The other life of the “Free Throw Wizard”: An Xpress exclusive

Think you know Fred Feder, the free throw wiz profiled in Mountain Xpress? Well, there’s much more to his story than hoop dreams.

A year ago, then-Xpress writer Kent Priestley profiled Feder, telling the story of the man who shot more than 20,000 free throws in his day. Now Feder, who lives near Candler and will turn 82 on Christmas Day, has shared the other — and equally extraordinary — parts of his life. In an e-mail to Xpress this week, he offered a sketch of his life beyond the basketball court.

It’s a tale of brushes with famous figures and a life lived to the fullest. Below, we reprint Feder’s new autobiographical account in its entirety. For those who’d like to know more, check out his book, Free Throw Wizard: 50 Years as a Free Throw Shooting Performer, which was featured in an August Xpress article, “Book of Secrets.”

— Jon Elliston, managing editor


The Other Life of the “Free Throw Wizard
by Fred Feder

I found a new different way to shoot free throws without looking at the basket.

There is no best way to shoot as long as the angle of the ball is correct and you make the basket. Your body position can be anywhere, back to the basket, sitting down, or looking at the ceiling.

I noticed that many bowlers do not look at the pins but at a spot on the side of the bowling lane. When I shoot I aim at a spot or object on the ceiling. This spot represents the basket.

When I was practicing shooting no one noticed that I never see the basket. So I placed six boxes 11 feet high on top of each other in front of me to block my view.

This is not a trick but shooting from the 15-foot line.

There are some interesting other events in the life of the Free Throw Wizard.

Some people call me a “Renaissance Man” as I am knowledgeable in many fields and was present at many important past events.

Growing up in the Bronx during the Depression was not too bad. We lived in a building with $36 a month rent with no elevator or TV, few telephones, or automobiles. There was no refrigerators or air conditioning. A two-feature movie theatre charged 10 cents.

Public schools had no fountain pens; we had inkwells and walked to school. There were more trolley-car routes than buses.

I saw President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election caravan pass me by on St. Anns Avenue in the South Bronx. I was standing in front of the crowd on the curb as his open car passed in front of me about 5 feet away. A few days later an assassin shot at the president but missed him at Miami, Florida.

While serving in the Navy in 1945-46 we were able to see the atomic-bomb site in Japan at Nagasaki. Japan was so sure that they would win the war that they issued Japanese occupation money to be used in the United States when they won the war. I have such a $10 bill.

While stationed at Camp Perry, Virginia, while in the Navy in April 1945 I encountered Southern segregation as a white person. I was unaware of any segregation where I lived in the Bronx.

I arrived at Richmond, Virginia, to take the bus to Washington, DC, and finish the trip by train to New York City on leave. I entered the bus in my Navy uniform and walked into the bus. I had traveled by bus with my parents and noticed the best scenic large widow was in the rear of the bus.

I noticed many people sitting in the front so I was lucky to get a good window in the rear. The driver kept looking at me and finally said in a loud voice, “Get up here and sit in front.” I told him I like the view here. I was very backward and naive and did not know about segregation laws.

After a while the driver said, “If you don’t sit in front I will call the police and have you arrested.” He told me about the segregation laws and I then realized the law existed. I still told him the view from the front widow was no good and that I had a right to sit where I wanted.

Years later, my young son told me that he would be proud of me if I refused to move and was arrested. He also said that then there would be no need for Rosa Parks, who was arrested later on and helped end segregation.

Have you ever met a stranger who became famous at a future time? It happened to me.

My wife and I attended a congressional-election debate in Middletown, N.Y., after we had just moved there. We were early and took our seats at the rear of the hall.

We did not know anyone in the audience and we felt out of place. A well-dressed man sat down to my right. We started talking which continued until the candidates started the debate.

It was simple conversation, nothing important. He said he was the mayor of Peekskill, N.Y. I told my wife Muriel that this man was so friendly and polite and that our conversation was very enjoyable.

This man was to become Gov. George Pataki of New York state, and he sent me his autographed picture that appears in my book

I was employed by the New York City Department of Welfare about 1949 to 1951 as an investigator in the Harlem Center. A new building was constructed in 1951 and know as 1951 Park Avenue.

I sat at the desk next to Mr. Beavers. Most of our conversation was about the department’s welfare cases that we handled. He was an African-American and said that his wife Camilla Williams was an opera singer.

Many employees often ate lunch at nearby Sylvia.s Restaurant at 136 St. It gave us a chance to relax and have an enjoyable conversation. Today this restaurant is a top tourist attraction and most visited by tourists.

Years later, I realized that Camilla Williams was a famous opera soprano singer, the first African-American to have an opera contract with a U.S. company, and that she performed for the Metropolitan Opera Company and Vienna State Opera in 1954.

Mr. Beavers was Charles T. Beavers, a famous militant civil-rights attorney for Malcom X who in 1957 defended Hinton Johnson, a police-brutality victim.

There was another time when I met someone who was to become famous.

I was at the Paramount Theatre in New York City in 1963, watching the picture Come Fly With Me. The cast included Hugh O’Brian, Lois Nettleton, Karl Malden, Pamela Tiffin and Dolores Hart.

As I was leaving the theatre, one of the female stars, Dolores Hart, was in the lobby giving out her autographed pictures. I obtained her picture and she signed “To Fred and Muriel.” She was a very beautiful — 25 years old, and she made 10 pictures in 5 years.

She made her movie debut with Elvis Presley in the picture Loving You in 1957 and in 1958 gave Elvis his first kiss in King Creole.

In 1960, she appeared in Where The Boys Are with Connie Francis, who sang the title song. The cast included George Hamilton, Jim Hutton, Frank Gorshin, Paula Prentiss, Yvette Mimieux, Barbara Nicholas, and Dolores Hart. This picture inspired many college co-eds to spend their spring break at Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Several months later, I heard that Dolores Hart left her film career and a large money contract to become a nun at The Abbey of Regina Laudis at Bethlehem, Conn.

I mailed her this same picture in 1980. She returned this picture with a message: “After all these years,” and a picture wearing her habit. She was now Reverend Mother OSB .

I received another letter and picture of her on September 2008 wishing us well.


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About Jon Elliston
Former Mountain Xpress managing editor Jon Elliston is the senior editor at WNC magazine.

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2 thoughts on “The other life of the “Free Throw Wizard”: An Xpress exclusive

  1. Neil Feder

    My father, Fred Feder passed away last August 25. At 91 years old. He was truly a remarkable man.

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