Joe Jares set out in the early 1970s to write a book about pro wrestling, relying on both his reporting skills and his childhood memories.
His father was Frank Jares Sr., a villain in the sport’s early, black-and-white television heyday who fought as Brother Frank, the Mormon Mauler from Provo, Utah, and the Thing, among other aliases.
Jares spent a college summer traveling the postwar wrestling circuit, assisting his father and picking up tales that found their way into “Whatever Happened to Gorgeous George?”
The 1974 book, described in The Times’ review as a “tight, funny, no-holds-barred pop history of America’s favorite pop sport,” was one of nine that Jares wrote or co-wrote during a long career, spent mostly in Los Angeles, as a sportswriter, editor and columnist.
Jares died Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles of complications from chronic lung disease, said his wife, Sue Jares. He was 78.
Years before he chronicled the exploits of Gorgeous George and other first-wave ring legends, Jares wrote a lengthy article in 1966 for Sports Illustrated about his own early exposure to pro wrestling (headline: “My Father the Thing”).
“Not that it helped me much in childhood frays, but I was the only kid on my block who could boast, with absolutely no fear of contradiction, ‘My father can lick your father,’” the story began. “Frank August Jares Sr. was a professional wrestler, the nastiest, meanest, basest, most arrogant, cheatingest, bloodthirstiest eye-gouger around. No rule, referee or sense of fair play ever hampered his style. In short, the sort of man a boy could look up to.”
Joseph Frank Jares was born Sept. 2, 1937, in Los Angeles. His father, who actually hailed from Pittsburgh, was a butcher in the San Fernando Valley after his wrestling days. His mother, Dorothy, was a homemaker. Jares grew up in West Los Angeles and graduated from Hamilton High School, where he was sports editor and managing editor of the newspaper.
At USC, he was sports editor of the Daily Trojan and graduated in 1959. Jares would spend more than 15 years as a writer and associate editor for Sports Illustrated based in New York and Los Angeles, covering tennis, volleyball and college basketball and football. He also worked for the Los Angeles Herald-Express, United Press International and as a cityside reporter for The Times in the 1960s.
Jares worked for 20 years at the Los Angeles Daily News, mostly as a columnist and sports editor, and taught sports reporting at USC.
His books include “Basketball: An American Game”; “Clyde: The Walt Frazier Story,” co-written with the former New York Knicks star; and “White House Sportsmen.” Jares also co-authored books with USC coaches John Robinson (“Conquest: A Cavalcade of USC Football”) and George Toley (“The Golden Age of College Tennis: A Coach's Unique Influence on the Game.”)
Jares was inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015, along with former head football coach Pete Carroll and others. Though he played freshman basketball for the Trojans, Jares entered the hall in the media category.
Writing in Sports Illustrated in 2011, Jares said the best team he ever covered was UCLA basketball in the 1967-68 season, coached by John Wooden and led by Lew Alcindor, as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was then known.
Jares was sent to the Jan. 20, 1968, “game of the century” in which No. 2-ranked Houston defeated No. 1 UCLA, 71-69. The game, which drew more than 52,000 fans to the Astrodome, had “the largest crowd ever to see a basketball game in the U.S.,” he wrote, and “the biggest television audience in the history of the sport.”
When Wooden died in 2010, Jares recalled the coach’s humility and attention to detail.
“Locker rooms or practice facilities had to be left the way they were found — or cleaner,” Jares wrote in the Daily News. “At his basketball camp in Thousand Oaks one summer, I saw the greatest coach who ever lived get a paper towel from the men's room and remove two pieces of bubble gum from the gym water fountain.”
In addition to his wife, Jares is survived by his daughters Hayley Kondon, of Los Angeles, and Julie Jares, of San Francisco, two grandchildren, and his brother, Frank Jares Jr., of Valencia.