BY RICH GOTSHALL | For The Daily Journal
Betty Crocker, Juan Valdez and Chuck Taylor are all names associated with popular consumer products — the first with baking, the second with coffee and the third with the Converse All Star athletic shoe.
But while the first two are the creation of their respective marketing departments, the third was a real person whose interesting life is largely unknown today.
Newspaper feature writer Abe Aamidor seeks to address this oversight in “Chuck Taylor All*Star: The True Story of the Man Behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History.”
Charles Hollis “Chuck” Taylor was born in 1901 in either Brown County or Bartholomew County. He grew up in Azalia in southern Bartholomew County and attended high school in Columbus.
Taylor, known as Charlie back then, played guard and served as captain on the basketball team. He was a talented passer, and he taught that skill during innumerable workshops later in his life.
The 1918-19 Columbus Bull Dogs had a powerful team, even defeating Franklin during the regular season. Taylor defended Franklin’s Fuzzy Vandivier during that game. Interestingly, both men ended up in the basketball hall of fame. (Franklin, by the way, went on its state title run the following year, giving rise to its nickname The Wonder Five.)
But the Bull Dogs came up short in the state tournament, losing in the quarterfinals. The loss marked one of several times during Taylor’s life when he came within a game or so of winning a championship.
Taylor played professional basketball right after high school instead of going to college. This was before the advent of professional basketball as we know it today, and teams were sponsored by local businessmen, such as a grocer in Indianapolis who fielded a team that included a young John Wooden. Others were sponsored by large corporations, such as Goodyear and Firestone, which almost needless to say led to a heated rivalry of its own.
Taylor went to work for the Converse Co. in 1922 as a sales representative. It was this connection, rather than his on-court prowess, that brought him fame. He promoted the game — and his company’s shoes — by conducting clinics throughout the country. He also helped publish a basketball yearbook and named an annual college all-star team.
He lived most of his life out of a suitcase as he traveled from city to city, gym to gym. He eventually retired to Florida, where he played golf daily. He died in 1969.
Aamidor’s book is easy to read and filled with interesting tidbits about basketball’s early years. There are names enough to satisfy any basketball junkie — “Phog” Allen, Larry Brown, Joe Lapchick, Ray Meyer and many others. But the author’s research is solid, and he debunks a variety of stories that old-timers swear are true.
In all, it’s a highly readable and informative work that shines light on a name many Hoosiers know well but know little about.
Air Jordans might be more expensive and more popular among a certain set of shoe customers. And other brands might be more effective as basketball shoes. But none can surpass the Chuck Taylor All Star in longevity and historic popularity.
Now Aamidor’s book fills in the fascinating story of the man behind the brand.
Title: Chuck Taylor All*Star: The True Story of the Man Behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History
Author: Abe Aamidor
Publisher: Indiana University Press