Charles Fountain captures the so-called golden age of American sports in depicting the life of Rice from his birth in Nashville in 1880 to his death in 1954. Fountain follows Rice as he virtually invented modern sportswriting at newspapers in Nashville, Atlanta, Cleveland, and, finally, New York. Rice was also the first multimedia celebrity in sports journalism since he wrote for both newspapers and magazines, had a weekly radio program, and helped create sports newsreels, winning two Academy Awards for best short subject.
While Rice remains a legend in American journalism, his writings are little read because of their ornate style and sentimental tone, abetted by the trite verse he attached to many of his columns. Rice is more important for his impact on the sports world of his time as he helped make household names of such colorful personalities as John McGraw, Ty Cobb, Jim Thorpe, Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Knute Rockne, Bobby Jones, Joe Louis, Babe Didrikson, and Jesse Owens and virtually single-handedly forced golf off the society pages and into the sports columns. Fountain, who teaches journalism at Northeastern University, is best at recreating the excitement of sports in a more innocent time, as with his chapter on how Rice covered the 1924 Notre Dame-Army football game, and in detailing the writer’s friendships with such figures as Ring Lardner.
Unfortunately, Fountain is too often under the influence of Rice’s flowery style and writes as gushingly as his subject. Filled with verbosity, sudden shifts into the present tense, and inappropriate colloquialisms, overflowing with typographical errors, the biography exhibits little evidence of any editorial attention.