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Tag: stanley ketchel

Lede Time

Over at Grantland’s essential Director’s Cut series, Michael MacCambridge dusts off another gem: John Lardner’s “Down Great Purple Valleys.”

Can’t beat this lede:

Stanley Ketchel was twenty-four years old when he was fatally shot in the back by the common-law husband of the lady who was cooking his breakfast.

That was in 1910. Up to 1907 the world at large had never heard of Ketchel. In the three years between his first fame and his murder, he made an impression on the public mind such as few men before or after him have made. When he died, he was already a folk hero and a legend. At once, his friends, followers, and biographers began to speak of his squalid end, not as a shooting or a killing, but as an assassination — as though Ketchel were Lincoln. The thought is blasphemous, maybe, but not entirely cockeyed. The crude, brawling, low-living, wild-eyed, sentimental, dissipated, almost illiterate hobo, who broke every Commandment at his disposal, had this in common with a handful of presidents, generals, athletes, and soul-savers, as well as with fabled characters like Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed: he was the stuff of myth. He entered mythology at a younger age than most of the others, and he still holds stoutly to his place there.


Fight Night

George Kimball and Thomas Hauser headline this week’s Varsity Letters speaking series, brought to you by the good people at Gelf Magazine. If you are around on Thursday night, do yourself a favor and fall through, you are sure to be entertained and learn a thing or three. I’ll be there for sure.

Here is a recent interview with Kimball discussing “At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing”:

Arts Fuse: A. J. Liebling is generally considered by critics to be the best American writer on boxing. If he is at the top, who are the runners-up and why?

Kimball: Not Mailer and not Hemingway, although they’d probably think they were. Just off the top of my head, the worthy contenders would include Budd Schulberg and W.C. Heinz for certain, but also Mark Kram and Pat Putnam from SI, Ralph Wiley, all of whom really understood the sport in addition to being wonderful writers.

AF: There are some really rare finds here — for example, pieces by Richard Wright and Sherwood Anderson on Joe Louis. How difficult was the research for the anthology? What are some of your favorite pieces?

Kimball: I wouldn’t describe the research as “difficult,” because it was such a pleasure. We probably read a half-dozen really good pieces for every one that wound up in the anthology. We read some pretty awful ones, too, mostly when we’d been touted by someone who should have known better.

…I’ve been asked that question by several people over the past couple of months and usually manage to duck it by saying “Which of your children is your favorite?” But I will say that John Lardner’s masterpiece on Stanley Ketchel, “Down Great Purple Valleys,” is sort of the cornerstone of the whole book. With all the other changes we went through in compiling At the Fights, that was the one, indispensable story if only because it so exemplified what we wanted to do with the rest of the book –- and that was setting the bar pretty high.

Man, Ralph Wiley is overlooked these days, isn’t he? And since George mentioned “Down Great Purple Valleys,” here again, is one of the greatest openings in the history of American journalism:

“Stanley Ketchel was twenty-four years old when he was fatally shot in the back by the common-law husband of the lady who was cooking his breakfast.”

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver