Sports Reporting Hero Speaks Of 'Silent Season'
SCOTT SIMON, Host:
"The Silent Season of a Hero" appeared in Esquire magazine in 1966. It's considered one of the founding documents of what they used to call the New Journalism.
SIMON: Gay Talese joins us from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.
SIMON: Well, thank you for having me.
SIMON: And seems like from the first, you found it more profitable to write about losers than champions.
SIMON: And when you lose your job and you're in your mid 20s, for example, you've lost everything you'd learned all your life. And you've lost your capacity to perform, to have a chance to succeed, to have a chance to make money. It is a tragic story.
SIMON: You know, I can't stop thinking about Floyd Patterson, since reading your 1964 piece in this anthology, called "The Loser." You wrote the piece for Esquire. He was an odd, kind and appealing man. Do you remember your time with him?
SIMON: In point of fact, I wrote, through the next few years, about 39 articles about him, most of them for the New York Times and some of them for magazines, then the Esquire piece you refer to. I got inside from the vantage point of Floyd Patterson, who knew what it was like to lose, and who had been on the floor several times in the fight with Sonny Liston - he had two of them - and also Muhammad Ali - he had two of them, and he spent a lot of time on the floor. And I got to have him tell me what it's like to be knocked out, to be on the floor semi-conscious. Or maybe you hear the bell ringing, you hear the crowd screaming, and you hear within yourself the desire to get up and the inability to get up, and then walking out the ring and up the aisle. And the fans who lost money on you or the fans who lost their hope on - by hoping for you - are jeering you or saying something to you, and you make your way - in the locker room.
A: What happened? What happened? What happened? We saw what happened. He got killed. And this is the life that a prizefighter who loses has to endure. And Patterson endured with courage, endured with patience.
SIMON: This 1966 piece that gives the title to this anthology, "The Silent Season of a Hero," by Joe DiMaggio, is still painful to read. The astonishing thing about reading this piece is you think, why couldn't this man be happier? Why did he seem to be - if I might put it this way - encased in melancholy?
SIMON: And also in his private life, in the marriage to Monroe, it was like a fantasy, because he was married to Miss Fantasy of all time. I mean, talk about a woman living in another world. And these two people were maybe a great match for the tabloids, a great match for Life magazine photographers, but she was off in her own world, and she was old - I mean, he was old and she was young. When he married her, his career was over - and hers was just soaring, as it would. So DiMaggio was dealing not much with the reality but much, I think, with the fantasy of seeking the perfection, seeking heaven in a marriage, seeking a kind of euphoria in achieving greatness at all times as a performing athlete. But when you're not an athlete, when your body no longer can move the way an athlete has to, when your age is against you, when you retire into a kind of state of legendary yore from yesteryear, it's not a happy place to be.
SIMON: A phrase - I scrawled down a phrase - when the three of them finally meet and they're talking - Ali's wife, I guess, is with him, too. The phrase I scrawled down was, the banality of celebrity.
SIMON: So there was - really, nothing came out of this except three men looking at one another in a sense of wonderment and asking the question that was never asked - what's going to happen next, and how do we get out of this embarrassing threesome, surrounded by all these people, including the camera from "60 Minutes" - and Mr. Ed Bradley leaning forward, and I was, of course, on the other side, leaning forward.
SIMON: Didn't they talk about the weather in Michigan?
SIMON: Well, later on. Ali lived with his wife in Michigan at the time. Castro asked about the weather in Michigan, and Castro kept asking these banal questions, and he kept getting these answers that were of no consequence. But I was writing it all down, and it was quite a time.
SIMON: Gay, thanks so much.
SIMON: Thank you very much. I appreciated it.
SIMON: Gay Talese. New anthology has just been published of his sports writing: "The Silent Season of a Hero: The Sports Writing of Gay Talese."
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.