Younger readers of Paul Gallico can be excused if they have a mental picture of him as a frail, shy little man, or even if they suspect that "Paul Gallico" may be a pseudonym for a frail, shy middle-aged lady. For many years now he has been writing gentle novels about cats, cows, guinea pigs, anthropomorphic snowflakes and, of course, The Mrs. 'Arris who went to Paris. Gallico in person, 6'3" and still rugged at 70, might come as quite a shock to those who do not know that he was New York's highest-paid sportswriter in an era that included Damon Runyon and Grantland Rice, that he initiated and named the Golden Gloves Tournament and that he is the man who originated the get-into-the-ring-with-a-champion approach to sportswriting which Author George Plimpton may be considered to have brought to full flower. Gallico had his mouth bloodied by Jack Dempsey in 1923, 36 years before Plimpton quarterbacked for the Detroit Lions.
To add interest and accuracy to the column he wrote for the New York Daily News in the '20s and '30s, Gallico played baseball, football, golf, tennis and cricket. He boxed, rowed, swam, fenced, learned to fly and, in 1936, accomplished what Columnist West-brook Pegler described as falling off an Alp. Gallico's instruction in skiing had taken place on a borax mountain in Saks Fifth Avenue. Thus prepared he went to Garmisch and took off down the Olympic ski run. "I covered most of it on my can," he now says cheerfully (further establishing his kinship with George Plimpton).
Gallico took some of these athletic endeavors more seriously than others. He became involved in cricket out of curiosity, though he concluded that it was a fine, tough game, and his skiing career was certainly brief and experimental. But he took up aviation because he felt that "every modern man ought to learn to fly. After all, I knew how to drive a car and run a motorboat." Fencing has been a genuine interest for many years. He wrote an article on the sport for this magazine in 1954, and in 1957 he was quoted as saying, "I fence. Only I fence good. Was épée champion of the New York Athletic Club in 1948 or 1949, I forget which. Have quit due to aging gams and because I think it is silly at my age, but for a couple of bouts will hold my own in any company." Now he still fences two or three times a week and is even more sanguine about his ability. "I'll take on anyone. I'm good enough to fence with the best until my legs start sending a message to my brain, namely, 'Gallico, be your age.' "
Fencing has proved to be Gallico's lasting avocation but it is not his oldest sporting love. In 1921 he captained the Columbia University crew. Forty-six years later he lives in the south of France and travels extensively, only occasionally to New York, but the few years he put in as a Columbia oarsman remain with him vividly.
How vividly will become apparent to readers who turn to page 76, where Gallico begins an ardent recollection of a time when rowers were the tiredest men afloat but the biggest men on campus.