Leon’s great adventure
Paradise resident Leon Ritzenthaler, 66, had his brush with fame on Father’s Day, 1993, when the Washington Post ran a story that newly elected President Bill Clinton had a half-brother living in a small town in Northern California. The unassuming and modest Ritzenthaler found himself suddenly and unexpectedly caught up in a month-long media frenzy and whirlwind tour that took him from Paradise to New York, Washington, D.C., and back again. In his book, My Life, right there in chapter 1, page 2 the former president writes: “My father’s other son was identified as Leon Ritzenthaler, a retired owner of a janitorial service, from northern California. In the [Post] article, he said he had written me during the ‘92 campaign but had received no reply. I don’t remember hearing about his letter, and considering all the other bullets we were dodging then, it’s possible that my staff kept it from me. Or maybe the letter was just misplaced in the mountains of mail we were receiving. Anyway, when I read about Leon, I got in touch with him and later met him and his wife, Judy, during one of my stops in northern California. We had a happy visit and since then we’ve corresponded in holiday seasons. He and I look alike, his birth certificate says his father was mine, and I wish I’d known about him a long time ago.” Ritzenthaler says he hasn’t heard from Clinton in the 11 years since the story erupted.
Looking back, how was he as president?
The honest truth? I think he did a good job.
What do you think of the current president?
I don’t care for him. He’s just trying to finish what his dad started. It’s like, “Son, you finish this for me, would you?” I think Bill is a hell of a lot smarter—and I don’t think I’m stupid either. [Clinton] had a real high level of education, but I was one of those guys who couldn’t learn. But what the hell, I’m happy.
Any regrets about the burst of sudden fame?
I enjoyed it. I’m not saying I didn’t. But I was glad to get through it. I don’t want to be in that world. I was there for a month, and I never want to be there again. That’s not me—I’m more of a private person. It happened so fast, I didn’t really get a chance to think about it. Maybe I’m funny, but it seems like the media make everything so outrageous.
When it first broke, what was your reaction?
So what? You know, I had no idea it would be like that. I knew I was his brother. My aunt died telling me I wasn’t, but my mom says I was.