As you may know, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is written and edited in New York, but it is composed in Chicago, a 713-mile gap that creates occasional problems—typographical errors, for one. Such problems are handled by Time Inc.'s production staff, under the direction of Fred Love. Over the years several of Love's men have been assigned to handle the needs of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, but only one, Jim Ostler, has been with the magazine since its first issue. Ostler is a quiet man who goes about his duties so efficiently that many of us know him only as a disembodied voice, as in: "Hello, New York? This is Chicago."
Officially, Ostler's job is to turn layouts, photographs and stories into a magazine, melding SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S editorial output with R. R. Donnelley's printing facilities. The edited copy from New York is received on the teleprinters in the Chicago office and sent across the street to the composing room, where copy and engravings are made up into pages. Ostler then reads page proofs and matches them to layouts that have been flown out from New York. If something in the copy is not exactly right, Ostler is quick to phone either Gene Ulrich, our production manager, or Beatrice Gottlieb, who is in charge of the copy desk.
Ostler has a second, an unofficial, job for which, at the office level, he is famous. In a typical scene, say 5 o'clock on a Monday afternoon, when the editorial staff has wrapped up another issue and is about to head home for its midweek weekend, the phone will ring. Jim Ostler in Chicago. Not really his business, he will say, but in the lead story on the Baltimore Orioles we have Frank Robinson hitting .320, while in BASEBALL'S WEEK, 65 pages later, we have him at .328. And, er, in the story on page....
Ostler explains his zeal and blunder-busting this way: "I like to act as the first subscriber—the first man able to read the whole magazine at once, fresh." He is quick to admit that he is not infallible, however. "A few weeks ago I let someone go skiing in Falstaff, Ariz."
Ostler's most severe tests come periodically, when hordes of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED editors, writers and production men descend upon Chicago for such fast-closing color stories as the Super Bowl or the Masters. Ostler is the perfect host, showing staff members to desks, providing cold cuts for the hungry, drinks for the thirsty, and filling in during the slack hours as an all-too-adept bridge player.
Ostler, otherwise a gentle Chicago-land native who peaceably resides in Arlington Heights with his wife and seven children, also delights in conducting visitors to such local points of interest—just up the street from his office—as the restaurant which served as Al Capone headquarters and the barbershop site of a mob massacre.
"It's hard to describe what I've been doing all these years without sounding duller and more pompous by the minute," Ostler says, "but I'd like to ask one favor. I don't want to come out sounding like the great I Am in Chicago." As far as we're concerned, he comes close.