June 2, 2007


Mark Harris, Author of ‘Bang the Drum Slowly,’ Dead at 84 (FRANK LITSKY, 6/02/07, NY Times)

Mark Harris, who took readers on a literary journey through the life of a mythical baseball player in four well-received novels, including “Bang the Drum Slowly,” which became the basis of a 1973 movie, died Wednesday. He was 84 and lived in Goleta, Calif.

His death, at a hospital in Santa Barbara, was caused by complications of Alzheimer’s disease, his son Henry said.

“Bang the Drum Slowly” (1956) was the second of Mr. Harris’s tetralogy of baseball novels, following “The Southpaw” (1953). The others were “A Ticket for a Seamstitch” (1957) and “It Looked Like For Ever” (1979).

The books follow the adventures of Henry Wiggen, a gifted pitcher for the fictional New York Mammoths. Wiggen himself narrates the tales in a colloquial voice laced with dry, country humor. All the books grapple with moral and social issues. [...]

The film version, adapted by Mr. Harris, starred Michael Moriarty as Wiggen and Robert De Niro as Pearson. In 1956, the story was the basis of a teleplay shown on CBS, with Paul Newman as Wiggen and Albert Salmi as Pearson.

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“The Southpaw” recounts Wiggen’s rookie year. Here the narrator debates how to handle four-letter words and references to baseball players’ sex lives and decides in the end to leave them in, because they are part of the game.

Critics called it a serious work of fiction, comparable to Bernard Malamud’s baseball novel of the year before, “The Natural.”

In the last of the novels, “It Looked Like For Ever,” Wiggen, now 39, has lost his fastball. The novel “is not so much about baseball as it is about aging, just as ‘Bang the Drum Slowly’ was not so much about baseball as it is about dying,” wrote the poet and critic Donald Hall in The New York Times Book Review.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 2, 2007 7:59 AM
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