One of the things we try to do in this magazine—to the distress of a few readers but, we think, to the delight of most—is introduce from time to time charming, slightly out-of-reach personalities from the fringe of sport. Such a one is Dr. Robert Franklyn (page 50), the plastic surgeon who pioneered a silicone treatment for actresses, topless go-go girls and others ("I enlarged the breast line of America when everyone said that it couldn't be done," is the doctor's cheerful boast), and who since last August has acquired an interest in $1.5 million worth of Thoroughbred horses, including Vaguely Noble (which cost a neat $342,720).
Our story about the doctor was written by Bill Johnson, who isn't exactly a conservative, do-things-the-same-way-everyday kind of guy himself. In the comparatively short time he has been with us he has done pieces on bumbling giants like the World Boxing Association and sharp little men like Jockey Jesse Davidson. Last week he examined the Bob Presley basketball controversy at the University of California, and right now he has a story on Duke University in his typewriter.
Dr. Franklyn was so taken by Bill that he invited him to dinner at his home, the location of which had previously been considered more or less a state secret. The doctor's cordiality extended even farther. "Why," he suggested cheerfully, "we could use silicone on you." Johnson, startled, glanced down at his chest. Franklyn quickly explained that he could put a little dab of silicone in Johnson's frown line ("which I didn't even know I had until he mentioned it") and smooth it out.
Dr. Franklyn was a relaxing subject, but both California and Duke disturbed Johnson's sensibilities. Of Duke he says, "The kids are surprisingly like our apathetic Silent Generation of the 1950s." The Presley thing at California, he argues, "was a perfect case of a school doing cold, calculated recruiting and taking a kid purely because he's an athlete. Naturally, he's going to feel like a second-class citizen."
Johnson, a man of strong opinions, sees himself as an atypical Minnesotan, "a black Norwegian who looks more like a Hungarian bartender." Raised in little towns like Wanamingo ("Isn't that perfect?") and Medford, he attended St. Olaf College for two years. He transferred to the University of Minnesota, where he drew (his talents are diversified) a college-oriented comic strip called Arnold that was syndicated in 225 college newspapers. After he graduated in 1954 he got a job with the Danbury ( Conn.) News-Times. went from there to TV Station WBAL in Baltimore and then on to the Baltimore News-Post, the Minneapolis Tribune and, in 1962, TIME. He joined SPORTS ILLUSTRATED last August.
He says the most difficult story he ever had to write was for TIME. "It was John F. Kennedy's obituary," he says. "I had to write it the night of the assassination, and there I was, all alone in this damn skyscraper, trying not to cry." After surviving that black hour, Johnson moved on to a variety of less traumatic assignments (among them 20 cover stories for TIME) and some, such as the Franklyn piece, that have quite delighted him.