Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Blog 14: Gay Talese, DiMaggio

Gay Talese seems to want to show the private life of DiMaggio; he wants to describe his habits, his person, his fears, his dislikes and his likes, among other things.  This is shown best by the fact that Talese was unsuccessful in getting an in=depth interview with DiMaggio.  DiMaggio was a very public figure that resented the spotlight, which typically made him all the more mysterious.  This mystique was aided by his short marriage to Marilyn Monroe, who coveted the spotlight.  Talese seems to be chasing this allusive American hero, hoping to give more insight into his life and habits, and in a way, he is successful.  At the same time, DiMaggio never faces Talese squarely to answer any questions and adds to his shy nature.

The plot can be a bit confusing if the reader is not careful.  Talese uses a series of 'present' actions as well as flashbacks to show his story.  The 'season' Talese refers to can be seen as a baseball season (for a team and sport that he no longer plays) or as a season in his life- he wants privacy, to be left alone, and is most often noted as brooding and quiet.  Which, ironically, seems to be the way that he lived his entire life.  For the majority of the article, Talese writes about a specific day in DiMaggio's life, which is an ordinary day.  He intersperses flash backs then returns to that day.  The last page or two of the article glosses over a 30 day period where DiMaggio goes to camp with the Yankees.

Dialogue is heavily relied on for this article, yet indirectly.  There is no discourse between the author and the baseball legend.  All insight through conversation is gleaned through that 'fly-on-the-wall' reporting style.  Direct quotes from DiMaggio are short and few, which ultimately aid his reputation as a reticent talker.  When he does talk, it's often about sports, (not much about his baseball), or short quips tat respond to questions without really answering them (see the exchange on p. 157 with man with 'wine on his breath').  Comments from friends, acquaintances and outside sources give a lot of characterization for DiMaggio.  Interestingly, though, I was struck by the amount of his direct quotes that were about pretty women.

Talese's scene by scene construction is weakened by his narrative style, but his status details are strong.  I felt that he did a good job of detailing places and people without telling his audience what to think or how to feel.  Mentioning that DiMaggio "slept crossways on three seats" shows readers that he is a tall man, and the way "flabby men in he locker rooms of golf clubs sometimes steal peeks at him when he steps out of the shower, observing the tight muscles across his chest..." show readers that DiMaggio has retained the young man's baseball figure (although Talese does feel compelled to spell this out for this audience a little later in the passage).

Talese absolutely leaves the writer out of the picture.  He writes from an immersed standpoint and fly on the wall, a position relegated to him by DiMaggio himself by not granting an interview.  This makes the 'exploration of inner experience' extremely difficult.

Gay Talese is a nonfiction writer (because he didn't want to change the names) and has written an assortment of articles and books.  He has reported for the New York Times, Esquire (where this particular article was published), The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, and others.  He has been credited by Tom Wolfe as the inventor of "New Journalism."  He has been married for 50 years to Nan Talese, who works with a publishing company.  After witnessing his parents' "claustrophobic" marriage, he is happy that they are able to function independently of each other, especially when he is away writing. ; also articles/interview available.

Talese believes that patience and curiosity are most valuable to a journalist; he has both.  Although he has been writing for 55 years, he has only written "five long books, two short ones, and four collections."  His process of note-taking, writing, editing and typing are extremely tedious.  Talese also needed patience and curiosity to complete the piece about DiMaggio.  If he employed the same tactics as he did for his famous article about Sinatra, Talese followed DiMaggio around, gleaning everything he could from people that he passed and spoke to as well as friends and family members.  If DiMaggio had a conversation with someone, Talese may have approached them later to find out the specifics of the conversation and possibly gotten their information for more quotes and source info later.

Question: Talese's method of following DiMaggio around reminds me of tabloid writers that stalk their subjects to see what they say or do, yet Talese seems much more refined than that.  What is it about his approach that makes him different, while what he does is basically the same?


  1. A most excellent analysis - and yes he is a bit more refined than tabloid reporters who seek sensation vs. depth.

  2. This was my favorite story that we read. Though he somewhat "stalks" DiMaggio, I think Talese fades into the scene in order to fully show DiMaggio and his character/personality. His "fly on the wall" technique allows him to seem like he's not interfering with the flow of conversation and events. I loved that he was able to take anecdotes and bits of dialogue to create a story about one of the most famous baseball players of all time.I think the fact that he doesn't intrude into his subject's life makes it less sensationalist.