Kirkus Reviews QR Code
WONDER GIRL by Don Van Natta Jr.


The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias

by Don Van Natta Jr.

Pub Date: June 2nd, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-05699-1
Publisher: Little, Brown

An enthusiastic, sympathetic biography of the incomparable all-around sports champion.

There is no lack of research into Mildred Ella “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias’ life (1911–1956) most notably Susan E. Cayleff’s 1995 biography Babe, but Van Natta’s work spirits the reader away on this fairy-tale story with grace, humor and an occasional need to set the record straight. In fact, Babe was born in 1911, though she publicly shaved a few years off her age. One of seven children born to Norwegian immigrants in East Texas, Babe was a tomboy and a daredevil, catching the eye of Melvorne J. McCombs, the scout for the Employers Casualty Insurance Company in Dallas, which needed a scorer for their women’s basketball team to win the upcoming Amateur Athletic Union championship, in February 1930. Hired to work at the company and star on the team, Babe essentially dropped out of high school, gaining with each victory for her team admiring coverage in the press and a devoted following. Confining herself to one sport was impossible for Babe, because of her extraordinary talent, and she was braggart, habitually employing hot-air tactics to psych out her opponents. After winning a coveted spot on the 1932 Olympic team by dominating all eight events, she won two gold medals (javelin, hurdles) and a silver (high jump), setting world records, then translated her publicity into high earnings afterward, which got her barred for three years from amateur golf, the next sport she intended to master. Babe had a power swing, embarking on a winning streak of American and British titles that rarely let up until her untimely death by cancer in 1956. She and her pro-wrestler husband, George Zaharias, started the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), which galvanized the game for women.

An enormously inspiring life story for a new generation of female achievers.