Olliemania Breaks Out All Over

From pop tunes to prayerful vigils, America looks North

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Meet Oliver North, Superstar. The Marine lieutenant colonel with the oh-so- earnest baby blues was everywhere last week. His face flickered in dizzying multiplicity on banks of TVs at every department store, as well as in bars and restaurants and millions of homes. While North was not exactly an overnight sensation, he completed his transformation from rather notorious White House staffer to full-fledged American icon.

Olliemania was breaking out all over. There was the irreverent: "The First Annual Fawn Hall Shredding Party" at a bar in Marina del Rey, Calif., in which the contest winner destroyed a computer printout marked CONFIDENTIAL. And the worshipful: a candlelight vigil by about 100 Olliephiles gathered on the steps of the Utah state capitol in Salt Lake City. The vigil, organized by an Annapolis classmate of North's, began with the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by spirited chanting of "We love Ollie."

On a warm day in Chicago, so many commuters were listening to North on their car radios with the windows open that his testimony sounded like it was in multitudinous stereo. In other parts of the country, THANK YOU, OLIVER NORTH bumper stickers reminded commuters that Ollie was on the air. Those who could watch, did. Fifty-five million Americans saw all or part of North's testimony the first day. Ratings revealed that North's star turn was pulling in some 10% more than the usual daytime dosage of soap operas and game shows. At offices and stores around the nation, employees were sneaking off to catch a glimpse of Ollie. Steve Nixon, 35, an insurance executive in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, carted a TV set to work in order to keep up with Ollie.

Many people sought to help the charismatic colonel. Donations to the Oliver North Legal Assistance Fund in Washington picked up considerably; it is expected to go well above the nearly $100,000 already collected. In Jacksonville, N.C., home of Marine Camp Lejeune, where North once trained, retired Army Colonel E.M. Edens, 72, called the local paper with an offer of $100 to start a fund to pay for North's security system. In Washington, the epicenter of the Ollie phenomenon, the offices of Congressmen on the committee were besieged with letters and telegrams running 20 to 1 in favor of North. "Keep your chin up," said one; "Good luck against those ill-bred hyenas," said another. North has personally received some 15,000 telegrams of encouragement. All the while, Ollie-entrepreneurs were trying to capitalize on the fascination. At a Young Republicans' convention in Seattle, Joel Shelton sold out his 20 $4 Oliver North buttons (LT. COL. OLIVER NORTH -- ANAMERICAN HERO -- DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY) in an hour. "And when I ran out of them," he says, "people seemed kind of angry that there weren't more." A Washington rock-'n'-roll band released a song to the tune of Johnny B. Goode called Ollie Be Good. Sample lyrics:

"He thought he was a hero who could save the day/ By making Nicaraguan Commies go away/ He never ever learned to read the law so well/ But he could shred paper like ringing a bell."