Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON
Timing was everything for the late Paul Gallico, the novelist who wrote the love story "The Snow Goose" and who wrote the novel on which the two Poseidon Adventure movies were based.
They weren't the only hits associated with Gallico. In the most audacious move of his career, he once challenged Jack Dempsey to a boxing bout. A sports reporter (re-assigned from writing film reviews because they had ``insolent'' undertones) he was ordered to cover a Dempsey training session.
Eschewing tradition, he asked if he could step into the ring with the world heavyweight champion. There was a stunned silence.
"I'd been in the sports department for about a year,'' Gallico explained later. "I was hidden really, out of sight. I simply didn't exist. I thought if I wrote a first-person story, it would be a good feature. It would be exclusive. Nobody else had done it.''
The idea was a knockout. So too the fate awaiting the young reporter in the ring. Gallico made a point of keeping his left fist out defensively in front of him. He ducked one left hook but claimed he could not remember how he did it. "But I didn't duck the next one,'' he admitted. "I found myself on the floor. Everything went sort of black. The ring made one complete revolution clockwise and then went back, counterclockwise.''
So good was his account that it earned him his first byline, a rarity in that era. About a year later, he was writing a regular sports column for the paper. Fame was just around the corner, but he would have to wait a trifle longer for fortune. He aspired to fiction and in 1936, one of his short stories was snapped up by Hollywood for $5000, a handsome sum at the time.
He moved to Europe, gave up sportswriting and turned his attention to converting one of his short stories into a mini-novel. He called it "The Snow Goose" and the unusual love story, with its spectral culmination in Dunkirk, changed his life.
But Gallico downplayed his own talent. "I'm a rotten novelist,'' he once told a magazine. "I'm not even literary. If I had lived 2000 years ago I'd be going around to caves, and I'd say, `Can I come in? I'm hungry. I'd like some supper. In exchange, I'll tell you a story. Once upon a time there were two apes.' And I'd tell them a story about two cavemen.''
And that's precisely why I've chosen to share this story with you. I think there's so much inspiration in Gallico's words for every aspiring writer. When you come down to brass tacks, what is good writing? It's a simple, believable story.