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Q and A with Terry Frei, Denver author of 'Oympic Affair' about Glenn Morris

June 8, 2013 Updated: June 8, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Terry Frei, a resident of Denver, has written several nonfiction sports books, including "Horns, Hogs and Nixon's Coming" an account of the 1969 Texas-Arkansas football game. He's the author of "Olympic Affair," a novel that examines the brief love affair between Olympic track athlete Glenn Morris, who grew up in Simla, and German propagandist Leni Riefenstahl. He talked earlier this month at a Denver coffee shop near his home.

Question: Is Glenn Morris remembered as much as he should be?

Answer: No, I don't think so. He was under the radar until the 1980s, when Leni Riefenstahl's memoir came out. For the most part, there are two elements for what he is renowned for: His affair with Leni, and his surprising obscurity given his accomplishments. I guess you can't be renowned for obscurity, but the underexposure given what he accomplished.

The addition of the revelation of his affair with Leni has perhaps shoved him back in the spotlight a little bit.

Q: Eleanor Holm, his co-star in "Tarzan's Revenge" described Morris as an uncomplicated farm boy. In your novel, you portray him as bookish and at least somewhat complicated. Why?

A: He was a student body president who was on one level not very sophisticated. But on another level, he was an intelligent guy. It's a mistake to put him too much on either level. He had touches of the farm, but it's a mistake if you try to oversimplify him. He was intelligent. He was complex and bookish in a sense that he wasn't just a kid from the farm. He still was an intelligent guy who became more of a charismatic leader type at CSU.

Q: Glenn never talked publicly about his relationship with Leni Riefenstahl? Is this because he was never asked? Or because he was ashamed?

A: I don't believe he was ever asked. It was probably a combination of the two. . But he told people. He told his brother. How did it never come out? It was different back then. I'm not sure he was ashamed as much as perhaps a little embarrassed.

Q: Embarrassed?

A: I think he felt he had been used. He was completely naive about the depth of Leni's involvement in the Nazi regime, the depth to which her work was used to advance the Nazi cause.

Q: Do you admire Morris?

A: I thought I understood him. That he was fallible, vulnerable, easily influenced and somewhat naive. We have this tendency to forget that whether it was the German people or the American athletes, and as close as we came to boycotting and as obviously horrific the Nazi regime was, neither Glenn Morris nor anyone else was completely understanding of the depths of the evil. In some ways our head was in the sand, but in some ways our eyes were wide open.

Q: This is a novel, based on truth. Describe how that process worked.

A: I did voluminous research and connected a lot of the dots, but this is not a biography. This is speculative. This involves my imagination and connecting dots and playing all the scenarios in my head. I don't pretend there are any footnotes to cite. I don't want to get caught up in trying to justify it as scholarship because it isn't. It's a story certainly based on truth and as true as I could possibly make it. And it's a fine line to walk and I grappled with all those issues on every page. I think I did the story justice, and I'm proud of it.

Q: Describe Leni Riefenstahl.

A: Exploitive, manipulative, chameleon-like, adaptive to anything she needed to be at any certain time. And pathological. I talk about Leni's truth and how exploitive she was. She could look you in the eye and lie and she would believe it. She was adaptive with currying favor with anybody. Was she a Nazi? No, not really, but she was whatever she needed to be.

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