One of the greatest athletes of all time, Babe Didrikson Zaharias has been somewhat forgotten in the 21st Century. An Olympic gold medalist, she excelled in track and field, basketball, baseball, and golf throughout her career. Episode #379.

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Buzzkill Bookshelf

Susan E. Cayleff, Babe: The Life and Legend of Babe Didrikson Zaharias

One of the most gifted athletes in the world, Babe Didrikson Zaharias dominated track and field, winning two Olympic gold medals in 1932. She went on to compete in baseball, bowling, basketball, tennis, and particularly in golf. The American public was smitten with her wit, frankness, and “unladylike” bravado. She became an American legend.

The legend was challenged, however, by members of the press and society who insinuated that her femininity, even her femaleness, were suspect–that there was something different, even wrong, about this preternaturally gifted woman in a male-dominated world.

She had ably used her androgyny and her powerful athleticism to promote herself, but she soon felt compelled to craft herself into a more marketable female role model–particularly in connection with the “proper”
world of golf. To increase her opportunities for competitive play in this field, she became a co-founder and officer of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). As a major step in her makeover, Babe already
had married George Zaharias, a wrestling promoter who was a vital partner in her constant efforts at self-promotion.

But by 1950 Babe was deeply involved with a young golfer, Betty Dodd, whose for-the-record discussion of their remarkable love is included in Babe. Stricken with cancer in her prime, Babe went on to courageously and publicly fight the disease.

Babe is a comprehensive, in-depth biography of a woman who was a great athlete at a time when it was extremely difficult for a woman to be her own person. Through interviews with members of Babe’s family,
her golf peers, and medical personnel, Cayleff caringly reveals the life and probes the legend of this unusual American hero. She unflinchingly examines the athletic community, the media, and the society that both loved and judged Babe, whose story embodies the struggle of all women who dare to transcend stereotypes and claim their own definitions and unique identities. Babe allows her to be all the hero–and all the human
being–she was meant to be.

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