In turning it around, you might say Gorbachev looks like Ronald Knapp : He Could Cause Tremblin’ in the Kremlin

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Times Staff Writer

It couldn’t be, could it? Is that Mikhail S. Gorbachev, Soviet leader and architect of Glasnost and Perestroika, on the dance floor doing the twist?

“I can go lower than anyone else in town,” he boasts. “I’m serious! The young guys can’t believe this gray-haired guy. . . .”

Guys ? OK, so they wear blue jeans now in Moscow and Leningrad, but is that the way the Russians talk? And isn’t that fingernail polish on the shiny pate where a birthmark is supposed to be?

That’s right. It’s not really Gorbachev. Ronald V. Knapp of Huntington Beach, a commercial real estate broker and all-around fun guy, is almost a dead ringer for the Soviet leader (with the help of a little fingernail polish), and he has decided to make the best of the resemblance.


Won Look-Alike Contest

This week, Knapp won a contest at Ron Smith Celebrity Look-Alikes, a Hollywood agency that markets clones of President Reagan and Michael Jackson, among others. Afterward, he posed at a piano for a photo session, arm-wrestling with Reagan look-alike Jay Koch. Knapp said he was singing an Italian song, and “Reagan” was singing “Row, row, row your boat . . . .”

Knapp, whose 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame has a chunky look, said a friend called him soon after Gorbachev was named secretary-general of the Soviet Communist Party, joking that he had seen Knapp’s picture on the front page of The Times.

Knapp looked for himself and told his friend, “You know, you’re right.” After that, hundreds of people commented on the resemblance, he said.

“I’ve been stopped in the streets in Miami, in Freeport in the Bahamas, in Huntington Beach,” said Knapp, who is the divorced father of five children, all of them in college. A friend has nicknamed him “Gorbi.”

Like the Russian he resembles, Knapp has his picture hanging in public places, including the Huntington Beach Library and the Bristol Cafe and Arbor House at Peter’s Landing. “Love from Mother Russia, Mikhail Gorbachev,” the picture at the Arbor House is inscribed--in Knapp’s handwriting.

Knapp, 49, who works at Paul Crofford Real Estate in Huntington Beach, has had his business cards imprinted with a picture of himself and one of Gorbachev. Sometimes, he leaves messages for his friends to call back the Soviet leader.


“They know who it is,” Knapp said. “It’s kind of a fun thing.”

As for matters of world peace, Knapp has very down-to-earth opinions.

“Well, I hope they come to a conclusion as far as a good peace treaty,” Knapp said of the Reagan-Gorbachev summit talks next week in Washington. “I think peaceful warriors can get along in a worldwide situation where nobody loses face. Love is built on peace and friendship and trust.”

He’s Even Learning Russian

Knapp has been teaching himself Russian with audiotapes as he jogs on the beach, just in case he ever gets to talk to some real Russians. Among the words he has learned is zamir --peace.

Knapp, a resident of Huntington Beach for 24 years and a graduate of Cal State Fullerton, is particularly proud of having played Santa Claus every year for the last 17 years at St. Bonaventure Church in Huntington Beach.

He has worked with American Indians for the Ocean View School District in Huntington Beach, was a senior engineer at McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach, was once in the commercial Christmas tree business and had a truck firm on Beach Boulevard for a time. He even ran for Huntington Beach City Council in 1970, and lost.

“I’ve got so many dents in my fender, you wouldn’t believe it,” Knapp said.

In the meantime, he has raised his children: Treasa, 24; Patrick, 22; Connie, 18; Jim, 19, and Shawn, 17.

How do they feel about their father’s new persona?

“They roll their eyebrows,” Knapp said. “They’re not quite sure about their old man anymore. They think he’s gone over the hill, and no telling what he’ll do now.”

Although he has resisted appearing at parties as a Gorbachev look-alike, Knapp said he does intend to take advantage of his looks. A photographer recently took some photos of him matched against Time and Newsweek covers, which has launched Knapp on a side career that could include commercials, films and maybe even a rock video. He has even retained an agent.


“I’ve been asked to do the Gorbachev Rock,” Knapp said. “I do the dancing in it. I’m a really good twist dancer. I can go all the way down to the floor and stay there indefinitely. The people at Bristol Cafe at Peter’s Landing will testify to that.”