Nonfiction

The First Articles

My magazine writing class professor, Clarence Andrews, stopped me after class one day and said he was on to a possible story, but not one he felt was up his alley. He thought it might be right for me. The University of Iowa alumni association had uncovered a valuable resource. It turned out that a gentleman known as Blackie O’Neal had attended the University in the 1940s, but had failed to graduate. He went on to become a TV writer in Hollywood, and had a son, Ryan, who had something of a career as an actor, and a granddaughter, Tatum, who was even a hotter property at the time. He was back in town, named as marshal of the homecoming parade. I tracked him down and set up an appointment at the Iowa Memorial union. At the end of the interview, in an extended handshake, he asked me my name. “Not so catchy,” he advised. “How about O’Tabak?”

I did a profile for the student newspaper and sold a version of it to Picture Magazine, the Sunday magazine of the Des Moines Register, which was in its heyday at the time, with a statewide Sunday circulation of 500,000, larger than the population of Des Moines. I also sold an excerpt to People Magazine. It was as close to celebrity journalism and Hollywood as I ever got.

Over the subsequent years I wrote features and essays on a variety of topics for a wide-range of major newspapers and national magazines. I did travel pieces, investigative stories, profiles, and service pieces. I met Massa the gorilla at the Philadelphia Zoo and watched John McEnroe in a lockerroom boorishly tear up a letter from a young fan as he lambasted its grammar. I received an unsolicited shipment of frozen “It’s Its” ice cream sandwiches from San Francisco on dry ice and was able to take a tax deduction for a week’s trip to the Virgin Islands. I went grocery shopping with the world’s top expert in supermarket design and conducted the first interviews with a number of people who would later testify at one of the most famous murder trials of our time.

This freelance writing may not be the path to fame or riches, but it’s certainly been a strange and interesting journey.

NOTE: Here’s a 2015 story from Forbes.com: What’s In Your Bond Fund?

Here’s one that popped up from my early days, when I was still at the University of Iowa from Cincinnati Magazine: http://tinyurl.com/gnzohbe