Gay Talese

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Gay Talese
Talese in 2006
Talese in 2006
BornGaetano Talese
(1932-02-07) February 7, 1932 (age 90)
Ocean City, New Jersey, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of Alabama
GenreLiterary journalism, New Journalism
Years active1961–present
Notable works"Frank Sinatra Has a Cold"
(m. 1959)

Gaetano "Gay" Talese (/təˈlz/; born February 7, 1932)[1] is an American writer. As a journalist for The New York Times and Esquire magazine during the 1960s, Talese helped to define contemporary literary journalism and is considered, along with Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion and Hunter S. Thompson, one of the pioneers of New Journalism. Talese's most famous articles are about Joe DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra.[2][3][4][5][6]

Early life[edit]

Nan Talese and Gay Talese at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.

Born in Ocean City, New Jersey, the son of Italian immigrant parents,[1] Talese graduated from Ocean City High School in 1949.[7]

Writer origins[edit]

High school[edit]

Talese's entry into writing was entirely happenstance, and the unintended consequence of the then high school sophomore's attempt to gain more playing time for the baseball team. The assistant coach had the duty of telephoning in the chronicle of each game to the local newspaper and when he complained he was too busy to do it properly, the head coach gave Talese the duty. As Talese recalls in his 1996 memoir Origins of a Nonfiction Writer:

On the mistaken assumption that relieving the athletic department of its press duties would gain me the gratitude of the coach and get me more playing time, I took the job and even embellished it by using my typing skills to compose my own account of the games rather than merely relaying the information to the newspapers by telephone.[citation needed]

After only seven sports articles, Talese was given his own column for the weekly Ocean City Sentinel-Ledger. By the time Talese left for college during September 1949, he had written some 311 stories and columns for the Sentinel-Ledger.

Talese credits his mother as the role model he followed in developing the interviewing techniques that would serve him well later in life, interviewing such varied subjects as mafia members and middle-class Americans on their sexual habits. He relates in A Writer's Life:

I learned [from my mother] ... to listen with patience and care, and never to interrupt even when people were having great difficulty in explaining themselves, for during such halting and imprecise moments ... people are very revealing—what they hesitate to talk about can tell much about them. Their pauses, their evasions, their sudden shifts in subject matter are likely indicators of what embarrasses them, or irritates them, or what they regard as too private or imprudent to be disclosed to another person at that particular time. However, I have also overheard many people discussing candidly with my mother what they had earlier avoided—a reaction that I think had less to do with her inquiring nature or sensitively posed questions than with their gradual acceptance of her as a trustworthy individual in whom they could confide.


Talese at home in 2007.

Talese graduated from the University of Alabama in 1953. His selection of a major was, as he described it, a moot choice. "I chose journalism as my college major because that is what I knew," he recalls, "but I really became a student of history." At university, he became a brother of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.

It was here that Talese would begin to employ literary devices more well known for fiction, such as establishing the "scene" with minute details, and beginning articles in medias res (Latin for "into the midst of things"). During his junior year, Talese became the sports editor for the campus newspaper, Crimson-White, and started a column he dubbed "Sports Gay-zing", for which he wrote on November 7, 1951:

Rhythmic "Sixty Minute Man" emanated from the Supe Store juke box and Larry (The Maestro) Chiodetti beat against the table like mad in keeping time with the jumpy tempo. T-shirted Bobby Marlow was just leaving the Sunday morning bull session and dapper Bill Kilroy had just purchased the morning newspapers.

This was before Lillian Ross did the same in Picture (1952) or Truman Capote used the technique in The Muses Are Heard (1956). More importantly, Talese included among his subjects both the "losers" and the unnoticed. He was more interested in those who did not attain the glory of winning and less in hero-worshipping the winners.

Professional career[edit]

Newspaper reporter[edit]

After graduation in June 1953, Talese relocated to New York City, yet could only find work as a copyboy. The job was, however, at the esteemed New York Times and Talese arrived for his mundane position nevertheless in handstitched Italian suits. Talese was eventually able to get an article published in the Times, albeit unsigned (without credit). In "Times Square Anniversary" (November 2, 1953), Talese interviewed the man, Herbert Kesner, Broadcast Editor, who was responsible for managing the headlines that flash across the famous marquee above Times Square.

Talese followed this with an article in the February 21, 1954 edition, concerning the chairs used on the boardwalk of Atlantic City (something with which he was familiar as his home town of Ocean City is the next hamlet south of the gambling mecca). Yet, his budding journalism career would have to be put on hold – Talese was drafted into the United States Army in 1954.

Talese had been required (as were all male students at the time owing to the Korean War) to join the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) and had relocated to New York awaiting his eventual commission as a second lieutenant. Talese was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to train in the Tank Corps. Finding his mechanical skills lacking, Talese was transferred to the Office of Public Information where he once again worked for a local newspaper, Inside the Turret, and soon had his own column, "Fort Knox Confidential".

When Talese completed his military obligation during 1956, he was rehired by the New York Times as a sports reporter. Talese later opined, "Sports is about people who lose and lose and lose. They lose games; then they lose their jobs. It can be very intriguing." Of the various fields, boxing had the most appeal for Talese, largely because it was about individuals engaged in contests and those individuals in the mid to late 1950s were becoming predominately non-white at the prizefight level. He wrote 38 articles about Floyd Patterson alone.

For this, Talese was rewarded with a promotion to the Times' Albany Bureau to cover state politics. It was a short-lived assignment, however, as Talese's exacting habits and meticulous style soon irritated his new editors so much that they recalled him to the city, assigning him to write minor obituaries. Talese puts it, "I was banished to the obituary desk as punishment – to break me. There were major obituaries and minor obituaries. I was sent to write minor obituaries not even seven paragraphs long." After a year working for the Times obituary section, he began to write articles for the Sunday Times, which was then managed as a separate organization from the daily Times by editor Lester Markel.

Magazine reporter[edit]

Talese's first piece for the magazine Esquire – a series of scenes in the city – appeared in a special New York issue during July 1960.[8]: 23  When the Times newspaper unions had a work stoppage during December 1962, Talese had plenty of time to watch rehearsals for a production by Broadway director Joshua Logan for an Esquire profile. As Carol Polsgrove indicates in her history of Esquire during the 1960s, it was the kind of reporting he liked to do best: "just being there, observing, waiting for the climactic moment when the mask would drop and true character would reveal itself."[8]: 60 

In 1964, Talese published The Bridge: The Building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, a reporter-style, non-fiction depiction of the construction of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in New York City. In 1965, he left The New York Times to write full-time for editor Harold Hayes at Esquire. His 1966 Esquire article on Frank Sinatra, "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold", is one of the most influential American magazine articles of all time, and a pioneering example of New Journalism and creative nonfiction. With what some have called a brilliant structure and pacing, the article focused not just on Sinatra himself, but also on Talese's pursuit of his subject.[citation needed]

Talese's celebrated Esquire essay about Joe DiMaggio, "The Silent Season of a Hero" – in part a meditation on the transient nature of fame – was also published during 1966.

For his part, Talese regarded his 1966 profile of obituarist Alden Whitman, "Mr. Bad News", as his finest.[9]

A number of Talese's Esquire essays were collected into the 1970 book Fame and Obscurity; in its introduction, Talese paid tribute to two writers he admired by citing "an aspiration on my part to somehow bring to reportage the tone that Irwin Shaw and John O'Hara had brought to the short story."

In 1971, Talese published Honor Thy Father, a book about the travails of the Bonanno crime family in the 1960s, especially Salvatore Bonanno and his father Joseph Bonanno. The book was based on seven years of research and interviews. Honor Thy Father was made into a TV movie in 1973.[10]

During 2008, The Library of America selected Talese's 1970 account of the Charles Manson murders, "Charlie Manson's Home on the Range", for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American True Crime.

In 2011, Talese won the Norman Mailer Prize for Distinguished Journalism.[citation needed]


Talese in 2007

In April 2016, Talese spoke at a panel at a Boston University journalism conference. During the panel Talese was asked what nonfiction women writers he found inspiring, to which he responded, "I didn't know any women writers that I loved." In response, a Twitter hashtag was created under #womengaytaleseshouldread.[11]

In June 2016, the credibility of Talese's book The Voyeur's Motel, whose subject was Gerald Foos, was questioned when it came to light Foos had made false statements to Talese which Talese did not verify. When news of the credibility broke, Talese stated, "I'm not going to promote this book. How dare I promote it when its credibility is down the toilet?"[12] In subsequent interviews and on an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, Talese recanted this disavowal, stating that his story was still accurate despite the discrepancies found by the Washington Post.[citation needed]

In a November 2017 interview with Vanity Fair at the New York Public Library's Literary Lions Gala, Talese made comments about the sexual assault accusations against Kevin Spacey that had surfaced over the previous weeks. Talese stated, "I would like to ask [Spacey] how it feels to lose a lifetime of success and hard work all because of 10 minutes of indiscretion 10 years or more ago. I feel so sad, and I hate that actor that ruined this guy's career. So, OK, it happened 10 years ago... Jesus, suck it up once in a while! You know something, all of us in this room at one time or another did something we're ashamed of. The Dalai Lama has done something he's ashamed of. The Dalai Lama should confess... put that in your magazine!"[13] CNN reported the "backlash on social media was almost immediate."[14] Jenavieve Hatch of the Huffington Post called the remarks "disrespectful to survivors of sexual trauma."[13] The Daily Beast's Tom Sykes wrote "chastising an alleged child sexual harassment victim is a terrible look."[15] The Washington Post called his statements a "bizarre, rabid defense of the actor."[16]

Personal life[edit]

In 1959, Talese married writer Nan Talese (née Ahearn), a New York editor who manages the Nan A. Talese/Doubleday imprint. Their marriage is being documented in a non-fiction book he has been working on since 2007.[17][18] They have two daughters, Pamela Talese, a painter, and Catherine Talese, a photographer and photo editor.[19]

In popular culture[edit]

Talese appeared as a character in several strips of the comic Doonesbury, giving an interview to radio host Mark Slackmeyer to promote his book Thy Neighbor's Wife.

Partial bibliography[edit]



  1. ^ a b "About Gay Talese". Random House. Archived from the original on April 11, 2013. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
  2. ^ Gay Talese (July 2, 2009). "Once Around the Island With Gay Talese". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Gay Talese (February 17, 2009). "When Panhandlers Need a Wordsmith's Touch". The New York Times.
  4. ^ Sarah Ellison (June 13, 2011). "A New Kingdom: Gay Talese Sounds Off On The New York Times—Past, Present, and Future". Vanity Fair.
  5. ^ Vanessa V. Friedman (August 11, 1995). "It Wasn't Pretty, Folks, But Didn't We Have Fun?: 'Esquire' in the Sixties (book review)". Entertainment Weekly.
  6. ^ Jonathan Van Meter (April 26, 2009). "A Nonfiction Marriage". New York.
  7. ^ "The ultimate New Jersey high school yearbook: T–Z and also...", The Star-Ledger, June 27, 1999. Retrieved August 4, 2007.
  8. ^ a b Carol Polsgrove (1995). It Wasn't Pretty, Folks, But Didn't We Have Fun?. ISBN 978-0-393-03792-0.
  9. ^ Brown, Mick (November 14, 2015). "'I wanted to elevate journalism': Gay Talese, the writer who nailed Frank Sinatra". Telegraph Magazine. London.
  10. ^ "Honor Thy Father". Time Out.
  11. ^ Ward, Kat (April 2, 2016). "Gay Talese Just Not That into Women Writers". The Cut. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  12. ^ Farhi, Paul (June 30, 2016). "Author Gay Talese disavows his latest book amid credibility questions". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  13. ^ a b Hatch, Jenavieve (November 8, 2017). "Gay Talese Says Kevin Spacey Accusers Should Just 'Suck It Up'". HuffPost. Retrieved November 8, 2017.
  14. ^ France, Lisa Respers (November 9, 2017). "Gay Talese: Kevin Spacey accuser should 'suck it up'". CNN. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  15. ^ Sykes, Tom (November 8, 2017). "Gay Talese Defends Kevin Spacey: 'Jesus, Suck It Up Once in a While!'". The Daily Beast. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  16. ^ Andrews, Travis M. (November 8, 2017). "Author Gay Talese feels sorry for Kevin Spacey, says his accusers should 'suck it up'". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  17. ^ "A Nonfiction Marriage". New York. April 26, 2009. Retrieved September 11, 2009.
  18. ^ "Talese's memoir details his writing travails". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. May 16, 2006. Retrieved September 11, 2009.
  19. ^ Jonathan Van Meter (May 4, 2009). "A Nonfiction Marriage". New York Magazine. Retrieved March 25, 2012.

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