Senior Writer Frank Deford, whose profile of Alabama Coach Bear Bryant begins on page 94, had long since finished his most recent novel when he was invited to audition for a beer commercial, a bid that led to an instance of his own life imitating his art. Gavin Grey, the protagonist of Deford's Everybody's All-American (Viking, $13.95), ought to be putting a glorious football past behind him; instead, he is preoccupied with getting into a beer commercial (eventually settling for an ad for a men's hair-coloring preparation) just to get somewhere near the spotlight that was once all his.
Deford fared better than Grey. Approached last spring about a role in a commercial opposite ex-football-player Bubba Smith, he passed the test—but the ad didn't. Later, people representing the beer called back about a commercial featuring Oakland A's Manager Billy Martin, former New York Mets First Baseman Marvelous Marv Throneberry and our Frank standing at a bar in Brooklyn.
"Marv's wonderful," says Deford. "On the screen he's exactly as he is in real life. Both he and Martin were really loosey-goosey, since they'd each done several commercials before. The thing we're proudest of is that it only took 25 takes." (Another ad in the series, featuring pool trick-shot artist Steve Mizerak Jr., required 181.)
The commercial began airing during the baseball playoffs, and Deford has found that "I get much more attention for a beer commercial than for a novel. Andy Warhol said everyone is going to be famous for at least 15 minutes. Well, my 15 minutes are in 30-second increments."
Deford has also been doing a weekly sports commentary for the Cable News Network and National Public Radio. He recently finished a collaborative account with Billie Jean King of her tumultuous career. He has completed a screenplay built around two members of a sequestered jury who fall in love, and is working on another which is set in Florida and tells the love story of a retired baseball player and a nightclub singer.
Most important to Deford is his present book project, the story of the short life of his daughter Alexandra, who died of cystic fibrosis last year at the age of eight.
"She was quite a marvelous little person," says Deford. "It's a book about Alex, about her bravery and courage, and about what it's like being the father of a child who is dying." Deford, a vice-president of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and his wife, Carol, have a son, Christian, 12, and recently adopted a half-Filipino, half-Japanese cherub of 14 months, Scarlet Faith Deford.
Deford himself is 42, doesn't need hair coloring yet, and is a long way from having to build his life around a beer commercial. At the moment, life tastes great, and it's anything but less fulfilling.