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Jack Olsen papers

Identifier: Ax 322

Scope and Contents

The Jack Olsen Papers are a rich resource for researchers interested in the diverse range of subjects Jack Olsen wrote about from the early 1950s through the 1960s. This collection also offers a rare opportunity to trace individual pieces of writing from their genesis to their published product. Jack Olsen has carefully preserved the notes, source materials and multiple drafts of much of his early work. This is especially true for the monographs series where the writing process of Olsen's book-length projects Black is Best, The Climb Up to Hell, and I'll Take Baseball is documented.

The Jack Olsen Papers consist of correspondence, manuscripts, manuscript drafts and notes, source materials, reviews, and audiotapes. For the most part, the collection is arranged according to the original organization imposed by the author. The collection is divided into the following series: Correspondence, Monographs, Articles and Short Stories, Jack Olsen News Reportage, Jack Olsen Ideas and Concepts, Audiotapes, Photographs, and Oversize Material.

The Correspondence Series is arranged chronologically and is largely comprised of letters between Jack Olsen and Tom Sancton, a close friend Olsen met while working at the New Orleans Item.

The Monograph Series is arranged alphabetically. Within this series a researcher can find notes, source materials, manuscript drafts and completed manuscripts for three of Jack Olsen's published books: Black is Best (a biography of Cassius Clay), The Climb Up to Hell (an investigation of the deadly 1957 climb of a four man international team up the north face of Eiger, a mountain in the Swiss Alps) and I'll Take Baseball (an autobiography of Buzzie Bavasi written with Olsen's assistance). The series also includes materials related to Over the Fence is Out, a humorous book about his childhood Olsen published under the pseudonym Jonathan Rhoades, and work related to two unpublished novels.

The Articles and Short Stories series, also arranged alphabetically, is comprised of notes, source materials, manuscript drafts and published articles written by Jack Olsen. Most of the articles in this series were written while Olsen was a staff member of Sports Illustrated.

The Jack Olsen News Reportage series, arranged chronologically, traces Olsen's early days as a newspaper reporter. This series is mostly comprised of original and copied versions of the articles Jack Olsen wrote in the period from 1950 to 1959, although some notes and source materials are included.

The Sound Recordings series, arranged alphabetically first by monograph and then by article, comprises taped conversations used as source materials for much of Olsen's work. The series begins with a fascinating collection of 34 reels of taped conversations with Cassius Clay and members of his family, and continues with tapes for The Climb Up to Hell, I'll Take Baseball, and tapes for various articles.

The Photographs series archives an impressive collection of photographs and slides used by Olsen to write The Climb Up to Hell. The series also contains amusing on-the-job photographs of Jack Olsen's days in the Chicago bureau of Time Magazine.


  • 1950-1968


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

Conditions Governing Use

Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Biographical / Historical

Internationally known journalist Jack Olsen was born in Indianapolis in 1925. As a young boy, his family moved to Upper Darby, Philadelphia where his father managed semiprofessional baseball. Olsen discovered his passion for writing while he was a student of engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. Once out of college, Olsen served in OSS during WWII before moving westward to California in the late 1940s to embark on a lifelong path of writing for a living.

Jack Olsen's journalist career began when he was hired as a reporter for the San Diego Journal. His early work writing for the San Diego Journal and then Washington D.C. Daily News, New Orleans Item, and Chicago Sun Times earned him a reputation for being both tough and trustworthy. Olsen's newspaper work revealed an interest and an ability to investigate just about everything, but even his early work reveals his fascination with the intriguing and complex stories of true crime.

Jack Olsen made the switch from newspaper to magazine journalism in 1956. He was hired as a correspondent at the Chicago bureau of Time Magazine in 1956 and was made chief correspondent there one year later. Then in 1959 he transferred to Time's New York City office. The following year he moved again, taking a position at Sports Illustrated as a writer and associate editor. Soon after, Olsen was appointed a Sport's Illustrated senior editor.

At Sports Illustrated, Jack Olsen's writing ranged from bridge to boxing to baseball, always seeking out the part of each story that was less about the technical specifics of each particular sport and more about finding the emotional substance that could connect his subject personally to his audience. In addition to the above periodicals, Olsen's work has been published in Vanity Fair, People, Paris Match, Readers Digest, Playboy, Life, Fortune, The New York Times Book Review and others. His magazine journalism appears in thirteen anthologies and has won him numerous awards.

Jack Olsen's career moved from magazine article writing to book writing in the late 1960s. Since he made this switch, he has developed a career as an award-winning author of thirty-one books published around the world. Olsen has been said to set the standard for the crime writing genre. Many of Olsen's books confront difficult subjects such as rape and murder; subjects that tend to get sensationalized. Yet Jack Olsen's commitment to substantive in-depth investigative journalism has enabled him to avoid sensationalism and arrive at carefully documented pieces used frequently in University criminology courses. Even though most of his career has been devoted to figuring out the incomprehensible world of crime, his favorite of the books he has published is The Climb Up to Hell. This book chronicles the devastating story of two teams of two Germans and two Italians who attempted to climb the formidable north wall of the Eiger Mountain.


15.75 linear feet (43 containers)

48 Unprocessed linear feet (32 boxes) : 32 rsbs


Jack Olsen was an American author and journalist who wrote thirty-one books and is said to have set the standard for the crime writing genre. The collection consists of correspondence, manuscripts, manuscript drafts and notes, source materials, reviews, and audiotapes from the early 1950s through the 1960s. The monograph series contains manuscript drafts and completed manuscripts for three of Jack Olsen's books: Black is Best, The Climb Up to Hell, and I'll Take Baseball. It also includes materials related to Over the Fence Is Out, a humorous book about his childhood that he published under the pseudonym Jonathan Rhoades, and works related to two unpublished novels. Most of the articles were written while Olsen was a staff member of Sports Illustrated.


Collection is organized into the following series: CorrespondenceMonographsArticles and short storiesJack Olsen news reportageJack Olsen ideas and conceptsPhotographsSound recordingsOversize material

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was a gift of Jack Olsen in 1968.

Existence and Location of Copies

Selected sound recordings in this collection are available as digital audio files from Special Collections & University Archives, including open reel tapes 1-34, 93-102, 118-122 and 132.


Complete list of Jack Olsen's books published as of June 2000:
  • Alphabet Jackson. Playboy Press, 1974. (Fiction)
  • Aphrodite: Desperate Mission. Putnams, 1970. (History)
  • Better Scramble Than Lose. Four Winds Press, 1969. (Biography)
  • The Black Athlete: A Shameful Story. The Myth of Integration in American Sport. Time-Life Books, 1968. (Sports)
  • Black is Best: The Riddle of Cassius Clay. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1967. (Sports)
  • The Bridge at Chappaquiddick. Little, Brown and Co., 1970. (History)
  • Bridge is My Game. (with Charles Goren). Doubleday, 1965. (Games)
  • Charmer: A Ladies' Man and His Victims. Morrow, 1994. (True Crime)
  • The Climb Up to Hell. Harper & Row, 1962. (Sports)
  • Cold Kill: The True Story of a Murderous Love. Atheneum, 1987. (True Crime)
  • Doc: The Rape of the Town of Lovell. Atheneum, 1989
  • The Girls in the Office. Simon & Schuster, 1972. (Sociology)
  • The Girls on the Campus. Pocket Books, 1974
  • Give a Boy a Gun. Delacorte Press, 1985. (True Crime)
  • Hastened to the Grave: The Gypsy Murder Investigation. St. Martin's Press, 1998
  • Have You Seen My Son? Atheneum, 1982. (Fiction)
  • The Mad World of Bridge. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1960. (Games)
  • The Man with the Candy. The Story of the Houston Mass Murders. Simon and Schuster, NY, 1974
  • Massy's Game. Playboy Press, 1976. (Fiction)
  • The Misbegotten Son: A Serial Killer and His Victims. Delacorte Press, 1993
  • Missing Persons. Atheneum, 1981. (Fiction)
  • Night of the Grizzlies. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1969. (Ecology)
  • Night Watch: A Novel. Times Books, 1979. (Fiction)
  • Over the Fence is Out. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961. (A childhood memoir under the pseudonym Jonathan Rhoades)
  • Predator: Rape, Madness, and Injustice in Seattle. Delacorte Press, 1991. (True Crime)
  • Salt of the Earth. St. Martin's Press, 1996. (True Crime)
  • The Secret of Fire 5. Random House, 1977. (Fiction)
  • Silence on Monte Sole. Putnam, 1968; Bantam, 1969. (History)
  • Slaughter the Animals, Poison the Earth. Simon & Schuster, 1971. (Ecology)
  • Son: A Psychopath and His Victims. Atheneum, 1983
  • Sweet Street: The Autobiography of an American Honkytonk Scene. Ballantine Books, 1974

Physical Description

43 containers

Processing Information

Collection processed by staff.

This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Guide to the Jack Olsen Papers
Revise Description
Keri McDonough
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.
Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Repository

1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403-1299 USA