Jennifer Frey, who died Saturday at 47, spent 13 years of her dazzling writing career at The Washington Post, first as a sports writer and then as a reporter for the Style section. Her old friends and colleagues have been looking back at some of her stunning feature stories, and we thought you would appreciate them, too. Below are excerpts with links to the full stories.
NEW YORK — “Are the eyes too much?”
Mary Cheney is peering into the makeup artist’s mirror in the early hours of the morning, getting “done” for her appearance on “Good Morning America” with Diane Sawyer. Taped to the mirror is the list of today’s guest stars. The name Nick Lachey — aka the soon-to-be-ex-Mr. Jessica Simpson — she recognizes. Totally clueless on actress Emmy Rossum. Needs some prompting on Josh Lucas (“Sweet Home Alabama”? Hottie who ends up with Reese Witherspoon?).
Let’s say she’s a little bit out of her element. Mary Cheney, daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, had made it her business to fly under the radar. She’s a pro at shunning the limelight. As the openly gay daughter of a man running for office in a party opposed to gay marriage, she took the hits and let them slide off her as if she were coated with Teflon. Kind of like daddy. . . [read more]
The Warren Report: Proving Warren Beatty’s casual charms
December 5, 2004
Warren Beatty is on the phone. It’s twilight outside your window; his laughter is low, contagious, his voice intimate and familiar.
Beatty is 67 now, but still handsome, smooth, attentive. Generous. Seven hours with the man in Los Angeles, tucked into his private office off Mulholland Drive, and then you find him standing in the doorway of your car late at night, urging you to call him, anytime, anywhere. Whatever you need. . .
He is a talented actor, a gifted filmmaker, a Hollywood icon.
His true art, though, is seduction. Movie audiences. Studio heads. Politicians.
You resist. . .
Suddenly, he is questioning you, about the holidays, the family, travel plans. You tell him you are going to your brother’s. The younger one or the older one? he asks. The younger one, you say, and mention he has a new girlfriend but has provided precious little information about her. What’s her name? he asks. What did he tell you about her? He presses for more information.
You submit. He listens, sighs knowingly. He has some insight on the subject. . . [read more]
An overlooked casualty of war: The innocence of children
March 31, 2003
“Mommy, what was the president talking about that was so important?”
There it was. The question. Do I lie? Avoid? Tell a cautious truth?
I opted for the last alternative. Four is too young, I thought, to know about war. But Ryan is the inquisitive sort.
“Well, honey,” I said carefully, “the president was talking about how there is a bad man in a country far, far away, and how he’s doing bad things and so we are going to go there and we’re going to make him stop so that everything is okay.”
She looked at me for a moment, then gave a heavy sigh.
“Do I have to go?” she asked. “Or can I just get a babysitter?”
I laughed. I repeated the story to my friends. They thought it was adorable. I thought it was adorable.
Until she came home from school and started talking about the bad man and the bad things he does. Like cut off people’s hands when they tell a lie. And cut off their feet. And, if they’re really bad, cut off their heads so they are dead. . . [read more]
Despite illness, author pushed to the finish line: Laura Hillenbrand battled chronic fatigue to write the story of Seabiscuit, the underdog racehorse who became a legend.
March 9, 2001 (links to Los Angeles Times reprint of Washington Post story)
Hillenbrand tells all their stories with incredible empathy. There is good reason for that. Just 33 years old, she can’t walk more than a block without becoming extremely tired. Her morning shower exhausts her. Vertigo causes the words on her computer screen to dip and weave as she types. Her live-in boyfriend, Borden Flanagan, has to help her with the smallest of needs.
Hillenbrand has chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition that can be so disabling–as it is in her case–that it leaves many of its victims cloistered from the outside world, lucky to be able to perform the most basic daily tasks. There is minimal treatment–or cure. . .
“The subjects that I’ve written about–the men and the horse–were radically different individuals, but the one thread that pulls through all of their lives and through the events that they lived through together is this struggle between overwhelming hardship and the will to overcome it.
“It’s a central theme in this book, and it is the central struggle of my life as well.”
It was March 20, 1987, when as a college student, Hillenbrand’s life changed. Six months into her relationship with Flanagan, she was driving with him back to campus from Washington when she ate some bad chicken and became violently ill. By the time she reached school, she was so overcome that her friends called the paramedics.
She suffered with the food poisoning for days, struggled to return to classes but seemed to be gradually losing energy. Two weeks later, she awoke and couldn’t sit up. Speaking was difficult. She called her parents, dropped out of school and went home to live. . . [read more]
A lady. Oh, how that word used to bother her. When Harding thinks about the way they used the word around her–“they” for Harding being the figure-skating world, some of the media, some of her neighbors and pretty much all the upper- and middle-class women who ever looked down on her–her tiny face scrunches up a bit. With her delicate fingers, she makes an almost involuntary quotation-mark gesture around the word.
Only it’s okay now. Because, at 28, as she makes her professional comeback in a small town in West Virginia, Tonya Harding is determined to be a lady. She’s convinced that she’s all grown up. Just look at her–poised, polite, sweet-tempered as can be. She wants the world to know that it’s really, really, really okay to let her back into the pristine world of figure skating. That she’s not who they think she is anymore.
“I’m almost 29, and I’ve grown up,” she says. “I’m a lady now.”. . . [read more]
“The guidance counselor at his high school said that my brother is really missing me.” There is guilt in her voice. She tells a story about the other day when he called on her cell phone and put on this serious, professional voice.
“May I speak to Chamique Holdsclaw?” he asked politely.
Chamique started laughing. She knew her brother had recognized her voice. And she knew she was getting grief for not having called in several days.
“Davon,” she said, “it’s me!”
Thinking of it now, though, it doesn’t seem that funny. She’s heard the things her brother has said. He tells her, “You don’t know what it’s like in school. All I get is ‘your sister’ this, ‘your sister’ that. I hate it.” She doesn’t know what to say.
A few weeks later, Davon comes to the Mystics’ home opener with the family. He seems almost slight next to his sister, shy and sweet, and he clearly is pleased when she sneaks out to the arena floor between postgame interviews to plant a kiss on his cheek. Then she disappears almost immediately to do another television stand-up or some such thing.
“I don’t hear from her that much,” Davon says softly. He understands, and he doesn’t. . . [read more]
ATLANTA — Kerri Strug has never been the center of attention — or even a star — on the women’s gymnastics team assembled by the United States for the 1996 Summer Olympics. On a team blessed with established veterans and vibrant newcomers, she has been almost an afterthought: a shy, reserved 18-year-old from Tucson best known for being unable to perform in the spotlight.
Tonight, Strug’s remarkable courage in a pressure-filled situation provided the final glorious moment for a U.S. team that is more diverse, more talented — and, now, more successful — than any in history. With Strug racing down one final runway, her ankle throbbing, her leg numb, the Americans vaulted to their first-ever Olympic gold medal in women’s team competition, and, in doing so, emerged from a long shadow cast by the former Soviet Union and its satellites. . . [read more]
LOS ANGELES — This is not a story about Joel McKelvey. Joel McKelvey, 23, is a hard-working man with a family and a job at a shipping container company in Salinas, Calif.
This is a story about a 30-year-old itinerant football player, his bizarre scheme, and the ever-growing and unlikely collection of characters he has touched, including, among others, Kato Kaelin’s entertainment lawyer, an outfielder for the Philadelphia Phillies, a former FBI official who goes by “Buck” and who once investigated Lee Harvey Oswald, a devoted friend to Heidi Fleiss (who also happens to be a briefly infamous enemy of Shannen Doherty), and a big-name sports agent who was appalled to discover he’d been handed any role in this twisted tale.
This is a story about Ron Weaver, who, for 2 1/2 years, was Joel McKelvey, at least by virtue of name and Social Security number. And this also is a story about fraud — an amazing fraud, really — that Weaver perpetrated first on a small junior college in Los Angeles, then on the football powerhouse that is the University of Texas. The truth, or at least the first threads of it, emerged on the eve of the Longhorns’ Sugar Bowl appearance in New Orleans, when a small newspaper in northern California revealed that 23-year-old Joel “Ron” McKelvey — scholarship athlete and reserve cornerback for Texas — was really a 30-year-old man who already had more than exceeded his four years of collegiate eligibility playing football at three different schools under two different names. . . [read more]