Roger Dionne doesn't believe in playing the chalk. Fourteen years ago, in his hometown of Waterbury, Conn., he campaigned for a seat in the state House of Representatives. Because he was an anti-Vietnam War Republican of French-Canadian descent running in an Irish pro-war Democratic district, he was an out bet to lose, which he did, by a landslide. Later he got tenure at Manchester (Conn.) Community College, then up and chucked it for free-lance writing. That gamble he's winning.
Dionne's profile of ice hockey star Marcel Dionne (they are not related), which begins on page 38 of this issue, is his fourth piece for SI. Next week we will publish No. 5, a study of Gary Austin, a Las Vegas legend who wagers about $30 million a year on sports events.
Dionne on Dionne was a natural. Besides the surname, they have a common heritage. Marcel is a Quebecois; both sides of Roger's family come from that province, and his parents spoke only French to him until he was 3.
Dionne, now 43, received a degree in English from Yale in 1958 and flew off to Hawaii to teach at a private high school there. He returned to the mainland long enough to get his master's at Georgetown before heading off again, this time to Togo, where he spent 2½ years teaching English to African dignitaries. "Because I was fluent in French, I was the token American at all the parties," he says. "I knew the president and the streetwalkers, and I became very good friends with the Soviet commercial attachè. We would play chess on Sunday afternoons and talk politics."
Roger Dionne, who also speaks Spanish and has taught languages in Mexico, Switzerland and Morocco, interviewed Marcel Dionne in English because Marcel's English is better than Roger's now-rusty French. "After I had three or four long sessions with him," says Roger, "my wife, stepdaughter and I had a marvelous Sunday at Marcel's home. We spent the entire day talking and drinking, to my recollection, a great deal of beer. He's an incredibly hospitable guy, and I couldn't get over how much he reminded me of my father."
Hockey is a new subject for Dionne. Most of his writing until now, except for four unpublished novels and a short story in Playboy, has been about games of chance and their players. He has been a features editor and bridge columnist for a Los Angeles-based magazine, Gambling Times (for which he wrote a 10-part series, "Gambling in America"), and his first three stories for SI were on bridge expert Oswald Jacoby, backgammon ace Paul Magriel and blackjack. He prepped for all this as a boy by taking on his grandmother in a card game called Russian Bank as well as winning a few small duplicate-bridge tournaments.
Today Dionne lives in the placid, smoggy town of South Pasadena, Calif., where he is busy plotting what he claims will be the world's first backgammon mystery novel, as well as two books on gambling—in Dionne's case a sure bet.
DIONNE: HE PROFILED DIONNE