Life stories

LIFE as I Saw It

John Frook


There are two men on this planet to which I owe my debasement from earnest bartender to cynical journalist: Mike Norris and John Frook.

Norris was the guy who on Friday nights would drink glass after glass of Harveys Bristol Cream on my bar at Eddie’s Fabulous ’50s. He convinced me there was no hope for a writer of fiction to make a living, and I should change majors at the University of Nevada, Reno from English to journalism. He later helped found the newspaper that became this one and gave me a job.

Frook was my magazine writing professor, who—when my wife chose her moment of faithlessness for the week before my final paper was due—gave me eight paragraphs of encouragement and a lapel pin when I turned the assignment in on deadline. It was a story that began with a full-moon night spent in a ghost town graveyard. You’ll note, he did not grant me a deadline extension, although he offered me an “incomplete.”

Now, a guy who can motivate a life with a few paragraphs must be a pretty powerful writer. He’s got to have a style that can adeptly cut through the bullshit.

John Frook has written an e-book, LIFE as I Saw It. He was the Midwest bureau chief and then West Coast Regional Editor for Life magazine, back in the ’60s during the premier picture magazine’s heyday. His name appeared on a lot of other national mastheads, and he even won a couple of Emmy Awards, but all 52 stories in this book are from his time with Life.

I remember him telling some of these stories in class. His face would get so red that I was afraid for his heart. I’m not kidding; I’d go through the CPR steps in my head. He had creased earlobes and these yellow patches around his eyes. But you get the idea, he was able to infect students with his passion for storytelling—even students who barely knew what Life magazine was.

But we knew who Charles Manson and the Beach Boys were. I remember him telling the class the story of how he found a Beach Boys gold record buried in the dirt floor in an outbuilding on the Manson family ranch. That was the first story I looked for when I cracked open the book that Frook had left at the front desk. And there it was! “Charlie Manson Running Wild.”

Oh man, and here’s that story about his pursuit of Howard Hughes. I have to admit that story was a bit of my inspiration when Don Dondero and I were pursuing a local newspaper publisher to ask her about her connections to Harrah’s casino.

The big stories are here. And then some. During his time at Life, Frook was hip deep in reporting—from the Civil Rights battles to the time he poisoned Johnny Cash with bug spray to Charles Whitman’s attack at the University of Texas at Austin to roller skating with Raquel Welch. It’s the events, the photographers, the stories and the story telling. It’s all here—except the photos, for the most part. This is like a shot of adrenaline with a coke back to a reporter who’s been sitting at a desk for too long.

But I don’t believe that this is a book meant for journalists. The stories are elegantly written with humor and compassion. I often laughed aloud. I know a lot of the readers of this newspaper are old school, and possibly not owners of an Kindle e-reader. I will note that there are hard copies available—the one he gave me was printed through—but I’m not quite sure how to get one. I’ll bet interested people can get hold of him through his blog,

But, they’d better be careful. There’s no telling what roads this guy might send you down.

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