More; toward a history of Modern Sporting Literature….

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(SPORT, Steve’s definition, actually used in The (Cambridge) Real Paper back then, for the game dinner to be known as “Bodio kills it, Nadeau cooks it.” “Sport: I agree with the Ewdardian Brits.”Sport” takes place upon or after animals. Anything that uses balls is a GAME!”)

This would be after West Cambridge, premature marriage, running Organisms Prep from my lair on the eleventh floor, and siccing the biker gang on the Weather Underground, but a little before English Literary Renaissance, Phillip Larkin, the firewood biz, and Betsy (mostly) It was inspired by a note from my dear old friend F. Reed Austin, who was my editor at Gray’s Sporting Journal and who alleges my first words to him were “I wore a fucking tie for this?!” I was dressed in my best corduroy jacket with elbow patches, a tie and clean jeans, which i thought I thought made up for my Jim Morrison-esque hair,

but “Mr. Austin” had even longer hair, and stubble, and gold- rimmed glasses, and was cleaning his toes with a penknife, when I was ushered into his presence after a fleeting handshake from a distracted Ed Gray in the hall. I had recognized Ed as the genial new stranger my age who was showing up my grouse coverts in Easton. It seemed this fancy 3rd floor office on Beacon Street in Brookline was keeping some secrets from me.

The ageless Ed and Becky Gray, last year– not only for a shining moment he best magazine editors in the country, but the best hosts.Their hospitality helped me survive Betsy’s death.

Reed, who wrote a lovely eulogy for his wife Gordon, another old friend who died very young, that is in my recent blog archives, was to become my chief companion in sport for several years. Being that it was the Roaring Seventies, and that Reed and I had strong bodies and were no strangers to excess, a lot of this consisted of getting blasted and going out to have adventures. As we were young and strong and resilient, we were not enjoined to moderation; in those days we could get away with it, and for years did, despite our commitment to making art- I will not use a lesser word- of often crummy sow’s ear of Sporting “Literature”. Was it ever a CONSCIOUS genre apart from Ed’s big idea and the remarkable sui generis period when a departing French editor picked a horseplayer’s daughter named Patricia Ryan out of the secretarial pool and gave her the job of running Time- Life’s flagship sporting weekly, Sports Illustrated.

Without Pat Ryan’s stable of young men there would probably have been no “Modern Sporting Literature” as we know it, for they either wrote or influenced all of it; I am not the only one who still keeps SI’s from the late 60’s and early 70’s around. They were VERY young- writing from this vantage, it is hard to believe that Tom McGuane, “Squire Tom” of long fame and respectability, who looks like and IS an old rancher who is also welcome at the Yale Club

was the guy with shoulder length hair known as Captain Berserko in Key West.

But he was about 26 when I first fell in love with his prose,and Jim Harrison was neither gnarly nor rich.

Russell Chatham had long dark hair and and was not fat and had not blown through three (four?) fortunes and a restaurant.In the first photo here, with Harrison, McGuane, and Guy de la Valdene (still another good writer who was one of Pat’s boys), he looks much as he did when he introduced me to Libby twenty- some years ago.

(Well, maybe like THIS ; honesty compels me to say that Russ was skinny when we first met, but years of good cooking and eating at Deep Crick,a sort of second home to me in those restless years after Betsy’s death, put weight on all of us*; this film was made by the late Flagstaff photographer Ed George, who accompanied me on my fist Mongolia expedition on legendary editor Terry McDonnell’s dime). UPDATE; no it wasn’t. No matter; this one is better!

As he is today. He has returned to his native California to paint and write about his roots, often in Richard Anderson’s California Fly Fisher, and lives just down the street from our painter friend and his, Thomas Quinn. Below is the iconic– I WILL say that- portrait of McGuane, from the first issue of Outside. Try writing a hunting article for them today…

(“Gatz” Hjortsberg, the late, was remarkably youthful and serene as long as he lived, an exception to every rule- I treasure a copy of Falling Angel with an exhortation to “Keep those fighting pigeons flying!”)

There were other oddballs of talent around; like the Bozeman poet Greg Keeler, author of “Is the ouzel stupid?”, the Montana poet turned rifle maven John Barsness; the often baroque but always elegant, hyperliterate young Los Angeles stylist Tommy McIntyre, whose 21st birthday present was, I think, the last safari in Kenya… First photo SB & TM with found antelope head, near the Lightning Field in Catron County NM ca 1984, which led directly to a Sports Afield piece that began “They wouldn’t let us run the hounds in the art installation.”

(The last is Tommy last week, starring in a well received production of Beckett’s Endgame in Sheridan, Wyoming, his home of Many years– you can take the boy out of Hollywod but maybe you can’t take Hollywood out of the boy…

A few were older, like the wisest and most modest outdoor writer who ever wrote, Charley Waterman, Mason “Tim ” Smlth, writing from the genteel wilderness of the Adirondacks on such things as traditional canoes; and, uniquely, “Bad” Bob Jones over from Time and soon up in Vermont, Bob, the consumnate not quite Boho (but Gonzo avant la lettre, ie before Hunter Thompson) reporter and the hippest foreign correspondent since Negley Farson; he had more than fifty TIME covers to his name, an unsurpassed number, coined the word ‘Hippie’ in its demotic form, and was briefly Dylan’s Mr Jones.. I can see his gray flannel Brooks bros suit,sure, but also those ever- startling blazing blue eyes under those brooding black brows, obvious even to his loving daughter who painted a portrait very much giving them prominence, called Mean Dad with Nice Dog- one of his beloved yellow labs– as he told of taking tons of acid and speed at the Formula Car races soon thereafter to prove to himself– no one one else ever doubted his physical or moral courage ; he wasn’t afraid of such things… Meanwhile, a couple of book covers, including the Spanish edition of Blood Sport with a Tyrannosaur on the cover (there are no dinosaurs in Blood Sport), which Bob inscribed “Con pazienza y saliva el Elefante se culo la hormiga”– that was our Bob, who nearly started two fistfights at one of my weddings, for and against the Vietnam war, and somehow had time to tell an old New York society woman, Joanie van Ness, a bit of history that she didn’t want to know. “Who is that odious Bob Jones? He just told me that Pope Innocent some numberorother buggered altar boys!” Here he is at that very wedding, with his Louise, his wife of forty- some years (don’t let her gentle looks fool you; not only is she among the most formidably literate humans I have ever met, and my friends include Anne Proulx and Tom McGuane; she once allegedly skinned and butchered a bear naked, as a sort of study for a scene in Slade’s Glacier; true or not- I believe it–i adore her. Look at the amused, resigned, but still affectionate look she gives the old warrior as he looks around for another battle..

Bob loved over- the- top plots, killing off his friends in books, and “Blood” in a book’s title.

“Bad Bob is the Blood MASTER!” said then girlfriend and Canadian literary critic Elaine Duffy- and that after Bob had thrown us out of his car at 2 AM in a sudden fury, after drinking the night away with Annie Proulx in her half- finished house, leaving us to walk five miles drunk at 3 AM and talk our way into a motel… I forgave him easily when I found this note waiting for me in New Mexico:

Then there was Nick Lyons, the last gentleman editor, without whom sporting lit probably wouldn’t exist….

WHOA! I digress , and will, because my recent PD therapy & REDUCTION in drugs has released a flood of energy. Therefore expect (unless everyone hates this!), an occasional rambling instalment of my (ahem) MEMOIRS, which I have planned for a long time. They will be episodic and “thematic” according to subject because I like to do it that way. And I owe Mary Karr, who I don’t know, for writing her tragicomic redneck/ Catholic convert/ recovered drunk memoir The Liar’s Club, which I read aloud to Libby on the way to Utah a few years ago, and who has now done the definitive book on memoirs,from Stop Time to Nabokov, and who has inspired me to get started (note to Helen Macdonald if she reads this: get me Mary’s contact info!)

So since there will be a lot more, let me bring this segment to its temporary end.

The New Sport Lit was overwhelmingly talented– and virtually all male. I don’t want to blame this on editors- Ed Gray in particular went all- out to encourage female writers But all too few came forth.

The main exception was to be Anne Proulx, unique there as in many things. She and I tried for a while, with the help of Bob Jones among others, to buld the foundation for a new sporting lit at at Wildbranch, but… that was not what was wanted. I stayed nine years and was insulted by their anthology, while Annie had the sense to leave. Oh well, anyway, a few good years is all anyone can expect…

More TK

*Proudest I have ever been of my cooking was a dinner there after which Russ said “I wish I had four cook stations here so you, Guy, Libby, and I could all cook at once!” He didn’t mention Harrison…

12 thoughts on “More; toward a history of Modern Sporting Literature….”

  1. Jones wrote one of my favorite retriever books, "Upland Passage."

    His dogs were not competition dogs, but just good ol' Labradors that knew how to flush birds, retrieve them, and be good pets.

    My copy has been read so many times that I've worn out the spine, and the pages are loose.

    I loved his gentle prose, even though I dispute Labradors being derived from St. Hubert hounds.

  2. I brought up Charley Waterman's name the other day in conversation about the recent death of Lefty Kreh. Those two angling greats were two of the most generous and likable men around. Decades ago while fishing Yellowstone, a local guide told me the account of some sort of fishing writers gathering in the Park. Charley and his wife Debie were contrasted with the writer who loved italics. The Watermans were gracious and as easy to be around as could be while Italics Man complained about everything including the streamside wine choices served with lunch. Steve, that was an amazing group at Grays and I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall there at that time. Keep the ball rolling. It's only a game. Gil

  3. This! SO much here. These writers got me off Kerouac and Bukowski and showed me a new way to think about a life outdoors.


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