Pinehurst News

The Tale of John Derr, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe

John Derr at home in his element - from a TV tower broadcasting golf for CBS.

John Derr at home in his element – from a TV tower broadcasting golf for CBS.

John Derr’s stories filled three books. This story, though, is one of the best.

Derr many times recounted his friendship with the great Joe DiMaggio, who would often sit with Derr atop the CBS Sports tower 20 feet above the 15th green of Augusta National during The Masters.

Why in the tower? Because, as the Yankee Clipper would say, “Not many people ask you for interviews when you’re 20 feet in the air.”

Anyway, as Derr would tell it, even during a broadcast, he and Joe would get a lot of time in between action to chat. And during DiMaggio’s relationship with Marilyn Monroe, Derr, of course, couldn’t help but ask about how things were going between the two popular icons.

“Fine, fine,” the terse DiMaggio would often reply. But one day, Joe cracked the facade a little bit.

“John, it’s just all this attention,” Derr would recall DiMaggio saying. “All these reporters. And Hollywood. Marilyn just feels like she has to always be ‘ON.’ Just ‘ON.’ Sometimes, it’s hard for her to just be herself.”

Derr opined it might be good for them to get away from the bright lights. A week to themselves. Derr had a place in the northeast. Joe and Marilyn could go there, where no one would expect them, and could have all that time just to themselves. Derr and his wife wouldn’t be using the place. Just Joe and Marilyn.

“John, I’d like that. I’d really like that,” Derr remembered DiMaggio saying.

After The Masters, Derr went and made all of the arrangements. A date was set, and DiMaggio said they’d be on their way. A quiet bungalow tucked away where Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe could get away and rekindle the magic that had brought them together.

Not long after, Derr asked Joe how it went.

“Didn’t make it, John,” Derr remembered. “She just couldn’t let herself go.”

It was a sad tale, really. But Derr only paused a weighty second when telling the story.

“That close,” Derr would then say. “I was THAT close to being able to say I had Marilyn Monroe in my bed.”

 

Thanks, John. We’ll miss you.

-Alex Podlogar

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John Derr – An Extraordinary Life

By LEE PACE

John Derr was sitting in the west wing of The Carolina Hotel lobby one afternoon in December 2009 doing what he did best — telling stories. What Ben Hogan was with a 5-iron and putter, Derr was with a narrative and punch line.

“He loved entertaining people,” longtime friend Tom Stewart once observed. “He was maybe the best storyteller I’ve ever known. I never heard him repeat himself. He always had something new to give.”

From his beginnings as a teenage sports, police and obituary  reporter at the Gastonia Gazette to 62 years covering the Masters Tournament — many of them from the CBS radio and television tower above the 15th green — Derr had seen everything and met everyone. Or so it seemed.

And as he recounted having walked Pinehurst No. 2 with architect Donald Ross back in the 1930s and of having covered Hogan’s milestone win in the 1940 North and South Open at Pinehurst, it occurred to me there was surely not another soul on the planet as the 21st century was nearly a decade old whose reach into golf history hit those particular high notes.

John Derr at home in his element - from a TV tower broadcasting golf for CBS.

John Derr at home in his element – from a TV tower broadcasting golf for CBS.

His after-dinner talks included anecdotes ranging from golfers including Bob Jones and Sam Snead … to broadcasting luminaries like Red Barber and Edward R. Murrow … to film stars like Grace Kelly … to royalty such as the Duke of Windsor … to scientists like Albert Einstein. Mostly what people enjoyed hearing were his experiences at Augusta.

“I was fortunate to be there, seeing the action, and it was my pleasure to try to let others share my joy through my description,” Derr said. “I was heard by many, but I always tried to put myself in the position of being a reporter for a ‘shut-in’ who could not be there in person. I was telling him or her what was happening — speaking to that one person.”

Sadly one of the icons of the golf broadcasting and journalism worlds passed away Saturday evening. Derr was 97 when he died of an apparent heart attack at his home in Pinehurst. … Continue Reading

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Pinehurst mourns the loss of the legendary John Derr

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John Derr (Photo by Golf Digest)

 

We at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club are saddened to hear of the passing of a true legend, John Derr.

Derr, who made his home in Pinehurst, passed away on Saturday evening. He was 97.

“Our condolences go out to all of those who were close to John,” said Pinehurst President Tom Pashley. “While a legend in golf and a tremendous trailblazer as a giant in the broadcast radio and television industry, it was John’s personal touches that endeared him to so many. John Derr never met a stranger, and we were so very fortunate to have known him. We will miss him always.”

Derr’s life was one well-traveled. A friend to Bobby Jones, Sam Snead and Joe DiMaggio, a young Derr was even a dinner guest of Mahatma Ghandi. This wonderful piece by Jaime Diaz in 2011 recounts Derr’s incredible ride.

An excerpt:

Derr was serving in India during World War II when, through a friendship with Gandhi’s son, he was invited to the family’s New Delhi home on numerous occasions. Years later, Derr saw Einstein on his daily walk along the Princeton golf course and asked the genius if he’d ever played the game. “I tried once,” Einstein said. “Too complicated.” As for Edison and Ford, in the 1920s they visited the Derr family farm to investigate uses of cottonseed oil. Derr, then 10, was already “announcing” the weddings and funerals of various farm animals.

“I’ve always been pretty relaxed around the mighty,” he says. “I like people, and that usually leads to people liking you back. Now, a lot of folks build something around themselves, afraid to let anyone get to them. But with those types, it’s often rewarding to break through.”

The notes from his website, johnderrsports.com, give just a glimpse at an amazing life well-lived:

Telling the story was John Derr’s credo from an early age.  He continued into his ninth decade describing the canvas of life around him—the ups and down, the wins and the losses.

Augusta National Golf Club, recognizing his career reporting of the Masters Tournament 62 times, starting in 1935, presented him a Masters Achievement Award at a ceremony in 2007.

Derr’s golf reporting earned him many accolades, including induction into four Halls of Fame, the National Journalism Award and his book, My Place at The Table,  which received a top award among all sports books, as selected by the judges for the International Network of Golf.

John retained a lifetime friendship with golf greats such as Bob Jones, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson.  He reported Hogan’s initial victory in 1940 at Pinehurst and his British Open win at Carnoustie in 1953.

While in the military in India he was the sports editor of the CBI Roundup. General Stilwell sent John back to the United States to report the 1944 World Series to troops around the world.  Also he was awarded the Bronze Star in New Delhi India.

Derr has authored three books about people and events he covered in his long career. He also recalled others, including non-athletic friends such as Mahatma Gandhi, President Eisenhower, Dr. Billy Graham, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Grace Kelly and Dinah Shor.

That he enjoyed people was obvious.  To draw back the curtain and recognize the good in all the people he met seemed his ambition. He painted a fascinating picture-with words or with pen.

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Pinehurst’s equestrian past

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A rider takes part in a gymkhana at the Carolina Hotel. Gymkhana is the term used to describe a number of contests involving stunts.

As American Pharoah prepares to compete for the coveted Triple Crown, we thought it would be fun to look back at Pinehurst’s equestrian history.

Some may be surprised to learn a show ring used to be set up outside the Carolina Hotel. It provided a place for skilled horsemen to show off their stunts.

According to Audrey Moriarty’s book “Pinehurst: Golf, History and the Good Life,” Pinehurst founder James Walker Tufts began to promote others sports and leisure activities after golf started to take off.

“A racetrack was built, and harness racing, flat racing and horse training grew until the best horses in the sport were coming to Pinehurst to train,” writes Moriarty, the executive director of the the Tufts Archives.

The Pinehurst Harness Track opened in 1915 and Tufts’ son, Leonard,  helped form the Pinehurst Jockey Club. Polo came to Pinehurst during the 1920s when the Tufts became interested in the sport.

“As the sport became more popular, polo clubs throughout the south came to Pinehurst to play matches,” Moriarty writes.

Equestrian activity continues to thrive in Pinehurst.

During the spring, the Pinehurst Harness Track hosts dressage shows, polo matches and more. Winter Standardbred training is held at the track October through April.

Don’t forget to watch the Belmont Stakes Saturday on NBC to see if American Pharoah will be the first horse to win the Triple Crown since 1978.

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Guests gather outside the Carolina Hotel to watch a gymkhana.

 

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Ross’ moonlight golf contest

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If you’ve never heard the story of Donald Ross’ moonlight golf contest against fellow professional Jack Jolly, we suggest you keep reading. 

Described by the Pinehurst Outlook as the “most novel and unique exhibition of its character that has ever taken place either in this country or abroad, during the long and brilliant history of the ancient Scottish game,” it got underway at 8 p.m. Jan. 9, 1906.

More than 200 spectators gathered for the match, which was suggested because of  the “rare quality of the moonlight here which the white, sandy soil makes doubly brilliant.”

Ross won the contest and it was concluded “moonlight golf is not only feasible, but in many ways, practical.”

“The novelty and interest, the strangeness and fascination, and the beauty of the night, made the occasion one of rare enjoyment which has led to a general expression of the hope that events of a like character may not be of uncommon occurrence in future,” the Outlook wrote.

Take a few minutes to read the entire story. Click the photos to enlarge for a better reading experience.

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