'Great Men Die Twice' Revisits The Writing Of Mark Kram

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This story is part of Only A Game’sRivalry Show,” which looked at stories of rivalries in sports.

The rivalry between a father and son can be particularly challenging, especially when a father and son who share the same job, also share the same name — and the son had it first.

In 2002, Mark Kram's New York Times obituary described him as one of "Sports Illustrated's most lyrical writers of the 1960s and 1970s." Kram was best known for his stories about boxing, including extensive writing about Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

His son, Mark Kram, Jr. — himself an award-winning sports writer -- edited the new collection "Great Men Die Twice: The Selected Works Of Mark Kram."

Kram, Jr. spoke with Bill Littlefield on Only A Game.

Highlights from Bill's Conversation with Mark Kram, Jr. 

On how he got his name before his father copied it:

0625_OAG-kram-COVERMK: He had something of an identity crisis as a young man growing up in east Baltimore. He was called all sorts of things other than his given name. He was called Sonny. He was called Otts. Even when he played in minor league baseball, he started calling himself Randy because he thought it made him run faster. He's got a point because you see an awful lot of lead-footed Georges out there and not too many lead-footed Randys.

He was always in the process of recreating himself. When I was born, my mom named me Mark because she liked the name Mark. And dad saw me lying there in the crib and instead of taking my rattle, he took my name. And never thinking that he would be any kind of a writer because there was nothing to predict that he had any kind of ability at that time. He was just [hired] on at the Baltimore Sun and never knowing that I would follow in his footsteps and become a writer myself. So, basically it caused a great collision between us over the years.

On following in his father's footsteps, after his father stumbled and was fired from Sports Illustrated for ethical violations involving boxing promoter Don King:

MK: Well, it's like if Dustin Hoffman had a son and named him Dustin Hoffman. You know, he had a big name at a time when Sports Illustrated was the biggest publication in the country. When he took my name, he solved his own identity crisis. Mine was only beginning. [laughs].

I fooled around with all sorts of variations to put some distance between us. My middle initial: G. Mark G. Kram. I used M.G. Kram. Dad even suggested I assume some Austrian nobility and put a von in there — Mark von Kram. I think he was loaded that night when he said that, but I actually seriously considered it at one point. I was really — especially later on when I got deep in my profession and the same profession — he had left Sports Illustrated under not very ideal circumstances. My career was just beginning and yet I was carrying around this name that had a bit of tarnish on it.

On telling his father about his frustrations with their intertwined careers:

MK: I spoke candidly with him over the years. He was sensitive, I think, to the situation I was in, but we really didn't talk about it too much. We didn't talk about my writing either. In fact, I had no sense that he had even read any of my work, frankly. It was not like he was the proud father who was sort of slapping me on the back with an "atta-boy" every time I wrote a story that was pretty good. I mean, I could have been a butcher or sold shoes. We just didn't talk about my writing.

The interesting thing is though after he died I came into possession of all his boxes and papers and things and I opened one. And at the bottom of one there was 60 or 70 pieces I had written all in a stack in a folder. And I get chills even thinking of it. So he was paying attention, but you know he did me a great service by not getting involved in my work. He understood that you just have to find your own way in writing and the creative arts.

Bill's thoughts on "Great Men Die Twice: The Selected Works Of Mark Kram":

Mark Kram is best known for his extraordinary writing about boxing in general and Muhammad Ali in particular.

He also wrote with power and imagination about lots of other things, including the city of Baltimore, the careers of soccer standout George Best and Negro League star “Cool Papa” Bell, Marlon Brando, and some people who went over Niagara Falls in barrels and lived to talked to him about it.

As his son writes in the introduction to "Great Men Die Twice," Kram suffered from depression and panic attacks. It’s no secret that he sabotaged his career at Sports Illustrated by getting involved with Don King, who was promoting what Kram, Jr. refers to as “a crooked boxing tournament.” It’s fine that with this collection, we’re invited to remember Mark Kram not as a case study, but as a terrific writer.

This segment aired on June 27, 2015.


Headshot of Bill Littlefield

Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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