When I was living in Los Angeles, a director mentoring my writing partner and me asked how old we were. Early 30s was our collective reply.
He nodded his head. “So, you got the next 10 years to make your mark.”
It made sense at the time. After all, this idea that you need to fully realize your career potential and arrive in your given field before you get too old is everywhere. Hollywood, we were often told, is a young person’s game. So too is advertising. The earlier you go to medical or law school, the sooner you’ll make enough to pay back all your debt.
But it’s important to remember that careers are made at all kinds of different ages.
Joseph Conrad didn’t speak a word of English until his 20s and didn’t write in English until his 30s.
Clint Eastwood didn’t start directing until his 40s.
Vaclav Havel didn’t become a politician until his 50s.
Colonel Sanders didn’t start his chicken franchise until his 60s.
Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until her 70s.
I’ve got a reminder that age doesn’t have much to do success in my own family.
My Dad has been a writer since he graduated from college. He spent his 20s and most of his 30s writing for magazines and business journals. He published his first book, the Electronic Battlefield, in his late 30s. It talked about things like the Internet way back in 1976. It was a critical success, but didn’t sell so well.
So he spent the next few decades writing a few books a year. He wrote joke books, books about language, dictionaries, baseball books, a book about libraries, a book of toasts and books on just about anything else that interested him and he could sell.
Years later, after my brother and I were out of the house and out on our own, he started writing books that took years instead of months to write. He started writing history. He wrote a book about Sputnik that put Eisenhower’s role in the space race in new, nobler light. He wrote a book about the bonus army of WWI veterans who train-hopped to Washington DC to lobby Congress for their wartime bonus in the midst of the Great Depression. Incidentally, the movement started here in Portland, Oregon, before growing to include thousands of veterans from across the country.
The Sputnik book was turned into two documentaries. One that ran on PBS, the other that had a theatrical release. The Bonus Army had Hollywood production companies lining up to option the book.
After a very prolific, successful career, my Dad was hitting new heights in his 60s.
This spring, now into his 70s, he published arguably the best book of his career. It’s an biography, his first, of the maverick sports owner Bill Veeck.
It’s an absolute pleasure to read. It’s about the man himself, a marvelous character sports seems to breed too infrequently. And it’s about baseball, of course. The game itself played on the field, but also the games and politics played at owners’ meetings and in clubhouses behind closed doors. It covers the integration of baseball, the beginning of free agency, the expansion to the West Coast, and the balance between sport and entertainment, all of which Veeck played a starring role in.
Ultimately it’s a revealing and thoroughly entertaining slice of history of America in the middle of the 20th century.
And if you’re reading this, live in Portland and are free tomorrow, Thursday night, come on down to Powell’s and hear my Dad’s words yourself. He’ll be reading, telling stories, answering questions and signing books on the top floor of the downtown store at 7:30.