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Gay Talese

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Gay Talese
Talese in 2006
Talese in 2006
BornGaetano Talese
(1932-02-07) February 7, 1932 (age 92)
Ocean City, New Jersey, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of Alabama
GenreLiterary journalism, New Journalism
Years active1961–present
Notable works
(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 and education

Talese with Nan 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]

Talese's entry into writing was entirely happenstance and the unintended consequence of his attempt as a high school sophomore to gain more playing time in 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.[8]: 237  As Talese recalls in his 1996 memoiristic essay "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.[8]: 237 

After only seven sports articles, Talese was given his own column for the weekly Ocean City Sentinel-Ledger in Ocean City. By the time he left for college in September 1949, he had written some 311 stories and columns for the Sentinel-Ledger.[8]: ix–x 

Talese credits his mother as the role model he followed in developing the interviewing techniques that he would during his career. He relates in "Origins of a Nonfiction Writer":

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.[8]: 228–229 

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."[8]: ix–x  At university, he became a brother of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.[9]

It was there 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. During his junior year, Talese became the sports editor for the campus newspaper, The Crimson White,[10] and started a column he dubbed "Sports Gay-zing",[11] 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.[12]


Talese at home in 2007

Newspaper reporter


After graduation in June 1953, Talese relocated to New York City, yet could only find work as a copyboy.[13] The job, however, was at The New York Times. Talese was eventually able to get an article published in the Times, albeit unsigned. 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.[12]

Talese followed this with an article in the February 21, 1954 edition concerning the chairs used on the boardwalk of Atlantic City.[14] However, his budding journalism career would have to be put on hold, as he was drafted into the United States Army in 1954.[10]

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.[15] Talese was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to train in the Tank Corps.[16] Finding his mechanical skills lacking, Talese was transferred to the Office of Public Information where he worked for an army newspaper, Inside the Turret (known today as The Gold Standard), and soon had his own column, "Fort Knox Confidential".[17]

When Talese completed his military service in 1956, he was rehired by The New York Times as a sports reporter.[8]: 257  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."[18] 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.[8]: XIII–XIV  He wrote 38 articles about Floyd Patterson alone.[12]

Talese was then assigned to the Times' Albany Bureau to cover state politics. It was a short-lived assignment, however, as his 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.[8]: 257–259  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.[12]

Magazine reporter


Talese's first piece for the magazine Esquire – a series of scenes in New York City – appeared in a special New York issue in July 1960.[19]: 23  When the Times newspaper unions had a work stoppage in 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."[19]: 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.[20][21]

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 in 1966.[22][23]

For his part, Talese regarded his 1966 profile of obituarist Alden Whitman, "Mr. Bad News", as his finest.[24]

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, 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."[25]

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. The book was based on seven years of research and interviews. Honor Thy Father was made into a TV movie in 1973.[26]

Talese signed a $1.2 million contract with Doubleday in 1972 to write two books, with the first, Thy Neighbor's Wife, due in 1973. Paperback rights to Thy Neighbor's Wife were sold to Dell Publishing for $750,000 in 1973. He missed Doubleday's initial deadline and spent 8 years researching the book, including managing massage parlors in New York and running a sex shop.[27][28] In 1979 United Artists paid Talese a record $2.5 million for the film rights.[27] The book was eventually published in 1981 but no film was produced.

In 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.[29]

In 2011, Talese won the Norman Mailer Prize for Distinguished Journalism.[30]

Personal life


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.[31][32] They have two daughters, Pamela Talese, a painter, and Catherine Talese, a photographer and photo editor.[33]

Talese was a close friend of fellow journalist and author Tom Wolfe.[34]



Talese is a lifelong Democrat. Despite this, he was a fierce critic of President Barack Obama and has defended President Donald Trump on several occasions. In an February 2017 interview with Haaretz, Talese said, “This crazy Trump, hustler, real estate tycoon, I think he’s better than Obama. We love to say Obama is Frederick Douglass, Obama is Booker T. Washington, Obama is Paul Robeson, the enlightenment. Well it didn’t work."[35]



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.[36]

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?"[37] 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.[38]

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!"[39] CNN reported the "backlash on social media was almost immediate."[40] Jenavieve Hatch of the Huffington Post called the remarks "disrespectful to survivors of sexual trauma."[39] The Daily Beast's Tom Sykes wrote "chastising an alleged child sexual harassment victim is a terrible look."[41] The Washington Post called his statements a "bizarre, rabid defense of the actor."[42]

  • Talese appeared as a character in several strips of the comic Doonesbury.[43]



As author[44]

  • New York: A Serendipiter's Journey (1961)
  • The Bridge: The Building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (1964) ISBN 978-0802776440
  • The Overreachers (1965; compilation of past reportage)
  • The Kingdom and the Power (1969) ISBN 978-0812977684
  • Fame and Obscurity (1970; compilation of past reportage, including "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold") ISBN 978-1015280809
  • Honor Thy Father (1971) ISBN 978-0061665363
  • Thy Neighbor's Wife (1981) ISBN 978-0061665431
  • Unto the Sons (1992; memoir) ISBN 978-0679410348
  • The Gay Talese Reader: Portraits and Encounters (2003; contains material from New York: A Serendipiter's Journey, The Overreachers and Fame and Obscurity) ISBN 978-0802776754
  • A Writer's Life (2006; memoir) ISBN 978-0679410966
  • The Silent Season of a Hero: The Sports Writing of Gay Talese (2010; compilation of past reportage) ISBN 978-0802777539
  • The Voyeur's Motel (2016) ISBN 978-0802126979
  • Frank Sinatra Has a Cold (2016; coffee table book version of the 1966 article with photographs by Phil Stern) ISBN 978-3836588294
  • Bartleby and Me: Reflections of an Old Scrivener (2023) ISBN 978-0358455479

As editor

  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Literature of Reality (1995; with Barbara Lounsberry) ISBN 978-0060465872


  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. Archived from the original on October 1, 2013. Retrieved March 25, 2012.
  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 c d e f g h Talese, Gay (2003). The Gay Talese Reader: Portraits & Encounters. New York: Walker Publishing. ISBN 978-0802776754.
  9. ^ Talese, Gay (2006). A Writer's Life. New York, NY: Knopf. p. 123. ISBN 9780679410966.
  10. ^ a b Pappu, Sridhar (November 20, 2015). "What Literary Legend Gay Talese Thinks About Alabama Football's Chances This Year". New York Magazine. Retrieved September 15, 2023.
  11. ^ Canfield, Kevin (September 24, 2010). "A Q&A With Gay Talese, Sportswriter - TV - Vulture". New York Magazine. Retrieved September 15, 2023.
  12. ^ a b c d Lounsberry, Barbara. "Portrait of an (Nonfiction) Artist". Random House. Retrieved September 15, 2023.
  13. ^ "New journalism pioneer Gay Talese wins Polk Award". CBC. Retrieved September 15, 2023.
  14. ^ Talese, Gay J. (February 21, 1954). "famous Rolling Chairs Beside the Sea". The New York Times. Retrieved September 15, 2023.
  15. ^ "Don Noble: Gay Talese thoroughly explains 'A Writer's Life'". The Tuscaloosa News. Retrieved September 15, 2023.
  16. ^ Sperrazza, Casey (August 23, 2015). "Alabama Not Just Football: 30 Amazing People Who Were Built By Bama". Bama Hammer. Retrieved September 15, 2023.
  17. ^ Boynton, Robert S. (2005). The New New Journalism: Conversations with America's Best Nonfiction Writers on Their Craft. New York: Vintage. p. 362. ISBN 9781400033560.
  18. ^ Mustich, James (September 30, 2010). "Gay Talese: BN Review". Barnes & Noble.
  19. ^ a b Carol Polsgrove (1995). It Wasn't Pretty, Folks, But Didn't We Have Fun?. W.W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-03792-0.
  20. ^ Gordon, Meryl (January 25, 2017). "From Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga, the Greatest Hits of Gay Talese". The New York Times. Retrieved September 13, 2023.
  21. ^ Rozzo, Mark (April 9, 2021). "The story behind the greatest ever portrait of Frank Sinatra". British GQ. Retrieved September 13, 2023.
  22. ^ Talese, Gay (October 27, 2021). "Joe DiMaggio and the Silent Season of a Hero". Esquire. Retrieved September 15, 2023.
  23. ^ Seitz, Jonathan. ""Why's this so good?" No. 24: Gay Talese on Joe DiMaggio". Nieman Foundation. Retrieved September 15, 2023.
  24. ^ Brown, Mick (November 14, 2015). "'I wanted to elevate journalism': Gay Talese, the writer who nailed Frank Sinatra". Telegraph Magazine. London.
  25. ^ Maloff, Saul (August 2, 1970). "Fame and Obscurity". The New York Times. Retrieved September 15, 2023.
  26. ^ "Honor Thy Father". Time Out. September 10, 2012.
  27. ^ a b Schwartz, Tony (October 9, 1979). "U.A. Pays $2.5 Million For Book by Gay Talese". The New York Times. p. C9. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  28. ^ Blyth, Jeffrey (October 13, 1979). "UA pays record fee for rights to porn book". Screen International. p. 24.
  29. ^ Talese, Gay (October 31, 2014). "Gay Talese on Charlie Manson's Home on the Range". The Daily Beast. Retrieved September 15, 2023.
  30. ^ "Gay Talese". The American Academy in Berlin. Retrieved September 13, 2023.
  31. ^ "A Nonfiction Marriage". New York. April 26, 2009. Retrieved September 11, 2009.
  32. ^ "Talese's memoir details his writing travails". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. May 16, 2006. Retrieved September 11, 2009.
  33. ^ Jonathan Van Meter (May 4, 2009). "A Nonfiction Marriage". New York Magazine. Retrieved March 25, 2012.
  34. ^ Talese, Gay (May 26, 2018). "The Tom Wolfe I Knew". Rolling Stone.
  35. ^ Sharir, Moran (February 3, 2017). "Legendary reporter Gay Talese explains why he finds Trump inspiring". Haaretz.
  36. ^ Ward, Kat (April 2, 2016). "Gay Talese Just Not That into Women Writers". The Cut. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  37. ^ Farhi, Paul (June 30, 2016). "Author Gay Talese disavows his latest book amid credibility questions". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  38. ^ Talese, Gay (July 15, 2016), "Gay Talese: The Washington Post Was Wrong About My Book", Late Night with Seth Myers, retrieved March 12, 2023
  39. ^ a b Hatch, Jenavieve (November 8, 2017). "Gay Talese Says Kevin Spacey Accusers Should Just 'Suck It Up'". HuffPost. Retrieved November 8, 2017.
  40. ^ France, Lisa Respers (November 9, 2017). "Gay Talese: Kevin Spacey accuser should 'suck it up'". CNN. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  41. ^ 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.
  42. ^ 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.
  43. ^ Mitgang, Herbert (July 12, 1981). "Reading and Writing; AGING AGITATOR". The New York Times. Retrieved September 15, 2023.
  44. ^ "Gay Talese - Books". Random House. Retrieved September 16, 2023.