Franz Lidz

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Franz Lidz
Born Franz Ira Lidz
(1951-09-24) September 24, 1951 (age 63)
New York City, United States
Occupation Journalist, memoirist
Notable works Unstrung Heroes (1991)
Ghosty Men (2003)
Fairway To Hell (2008)
Spouse Margaret "Maggie" (Renner) Lidz (1976-present)
Children Gogo, Daisy Daisy

Franz Lidz (born September 24, 1951) is an American writer and journalist.

He is a columnist for Smithsonian.[1][2][3][4] He was a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, a contributing editor at Conde Nast Portfolio, a correspondent for Slate,[5][6] WSJ.,[7] GQ,[8] Sports Illustrated,[9][10] The Wall Street Journal,[11] The New York Observer,[12] Men's Journal,[13] AARP the Magazine,[14] Philadelphia Magazine,[15] Golf Magazine,[16]Golf Digest[17][18] and has written for the New York Times since 1982, on travel, TV, film and theater. His work is widely anthologized and includes the childhood memoir Unstrung Heroes, the urban history Ghosty Men: The Strange But True Story of the Collyer Brothers and the "crypto-memoir" Fairway To Hell.

Early life[edit]

Lidz was born in Manhattan, to Sidney, an electronics engineer who designed the first transistorized portable tape recorder (the Steelman Transitape).[19][20] His father gave him early exposure to authors like Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Eugène Ionesco.[21]

At age nine, Lidz moved to the Philadelphia suburbs.[22] Lidz attended high school in Cheltenham[23] and later college at Antioch College,[24] where he was a theater major.[25] He simultaneously acted in a rock musical called Suzie Nation and the Yellow Peril. Lidz played a singing biker with a chain fetish.[26]


Lidz chose journalism because he wanted a career that "was an 'ism' that would not become a 'wasm'."[26] He began as one of three novice reporters at the weekly Sanford Star, where he wrote a column and covered police and fire beats, among other things. He also banked occasional finders' fees from the National Enquirer for story ideas he had passed along. Later, he left Maine to become a crime reporter and write a column called "Insect Jazz" for an alternative newspaper in Baltimore, where he chronicled the lives of colorful locals like Balls Maggio, who collected lost balls fished from the Jones Falls; Mr. Diz, the city's unofficial greeter and emcee for Polock Johnny's annual sausage-eating contest; Larry Sanders, who owned a club on The Block and enjoyed naming strippers; and Louis Comi, an organized crime figure from East Baltimore who would trail after his five incontinent Dobermans with a mop.[27] He later became an editor of Johns Hopkins University Magazine.[28] His year-long stint ended abruptly when he wrote a profile of Hopkins alumnus P. J. O'Rourke, then editor of the National Lampoon, that featured "language not normally seen in a Hopkins magazine."[27]

In 1980, he joined the staff of Sports Illustrated, even though he had never read the magazine[29] and had covered only one sporting event in his life.[30] His first appearance in the New York Times was a comic poem entitled TONY! TIGER! BERNIE BRIGHT! that was published on March 24, 1982. The entire verse: George Will, Grant Wood, Paul Schaal, Bobby Shantz, Elaine May, Galerie Maeght, Kubla Khan, but Immanuel Kant.[31]

Lidz's career highlights include road trips in search of sports on the equator,[32] the world's most dangerous sport[33] and Roman gladiators as the first sports superstars,[34] a lengthy meditation on Don King's hair,[35] the second-ever descent of Africa's Zambezi River,[36] a weighty essay on the 580-pound sumo wrestler Konishiki,[37] a look inside the mind games at the 1987 world chess championship between Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov in Seville, Spain,[38] three weeks in the Sahara covering the 2002 Paris-to-Dakar Rally,[39] and a journey into the world of Jeopardy![40] His essay on George Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees' line of succession[41] was called the "scoop of the year" in the 2008 Houghton-Mifflin collection The Best American Sports Writing. In 2013 he co-wrote a groundbreaking S.I. cover story with NBA player Jason Collins in which Collins became the first active male in one of the four major North American team sports to announce he was gay.[42][43][44] Among the other noteworthy news stories he broke: the most significant Abraham Lincoln photo find since 1952,[45] the surreal, Fifth-Dimensional beliefs of former All-Star catcher Darren Daulton.[46] and the twisted torment of onetime Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.[47][48][49]

Notable works[edit]

Unstrung Heroes[edit]

Unstrung Heroes chronicles Franz Lidz's childhood, with his father Sidney and four uncles.[24] Sidney is portrayed as the youngest and sanest. Lidz's four uncles, the Lidz Brothers,[50] are mostly reminiscent of the raffish Ritz Brothers in their heyday. He had previously written oddball features about two of the uncles in Sports Illustrated.[51][52]

In his review of Unstrung Heroes in the New York Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt called the memoir "unusual and affecting... a melancholy, funny book, a loony tune played with touching disharmony on mournful woodwinds and a noisy klaxon."[53] Jonathan Kirsch of the Los Angeles Times likened the memoir to a "miniature Brothers Karamazov. There's not a false moment in the book, and that is high praise indeed."[54] The Village Voice called Unstrung Heroes: "Astonishing, hilarious, angry, poignant, always pointed."[55]

In 1995, Unstrung Heroes was adapted into a film of the same title starring John Turturro and Andie MacDowell as Sidney and Selma Lidz, and directed by Diane Keaton.[56] The setting was switched from New York to Southern California, and the four mad uncles were reduced to an eccentric odd couple. Lidz was unhappy with the adaptation, but was prevented by his contract from publicly criticizing it.[57][58] In a later essay for the New York Times, he said that the cinematic Selma had died not of cancer, but of 'Old Movie Disease'. "Someday somebody may find a cure for cancer, but the terminal sappiness of cancer movies is probably beyond remedy."[59]

Ghosty Men[edit]

Ghosty Men (2003) is the story of the Collyer brothers. Lidz has said that he was inspired by the real-life cautionary tales that his father told him, the most macabre of which was the tale of the Collyer brothers, the hermit hoarders of Harlem.[60] The book also recounts the parallel life of Arthur Lidz,[61] the hermit uncle of Unstrung Heroes, who grew up near the Collyer mansion.[62]

Washington Post critic Adam Bernstein observed: "Ghosty Men has the breezy vibrancy of a magazine story. Like Unstrung Heroes, the new book has to its advantage a sympathy for the forgotten and keen observations about what consoles broken souls. The Collyer Brothers made compelling reading then, as they do now in this short, captivatingly detailed book."[63] Adam Mansbach of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: "Franz Lidz brings thorough research and a deft, journalistic touch to this brief, readable tale, [and] does an elegant job of situating the famously odd brothers' lives within the context of a changing New York City."[64] Luc Sante, author of Low Life, wrote: "Franz Lidz's Ghosty Men is funny and moving and full of odd details, and it will make you clean up your room."[65]

Fairway to Hell[edit]

Fairway to Hell is a 2008 memoir in which Lidz details his adventures on golf courses with people like Bill Murray and the band members of Judas Priest,[66] and even a New England farmer who raises llamas as caddies. The book includes reports from places like Zambia, where 15 holes in a course are guarded by live crocodiles, the Fattie Open (where those weighing under 250 pounds are penalized), and a pitch-and-putt tournament at a Florida nudist colony.[67]

On the National Public Radio show Only A Game, host Bill Littlefield remarked: "Nobody who read Sports Illustrated during Franz Lidz’s employment there needs to be told that his writing is funny. Happily, his estimable wit is also evident in Fairway To Hell."[68]


Lidz has written numerous essays for The New York Times with novelist and former Sports Illustrated colleague Steve Rushin.[69][70][71] Three of them appear under the title Piscopo Agonistes in the 2000 collection Mirth of a Nation: The Best Contemporary Humor.

Personal life[edit]

Lidz lives on a six-acre farm in Landenberg, Pennsylvania with his wife, Margaret "Maggie" (Renner) Lidz (an author and historian at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware). On the farm they raised two daughters[24][72] and an assortment of exotic pets.[73][74] Lidz married his wife when he was still a grad student, a day after her high school graduation.[75] His daughters Gogo[76] and Daisy Daisy[77] were named after the protagonists in Waiting for Godot.

Lidz has been a commentator for Morning Edition on NPR,[78] and a guest film critic on Roger Ebert's syndicated TV show.[79] He has also appeared on David Letterman's show.


  1. ^ "An Opera for an English Olympic Hero", July/August, 2012 - Smithsonian
  2. ^ "Dr. NakaMats, the Man With 3300 Patents to His Name", December, 2012 - Smithsonian
  3. ^ "The Little-Known Legend of Jesus in Japan", January, 2013 - Smithsonian
  4. ^ "The Rise of the Sea Urchin", July, 2014 - Smithsonian
  5. ^ "The tiny town that's home to every sport you've never heard of", 07.26.04 - Slate Magazine
  6. ^ "Expensive Chinese", 04.04.12 - Slate Magazine
  7. ^ "Upstairs, Downstairs and In Between", 12.01.11 - WSJ. Magazine
  8. ^ "Raising Minnesota", October, 2009 - GQ
  9. ^ "He bristles at attention, whether it's for his bushy beard", 08.23.10 - Sports Illustrated
  10. ^ "As The Worm Turns", 07.08.13 - Sports Illustrated
  11. ^ "At the Kentucky Derby, Running for Roses, Not Speed Records", 04.30.10 - Wall Street Journal
  12. ^ "The Virtuoso of the Canorama: Gil Rogin Ran SI at Its Peak, But His Fiction Might Make Him Immortal", 09.21.10 - The New York Observer
  13. ^ "The Shark Is Back", 03.31.09 - Men's Journal
  14. ^ "Gil Rogin Resurfaces", 09.24.10 - AARP, The Magazine
  15. ^ "The StaphMeal Saga", Dec. 2011 - Philadelphia Magazine
  16. ^ "John Jacobs Did it His Way", 08.16.14 - Golf Magazine
  17. ^ "Scorecard From The Edge", 02.18.13 - Golf Digest
  18. ^ The Unsinkable Henrik Stenson, 02.17.14 - Golf Digest
  19. ^ Sidney Lidz - Obituary, 07.28.81 - New York Times.
  20. ^ "STEELMAN Transitape portable reel-to-reel tape recorder" on YouTube, 1959
  21. ^ "Beginning at the Ending at the Bates Motel", 09.13.98 - New York Times
  22. ^ A Writer's Relative Chaos How Crazy Were Franz Lidz's Uncles? We're Glad You Asked That . . ., 04.07.91 - Philadelphia Inquirer
  23. ^ "Letter From The Publisher" - 03.09.87 - Sports Illustrated
  24. ^ a b c "Letter from the Publisher" 05.10.82 - Sports Illustrated
  25. ^ "Letter From The Publisher" - 03.26.84 - Sports Illustrated
  26. ^ a b "Lidz weaves a tale of family, life on fringes", 02.19.91 - Baltimore Sun
  27. ^ a b "Odds are, these guys are real characters", 09.21.95 - Baltimore Sun
  28. ^ "Redford movie may be filmed locally", 01.23.91 - Baltimore Sun.
  29. ^ "The Sport of Drunken Hairy Scots", 05.07.08 - Philadelphia Inquirer
  30. ^ "From the Editor", 04.08.91 - Sports Illustrated
  31. ^ METROPOLITAN DIARY, 03.24.82 - New York Times
  32. ^ "Like Sports Everywhere, the Games Played on the Equator", 02.20.98 - Sports Illustrated
  33. ^ "38 Miles of Terror", 09.08.03 - Sports Illustrated
  34. ^ "Sudden Death Gladiators were sport's first superstars, providing thrills, chills and occasional kills", 02.24.01 - Sports Illustrated
  35. ^ "From Hair To Eternity", 12.10.90 - Sports Illustrated
  36. ^ Contributors, April, 2013 Smithsonian
  37. ^ "Meat Bomb", 05.18.92 - Sports Illustrated
  38. ^ "Duel of Two Minds, 12.07.87 - Sports Illustrated
  39. ^ "Off-Road Warriors, 01.21.02 - Sports Illustrated
  40. ^ "What is Jeopardy!?, 05.01.89 - Sports Illustrated
  41. ^ Baseball After The Boss, 08.02.07 - Conde Nast Portfolio
  42. ^ "Why NBA center Jason Collins is coming out now, 04.29.13 - Sports Illustrated
  43. ^ "The story behind Jason Collins' story: How it happened, 04.29.13 - Sports Illustrated
  44. ^ How Sports Illustrated Broke the Jason Collins Story, 04.29.13 - New York Times
  45. ^ Will the Real Abraham Lincoln Please Stand Up?, October, 2013 - Smithsonian
  46. ^ "Beam us up, Dutchie" 02.16.06 - Sports Illustrated
  47. ^ "Up and Down in Beverly Hills, 04.17.00 - Sports Illustrated
  48. ^ Donald Sterling Has Been Lost In Another Century For Some Time, 04.27.14 - Chicago Sun-Times
  49. ^ "Sterling's offensive behavior was no secret for years, 04.30.14 - Sports Illustrated
  50. ^ From The Publisher", 09.25.95 - Sports Illustrated
  51. ^ "My Uncle, The Collector: A Hobbyist On A Shoestring", 01.25.87 - Sports Illustrated
  52. ^ "Uncle Harry Never Lost A Fight But He Never Really Fought One, Either, 12.20.82 - Sports Illustrated
  53. ^ Books of The Times; Reality Was Relative and the Relatives Were Nuts, 03.04.91 - New York Times
  54. ^ The Unlikely Heroics of Unstrung Heroes, 02.20.91 - Los Angeles Times
  55. ^ "Unstrung Heroes", February, 1991 - Random House
  56. ^ Lost In Translation, 09.21.95 - Philadelphia Inquirer
  57. ^ In The Name Of The Father, 09.22.95 - Entertainment Weekly
  58. ^ Undone Heroes, 09.18.95 - New York magazine
  59. ^ In a Higher State of Being (That Is, Dying), 01.10.99 - New York Times
  60. ^ The Paper Chase, 10.26.03 - New York Times
  61. ^ A Trashy Read / Hoarding hermits? A typist's true tale, 11.02.03 - Newsday
  62. ^ Author delves into his inner hoarder His eccentric uncle led him to write about the Collyer brothers, 05.16.04 - Philadelphia Inquirer
  63. ^ "If Anything Should Inspire..., 01.04.04 - Washington Post
  64. ^ Review In Brief, 10.12.03 - San Francisco Chronicle
  65. ^ "Ghosty Men", May, 2004 - Bloomsbury
  66. ^ Heavy Metal Rockers Find Peace And Quiet—and Rock Fans—on The Links, 11.27.86 - Sports Illustrated
  67. ^ "Fairway to Hell", April, 2008 - ESPN
  68. ^ Books In Review, 05.30.08 - Only A Game, NPR
  69. ^ We Know What You'll See Next Summer.., 11.15.98 - New York Times
  70. ^ Here A Comic Genius, There A Comic Genius, 01.30.00 - New York Times
  71. ^ How to Tell a Bad Movie From a Truly Bad Movie, 08.05.01 - New York Times
  72. ^ Where the wild things are - inside the tent 11.21.04 Los Angeles Times
  73. ^ "Llet Llamas Llug The Lload, 09.08.97 - Sports Illustrated
  74. ^ Made For Each Other, 05.18.08 - The News Journal
  75. ^ "Meeting Maggie, February 2009 - O, The Oprah Magazine
  76. ^ Gogo Lidz, Cultural Correspondent, 07.24.14 - Newsweek
  77. ^ Daisy Lidz, Thor Ritz, 07.25.10 - New York Times
  78. ^ News Briefs, 11.19.98 - The Tuscaloosa News
  79. ^ A Shot at Thumb-Wrestling With Roger, 04.16.00 - New York Times

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