The Pop History Dig

“1930s Super Girl”
Babe Didrikson

1932 AP photo of Babe Didrikson vaulting high hurdle used as the model for the Sport Kings card above.
1932 AP photo of Babe Didrikson vaulting high hurdle used as the model for the Sport Kings card above.
     As a young teenager playing sandlot baseball in Beaumont, Texas during the late 1920s, Mildred Didrikson, daughter of Norwegian immigrants, could hit the ball farther than most of her male competitors.  For this skill her sandlot associates nick-named her “Babe” after Babe Ruth, the immortal New York Yankee slugger who was then redefining baseball with his own home-run hitting.  Young Mildred was also called “Bebe” at home by her mother.

     But Babe Didrikson was much more than a good sandlot baseball player.  In fact, when it came to athletics, there was little she couldn’t do.  More on her career in a moment.

     Mildred “Babe” Didrikson is shown at right on a 1933 Sports Kings chewing gum trading card, one of the few artistic renderings of her in action, in this case, jumping over a high hurdle.

     The rendering is taken from a 1932 Associated Press photo shown later below.  Unfortunately, her name is incorrectly spelled on the trading card, using a “c” in her family name where none is needed.

Young Texas hedge-jumper, Babe Didrikson.
Young Texas hedge-jumper, Babe Didrikson.

     Still, the Sports Kings card is quite rare and desirable among collectors.  The Sport Kings series of trading cards was released by the Goudey Gum Co. of Boston, Massachusetts in 1933 and 1934.  This particular series featured 48 athletes from a cross-section of sport, among them: swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, football star Red Grange, boxer Max Baer, hockey icon Howie Morenz, and baseball immortal Babe Ruth.  Highly prized by modern sports card collectors, the original Sport Kings cards today are among the most popular sets of sports trading cards.

     Babe Didrikson was born in June 1914, at Port Authur, Texas.  She was the sixth of seven children born to Ole and Hanna Marie Didrikson.  Ole Didrikson was a ship’s carpenter who had sailed the world’s oceans many times before settling down.  He encouraged his young daughter to partake in sports.  As a child, among other things, she spent time jumping hedges, a skill that would later come in handy in her track and field endeavors.

1932 AP photo of Babe Didrikson vaulting high hurdle used as the model for the Sport Kings card above.
1932 AP photo of Babe Didrikson vaulting high hurdle used as the model for the Sport Kings card above.
     In Texas as a teenager, Babe excelled in all kinds of sports.  Bea Lytle, a phys ed teacher in the local high school who taught there for 50 years, remarked to Sports Illustrated  some years later that Babe was unique.  “I can still remember how her muscles flowed when she walked.” Lytle explained.  “She had a neuromuscular coordination that is very, very rare—not one of the 12,000 girls I coached after that possessed it….”  Babe led her high school basketball team, and also began to play golf around that time.  But she first came to national attention when she played for a Dallas-based, industrial league basketball team that won the national Amateur Athletic Union championship.  In 1929, she was named an All-American basketball player.  But then came track and field.

     Between 1930 and 1932, at 16-to-18 years old, Didrikson compiled records in five different track and field events.  In one remarkable display of her athletic abilities, she won a 1932 national amateur track meet for women, a team event, all by herself.  On July 16, 1932, at the AAU track and field championships in Evanston, Illinois., Babe was the lone representative of Employers Casualty Insurance Company of Dallas, where she worked as a typist.  At the Illinois meet, which was also the tryout for the Olympic games, she was competing against company teams of 12, 15, and 20 or more women.

Babe Didrikson, second from right, in the hurdles race at the 1932 Olympics. AP photo.
Babe Didrikson, second from right, in the hurdles race at the 1932 Olympics. AP photo.
Babe Didrikson won gold in the javelin event at the 1932 Olympics with a record-setting throw of 143' 4".
Babe Didrikson won gold in the javelin event at the 1932 Olympics with a record-setting throw of 143' 4".
Babe Didrikson, 2nd from left at tape in hurdles race, ahead of  Evelyne Hall, for gold medal, 1932 Olympics.
Babe Didrikson, 2nd from left at tape in hurdles race, ahead of Evelyne Hall, for gold medal, 1932 Olympics.
Babe Didrikson with photographer at the 1932 Summer  Olympics in Los Angeles.
Babe Didrikson with photographer at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

     According to one account, when Didrikson was introduced in Evanston,  she ran onto the field by herself waving her arms wildly as the crowd gasped at the audacity of this “one-woman track team.”  Still, Babe won five of the eight events she entered – shot put, baseball throw, long jump, javelin, and 80-meter hurdles.  She tied for first in a sixth event, the high jump.  In qualifying for three Olympic events, she amassed a total of 30 team points for Employers Casualty.  In a single afternoon Didrikson had set four world records, taking first place overall in the meet and scoring more points than the next best finisher – an entire women’s athletic club – the Illinois Women’s Athletic Club, scored 22 points, with 22 athletes.

     At the 1932 Olympic games in Los Angeles – which ran from July 30 to August 14th at the L.A. Coliseum – she qualified for five Olympic events, but women were then only allowed to compete in three.  She won gold in the javelin, the first ever for a female in that event, making a throw of 143 feet 4 inches and setting a world record.  She also took gold in in the 80-meter hurdles with a time of 11.7 seconds.

     In the high jump, she won the silver medal behind Jean Smiley, though they each broke the world record.  Babe, in fact, cleared the high-jump bar at a world-record height, and would have won that event too, except for her technique – clearing the bar headfirst– ruled ineligible (later known as the “Fosbury flop” and legal).

     Newspapers of the day recognized Babe’s prodigious Olympic feats.  One headline read: “Babe Gets Praise on Coast; Is Called the Greatest Woman Athlete of the World.” Sportswriter Grantland Rice, after her Olympic Games performance, was quite the admirer: “She is an incredible human being.  She is beyond all belief until you see her perform…”  Rice believed she was in a category all her own, with few rivals.  Associated Press would name her Woman Athlete of the Year in 1932 – a distinction she would win five more times.  In the press she was also called “Wonder Girl” and “super athlete.”

     Yet in 1932, the participation of women in the Olympics was a hotly debated topic.  In fact, many then believed that competitive athletics was strictly for men only.  Still, in the summer and fall of 1932, following the Olympics, Babe Didrikson became famous throughout the land.

     On August 11, 1932, at her return home from the Olympics, she arrived on the mail plane.  Coming into Dallas, a crowd of thousands awaited to greet her.  At her reception in the city she was introduced by a local official as “the Jim Thorpe of modern women athletes.”  The crowd cheered.  One of her hometown newspapers in Beaumont, Texas, The Enterprise, marked the occasion with these headlines: “World-Famous Babe Is Given Tumultuous Dallas Welcome Amid Ticker Tape Showers—She Tells of Having Picture Taken With Clark Gable.”

     At one point, Babe met Amelia Earhart, who was then doing some of her less known long-distance flights and wanted Babe to join her believing that Didrikson’s name might bring notice to those attempts.  Didrikson remained earth-bond, however, and after the Olympics hysteria wore off, Babe faced a harder reality.  She found there was little money in her athletic fame, especially for those in amateur athletics – and doubly so for women.  And the country at the time was also mired in the Great Depression.

Babe Didrikson, 19, in photo by  Lusha Nelson that appeared in the January 1933 issue of ‘Vanity Fair’ magazine.
Babe Didrikson, 19, in photo by Lusha Nelson that appeared in the January 1933 issue of ‘Vanity Fair’ magazine.
     Within five months of her Olympic success, Didrikson, needing a job to maintain her amateur athlete status, continued working for Casualty Employers Co. of Dallas Texas, also her sponsor.  But Babe was told that with her fame she could make good money – if she became a professional.  Though skeptical, by December 1932 she decided to become a professional, but not exactly a professional athlete.

     Not long thereafter, she helped the Chrysler Corporation promote its Dodge cars.  Welcomed in Detroit by Mayor Murphy, Babe appeared at the Detroit Auto show and worked at the Chrysler display booth chatting with visitors and signing autographs.  Chrysler also lined up an advertising man to organize bookings for her.  He arranged some stage appearance for Babe on the RKO vaudeville circuit, one of which was at the Palace Theater in Chicago, where “Babe Didrikson” had top billing on the marquee and was given the top star’s dressing room. 

     On stage, Babe traded opening jokes with a companion comedian, did a track-star type skit, and played a few tunes on a harmonica.  Audiences loved her act, and fans lined up for blocks to see her, not only in Chicago, but later in Brooklyn and Manhattan in New York.

     Although making good money on stage – as much as $2,500 a week in New York, then a small fortune – Babe wanted to be outdoors.  After a week or so on the Vaudeville circuit, she cancelled her remaining bookings and decided to look for some way to use her athletic skills.

     She then turned to performing at various competitive exhibitions – from billiards to a few appearances with a professional women’s basketball team.  She would also master tennis, and became an accomplished diver, a good swimmer, and a graceful ballroom dancer.  She also excelled at sewing, and reportedly made some of her own clothes.  But in the press, after her athletic fame emerged, she began to be criticized for her manly ways.  A 1932 Vanity Fair article, had called her a “muscle moll” and other accounts cut even deeper.

     By March 1933, however, she decided to take up golf, a sport she had dabbled in a few times and had played some in high school.  But now she thought about golf more seriously, and went to California to take lessons from a young golf pro named Stan Kertes.  She worked on developing her golf game for six months until she ran out of savings, then went back to her old $300-a month job at Employer’s Casualty in Dallas.

Young Babe Didrikson, 1930s.
Young Babe Didrikson, 1930s.
     In Dallas, she also played on a traveling basketball team called “Babe Didrikson’s All Americans.”  The team included mostly men and one or two other women, and played some 90 games all around the country.  Babe earned about $1,000 a month on the tour, which in those times was good money.

     By spring of 1934, it was on to baseball in Florida during spring training – where Babe would pitch an exhibition inning or two working with professional teams such as the Brooklyn Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Athletics, and other teams.  In these contests, Babe was paid a certain amount of money per inning, as the teams were using her as a publicity stunt.  But in these outings, Babe also met the famous players of that day, including Jimmie Fox, Dizzy Dean, and Babe Ruth — with whom she struck up a long standing friendship. 

Babe Didrikson pitching for  minor league New Orleans team in 1934. AP photo.
Babe Didrikson pitching for minor league New Orleans team in 1934. AP photo.
     She also pitched for a touring Christian baseball team called the House of David, again in exhibition, and pitching an inning or two, but making decent money in the process – $1,500 a month or more.  During this time, she also kept up her golf practice and returned when necessary to her job at Casualty Employers Co.  The president of that company also bought her a membership in the Dallas Country Club and paid for her golf lessons there.

     In 1934, Babe also made the next move in her athletic career: she entered the Texas Invitational Women’s Golf Tournament at Forth Worth.  Babe didn’t win that  tournament.  But the following year, in the spring of 1935, she entered the Women’s Texas Amateur at the River Oaks Country Club in Houston, one of the state’s finer clubs.  And it was here that she began to confront country club elitism.  As Sports Illustrated writers William Oscar Johnson and Nancy Williamson would observe in 1975:

…Babe had to crack…Texas golf society.  She had no pedigree, coming as she did from a dead-end neighborhood in Beaumont, no money and not much social grace.  Her gold medals from the 1932 Olympics counted for little among the country-club set, and her fame had already faded.  There was only her golf game, at that point strong but scarcely smooth.  When she entered the Texas event, a member of the Texas Women’s Golf Association named Peggy Chandler declared, “We really don’t need any truck drivers’ daughters in our tournament.”

Babe Didrikson, in good golfing form, 1930s.
Babe Didrikson, in good golfing form, 1930s.
     But Babe prevailed to win the tournament.  Although Chandler had taken the lead in that outing, Babe mounted a fierce comeback, including a blistering a 250-yard drive, some impressive chip shots, and hitting out of a rain-soaked rut to eagle on the 17th to win the match.  Peggy Chandler, however, had her revenge, successfuly petitioning the U.S. Golf Association to revoke Babe’s amatuer status since she had particpated in professional sport exhibitions.  Still, there was a lot more exciting golf to come at the hand of Babe Didrikson.

     By 1937 she was getting the attention of male golfers for the drives she was making during an exhibition tour of the Southeast.  And at the Pinehurst Golf Course in New York where she was practicing for an exhibition match in November 1937, one reporter noted that she “astounded the critical Pinehurst Galleries by hitting the ball 260 yards off the tee on the championship courses.”

     In January 1938, she decided to make a try for men’s competitive golf, aiming for the Los Angeles Open, a men’s Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) tournament.  This was a feat no other woman would attempt until Annika Sörenstam, Suzy Whaley, and Michelle Wie took up the challenge some 60 years later.  In the 1938 L.A. tournament, Babe was teamed up with George Zaharias, a former professional wrestler who she would later marry.  In the PGA tournament, meanwhile, she shot 81 and 84, and missed the cut.

George Zaharias & Babe Didrikson, Normandie Golf Club, St. Louis, late 1930s.
George Zaharias & Babe Didrikson, Normandie Golf Club, St. Louis, late 1930s.
     In December that year, Babe Didrikson, then 25 years old, married George Zaharias, 29, who became her biggest supporter.  Thereafter she was known as Babe Didrikson Zaharias or Babe Zaharias.  George abandoned his own lucrative wresting career in order to manage and promote Babe’s career.

     Babe won the Women’s Western Open in 1940, and after gaining back her amateur status in 1942, she won the 1946 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the 1947 British Ladies Amateur – the first American to do so.  She also won the Women’s Western Open in 1944 and 1945.

     In July 1944, Time magazine wrote that Babe had “popped back into the sports pages by winning a major golf tournament,” trouncing a 20-year-old college girl in the finals of the Women’s Western Open at Chicago.  “As usual,” wrote Time, “Babe’s booming drives were seldom in the fairway, but her recoveries were so phenomenal that she had 14 one-putt greens in 31 holes.”  By then, her husband, George Zaharias, who often accompanied her to her golf matches, was running a custom tailoring establishment in Beverly Hills, California next door to Babe’s women’s sport clothing store.

Babe Didrikson with trophy at the Miami Biltmore Country Club, Feb. 1, 1947 for winning the Helen Lee Doherty Women's Invitational Tournament. AP photo.
Babe Didrikson with trophy at the Miami Biltmore Country Club, Feb. 1, 1947 for winning the Helen Lee Doherty Women's Invitational Tournament. AP photo.
     In 1947, Babe won the Tampa Open and Titleholders Championship and became the first American to win the prestigious British Women’s Amateur Championship.  In the previous year — from April 1946 to August 1947 – she won an unprecedented 17 consecutive tournament titles, a record that still stands??  By this time, 1947, she had once hit a golf ball over 400 yards and was averaging 240 yards on her drives.  Asked how in the world a woman could possibly drive a golf ball 250 yards down the fairway, Babe explained, “You’ve got to loosen your girdle and let it rip.”  In addition to her power off the tee, she was also known for having soft touch around the greens.  She was also a favorite among fans in the gallery, gaining cheers for her play and laughter for her jokes and banter.

     In 1948 and 1950s, she won the Women’s Open.  In 1950, along with Patty Berg, she founded the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).  Few professional tournaments then existed for women, so Babe and several other women golfers set about establishing the LPGA to introduce more paying tournaments.  Gradually, with sponsorship monies from sporting goods companies, the women’s tour increased its purses and credibility, with a growing number of women able to eke out a living in golf.

Ben Hogan  and Babe Didrikson Zaharias congratulate each other after their respective victories in the World Championship Golf Tourney at Tam O' Shanter Country Club, near Chicago, IL, August 12, 1951.  AP photo.
Ben Hogan and Babe Didrikson Zaharias congratulate each other after their respective victories in the World Championship Golf Tourney at Tam O' Shanter Country Club, near Chicago, IL, August 12, 1951. AP photo.
     In 1950, Babe had one of her best years when she completed the Grand Slam of the three women’s majors: the U.S. Open, the Titleholders Championship, and the Women’s Western Open.  She also lead the money list that year and became the fastest LPGA golfer to reach 10 wins, doing so in one year and 20 days, a record that still stands as of 2013.

     Later, in 1950, she was named AP’s Woman Athlete of the First Half of the Twentieth Century.  In 1951, she won the Tampa Open and was also the leading money-winner that year.  In 1952 she took another major with a Titleholders victory, but illness prevented her from playing a full schedule in 1952-53.  Then in 1953, still at the top of her game, she was diagnosed with cancer, and for a time it was thought she might give up the game.  She had surgery in April 1953.

Babe Didrikson in action during U.S. Women's Open Championship of 1954, which she would win.  Photo: AP/Sports Illustrated.
Babe Didrikson in action during U.S. Women's Open Championship of 1954, which she would win. Photo: AP/Sports Illustrated.
     Yet just three and a half months after an excruciating colostomy operation, she was back on a golf course again, competing in Chicago’s Tam O’Shanter All-American championship.  She didn’t win, but it was a miracle she was even out there.  Still, she kept on.  Ten months after her operation, in early 1954, she won the Serbin Tournament in Florida, and that same year she won the U.S. Women’s Open at Salem Country Club in Peabody, Massachusetts by an amazing 12 strokes.

     Babe was on a mission by this time to give encouragement to others who were battling cancer.  She used her celebrity to get the message out.  She appeared as a guest on ABC’s TV show, The Comeback Story, explaining her attempts to battle colon cancer.  But Babe had not been told the full extent of her own cancer, as she had believed she would beat the disease.  Still, she became a spokesperson for fighting the disease, helping the American Cancer Society.  In late 1955, however, her cancer reappeared and she was hospitalized again.  With her, in the corner of the room, were her golf clubs, as they had been during her previous hospital stays.

Saturday Evening Post of June 25, 1955, with cover inset (upper r.) announcing excerpt of Babe Didrikson’s book, “This Life I’ve Led.”
Saturday Evening Post of June 25, 1955, with cover inset (upper r.) announcing excerpt of Babe Didrikson’s book, “This Life I’ve Led.”
     By June 1955, her autobiography, titled This Life I’ve Led, as told to Harry Paxton, was published by A.S. Barnes & Co.,.  That summer, the Saturday Evening Post began running parts of the book in installments.  “The warmly human story of a valiant American woman,” said the Post in a top corner cover inset for its June 25, 1955 issue, featuring the book’s title along with a small photo of Babe with a golf club raised above her head.

     Didrikson continued to crusade against cancer, and spoke openly about her illness in an era when most public figures preferred to keep their medical troubles private.  She battled her cancer to the end, but succumbed to the disease in September 1956.  She was 45 years old.

     Eisenhower’s Praise.  On the morning she died in a Galveston, Texas hospital, President Dwight D. Eisenhower began his news conference in Washington with this salute:  “She was a woman who, in her athletic career, certainly won the admiration of every person in the United States, all sports people all over the world, and in her gallant fight against cancer, she put up one of the kind of fights that inspire us all.”

President Eisenhower getting golf tips from Babe Didrikson at the White House, April 1, 1954, as the president uses the American Cancer Society’s "Sword of Hope" for a substitute golf club. Babe had presented the Sword to the president after he opened the 1954 Cancer Crusade, then lighting a huge "Sword of Hope" in New York's Times Square by remote control. AP photo.
President Eisenhower getting golf tips from Babe Didrikson at the White House, April 1, 1954, as the president uses the American Cancer Society’s "Sword of Hope" for a substitute golf club. Babe had presented the Sword to the president after he opened the 1954 Cancer Crusade, then lighting a huge "Sword of Hope" in New York's Times Square by remote control. AP photo.
     The sportswriter Grantland Rice once said of her, “The Babe is without any question the athletic phenomenon of all time, man or woman.”  Charles McGrath, the editor of the New York Times Book Review, wrote in 1996: “She broke the mold of what a lady golfer was supposed to be.  The ideal in the 20s and 30s was Joyce Wethered, a willowy Englishwoman with a picture-book swing that produced elegant shots but not especially long ones.  [Didrikson] developed a grooved athletic swing reminiscent of Lee Trevino’s, and she was so strong off the tee that a fellow Texan, the great golfer Byron Nelson, once said that he knew of only eight men who could outdrive her.”

     Mildred Babe Didrikson Zaharias, in any case, had an impressive athletic career, stretching from her All-American basketball designation in the early 1930s and her record-setting Olympic achievements of 1932, to a prolific amateur and professional golf career that ran into the mid-1950s.  Totaling both her amateur and professional golf victories, Babe won some 82 tournaments.  Associated Press named her “Female Athlete of the Year” in 1932, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1950, and 1954.

“Babe, The Money Machine”
1930s-1950s

     As Babe Didrikson rose to fame – both following her 1932 Olympics’ performance and during her golf career through the mid-1950s – she became something of a hot property for business and product endorsements. For some of the promotions, exhibitions, and advertising in which she engaged, Babe appears to have been a willing participant. But in other respects, those around her and those profiting from her – including her husband, George Zaharias; her business manager, Fred Corcoran; and the emerging professional women’s golf circuit – all commanded her attention, and in her later years, drove her into quite a frenetic pace of activity.

Babe Didrikson offering an endorsement for Wheaties at the bottom of a 1935 magazine ad.
Babe Didrikson offering an endorsement for Wheaties at the bottom of a 1935 magazine ad.
      Early in her career, following her 1932 Olympics fame, Babe Dirdrikson did a few product endorsements and her image was also used in some advertising as well, as in the 1935 Wheaties ad at right. She had also done product endorsements for Chrysler automobiles in the 1930s, as noted earlier. In fact, Didrikson may well have been the first traditional female athlete sought out for product endorsements. Later in her career, as she became famous in golf, her endorsements appeared on a number of products and her name and/or image appeared in print ads for Wilson Sporting Goods, Timex watches, and other products. Even after her death, her image was used in a mid-1960s magazine ad for New England Life Insurance.

This 1950s Timex watch ad touted Babe’s golf stardom and her domestic/homemaker side.
This 1950s Timex watch ad touted Babe’s golf stardom and her domestic/homemaker side.
      With Wilson Sporting Goods, Babe received an annual fee of $8,000 to advise the company and help promote their products. She also had a contract with the Serbin dress company, which made golf clothes for women, and another to promote the Weathervane line of women’s clothes produced by Alvin Handmacher, for a $10,000-a-year fee. Babe, who had made some of her own clothes as a young woman, pushed for comfortable sporting attire, helping design or co-design golf dresses, shirts, and shoes. Her clothing sponsorships also helped put her in a more feminine light.

     During the latter stages of her golf career it was estimated she was earning more than $100,000 a year for exhibitions, endorsements, and other activities connected with sports. Sometimes, Babe would hype the amount of money she was getting paid for various events or contracts, as she did once for a movie deal for a series of instructional golf films, saying she would be paid $300,000, which was untrue, but widely reported nonetheless, helping to inflate her value. She also authored instructional golf articles occasionally and at least one book, Championship Gold. And in 1952, she also had a bit part in the Spencer Tracy / Katharine Hepburn film, Pat and Mike.

1930s: Goldsmith & Sons sales literature touting "Babe Didrikson Coordinated Golf Equipment."
1930s: Goldsmith & Sons sales literature touting "Babe Didrikson Coordinated Golf Equipment."
      One of her earliest golf equipment business relationships came in the 1930s with the P. Goldsmith & Sons sporting goods company of Cincinnati, Ohio. Advertising and sales promotion copy from this company to sporting goods retailers and others, touted a giant new American business that could flow from the fame and name of Babe Didrikson. One Goldsmith pitch to its customers announcing a new line of “Babe Didrikson Coordinated Golf equipment,” claimed the new line was “your oppprtunity for increased sales.” The promo explained that 70% of the 280,000 women golfers then in the market were using hand-me down, cast-off clubs. “Why not cash in on this potential market?,” asked the sales pitch. Babe Didrikson, the promo explained, “will sell this unsold 70% for you.” The piece continued to elabroate on its coordinated line of products: “Babe Didrikson Irons… Babe Didrikson Woods … Babe Didrikson Colf Balls.” The Goldsmith piece also inlcuded a sample print ad promising their customers “real advertising support” built around Babe’s image and fame.

More promotional material from Goldsmith & Sons, displaying Babe's news clips, while touting “the powerful, sales-producing publicity  surrounding Babe Didrikson...”
More promotional material from Goldsmith & Sons, displaying Babe's news clips, while touting “the powerful, sales-producing publicity surrounding Babe Didrikson...”
      When Babe turned pro in 1947, there were few golf tournaments for women, and even when there were tournaments, the prize money was minimal. Her business manager, Fred Corcoran, booked her for golfing exhibitions at baseball parks in Boston, New York, Detroit, and elsewhere. Pre-game, Babe would put on a golfing clinic for the baseball crowds, where, according to one account, “she would drive balls out of sight.” And the fans loved it. She also participated in golf driving contests against celebrity male athletes, including one, for example, against Boston Red Sox star, Ted Williams in Sarasota, Florida. However, in her later years, between her work for sporting goods sponsors and attending events and exhibitions that her manager and husband booked for her, she was sometimes run ragged, even while playing a full golf schedule.

Babe Didrikson posing with two of her golf trophies in the 1950s.
Babe Didrikson posing with two of her golf trophies in the 1950s.
      Babe’s star power has also been credited with keeping the fledgling LPGA tour alive. She and Patty Berg were the founders of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) , but from the beginning the LPGA consisted of only a handful of members. Babe became the drawing card that enabled the money to flow to the LPGA, helping the organization and its tournaments to flourish. It became the richest women’s sports organization of its day. Babe’s golfing peers, however, were not always keen on Babe’s manner, her boasting, and her sometimes poor sportsmanship. But they recognized they needed her to keep things going. She was elected twice as LPGA president. And behind the scenes, Babe did work hard to line up sponsors, sometimes pushing relentlessly on business CEOs to become key supporters or tournament sponsors.

     In 1975, a TV biography about her life and times titled Babe, starred Susan Clark as Babe and Alex Karras as  George Zaharias.  A number of books have also been written about her life and athletic career, a few of which are mentioned or pictured below in “Sources.”

Babe Didrikson Zaharias, late 1940s.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias, late 1940s.
     Later accounts examining her life found a somewhat more complex person than earlier reports had rendered.  Toward the end of her career, Babe became quite close to a younger golfer also from Texas named Betty Dodd, nearly 20 years her junior.  Dodd, in fact, came to live in the Zaharias household and tended to Babe, along with George, in her final days battling cancer.  Babe was also, according to various profiles, more of a self-promoter than was generally known, prone to boasting and exaggerating her feats – although some say this could be confused with her sense of humor taken the wrong way.  Still, she could be an “in your face” competitor, sometimes compared in her boasting to a later practitioner of that art, Muhammad Ali.  Sports Illustrated writers William O. Johnson and Nancy Williamson noted her braggadocio at the 1932 Olympics using that comparison:

…She was producing her own myth in Los Angeles.  The remarkable thing about Babe was that, like Ali, her body was able to accomplish the fantastic tasks her big mouth set for it.  She put incredible pressure on herself by bragging.  She was a wing walker, a daredevil who risked humiliation every time she went into an event in that Olympics.  Her own teammates wanted her to be beaten, as the just reward for her bullying…

     On the golf circuit too, especially in her younger years, she is reported to have shown up at the clubhouse  exclaiming to competitors: “The Babe’s here!  Who is going to finish second?”  But more often than not, Babe found a way to win.  Yet her considerable talents were augmented by lots of practice, to which she would readily admit.  The formula for success is simple, she would say: “practice and concentration, then more practice and concentration.”  Dutiful practice was the key, as she advised – “in any case, practice more than you play.”  In her early days, she was known to hit golf balls for hours on end, until her hands bled or had to be taped.

Aug. 4, 1950: Babe Didrikson Zaharias, displaying her playful side, urging the golf ball toward  the cup on the 18th green during the All American Women’s Open at Chicago’s Tam O’Shanter Club. Photo, Ed Maloney /AP.
Aug. 4, 1950: Babe Didrikson Zaharias, displaying her playful side, urging the golf ball toward the cup on the 18th green during the All American Women’s Open at Chicago’s Tam O’Shanter Club. Photo, Ed Maloney /AP.

     But Babe Didrikson above all, was a determined soul; a person who persevered through tough times as a female athlete.  Following her phenomenal Olympic rise, she rode something of a “fame-to-bust” roller coaster, also confronted by judgmental societal attitudes and personal digs from the press.  She managed, however, to keep herself afloat economically during a Great Depression using her athletic skills in a variety of exhibitions until she found her golf calling.  And once there, after dealing with some country club elitism and prejudice, she proceeded to change and enliven the game for the better, while in later years, opening doors for and encouraging younger female golfers who followed.  And all the while, among her most steadfast supporters, was her hometown of Beaumont, Texas, where today the Babe Didrikson Zaharais Museum is found alongside the Babe Didrikson Zaharais Park.

     For other sports stories at this website, please visit the Annals of Sport category page or go to the Home Page for additional story choices.  Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website.  Thank you.  - Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 17 April 2013
Last Update: 28 August 2013
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “1930s Super Girl, Babe Didrikson,”
PopHistoryDig.com, April 17, 2013.

____________________________________

 


 

Sources, Links & Additional Information

1932, Chicago: Babe Didrikson dressing up.
1932, Chicago: Babe Didrikson dressing up.
2011: “Wonder Girl” book on Babe Didrikson by Don Van Natta, Jr.
2011: “Wonder Girl” book on Babe Didrikson by Don Van Natta, Jr.
Babe Didrikson was also a very capable swimmer & diver, turning in competitive times and scores in various meets during the 1930s. Lamar University archives.
Babe Didrikson was also a very capable swimmer & diver, turning in competitive times and scores in various meets during the 1930s. Lamar University archives.
Babe Didrikson’s earlier autobiography was reissued in the 1970s at the time of “Babe,” the CBS-TV special – “from the director of ‘Brian’s Song’,” says cover blurb of TV special.
Babe Didrikson’s earlier autobiography was reissued in the 1970s at the time of “Babe,” the CBS-TV special – “from the director of ‘Brian’s Song’,” says cover blurb of TV special.
Babe Zaharias Park is adjacent to the Babe Didrikson Museum in Beaumont, TX.
Babe Zaharias Park is adjacent to the Babe Didrikson Museum in Beaumont, TX.

“Clips Record in Hurdles; Miss Didrikson Lowers National Mark in Meet at Dallas,” New York Times, Sunday, June 28, 1931, Sports, p. S-2.

Associated Press, “Five First Places to Miss Didrikson; Dallas Girl Scores 30 Points to Win A.A.U. Championship for Her Team at Evanston,” New York Times, Sunday, July 17, 1932, Sports, p. S-1.

“Babe Didrikson Is Honor Guest at Luncheon,” Beaumont Enterprise, August 17, 1932.

“Sport: Golfer Didrikson,” Time, Monday, May 6, 1935.

“Babe at 30,” Time, Monday, July 3, 1944.

“Mrs. Zaharias Ousts Miss Casey In Denver Golf Tourney,” New York Times, Friday, July 12, 1946, Sports, p. 23.

“Whatta Woman,” Time, Monday, March 10, 1947.

Gene Farmer, “What A Babe!, Texas Tomboy is First U.S. Woman To Win British Golf Championship,” Life, Jun 23, 1947, pp. 87-90.

“Mrs. Zaharias Advances; Defeats Mrs. Reidel in Texas Open – Gets 6 under Par 69,” New York Times, Wednesday, October 13, 1948, Sports, p. 34.

Associated Press, “Mrs. Zaharias’ Course-Record 70 Leads Field at Tam O’Shanter; Star 2 Strokes Under Men’s Par in First Round…,” New York Times, Friday, August 4, 1950, Sports, p. 16.

Babe Zaharias, “This Life I’ve Led,” part 2, Saturday Evening Post, July 2, 1955; part 3, Saturday Evening Post, July 9, 1955; part 4, Saturday Evening Post, July 16, 1955; and, part 5, Saturday Evening Post, July 23, 1955.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias, This Life I’ve Led, New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 1955.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias, This Life I’ve Led – My Autobiography, Internet Archive.

Jimmy Jemail, “The Question: Is Babe Didrikson The Greatest All-Round Athlete Of All Time?,” Sports Illustrated, June 6, 1955.

Joan Flynn Dreyspool, “Subject: Babe and George Zaharias,” Sports Illustrated, May 14, 1956.

Obituary, “Babe Zaharias Dies; Athlete Had Cancer,” New York Times, September 28, 1956.

Paul Gallico, “Farewell To The Babe,” Sports Illustrated, October 8, 1956.

George Zaharias, “The Babe and I,” Look, 1957.

Theresa M. Wells, “Greatness for Mildred Didriksen Indicated In 1923 Clippings,” Sun-Enterprise (Beaumont, TX), April 27, 1969, p. 18.

William Oscar Johnson and Nancy Williamson, “Babe,” Sports Illustrated, October 6, 1975.

William Oscar Johnson and Nancy Williamson, “Babe Part 2,” Sports Illustrated, October 13, 1975.

William Oscar Johnson and Nancy Williamson, “Babe,” Sports Illustrated, October 20, 1975

William O. Johnson and Nancy P. Williamson, Whatta-Gal!: The Babe Didrikson Story, Little Brown & Co., 1977.

“Mildred Didrikson Zaharias,” Encyclopedia of World Biography.

Susan E. Cayleff, “The ‘Texas Tomboy’ – The Life and Legend of Babe Didrikson Zaharias,” OAH Magazine of History, Organization of American Historians, Summer 1992.

Charles McGrath, “Babe Zaharias: Most Valuable Player,” New York Times Magazine, 1996.

Susan E. Cayleff, Babe: The Life and Legend of Babe Didrikson, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996, 368pp.

Thad Johnson with Louis Didrikson, The Incredible Babe: Her Ultimate Story, Lake Charles, Louisiana: Andrus Printing and Copy Center, Inc., 1996.

Russell Freedman, Babe Didrikson Zaharias: The Making of a Champion, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999, 192pp.

Paula Hunt, “Babe Didrikson Zaharias – Top 100 Women Athletes,” Sports Illustrated, 2000.

Randall Mell, “Legacy Of Babe: 50 Years Ago She Won Third And Final Open, Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL), June 29, 2004.

Sonja Garza, “The Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias,” BeaumontEnterprise.com (with photo gallery), Friday, June 17, 2011.

Don Van Natta, Jr., “Babe Didrikson Zaharias’s Legacy Fades,” New York Times, June 25, 2011.

“Wonder Girl,” Don Van Natta Jr.,” YouTube .com.

“Babe Didrikson Zaharias,” Special Collections and Lamar University Archives, Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas.

The Promiscuous Reader, “A Good Ol’ Gal From Beaumont, Texas,” This is So Gay/Blogspot, Sunday, February 6, 2011.

Rhonda Glenn, “Babe Didrikson Zaharias – Whatta’ Gal,” U.S. Women’s Open.com.

Rick Burton, “Searching for Sports’ First Female Pitchman,” New York Times, January 1, 2011.

 

___________________________________

 


 

 

JFK’s “Profiles in Courage”
1954-2008

2003 edition of JFK book, published by Harper-Collins.
2003 edition of JFK book, published by Harper-Collins.
     Profiles in Courage is the name of a Pulitzer Prize- winning book by former U.S. President John F. Kennedy written in 1954 and 1955 while he was a U.S. Senator. The book chronicles acts of bravery and integrity in the careers of eight U.S. Senators in American history. Profiles in Courage became a best-seller and was ground-breaking in its day, becoming one of the first books used to advance a political career aimed at the White House. Yet apart from its politics, Profiles in Courage remains popular, not only for its attachment to the Kennedy legacy, but also as an important book on political courage and U.S. Senate history. Sometimes forgotten is the fact that Kennedy’s book also spawned a Peabody Award-winning television series in 1964. Profiles in Courage also had numerous print runs including a 50th anniversary edition in 2004, inspired several new books and ongoing research on the history of political courage, and also led to the creation of the “Profiles in Courage” award, given annually since 1990.

     “Jack” Kennedy was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1946 as a Congressman from Massachusetts. He was 29 years old at the time. In 1952, he ran for and won a U.S. Senate seat. However, as a freshman Senator in 1954 and 1955, Kennedy took leave from the Senate to recover from surgery to treat a perennial back problem. It was during this period that he undertook Profiles in Courage. In the book, the senators that Kennedy profiled were mavericks of a kind who took courageous stands or stood apart from the safe and conventional norms of their day. They crossed party lines, defied their constituents, or ran counter to public opinion to do what they felt was right. Among Kennedy’s featured senators were: John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Houston, Edmund G. Ross, Lucius Lamar, George Norris, and Robert A. Taft. Each of these, and others Kennedy mentions in his book, suffered severe criticism and losses in popularity because of the particular stance or action each took, which was the point of Kennedy’s “courage” argument.

Early paperback edition of JFK book.
Early paperback edition of JFK book.

 

Becoming A Best-Seller

     By the late fall of 1955, advance notice of the book’s publication began appearing in some national newspapers. Kennedy himself also penned a long piece in the New York Times Magazine in December 1955 that previewed the book’s themes. On Sunday, January 1st, 1956, the book was reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review along with a large photo of Kennedy. Cabell Philips, the reviewer, noting that politicians themselves often criticized their own profession, wrote: “it is refreshing and enlightening to have a first rate politician write a thoughtful and persuasive book about political integrity.” Profiles in Courage generally received good reviews and was widely acclaimed. It became a best seller and remained on the best-sellers’ list for some 95 weeks. The book gave Kennedy a certain political gravitas and national recognition he did not have before, lifting him from the ranks of unknown senators. And the book’s arrival was well-timed too, as 1956 was a presidential election year; a time when national political campaigns were in full swing.

The book gave Kennedy a certain political gravitas and national recognition he did not have before, lifting him from the ranks of unknown senators.

     Although Kennedy was not a presidential candidate in 1956, he took center stage for a time at the Democratic National Convention that August in Chicago. Political conventions then were just beginning to receive more coverage by television. NBC, for example, pre-empted its day time soap operas and assigned two of its reporters, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, to co-anchor the convention coverage. Kennedy, meanwhile, gave the nomination speech for Adlai Stevenson, who became the party’s presidential nominee. Stevenson liked Kennedy and thought about making the young senator his running mate, but decided instead to throw open the nomination for Vice President to the entire convention. Several candidates were then vying for the VP slot: Senator Hubert Humphrey, Senator Al Gore, Sr., Senator Estes Kefauver, and Kennedy. All mounted instant campaigns on the floor of the convention. Some of Kennedy’s campaign paraphernalia tagged him as “a profile in courage.”

JFK VP campaign button at the 1956 Democratic Convention tagging him a 'Profile in Courage'.
JFK VP campaign button at the 1956 Democratic Convention tagging him a 'Profile in Courage'.
     The scramble for convention votes among the candidates proved dramatic with television capturing a series of roll-call ballots. Three separate ballots were needed. On the second ballot, Kennedy led 618 to 551½. At one point, the Chicago Daily News reported that Kennedy and Kefauver were tied, each falling short of the number to nominate. Kennedy then came to the floor and asked for Kefauver to be put on the ticket by acclamation. Stevenson, watching on TV at his hotel, was reportedly disappointed in the outcome. In the general election that followed that fall, the Stevenson-Kefauver ticket was crushed by the re-election of President Dwight Eisenhower and his running mate, Richard Nixon. For Kennedy, however, the national exposure he had received at the convention provided a springboard for 1960. Kennedy biographer James MacGregor Burns would write of the Kennedy’s vice presidential bid at the convention: “The dramatic race had glued millions to their television sets. Kennedy’s near-victory and sudden loss . . . struck at people’s hearts in living rooms across the nation. In this moment of triumphant defeat, his campaign for the [1960] presidency was born.” One of those who watched on TV was a young Bill Clinton in Arkansas, who years later recalled: “The Kennedy-Kefauver thing, oh, yeah. I remember that,” he said, “– and Kennedy’s gracious concession speech.”
Kennedy featured on Time cover, Dec 2, 1957, with cover story, 'Democrat's Man Out Front'.
Kennedy featured on Time cover, Dec 2, 1957, with cover story, 'Democrat's Man Out Front'.

 

Pulitzer Prize

     In 1957, following the election, Kennedy began his unofficial campaign for the White House as he continued his duties in the U.S. Senate. Among fellow Democrats in the Senate who were also presidential contenders at the time were Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey. Profiles in Courage, meanwhile, returned to the news in May 1957 as the book picked up a Pulitzer prize. The award came as something of surprise, however, as the Pulitzer board rejected the jury nominations and gave the prize instead to Kennedy’s book. In fact, a few critics charged that Kennedy’s father had been involved behind the scenes on his son’s behalf. New York Times columnist Arthur Krock, a friend of Joe Kennedy’s, boasted that he had lobbied hard for the Kennedy book. But no evidence of impropriety was found Through 1957, Kennedy continued to travel the country, with numerous speaking engagements. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine’s December 2nd, 1957 issue, with the feature story, “Democrat’s Man Out Front.” About that same time, however, some charges surfaced that Profiles in Courage had been written by others working with Kennedy. On December 7, 1957, syndicated columnist Drew Pearson, interviewed on TV by Mike Wallace, said the book was ghostwritten for Kennedy, suggesting that Kennedy’s aide, Ted Sorensen, had written much of the book. Kennedy did not take kindly to the charge and hired lawyer Clark Clifford, who produced Kennedy’s handwritten notes and statements from people saying they had seen Kennedy working on the book. Sorenson also denied the allegation and signed an affidavit attesting to Kennedy’s authorship.

Kennedy’s Writing

     John Kennedy, before he entered politics, had aspired briefly to a career in journalism and had written on history and public policy. As a student at Harvard in the 1930s, Kennedy had studied international relations and history. In his senior year, he wrote a college thesis that examined the failures of the British government to take steps to prevent World War II, entitled “Appeasement in Munich.” Kennedy’s paper did not castigate Britain’s appeasement policy, and suggested that an earlier confrontation between the U.K. and Nazi Germany might have been more disastrous in the long run. That paper was written in the spring of 1940.

     Kennedy’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., looking out for his son’s political future, was able to get that senior thesis paper released from Harvard and had it published as a book. Joseph Kennedy, as ambassador to Britain, had supported Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement during the late 1930s, which many believe cost the senior Kennedy his own political career. At any rate, John Kennedy graduated from Harvard with a degree in international affairs in June 1940. A month later, his thesis was published by Willard Funk, Inc., in New York in July 1940 as Why England Slept – a play on Winston Churchill’s 1938 title, While England Slept, which also examined the buildup of German power.

     Although there has been a long running dispute over how much of Profiles in Courage Jack Kennedy actually wrote, it does appear that he formulated the idea, wrote a number of memos on the project, did oversee the book’s structure and production, and did write and/or dictate much of it. Wife Jacqueline also appears to have contributed to the concept for the book, and helped engage the research and writing assistance of a history professor at Georgetown University named Jules Davids, whom she had met taking his history course. Library of Congress researchers also assisted Kennedy, as they would any Senator requesting background research from the Library. But because of his back problem – according to one of Kennedy’s secretaries at the time, Gloria Sitrin – Kennedy could not sit for long periods of time writing or typing, and instead, dictated much of the material. Still, Ted Sorensen, Kennedy’s assistant, is believed by many to have written at least some of the book, while others say he only provided research and constructive editing. In any case, in the final book, Kennedy acknowledged all of these participants and contributors.

     About a week after the allegation had been aired by Pearson, ABC executive Oliver Treyz read a retraction of the charge on the air of Wallace’s December 14th TV show. The statement was reprinted in the New York Times, Sunday December 15th, as follows: “I wish to state that this company [ABC] has inquired into the charge made by Mr. Pearson and has satisfied itself that such charge is unfounded and that the book in question was written by Senator Kennedy.” Kennedy had also acknowledged Sorensen’s involvement in the book, crediting him in the preface and also acknowledging other contributions. Kennedy and Sorensen insisted that Kennedy was the book’s author and the initial controversy died down, although it would emerge again years later. Kennedy, meanwhile, was re-elected to a second term in the U. S. Senate in 1958 by a wide margin, and continued to draw national attention through the Democratic front runner for the White House. In January 1960, he formally declared his bid for the Presidency. During the campaign, and after Kennedy won the election, there was continuing interest in Profiles in Courage. By the time of Kennedy’s Presidential inauguration in January 1961, the book was being prepared for sale as a Pocket Books paperback. A young reader’s edition was also produced in March 1961. By then, Profiles in Courage had sold 2 million copies since its original 1956 publication.

     In June 1963, midway into Kennedy’s presidential term, the television rights for Profiles in Courage were sold for an estimated $3.5 million (1963 dollars). The NBC television network planned to film and air a series of 26 hour-long TV programs based on the book. Several months later, however, national tragedy came with the president’s assassination in Texas in late November 1963. After Kennedy’s assassination, Harper & Row was besieged for copies of Profiles in Courage, with orders in excess of 10,000 copies by late November. A Perennial Library Memorial Edition of Profiles in Courage was prepared by Harper for 1964, which included a moving introduction by Kennedy’s brother and then U.S. Attorney General, Robert Kennedy.

Television Series

Front-page New York Times story on the sale of JKF book for TV series, June 10, 1963.
Front-page New York Times story on the sale of JKF book for TV series, June 10, 1963.

     The following year, in mid-November, the planned NBC television series, ”Profiles in Courage,” began airing on Sunday evenings. However, with 26 episodes, additional characters beyond those in Kennedy’s book were needed for the series. All of the additional characters subsequenlty profiled in the TV series had been previously approved by JFK. The producer of the TV show, Robert Saudek, was known for his serious television productions, and had also produced the much-praised OmnibusTV series as well as concerts by the New York Philharmonic. Saudek had a clear grasp of Kennedy’s message for the Profiles TV series. One of the additional historic politicians, for example, was that of Oscar Underwood, an Alabama Senator who in 1924 was in the running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Underwood, however, chose to condemn the Ku Klux Klan, losing southern support, thereby ruining his chances of winning the nomination and later losing his Senate seat and his political career.

Profiles in Courage-TV
Episode List, 1964-1965
Episode
Oscar W. Underwood
Mary S. McDowell
Thomas Hart Benton
Richard T. Ely
Sam Houston
Gov. John M. Slaton
John Adams
Robert A. Taft
Anne Hutchinson
Gen. A. Doniphan
John Peter Altgeld
Frederick Douglass
Daniel Webster
Woodrow Wilson
Prudence Crandall
Andrew Johnson
Hamilton Fish
Charles Evans Hughes
Edmund G. Ross
George W. Norris
Grover Cleveland
John Quincy Adams
John Marshall
Judge Ben B. Lindsey
George Mason
Thomas Corwin
Air Date
11/8/64
11/15/64
11/29/64
12/6/64
12/13/64
12/20/64
12/27/64
1/3/65
1/10/65
1/17/65
1/24/65
1/31/65
2/7/65
2/14/65
2/21/65
2/28/65
3/7/65
3/14/65
3/21/65
3/28/65
4/4/65
4/11/65
4/18/65
4/25/65
5/2/65
5/9/65
____________________
Aired on NBC, Sundays, 6:30-7:30pm.

     Time magazine called the Profiles in Courage TV series “a bracing antidote to the plethora of two- dimensional tele- dramas in which tinsel laurels automatically crown the good guy.” The TV series ended in mid-1965, but received a Peabody Award for “distinguished and meritorious public service rendered by radio and television.” The book, meanwhile, remained in print and continued to be used in schools and beyond.

 

Award & New Books

     The Profiles in Courage legacy, however, continued through the remainder of the 20th century and into the 21st Century. In 1989, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation established an award for political courage called “The Profile in Courage Award.” The annual award is made to recognize displays of political and moral courage similar to those that Kennedy originally wrote about in his book. It is given to individuals, and often elected officials, who have risked their careers or lives by pursuing a larger vision of the national, state, or local interest in opposition to popular opinion or pressure from constituents or other interests. Winners are selected by a bi-partisan committee named by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, which typically includes members of the Kennedy family as well as other prominent Americans. The award is generally made around the time of JFK’s birthday, May 29th. From the early 1990s, the award has been presented at the Kennedy Library in Boston by Kennedy family members, including JFK daughter Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the late John F. Kennedy, Jr., and Senator Ted Kennedy. In addition to honoring those with political courage, the award had also helped kindle continuing interest in the original book.

Former President Gerald Ford receiving 2001 Profile in Courage award from Caroline Kennedy & Senator Ted Kennedy.
Former President Gerald Ford receiving 2001 Profile in Courage award from Caroline Kennedy & Senator Ted Kennedy.

New Profiles

     In 2002, Caroline Kennedy gave the “profiles of courage” concept a new focus, teaming up with publisher Hyperion and serving as editor for a new book, Profiles in Courage for Our Time, offering a collection of essays profiling recent winners of the Profile in Courage award. In this book, award winners are profiled by a variety of writers, historians. and journalists, some of well-known stature such as Michael Beschloss, E. J. Dionne, Anna Quindlen, and Bob Woodward. Famous award winners, as well as lesser known recipients, are profiled in the book. Among some of the well-know recipients profiled, for example are: New Jersey Governor James Florio, former U.S. Senator Lowell Weicker, and former president Gerald Ford. Among the less well-known are activists and community heroes such as Corkin Cherubini, Nickolas C. Murnion, and Hilda Solis.

2005 book of essays on Profile of Courage award winners by Caroline Kennedy (ed).
2005 book of essays on Profile of Courage award winners by Caroline Kennedy (ed).

     In April 2006, a special 50th anniversary edition of Profiles in Courage was published by Harper. This special “P.S.”edition, as the publisher called it, commemorated the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication and also included a number of extras, such as vintage photographs, an extensive JFK biography, Kennedy’s correspondence about the project, reviews of the book, a letter from Ernest Hemingway, and two speeches from recipients of the Profiles in Courage Award. Elsewhere in the Kennedy family, the “heroes theme” was also being explored by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who with publisher Hyperion in September 2007, launched the first of “Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s American Heroes Series” of children’s books, Joshua Chamberlain and the American Civil War. A second book in the series, focusing on another Civil War hero, Robert Smalls, a slave who hijacked a Confederate steamer and turned it over to the Union Navy, and later became a U.S. Congressman, will be published by Hyperion in 2008.

50th anniversary trade paperback edition of JFK book issued by Harper-Perennial in 2007.
50th anniversary trade paperback edition of JFK book issued by Harper-Perennial in 2007.

 

 

65 Printings

     JFK’s Profiles in Courage, meanwhile, compiled quite a track record over more than 50 years. The book has had at least 65 printings, sold more than 3 million copies, and hit the bestsellers list three times: in the late 1950s when JFK was an up-and-coming Senator; after he was elected President in 1960-61; and following his assassination in 1963-64. The book also spawned a successful television series in 1964-65, inspired the annual Profiles in Courage Awards, and sparked new research and subsequent books on political integrity and the history of heroism. Whatever criticism may still linger about the JFK’s Profiles in Courage, there is no doubt that this book instigated an important concept and way of evaluating political courage, fostered a respectable progeny of good and useful history, and helped bring into the spotlight contemporary careers of exemplary public service and good works.

     For additional stories at this website on Politics & Culture, or Celebrities & Icons, please visit those category pages, or go to the Home Page for other choices.  Additional stories at this website related to JFK and other Kennedy family members are listed below in Sources.  Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website.  Thank you.  —  Jack Doyle

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

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____________________________________

Date Posted: 11 February 2008
Last Update: 18 May 2013
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “JFK’s Profiles in Courage, 1954-2008,”
PopHistoryDig.com, February 11, 2008.

____________________________________

 

 

Sources, Links & Additional Information

Time magazine cover, November 24th, 1958, featuring seven “Democratic Hopefuls” then believed to be in the early running for their party’s 1960 presidential nomination: at top, Adlai Stevenson, former Illinois Governor and Democratic Presidential candidate (1952 and 1956); standing from left, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (MN), Senator Stuart Symington (MO), Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (TX); and seated, from left, New Jersey Governor, Robert Meyner, Senator John F. Kennedy (MA), and then California Governor-elect, Edmund "Pat" Brown.
Time magazine cover, November 24th, 1958, featuring seven “Democratic Hopefuls” then believed to be in the early running for their party’s 1960 presidential nomination: at top, Adlai Stevenson, former Illinois Governor and Democratic Presidential candidate (1952 and 1956); standing from left, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (MN), Senator Stuart Symington (MO), Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (TX); and seated, from left, New Jersey Governor, Robert Meyner, Senator John F. Kennedy (MA), and then California Governor-elect, Edmund "Pat" Brown.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, National Archives and Records Administration, Boston, MA.

John F. Kennedy, “The Challenge Of Political Courage; A Senator Analyzes the Pressures Confronting the Conscientious Lawmaker,” The New York Times Magazine, Sunday, December 18, 1955, p. 13.

Cabell Phillips, “Men Who Dared to Stand Alone; Political Integrity and the Price Paid For It Is Discussed by Senator Kennedy,” The New York Times Book Review, Sunday, January 1, 1956, p.1.

Charles Poore, “Books of The Times; Two Who Put Whole Nation First Assaying a Cause Championed,” New York Times, January 7, 1956, Saturday, p. 15.

John F. Kennedy, “Search for the Five Greatest Senators,” The New York Times Magazine, April 14, 1957.

Harrison E. Salisbury, “O’Neill Play, Kennan Book Awarded Pulitzer Prizes,” New York Times, Tuesday, May 7, 1957, p. 1.

“Democrats: Man Out Front,” Cover Story, Time, Monday, December 2, 1957.

A.B.C. Answers Pearson; Apologizes for Charge About Kennedy on Wallace Show,” New York Times, Sunday, December 15, 1957, p. 73.

Lewis Nichols, “In and Out of Paperbacks,” Book Review, New York Times, January 15, 1961, Sunday, p. BR, A-2.

Harry Gilroy, “Publishers Rush President Books; Revised Works on Kennedy and Johnson Planned, Johnson Book Updated, Memorial Editor Set,” New York Times, November 27, 1963, Wednesday, p. 35.

“Through a Brother’s Eyes,” Time, Friday, February 21, 1964.

Jack Gould, “TV: ‘Profiles in Courage'; First Program Based on Kennedy Book Is Presented on N.B.C.,” New York Times, November 9, 1964.

“The Badge of Courage,” Time, Friday, November 20, 1964.

“A Year for Teen-Agers,” Time, Friday, May 7, 1965.

Robert McG. Thomas, Jr., “Jules Davids Dies at 75; Helped Kennedy With ‘Profiles’ Book,” New York Times, December 12, 1996.

Patricia Cohen, “An Old Letter Backs a Claim of Helping Kennedy Write ‘Profiles’,” New York Times, October 18, 1997.

Curtis Wilkie, “The Spirit of ’56: Recollections of A Convention Worth Watching,” Boston Globe, July 25, 2004.

Joe Queenan, “Ghosts in the Machine,” Books, New York Times, March 20, 2005.

Shannon Maughan, “Profiles in Courage: Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s American Heroes,” Children’s Bookshelf, Publishers Weekly, September 27, 2007.

Caroline Kennedy, Profiles in Courage for Our Time, @ Hyperion Books.

 

Other Kennedy-Related Stories at This Website

“The Jack Pack, 1958-1960,” (Pt. 1: Frank Sinatra, Rat Pack & JFK campaign), PopHistoryDig.com, August 21, 2011.

“The Jack Pack, Pt. 2: 1961-2008,” (Rat Pack & JFK inauguration; years thereafter; etc.,), PopHistoryDig.com, August 21, 2011.

“JFK, Pitchman?, 2009″( John F. Kennedy in Omega watch ad), Pop HistoryDig.com, August 29, 2009.

“JFK’s Texas Statue, Ft. Worth: 2012″ (statue in Fort Worth, Texas commemorates JFK’s 1960 visit there prior to his assassination), PopHistoryDig.com, April 17, 2013.

“RFK in Brooklyn, 1966-1972″(Robert F. Kennedy statue in Brooklyn, urban policy history, etc.,), PopHistoryDig.com, July 20, 2009.

“1968 Presidential Race – Democrats”(includes section on RFK campaign), PopHistoryDig.com, August 14, 2008.

 

 

 

 

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