The defining intent of this magazine, stated even in our title, is to combine the best sportswriting with the finest illustrations. Occasionally that can be a daunting task. In this issue, director and Oscar-winning screenwriter Robert Towne (Chinatown, The Last Detail, Personal Best) has contributed a delicate yet vivid reminiscence of the two Los Angeles sportsmen who most influenced his thought and life and work (page 82).
"Wally Wolf and Harvey Easton were the kind of guys I'd like to be when I grow up," says Towne, 49, whose affection for them is suffused with his own hopeless love of his native Los Angeles. "They were thoughtful and playful and curious, and could've been formed nowhere but in this climate, so temperate and tempering. L.A. is two things, air and water, just like the human body. The air and water surround you so gently here that you sometimes can't tell where your body ends and the environment begins. There's nothing like that for letting you appreciate your own physical nature, for letting you grasp its extension into your surroundings. That's the only cultural heritage I've got, and Harvey and Wally are the embodiments of it. Wally's element was water, Harvey's air, and I loved the sweet impracticality of them. They did what they did for no other reason than to do it better."
These sentences, so swift to ascend into the abstract, into almost a pantheistic joining of soul and substance, present no easy task to an illustrator. The man we assigned. Bob Heindel of Easton, Conn., flew to L.A. to confer with Towne, and came away convinced of the worth of his writing, and of the trickiness of getting it on canvas.
"It is dangerous," says Heindel, 45, "with the work of a man like this, a screenwriter who thinks so visually, who has created such ethereal images, to fool around with that too much. Every reader will have imagined his own version of things. It's wrong to challenge that."
Then what do you do? "I don't think I painted literal pictures," says Heindel. "I read the story. I visited Towne. Then I granted myself the same luxury he needs—to be left alone. The result is my attempt at evoking the spirit of the writing. The paintings absolutely wouldn't stand on their own. They need this wonderful story to make a damn bit of sense."
In their visit, Heindel was quick to notice Towne's forceful sense of artistic Tightness—and wrongness. "Yes," he says, "next week, when he sees the paintings, he'll either love me or hate me. There will be no middle ground." He says this with a fierce sort of satisfaction, the way you can about a man who does what he does for no other reason than to do it better.