. Weiner, you’ve got a beautiful daughter.’ I felt like an ass.” A blind date was later arranged, and she found him not the arrogant man she had read about but “lovable and shy.” Two months later their engagement was announced (by one of Spitz’s PR men). Suzy dropped out of UCLA and they were married in a traditional Jewish service at the Beverly Hills Hotel. “I’ve never been so happy,” Mark confided to a friend, “as I’ve been since meeting Suzy.”
Mrs. Spitz now models occasionally and has shot commercials for 7-Up, Bank Americard and (costarring with Mark) Schick razors. She generally travels with him, and during a recent gig for Schick in Macy’s basement in Manhattan, Spitz was asked if his wife were seeking an acting career of her own. Mark answered: “I don’t think so. I don’t think she would do anything that would conflict with me.” Then, realizing that he might sound chauvinistic, he hastily added, “not that an acting career for her would.”
Though Morris agency executive Norman Brokaw proclaims that “the Mark Spitz game plan is right on schedule,” his client is, in fact, behind in the acting phase of the projections that he would be a $5 million property by this summer. Brokaw alibis that “the subject matter has not been proper—like everyone wanted to do a Tarzan remake. Other roles weren’t right either. You can’t take a hero and have him play a bank robber right away.” So the agency turned down, it says, 30 film roles it considered to be exploitative or wrong for the image (including Mike Nichols’ The Day of the Dolphin). Meanwhile, in the past six months, Mark has studied acting to get past the stiffness of his TV guest shots.
To ensure that he does nothing to blow his commercial potential, PR men now surround him almost the way Secret Service protects the President. As one of his press agents boasted, “Mark has been programmed not to talk.” But left on his own inadvertently last fall during the Yom Kippur war, he threatened at one benefit dinner to abandon everything and devote the rest of his life to the cause of Israel. Panicked, Brokaw stated that the remarks had been misinterpreted, and Mark has said nothing quotable since.
None of this seems to trouble Spitz. “I’ve learned more in one year—and I mean it 100%—than some of my roommates who went to the Indiana School of Business.” Such modesty has been the Achilles’ heel in Spitz’s public image from the beginning. An advertisers’ research poll taken last year indicated that of 192 leading athletes, Mark ranked 22nd on recognition but 179th on trust of his endorsements and 181st on personal admiration (ex-ballplayer Stan Musial was No. 1, Muhammad Ali No. 192).
Mark’s ego is apparently no problem at home. The Spitzes live more or less just like folks in a two-bedroom condominium in West Los Angeles, which they are decorating themselves. “We think about the value of a dollar,” says Spitz. “It would have been pretty simple to just go out and spend the money as fast as I made it. Behind every piece of furniture I can tell you a story. If it wasn’t a fight, we got it wholesale, or it was ruined and I fixed it up, or I built it, like the kitchen table.”
Since the Olympics, Spitz has taken up—and fiercely—sailing, skiing, and tennis. He doesn’t swim but soaks nightly in the condominium Jacuzzi whirlpool bath. Their social life is low-profile, and they eat in most nights. “Mark’s so square it’s pathetic,” says his super-aggressive father, who is credited with nurturing his son’s competitive instincts and is now on his payroll as a consultant. Neither Mark nor Suzy drinks or smokes, and they entertain their few close friends quietly.
Children are for later. Says Suzy, “We want to cherish this time, because once we have kids, it will never be the same.” Mark, too, seems to have a new grasp of the priorities. Though he aims to buy a yacht for trans-Pacific racing, his first boat (leased for $1 a year from Schick) was named Sumark-7—thus billing his wife ahead of himself and of his magical number of gold medals.