During his stormy career as one of the leading jockeys in America, Bill Hartack often has complained that his arch-enemies—members of the press—were telling only one side of the story. A few years ago Hartack noticed that some other athletes were telling their side in first-person articles in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. He also felt that he had been treated fairly—high praise indeed from this bitter critic of almost all writers—in SI stories by Joe Hirsch (Sept. 17, 1956) and Jack Olsen (June 24, 1963). So Hartack approached Turf Editor Whitney Tower and offered to express his own strong views in a byline series.
Tower, of course, recognized a good idea when he heard it, and the engrossing series that begins in this issue (page 60) is the result. In it Hartack confirms what many suspected: that he can be a most articulate man when he is not refusing to talk at all, which is usually the case. But far more important, he reveals a genuine talent for self-expression, for evoking scenes and personal relationships in his past that should be the envy of many a professional writer.
Still the Tower-Hartack collaboration ran a tricky course, as unpredictable as Bill's moods. Right at the start, after Tower had indicated his willingness to go to work, Hartack changed his mind. "Don't bug me," he said. "I'll call you when I'm ready. I've got a lot of ideas about every aspect of racing, and when I'm ready you're the guy I want to tell it to." It was nearly a year before he signified that he was ready.
After many cross-country trips and long-distance calls by Tower—some fruitless, others productive—the project began to take shape. Once, at his rented house in Los Angeles, Hartack poured his provocative opinions and reminiscences into a tape recorder for hours. That cooperative mood lasted over three evenings, during which six hours of tape—about 80,000 words—were recorded. Another time, when Tower came into the jockeys' room at Hollywood Park, Hartack decided the whole idea was off. He called the stewards, objected to Tower's presence and asked that he be ejected. Tower already had received permission from the stewards to enter the jocks' quarters, but, obviously, Hartack's mood made work impossible.
When the series finally was ready for Hartack's signature similar problems arose. Bill decided he just didn't feel like reading it. No hard feelings, he said, no complaints, but reading was out of the question. Soon another change of heart, and reading was In. He read the first two installments and said he loved them. No corrections. Tower began to relax—and Hartack refused to read the third article.
Well, it's all over now, and you can read it. I'm sure you'll agree that the moods that make Hartack an unusual man also make his story remarkably entertaining and significant.
BILL AND WHIT: AN ERRATIC COLLABORATION