Although Tallapoosa County native Bozeman Bulger (1877-1932) is little remembered today, he was a pioneer in the development of American sportswriting and claimed to have developed the genre of ghostwriting through his work with such sports notables as John J. McGraw, Ty Cobb, John L. Sullivan, Honus Wagner, and Babe Ruth. When he died in 1932, newspapers referred to him as the “dean” of American sportswriters. In addition to his sportswriting, Bulger wrote successfully for the stage and was a popular columnist in some of the most widely read periodicals of his day, including The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s.
Bulger was born in Dadeville on November, 22, 1877, the son of William Douglas Bulger, an attorney, and Amanda Elizabeth James. His father and grandfather were both notable Confederate officers and had been newspapermen associated with the Dadeville Record before the Civil War. Bulger attended schools in Dadeville and Birmingham before going on to earn a law degree from the University of Alabama. He practiced law for a time in his father’s firm and in 1898 entered the U.S. Army to participate in the Spanish-American War; he rose to the rank of sergeant. After the war, Bulger worked as a legislative clerk for Alabama congressman Oscar W. Underwood.
It was during this period that Bulger made his first foray into sportswriting. As he would later recall, the Atlanta Constitution asked its Montgomery correspondent, Robert McDavid, to cover a football game between Auburn University and the University of the South. McDavid, however, knew little about the game and recruited Bulger, who had played football, to report on the game. Bulger shadowed Auburn coach John Heisman on the sidelines, writing down each play in such meticulous detail that Heisman later used the notes to compile statistics on the game. The next day, Bulger’s first newspaper story was printed, and he had found a new career. After the legislative session ended, he took a position with the Birmingham Age-Herald, serving in a number of editorial positions, including “sporting editor,” over a period of years.
Around 1906 or 1907, Bulger moved to New York in search of a political reporting job. When he applied at the New York World, he did not mention his sportswriting background and tried to earn an assignment to interview political figure William Jennings Bryan to gain credibility. Editor Vincent Treavor instead sent him to interview New York Highlanders pitcher Jack Chesbro, noting that the athlete was the more intriguing figure to the reading public. From this fortuitous beginning, Bulger would go on to become one of the most successful practitioners of this developing field.
Bulger also began his career as a ghostwriter while working for the World. In 1909, Albert Payson Weston, who had attracted press attention for several years with his walking exploits, completed a 105-day, 3,805-mile transcontinental trek. When Weston returned to New York, Bulger was assigned to follow him around and write a series of stories about the care of the feet when walking, but the pieces were published under Weston’s name. Over succeeding years, he ghostwrote a number of others stories, in one instance even adopting the persona of a racehorse. He became so skilled at ghostwriting that he became a trusted confidant and “coauthor” of many of the most famous sports figures of the first three decades of the twentieth century, including baseball great John L. McGraw, for whom he wrote Thirty Years in Baseball.
When World War I broke out, Bulger again enlisted in the Army, although he was then 40 years old. Serving as the chief liaison officer for American war correspondents and attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel, he was cited for bravery under fire at Argonne Forest.
As his talents and interests developed, Bulger also became a successful theatrical writer, penning a number of sketches for the vaudeville stage. Only a few titles survive, and several of the works seem to draw from his experiences in the world of sports. Bulger’s circle of friends and acquaintances included many literary figures as well as sports personalities. He also contributed articles, short stories, and essays to several other publications, including the Saturday Evening Post. He moved to the Post as editor of its outdoor life feature after the World was sold in 1931.
He married Louise Strane in 1901, and they had one daughter, Gene. Bulger died in Lynbrook, New York, on May 23, 1932. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Selected Works by Bozeman Bulger
The $11,000 Beauty (theatrical production, 1907)
The Silver Bottle (1908)
Swat Mulligan (theatrical production, c. 1908)
Curves (theatrical production, 1910)
Throwing the Bluff (theatrical production, 1912)
Earl Carroll’s Vanities (theatrical production, 1925)