Tag Archives: Jimmy Breslin

“Deadline Artists” doc on HBO highlights the writing brilliance of Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin. A pretty cool dunk at NBA All-Star Weekend over Shaq. And my man Reilly Opelka has a huge tennis breakthrough

There are certain names of newspaper journalists who convey universal respect. Just about all of us have fans and enemies of our work, people who like our style and others who think it’s nothing more useful than to line the birdcage with.

But for a rare few, their writing and reporting are so damn good, everyone kind of stands back in awe.

That’s the case for two New York City legends from days gone by. Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill were wordsmiths of the highest order, though very different in their styles and approaches, and they’re the subject of a fabulous new HBO documentary I saw recently called “Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists.”

Jimmy Breslin was a New York City legend, a Queens kid who was pushy, arrogant but outstanding as a reporter in any situation. He was by all account a pain in the ass to work with, but he took on so many powerful institutions like City Hall and the NYPD by championing the underdog, the little guy, the minorities whose rights often get trampled on. He became a major celebrity after corresponding with the Son of Sam serial killer through a series of letters in 1977, and continued to make headlines throughout the rest of his life, which ended in 2017.

Breslin’s most famous story, though, came after the assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. While hundreds of reporters covered the funeral in the traditional way, Breslin brilliantly chose another path: He found the man who’s job it was to dig the President’s grave, and interviewed him.

Here’s the lede:

Clifton Pollard was pretty sure he was going to be working on Sunday, so when he woke up at 9 a.m., in his three-room apartment on Corcoran Street, he put on khaki overalls before going into the kitchen for breakfast. His wife, Hettie, made bacon and eggs for him. Pollard was in the middle of eating them when he received the phone call he had been expecting. It was from Mazo Kawalchik, who is the foreman of the gravediggers at Arlington National Cemetery, which is where Pollard works for a living. “Polly, could you please be here by eleven o’clock this morning?” Kawalchik asked. “I guess you know what it’s for.” Pollard did.

He hung up the phone, finished breakfast, and left his apartment so he could spend Sunday digging a grave for John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Brilliant.

The only journalist in New York who could rival Breslin in the 1960s-1990s was Pete Hamill, who had a more literary style than the pugnacious Breslin but was equally as talented.

Hamill also was a legendary drunk, and dated Shirley MacLaine and Jackie Kennedy Onassis while enjoying his celebrity. But man, could he write. Personally I remember reading Hamill in college and being totally inspired by his beautiful prose, and how direct he was.

Here’s a snippet of Hamill’s column from the early 1990s, when real estate mogul Donald Trump, in a full-page advertisement, demanded the Central Park Five (accused of raping a white woman in Central Park) be sent to the death penalty for their “Crime.”

“Snarling and heartless and fraudulently tough, insisting on the virtue of stupidity, it was the epitome of blind negation,” Hamill wrote of the ad.

“Hate was just another luxury. And Donald Trump stood naked revealed as the spokesman for that tiny minority of Americans who live well-defended lives. Forget poverty and its causes. Forget the degradation of millions. Fry them into passivity.”

Back when newspaper voices were the loudest and most important in town, Breslin and Hamill were giants, and this brisk documentary covers their lives, and their impact, really well.

My only quibble is that “Deadline Artists” focuses too much on Breslin and not enough on Hamill; I’d say it was like 70-30 in favor of Breslin, when Hamill’s influence was just as strong.

But it was a great, great documentary; here’s a little bit of the trailer to get you interested.

**Next up today, the NBA just had it’s All-Star Weekend, and it’s usually a pretty boring affair. We’ve seen all the dunks, all the 3-point shooting greatness, and the amazing lack of defense in the actual All-Star Game.

But once every couple of years there’s a pretty special moment, and I really liked this dunk by Hamidou Diallo of Oklahoma City in the dunk contest.

He leaped over Shaq on his way to the rim, then put his elbow inside the hoop after the slam.

Pretty cool.

**Finally today, there was a pro tennis result Sunday that probably didn’t mean much to 95 percent of sports fans, but it was very cool and special to see for me.

I’ve written in this space before about Reilly Opelka, the 7-foot pro tennis player who I’ve known for a decade since I wrote my first story about him when he was a 12-year-old in Palm Coast, Fla., and I was a sportswriter in Daytona Beach. I’ve gotten to know Reilly and his fabulous parents over the years, and they’re all good people.

Anyway, this past week I was headed out to the New York Open, a small ATP Tour event that Reilly was playing in at Nassau Coliseum, about 30 minutes from my house, to do a story on him for FlaglerLive.com.

I never get to interview Reilly in person much anymore, so I was looking forward to a little “catching up with” kind of feature on how well he’d been doing lately.

Much to my surprise, the kid caught fire this week and won the whole tournament, finishing with a thrilling 3-set win Sunday night. It was his first ATP Tour-level title, it vaulted him into the No. 56 world ranking (pretty damn good, I’d say) and the best part was his Mom, who rarely gets to see him play in person, was there all week to watch him, then celebrate afterwards.

So many times as a journalist you are taught not to root for the individual, but to root for the story. Well, sometimes you can do both. Here’s my story I wrote on Reilly for FlaglerLive.com today.

It was a very cool moment to see, a kid accomplishing something huge and knowing you saw him when. (As I always tell people, sure, he’s 7-foot tall now, but when I met him I was taller.)
Keep an eye on him, he’s going to keep doing big things.

Advertisements

March Madness was quiet for two days, then quite mad this weekend. The most polite hockey fight you’ll ever see. And R.I.P. Jimmy Breslin, who wrote the best newspaper column ever

Well, that was a pretty miserable ending to the first four days of the NCAA Tournament for your humble blogger. A Tournament that had very little drama for the first two days had a ton of it over the weekend.

Villanova, who everyone thought would get to the Final 4, lost in a shocker to Wisconsin. Florida State, who certainly looked good in the first round, got smacked out of March by Xavier.

And of course my beloved Duke team, who I know everyone else hates, played an absolutely miserable game Sunday night, on the road against South Carolina, and got beat soundly.

I have to vent about Duke for a minute; I don’t expect any sympathy. That was a terrible performance at a terrible time for the Blue Devils. They turned the ball over an unfathomable 13 times in the first half, Luke Kennard and Jayson Tatum, the two best players, were invisible for long stretches of the game, and South Carolina played out of its mind. How does a team score 23 points in the first half, than sixty-five in the second half? Beats me. But between playing in front of a home crowd (and this is NOT the reason Duke lost, but it is a little strange that a No. 7 seed gets to play 90 miles from its campus against a No. 2 seed), getting major defensive pressure on its opponent, and then just hanging on with great FT shooting down the stretch, the Gamecocks were fantastic Sunday.

So Duke is out, and America is happy. It’s been a strange first few days of March Madness, first time in a long, long time no 13, 14 or 15 seed won. Cinderella just decided not to show up this year, I guess. Still, some great storylines developing as we head into the Sweet 16 (Kentucky-UCLA, anyone?)

A few thoughts from a mostly manic-free weekend of games:

— Shhh, don’t tell the CBS cameramen, but Julia Louis-Dreyfus has a son who plays for Northwestern!
My goodness, in the tone of Chandler Bing, COULD they have shown her in the crowds any more? I mean I understand she’s a celebrity and all but do we need a reaction shot from her every time anything happens?

— Ask my friend Tony, I hardly ever complain about basketball refereeing. One call here or there doesn’t lose games, and people who constantly bitch about officiating are sore losers.
That said, these first four days of the Tournament have seen some awful, awful calls. I mean, really terrible ones, like the one that screwed Northwestern, one that hurt Seton Hall, a few against Duke last night, and more that I can’t remember right now. I mean, just awful officiating.

— I got seven of the Sweet 16 correct in my bracket. Is that bad?

— Villanova’s loss is obviously shocking, never thought Wisconsin would be able to score enough to beat them, but it did. As many people said, the Badgers were grossly underseeded, they should’ve been at least a 4 or a 5.

— So I go to a sports bar Friday afternoon to watch the early games before I had a game to cover Friday night. This bar, Brother Jimmy’s, was two blocks from Madison Square Garden, and had college pennants and jerseys hanging all over the walls. And yet, I had to basically nag the bartender to put the first NCAA Tournament game on, then harass her a few times to put on the second game. Seemed she and the manager had absolutely no idea it was March Madness. You run a sports bar two blocks from MSG, this tournament happens every year, and you don’t have TV’s set up for March Madness? The mind, it boggles.

— Finally, Taco Bell can run that ad promoting its awesome breakfast menu 1,000 times a day (and it seems like they are). I would still rather starve than have to eat Taco Bell at 8 a.m. No restaurant I’d rather eat at less at that hour.

And now, the most polite and friendly hockey “fight” you will ever see. May we present Brenden Dillon of the San Jose Sharks, and Austin Watson of the Nashville Predators, who hugged and threw a few punches during a game last week, then had a delightful chat from the penalty box about improving their cardio in the offseason.

I loved this so much. Hockey players are the best.

**Finally today, I must say a few words about the passing of newspaper journalism legend Jimmy Breslin, who died Sunday at 88. He may not have been as famous outside of New York as others, but this man was an absolute giant in my field. Breslin was a hard-scrabble, take-no-BS writer who didn’t suffer fools, or lying politicians, or anybody trying to screw over the little guy, at all.
His prose was beautiful without being flowery, direct and to the point and always written with heart.

But Breslin’s lasting legacy, what he will be remembered for more than anything else, will be his column when he interviewed the man who dug John F. Kennedy’s grave. That article is taught in journalism schools across the country, reminding writers to not always just look at the obvious story. Don’t do what everyone else is doing; find someone who’s off to the side, who’s maybe overlooked, because those are the people with the best stories to tell.

Here’s the lede to that column, I urge you to read the rest here.

Clifton Pollard was pretty sure he was going to be working on Sunday, so when he woke up at 9 a.m., in his three-room apartment on Corcoran Street, he put on khaki overalls before going into the kitchen for breakfast. His wife, Hettie, made bacon and eggs for him. Pollard was in the middle of eating them when he received the phone call he had been expecting. It was from Mazo Kawalchik, who is the foreman of the gravediggers at Arlington National Cemetery, which is where Pollard works for a living. “Polly, could you please be here by eleven o’clock this morning?” Kawalchik asked. “I guess you know what it’s for.” Pollard did.

He hung up the phone, finished breakfast, and left his apartment so he could spend Sunday digging a grave for John Fitzgerald Kennedy.