The Life and Career of Jim Murray
By Ted Geltner
University of Missouri Press, July 2012
Part crusader, part comedian, Jim Murray was a once-in-a-generation literary talent who just happened to ply his trade on newsprint, right near the box scores and race results. During his lifetime, Murray rose through the ranks of journalism, from hard-bitten 1940s crime reporter, to national Hollywood correspondent, to the top sports columnist in the United States. In Last King of the Sports Page: The Life and Career of Jim Murray, Ted Geltner chronicles the life and journey of Jim Murray’s experiences with twentieth-century American sports, culture and journalism.
At the peak of his influence, Murray’s words were published in more than 200 newspapers. From 1961–1998, Murray penned more than 10,000 columns from his home base at the Los Angeles Times. His off-beat humor and unique insight made his column a must-read for millions of sports fans. He was named Sports Writer of the Year an astounding fourteen times, and his legacy was cemented when he became one of only four writers to receive the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for coverage of sports. Geltner now gives readers a first look at Murray’s personal archives and dozens of fresh interviews with sports and journalism personalities, including Arnold Palmer, Mario Andretti, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Yogi Berra, Frank Deford, Rick Reilly, Dan Jenkins, Roy Firestone, and many more.
Throughout his life, Murray chronicled seminal events and figures in American culture and history, and this biography details his encounters with major figures from all walks of life: William Randolph Hearst to Henry Luce, Marilyn Monroe to Marlon Brando to John Wayne, Mickey Mantle to Muhammad Ali to Tiger Woods. Charming and affecting moments in Murray’s career illustrate the sportswriter’s knack for being in on the big story. Richard Nixon, running for Vice President on the Eisenhower ticket in 1952, revealed to Murray the contents of the “Checkers” speech so it could make the Time magazine press deadline. When terrorists stormed the Olympic village at the 1972 Munich games, Murray was one of the first journalists to report from the scene. Media mogul Henry Luce handpicked Murray to lead a team that would develop Sports Illustrated for Time/Life in 1953.
The words of sports journalist Roy Firestone emphasize the influence and importance of Jim Murray on journalism today: “I’ll say without question, I think Jim Murray was every bit as important of a sports writer – forget sport writer – every bit as important a writer to newspapers, as Mark Twain was to literature.” Readers will be entertained and awed by the stories, interviews, and papers of Jim Murray in Last King of the Sports Page.
Ted Geltner spent 17 years as a writer and editor at newspapers in California, Pennsylvania, and Florida and is currently Assistant Professor of Journalism at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia.
Praise for “Last King”:
“If Jim Murray still walked the earth, he would rule blogging. Likewise, he would have done more with 140 characters on Twitter than any sportswriter this side of Dan Jenkins and John Lardner. But he is gone, and if his name is to remain alive, it needs the book that Mr. Geltner has delivered.” – The Wall Street Journal
“Geltner … wrote a fascinating portrait of the top sports columnist of his generation. A must-read if you are a student of this profession.” – The Sherman Report
“Geltner relates Murray’s life with the same raised eyebrow and bemused smile that seemed to infuse so many of Murray’s columns. And, in fact, Geltner includes numerous excerpts from Murray’s writings throughout the text. Sadly, it’s unlikely that Murray’s wit and literary flair would attract much of an audience in today’s world of insta-media, but Geltner deserves praise for reminding us just how perfect Murray was for his time.” — Booklist
“Deeply researched, fun to read — “Last King of the Sports Page” must be among the most thorough works ever dedicated to a sportswriter. — The Big Lead
Geltner has painted an honest portrait of a guy who did the best job he could–and a little better job than most. A book for sports and journalism students and enthusiasts. – Choice Magazine
“My current favorite Murray line—and it changes with the weather— is that Evander Holyfield was built like a Greek God and Buster Douglas was built like a Greek restaurant. For years, whenever I would sit down to write a column, I would think of that line, how perfect it was, how much it said in only a few words … and then tried hopelessly to come close. But I always understood: I could never be as pointed, as incisive or as laugh-out-loud funny. All I could do, all any of us could do, was try. Bravo to Ted Geltner for telling his story so well and for reminding us of so many of the immortal lines.”— Joe Posnanski, senior writer at Sports Illustrated and author of The Machine: A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-stopping World Series—The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds