The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias
By Don Van Natta Jr.
“Van Natta’s work spirits the reader away on this fairy-tale story with grace and humor. An enormously inspiring life story for a new generation of female achievers.”
“Engaging. . . . Marvelously narrates the forgotten life of ‘the greatest all-around athlete of all time,’ a story that every American sports fan should relish.”
“A wonderful read about a woman who charged through life, shattering stereotypes on the playing fields and off. As a boy I followed her amazing career in the sports pages as she changed the face of golf and the Olympics, but now, thanks to Don Van Natta, I have the complete story of this authentically American trailblazer who was so much more than just a gifted athlete.”
A nearly forgotten American superstar, Babe Didrikson was perhaps the greatest all-sport athlete ever, male or female. An exuberant tomboy who grew up in poverty in Beaumont, Texas, she quickly proved herself spectacularly accomplished in basketball, baseball, tennis, swimming, and especially golf, which would take her to extraordinary heights. Males would refuse to compete with her, having witnessed her triumph over other men in nearly every sport she attempted, couching their fear in claims that women were simply not meant to be athletes. Yet despite these attempts to keep women from competing in the 1920s and ’30s, Babe excelled.
She achieved all-American status in basketball and, at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, was proclaimed by many as the world’s greatest sportsperson, winning two gold medals and a silver medal. The first woman to play in the PGA and one of the founders of the LPGA, Babe won more consecutive tournaments than any golfer in history—before or since. All the while, she continued to be criticized by those who believed women had no place in sports. Despite vicious personal attacks, she became an international superstar, an icon of invincibility and charm.
Then, at the height of her fame, she was diagnosed with cancer. At a time when celebrities kept their illnesses private, Babe took her most daring step of all: to go public and try to win again, with the hope of inspiring the world. By the next year, ravaged by cancer, she completed an incredible golf comeback, winning her third U.S. Women’s Open by an amazing twelve strokes. But the one challenge she could not surmount lay ahead.
June 26 would have been the one hundredth birthday of this sports and feminist icon, and, just in time, the new biography WONDER GIRL: The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias, by veteran New York Times reporter Don Van Natta Jr. (Little, Brown; June 2, 2011; $27.99 hardcover; ISBN: 978-0-316-05699-1), assures that her incredible story will not be forgotten.
Among his voluminous research, Don Van Natta Jr. obtained countless letters that Babe had written, and scoured the scrapbooks that her mother had assembled for her while she played. He interviewed both her friends and nearly every surviving competitor of hers on the LPGA tour, and plumbed oral histories at the USGA and at an Olympics archive in Los Angeles for accounts of Babe’s basketball and track-and-field exploits. He has written the most heartfelt and thorough biography of Babe to date. Finally, Babe has the biography she has long deserved.
DON VAN NATTA JR. is a national correspondent for the New York Times. He has been a member of three Pulitzer Prize–winning teams and is the author of the bestselling First Off the Tee and coauthor of Her Way. He lives in Miami with his wife and two daughters.
Topics: Zaharias, Babe