Lewis Grizzard’s name popped into my head the other day, for no particular reason. Just the image—the shaggy hair, the moustache, the glasses, the kid. Long before he became a national rage. If you had told him then that one of these days he was going to be on the Johnny Carson Show, he’d’ve barked, “I’m available.” He actually had no such ambition. All he ever wanted to be was sports editor of The Atlanta Journal. He got close—executive sports editor, a glorified title that meant he dealt in the drudge of producing a daily sports section. Handling eight or ten staffers, laying out pages, making assignments, which also meant irritating eight or ten of his closest friends, two of whom walked out.
While working for me, Lewis himself began looking around for an escape, for this was not what he had dreamt. I was at the World Series when I got a call from the managing editor of the Chicago Sun-Times. He needed an executive sports editor; Lewis had applied and used me as a reference. He wasn’t going away mad, at least. Lewis the made the worst decision of his life, as it would turn out. He went to Chicago, and he hated Chicago from the beginning and even worse when he left. Just bailed out. Didn’t have a job, nothing in mind but to get the hell out of Chicago. He’d had enough of me and besides, I had another sports page produced then. So where to turn but to Jim Minter, who by then was editor of The Constitution.
Now, there is no better newspaperman in the world than Jim Minter, and when Lewis came in, hat in hand, he told Jim he had a column in mind. Jim said, “Knock out a column and let me take a look.”
I’ve never seen that column, but from took place after that, there’s no doubt that Minter was impressed. Not any of the kind of stuff that later made Grizzard a coast to coast toast apparently, but enough for Minter to tell him to suit up. No doubt that Lewis could handle the English language, but what developed was a vocabulary and a genre never invaded by any newspaper columnist, and you know the rest of that story.
What a shame those columns can’t be reproduced for readers today, to give them a touch of Grizzard’s world. He took flight and when he came back to earth, we developed a worthwhile friendship . He even dedicated a book to me, and I take pride most of all in his inscription: “To Bisher, who was right all along.”
“Scuse me while I dry the tears.