There’s an old saying that great movie acting is all about the casting. You can say the same thing for magazine writing as well. Sometimes writer and subject are so suited for each other—like John Schulian and Mike Royko, Mark Jacobson and Harold Conrad or Bud Shrake and East Texas—that the story unfolds like a dream.
Such was the case when Pete Dexter profiled Norman Maclean for Esquire in June 1981. Dexter was already a star as a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, but he was different from other big city legends like Royko or Jimmy Breslin. Dexter came at things from the side, never hitting a story square on the head. His columns were hilarious and odd and often disturbing. They more than hinted at his future as a brilliant novelist.
This piece on Maclean was Dexter’s first profile for a national magazine, and it is reprinted here with the author’s permission. Written with care and precision, it is searching and funny, and a fine tribute to a man Dexter deeply admired.