Jim Coleman's writing lives on in book

DAVE CAMERON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:06 AM ET

They didn't bury him with his typewriter, but they did put it into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame.

Jim Coleman used it right up to the very end.

"It's great. His old Underwood is sitting right there.

"To his death, that's how he wrote his columns," said Jim Taylor of the great Canadian sportswriter, who passed away in 2001.

"He said to me one day, and he started off very softly before his voice started to rise, 'Do you realize there's an entire generation of people in our profession who do not know the meaning of the term 'carriage return!'

"There was all these offices full of computers and then there was one office with this little portable typewriter going 'tap tap tap.'

Taylor, a longtime sports scribe of his own note, has compiled a collection of Coleman's columns for posterity.

"He broke a hip getting into a cab to go to the (Vancouver) Province to write another column and he was 89 years old.

"He was still writing one a week. He had the hip surgery and that was OK, but the strain on his system was too much and his heart gave away."

The last column appeared the day he died.

But, thanks to Taylor, Coleman's writing lives on.

It was almost a fluke that he found a stash of Coleman's files. Taylor had spent a couple of days helping Coleman's widow Maggie move.

"I almost missed them. I actually had my hand on the doorknob and said, 'Well, Mags, good luck with this. If you need anything else let me know.' And she says, 'There is that old filing cabinet in the basement.' "

First Taylor found expense accounts from the '40s and '50s. "Coleman used to call them his most creative works," Taylor said.

"But in the bottom drawer I found 14 of those cardboard flower boxes, the ones roses were delivered in."

They held the motherlode.

"Almost every column he ever wrote from 1939 to 1986. They were carefully labelled, the dates, what paper he was working for at the time.

"I read every one. There were hundreds of them. Then I picked the top ones. I think I started with 150."

After some initial resistance in getting a book printed, Taylor said he was contacted by businessman Peter Kains (whose father shared a rooming house in Brandon, Man., with Coleman in the early days) and Gerry Strongman (a schoolmate of Coleman's son D'Alt) and they hooked up with Harbour Publishing.

Now it's a book. Maybe a movie is warranted? At least a play.

"The columns in here on the old racetrack characters he met - like Johnny Needle-Nose, the Blow-Back Kid, Hundred Dollar Jones - they're like Damon Runyan characters in Guys and Dolls.

"I thought it was kind of unfair that Runyan's characters should live on on Broadway and Jim's characters - which were every bit as funny, every bit as good - were in the bottom drawer of an old filing cabinet.

"Look at that picture," Taylor said of the back-cover photo of Coleman and his cronies. "It looks like Walter Matthau should be sitting in there somewhere."


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