2012 Bison Books paperback edition

Monday, March 28, 2011

Chatting with Jeremy Schaap

Just before Super Bowl Sunday, ESPN contacted Knopf to set up an interview of me by Jeremy Schaap. He wanted to talk about NATIVE AMERICAN SON for his radio show, This Sporting Life. We met at the Knopf offices on Broadway, between W. 55th and W. 56th streets. They are in the Random House building, the one with the lobby lined floor to very high ceiling with just about every great American book you've ever heard of. Sacred ground.
Jesse is a self-described track and field guy. His fine book Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics is dutifully listed in the bibliography of my biography of Jim Thorpe. His father, Dick Schaap, endeared himself to me not least because he wondered in 2000 just what Babe Ruth had done in the previous 50 years to put him ahead of Thorpe in some of those end-of-century Greatest Ever polls.

Knopf set us up in a conference room, with the ESPN producer, Jesse Baker, holding the mic between us. Jeremy was direct, thorough, persistent, and thoughtful. A great interviewer who knew his Thorpe. We talked about Carlisle, about the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, the West Point-Carlisle football game several months later. About track and field today.
It struck me that he is just about the best example of Thorpe's legacy. Like so many other American kids in the 20th century, he learned about Thorpe from his father. Of course, not every kid can claim the likes of Dick Schaap, someone who wrote so well about the Olympics and so much else.

But the essential transmission is there. The father, who probably heard the story from his father, recounts the story of the great American Indian athlete to his son. The circle continues unbroken.

Listen to the interview: here, on the right column of my blog page >>>>

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Seeing Liz Taylor at JFK

Late afternoon, TWA Terminal, JFK airport, sometime in the late 1980s: I am wandering around this amazing Eero Saarinen-designed landmark, waiting for someone to arrive from somewhere. 

As I stroll along the mezzanine (see photo below), taking in the light, angles, vertiginous ramps, there is a sudden change in the atmosphere. Maybe it is a noise, a rumble. Or an electric charge. Something is traveling through the air, a kind of communication. Something is happening down on the floor of the terminal. It is a phenomenon I have never experienced before or will ever again.

I go to the edge of the mezzanine and look down. People are moving in one direction, to my left. They aren't running, just being drawn as if to something magnetic. I can hear gasps, little cries. It's not a disaster, exactly. These are not noises of fear or horror. 

Suddenly I see the source of the reaction. It's a passenger cart, coming from the left, zipping through the terminal to a gate. The thrill in the air is now beyond intense. It is alive. It is hot. It is focused on the dark-haired woman sitting in the cart, waving to the crowd like a queen.

"Who is it?" I call down to the crowd below. 

"It's Elizabeth Taylor!" they shout back. 

Stars in the sky generate heat. That's why they twinkle from so far away. That crowd in the TWA terminal has just seen one of the greatest movie stars of all and ever. A shooting star that won't come our way again.