Journalist to Journalist


ASK A JOURNALIST to find out anything, and we can usually do it. But when someone wants to interview us, we get that “deer in the headlights” look.

It happened the other day with a remarkable man who just happens to be one of the founders of Sports Illustrated magazine.

“Why would you want to do a story on me?” he asked modestly. I knew then that I would be using my best interviewing techniques on lifelong journalist Sidney James.

At 97, James is amazingly clear on the evolution of America’s most popular sports magazine. Holding a copy of the first issue, he sat on the couch in his neatly decorated room at Sunrise Senior Living in the Oakland hills.

“I was interested in sports as a youth,” he reminisced. “I followed the big league teams in my hometown of St. Louis. The Braves had a very good team in those days, and one year I saw every home game they played.”

With a passion for sports and a job in management at Life magazine, James was one of a handful of Time Inc. journalists asked in 1953 to explore the idea of an all sports publication. And while some of his colleagues thought the subject of sports wouldn’t interest the masses, James was a forward thinker.

This would not be a sports magazine, it would be the sports magazine — with the very best sports news, advice, sports fashion and photos. It would have a broad-based appeal for both men and women, taking sports coverage to a level that was, at that time, unthinkable.

James remembers “holing up” in a hideaway office while he worked on his vision for the publication — which, like the birth of a baby, arrived with much fanfare on Aug. 16, 1954. “It was an immediate success,” he beamed as he flipped through the pages. “It really caught on.”

I looked at the cover of James’ first issue, then back at the man who created it. James was silent for a moment, then in almost a whisper he talked about the cover as a real coup for its time. It featured a brilliantly photographed baseball game — the Milwaukee Braves under the stadium lights at night.

We thumbed through the history-making pictures and articles, and James recalled the way he and his staff brainstormed on stories about everything from hunting to horse racing. Even the ads seemed to jump out of the pages. Full pages heralded the most popular products of the day — from Lucky Strike cigarettes to Miller High Life beer. Today, almost 50 years later, the prototype is still the same. Sports Illustrated has withstood the test of time, and so has its founder.

If you’d like to read more about James check out his book “Press Pass: The Journalist’s Tale.”

Calling all choppers

How much wood can a would-be chopper chop? Councilwoman Jean Quan is looking for a few burly types (men or women) to chop and haul timber from the growing pile of tree trimmings at Monterey and Park boulevards. This is where PG&E leaves its tree debris — near the entrance to Montclair Golf Course on Monterey. The pile seems to be taking on a life of its own, so grab your truck and load it up — ’cause it’s free firewood for anyone who doesn’t mind a few hours on the chopping block.

Talking turkey

One more holiday with turkey, and I’m hanging up the oven mitts. Why? Because like so many others, I fouled up the bird on Thanksgiving. My thermometer broke in the breast of the great gobbler, and the bird had to be trashed.

But I wasn’t alone with my sad turkey tale. Another mom told me she accidentally cooked her bird upside down. The turkey’s golden brown breast turned out anemic at best.

At another house down the hill, a leaky aluminum roasting pan almost started an oven fire. And I heard more than one person proclaim that their turkey was still frozen on Thanksgiving morn. All things considered, I’m looking forward to a Christmas goose.

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