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So What Do You Do, Murray Olderman, Iconic Sports Journalist and Cartoonist?

'A lot of guys have written sports. A lot of guys have drawn sports. Few have done both.'

- May 21, 2014
On May 15 at a private ceremony at the Chicago History Museum, Northwestern University's Medill School of Media, Marketing and Integrated Communications inducted six more alumni into its prestigious Hall of Achievement. Among this year's honorees was Murray Olderman, Class of 1947.

The 92-year-old Olderman has a storied career as a widely syndicated newspaper columnist and cartoonist. Although officially retired, he's keeping busy writing a new book, comprised of cartoons and illustrations of people in sports he's known and drawn over the years.

Olderman's previous tomes include the 2004 career retrospective Mingling With Lions and assisting NFL Hall of Famer Bart Starr with a 1987 autobiography. Mediabistro spoke to Olderman from Rancho Mirage, Calif., where he -- until very recently -- remained an active tennis player.

Name: Murray Olderman
Position: Author, retired sportswriter and cartoonist
Resume: At the height of his newspaper career, Olderman's articles and drawings appeared in 750 daily newspapers via the Scripps-Howard syndicate Newspaper Enterprise Association. During his illustrious career, Olderman was also president of the Football Writers Association of America and the main spark for both the NFL and NBA Most Valuable Player trophies (aka Jim Thorpe Trophy, Maurice Podoloff Trophy). He has written more than a dozen books and was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 1993, the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1997 and now Medill’s Hall of Achievement for 2014.
Birthdate: March 27
Hometown: Spring Valley, New York
Education: University of Missouri (bachelor of journalism), Stanford (B.S. in humanities), Northwestern University (master's in journalism).
Marital status: Widowed
Media mentor: Curtis MacDougall
Best career advice received: From legendary sports editor Harry Grayson: "Kid, first thing you do when you free-load is bitch."
Guilty pleasure: dark chocolate
Last book read: Wrigley Field by Ira Berkow

What was it like attending the Medill School back the 1940s, on the heels of World War II?
Well, I was a journalism student before World War II, at the University of Missouri. The experience there was completely separate from my experience at Northwestern. Missouri was more of a practical journalism school, where we worked for a city newspaper put out by the school of journalism. Northwestern was more philosophical, exploring the whys and wherefores of writing.

Was there anyone in particular on the Northwestern/Medill side who greatly influenced your approach to journalism?
Yes. The man who influenced us all as graduate students was Curtis MacDougall. He wrote a book called Interpretive Reporting, which I believe is still in use. And what he did is liberalize all of us, and gave us all a sense of social consciousness.

How did you become a cartoonist? Did the drawing come first, or the writing? And which do you prefer?
My ambition from an early age was to be a sportswriter. So the writing came first. But I was captivated as a teenager (when I was also writing sports for a county weekly) by the looks of cartoons on sports pages and started copying them, gradually perfecting my techniques through trial and error. I was first published in the Columbia Missourian, a city newspaper paper produced by the Missouri School of Journalism, in my junior year. My first hire, by the McClatchy Newspapers of Sacramento, was as a sports cartoonist.

I have written and drawn conjunctively. No preference. A lot of guys have written sports. A lot of guys have drawn sports. Few have done both.

"Athletes were much more accessible than they are now. Today, organizations are trying to shield athletes for the most part, whereas in our day, on behalf of their players, they were seeking attention."

Would you say it was more or less challenging in your heyday versus today to interview major sports athletes?
The difference in those days was that athletes were much more accessible than they are now. Today, organizations are trying to shield athletes for the most part, whereas in our day, on behalf of their players, they were seeking attention.

Also, there was an economic factor involved. In my day, we were more or less on the same economic level as the athletes we were dealing with. And so they welcomed our attention and felt that we could help them. Nowadays, they make so much more money than the people covering them, and they regard most of the media as a nuisance, except in the case of television, where they're on camera and that serves their purpose.

How's the writing of your latest book going?
Good. What I've done is I realized that since 1950, I had done cartoons or illustrations of most of the leading people in the world of sport. And I've saved copies of most of them. So what I'm doing is I'm putting together a compilation of about 180 cartoons and illustrations of people that I knew and drew. On one page is a full-page reproduction of the drawing, and on the facing page is about 400 words of text of my experiences with them.

I've scanned and printed all of the drawings, but am currently only about one-third through the writing of the text portions. I've submitted it to a couple of publishers, just initially, to get reaction.

Today do you ever encounter any of the athletes you used to cover?
Yes, there are some retired athletes here [in Rancho Mirage]. I belong to the local NFL Alumni Association chapter, which has regular meetings. We just had one recently where [former wide receiver] Paul Warfield, who was very close to me, was the speaker. There are some other ex-athletes who live in the area who I see occasionally as well, like [baseball player, manager] Al Rosen and also [former Dodger] Steve Garvey, who lives here.

Can you name a couple of athletes that you interviewed over the years who really impressed you personally?
There were a lot of them. People like Fran Tarkenton and Frank Gifford. I actually dealt with Gifford on a social level. He came to my house, and that's almost unheard of now. I was also a tennis player, and played tennis player with a lot of athletes like [MLB power hitter] Hank Greenberg, for instance, and [NFL quarterback] Otto Graham.

"Nowadays, [players] regard most of the media as a nuisance, except in the case of television, where they're on camera and that serves their purpose."

And in terms of tennis players, I once had Pancho Gonzales hit some balls to me, which I couldn't return. I was a fairly good recreational player, and more or less held my own. I had a partial knee replacement about three years ago, and that combined with old age has taken me off the courts. But I still attend the BNP Paribas Open here every year. I've been to every single one in the last 30 years. I was a neighbor of Charlie Pasarell, who instituted the tournament. I've done some drawings for their program every year as well.

And what about your most memorable interview?
I think the most memorable experience I ever had putting together a story was a piece for the old Saturday Evening Post. I got the idea of doing a story on them about Bobby Lane, the quarterback for the Detroit Lions and later the Pittsburgh Steelers. I spent three days in Lubbock, Texas, with Lane, and I never got to my hotel room.

He was one of the authentic characters in sports. He was Brett Favre before there was a Brett Favre. It's a long, involved story, but as it turned out, I stayed at his house the whole time. I went to a party with junior leaguers, and Lane was on the side, checking me out. I was from New York, and I was teaching him how to cha cha. And the next day, at a country club in Lubbock, I saw him win $25,000 in a poker game. Anyhow, we spent three days together, and I never got to my hotel room and we never sat down and talked about the story until about two hours at midnight, the night before I was scheduled to leave.

Richard Horgan is the co-editor of FishbowlNY .

NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Pat O'Brien, Co-Host of Fox Sports Primetime?

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of Mediabistro Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of Mediabistro Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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