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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

W. C. (Bill)  Heinz dies at 93 - A Writer Who Influenced Elmore and Became His Friend


Elmore read Heinz’s masterwork, The Professional when it came out in 1958 and wrote a rare fan letter.  Read Elmore’s foreword to a 2001 trade paperback of The Professional here.

BYLINE: By WILSON RING, Associated Press Writer

W.C. “Bill” Heinz, who witnessed the Normandy invasion on D-Day, covered some of the greatest sports moments of his time and helped write the book “MASH,” died Wednesday. He was 93.


Heinz, a graduate of Middlebury College, is credited with helping create a “you-are-there” style of reporting that influenced a generation of journalists.

“It was one of the thrills of my life that I got to know him in his later years,” said New York Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica. “To my mind, he was the greatest living World War II newspaper correspondent and the greatest living sports writer. He was an amazing figure.”

Longtime New York columnist Jimmy Breslin said Heinz’s piece about a New York boxer called “The Brownsville Bum,” originally published in 1951, was “probably the best piece I read in 50 years.”

Born Wilfred Charles Heinz on Jan. 11, 1915 in Mount Vernon, N.Y., he attended Middlebury College and after graduation in 1937 went to work as a copy boy at the New York Sun.

He got his break after writing a feature story about women who rode the subway into Manhattan every night to clean the offices of New York’s rich and powerful.

“I so much wanted to be a newspaper man,” he said during a 2002 interview with the Associated Press.

During the war, he was chosen by the Sun to be a war correspondent and covered the invasion of Normandy from a battleship. He stayed with the troops until the end of the war.

After the war, he was given a column at the Sun called “The Sports Scene.”

“He was a brilliant, incisive war correspondent,” said Joe Goldstein, a veteran New York publicist.

In 1948, Heinz was at Yankee Stadium for a reunion of the 1923 New York Yankees that turned out to be Babe Ruth’s farewell, two months before dying of throat cancer.

“The Babe started to undress,” he wrote. “His friends helped him. They hung up his clothes and helped him into the parts of his uniform. When he had them on he sat down again to put on his spiked shoes, and when he did this the photographers who had followed him moved in. They took pictures of him in uniform putting on his shoes, for this would be the last time.”

Of Heinz’ 1958 boxing novel, “The Professional,” Ernest Hemingway once wrote: “The only good novel about a fighter I’ve ever read, and an excellent first novel in its own right.”

Heinz also helped legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi write the book “Run to Daylight,” which was later made into a movie, and wrote about boxing, horse racing and other sports after leaving daily journalism in 1950 when the Sun folded.

In the mid-1960s, Heinz worked with Maine physician H. Richard Hornberger and helped prepare for publication the book MASH, which was published under the pseudonym Richard Hooker. The book spawned the hit 1971 movie and television series.

In his later years, sports reporters visited Heinz at his Bennington home to hear his recollections. He was featured in Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Vanity Fair, on ESPN, in newspapers and in other magazines.

In 2001, Heinz was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame, and in 2004 to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

In the Associated Press interview, Heinz said writing about athletes brought him closer to the heroes he yearned to emulate.

“If I could be around them, some of the glory might rub off,” he said.

“Games mean so damn much,” Heinz said. “We need these releases. It’s not sacrilegious after 9/11 for a release and maybe abate some of the tension.”

He had been in declining health for several years and died at the assisted living facility where he’d lived since 2002, said his daughter, Gayl Heinz, of Amesbury, Mass.

Heinz’s wife, Elizabeth Bartlett Bailey, died in 2002. His death came 44 years to the day after the death of a daughter, Barbara Bailey Heinz, said Gayl Heinz. He is survived by Gayl Bailey Heinz, her husband, Gerald Pantalone, and one grandchild.

No services are planned, although a memorial service could be held at some future date, Gayl Heinz said.