Me with "Judo" Gene LeBell in 2003.
I have never had sexual relations with “Judo” Gene LeBell. Thanks to General Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, I actually have to say this.
Way back in May 2002, I began working on LeBell’s autobiography, titled “The Godfather of Grappling.” During the following months I got to know the legendary martial arts master and Hollywood stuntman better than I know my own father—better than I know anyone really. There are few details of Gene’s life from the tragic loss of his first wife to his triumph in the 1954 AAU Judo Nationals or when Steve Martin threw him in the pool during the filming of "The Jerk" that aren’t rattling around in my head somewhere. This level of trust (dare I say intimacy) between writer and subject sounds so dirty now. Thanks General Petraeus. Thanks Paula Broadwell.
My job in writing “The Godfather of Grappling” was a bit different than Broadwell’s with the unfortunately but hilariously named “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.” I was ghostwriting an autobiography to be published with LeBell himself listed as the author with me credited as a more ubiquitous “with” or “as told to.” Nobody was expecting objectivity here although I did consider it my duty to try to push this man who had taught both Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris how to break arms to reveal aspects of his life that he was hesitant to. Sometimes I won these arguments. Sometimes I didn’t, but at least I didn’t end up with any broken fingers as a result of my self-enforced diligence.
Broadwell’s work bore her own name in big, white letters above the title, presumably to present Petraeus’ story and a good chunk of raw military propaganda as coming from an objective source. Although even here, Broadwell’s gushing tome still bears the credit “with Vernon Loeb” in smaller letters underneath her name, showing layers of ghostwriting upon ghosting. And while so many seek to brand Broadwell with the adulterer’s scarlet letter, we shouldn’t overlook her publisher, Penguin Press, for not holding the finished work to a higher standard of journalism even if the author herself wasn't a journalist or a published author. Sadly, Penguin is set to make a greater windfall off of "All In" than their number crunchers could’ve ever imagined, as the book is soaring up Amazon’s charts right now.
My mind turns back to Broadwell being interviewed by Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show," and her talking about going on six-mile runs with Gen. Petraeus to win over his trust. By the end of the segment she and Stewart are on the floor doing pushups (along with Broadwell’s cuckolded husband Scott Broadwell). For me to win over “Judo” Gene’s trust, I had to go to his dojo in North Hollywood and get on the mats with him. During these sessions, Gene often leaned the full weight of his body onto me as he pushed his chest into my face and held me in a vice-like grip. I could only tap in submission as he demonstrated a series of agonizing joint locks and chokeholds on me.
Good Lord. It all sounds so dirty now.
Thanks General Petraeus.
Thanks Paula Broadwell.
Bob Calhoun is the author of the punk wrestling memoir "Beer, Blood & Cornmeal: Seven Years of Incredibly Strange Wrestling" (2008, ECW Press). He is currently working on a book on conventions and tradeshows. You can follow him on twitter at @bob_calhoun.