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Vecsey, George Spencer 1939–

Vecsey, George Spencer 1939–

PERSONAL:

Surname is pronounced Vessey; born July 4, 1939, in Jamaica, NY; son of George (a copy editor with Associated Press) and May (a society editor) Vecsey; married Marianne Graham (an artist and teacher), October 1, 1960; children: Laura, Corinna, David. Education: Hofstra College (now Hofstra University), B.A., 1960. Religion: Christian. Hobbies and other interests: Bicycling, running, swimming, travel.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Port Washington, NY.

CAREER:

Newsday, Garden City, Long Island, NY, sportswriter, 1956-68; New York Times, New York, NY, sportswriter, 1968-70, Appalachian correspondent, based in Louisville, KY, 1970-72, Long Island correspondent, based in Port Washington, 1972-76, religion reporter, 1976-80, sports columnist, 1982—.

AWARDS, HONORS:

New York State Sportswriter of the Year, National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, 1985-97; Distinguished writing award, American Society of Newspaper Editors, 1995; Hall of Fame, National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association (NSSA), 2001.

WRITINGS:

Baseball's Most Valuable Players, Random House (New York, NY), 1966.

(With John Biever) Young Sports Photographer with the Green Bay Packers, Norton (New York, NY), 1969.

The Baseball Life of Sandy Koufax, Scholastic Book Services (New York, NY), 1969.

Joy in Mudville: Being a Complete Account of the Unparallelled History of the New York Mets from Their Most Perturbed Beginnings to Their Amazing Rise to Glory and Renown, McCall Publishing, 1970.

Pro Basketball Champions, Scholastic Book Services (New York, NY), 1970.

The Harlem Globetrotters, Scholastic Book Services (New York, NY), 1971.

Frazier/Ali, Scholastic Book Services (New York, NY), 1972.

One Sunset a Week: The Story of a Coal Miner, Saturday Review Press (New York, NY), 1974.

(Editor) The Way It Was, McGraw (New York, NY), 1974.

(With wife, Marianne Vecsey) The Bermuda Triangle: Fact or Fiction?, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1975.

(With Loretta Lynn) Coal Miner's Daughter, Geis, Regnery (Washington, DC), 1976.

(With George C. Dade) Getting off the Ground: The Pioneers of Aviation Speak for Themselves, Dutton (New York, NY), 1979.

(With Bob Welch) Five O'Clock Comes Early: A Young Man's Battle with Alcoholism, Morrow (New York, NY), 1982.

(With Martina Navratilova) Martina, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.

A Year in the Sun: The Games, the Players, the Pleasure of Sports, Times Books (New York, NY), 1989.

(With Barbara Mandrell) Get to the Heart: My Story, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1990.

(Author of foreword) Jay Jennings, editor, Tennis and the Meaning of Life: A Literary Anthology of the Game, Breakaway Books, 1995.

(With Harry Wu) Troublemaker: One Man's Crusade against China's Cruelty, Times Books (New York, NY), 1996.

(With Lorrie Morgan) Forever Yours, Faithfully: My Love Story, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Subway 2000: The Dramatic Story of the First Subway Series since 1956, Carlton Books, Ltd., 2000.

(Editor) Subway Series: A Year of New York Baseball, New York Times (New York, NY), 2000.

Baseball: A History of America's Favorite Game, Modern Library (New York, NY), 2006.

ADAPTATIONS:

Coal Miner's Daughter was filmed by Universal in 1980.

SIDELIGHTS:

From age twenty-one to thirty-one, sportswriter George Spencer Vecsey traveled around the country, covering the New York Mets and Yankees, meeting athletes like Casey Stengel and Bill Russell and, as he told CA, "seeing all the great cities I had dreamed about." Then in 1970, he decided to experiment with broader subjects and a different writing style: "I had seen enough games for a while—it was time to learn about other people. So I became a correspondent for the New York Times, based in Louisville, Kentucky. I was privileged to meet coal miners, farmers, small-town people in Appalachia and the South."

One of the men he met while on assignment was Dan Sizemore, a nightshift foreman in a southwest Virginia mine. A company man turned rebel, Sizemore was in many respects an atypical miner, but Vecsey found him an apt guide—"a valuable closed circuit camera, planted in one of the darkest, dirtiest tunnels of American life," to use Vecsey's words—and a fascinating subject for a biography. In One Sunset a Week: The Story of a Coal Miner, Vecsey sketches seven days in Sizemore's life, interspersing his narrative with flashbacks that illuminate the origins of the miner's discontent. Sizemore had started out in 1936 an even tougher coal boss than his father, a mine foreman before him. Hard and callous, he was "the exact type of bullyboy [the big bosses] were looking for," according to A.H. Raskin in the New York Times. Then an extended recession forced Sizemore out of work and onto welfare. "By the time he was back bossing it again," wrote Raskin, "his values had begun a slow change that turned him into a social activist, a rebel filled with despair about ‘the system’ and its brutalization of the miners."

Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Bennett Kremen complimented Vecsey's "thorough and effective journalism," noting that he spares the reader few hardships known in the Appalachians, including "inferior education, chronic poverty, Tony Boyle unionism steeped in stupidity and selfishness to the point of murder." But, he continued, what Vecsey seems to miss "is a broader probing into Dan Sizemore's character, telling us why he turned rebel while so many suffering the same layoffs and afflictions did not." But Saturday Review/World critic Dorothy Rabinowitz remarked that Vecsey is less interested in an in-depth character study of Sizemore than "in the sociology of the mining community, the politics of the union and the recent fight for control between Tony Boyle (convicted in the Yablonski murder) and Arnold Miller." Raskin expressed a similar view: "The worth of this illuminating book is not primarily in Dan Sizemore's mountaineer Marxism, with its nihilistic estimates of the morality of the mine operators…. [Its] more useful contribution is in the vividness with which it portrays the anxieties and the camaraderie inside a mine."

In the early 1970s Vecsey was asked to work with country singer Loretta Lynn to write her autobiography. As Vecsey explained in an interview with John Berlau for Investor's Business Daily, he wanted to make sure the book would not be a typical ghostwritten celebrity biography, which failed to capture the unique voices of their subjects. "I never wanted to write in ghosts' language," he noted. "I wanted it to be the book within her, and I wanted it to reflect her totally." The resulting book, Coal Miner's Daughter, was a huge success, becoming one of the top-selling books of 1976. The book was adapted as a film starring Sissy Spacek, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of the iconic singer.

After publication of Coal Miner's Daughter, Vecsey began receiving numerous offers to write other celebrity biographies. Martina, about the life and career of tennis champion Martina Navratilova, attracted significant favorable attention and became a bestseller. People contributor Susan Reed observed that the book is exceptionally well-written, "thanks in large part, one assumes, to Vecsey." The athlete herself praised her cowriter, noting in a statement quoted by Berlau that Vecsey "sees little things and makes them important."

Troublemaker: One Man's Crusade Against China's Cruelty, written with Harry Wu, is the account of Wu's return to his native China to advocate for reforms. He had spent nineteen years in labor camps before immigrating to the United States, but returned to publicize harsh political and economic conditions. The book, as described by a writer for the Economist, "is an account of his detention, interrogation, trial and cynically calculated release." Wu, the writer concluded, "is a hero of our times, and his story deserves to be heard."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, October 15, 1996, Mary Carroll, review of Troublemaker: One Man's Crusade against China's Cruelty, p. 387.

Book Report, September 1, 1989, Mary Vos, review of A Year in the Sun: The Games, the Players, the Pleasure of Sports, p. 62.

Columbia Journalism Review, July 1, 1989, Peter Andrews, review of A Year in the Sun, p. 55.

Economist, December 7, 1996, review of Troublemaker, p. 7.

Entertainment Weekly, November 28, 1997, Alanna Nash, review of Forever Yours, Faithfully: My Love Story, p. 78.

Federal Probation, December, 1997, Todd Jermstad, review of Troublemaker, p. 101.

Good Housekeeping, April, 1996, "Father and Daughter Call the Plays," p. 28.

Investor's Business Daily, July 31, 2000, John Berlau, "Collaborative Biographer George Vecsey: He Set a New Standard in His Field by Immersing Himself in the Details," p. 4.

Law Society Journal, July, 1997, Kevin Osborn, review of Troublemaker, p. 102.

Library Journal, January 15, 1982, review of Five O'Clock Comes Early: A Young Man's Battle with Alcoholism, p. 171; March 1, 1989, Morey Berger, review of A Year in the Sun, p. 74; October 1, 1990, Barry Miller, review of Get to the Heart: My Story, p. 98; October 1, 1996, Mark Meng, review of Troublemaker, p. 106.

Los Angeles Times, September 1, 1985, Karen Stabiner, review of Martina, p. 10.

Ms. Magazine, December, 1985, Amanda Spake, review of Martina, p. 14.

New Republic, July 29, 1985, Josef Skvorecy, review of Martina, p. 28; March 10, 1997, Andrew J. Nathan, review of Troublemaker, p. 45.

New York Review of Books, December 19, 1996, Jonathan Spence, review of Troublemaker, p. 50.

New York Times, August 16, 1974, A.H. Raskin, review of One Sunset a Week: The Story of a Coal Miner; March 10, 1980, Michiko Kakutani, review of CoalMiner's Daughter, p. 13; January 29, 1982, "The Times Names Vecsey to Write Sports Column," p. 22; June 30, 1985, Gail Shister, review of Martina, p. 21.

New York Times Book Review, September 22, 1974, Bennett Kremen, review of One Sunset a Week; June 30, 1985, Gail Shister, review of Martina, p. 21; March 26, 1989, Karen Stabiner, review of A Year in the Sun, p. 7; October 21, 1990, Sharon Liveten, review of Get to the Heart, p. 25.

People, July 29, 1985, Susan Reed, review of Martina, p. 16.

Publishers Weekly, December 4, 1981, review of Five O'Clock Comes Early, p. 45; May 17, 1985, review of Martina, p. 100; January 13, 1989, review of A Year in the Sun, p. 82; August 10, 1990, review of Get to the Heart, p. 430.

Saturday Review/World, June 15, 1974, Dorothy Rabinowitz, review of One Sunset a Week.

School Library Journal, May, 1982, review of Five O'Clock Comes Early, p. 94; October, 1985, Diana Hirsch, review of Martina, p. 196; September, 1989, Jane Golenko, review of A Year in the Sun, p. 289.

Sports Illustrated, March 29, 1982, Jim Kaplan, review of Five O'Clock Comes Early, p. 10; June 10, 1985, Jeremiah Tax, review of Martina, p. 12; June 8, 1998, "Oh, Brother," p. 94.

Tennis, December, 1985, Donna Doherty, review of Martina, p. 47.

Time, September 2, 1985, review of Martina, p. 71.

Times Literary Supplement, November 22, 1996, Harriet Evans, review of Troublemaker, p. 27.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), April 2, 1989, review of A Year in the Sun, p. 4.

Variety, October 1, 1990, review of Get to the Heart, p. 104.

Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1989, review of A Year in the Sun, p. 241.

Wall Street Journal Western Edition, August 28, 1985, Frederick C. Klein, review of Martina, p. 16.

Washington Journalism Review, April, 1989, Frank Deford, review of A Year in the Sun, p. 51.

World Tennis, July 1985, Rita Mae Brown, review of Martina, p. 68.

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