Franz Lidz

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Franz Lidz
Born Franz Ira Lidz
(1951-09-24) September 24, 1951 (age 65)
New York City, United States
Occupation Journalist, memoirist, American professional basketball executive
Notable works Unstrung Heroes (1991)
Ghosty Men (2003)
Fairway To Hell (2008)
Spouse Maggie Lidz (1976-present)
Children Gogo, Daisy Daisy

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

He is a columnist for Smithsonian[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12] and a vice president of the Detroit Pistons. He was a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, a contributing editor at Conde Nast Portfolio. a correspondent for Slate,[13][14] WSJ.,[15] GQ,[16] Sports Illustrated,[17][18] The Wall Street Journal,[19] The New York Observer,[20] Men's Journal,[21] AARP the Magazine,[22] Philadelphia Magazine,[23] Philadelphia Inquirer,[24] Golf Magazine,[25] Golf Digest[26][27] 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. In 1995, Unstrung Heroes was adapted into a Hollywood film of the same title, directed by Diane Keaton.[28]

Early life[edit]

Lidz was born in Manhattan, to Sidney, an electronics engineer who designed the first transistorized portable tape recorder (the Steelman Transitape).[29][30] His father gave him early exposure to authors like Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Eugène Ionesco.[31]

At age nine, Lidz moved to the Philadelphia suburbs.[32][33][34] Lidz attended high school in Cheltenham[35][36] and college at Antioch College,[37] where he was a theater major. He simultaneously acted in a rock musical called Suzie Nation and the Yellow Peril. Lidz played a singing biker with a chain fetish.[38]


Lidz chose journalism because he wanted a career that "was an 'ism' that would not become a 'wasm'."[38] 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. 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.[39] He later became an editor of Johns Hopkins University Magazine.[40] 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."[39]

In 1980, he joined the staff of Sports Illustrated, even though he had never read the magazine[41] and had covered only one sporting event in his life - a pigeon race in Shapleigh, Maine.[22][42] Lidz's interview consisted of telling managing editor Gil Rogin about an unassisted triple play he made in Little League, and Rogin telling him that he could have a job if he could screw the cap off a bottle of orange juice. Which, with a flick of the wrist, Lidz did. He started the following week and remained on the writing staff for 27 years.[43] 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.[44]

Lidz's career highlights include road trips in search of sports on the equator,[45] the world's most dangerous sport[46] and Roman gladiators as the first sports superstars,[47] a lengthy meditation on Don King's hair,[48] the second-ever descent of Africa's Zambezi River,[49] a weighty essay on the 580-pound sumo wrestler Konishiki,[50] officiating a Scottish golf kerfuffle between Donald Trump and a North Sea quarryman,[51] a look inside the mind games at World Chess Championship 1987 between Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov in Seville, Spain,[52] three weeks in the Sahara covering the 2002 Paris-to-Dakar Rally,[53] two separate trudges through Panama's Darien jungle retracing Vasco Núñez de Balboa's 1513 expedition,[54][55] crocodile trapping in the Australian outback,[56] a fractured King Lear-like fable about Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss and his feuding children[57] and a journey into the world of Jeopardy![58] His essay on George Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees' line of succession[59] 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.[60][61][62][63] Among the other noteworthy news stories he broke: the most significant Abraham Lincoln photo find since 1952,[64] the discovery of a Roman gladiator school in Carnuntum, Austria[65] and long-lost correspondence from a young Union infantryman,[66] the first face-to-face interview with mysterious Twitter poet Brian Bilston,[67] the surreal, Fifth-Dimensional beliefs of former All-Star catcher Darren Daulton[68] and the twisted torment of onetime Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.[69][70][71]

Notable works[edit]

Unstrung Heroes[edit]

Unstrung Heroes chronicles Franz Lidz's childhood, with his father Sidney and four uncles.[42][72] Sidney is portrayed as the youngest and sanest. Lidz's four uncles, the Lidz Brothers,[73] 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.[74][75]

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."[76] 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."[77] The Village Voice called Unstrung Heroes: "Astonishing, hilarious, angry, poignant, always pointed."[78]

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.[28] The setting was switched from New York City 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. ("My initial fear was that Disney would turn my uncles into Grumpy and Dopey," he told New York magazine. "I never imagined my life could be turned into Old Yeller.")[79][80] 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."[81]

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.[82] The book also recounts the parallel life of Arthur Lidz,[83] the hermit uncle of Unstrung Heroes, who grew up near the Collyer mansion.[84]

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."[85] 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."[86] 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."[87]

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,[88] 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.[89]

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."[90]


Lidz has written numerous essays for The New York Times with novelist and former Sports Illustrated colleague Steve Rushin.[91][92][93] 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 shares a six-acre farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania with his wife, Maggie Lidz (an author and onetime historian at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware). On the farm they raised two daughters[94][95] and an assortment of exotic pets.[73][96][97] Lidz married his wife when he was still a grad student, a day after her high school graduation.[98] His daughters Gogo[36][99] and Daisy Daisy[100] were named after the protagonists in Waiting for Godot.

Lidz has been a commentator for Morning Edition on NPR,[101] and a guest film critic on Roger Ebert's syndicated TV show.[102] He has also appeared on David Letterman's show.[35] In 1984, inspired by the advice of Ezra Pound scholar Hugh Kenner ("You have an obligation to visit the great men of your time"), he made a pilgrimage to the villa of Gore Vidal in Ravello, Italy, inveigling his way in with the line: "I'm on a world tour of the homes of everyone I've ever seen on The Merv Griffin Show."[32][36]


  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. ^ "Kon-Tiki Sails Again", April 2013 - Smithsonian
  5. ^ "How Lego Is Constructing the Next Generation of Engineers", May 2013 - Smithsonian
  6. ^ "The Eagle Never Landed", February 2014 - Smithsonian
  7. ^ "The Vikings’ Bad Boy Reputation Is Back With a Vengeance", March 2014 - Smithsonian
  8. ^ "The Rise of the Sea Urchin", July 2014 - Smithsonian
  9. ^ "How Farms Became the New Hot Suburb", May 2015 - Smithsonian
  10. ^ "Behold The Blobfish", November 2015 - Smithsonian
  11. ^ "How Much Has the Town Where the Scopes Trial Took Place Evolved Since the 1920s?", April 2016 - Smithsonian
  12. ^ "Why Mount Fuji Endures As a Powerful Force in Japan", May 2017 - Smithsonian
  13. ^ "The tiny town that's home to every sport you've never heard of", 07.26.04 - Slate Magazine
  14. ^ "Expensive Chinese", 04.04.12 - Slate Magazine
  15. ^ "Upstairs, Downstairs and In Between", 12.01.11 - WSJ. Magazine
  16. ^ "Raising Minnesota", October 2009 - GQ
  17. ^ "He bristles at attention, whether it's for his bushy beard", 08.23.10 - Sports Illustrated
  18. ^ "As The Worm Turns", 07.08.13 - Sports Illustrated
  19. ^ "At the Kentucky Derby, Running for Roses, Not Speed Records", 04.30.10 - Wall Street Journal
  20. ^ "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
  21. ^ "The Shark Is Back", 03.31.09 - Men's Journal
  22. ^ a b "Gil Rogin Resurfaces", 09.24.10 - AARP, The Magazine
  23. ^ "The StaphMeal Saga", Dec. 2011 - Philadelphia Magazine
  24. ^ "A bookseller of few words", 10.21.11 - Philadelphia Inquirer
  25. ^ "John Jacobs Did it His Way", 08.16.14 - Golf Magazine
  26. ^ "Scorecard From The Edge", 02.18.13 - Golf Digest
  27. ^ The Unsinkable Henrik Stenson, 02.17.14 - Golf Digest
  28. ^ a b "Lost In Translation, 09.21.95 - Philadelphia Inquirer
  29. ^ Sidney Lidz - Obituary, 07.28.81 - New York Times.
  30. ^ "STEELMAN Transitape portable reel-to-reel tape recorder" on YouTube, 1959
  31. ^ "Beginning at the Ending at the Bates Motel", 09.13.98 - New York Times
  32. ^ a b "A Writer's Relative Chaos How Crazy Were Franz Lidz's Uncles? We're Glad You Asked That . . ., 04.07.91 - Philadelphia Inquirer
  33. ^ Arn Tellem and Franz Lidz Are Going to the Hall of Fame, Philadelphia Magazine, 05.17.15
  34. ^ Franz Lidz & Arn Tellem entering Hall together, Philadelphia Daily News, 05.27.15
  35. ^ a b "Letter From The Publisher" - 05.10.82 - Sports Illustrated
  36. ^ a b c "Letter From The Publisher" - 03.09.87 - Sports Illustrated
  37. ^ "Letter from the Publisher" 03.26.84 - Sports Illustrated
  38. ^ a b "Lidz weaves a tale of family, life on fringes", 02.19.91 - Baltimore Sun
  39. ^ a b "Odds are, these guys are real characters", 09.21.95 - Baltimore Sun
  40. ^ "Redford movie may be filmed locally", 01.23.91 - Baltimore Sun.
  41. ^ "The Sport of Drunken Hairy Scots", 05.07.08 - Philadelphia Inquirer
  42. ^ a b "From the Editor", 04.08.91 - Sports Illustrated
  43. ^ "Almost Famous", 08.15.16 - Sports Illustrated
  44. ^ METROPOLITAN DIARY, 03.24.82 - New York Times
  45. ^ "Like Sports Everywhere, the Games Played on the Equator", 02.20.98 - Sports Illustrated
  46. ^ "38 Miles of Terror", 09.08.03 - Sports Illustrated
  47. ^ "Sudden Death Gladiators were sport's first superstars, providing thrills, chills and occasional kills", 02.24.01 - Sports Illustrated
  48. ^ "From Hair To Eternity", 12.10.90 - Sports Illustrated
  49. ^ Contributors, April 2013 Smithsonian
  50. ^ "Meat Bomb", 05.18.92 - Sports Illustrated
  51. ^ "Landing In The Rough With Trump", 02.22.08 - Conde Nast Portfolio
  52. ^ "Duel of Two Minds, 12.07.87 - Sports Illustrated
  53. ^ "Off-Road Warriors, 01.21.02 - Sports Illustrated
  54. ^ "In Balboa's Bootsteps", 09.22.97 - Sports Illustrated
  55. ^ "Following in the Footsteps of Balboa", September 2013 - Smithsonian
  56. ^ "The Crocodile Hunter's Family Shares His Controversial Approach To Studying Crocs", March 2015 - Smithsonian
  57. ^ "She's Got Balls, 11.02.98 - Sports Illustrated
  58. ^ "What is Jeopardy!?, 05.01.89 - Sports Illustrated
  59. ^ Baseball After The Boss, 08.02.07 - Conde Nast Portfolio
  60. ^ "Why NBA center Jason Collins is coming out now, 04.29.13 - Sports Illustrated
  61. ^ "The story behind Jason Collins' story: How it happened, 04.29.13 - Sports Illustrated
  62. ^ How Sports Illustrated Broke the Jason Collins Story, 04.29.13 - New York Times
  63. ^ Franz Lidz And Arn Tellem Head Jewish Sports Hall Of Fame Class, 05.27.15 - CBS Sports
  64. ^ Will the Real Abraham Lincoln Please Stand Up?, October 2013 - Smithsonian
  65. ^ The Discovery of a Roman Gladiator School Brings the Famed Fighters Back to Life, July 2016 - Smithsonian
  66. ^ Newly Discovered Letters Bring New Insight Into the Life of a Civil War Soldier, November 2016 - Smithsonian
  67. ^ Why Twitter's "Poet Laureate" Has No Plans to Unmask His Real Identity, July 2016 - Smithsonian
  68. ^ "Beam us up, Dutchie" 02.16.06 - Sports Illustrated
  69. ^ "Up and Down in Beverly Hills, 04.17.00 - Sports Illustrated
  70. ^ Donald Sterling Has Been Lost In Another Century For Some Time, 04.27.14 - Chicago Sun-Times
  71. ^ "Sterling's offensive behavior was no secret for years, 04.30.14 - Sports Illustrated
  72. ^ SUMMER FILMS: CREATURE FEATURES; The Ongoing Adventures of Moose and Squirrel, 04.20.00 - New York Times
  73. ^ a b To Our Readers", 09.25.95 - Sports Illustrated
  74. ^ "My Uncle, The Collector: A Hobbyist On A Shoestring", 01.25.87 - Sports Illustrated
  75. ^ "Uncle Harry Never Lost A Fight But He Never Really Fought One, Either, 12.20.82 - Sports Illustrated
  76. ^ Books of The Times; Reality Was Relative and the Relatives Were Nuts, 03.04.91 - New York Times
  77. ^ The Unlikely Heroics of Unstrung Heroes, 02.20.91 - Los Angeles Times
  78. ^ "Unstrung Heroes", February 1991 - Random House
  79. ^ In The Name Of The Father, 09.22.95 - Entertainment Weekly
  80. ^ Undone Heroes, 09.18.95 - New York magazine
  81. ^ In a Higher State of Being (That Is, Dying), 01.10.99 - New York Times
  82. ^ The Paper Chase, 10.26.03 - New York Times
  83. ^ A Trashy Read / Hoarding hermits? A typist's true tale, 11.02.03 - Newsday
  84. ^ Author delves into his inner hoarder His eccentric uncle led him to write about the Collyer brothers, 05.16.04 - Philadelphia Inquirer
  85. ^ "If Anything Should Inspire..., 01.04.04 - Washington Post
  86. ^ Review In Brief, 10.12.03 - San Francisco Chronicle
  87. ^ "Ghosty Men", May 2004 - Bloomsbury
  88. ^ Heavy Metal Rockers Find Peace And Quiet—and Rock Fans—on The Links, 11.27.86 - Sports Illustrated
  89. ^ "Fairway to Hell", April 2008 - ESPN
  90. ^ Books In Review, 05.30.08 - Only A Game, NPR
  91. ^ We Know What You'll See Next Summer.., 11.15.98 - New York Times
  92. ^ Here A Comic Genius, There A Comic Genius, 01.30.00 - New York Times
  93. ^ How to Tell a Bad Movie From a Truly Bad Movie, 08.05.01 - New York Times
  94. ^ "Introducing Miss Daisy, 06.23.03 - Sports Illustrated
  95. ^ Where the wild things are - inside the tent 11.21.04 Los Angeles Times
  96. ^ "Llet Llamas Llug The Lload, 09.08.97 - Sports Illustrated
  97. ^ Made For Each Other, 05.18.08 - The News Journal
  98. ^ "Meeting Maggie, February 2009 - O, The Oprah Magazine
  99. ^ Gogo Lidz, Staff Writer, 07.24.14 - Newsweek
  100. ^ Daisy Lidz, Thor Ritz, 07.25.10 - New York Times
  101. ^ News Briefs, 11.19.98 - The Tuscaloosa News
  102. ^ A Shot at Thumb-Wrestling With Roger, 04.16.00 - New York Times

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