2012 Bison Books paperback edition

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Frank Deford and me in Jim Thorpe, PA

Native American Son is not out yet but, thanks to the controversy surrounding the burial of Jim Thorpe in the town named for him in Pennsylvania (see previous blogpost, "No Rest for the Dead," the book tour has effectively begun.

Jim Thorpe, PA

Which is how I found myself sitting across from the great sportswriter and author Frank Deford, in a room above the stage at the Jim Thorpe Opera House. HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, thanks to a pitch from the Knopf publicist Lena Khidritskaya, had decided to do a 12-minute segment on the lawsuit filed by Jim's son, Jack Thorpe, against the town of Jim Thorpe. As Thorpe's most recent biographer, I was chosen as the "expert."

It's always a bit daunting to come out of the dark cave of writing a book -- and the grueling editing and proof stage before the book goes to press -- into the bright light of media scrutiny. Deford's questions were, not surprisingly, both acute and broad. Is Jim Thorpe remembered today? he asked. I remember the 1950 Associated Press sportswriter and radio announcer poll (no TV yet) that voted him the greatest athlete of the half century, way ahead of Babe Ruth, he said. Today, everybody lauds only the most recent star, he lamented. What surprises did you discover? he asked (the passion with which he was and is remembered as the outsider robbed of his due, I answered, his unexamined "iron man" sports career in the 1920s after he exited the "greatest athlete in the world" limelight, and his equally unexamined career in Hollywood in the 1930s).

What did I think Jim Thorpe would say about the current burial controversy and a town he never saw named for him? was Deford's last question. I answered that he might say: Remember what I did when I was alive. I earned the name.

It was a terrific way to start the book tour, with the best in the business. Catch the show on September 21 on HBO.