"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: william zinsser

Golden Oldies

Dig this most excellent essay on the old New York Herald Tribune by William Zinsser (who wrote a helpful book about writing):

Much has been written about the Herald Tribune’s bright stars in those postwar years: the foreign editor Joseph Barnes, the foreign correspondent Homer Bigart, the city reporter Peter Kihss, the sports columnist Red Smith, the Pulitzer Prize–winning photographer Nat Fein, the music critic and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Virgil Thomson, and many others. But the paper never forgot that its readers were an infinitely mixed stew of interests and curiosities, and it had experts squirreled away in various nooks to cater to their needs: the food critic Clementine Paddleford, the fashion columnist Eugenia Sheppard, the stamps editor, the crossword-puzzle editor, the garden editor, the racing columnist Joe H. Palmer.

Palmer was typical of the paper’s passion for good writing, nowhere better exemplified than in the sports section. It was in those pages, as a child baseball addict, that I found my first literary influences. The Trib sportswriters were my Faulkner and my Hemingway, and now I was in the same room with those bylines-come-to-life: Rud Rennie, Jesse Abramson, Al Laney. Laney, who covered golf and tennis, never took off his hat. I often paused at the sports department to watch those Olympians, wreathed in cigarette smoke, tapping out their stories with ferocious speed—especially Abramson, who seemed to have the entire history of boxing at his fingertips.

Ruling over that domain was the sports editor, Stanley Woodward. Built like a 250-pound fullback, he was as sensitive to good writing as a 125-pound poet. No hoopsters or pucksters played in his pages, no batsmen bounced into twin killings. Woodward had recently hired two stylists to add luster to his stable. First he plucked Red Smith from the Philadelphia Record, thereby presenting to a national audience the best sportswriter of his generation. Then he imported Palmer, an English professor at a college in Kentucky, to write a column called “Views of the Turf.” I knew nothing about horses, but Palmer’s columns, a blend of erudition and wit, strewn with allusions to Shakespeare and Chaucer, took me into a picaresque new world, often straying far from “the turf.” I still remember a column extolling the virtues of Kentucky jellied bourbon.

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