On Tuesday, he could have won big bucks on "What's My Line?"
By Thursday, on Johnny Carson, the audience booed at the mere mention of his name.
Pollster Peter D. Hart may have put it best when he said: "Three days ago, no one knew Donald Hodel but his immediate family. Now he's vying for the James Watt award."
Until Donald Hodel announced the firing of Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca from the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Centennial Commission on Wednesday, the Interior secretary was the Caspar Milquetoast of the Reagan team, the ultimate bureaucrat in an administration full of talkative operatives.
But 24 hours later, he'd become the most vilified man in America, the guy next door transformed into the Incredible Hulk.
Calls to administration officials yesterday produced a portrait of Hodel as a man who has successfully culitivated anonymity. "Now t1751478885one I know nothing about," said a White House spokesman when asked for some background information on the secretary.
"Beats me," said another well-placedld,10 Republican. "I don't know anything about the guy."
Said Christopher Matthews, spokesman for House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill: "He was created out of whole cloth with this thing."
"When you first look at him you think Steve Martin," said one Democratic congressional aide. "It's those eyebrows."
Donald P. Hodel, 50, is an avid skier who, according to aide David Prosperi, last year won an award in Telluride, Colo., as fastest politician on the ski slopes. Hodel is also a basketball enthusiast and can often been found shooting hoops in the Interior gym.
Born and raised in Portland, Ore., he graduated from Harvard College and attended law school at the University of Oregon. Before joining the administration in 1981, he was president of Hodel Associates & Co., an energy firm.
Hodel was first brought into the Reagan administration by former Interior secretary James Watt as Watt's second in command. The administration's agenda was to speed up the development of resources from public lands, and it needed a tough guy like Watt to see it through; Hodel was seen as the guy to tone down the rhetoric when the need arose.
For a while, it seemed that the pair had the perfect good cop/bad cop routine going, with Hodel quietly running the agency while Watt traveled the country aggravating environmentalists. guy making impolitic remarks about the Beach Boys; Hodel was the one meeting with environmentalists to assure them that their concerns were still being entertained.
Democrats, however, insist that Hodel was a wolf in sheep's clothing all along.
*"Don't underestimate Donald Hodel," says Rep. Jim Weaver (D-Ore.). "What he is is a kind of baby boy with a hatchet . . . He's no friend of environmentalists."
In 1982, Hodel was named energy secretary, succeeding James Edwards, an appointment environmentalists strongly opposed. He assumed the reins at Interior one year ago; then, too, environmentalists opposed the appointment. Testifying before the Senate Energy Committee, Geoffrey Webb of Friends of the Earth said: "He was James Watt's right-hand man for 21 months, a period in which balanced management of public lands was abandoned."
According to one former White House official, the mild-mannered Hodel is administrator, but lacks political acumen. As an example, the official points to the collapse of an off-shore oil-drilling agreement between Hodel and the California congressional delegation last September, which angered many on the Hill.
The agreement, announced in July 1985, would have opened 150 tracts off California for oil drilling, a major compromise that the Californians had accepted. A few months later, Hodel suggested different tracts -- which the California congressmen and environmental groups charged was a result of pressure from the oil industry.
Hodel's experience in the energy field dates back to 1969, when he joined the Bonneville Power Administration, the major electrical transmission system of the Northwest. He served as its administrator from 1972 to 1977, where he first made environmental enemies by urging the Northwestern Utilities to partake in WPPSS (known as "Whoops"), the nuclear power project that ended in default.
But past battles, at this point, are the least of Hodel's problems. He's got Lee Iacocca and Johnny Carson to deal with now.