After a long, hot day of dealing with words, what does an editor read for relaxation when he comes home to a quiet evening by the air conditioner? In most cases, nothing ponderous, please. Associate Editor Frank Deford finds the most pleasant way to ease up is in the pages of Amusement Business, a specialized trade magazine. "It is full of great escape reading," De-ford says, "all about that wonderful other world of circuses, carnivals and county fairs and what the trapeze artists are doing and that sort of thing." And it was in Amusement Business—getting away from it all—that Frank first came across Little Irvy. End of relaxation; it was story idea at first sight. Little Irvy is a whale, but not just any average, big, fat whale, as you will discover in Deford's lively story this week on page 50.
Story ideas are one thing, but still, with all that, one does not approach whales lightly. Animal and nature stories have always been a special province of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and the telling of them often involves the nature of humans as well. Such is the case with Little Irvy. A gentleman named Jerry Malone, who is Little Irvy's associate and one of the principals in De-ford's story, did a lot of careful research before he became involved with the whale. So did Deford. "I got an incredible response," Deford says. "Friends always ask what my next assignment is—then they usually say 'uh huh' and start talking about inflation or crabgrass or other important things like that. But when I casually dropped the line that I was going out to the West Coast to do a story on a whale, they all wanted to hear more." Deford wouldn't tell them.
He joined Little Irvy in Portland, Ore. and spent four days with him—catching a plane back when Little Irvy passed through Havre, Mont.—which seemed as good a spot as any to drop off a whale. "First thing that people all asked me when I got back," he reports, "was what is the right amount of time to spend in researching a whale? Well, I have to say that there just is no set answer to that. But believe me, you know when the right time comes."
And that, of course, figures. Keen timing is part of a writer's training, and Deford has done a number of sports for this magazine seriously, such as basketball, and a number of others lightly, such as his stories on a racetrack tout and a sneaker salesman some years ago and, more recently, his adventures with the Roller Derby (SI. March 3), in which he went on tour around the rinks and got off at just the right moment.
August 10, 1969
This time Frank was urged by Malone to take home a piece of Little Irvy as a sort of story souvenir; not really an extravagant offer when one considers that a 20-ton whale would never miss a little patch of hide. Frank graciously declined.
But when his story was finished and Deford was back on people projects, Reporter Cynthia Ramsing drew the assignment of making some last-minute checks on the whale. She telephoned out on the great whale circuit, located Little Irvy's associate Malone and spent a long time talking to him. Then she came into Deford's office, full of the good news.
"Guess what I've got coming in the mail," Cynthia said. "A little bitty piece of whale."