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Hoosier History Live is an independently produced new media project about Indiana history, integrating podcasts, website www.HoosierHistoryLive.org, weekly enewsletter, and social media. Its original content comes initially from a live with call in weekly talk radio show hosted by author and historian Nelson Price. You can hear the show live Saturdays from noon to 1 pm ET at WICR 88.7 fm or stream the show live at the WICR HD1 app on your phone, or at our website.

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June 15, 2024

An acclaimed race driver and a sportswriter: two lives cut short

A fan favorite even though he shunned publicity, hard-charging Bill Vukovich was the two-time defending champion at the Indianapolis 500 and on his way to a third consecutive victory in 1955 when he was killed during a horrific crash.

One of his closest friends was a nationally acclaimed sportswriter, charismatic Angelo Angelopolous of the Indianapolis News, who chronicled Vukovich's rise from a hard-scrabble childhood (and a family tragedy) to his triumphs at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Angelopolous had completed an eagerly anticipated biography of his friend before the sportswriter died at age 43, probably as a result of radiation exposure he endured as a pilot in World War II by flying over atomic bomb sites in Japan.

The manuscript of the biography of Vukovich went unpublished for nearly 65 years and remained in the closet of Angelopolous' nephew. But Vukovich never has been forgotten among Indy 500 history enthusiasts. A photo of the publicity-adverse driver covering his face in his Gasoline Alley garage after escaping crowds following his triumph in 1954 remains the bestseller in the Speedway's photoshop.

Now, nearly 65 years after Angelopolous wrote the biography, another acclaimed Indianapolis sports journalist, Mark Montieth (website: markmontieth.com), has edited and published Vukovich: The Man Who Wouldn't Lift. The subtitle refers to his aggressive driving style, reflected in his tendency to "stay on the throttle longer in the turns", as Mark puts it. Mark, who has written a prologue and an epilogue featured in the "rescued" book, will be Nelson's guest to share insights about both Vukovich and Angelopolous.

Vukovich, who was 36 when he was swept up in a five-car accident and killed, had grown up in Fresno, California. That's where, when he was 14 years old, his father committed suicide after foreclosure proceedings apparently had been initiated on his farm.

Tragedy followed the Vukovich family for generations. Bill Vukovich's grandson, known as Bill III, was killed at age 27 in a sprint car race in Bakersfield, California. Bill III had competed in the Indianapolis 500 in 1989 and 1990. His father (the son of Bill), called Bill Jr., raced 12 times in the Indy 500; he died in 2023 after suffering from dementia.

Angelo Angelopolous, the award-winning sportswriter, never got to cover the careers of Vukovich's son and grandson. An Indianapolis native and the son of a Greek immigrant, he graduated from Butler University and put his newspaper career on hold to enlist in the Navy during World War II, serving as a pilot. At the end of the war, he flew over bombing sites in Japan. The radiation exposure, according to Mark, eventually "resulted in a diagnosis of leukemia".

Mark Montieth describes Angelopolus as "handsome, humble, charismatic and married to a local model". Before his death in 1962, Angelopolus "did more than anyone to reveal Vukovich to the public", Mark writes. Although Vukovich(called "Vuky" by fans) distrusted most journalists, he befriended Angelopolous. The two spent hours together in garages at the Speedway and local restaurants.

His biography of his friend was, as Mark puts it, "unfinished business". Mark, who covered the Indiana Pacers for the Indianapolis Star, is the author of several books, including Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indiana (2017). He has been a Hoosier History Live guest several times, most recently on a show last September about basketball icon Larry Bird.


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Movie and TV directors who aren't household names now

Now that awards season is underway in Hollywood – Oscar nominations were announced Tuesday – our spotlight will be on movie and TV directors with Indiana connections. The filmmakers range from directors of movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood such as the holiday classic "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947) and "To Have and Have Not" (1944) to popular hits like "The Amazing Spiderman" (2012).

"Miracle on 34th Street" was directed by George Seaton (1911-1979), who was born in South Bend. Although the movie has become a Christmas classic, it was not initially released during the holiday season and was not promoted with yuletide as a focus. Nelson's guest, Dan O'Brien, a screenwriter and former TV sportscaster based in Greenwood, will explain why. In addition to being a director, George Seaton was a screenwriter and won an Oscar for his screenplay for "Miracle on 34th Street". He also won an Oscar for his screenplay for "The Country Girl" (1954) starring Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby; Seaton directed that movie as well.

Other movie directors we will spotlight include Howard Hawks (1896-1977), whose ancestors helped found Goshen, Ind., where he was born. Although Hawks primarily is remembered as a director of Westerns (several starred John Wayne, including "Red River" and "Rio Bravo"), Hawks was known for his versatility. His other hits include "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1953) starring Marilyn Monroe as well as "To Have and Have Not" (1944) that teamed Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall for the first time.


Trivia prizes sought

Our "History Mystery" on air contest continues to be very popular!  If you are an organization or business that would like to contribute tickets or admissions, please contact our host Nelson at nelson@hoosierhistorylive.org.

Prizes must fit in a standard business envelope. Hoosier History Live prefers to "snail mail" prizes to our trivia winners. And If prizes are time sensitive, they need to be offered well in advance of the event so that we can get them out in time.

We'd like to thank the following recent individual contributors who make the Hoosier History Live media project possible. For a full list of contributors over the years, visit Support the Show on our website.

  • Jeanne Burke
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  • Charlotte Ottinger
  • Bruce and Julie Buchanan  
  • Sandra Hurt
  • Chuck and Karen Bragg
  • Ken and Luan Marshall
  • Tom Swenson
  • Mike Freeland and Sharon Butsch Freeland

Molly Head, executive producer (317) 506-7164 
Nelson Price, host and historian
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Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page. Acknowledgements to WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Monomedia, Henri Pensis, Caden Colford, Jace Hodge, Jake Helton, Austin Cook, and many other individuals and organizations. We are independently produced and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorship and through individual contribution, either online at our yellow button on our newsletter or website, or by U.S. mail. For organizational sponsorship, which includes logos, links, and voiced credits in our podcasts and in our show, please contact Molly Head at (317) 506-7164 or email her at molly@hoosierhistorylive.org.

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