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From Utopia to Hollywood and Back
by Norman Zierold

Enlightenment - The Transcendental Meditation Magazine    Translate This Article
17 January 2015

Born in 1927, Norman Zierold grew up in the Amana colonies, a Germanic Utopian community in Iowa. Despite his country upbringing, Norman was to attract friendships with famous people all his life. After completing degrees at Harvard in political science and the University of Iowa in English literature, he landed a job teaching English to the French President's son. He recalls the wonderful moment of sitting down with the President of France and his family to watch the coronation of England's Queen Elizabeth II.

Returning to America, he became editorial director of Theatre Arts Magazine and wrote a string of Hollywood biographies, including The Child Stars, The Moguls: Hollywood's Merchants of Myth, and Garbo. Eventually he moved to Los Angeles, where he continued to write and met stars such as Groucho Marx, Rex Harrison, Jackie Coogan, Shelley Winters, and Richard Burton. He was interviewed by Barbara Walters for his book Little Charley Ross, and he worked with Anthony Quinn on his autobiography in Libya while the actor filmed Lion in the Desert. Other famous personalities he befriended included Dylan Thomas, Andy Warhol, Tennessee Williams, E.E. Cummings, Anais Nin, and the composer Francis Poulenc.

Then at the peak of his career at age 45, his life took an unexpected turn. In the following excerpts from his conversational autobiography, That Reminds Me, Norman tells how he started the Transcendental Meditation technique, and how it changed his life.

The day in question was like many others. I was one of many guests at a palatial hacienda in Mexico, at the invitation of my friend Edith Bel Geddes, the famous costume designer. I had downed a couple of Manhattans, my libation of choice, and like everyone else I found my tongue tripping along most pleasantly. Edith was telling a story I had heard many times, so I decided to slip away from the group and use the bathroom. There I was cleaning up when I looked in the mirror and quite unaccountably felt confused. You don't look happy, I thought to myself. You're in an earthly paradise but something's gone amiss. What's wrong? And suddenly I started to cry, softly at first, but soon reaching an operatic crescendo. By now, I knew what was wrong. Why do I have to keep repeating this routine, I asked myself. Surely there must be more to life than getting high, uttering a lot of nonsense that only seems humorous at the time, and waiting for the next morning's hangover. Fortunately the bad spell gradually passed.

However, it was clear to me that something would have to be done. It took many months, but in time I left high-voltage New York for somewhat calmer California. Eventually I decided that Hollywood parties were not too different from such gatherings in New York. I felt the need for still more serenity.

I moved to Laguna Beach to a perfect little cottage on Bluebird Canyon and started turning my interviews into books. When I saw a poster on a telephone pole announcing a lecture by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, I thought I'd wander by to see what he was like.

He wasn't there, but a peppy young man of 18 or 19 held forth about Transcendental Meditation and seemed very bright and cheerful. If I could be as happy as he was, I decided, perhaps I should try whatever he was doing.

A few weeks later I learned Transcendental Meditation, one-on-one, from him. It was nice, I thought, but not remarkable. Still, I continued day after day, so something good must have been happening.

After several months I went to a weekend retreat where I enjoyed a more extensive meditation routine for the first time. Shortly thereafter the heavens opened up for me. I awoke each day feeling simply terrific. Every hour that followed was on that same high level of happiness. For an entire year this state of euphoria persisted.

Today, I believe that omniscient Mother Nature remembered my youthful spiritual stirrings even when I did not, and also noted my disillusion with metropolitan high life and my attempts to find a better road to fulfillment.

In any event, I became a Transcendental Meditation Teacher, wanting to share my experience with others. After teaching in Laguna Beach and elsewhere, I was fortunate to be able to teach my father, who had very fine experiences which changed his entire attitude toward life, and I also taught my favorite aunt, and saw to it later that my mother learned too.

I recall how aspects of Utopia had colored my days from the very beginning, when I was born into a community that expected the future to realize its hopes for an ideal life, the very definition of Utopia.

Spontaneously, the thought came to me that I might be a spiritual teacher one day, an aspiration that was invoked in due time as I learned to meditate, had prized experiences of bubbling bliss, and subsequently taught the technique to several hundred people.

I often recall a TM gathering called ''A Taste of Utopia'' back in 1983, when over eight thousand volunteers rushed to Iowa from all over the world to practice their Transcendental Meditation technique as a group to bring more harmony to the world.

At this gathering Maharishi spoke the words that changed the course of my life—''Why waste your life on little, little things?''

For a year or two I didn't respond to that query. I continued my routine as it had been. But every time I undertook some new obligation, some fresh activity, those words kept beating in my brain—''Why waste your life on such little, little things?'' Finally, I committed myself to a long advanced meditation course and spent 20 years there.

Today I am spending my retirement years back in Iowa, working in Media Relations at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield. If there is a way to encapsulate my life, I'd say there was a long period of learning how to live life the hard way and then a period of learning how to do it the easy way.

Copyright © Norman Zierold 2014

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