Biography unearths a sports writer’s legacy


Ted Geltner, author of “Last King of the Sports Page: The Life and Career of Jim Murray,” will sign his book on Murray at 7 p.m. Monday at Alachua County Headquarters Library. (Submitted photo)

Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 5:49 p.m.

Before Ted Geltner unearthed Jim Murray's legacy, it was gathering dust in a four-drawer file cabinet in Palm Springs.

Facts

If you go

What: Author Ted Geltner reads and signs his book, “Last King of the Sports Page: The Life and Career of Jim Murray”
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Alachua County Headquarters Library, 401 E. University Ave.
Cost: Free and open to the public

Ticket stubs to Ali fights. Notes from the 1943 Oscars, when Bogart won for "Casablanca." More than 10,000 stories alphabetized chronologically and categorically.

It was a treasure chest of everything the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist had ever written.

"That was so much fun for someone interested in history," Geltner said. "I love sports and journalism history."

Geltner, who spent 17 years writing and editing at newspapers, drew from a lifetime of work stockpiled in the Murray family garage to write "Last King of the Sports Page: The Life and Career of Jim Murray," the first biography dedicated to the legendary Los Angeles Times sports writer.

Geltner will read an excerpt from his book at the Alachua County Headquarters Library on Monday.

Originally, "Last King of the Sports Page" was a dissertation project.

In 2007, Geltner was working on the skeleton of a Jim Murray biography, when he learned about the clips from Murray's wife, with whom he was in contact.

"She had everything — just files and files of all this cool stuff," he said.

The two quickly made arrangements for Geltner to visit Palm Springs.

Linda Murray-Hofmans said the first time she actually saw Geltner, he was smiling.

"He reminded me of a cherub," she said, "with his round face and his sparkling eyes."

She recalled their long talks about her husband, a man she described as "a wordsmith, a brilliant writer, and the ultimate curmudgeon."

Geltner recorded most of their conversations, taking in her colorful anecdotes and probing for more detail.

One such detail, said Murray-Hofmans, was when she told her husband that he didn't smile much.

"And he said, ‘I smile. My face just doesn't show it.' He was a writer, and the column was his mistress," she said. "He was always chasing the Holy Grail."

During his visit, Geltner chased relics, too. He spent hours a day in the garage, poring over articles.

"It was incredible," he said. "You're discovering things about this guy in his time frame."

As a boy growing up in Washington, D.C., Geltner would read Jim Murray's syndicated columns and marvel.

When he moved to California, their paths crossed again. Right out of college, Geltner got a job at a small newspaper that occasionally ran Murray's articles.

Even in 1991, Murray was known as "The King of L.A. Sports."

In the same way that Murray vigorously recorded history, Geltner, a former writer and editor at The Sun and the Ocala Star-Banner, worked furiously to record someone else's.

Geltner's wife, Jill, remembers how immersed he became with the writer's life.

"Ted had a column in his lap whenever there was a dead moment at the dinner table," she said. "He probably already talked about his ambitious attempt to read all 10,000 columns, too."

He gave up after about a year's worth of material.

"(Ted) always thought of being a columnist," Jill said, "so it was the best way for him to get to know him."

Whenever he stumbled upon incredible, meaningful columns, Geltner used to dance. And whenever he arranged interviews with famous sports personalities, he would text his family.

Now, he remembers discovering things about a man who discovered so much in his own time.

Geltner finished writing Murray's story in 2011. By then, Murray had finished his storytelling, dying of a cardiac arrest in 1998. He had written his last column the night before he died.

"In that job, you don't retire," Geltner said. "You just type until you die."

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