Barbara La Fontaine, whose experiences in an exotic desert beauty resort are revealed in this issue (Girl Behind a Golden Door), is a gifted young writer who is in many respects representative of the younger American literary generation. Her work reflects a distaste for emotionalism and an intolerance of all but the most austere standards of craftsmanship. But in one respect she differs from her contemporaries. Her entire writing career has been spent in sport. All her published work (she also writes poetry but refuses to publish it or even to have it read) has appeared in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
As a sportswriter, much of Barbara's output has been devoted to baseball players, distance runners, racing drivers, game wardens and other familiar characters on the American sporting scene. But she has also developed a fascination with environments that are not familiar at all. She once spent a week with the Arapaho Indians of the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming for a story on basketball as played by Indian boys. One of her most notable articles, a long essay on Wilma Rudolph, involved living for two weeks as the only white person on the all-Negro Tennessee State University campus.
As the national movement for physical fitness gained momentum, we were intrigued by the role of the beauty resort in reshaping America. So, for Barbara, the Golden Door became another of the interesting, unusual and significant environments that sport has introduced.
Long before she passed through the Golden Door, Barbara—who was then a Heilman—went to small neighborhood Quaker schools in Moorestown, N.J. and Philadelphia suburbs, where she grew up, daughter of a senior vice-president of the Insurance Company of North America. Her early interest centered on ballet. She managed to appear in two class recitals, once playing the part of an ice cube and, again, in the most static role in ballet history, as a jar of mustard.
November 2, 1964
After graduation from Friends Central School near Philadelphia, where she played on the hockey team, and from Oberlin College, where she studied English, Barbara went to New York to make her own way. She held jobs as a pricing expert for an aluminum company, in a department store and at an advertising agency, before becoming a secretary and a manuscript reader for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
One morning in the winter of 1960 Barbara woke up at 4:45 a.m. in her apartment on Riverside Drive and wrote a story called The Crabslayer. It described the most vivid sporting experience in her life—that of fishing for crabs with her grandfather on the New Jersey coast. She evoked that remembered world of pale salt grass and tiny bay waves with a freshness and immediacy that reminded readers of Virginia Woolf's early work. Ever since, she has been writing of a world of sport that is somehow always at oblique angles from the more familiar contests and conflicts.