Engel, Joel 1952-

views updated

ENGEL, Joel 1952-

PERSONAL: Born 1952; married; children: one daughter.

ADDRESSES: Home—California. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Hyperion, 77 West 66th St., 11th Floor, New York, NY 10023.

CAREER: Journalist. New York Times, New York, NY, entertainment writer; Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA, staff writer.


It's O.K. to Be Gifted or Talented!: A Parent/Child Manual, TOR (New York, NY), 1987.

It's O.K. to Grow Up!: A Parent/Child Manual, T. Doherty Associates (New York, NY), 1987.

Addicted: Kids Talking about Drugs in Their Own Words, T. Doherty Associates (New York, NY), 1989.

Rod Serling: The Dreams and Nightmares of Life in the Twilight Zone, Contemporary Books (Chicago, IL), 1989.

(Coauthor) Corky Carroll, Surf-Dog Days and Bitchen' Nights, Contemporary Books (Chicago, IL), 1989.

Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man behind Star Trek, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1994.

Oscar-winning Screenwriters on Screenwriting: The Award-winning Best in the Business Discuss Their Craft, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1995, revised edition, 2002.

(Coauthor) George Foreman, By George: The Autobiography of George Foreman, Easton Press (Norwald, CT), 1995.

(Coauthor) Jack Youngblood, Blood, Contemporary Books (Chicago, IL), 1998.

(Coauthor) Jim Morris, The Oldest Rookie: Big-League Dreams from a Small-Town Guy, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2001.

ADAPTATIONS: The Oldest Rookie was adapted as the feature film The Rookie, starring Dennis Quaid, 2002.

SIDELIGHTS: Joel Engel's nonfiction writing has bounced across a diverse field of topics, from troubled kids to science-fiction television creators to unique sports figures.

Engel's writing career began in the late 1980s when he wrote two books aimed at building communication and understanding between parents and children: It'sO.K. to Be Gifted or Talented!, and It's O.K. to Grow Up! In 1989 he wrote Addicted, for which he interviewed ten teenagers in various southern California rehab facilities, letting them explain their backgrounds and share their stories. Keddy Outlaw in School Library Journal found the stories in Addicted "sometimes long and rambling," but felt they would keep readers "glued to the page." Jodith Janes in Library Journal appreciated Engel's approach, noting that "the pain of lost young lives is told with a minimum of editorial comment," and in the New York Times Book Review Lisbeth B. Schorr declared that "the inside look we are offered is illuminating and gripping."

At the same time, Engel was also writing the first biography of television writing pioneer Rod Serling, best known as the creator and host of The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling: The Dreams and Nightmares of Life in the Twilight Zone followed Serling's attempt to become a playwright and novelist, his television plays such as Patterns and Requiem for a Heavyweight, and of course his career-defining creation of The Twilight Zone. Gene LaFaille, writing for the Wilson Library Bulletin declared it "an excellent study … a fascinating and very readable biography."

Engel, by now an entertainment writer for the New York Times, continued in the television-auteur vein, choosing for his next subject Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. His less-than-flattering portrayal of Roddenberry won few fans in the Trekie community. Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man behind Star Trek presents Roddenberry as a mediocre writer who stole credit from more talented collaborators while trying to milk as much cash as possible from the "Star Trek" franchise. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly declared the book "well-researched" and "hard-hitting," but a Washington Post Book World reviewer found it "badly written, disorganized, and cliche-ridden." Benjamin Svetkey of Entertainment Weekly worried that "many crucial voices are missing from this account," so "It never builds the heft of a truly authoritative portrait." But Dennis Winters of Booklist felt Engel's biography "has made a notable contribution to the Star Trek literature."

Since the mid-1990s Engel has focused on co-writing sports autobiographies, working with subjects somewhat left of the center spotlight, but with fascinating stories to share. In 1995's By George Engel helped boxer George Foreman chronicle his tale, including his rise from the streets and his "Rumble in the Jungle" with Ali in 1974. The second half of the book shows how the "rope-a-dope" loss to Ali turned Foreman from a boxing "villain" to a much more loveable public figure, best known for his 1987 comeback, his work with youth centers, and his hamburger grills. Sport declared By George "a testament to the human spirit of an exceptional athlete" and William Plummer of People called the book a "fascinating act of reparation."

Perhaps Engel's greatest exposure came when he coauthored The Oldest Rookie with Jim Morris. The book tells the story of a former minor-league baseball pitcher, Morris, who discovers in his mid-thirties that his throwing arm, injured ten years earlier, is still strong. Morris, who had settled down with a wife and family to teach and coach at a Texas high school, eventually tried out for and made the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. GraceAnne A. DeCandido of Booklist enjoyed how the book preserves Morris' "charming, homespun" voice and declared The Oldest Rookie "A fabulous baseball story and a fabulous story, period." A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt "This lively autobiography … will entertain baseball fans and others who yearn to fulfill a childhood ambition," adding that while Engel's "writing is polished, Morris's voice remains genuine." The Oldest Rookie was made into the feature film The Rookie, starring Dennis Quaid as Morris.



Booklist, October 1, 1989, Martin Brady, review of Rod Serling, p. 219; April 1, 1994, Dennis Winters, review of Gene Roddenberry, p. 1416; June 1, 1995, Bonnie Smothers, review of Oscar-Winning Screenwriters on Screenwriting, p. 1720; April 1, 2001, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Oldest Rookie, p. 1442.

Entertainment Weekly, April 8, 1994, Benjamin Svetkey, review of Gene Roddenberry, p. 48.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1989, review of Rod Serling, p. 1375.

Library Journal, September 15, 1989, Jodith Janes, review of Addicted, p. 125; February 1, 2001, Paul Kapla and Maury Berger, review of The Oldest Rookie, p. 90.

New York Times Book Review, August 27, 1989, Lisbeth B. Schorr, review of Addicted, p. 7; March 18, 1990, Ellin Stein, review of Rod Serling, p. 21.

People, June 12, 1995, William Plummer, review of By George, pp. 28-29.

Publishers Weekly, March 21, 1994, review of Gene Roddenberry, p. 65; March 5, 2001, review of The Oldest Rookie, p. 71.

School Library Journal, April, 1990, Keddy Outlaw, review of Addicted, p. 152.

Sport, September, 1995, review of By George, p. 6.

Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1991, Mary Ojibway, review of Addicted, p. 116.

Washington Post Book World, July 24, 1994, review of Gene Roddenberry, p. 11.

Wilson Library Bulletin, March, 1990, Gene LaFaille, review of Rod Serling, pp. 110-112.*