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Last King of the Sports Page

The Life and Career of Jim Murray

Ted Geltner

Publication Year: 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 Jim Murray’s experiences with twentieth-century American sports, culture, and journalism.  


At the peak of his influence, Murray was published in more than 200 newspapers. From 1961 to 1998, Murray penned more than 10,000 columns from his home base at the Los Angeles Times. His offbeat humor and unique insight made his column a must-read for millions of sports fans. He was named Sportswriter 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 such as William Randolph Hearst, Henry Luce, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, John Wayne, Mickey Mantle, Muhammad Ali, and 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. Media mogul Henry Luce handpicked Murray to lead a team that would develop Sports Illustrated for Time/Life in 1953, and when terrorists stormed the Olympic village at the 1972 Munich games, Murray was one of the first journalists to report from the scene. 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

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-5

Late in the afternoon on August 26, 1961, Jim Murray looked dejectedly out the window of his motel room, watching the rain wash through the streets of Cincinnati below. The same rainstorm had already washed out that night’s Los Angeles Dodgers versus Cincinnati Reds game, which Murray had hoped to use as the subject of his column for the next day’s edition of the Los Angeles ...

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1. The Connecticut Years, 1919-1943

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pp. 6-22

The first line of Jim Murray’s autobiography reads, “I was a Depression child.”1 In fact, Murray first came into the world just three days before the dawn of the 1920s, the Jazz Age, the beginning of a run of unprecedented American prosperity. It would be in Murray’s formative years that he would suffer along with the rest of America through the Great Depression. The suffering he...

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2. The Los Angeles Examiner Years, 1944-1947

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pp. 23-45

So like the gold prospectors, the Joad family, and the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jim Murray succumbed to the great golden dream of California and pointed a course west. Los Angeles held the allure of mystery and opportunity. It was, Murray would find, a place where you could slice away your past and remake yourself, find a new identity, and place a stake in fresh, unmarked territory....

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3. The Time Years, 1948-1953

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pp. 46-63

It was 1948, World War II was receding into the past, and Jim Murray had become upwardly mobile, much like his country. The postwar boom in the United States had firmly taken hold. The United States, then nearly three years beyond its military triumph around the globe, had emerged from the war as the dominant economic power in the world. Influence abroad and affluence ...

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4. The Sports Illustrated Years, 1953-1960

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pp. 64-81

“Henry Luce, indirectly of course, turned me into a sports writer. But first, indirectly of course, he turned me into a journalist.”1 Murray’s contact with Luce had been limited prior to 1953, but the famously hands-on CEO made his way to every outpost in the Time/Life chain, so their paths had crossed enough ...


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pp. 82-98

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5. The Los Angeles Times Years, 1961-1962

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pp. 99-114

The Los Angeles of 1961 was an entirely different entity than the overgrown coastal village that Jim Murray had encountered when he stepped off the train seventeen years earlier. The wave of growth that he had been part of had continued unabated. The highway system, the origination of which he had chronicled during his days as a cub reporter, had sent out tentacles in every direction, ...

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6. A National Presence, 1963-1969

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pp. 115-144

Though he was really just a few steps into what would be a thirty-eight-year trek as a sports columnist, the fact was that by the time the calendar turned to 1963, Jim Murray had already climbed to the very pinnacle of his profession. The second half of his lifetime would include numerous challenges, but very few of them would be of a professional nature. In baseball terms, he was a ...

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7. The 1970s: Top of the Heap

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pp. 145-176

As the sun rose on a new decade, Jim Murray was beginning to feel a bit like a relic. He was experiencing the effects of middle age, and spending his days covering the world’s greatest physical specimens made his personal decline that much more pronounced. By his own admission, he had put on some weight, his golf swing sounded “like twigs snapping under an elephant,” and he often felt...

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8. The 1980s: Brave New World

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pp. 177-201

One of the constants in the career of Jim Murray was the ever-looming specter of television. When he was a beat reporter in the ’40s, television cameras first began appearing at crime scenes, forcing print reporters to step over wires and then watch as their stories aired on television hours before they could get them into print. When he moved over to cover Hollywood in the ’50s, he...

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9. The 1990s: Literary Lion of Sports

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pp. 202-226

If you hang around long enough in the newspaper business, you inevitably become what Furman Bisher refers to as a “walking statue.” Murray knew the feeling. He had long ago graduated to “lifetime achievement” status, and every sports, academic, and civic organization competed to bestow upon him its highest honor, provided Murray would agree to attend a dinner and make ...

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pp. 227-232

A month and five days later, a crowd of twenty-five hundred, made up of Jim Murray’s most loyal fans, friends, and readers, walked through the turnstiles at Dodger Stadium for one last chance to gather and memorialize the man whose words had started their morning for four decades. It was a gray day, and the clouds hung low over the baseball diamond, but Vin Scully, one of the speakers...


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pp. 233-254


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pp. 255-260


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pp. 261-272

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272737
E-ISBN-10: 0826272738
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219794
Print-ISBN-10: 0826219799

Page Count: 284
Illustrations: 25
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1