Wednesday, August 25, 2021

William Campbell Gault; Jack Ritchie; Talmage Powell: football fiction from PLAYERS' CHOICE, (nominally) edited by Gale Sayers, Dave Robinson, Howard Mudd and Charley Gogolak (Whitman/Western Publishing 1969) Short Story Wednesday

selected by Dave Robinson, Howard Mudd, Gale Sayers, and Charley Gogolak; illustrated by Ken Shields
All-American Washout  (originally published as "Tinsel Tailback")/ William Campbell Gault --
Dark, Dank, and Dismal / Wade H. Mosby 
Boys’ Life v51 #10, October 1961--
That's My Boy / Jerome Brondfield Liberty v23 #47, November 23, 1946--
The Fullback from Liechtenstein / Jack Ritchie --
A Time for Triumph / Talmage Powell --
Dirtiest Game of the Year / Booton Herndon 
The Saturday Evening Post v225 #16, October 18, 1952.

Three stories, for three widely divergent markets, by three writers who eventually became, at least, far better known for their crime fiction than their sports fiction. For William Campbell Gault, that might not've been his first choice for career path, as he was one of the most widely-respected of sports fiction writers at mid-century...his story in this book was taken from the September 1950 issue of the pulp magazine Fifteen Sports the sports pulps dwindled (with this issue, the magazine began running a reprinted piece or several in each number), no digest or other sports-fiction magazines came in to take up their markets, and the presence of sports fiction became somewhat less frequent in the men's and general-interest magazines, Gault began writing, voluminously, sports novels for the burgeoning Baby Boom YA market...while also keeping a hand in with crime fiction, one of his most popular series characters being an ex-pro football player, Brock Callahan. 

In recent decades, there have been several little magazines devoted to sports fiction, particularly to baseball fiction and poetry, albeit a few eclectic ones as well, and ESPN Magazine has had at least one fiction issue. Very very sporadically, Sports Illustrated has run some fiction over the last half-century (not counting photo-retouching).

Talmage Powell's story was published in a 1952 issue of the US Roman Catholic missionary-support magazine Extension, which is still published but with no fiction content so-labelled; the story deals perhaps a bit heavy-handedly with ethical concerns, both for a football-star college student and those who do his schoolwork for him, and the faculty the star player interacts with, as they collectively wrestle with pressures to cheat and/or knuckle under, not least to a once golden-boy graduate and overbearing benefactor to the college in question, whom Powell is clearly happy to have eventually referred to as Dick Manley. 

While Jack Ritchie's story was rather obviously tailored for its market, the November 1963 issue of Boys' Life, one of the most reliable markets for sports fiction in the latter half of the 1900s in the US. It involves a high-school football team, and the rather supercilious but effective motivational analysis a European exchange student, and soccer star back home, manages to apply to his US football teammates. One of whom is also a Manley, albeit not a Dick.

Three decent stories, to say the least, even if the Gault might be drowning in details of the game (and its slang and argot) for those in a less passionate readership than a sports-fiction pulp might serve; the Powell is far lighter on the gridiron chat per se, if also a bit more melodramatic (as is Powell's wont) in the manner it lays out its tale, and the Ritchie is also rather typical of its author in the reasonably sly manner in which the foreign-exchange antagonist of sorts sizes up and re-motivates his American teammates. The Gault is unsurprisingly the best and most adult of them, clearly by design, and certainly with the intended audiences in mind. 

Interesting example of Whitman/NFL cross-promotion in 1969; I could see Sayers, at least, feeling reasonably at home in picking out stories, perhaps all four were, though I have to wonder who at Western Publishing might've culled a longlist for them to pick from. 

For more of today's Short Story Wednesday posts, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

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