Overflowing with ten thousand Red Carpet real estate salesmen and women, Amway home-products distributors, lawyers, scores of would-be millionaires. Arena was a great caldron of brimming with clean-cut, close-shaved positive thinkers.
On stage was W. Clement Stone, founder of Success Unlimited, one of the richest men in America, and Richard Nixon’s chief contributor. He was working the ‘crowd. A small, round man with a pencil-thin moustache, hair parted in the middle, wearing a wrinkled, baggy suit, he was beating his arms up and down below a huge American flag: “Self-discipline!
Walking the extra mile! How do you use the Mastermind Principle? How do you develop a pleasing personality?” He was exhorting them to “think and grow rich” (the title of his own biblei written by Napoleon Hill, who co-authored, with Stone, Success Through a Positive Mental Altitude). He roared, “What a thrill it is knowing you have the power within you! How many of you read my book?” A sea ot hands flew up.
“Now, everybody who grew rich, keep your hand up.” Only a few hands fluttered hesitantly in the air. “Bingo!” yelped Stone. “That’s why you’re here, to get some of that PMA!”
He’d hit it right on the head. These potential positive thinkers had trekked, like Moslems to Mecca, from all over the West to plug into energy sources like Stone, and Norman Vincent Peale, and Zig Ziglar, a professional speaker and sales motivator; Don Hutson, president of the National Speakers Association: Reverend Robert Schuller, evangelist; Art Holst, an NFL pro football official and professional motivator; Dottie Walters, president of Hospitality Hostess Service; and newscaster Paul Harvey, reportedly the largest one-man news network in the world (1041 radio stations, 100 TV stations, and 300 newspapers).
The audience had paid ten to fifteen dollars for eight hours of boosterism, can-do spirit dished out by cajoling American shamans. The rallies have already drawn more than 75,000 people in major cities during the past eleven months. One promoter calls them “mental vitamins.” What they may well signal, though, is the return of Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis’ American prototype of the nationalistic supersalesman.
The caricature first emerged in the Twenties, rose to full power in the Fifties with the benediction of Norman Vincent Peale, lost favor during the Sixties, and went underground.
But now . . . now that Nixon is gone and the war is over and passions have cooled and the Left is lost in its own back-biting . . . back come the Babbitts, this time having learned all the tricks of the New Left: media events, mass rallies, sloganeering. Incorporating the semi-religious self-improvement awareness of the Seventies with old-time religion and capitalism, they re-emerge from their sequestered offices to stand and proclaim themselves at last, at long last, the true strength of America, the chosen ones, back in full favor. A great uprising of Amway distributors. Babbitt Chic!
Backstage. Dwight Chapin, the former Nixon aide and Watergate felon, was hovering over Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, the original prosperity guru. Chapin is now the president -and publisher of Success Unlimited, the magazine which sponsors the “PMA Success Unlimited Rallies.”
I asked Dr. Peale, author of twenty-four inspirational books, including The Power of Positive Thinking, what he thought of the most virulent of the recent flood of Prosperity Consciousness self-improvement programs, Erhard Seminar Training, more commonly referred to as est.
Dr. Peak’s face went blank. “Never heard of it. Hasn’t crossed my consciousness.”
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. Then Chapin, in shirt-sleeves, hands clasped behind his back, leaned over the small, elderly man and cleared his throat. “Ah. est . . . well, you’d have to judge it for yourself, but it’s a very self-centered approach.” Indeed, during est seminars the trainers scream expletives at the students in order to dissolve, they say, the barriers between you and your money. (In fact, at one est spin-off program, prosperity trainees are ordered to rub greenbacks all over their bodies and stuff them in their mouths, in order to achieve a positive attitude toward money.) Chapin described a mild version of one of the est seminars.
Dr. Peale stood back, aghast: “That’s false! I'd have nothing but contempt for that!”
In The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm wrote that Dale Carnegie’s best seller of 1938. How to Win Friends and Influence People, was quite different in its emphasis from Peale’s thinking. While Carnegie’s program had inspired people on a purely secular level, Peale, a minister, proposed a belief in God and prayer as the road to success. Making God your partner, wrote Fromm, “means to make God a partner in business, rather than to become one with Him in love, justice, and truth . . . God has been transformed into a remote General Director of Universe. Inc. . .
I asked Dr. Peale what he thought of Fromm’s statement. He looked pained and brushed it off. “I thought God was omnipotent. God refuses to be segregated from success. Erich is off base. Now, Carnegie was a very religious man himself; I had him preach in my church .... Sometimes, I wonder if these critics really know what happens in the public mind. They’re a minuscule group, really."
From the stage,. Stone cried out. “Let’s have some real PMA applause for Reverend Norman . . . Vincent . . . Peak!" Rev. Peak patted my arm and strode forward into the wall of applause.
W. Clement Stone floated by, pulling out one of the 100,000 Cuban cigars he had purchased in Havana before Castro’s takeover. A string of clean, young PMA officials — who looked like secret servicemen wearing Success Unlimited buttons — dropped into a single file behind him. Stone stopped to say hello to someone and the parade almost piled into him. Then he chugged off again, leading his train into the speakers’ lounge, where he approached a table laden with food. Almost in unison, the PMA officials and Stone began eating cold cuts.
Stone seemed oblivious to all the hangers-on. Attired in an oversized, strangely cut, light-brown suede suit and a violet bow tie, he didn't seem to give a damn what anybody thought. He listens to his inner voice; and the men in their slick, tailored suits and platinum hair were drawn to him as if he were a frumpy deity, plopped down on earth to confront them with their own inadequacy and possibility.
“Watergate was such a wonderful thing.” he was saying, and they were all nodding.,“It showed us that the reason we have so many problems in government is the dishonesty of men in high office . . .
“Does Jimmy Carter have PMA?” I asked.
“Well. Carter is a religious man. I have no doubt that he’s sincere. I have no doubt he's listening to the wrong advisors. I have no doubt that he’s a one-term president.” Then he made one of those swings in logic that must be possible if you’re tuned into PMA: “Richard Nixon, on the other hand, will go down as a great president who changed the course of history.”
Stone went for his briefcase and pulled out a copy of his book. “All I know is you can help yourself, if you read this book.” He autographed it and handed it to me. “I’ll give this to you only if you're serious.” He didn't wait to see if I was serious, and dove into a group of PMA officials and reporters.
Walking through the dark, empty cavern between the lounge and the arena. I ran into Dwight Chapin again. I had been warned by the PMA public relations officials not to question Chapin about anything other than PMA. but he seemed eager to talk about Watergate. He said PMA helped him get through those years and the prison term. “I was chatting with Haldeman the other day — he and I were close friends — and he told me he hardly mentioned me in his book because I missed so much of what now comes under the Watergate umbrella.” Then he said in a vaguely reminiscent way. “I’m not a criminal. At thirty-six, my life is just beginning. That’s why I’m so in love with this PMA movement.”
He jammed his fist into his hand and exclaimed, “Let me tell you . . . something is happening here! I was up at five a.m.. jogging around the perimeter of the Sports Arena, and there was an army of joggers out there! What does that mean? People want to improve themselves, that’s what it means. That's why magazines like Psychology Today, Human Behavior, Quest, and PMA’s Success Unlimited are so successful. Those people out in the arena, they're not sick! They're very up-scale, extremely successful . . . and determined!”
(Indeed, in recognizing the power of these rallies, the mayors of Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Dayton, Phoenix, Minneapolis, and Salt Lake City have proclaimed “PMA Rally Days.” Pete Wilson, out campaigning for governor, had missed this one.)
“Are there any political ramifications to the PMA rallies,” I asked.
Chapin shook his head and headed back into the arena. "This is much broader than any political party . . . .“
During the forty-five-minute break I headed out into the audience to find out what the prosperity seekers were getting out of all of this. A young couple. Amway distributors, said they had heard about the rally from men selling tickets "at the Shrine Auditorium, where we have our Amway meetings on Wednesdays.” Why did they come? “To get motivated, why else?” When I asked them for their stories, they looked at each other and. told me they couldn’t identify themselves. The young man said sheepishly. “We both called in sick at work today, so we could come get motivated.”
An aggressive-looking man wandered up and offered me his business card: He was a “motivational consultant” headquartered in San Diego. “I wanted to touch W. Clement Stone 'cause he's worth $70 million and I’m going to be a millionaire someday. I slipped one of my cards in his pocket. Also wanted to see if Peale had appeal.” He started laughing uncontrollably. “But seriously.” he added. “I always get good ideas from these fellas. Like. Peale used the phrase, positive expectorant.* That'd make a great name for a cough drop. ” I asked him if he was serious. He took his business card out of my hand. “I’m serious."
One very pleasant older man. who couldn't hear very well, said he “liked Peale pretty good — what I could hear. Liked his idea that a clean engine gives more power. Got to keep our motivation up so America can get back to business.”
I asked. “What’s your business?”
“My bishop’s Moore, who’s yours?” Without exception, members of the audience said they were here to charge up, plug in, suck up all the positivism they could, so that when they headed back out into the real world they could keep going until their battery needed recharging again. While they were sincere about their need for recharging, most of them were unable to articulate much beyond the simple phrase. “I came to get motivated.” If you expressed something less than enthusiasm, you were judged “not ready.” When the break was over, a small, eager woman wearing a huge, white cowboy hat took the stage. Dottie Walters had spent the morning handing out small packets of California dates to all the speakers (Norman Vincent Peale had politely declined), and now she was praising the “selling power of a woman.” She pranced around the stage. “Men. when you want a gal to get something done, pick one with a brisk walk . . . and remember, the girl who scoots her chair closest to your desk during an interview is the one for you!”
I wandered out to the hallways surrounding the arena. Two stern-looking men rushed past, carrying official Success Unlimited canvas bags. They marched up to one of the “product stations” — booths manned by Mormon volunteers (paid $35 a day, donated to the church). The men looked over their shoulders, snapped open the bags, and the Mormons emptied the contents of tin cash boxes into the bags. The "product stations” were conducting a windfall business in cassette tapes and books by the featured speakers.
Over the loud-speakers, the master-of-ceremonies was hawking. “During the next break, be sure to visit one of our product stations and pick up a Deluxe Rally Kit. which includes our Success Unlimited Canvas Tote Bags, six major Gateway Albums, tapes of your favorite motivators . . . and a Success Unlimited coffee mug ... a $108 motivational value for only $65. If your product stations run out, remember, you can order the Deluxe Rally Kit and it'll be delivered in fourteen days . . .”
The bagmen snapped the Success Unlimited bags shut, and, accompanied by a gangly security guard with tattoos of naked women on his arms, they marched to the next product station, snapped open new bags, and looked over their shoulders.
Zig Ziglar (“straight from Yazoo, Mississippi”) was now on stage. He pulled out a brass-plated pump to illustrate how to keep yourself motivated. He started pumping like a maniac. “You got to pump, pump, pump!” After that he got down on one knee and hefted up his latest book. “You’re considered underprivileged until you’ve bought this book.” Then he explained some strange. Zen-like principle about how the only thing wrong with ivory hunting is that there's always an elephant attached.
Returning backstage, I encountered Ron Walker, head of the Dallas-based Ron Walker Associates, the “event management” firm employed by the PMA people to conduct their rallies. Walker served Nixon as director of the National Park Service. He was also the advance man, the “event manager” for Nixon’s first trip to China.
He was shooting around the backstage area like a loose electron. I stopped him and asked if there were similarities between arranging Nixon’s China rallies and a PMA rally. “No comparison at all,” he said. Sweat appeared on his upper lip. He slowed down and concentrated.
“I’m impressed by the Chinese ability to motivate millions of people. ’Course they force the citizens to attend, which we don’t. I remember waking up in China one morning before dawn to the sound of a million children marching past my window on the way to a rally for the Pakistani prime minister, to be held late that afternoon. That was something else. The communes are great at mobilizing their members.”
Was that analogous to the Amway. Shaklee. and Red Carpet companies mobilizing their employees?
“Well, in a way ... but in managing any event, whether it's a free event like the Billy Graham crusades or a profit venture like this, what you do is design critical-path activities that are known with techniques that work.
“We used to put 10,000-plus in for Nixon all over the country ... but I’ve never seen crowds like the PMA crowds before . . . attentive, they take notes .... We haven’t left a city yet where the arena manager didn’t say he wished he always had crowds of real Americans like this .... Why. it takes them hours to dig out from under the mess left by a rock concert audience.”
He called his targeted audience “seminar-type-goers” who are. after ail. used to shelling out $100 to $500 for a weekend seminar.
Are there any changes on the way for the PMA rallies?
"Well,” Walker said excitedly, “we’re thinking about building our own stage which would revolve 360 degrees in the middle of the arena. We’ve approached John Denver as a possible speaker. And Art Linkletter. And the Osmonds . . . we’ve talked to their mother.” What about Nixon speaking?
Walker paused to wipe the perspiration from his forehead. “I won’t say it hasn’t been brought up. We’ve thought about inviting him. Dwight and I visited him in San Clemente a couple of weeks ago and he was very up.” I asked Walker to imagine the return of Richard Nixon on a PMA stage. Would the audience be “ready” for it? Walker’s eyes lit up for a moment. He said softly, “I’d like to think this audience would be receptive, supportive. But it’s not appropriate ... at this time.”
Standing alone in the speakers’ lounge, with the cold cuts, Paul Harvey looked like a Richard Avedon photograph. Unlike Stone, Harvey attracted no officious, young sycophants. The most famous radio commentator in America. Harvey has become such a part of our collective unconscious that even if his name is momentarily forgotten, his sonorous voice never is. (He’s the one who says “page two” and pauses, for emphasis, in all the wrong places.) While he is basically conservative. Harvey was an early and surprising opponent to the Vietnam War. I thanked him for that and he stood back and thought for a moment.
“It wasn’t the American (pause) can-do spirit which kept (pause) us in that far-off (pause) Asian country. It was the American butinski ethic.”
As for the PMA rally, Harvey proclaimed. “The Fourth of July doesn’t happen often enough.”
Dottie Walters approached and handed him a package of dates, then scampered off.
Harvey stood there looking at the dates. Heavily made-up. his eyes never quite focused, he looked sad. “You know. we’re up to our ankles in pygmies these days. Nixon and Carter are the same. Everybody is blahhhh. I spent too much time with Churchill. Carter talks about driving less, conservation. That’s downright un-American.” He took a long pause. “I suppose this is a time of (pause) amelioration and moderation. Those are big words. I’m beginning to sound like Jesse Jackson."
Susie Mallory, one of Ron Walker’s employees and the president of the International Man Watcher’s Association, came into the lounge and looked at Harvey affectionately. “You’re the reason they’re all out there.” she said.
“My wife told me not to listen to all this California sweet talk.” He was pleased.
“Can I get you anything?” she asked.
“No. Just stand there and watch me.”
I asked him if he was nervous speaking before large audiences. “No, not nervous. Just feeling strange about leading others when you are not certain of yourself."
When he was called to the stage, Paul Harvey was transformed. The spotlight threw a glow onto his toupee and the crowd rose emotionally. “Good evening. Americans!” His voice rolled out over them. In his voice they heard Patrick Henry, train whistles, forests of plenty, Midwestern nights of magnetic energy . . . everything that somehow had been misplaced in their America. Paul Harvey touched some deep, nostalgic longing that, unlike the emotions evoked by the other speakers, had nothing to do with money.
Meanwhile. Reverend Robert Schuller, the last speaker, had made his grand entrance to the speakers’ lounge. Schuller is the father of drive-in churches in America; his own drive-in walk-in church in Garden Grove, California, draws 10.000 people every Sunday, and his “Hour of Power" television program reaches three million viewers, to whom he preaches his “possibility thinking" philosophy. His latest project is a ten million dollar “Crystal Cathedral” which, as described by the church, is a “money-generating factory” with “4,100 income-producing seats.”
Accompanied by his young television producer. Schuller quickly attracted a group of followers in the lounge. He bent over the cold cuts and complained, jokingly, “They have the exact same food at all of these rallies. ” Sitting down, he began to hold court. Someone asked him if he thought the PMA rallies were hype.
“I don’t know. I just got here.”
Just then W. Clement Stone entered the lounge with his PMA official entourage and Schuller leaped to his feet. “Clem!” he exclaimed. “How have you been, Clem?” “Healthy, happy, and thrifty,” said Stone, combing his hair.
Schuller nearly danced around Stone. “Clem, I must tell you, one of my parishioners was on her deathbed when I visited her recently. I’d just read an article you wrote in Success, and, remembering one of your lines, I said, ‘Nella! Repeat after me: By the grace of God, in every way, getting better every day.’ She responded and started saying it with me. Clem! You saved her life!”
“Try one of these dates over here,” said Stone.
“Had two already.”
"A hundred calories each. Oh. that Dottie Walters!”
They adjourned to the corner and sat down and talked money for the next twenty minutes. “Clem. I had a nice offering from Frank Sinatra the other day ... I got a generous unsolicited check from his accountant . . . .” “Frank’s so positive,” said Stone, blowing a big cloud of smoke toward Schuller.
When Schuller finally spoke to the crowd, something went wrong. People started filing out. With a voice that sounded like a cross between Spencer Tracy and Tony the Tiger, he cried, “A grrrreat idea is like a little baby! You hold it and stroke it, hold it and stroke it .... Do you think Mary knew she had a Savior on her hands when Jesus was born?” Schuller chanted, “You hold it and stroke it.”
People were leaving in droves. It was raining outside. Schuller gave up. The prosperity seekers had soaked up about as much PMA as they could handle for one day. They covered their heads with their PMA literature and official Success Unlimited Tote Bags, and ran out into the storm.