After 18 years as a globe-trotting SPORTS ILLUSTRATED writer, William Oscar Johnson has come in from the cold. Trading his trench coat and portable typewriter for a desk, a swivel chair and a row of newly sharpened pencils, Johnson has turned his talents from creating stories to editing them—among the first, Gary Smith's piece on Mount Kenya (page 66). It is just the sort of exotic subject that was a Johnson specialty during a writing career that took him to more than 40 countries for SI. So, how does it feel to be desk-bound while others continent-hop?
"Easier," says Johnson, smiling and snapping the new suspenders that go with the new suit that goes with the new job. "A writer squeezes his brain to give you a story. The editor only has to try to improve it. So, by that definition, being an editor is easier."
At one time or another Johnson has worn every hat in journalism's hall closet. Before coming to SI from TIME in 1964 he had already written, reported, edited and/or sold ads for the University of Minnesota Daily, the U.S. Navy's Supply Corps Monthly Newsletter, WBAL Radio and TV in Baltimore, the Baltimore News-Post and American and the Minneapolis Tribune. His earliest journalistic foray, however, was as a cartoonist. His comic strip, Arnold, created while he was an undergraduate at Minnesota, was syndicated in 220 college papers and ran for eight years.
"Before that I was an art major at St. Olaf College in Northfield [Minn.]," Johnson says. "I was also a single-wing halfback on the football team and manager of the baseball team. And before that, in high school in Faribault [Minn.], I played piano, clarinet and sax in a dance band called the Engineers of Swing. Why Engineers of Swing? I don't know."
May 26, 1985
A fringe benefit of his new job, as Johnson sees it, is dispensing pats on the back. "When you're writing, getting a boost from somebody is a helluva good feeling," he says. "And it's a good feeling to be the booster."