No official in the history of our Sport ever tried harder to organize the USTTA than did Carl Zeisberg, an authoritarian and consequently controversial figure. Throughout the 1930’s, his name--both as President of the Association and as Editor of Topics--is synonymous with Law and Order.
We first see him, and his friend Tom Bradley, at the 1932 New York TTA National Championships, after that body, in Sept.,1931, broke from the American Ping-Pong Association over the APPA’s insistence that all its members play only with Parker Brothers equipment. Since neither Bradley nor Zeisberg were good players, they didn’t come up to New York with the thought of advancing very far in the tournament, but more to check out the "outlaw" scene.
Ivor Montagu, the power behind the ITTF, was looking for new member-countries to recruit, and, having been in contact with, first, the N.Y. Metro PPA, then the NYTTA’s General Secretary Bernard Joel, had given the NYTTA some provisional ITTF standing. But what the U.S. needed, Montagu emphasized, was not just a state but a national association.
The 1931-32 inroads made by the rebelling New Yorkers probably encouraged Bradley and Zeisberg, both high achievers, to act. Bradley was President of the Philadelphia Security Banknote Co.; Zeisberg an Editor at the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. Bradley had already organized the Drexel Park, Pennsylvania Ping-Pong Club, and in early 1932 had arranged an intercity match between Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington.
USTTA Historians of the late 1940’s, Louis E. Laflin, Jr. and Peter W. Roberts, say that "Upon being elected President of the Philadelphia Table Tennis Association Mr. Bradley got in touch with the ITTF," and, when he couldn’t persuade Parker Brothers to use lightweight balls and allow players to use rackets of their own choice, he then "got in touch with ‘outlaw’ Table Tennis Associations in Chicago, Milwaukee, Newark, New York and other cities," and, along with Zeisberg, formed the USTTA.
However, since these Historians fail to even mention the pioneering NYTTA, their ties with Montagu, their historic split from the APPA, their Handbooks, and their National Championships, it seems, if we’re not just to have the Philadelphia point of view, further clarification as to how the USTTA began, and how within a year it grew in strength, is necessary. In a moment, I’ll begin to weave in that alternative view, but, first, let’s continue with what Zeisberg might have told Laflin and Roberts.
As far back as July 3, 1933 Montagu acknowledged that he’d received notice of the formation of the United States Table Tennis Association.
Such a notice must have meant, though, not that the USTTA was already formed, but was being formed. Certainly the concept of the USTTA had been put forward with the coming together of the U.S. Amateur TTA (which had originated in Philadelphia) and the National TTA (which had been formed in 1932 in Illinois by the Durabilt Co. that was said to be amenable to player control). However, in a Dec. 5, 1940 letter to the then Topics editor, Wes Bishop, Zeisberg offered this clarification:
"...The U.S. Amateur [TTA] was an organization put on paper by Tom Bradley and me in the fall of 1932 (it supplied the USTTA’s Articles of Agreement, which in turn came from a lot of correspondence). The National [TTA] was simply a sales-promotion scheme of Durabilt Steel Locker Co. that lasted only a few months (till the money ran out). As both these ‘associations’ were largely mythical they hardly deserve mention."
In the fall of 1933 the divide between the APPA and not just the NYTTA but the rest of U.S. Table Tennis became unmistakably clear. Other "outlaw" Associations began to form--the Illinois TTA (Oct. 2), the Indiana TTA (Oct. 3), the St. Louis TTA (Oct. 6), and, having greatly expanded, the largest of them all, the New Jersey TTA (Oct. 3).
At Philadelphia, on Oct. 10, the New Jersey, Illinois, and Philadelphia TTAs, representing, along with "many smaller associations and clubs," at least 1500 players in all, signed Articles of Agreement to form the non-commercial, player-controlled United States Table Tennis Association (USTTA).
In trying to give credit where credit is due, I want to call attention to a Jan. 20, 1949 letter to USTTA History Chair Roberts in which Zeisberg said that it was he who applied the name "Father of American Table Tennis" to Tom Bradley. He also said that "I never would have worked for table tennis if it had not been for Tom Bradley’s inspiration and support and [that] anything I did for the game was Tom working through me."
That’s high praise indeed--the more so when you consider Philadelphia contemporary Gene Smolen’s encomium of Zeisberg. "Carl," he says, "was 90% responsible for the USTTA....He used to spend hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars of his own money to futher the sport (never asked the Association for as much as stamp money and even paid his way into tournaments as a spectator)."
In Oct., 1933, Zeisberg began putting out the official USTTA publication, the 4-page leaflet Table Tennis Topics (8 issues a year). Behind his "Kaiser Wilhelm" mustache, Zeisberg, in editorial after editorial, was an outspoken opponent of a Parker Brothers commercial monopoly. He argued that since the AP, UP, and International News Services had "barred the name p.p. from their news dispatches," because it constituted an unfair free ad, the Sport needed to publicize the USTTA. He inveighed against USTTA members--said they cut their own throat or played a dirty trick on a friend--if they so much as bought a table, racket or ball from those [Parker Brothers] chiselers and parasites--enemies of the USTTA." Carl was always one to use frank language.
The Acting Secretary (elected Oct. 10, 1933) and later first President of the USTTA (elected Apr. 7, 1934) was William R. Stewart. A book publisher’s rep, he was the author (also credit Montagu) of Table Tennis Tactics ( 1933). "Big Bill," a native New Yorker and Columbia University graduate, after making his home in Chicago had become Secretary of the Western PPA. He was thus, as Laflin and Roberts, should have been more aware, a pivotal liaison between East and West, Ping-Pong and Table Tennis. Stewart would act as President of the USTTA for only one season (two, actually, if you counted his previous year as Acting Secretary)--until, as he said decades later, "I finally got tired and sick of arguments. [Thereafter] I preferred to play the game for the time I could devote to it." Big Bill said most of his arguments were with "the late and great" Zeisberg. Carl was "wrong often...[but] would never admit it" as he went about doing "a grand job of straw bossing" the Association. Stewart apparently was one native New Yorker who didn’t much like Zeisberg (particularly when Carl was usurping Big Bill’s secretarial or presidential perogatives?). Stewart acknowledged that Carl "was unquestionably very good writing letters and spent many hours on the magazine then [when Bill was Secretary/President] and since, but after a year he thought I was sort of an errand boy and that I wasn’t."
Laflin and Roberts allow Stewart one sentence in their History, but it’s certain he deserves more. In a Jan. 31, 1958 letter to Elmer Cinnater, Captain of the famous 1937 U.S. World Champion Men’s and Women’s Teams, Stewart gives his view of how the USTTA was formed:
"Bill Rogers of New York, Carl Zeisberg of Philadelphia, and myself had been in correspondence. I was making a business trip to New York and we arranged a meeting at that time and over the dinner table we drew up the rough outline for the U.S. Table Tennis Association....Zeisberg went back to Philadelphia and I went around with Rogers and talked with a number of New York leading players and explained the situation. They agreed to go along with it and it helped Rogers to organize the New York Table Tennis Association and enabled him to put on the first tournament in table tennis, though I believe it was only in New York City."
This account, however, given so many years after the facts, needs some careful elaboration. The NYTTA Handbook for 1931-32, the season the NYTTA National’s was held at Bamberger’s Department Store in Newark, N.J., does not list Willard T. "Bill" Rogers, the "Bounding Basque," as an officer in the NYTTA. So what does Stewart mean when he talks about Bill Rogers (of Summit, N.J.) organizing the "New York Table Tennis Association"?
Also, that first table tennis tournament Stewart says Rogers was instrumental in putting on--was it the first (1932) NYTTA Bamberger National’s in Newark, N.J.? Or the second (1933) NYTTA Gimbel’s National’s in New York City? Although Stewart, writing 25 years later, can be forgiven his confusion, he forces us to make an educated guess as to what he means.
Rogers was the 1932 New Jersey Champion, but he worked in New York City at the Otis Elevator Co., and so it would have been convenient for him to play and talk with the New York players, and, if he were well thought of, to organize them in the sense of having the NYTTA more or less en masse go along with the idea of a USTTA. Question is: did Rogers, Zeisberg, and Stewart meet before the "first" 1932 NYTTA tournament in New Jersey, or before the second 1933 NYTTA tournament in "New York City"?
It seems likely that Rogers, who won his 1932 New Jersey Championship at Bamberger’s, would help to organize the first NYTTA National’s there. Stewart in his Table Tennis Tactics, published sometime in 1933, lists the contact man and address of the NJTTA in Newark as "Willard Rogers, care Bamberger & Co, Secretary, which of course was not Rogers’ home address in Summit.
However, despite the NJTTA affiliation Stewart posits for Rogers in his 1933 book (perhaps the address anticipates the 1933-34 season?), Rogers, during the 1932-33 season, was the NYTTA Recording Secretary, and so had the in-group opportunity to influence other NYTTA officers. But did he have anything to do with the Gimbel National’s? Well, he played in it. Also, since one New York City columnist, announcing that the tournament was about to start, spoke of three "stars"--the #1 seed, Marcus Schussheim, the Defending Champion; the #2 seed, Sydney Heitner, who would win the Championship; and the...#14 seed, Rogers--I deduce that Rogers might well have been the columnist’s contact and therefore connected with running the tournament.
I think it likely then that the organizational meeting Stewart speaks of between himself, Zeisberg and Rogers took place before the ‘33 National’s, that Zeisberg came prepared with his proposed Articles of Agreement, and that Stewart and Rogers (in his capacity as NYTTA official) talked up the idea of a national association with the "outlaw" New York players that would eventually, on Oct. 10, allow Stewart to become Acting Secretary of the newly-formed USTTA and the independent-minded NYTTA to join the USTTA a bit belatedly on Nov. 3.
Further, Chicago aficionado Yoshio Fushimi, though he may merely be repeating what Stewart told him, said in a long Aug. 14, 1989 letter to me that "Bill Stewart persuaded the National Table Tennis Association of New York [sic for NYTTA) and the Philadelphia T.T.A. to join the movement."
On returning to Chicago after that meeting with Zeisberg and Rogers, Stewart says that he "talked day after day, night after night with the Chicago players" urging unanimity. No doubt one of these players was George O’Connell, proprietor of the Chicago Table Tennis Parlor, for Historians Laflin and Roberts spare a sentence to include Rogers and O’Connell (but not Stewart) with Bradley and Zeisberg as additional "founders" of the USTTA.
Stewart also says that through his business travels round the middle west he met the "boys in St. Louis, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and so on, and I’m sure it helped the game, at least the organization of table tennis."
Bill’s efforts in the Midwest were rewarded:
"On June 23, 1934, officers of the Cleveland, Omaha, Detroit, Missouri,, and Indiana Ping-Pong Associations, representing about 1,000 players, met with William R. Stewart, acting secretary of the U.S.T.T.A., in Chicago and voted to merge with the U.S.T.T.A."
Coleman Clark resigned as Vice-President of the APPA and became the USTTA Executive Secretary; his brother, Robert, resigned as President of the Western PPA and stopped publishing the APPA magazine to represent Illinois as one of the 16 (State) USTTA Vice-Presidents; Elmer Cinnater, former Missouri PPA head, became the USTTA Treasurer; and Stewart exchanged his USTTA Acting Secretary title for that of President.
So, regardless of the bare mention given Stewart in Laflin and Roberts’s History, it’s clear he was a key player--an outstanding field general--in the USTTA’s successful war for membership survival with the APPA.
But just as Stewart had reservations about Carl Zeisberg, the man who would succeed him as President at 1934-35 season’s end, so Zeisberg had a critical word or two to say about Big Bill. While acknowledging that Stewart "did a lot for the game," and that he had "imagination and zip and push," Carl thought that he was just "too ‘wild’ to work [with] as a team-mate." Perhaps, then, Zeisberg gave his friend Bradley more than his due, and Stewart less, to Historians Laflin and Roberts?
Stewart, like many another energetic USTTA President in the years to come, would be frustrated because, working alone or with others, he just couldn’t accomplish what ambitiously he’d hoped to. Here he is, two decades after his tenure, reflecting not on the short-run successes in the ‘30’s but the failure of the Sport over the years to become really popular:
"I could never understand while I was active in table tennis why we couldn’t do more with the game than we did. It was only a year or so after I was out of it that I realized the very thing that made it an ideal game for many people was the very thing that held it back from becoming as important as golf, tennis and other sports. It takes very little equipment and inexpensive equipment to play....Therefore, there were no wealthy manufacturers interested in fostering it and advertising in the magazines or magazines connected with the game...."
Of course when it came to anyone making any money from the Sport, many players and officials took as a standard the often financially secure amateur, and (even as Durabilt sold a "European-type" racket called the "Aristocrat") that amateur’s snobbery they professed to deplore.
The USTTA, governed by amateurs as per their Articles of Agreement, surely supported the sentiments Zeisberg expressed in this 1935 Topicseditorial:
"...It should be remembered that the men that pioneered in this game, who spent years of their time for the sheer satisfaction of proving to a skeptical and even hostile public that it was a worth-while sport, did so without any thought of making any money, just bare expenses.
TOPICS therefore condemns the practice of ‘chiseling’ extra money for exhibition matches. It hurts those who do it and the game, too. If table tennis has given pleasure to exhibition players (and it has), it seems they should be more than glad to give their time for the fun and glory."
Understandably, hard-working Topics Editor Zeisberg, now about to acquire more power as the new USTTA President, is thinking of himself here, and (as he writes elsewhere) all his "spare-time, no-pay labor, sweat, one-cent postal cards, and midnight electricity." As for the New York Schussheims and the Schiffs who hadn’t Carl’s no doubt well-deserved and good-paying job on the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, well, what kind of professionals could they hope to be, what kind of money could they ever hope to command? Is that, consciously or unconsciously, part of Zeisberg’s thinking? Did he feel a strong, class-divisive difference between them and, say, the stocks-and-bonds polish of Coleman Clark or the aristocratic manner of Sandor Glancz? Was he then indirectly saying, "Let’s not cheapen the Sport," and saying something else besides? Certainly Schiff, for one, thought that Zeisberg, however fair he rationally tried to be, did not really like New Yorkers or Jews.
Regardless of whatever position of authority he was in, Carl was always fond of making his views known. In 1935 there were already controversial sponge-rubber rackets and already a vote taken by the USTTA membership as to whether they should be banned--with 873 members voting to ban them and 733 voting not to. However, as this ban was necessarily cast as a proposed Amendment to the Articles of Agreement it required a 2/3 majority to pass, and, since this wasn’t obtained, the ban failed. Zeisberg’s Topics editorial on this subject read as follows:
"Your editor, who personally has a low opinion of sponge-rubber bats, is glad, nevertheless, that the resolution to ban them was defeated. ITTF rules permit use of any kind of bat and this exception would cause complications. These "trick" bats are not widely used by good players and in time they will become as obsolete as bell-bottom pants."
From the Oct., 1935 issue of Topics it was clear that the USTTA was becoming more and more organized. Although in the normal course of attrition it would lose some of its 2300 members, it would, with a concerted effort, push states into a competition with one another to enroll a good many new members. Indeed, though USTTA President Zeisberg had given up his Topics Editorship to Sidney Biddell, he retained his role as the publication’s cartoonist and would soon be making a "horse race" out of the Membership Drive--though, as in many a Derby, there were only a few states that really had a chance to win. Still, with its monthly listing of state leaders rhetorically saddled as "jockeys," the contest was effective, and within a year, with Pennsylvania President Urban R. Lamay leading the way, the Association would have between 15-20 states affiliated and over 3,000 members.
According to the USTTA Constitution (Articles of Agreement) adopted July 17, 1935, revised Oct. 18, 1936, there could be only one affiliated State Association and that had to have a minimum of 25 members. In order to become a USTTA member, a player who lived in an affiliated state had to join that State Association; and no player could be a member of a State Association unless he/she were a USTTA member. Since these members could not all be from just one city or town, it was no surprise that some states were also organized into District Associations--the New York State Association (NYSTTA), for example, had not only the Metropolitan TTA (formed from the old NYTTA) but also Nassau County, Hudson Valley, Schenectedy, Rochester, and Buffalo TTAs. In fact, as National Expansion Chairman Frank Trolle was eager to point out, only five members were needed to form a USTTA-affiliated Club.
A notable provision of this Constitution was that the Presidents of each of the State affiliations automatically became known as the Association’s Board of Governors. This Board elected, by a plurality vote, all but one of the Executive Committee officers They chose the President, three Vice Presidents, the Treasurer, and the Recording Secretary--everyone except the Executive Secretary (he/she was appointed by the President, who also appointed his own Committee Chairs). This Board of Governors had considerable power, at least theoretically (I make the qualification because I can’t imagine them during this initial implementation time of Zeisberg’s tenure not following his strong-willed directives). "Only a Governor shall have the power to nominate USTTA officers, to submit resolutions for national mail vote, and to cast his state’s vote for or against such resolutions." Further, with a 2/3 majority vote, these Governors could amend the Constitution, overrule an Executive Committee decision, or remove an E.C. officer.
The understanding was that, for each upcoming election (the term of office was just one year, but an official could be re-elected), each Governor, if he wanted to, could put forward his own complete slate of six Executive Committee officers. (However, these officers would have to reside in at least five different states). Each individual member who paid his/her (no longer 10 cent, no longer 25 cent, but now with the start of the ‘35-36 season) 50 cent dues (half of which was designed specifically for Topics) could vote. In fact, he could even "require the E.C. to vote on his own pet idea." But neither "commercials," those--never mind the past--who were currently involved in the making or selling of table tennis equipment, nor "professionals," those--never mind the past--who currently played table tennis for money, could hold national or affiliate office. The only exception was an Executive Secretary. Moreover, each member’s vote would in the end be subject to majority approval, for a Governor was obligated to cast all his state members’ votes according to the majority opinion.
Zeisberg had been working hard to organize every facet of the fledgling USTTA. In a highly detailed, single-spaced 7-page Apr. 22, 1935 "Plan and Questionnaire" to his E.C. and others (he was at this time President-elect), he’d again and again summarize this or that Constitutional position and ask, "Any objections or suggestions?" And being very aware that the USTTA was "representative in its government, non-commercial and not conducted for profit," he’d also raise such questions as:
What should National, Sectional, and Local Association dues, tournament sanction fees, and tournament entry fees be?
Should players be allowed to receive royalties for use of their names on equipment?
How decide what particular ball or table to use in large tournaments? Just automatically take the highest bidder among makers of approved equipment?
Is the selling of USTTA seals of approval to manufacturers an attempt to control equipment? Ought we to abandon that practice?
Ought a representative of the manufacturers be on the USTTA E.C.?
Such organizational questions seemed never ending--and, autocratic though Zeisberg was, he wanted the democratic input of answers.
With the coming of the 1935-36 season, Zeisberg’s E.C. passed a new By-Law aimed to control interminable "chiseling" or "pooping" matches. This By-law allowed any tournament committee "to terminate any match at any time, the nature of which is construed by such officials to be detrimental to the game." Further, an avid Zeisberg supporter, Tournament Chair Dougall Kittermaster, emphasized that no player will be considered for the U.S. Team to the ‘36 World’s, "no matter how good his tournament record, whose style of play is purely defensive."
This new By-Law was dramatically enforced in the Middle Atlantic States Open in Dec., 1935 when Harry Cook, U.S. #7, was disqualified in the semi’s after leading Stanley Feitelson, two games to none, when, after being warned repeatedly, he wouldn’t play an aggressive shot and Feitelson, though losing, would. Then, in the final, Feitelson and Al Goldman were disqualified for continually pushing the ball...reportedly for 25 minutes...at 20-all in the 5th--the time being now 3: 45 a.m.!
The USTTA’s public denunciation and punishment of players at this tournament [which Zeisberg attended] brought a very long and very passionate defense from New Yorker Stanley H. Borak, whose letter to NYSTTA Secretary Biddell said in part:
"...To speak bluntly, for you have acted bluntly, there have been committeemen before and there will be other committeemen to come, you and [Charles] Schneider [MTTA President] are not the last hope for the salvation of the game, and I think you had not the slightest right, morally or actually, for such arbitrary and reckless actions. The state of table tennis had not reached a crisis the other night, however much your inflated imaginnings [sic] may have led you so to believe....
...You cannot set yourselves up, Biddell, as demi-gods, and act high- mindedly in such matters as you did without any notice of [a] meeting or referendum of the players. It is our game, we are the amateurs, lovers of the game-- and you have no right to try to take it away from us. To become more specific, your own actions and Schneider’s on Friday, were a disgrace to the game, and have caused a dissension in the ranks that bodes ill for your precious phrase "future of the game." Schneider’s announcing during the Berenbaum v. Drapkin match that it was dull and that more interesting matches were being played on the other tables was an insult to the intelligence of the audience, who could, you know, have watched other matches of their own accord if they were bored without Charlie’s helpfulness, and it was a gross insult to the National Champion. After all, like it or not, Berenbaum is our national champion, and entitled to a modicum of courtesy, if not affection from our gracious committee. The announcement at the end of the match was even more insulting and did, I speak of positive knowledge, hurt Berenbaum and Dropkin [sic] deeply. What did it accomplish? They’ll know better next time--so you think! You and Schneider are wonderful judges of human nature! You caused Berenbaum, by harrassing him personally and over the loud speaker to disgustedly throw his match to Feitelson, thereby eliminating your national champion. A national champion is always the object of interest, whether his style is dull or exciting....Then your dramatic act of defaulting Cook was a corker! What if Feitelson did drive two games? He lost them. Why should Harry Cook now throw two games at your bidding? As a matter of fact, Cook was setting them up to Feitelson after you stepped in to interrupt a not so uninteresting match at the wrong time, when Feitelson was driving, and Feitelson then chopped down hard, giving Cook no chance to drive; and why afterwards did you not immediately default Feirelson [sic] and Goldman for chiseling--instead of pulling watches? Why did you favor them over Cook? How does it look for table tennis when the best players are defaulted? Are you going to default Berenbaum, your national champion, for trying to win the best way he knows how, on the ground that he didn’t in your opinion entertaion [sic] the spectator [?]..."
I’ve no record of a reply on Biddell’s part, but here’s Zeisberg’s of Dec. 19:
"Constructive criticism offered in a friendly way is always welcomed by me, but the manner of your four-page letter of December 17 to Mr. Biddell, copy of which you sent to me, is so obnoxious and the letter itself so full of tripe that I won’t discuss it.
I do, however, want to get over two thoughts to you: I think you owe Mr. Biddell and Mr. Schneider an apology. I think that those who condone and defend these senseless and unsportsmanlike chiseling matches should withdraw from the USTTA, form a separate Pushers’ Association and go to it till 4 A.M., thus enabling the fortunate USTTA to progress unhindered."
Borak writes to Biddell that he didn’t mean to insult him, and that, if he did, he apologizes. But he continues to be feisty with Zeisberg, objects to having his protests being called "tripe," and closes with, "One of the main objections against P.P., as I recall, was the dominance of the P.P. officials. Are we to have a repetition of such a state of affairs, with our own officers domineering the players without the players’ consent?"
Of course--after the holidays, on Jan. 6, 1936--Zeisberg replies:
"I am glad you apologized to Mr. Biddell.
By tripe, I mean loose contradictory thoughts.
Your last letter also contained contradictory statements, which would warrant me in paying no attention to the latter.
However, I want to tell you that if you are a USTTA member [ this is a typically dry Zeisberg dig] you can send in any resolution you wish for a vote by the USTTA Executive Committee; or if you want the Executive Committee’s decisions overridden, you should apply to a member of the Board of Governors and ask him to submit the question for a national mail vote, which he will do if he considers it worth the time and expense necessary for a vote....[The USTTA’s] entire government is conducted by means of majorities, and there is not the ‘dominance’ which your last letter hints at.
...If you will try to teach the ‘pushers’ the meaning of sportsmanship and co- operation instead of attacking tournament officials you will be on the right track. As I believe most of them [‘pushers’] are morons, incapable of responding to an appeal to reason, I would prefer that they get out of the USTTA entirely."
On a copy of this letter to George Schein, Secretary of the MTTA, Zeisberg wrote: "Personally I think the best thing to do with pushers is to expel them. I wanted to expel a couple last summer. If it had been done then it would have saved a lot of work and prevented a lot of damage."
And Carl wasn’t kidding. Last May, he wrote that "irresponsibles" are not wanted in the USTTA, and in the same breath quoted approvingly H.W. Fay, who was about to be elected President of the NJTTA:
"Dissension has no right in a good, clean, dignified sport of the character of table tennis, and those who do not cooperate should be expelled from the Association."
Perhaps Zeisberg’s military service and his already 20-year newspaper background, especially as rewrite man and editorial writer, made him prone to take-no-prisoners definitive statements. He was born on Sept. 25 (my own birthdate), 1891 in Lexington, Missouri. After attending high school in Abingdon, Virginia, and graduating from the University of Virginia, he got a job with the Baltimore Sun. The next year, 1914, he joined the PhiladelphiaEvening Ledger.
By 1916 he was a war correspondent on the Mexican border. "During World War I he served in France as a sergeant with Company F, 316th Infantry, and in the G-2 (intelligence) section of the 79th Division. He was in the Meuse-Argonne offensive."
After coming back home in June, 1919, he joined the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin and would continue working there for more than 30 years--until 1950 when, one day in early June while in his office, he suffered a fatal heart attack.
At the time of his death Zeisberg would be editing the Bulletin’s Opinion Page. Which, from what we’ve seen and will continue to see of Carl in the table tennis world of the 1930’s seems appropriate--for opinions he himself certainly had. In paying final homage to him, the Bulletin would emphasize that he was a "genial, lovable companion," with "imperturbable good humor," who "had the knack to an extraordinary degree of making and keeping friends."
The Zeisberg we see has a "dry wit" alright, but, in his not always so good-humored zeal to make t.t., not "p.p.," meaningful, and the USTTA strong, he’s far from imperturbable, and his voice is unquestionably an autocratic one, not to be combatted lightly...as I’m sure all E.C. members, all Governors well knew.
From the very beginning of the 1935-36 season, Topics Editor Biddell--who would also be the Captain of the U.S. Team to the ‘36 World’s--was writing that "No matter is of greater importance to all members of the USTTA than the Fighting Fund, which is to be used to send a team to Zagreb [soon changed to Prague]. He pleads that if "every member will forward but 50c[ents]" to the Chairman of the Fund "our problems will be solved."
Of course this plea is not honored, far from it, and in the following month’s editorial, unsigned, not Editor Biddell but President Zeisberg, as you can tell from his familiar dismissive tone, makes his own 50 cents pitch--for USTTA members:
"TO STATE ASSOCIATIONS
If you have the type of player who objects to paying 50 cents USTTA dues-- who says he ‘just wants to play for fun, doesn’t want to belong to a national association, doesn’t take the game that seriously,’ don’t coax him.
Leave him out of your leagues, leave him out of your tournaments, let him shift for himself--and see how much fun he has.
Don’t waste any time on him. He’s the type who fails to show up to play, shows up late, balls up league schedules, causes extra work, doesn’t want to play according to rules, and won’t do any work for the game. You’re better off without him.
For every one of his type, you can find two who do take the game seriously and who know that teamwork is needed to accomplish anything."
By Jan. 14, 1936 only a total of $464 ($264 of it from an Illinois TTA raffle) had been raised toward the now not $1250 but $1500 necessary (for not unreasonably the Captain/Delegate’s way, that is, Biddell’s way, is to be paid too?).
President Zeisberg, by nature more given to proclamations than pleas, felt that Biddell’s soft rhetoric wouldn’t get the job done, so he applied pressure. He sent out a To Whom It May Concern letter stating that the USTTA E.C. was going to select the U.S. World Team based on recommendations from the Ranking Committee. In doing so, he said, it would use the following "measuring sticks":
"(1) Ability as a player. (2) His general spirit of co-operation, as evidenced by his participation in the American Zone and other ways [meaning?]. (3) The co-operation of his friends and his [local] association in raising the $1,500 Fighting Fund. These things will weigh equally."
Zeisberg emphasized that "there is no player in the U.S. who is so much better than half-a-dozen others that he will be selected regardless of how little cooperation he and his friends and association show in regard to helping to raise the Fighting Fund." Zeisberg even went so far as to write--as if the competition might be wide open--"If there is a player in your city who has chances of making the team if he and his friends and association show some cooperation in raising his expenses, please call this letter to his attention or to the attention of his best friend--immediately....The Executive Committee has learned that cooperation is needed in this stage of our development more than playing ability and I for one am voting for the guy with the cooperative spirit."
Carl, assuming as usual that he speaks for his Executive Committee, means the guy who can best buy his way onto the team?
Anyway, with the help of an anonymous donor, more than enough money to send the U.S. Team to Prague is forthcoming.
So, no problems, after all, eh?
Uh, not quite. Because, only a week or so before the U.S. Team is scheduled to sail, President Zeisberg finds out that, back on Dec. 19, 18-year-old Sol Schiff, the #1 man on the U.S. Men’s Team, had signed a contract with Parker Brothers. What follows I’ll describe in detail, but first some background information.
Though General Zeisberg with barrage after barrage of heavy artillery, both as Topics Editor and as President, had apparently won the USTTA-APPA war, he was still obsessed--pick any month, any year, he would always be obsessed--with putting down Parker Brothers and their proprietory "p.p." (as he liked scornfully to refer to their trademark). The "nation-wide sport" is table tennis not ping-pong--that was Zeisberg’s adamantine point of view. Moreover, he said, "instead of helping the game in America, the APPA has actually retarded its development for several years."
Although in one of his first Topics Zeisberg could emphasize that the USTTA "does not ‘outlaw’ any brand of equipment," and "does not ‘outlaw’ any player who prefers some particular brand," in a mere 18 months, in a Mar.,’35 Topics he could threaten members publicly that if you don’t use USTTA-seal equipment--that equipment of course of a certain acceptable standard which manufacturers pay the USTTA to grace with their approval--"you are working against the USTTA and you are harming the game and you are your own enemy." Worse, he says, "you are a rotten sportsman, and fair play means nothing to you."
Wow, strong words, fanatical words, considering "Submission of equipment for [seal] approval is entirely voluntary. The USTTA permits use of any brand of equipment...." Words dictatorially suggestive of Parker Brothers! Maybe it’s best that several months later, after a summer mail vote, the sale of "USTTA official-approved seals" was "discontinued"?
And maybe it’s not. For through the ‘34-35 season and on into the ‘35-36 season until the USTTA just stops them, Parker Brothers Ping-Pong ads are being accepted in USTTA tournament Programs and even in Topics. Which forces Zeisberg to face a conundrum. On the one hand, how, issue after issue of the magazine, can he rail against "p.p." and yet give "Ping-Pong" credibility by accepting Parker ads--and, on the other, how, if the USTTA "permits use of any brand of equipment," can he not?
Oh, if only Parker Brothers would...do what? Be a jolly good friend? John Jaques & Son, Ltd., the "London firm that owns the p.p. trademark throughout the world, except in the U.S., gives 100% cooperation to the English TTA and assists in promotion of the game under its historic name, table tennis."
But Parker Brothers has not been and is not being "cooperative." Imagine them offering teenager Jimmy McClure a contract after he’d won their ‘34 National Singles Championship! And imagine him accepting! Zeisberg, disturbed, writes Coleman Clark:
"...Did he [Jimmy] ever stop to think that in permitting Parker Brothers to use his name in this way, he is definitely working against the USTTA, which made possible his [Jan., ‘35] tour with the Hungarians and his [Feb., ‘35 World’s] trip to London, France, and Hungary, neither of which Parker Brothers could have done? That if he isn’t with us in our efforts to get Parker Brothers to co-operate with us, then he is against us? That every McClure bat sold is money out of the USTTA treasury...[and] is a blow aimed against the firms that do co-operate with the USTTA? Will he cause Parker Brothers to stop selling bats bearing his name? Or does he have a contract with them that would make this impossible?
Zeisberg asks Clark to talk to Jimmy’s father about this racket situation. He says, "I am willing, even eager, to go the limit in working for Jimmy’s interests, but I submit that some cooperation with the USTTA ought to be shown on his part." Then he closes with a typical threat: "I am pretty sure my future attitude [toward Jimmy] would be guided largely by the answers to the questions [above]."
In addition to his dismay over McClure’s endorsement of a Parker Brothers racket, Zeisberg also shows his alarm on hearing that Parker will "market a ‘Barna bat’ in the U.S.":
"...If it is true, it is very bad. Few people seem to realize what we are trying to do--namely to get Parker to cooperate,--and that as long as our champions are going to go into partnership with them and help them boost their equipment sales without their doing a thing to help the USTTA, so long will Parker stay out and hamper us."
Zeisberg hopes that Barna can be dissuaded from signing, or, if he has signed, adhering to, any such contract, and that, if he can’t, the Hungarian Association will threaten to take some disciplinary action against him.
Meanwhile, Zeisberg, relentless in wanting to destroy Parker Brothers’ "Ping-Pong" as an accepted name for the Sport, had finally found a way to exclude USTTA members from using "p.p." equipment. On Feb. 22, 1935 the USTTA Board of Governors accepted an Amendment proposal from the Pennsylvania TTA (the Philadelphia TTA--with Bradley as re-elected President and Zeisberg as Corresponding Secretary--simply changed into the Pennsylvania TTA). This proposal, slightly reworded, would become Article 10-C of the newly adopted (July 17, 1935) Constitution. It reads: "Brand Names": The "USTTA, its affiliates and members thereof shall not use or promote any proprietary brand name of equipment as the name of the sport of table tennis and shall discourage such use or promotion by others." Also newly adopted would be Article 12-C: "Royalties: (1) No USTTA affiliate or member shall receive royalties from firms without approval in writing from the Executive Committee. (2) The sole power to arrange for and receive royalties shall rest in the USTTA Executive Committee."
Parker Brothers, whom obviously this Amendment attacked, had pushed their $1.50 Jimmy McClure racket (the "Ping-Pong" seal was easy to see) in an A. G. Spalding & Bros. ad in both the program of the USTTA’s (NYTTA-sponsored) Hungary vs. U.S. Match at the Hotel New Yorker, Jan. 23-24, 1935 and in the Program of the USTTA’s (South Jersey TTA-sponsored) Eastern Open, Feb. 22-23. But, even after the USTTA’s Feb. 22 acceptance of the Amendment adoptions, Parker was advertising in the Apr. 5-7 National’s Program via a Spalding ad featuring their $2.50 Barna racket (again with the "Ping-Pong" seal easy to read). Was the Amendment forbidding such proprietary promotion meant to be enforced, and, if so, when?
To make matters even more confusing, the first "Ping-Pong" ad to appear in Topics was in Apr., 1935--the Spalding McClure one; the second, in May, 1935--the Barna one. What was going on? The June, ‘35 Topics advertised Barna balls through Sportcraft, but "Ping-Pong" was not mentioned. However, in the Oct., ‘35 Topics, the very issue in which the July 17-adopted USTTA Constitution with its Article 10-C forbidding the promotion of proprietary equipment, was printed in its entirety, indeed on the page immediately following this Constitution, there was a new Spalding ad that showed a Barna racket selling for $2 and Barna’s picture on the accompanying "Ping-Pong" box!
Was the USTTA accepting or refusing such ads? Was a player at liberty to sign with Parker Brothers, or wasn’t he? Were McClure and Barna supposed to tell the manufacturers with whom they’d contracted that they wanted nothing more to do with that proprietary promotion? It seemed like the USTTA itself didn’t have ready answers to these questions.
On Oct. 28, 1935, Topics Editor Sidney Biddell wrote a letter to USTTA Ranking Chair Reginald Hammond that showed his own uncertainty with regard to the USTTA’s equipment policy. He speaks of his own preference for Parker tables for the ‘36 National’s, but says that "unless they request an approval we should use some other make." Biddell, who was formerly a Westchester County APPA man, has a link with, and so is perhaps sympathetic to, Parker Brothers. But I can’t understand how, given the USTTA Constitution, the tables of this proprietary firm could be accepted for our National’s. Then Biddell goes on to say, "Believe the executive committee should stand pat on their decision to accept no further Parker advertising without recognition of table tennis as the sport."
Of course Barna, whom the USTTA has no jurisdiction over, isn’t disciplined by his Hungarian Association, and, with the USTTA’s blessing, makes another Tour of the U.S. and while here wins our ‘36 National’s. As for McClure, the question of disciplinary action against him is not dropped but delayed--presumably because it isn’t clear he should be disciplined. After all, Jimmy had contracted with Parker before there was any law against it and because, even after the law had supposedly been put into effect, the USTTA had itself continued doing "Ping-Pong" business with Spalding. Later, in Oct., 1936 Zeisberg proposed to his E.C. a resolution to suspend McClure for violation of Articles 10-C and 12-C. But since the vote was 3-3, no majority prevailed, and the motion failed.
Having given you this background, I now come back to Zeisberg’s suspension of current U.S. Men’s Champion, Sol Schiff, just before he was about to leave for the ‘36 Prague World’s. Sol was suspended--despite, as he says, the earlier assurance of Biddell that he could sign a racket contract with Parker Brothers ("You don’t need approval, I’m giving you approval").
Zeisberg’s Special Delivery Registered Letter of Feb. 24, 1936 to young Schiff read as follows:
This will notify you the Executive Committee voted 6-0 to indefinitely suspend you from membership for signing a contract or agreement December 19, 1935 to receive royalties without obtaining the Committee’s permission, as provided in Article 12-C of the Constitution. This is an unpleasant duty and I trust the suspension will be short through efforts you said you would make and others that are contemplated [which are? by whom?].
Charges of violating Article 10-C, involving promotion of a trademark as the name of the sport of table tennis, are pending against you and another player [McClure], and it is my considered opinion that if and when these charges are pressed, expulsion will result [this didn’t happen]. The USTTA will not interfere with any business arrangement existing between a player and a firm, but its members, to remain in good standing, must obey their Constitution. The USTTA will automatically give permission to receive royalties from firms that cooperate in enforcing Articles 10-C and 12-C.
I was in New York yesterday and heard a lot of wild talk, including a threat to prevent the U.S. Team’s sailing unless you are included. Needless to say, any such selfish and unpatriotic attempt would make it difficult for those involved to retain membership. Charges of racial prejudice and discrimination are ridiculous to anyone who knows me. In and out of table tennis I have often expressed my friendship for and admiration of the Jewish race. It is true that there are certain individual Jews, as well as Irishmen, Germans, Frenchmen, Englishmen, etc., whom I don’t admire. You will recall I started the national fund last season to send you to London. While I cannot hold you responsible for the violent talk of your friends, your attitude will largely determine their attitude.
If you and your friends wish it, I will guarantee to get a Governor to introduce for you a resolution for national mail vote to lift the suspension, remove me from office, pay you the cost of a trip to Europe or anything else you wish, and I will pay the cost of the resolution if it does not exceed two pages of mimeographed material.
Yours very truly,
To try to counter this no-nonsense letter by a President very sure of himself and his power, Sol needs a good lawyer. He’s been a USTTA member since the Association was formed--during which time, in issue after issue of its magazine, it’s insisted that no USTTA player could be an "outlaw" for using (and so promoting) "any" brand of equipment...only to then clumsily, confusingly reverse itself, largely through the obsessive efforts of one man. And now Sol’s likely to be expelled (after a short suspension)?
It’s an "unpleasant duty" to chastise this teenager, is it? This player who’s already distinguished self and country?
In pursuing with such zeal his aim of putting "table tennis up where it ought to be--a recognized and respected athletic sport," Zeisberg is of course a controversial giant. Here, perhaps, he’ll be seen by some as a bully.
Though there’s no way Sol can go to the World’s, he takes immediate conciliatory action. Here’s a penciled draft, pleading ignorance, showing he’s cooperative, that in tidied-up form he must have sent to Zeisberg:
"Dear Carl; [sic]
As soon as I was told I ought to write for approval of my bat, I did so. When I was informed that I acted against the policy of the U.S.T.T.A., I tried to get Parker Bros to cancel the contract, but they refused. This left me with only one alternative, to void the contract because of my age, which brought the following letter from Parker Bros. [At this point Sol indicates that he wants his pencilled draft interrupted so he can insert the following letter:]
‘Dear Mr. Schiff:
I have your notification of March 3 in which you disclaim the contract that you signed with this company. Although I doubt if this disclaimer is binding until we have used up the rackets bearing your name that we have manufactured or have in the process of manufacture, I do not want this company to have any connection with anyone who treats us in this manner. You can accordingly treat this letter as acceptance by us of your disclaimer of your contract as of this date.
Very truly yours,
Robert B.M. Barlow
[Sol’s penciled draft now continues.] I trust my actions before the contract was signed, and my actions since I was shown my error, will bring me consideration from the executive committee [Sol’s draft, unsigned, ends here.]"
Although Zeisberg had said that, if Sol were cooperative, he trusted the suspension would be "short," he did not lift the suspension, as he could have, to allow Sol to enter the National’s (with its March 23rd deadline). Instead, in the Apr., ‘36 Topics, he publicly takes up the question of Schiff’s suspension:
"...Sol, who is a modest and popular boy, is the most blameless figure in the succession of errors caused entirely by officials, members and firms ignoring the Constitution. It was he who, seeking advice, made known existence of the contract, signed Dec. 19, 1935.
Permission probably would have been granted, after a slight penalty, if the firm in question cooperated with the USTTA. But it has been antagonistic toward table tennis for 8 years and disregards Article 10-C in promoting the p.p. brand of table tennis equipment in the name of a rival game, using, nevertheless, table tennis rules taken from the ITTF in 1928. The USTTA has repeatedly offered to discuss cooperation, pointing out that by promoting the p.p. brand of table tennis equipment the firm could remove the obstacle existing between it and the USTTA and ITTF.
The swift unanimity of the Committee’s [6-0] suspension vote by airmail, special delivery and telegram surprised even its members, who have strenuously debated many of the 87 resolutions thus far introduced for vote. [Despite Zeisberg’s heavy rhetoric here, I’m certain Carl made sure everybody understood the need for quick action, for Schiff was about to leave for Prague.] It had made up its mind that discipline must be enforced or the amount of labor involved in operating a disorderly organization would become so enormous that no one could be found to undertake it. Too many persons, after joining the USTTA, think they can do as they please; and too many firms think the same. But the Constitution & By-Laws were not adopted and distributed in Topics and elsewhere just for fun. They will be enforced....
If any member does not like this plan, he may withdraw, thus possibly avoiding suspension or expulsion.
This frank language will not offend the majority, because they know it does not apply to them and they want the USTTA to be conducted efficiently. The few who will be insulted by being reminded the rules must be enforced would be better off outside the USTTA and the USTTA would be better off without them...."
The USTTA has really got it together now, huh? And dramatically punishing "the most blameless figure," Schiff, will prove it. But, Carl, just in passing, those more to blame "officials, members and firms" making "the succession of errors" that ignored the July 17, 193-adopted USTTA Constitution--who, specifically, were they? It might be argued that one of them was Zeisberg? And how are those most to blame being punished? Or can’t they be? And so better to punish the "most blameless figure" than nobody? For Zeisberg & Co. Schiff really is a scapegoat, someone to be "used." And Parker Brothers, if not the world, will surely knownow that it’s futile to claim any historic authority for "Ping-Pong" or try to be a rival to the well-disciplined might of Zeisberg’s USTTA.
"The USTTA’s strict enforcement of rules is great stuff," Portland’s Don Vaughan wrote to Topics. But there were "irresponsibles," dissenters in the Association. And Columbia University student Richard Geiger’s letter of protest, like Stanley Borak’s before him, was too long to publish in whole or in part in Topics.
The U.S. Team, then, with Schiff’s supposed intercessor Biddell as Captain/Delegate, went off to Prague...and the U.S. #1 men’s player, Schiff, stayed home, suspended through the April National’s until June. "A sad lesson," Zeisberg would say--though permission "probably would have been granted, after a slight penalty," if it weren’t Parker Brothers Sol was making the contract with. Parker Brothers, in pursuing its own aims, was always so uncooperative.
Well then, so much for "Ping-Pong"? But, as we’ll see in Part II, Zeisberg will soon be involved in the suspension of another teenager that will cause much more controversy far and wide than his relatively docile suspension of Schiff.
As I’d ended Part I of my Profile of Carl Zeisberg with what I considered his harsh suspension of then U.S. Champion Sol Schiff just before 18-year-old Sol was to leave with the U.S. Team for the ‘36 Prague World’s, I want to point out that afterward the two men seemed to remain on friendly terms.
In a Mar. 25, 1937 letter to Sol, Carl says he’s "mighty glad" Schiff’s gone with TATCO (George Perryman’s Table Tennis Corporation of America), wants him to send articles to Topics even if they’re "in the rough," for he’ll edit them, and kids him about his one loss (to Poland’s Schiff) in the ‘37 Swaythling Cup matches.
In a July 2, 1937 letter, Carl responds to Sol’s cautious query as to whether he can contract with F.H. Ayers, Ltd. of London for a racket endorsement by very cooperatively saying that he thinks it’s o.k. but that he’ll check with the English TTA. Then he asks Sol "to come down here again soon," play doubles with him, and spend the night in his house.
And 10 years later, after he’s long been away from the Sport, Zeisberg will write in to Topics questioning the results of a reader’s poll as to who is "the greatest U.S. player of all times?" Not only did the Topics article (Dec., 1946) have Coleman Clark third, behind (then National Champion) Dick Miles and Jimmy McClure, it didn’t even mention Schiff. Zeisberg reminded readers of Sol’s great Swaythling Cup record in ‘37--21-1 against the best players in the world.
Naturally the ‘36 U.S. Team--with Ruth Aarons as World Women’s Singles Champion and Jimmy McClure and Bud Blattner as World Doubles Champions--was given quite a welcome on their return from Prague. And Team Captain Sidney Biddell was soon publicly praised in Topics by President Zeisberg for his "incalculable" service to the USTTA. Indeed, after Dougall Kittermaster, because of the "pressure of business," was forced to decline the Presidency, Recording Secretary Biddell, in an acceptable "slate," switched places with Zeisberg and accepted the Presidential office. But then by summer’s end he had to step down to assume "charge of Grand National Films’ story and talent departments," and moved to Hollywood.
Before Biddell left, however, Zeisberg complained that "the vast amount of work connected with [the] operation of the association was imposing an intolerable burden on USTTA officials (who serve without pay)." And, having said that, he forthwith introduced a Sept. 4, 1936 resolution "to disband the association"!
Why he did this is not clear to me. Perhaps he wanted to dramatically indicate that with Biddell’s resignation the Association would lose an invaluable man and that unless the other E.C. members rallied round the only suitable Presidential substitute--Zeisberg himself--gave him real help, the work load he’d again be undertaking was just going to be too much? Of course whatever the E.C. members privately thought of what appears to me to be at least something of an (I want a show of support) ego trip on Zeisberg’s part, all of them voted not to disband.
So, as the ‘36-37 season got underway, Zeisberg was elected President again amid an E.C. restructuring and change in Topics Editors that would continue through the remainder of the decade. Zeisberg himself during the next three seasons would edit at least half a dozen issues of the magazine, returning after he was no longer President to put out the three spring issues of the 1938-39 season. After all, who else was there, who else had there ever been, to do it better?
Zeisberg then in Sept., 1936 was a man who wanted to quit, to disband the Association? C’mon. Can there be any doubt that the USTTA--every aspect of which for years he wanted to direct, to control--sustained his psychic life?
Carl was a man with a table tennis mission--it was a personal challenge to him to try to organize the USTTA. He wanted to be fair and democratic, and light-cartoon-like humorous he undoubtedly often was--but he also had this serious "Prof. Knowes A. Lott" side ("The class will come to order and anyone caught talking out of turn will be kept after school") that smacked more of totalitarian-like rigidity than self-deprecating whimsy. Similarly, with another of his Topics personas, The "Old Timer"
("[USTTA] Officials and members who do not cooperate in strict enforcement of all regulations...should be thrown out"), he always remained sure of his authority and sure of its autocratic, punishing weight.
In short, he was a strong leader, and, because he was an obsessed one, he was sometimes right and sometimes wrong, sometimes liked and sometimes not.
Beginning with this 1936-37 season, the Zeisberg administration passed four so-called "Close Laws"--an Anti-Push Rule (that with revision would eventually become our modern-day Expedite Rule); a change in the height of the net from 6 and 3/4" to 6"; a catch-all Disqualification rule; and a ban on all fingerspin services. Zeisberg thus took the lead in insisting the USTTA break from what was ITTF common practice. When Montagu approved these new rules for U.S. tournaments only, he could not have foreseen the impact they would come to have internationally.
But neither could Zeisberg anticipate the coming of the Asian Champions. "RIP"--that was Zeisberg’s 1936 tombstone-cartoon pronouncement to "Mr. Penholder." Here’s part of the obituary he wrote:
"The argument is over. Our old friend penholder is no more. He tried hard to live but he simply couldn’t.
Now we know. The tennis grip is in and in to stay. There is no high ranking player in the world who uses the penholder and the greatest players all go so far as to say no one can ever be a real top-notcher with it. You simply can’t execute in the right way the various shots that are necessary to play a splendid all-around game."
Pronouncements, right or wrong, Carl always did enjoy making.
In the Oct., ‘36 Topics, Zeisberg, with typical bluntness, writes an editorial entitled "100% CO-OPERATION DEMANDED OR NO U.S.TEAM GOES TO VIENNA":
"There is serious doubt at this writing that a U.S. Team will participate in the World Championships at Vienna [actually Baden, near Vienna] in February, 1937.
With American players’ exploits still fresh in memory, this statement naturally is shocking.
The reason is the indifference of several large and prospering equipment firms, which have refused to aid the USTTA and the game by advertising in Topics or contributing to the Fighting Fund [he seriously expects Parker Brothers to help him?], and the disloyalty of too many associations, clubs and star players in thoughtlessly continuing to use the equipment of non-cooperating firms instead of thoughtfullypatronizing the firms that advertise in Topics and contribute to the Fighting Fund.
Last season the USTTA’s superhuman efforts and patriotic self-sacrifice raised a $2500 Fighting Fund and won 2 world titles, thus gaining nation-wide publicity for the game and greatly stimulating equipment sales. But it is a foregone conclusion that such efforts and sacrifice will not be repeated in the face of such indifference and disloyalty." [Zeisberg himself contributed $50 to this Fund, then added $13.50 more, payment for two Encyclopaedia Britannica articles he’d written.]
However, in the next, Nov. Topics, Zeisberg adopted a new posture--made a huge effort, by devoting all three articles on the front page, to foster a Fighting Fund Drive. He also softened his abrasive rhetoric. Now, instead of trying to bully and insult the equipment firms, he attempted to cajole them with reason. The more international success our players have, the more publicity for the game, he said. The more publicity, the more people will become interested in the game, in our Association, and in good equipment. In fact, he said, have we not seen this happen already? And he made the point that, through the USTTA’s organized efforts, equipment sales had already "more than quadrupled. " So, he concluded, doesn’t the Association deserve the cooperation and goodwill of the manufacturers, who surely, like the players, want to do their patriotic duty?
But in actuality some of the players were not being any more cooperative than some of the manufacturers. Since more cities wanted to play in the limited 7-team Intercity field, local Qualifying Trials had to be held. And Zeisberg , ever conscious of trying to further USTTA membership, was thoroughly disgusted when he found out that at the Philly-Trenton-Newark-Boston Regional Tryout, only 3 of the 20 players had USTTA membership cards. He began implementing a new policy--namely, that Topics would not print results of Open tournaments if their sponsors weren’t enforcing the rule that all entries must be USTTA members. Further, if USTTA members played in unsanctioned tournaments, they were "subject to suspension."
In in the face of heavy November expirations, he continued to pummel home his have-to-be-a-member point: "No club allows outsiders to overrun it. Why should the USTTA allow non-members to do this?" Moreover, he argued, even if a person didn’t want to play in tournaments, just preferred league play, he/she should still join the USTTA. For the Association to progress, it has to avoid the crippling effect that outsiders, "parasites," are inflicting on it. Can’t everyone see this and cooperate? It seems so obvious:
"What earthly reason can a league player have for not paying the measly dues required to join your association, to boost your State total, to add his strength to the National Association, to help send a U.S. Team to compete with other nations. He is full of excuses (and I know them all) but the main reason in most cases is this: He is a cheapskate. He horns in to get something for nothing, to benefit from your labor and mine without doing his bit to help make the organized game possible."
Zeisberg urged any USTTA member aware of any other member’s violation of the USTTA Constitution or By-Laws to report that fact to him and his E.C. That way, if any local or state governing body was hesitant in enforcing discipline, Zeisberg and his hit men could "take appropriate action to educate the offender."
With Zeisberg it was always cooperate--or get out. Since the majority of members, he said, wanted rules, and wanted to observe all of them, that majority "should clamp down on the offenders, explain the principles of sportsmanship and invite them to reform or get out." Indeed, Zeisberg wanted to raise the membership dues, so all the cheapskates would get out, and the Association would become more manageable, more united.
But, Carl, united with a smaller and smaller membership. Would that be good?
Certainly table tennis players were then, and always have been, reluctant to part with a dollar. When the time came near for the U.S. Team members to sail for the ‘37 Baden World’s they were even more short of funds than last year’s Team had been in their concerted Fund drive. And Zeisberg couldn’t help but show his irritation. When, for example, the Oregon Governor was slow to respond to the Fighting Fund Drive, Zeisberg was quite impatient with him, wrote in Topics, "Why don’t you immediately resign, Jack?" But the Team got a last-minute $900 "big assist" from English Table Tennis philanthropist H.N. Smith, and ended up sailing Tourist instead of Third Class.
The U.S. had a huge success at these ‘37 World’s. They won both the Swaythling and Corbillon Cups. McClure and Blattner successfully defended their World Doubles title. And Defending Champion Ruth Aarons got to the Singles final against the never-hit-a-ball Austrian defender Trudi Pritzi--but, as this match was stopped due to a violation of the time-limit rule, the title was declared "vacant."
When Zeisberg heard that Aarons and Pritzi had been accused of stonewalling "maliciously," of doing what his USTTA had suspended players for back home, he offered this feisty turnaround reply:
"Instead of being penalized in this instance, Miss Aarons deserves the thanks of the ITTF for preventing capture of the world title by a player who never hits the ball. We will continue to publicize Miss Aarons as the undefeated World Champion."
But Zeisberg and the ITTF under Montagu were just getting warmed up prepatory to a ferocious controversy.
Back on Jan. 10, 1937--as President Zeisberg would later make clear in a detailed four-month chronological review to all USTTA Officers and Affiliates--Ruth had asked for USTTA apporval to make contractual exhibition commitments in London. So on Jan. 24 Zeisberg wrote her "a letter of approval with copies to W. J. Pope, English TTA Secretary, and Ivor Montagu, ITTF Advisory Committee Chairman [in effect, Montagu’s the ITTF President] and also ETTA Chairman, but [says Zeisberg] I didn’t know that at the time." That same day, Zeisberg also wrote Pope "requesting ETTA sanction, with copies to Mr. Montagu and Ruth."
According to ITTF regulations, the ETTA had territorial jurisdiction over Ruth:
"[That is, with regard to compensatory acts]...players registered with any other national governing Association and temporarily visiting a country upon a specific tour or [for a ] tournament, the governing body of that country is entitled to rule...upon such acts as may be committed within its borders...."
This request for approval for Aarons to make compensatory contracts, Zeisberg thought, or wanted to think, was merely "a courteous formality." And apparently Ruth thought that, or wanted to think that, too, for on receiving Zeisberg’s letters in Baden, she signed the London contracts. She probably thought, if there was trouble, that her prestige, her youthful enthusiasm and "innocence," and the sure popular support for her performances would carry the day.
Zeisberg himself was led to believe by H.N. Smith, ETTA Vice President, and C. Corti Woodcock, former ETTA Chairman (as last year Sol Schiff had been led to believe by USTTA Recording Secretary and U.S. Team Captain Biddell?) that "the matter would be adjusted harmoniously."
But when Montagu received verification that Aarons had actually signed the contracts, he asked her to break them or be subject to ETTA penalty. For, regardless of the fact that exhibitions or performances had been given at hotels or cinemas before, the ETTA Executive Committee had just that season passed new regulations regarding "Payment to Players" which they’d decided to apply rigorously. Specifically:
"(g) Players may not enter into any contract to provide for the exclusive use of certain goods or materials, or exclusive play on premises controlled by a firm, in any circumstances.
(h) Players shall not receive any remuneration other than bare expenses for playing in a competitive event in any circumstances."
Clearly, Ruth, whose exhibition status in London was like that of an English player, had violated ETTA rule "(g)" above. And because she had she’d also violated the following ITTF rule:
"22. Expenses: General. A Table Tennis player may accept compensation in any form, travelling and hotel expenses, for playing the game in a tournament, match or competition other than those named in 21 [World Championships, Swaythling Cup and Corbillon Cup], or in an exhibition, only provided that:--
(a) Permission to pay such expenses shall have been previously obtained by the payer from the Association, or such payment shall be by the Association, in whose territorial jurisdiction the event may take place."
Montagu, as President of both the ITTF and ETTA, felt he had to be adamant. "The ETTA," he was to write later, "was on the spot as a disciplinary-exercising body: could visitors flout with impunity the rules we enforced on our own players? There was bound to be trouble either way, whether ETT[A] acted or not."
This was Montagu’s strongest argument, but he had no trouble finding others...then or through the years. For example, he later wrote:
"...Worse still, in England the particular precedent of Ruth Aarons, using an opportunity to visit England on invitation to play an international match as an official representative, and accepting an engagement for professional entertainment that the law of the time obliged the intending visitor to disclose beforehand and which required a labor permit for entry--this could not only jeopardize our relationship with the immigration authorities in respect to all future teams, but place the offender herself, however innocently, in jeopardy from the law."
Wink at that, will you?
On Feb. 19 Montagu cabled Zeisberg that his ETTA Executive Committee
"UNANIMOUSLY REFUSES PERMISSION WHICH ALWAYS PREVIOUSLY REFUSED EVERY HOME APPLICANT SIMILAR CIRCUMSTANCES. AARONS APPARENTLY CANNOT OBTAIN RELEASE CONTRACT STOP ACCEPT SHE ACTED GOOD FAITH BUT DISCIPLINARY ACTION IN DUE COURSE INEVITABLE."
Zeisberg tells his E.C. that "If I am wrong in my attitude please stop me but if they suspend Ruth for innocently violating an English TTA regulation we should back her up to the limit."
At this point one is likely reminded of Zeisberg’s Feb. 24, 1936 registered letter to young Sol Schiff that said in part:
"This will notify you the Executive Committee voted 6-0 to indefinitely suspend you from membership for signing a contract...without obtaining the Committee’s permission...."
And Zeisberg’s Oct., 1936 Topics editorial:
"Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Star players who yield to the impulse to play before big crowds without consulting the proper sanctioning official may suddenly find the reward for their thoughtlessness is suspension or expulsion."
Apparently Carl is now prepared to say that because Ruth is an innocent (more innocent than Sol was?) she should not be held accountable.
Ruth herself--who said, "when I learned that the English Association did not approve, I tried to obtain release from my contract, but was unable to do so"--soon adopted a what’s-the-fuss-all-about attitude that would further her innocence: "I really am at a loss to understand the attitude of the ITTF....No one in England had anything but praise to say of my exhibition tour there."
On Feb. 23, strong-willed Zeisberg protests to strong-willed Montagu that just as the USTTA had to endure Barna’s signing a contract with Parker Brothers, which the ITTF did nothing about, so now should the ETTA endure Aarons’ signing a contract. Montagu sees this as an "impertinence" and "gratuitous advice."
On Mar. 6, Zeisberg sent Mr. Pope (who’d said that Carl "should have known better than to suppose there would be no objection to her [Ruth’s] exhibitions") "a short letter of apology" in which he admitted his error and asked (copy to Montagu) that he, not Ruth, "be penalized."
On Mar. 25, after writing a few days earlier to his E.C. that "if Ruth was suspended we should withdraw from [the] ITTF," Zeisberg sent a four-page letter to Montagu...
"...acknowledging my ignorance started the mess, blaming him [Montagu] for making a mountain out of a molehill, blaming him for the Barna contracts here, telling him it seemed odd to discipline a loyal member for some one else’s error, resigning from the ITTF Advisory Committee [but not before giving his last piece of what Montagu as ETTA Chair considered ‘impertinent’ advice: ‘URGE ETTA TO POSTPONE ACTION’] and telling him that if he had Ruth suspended we would withdraw from the ITTF. [Carl was so sure of that? He wouldn’t have the 4- 2 vote of the E.C. to do that for almost a month.] (Subsequently he [Montagu] did not show this letter to the ETTA because it was addressed to him as ITTF Chairman.")
On Apr. 8, Ruth was officially suspended (one reason being the ETTA really didn’t believe she’d made a serious effort to break her contract or contracts), and Zeisberg "introduced Executive Committee resolution No. 65 to suspend Bylaw 1 [ITTF Affiliation]." In his explanation to the Press Zeisberg did not mince words: "The U.S.T.T.A. executive committee regards the suspension of Ruth Aarons as a delibertae affront on the part of certain hysterical individuals at present dominating the English association."
Montagu had made the point during Ruth’s hearing before the ETTA Disciplinary Committee that they did "not wish to impose any penalty that might inflict a hardship disproportionate to the offense." So Ruth was suspended from Apr. 20-June 30. This suspension means, Zeisberg protests, that unless the USTTA breaks off its affiliation with the ITTF, Ruth can’t play in the Apr. 30-May 1 Eastern’s--for each ITTF member-Association must acknowledge that the suspension is world-wide.
But never mind that Ruth had no intention of playing in the Eastern’s, and, in fact, after the upcoming National’s, would never play in a tournament again. Zeisberg was now on the attack. He’d written to his E.C. that he wanted to get rid of Montagu as ITTF Chair and suggested that they all "help the anti-Montagu people get an energetic Englishman to take over the ITTF."
Certainly Montagu was vulnerable. Since he’d not been at the Baden World’s to chair the ITTF Meeting (it was the first World’s he’d missed), this allowed Zeisberg, on sniper’s knee, to say dismissively that Montagu’s other "hobby" was "politics." (Years later Ivor, by then "film producer and critic, political figure, zoologist, author and linguist," would win the Lenin Peace Prize.) And because he hadn’t been in Baden to see that all went well, the Minutes of that ITTF Meeting, if indeed they were taken, were lost. As Montagu himself realized, he and the Federation he’d been the guiding force of for 10 years--and would be for over 30 more--was not looking good.
Meanwhile, the USTTA continued to strive for the general "OBEY THE RULES OR GET OUT" unity of action Zeisberg always wanted. In this case it was get out of the ITTF. John H. Weinheimer, the former President of the Massachusetts TTA, and thereafter former 2nd V.P. under Zeisberg, had (perhaps at Zeisberg’s request?) moved for a "Resolution of confidence in USTTA Executive Committee"--which of course was passed unanimously. This was then countered by what was once Wertheimer’s Massachusetts TTA who "unanimously condemned" the USTTA’s threat to withdraw from the ITTF, and said, if the Association did that, they’d withdraw from the USTTA. But then they changed their minds "pending receipt of accurate information." (Maybe they just didn’t like Wertheimer any more?)
Anyway, on Apr. 21, Zeisberg, Dougall Kittermaster, Elmer Cinnater, and Stan Morest voted for USTTA withdrawal from the ITTF, and though Frank Trolle and Morris Bassford, the man who’d eventually head the U.S. peace-keeping delegation to the ‘38 World’s, "counseled further discussion," they too agreed to vote "yes" to make the result unanimous. However, they decided, or Zeisberg decided, to wait before formally notifying the ITTF of this withdrawal. Indeed, Zeisberg never does formally advise the ITTF that the USTTA has withdrawn until June 28, 1937--and in this letter acknowledging withdrawal to the ITTF Hon. Secretaries, he also applies for reaffiliation.
On Apr. 22, Kittermaster writes to the E.C.:
"Our reason for getting out is not because the ETTA have suspended Ruth, but because we refuse to recognize the ITTF rule which makes this mandatory on us. [So we joined the ITTF, have been a member for four years, but, though as Zeisberg says, we believe in obeying regulations," we don’t recognize (and never have?) one of its founding principles?] While we feel that the ETTA have legal grounds for their action, we are sure that British Fair Play would not tolerate disciplining a foreign player, through no fault of hers [Ruth was not in any way at fault?] for the mistake of her own association. As the ETTA is dominated by Montagu, who by his first cable showed that he was not an impartial judge [if Ruth has broken an ETTA rule, he, as ETTA President, can hardly be impartial to that], and as the ITTF is also dominated by Montagu, we have no other way of bringing our case before an impartial jury to protest what we consider an unjust sentence than to withdraw from the ITTF."
Montagu is the problem. The tack of attack is to veer at him and his (only now noticed?) mismanagement of the ITTF. Zeisberg’s defiant last words to Montagu are:
"...we cannot follow your do-nothing and time-limit policies on pushing, which have caused the last two World Championships to degrade the game. By disregarding your ITTF rules we have virtually eliminated pushing in America.
...Every one [sic] now sees that our ban on knucklespin, enacted three years ago, was wise.
...We consider administration of the ITTF very unsatisfactory and detrimental to the development of the game, and believe the chief reasons are that its organization is too cumbersome and that you do not have time to attend to it. American members of your Advisory, Equipment, and Rules Committees realize that functioning of these committees is a joke...."
Granted Zeisberg’s regional problems trying to organize the USTTA, what must Montagu’s world-wide ITTF organizational problems be? Surely each man, given the herculean task he’s undertaken, is vulnerable to attack. As critical as one sometimes has to be of the highly opinionated, combative Zeisberg, there’s no denying he’s a determined fighter and really wants his vision of "his" USTTA to become a reality just as much as Montagu does his vision of "his" ITTF.
Zeisberg’s anti-Montagu strategy is to get ETTA V.P. Smith, former ETTA Chair Woodcock, and the independent Table Tennis Activity editors, Backhouse and Fitzgibbon, to work up concerted opposition. Woodcock sends an answering telegram to Zeisberg: "...VEHEMENTLY AGREE FEDERATION REORGANIZATION VITAL WILL COOPERATE WHOLEHEARTEDLY."
And the day after that comes a radiogram from Backhouse: "SUPPORT WITHDRAWAL BOOSTING WOODCOCK...."
To which Zeisberg responds: "...GIVING YOU OUR PROXY TO CREATE PROVISIONAL FEDERATION GOVERNMENT SUGGEST FIVE LONDONERS COMPOSE PROVISIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE WITH ABSOLUTE POWERS TILL NEXT CONGRESS."
What the hell is Zeisberg getting into here? He goes so far as to consider that, if one can’t find the Minutes of the ITTF Annual Meeting at Baden, or establish that three Hon. Secretaries were elected there, then one "could even legally argue that the ITTF no longer exists."
Zeisberg begins to sum up his Apr. 29 four-month chronological review by saying that "things are in one ungodly mess--due not to the Ruth Aarons case, but to the cumbersome organization of the ITTF and the lack of time devoted to it by the Chairman." Carl, or his gigantic and often idealistic-minded ego, says, "I for one am willing to devote considerable time to help make the ITTF an efficient organization for the good of table tennis."
My god, he’s been complaining yearly about how difficult it is to try to organize the USTTA, and how much time without pay he’s been putting in--and now he wants also to help organize the ITTF?
Or does he? Though on Apr. 30 he’s going to send out to all National Associations a one-page "Suggested Plan For Reorganizing The ITTF," he’d concluded just the day before that:
"...it seems wise to devote at least as much time toward building a better national association here, and it might be best, with that end in view, to avoid time- consuming European squabbles by staying out of the ITTF for a year, so that we can really develop our own large territory."
I’m reminded of that long and ought-to-be-taken-seriously Dec., ‘35 letter New Yorker Stanley Borak wrote to Sidney Biddell protesting the inconsiderate treatment of those "chiselers" disqualified in the Middle Atlantic States tournament, and Zeisberg’s sharp, dismissive reply to him on reading a copy of his letter--that it was "tripe, full of "loose contradictory thoughts." What, in the English-speaking world, has Zeisberg been doing this last week in April but writing "tripe."
Meanwhile, Table Tennis Activity has asked everyone to consider:
"...[Might] it not be that greater disservice will be done to the game by an international dispute than by a few exhibitions of which the English Association have, for reasons known only to themselves, not so far felt themselves able to approve?
...[While] the situation may be of some importance on the matter of domestic policy, the greater considerations of Anglo-American cooperation and goodwill should be allowed to prevail."
Zeisberg’s raise-the-stakes rhetoric suggests he likes his hand, will stand pat:
"Holding four of the six world’s champioships as it does, the United States Association has no qualms about pursuing an independent path. The game is so popular and financially successful in the United States [sic!] that Europe stands to lose most by not reinstating Miss Aarons...."
But Zeisberg’s rhetoric, and the summer meetings he had with H.N. Smith and Corti Woodcock notwithstanding, the USTTA will eventually offer to exchange apologies with the ETTA, from which V.P.s Smith and Woodcock in protest had resigned, and will re-affiliate with the ITTF. Then, as Table Tennis Activity will report, the ETTA will "welcome" U.S. representatives "to London to compete in the [‘38] World Championships [and afterwards] to compete in the English Open."
After the Baden World Championships, the 1937 U.S. International National’s was held (the USTTA persisted in again calling our National Championships that, since not Barna but other World Champions, Bellak and Kolar, were entered). But given the liking for the lower 6" net in the U.S., especially among the officials, Zeisberg included, and considering how few foreign players were entered in the tournament, could anyone really be surprised that the higher 6 and 3/4" ITTF net was not used?
And yet in Zeisberg’s May-June Topics the following unsigned snippet of an article could catch the eye: "The ITTF Rules Sub-Committee needs to be awakened....The U.S. Championship [disregarding ITTF rules]...was played with a 6-inch net and fingerspin services were barred." Naturally this was written by Zeisberg, and his aim here, given his attempts to oust Montagu, who was not only President of the ITTF but also Secretary of its Rules Sub-Committee, is to show that Montagu and his ITTF lack control. But how petty--for had Montagu tried to enforce the ITTF rules used at the Baden World’s at this April U.S. International National’s (strictly speaking, he was required to?), I can’t imagine, even if relations between them were cordial, that Zeisberg would have acquiesced. (Zeisberg’s Topics fillers--how combative and irritating some of them must have seemed to readers over the years.)
Ironically, in 1949, a year before he was to die, Zeisberg saw this lowering of the net, which he’d most insistently urged, as a "terrible mistake." And he recalls that Montagu, "the wise [sic!] chairman of the ITTF, said it would be a mistake. Watching, long after his retirement, the 1949 New York St. Nicholas Arena National’s, he said the "thrills" were not there. His "disappointment, " he said...
"...was due to the low net, which forces players to remain close to the table and deprives spectators of the excitement of seeing one player driving off both corners of the table to ranging perhaps 20 feet back of the table to return the drives. Such deep defense, which makes spectators gasp and cheer, is, to my mind, the ONLY thing which table tennis can offer the spectator."
At these ‘49 National’s, which he noted disapprovingly didn’t finish "until long after midnight, too late for the morning newspapers to report the results in their main editions," he was further put off by the "all-white costume rule, which erased the once-colorful spectacle of a tournament":
"White clothing worn by lawn tennis players is appropriate, for it reflects the heat of the sun and helps keep contestants cool. It also looks well, shimmering in the bright summer sunshine and contrasting with the healthy outdoor tan of the wearer. But white summer clothing for an indoor cold-weather sport is incongruous. Whether the players’ white shirts and trousers were actually dirty or whether it was the effect of shadows cast by the over head lighting, the contestants in New York appeared to be unclean; and the pallor of their winter complexions heightened the illusion of a hospital or even a morgue."
Never at a loss to criticize any tournament (especially a New York one?), and always suggesting that he himself was intensely affected by what went wrong, Zeisberg was to say that the ‘37 National’s "caused my hair to turn gray." Why? Because it lost money--something in the best of times, the worst of times, the USTTA never had enough of. Years later, Zeisberg was unusually conciliatory in assigning the blame:
"In defense of [Tournament Chair] Charlie Dahmen, he was also president of New Jersey TTA and national chairman for the Fighting Fund, on both of which he did bang-up jobs, but he trusted his helpers to run the tournament, and they did-- right into the red. This also soured me on a man holding more than one official position in table tennis."
Of course Zeisberg obviously hadn’t soured on himself, and, never mind what his official position was--President or Editor, or both--he seemed most comfortable when he was making a point in his hard-driving way and with his usual feisty tone. Perhaps in none too politic a manner, he criticized Dahmen, who also headed the USTTA’s Auditing/Finance Committee and was the E.C. Treasurer-elect. Whatever the reason--maybe just burnout--Dahmen would suddenly no longer have any USTTA duties.
By the end of the 1936-37 season, Zeisberg might have begun to get a mite discouraged by the ineffectiveness of not just others’ efforts but by his own:
"...It seems that by far most Americans playing table tennis simply want to enjoy themselves. They don’t want TOPICS or a vote or sanctioned play or ranking, don’t want to work or be bothered by organization matters, and don’t care to join [the USTTA]...."
It’s hard though for Carl to give up on his dream--he himself is so defined by it.
So now he proceeds in his June 30, 1937 letter to his "Board of Governors and Many Others" to detail all kinds of suggestions he’s received about how to get more members and/or more money. Zeisberg himself would offer a 1937-38 season-beginning tip--"Persuade wealthy neighbors [sic] to donate 50, 100, or 500 memberships for a boy’s club, high school, or church league." Advisors urge him to charge anything from 75 cents to $10 for a membership. Someone suggests a "grading" of membership dues, and Zeisberg picks up on this, and proposes a "Club" membership for "groups of 5 or more" for only 10 cents a person that by the following June will result temporarily in a 1,000 such members.
A bigger surprise, however, is the Oct., ‘37 issue of Topics. It is "pleased to announce an amicable settlement of the misunderstanding betweenTopics and Parker Brothers. Misunderstanding! Yes, Topics will once again accept Ping-Pong ads because Parkers assure that "no advertisement of theirs will cause the USTTA any embarrassment." So, in this Oct. issue--but only in this issue--there appears a full page ad advertising "Ping-Pong...always and everywhere the standard of excellence."
What’s going on? For this one issue only, Zeisberg is momentarily taunting Montagu with some further show of icy independence? Of course because of Zeisberg’s differences with Montagu that prompted the USTTA to withdraw from the ITTF, the U.S. would not formally be admitted into the ‘38 London World Championships until the ITTF Congress Meeting the day before the tournament started. Consequently we were not acknowledged in the Program with the other 24 members of the ITTF. However, as defending Champions in both Swaythling and Corbillon Cup play, the U.S. contingent was graciously welcomed by the English. And we did shine a little, for McClure paired with Schiff to win the Men’s Doubles--his third straight World Championship.
After that and the National’s, retirement time. Not for McClure and Schiff. But for Zeisberg. And two men who’d long been a part of the Zeisberg USTTA-organizing team--Ranking Chair Reginald Hammond, and Dougall Kittermaster, 1st V.P. since the office was instituted.
Said Kittermaster: "I give my unqualified support to Morris Bassford and the other officers....It is a great regret to me I cannot continue....[But] I had to decide whether to retire from business or table tennis."
To his right-hand man’s decision to retire in favor of another, Zeisberg responded warmly:
"Frequently I begged good old Kitt...to take my job, but in vain. After 3 years working side by side, though 800 miles apart, Kitt and I persuaded Morris Bassford to run for President. All of us are very lucky that such a fine executive accepted the responsibility."
Really? But if Zeisberg really meant the public praise he gave Bassford, how then could he, in writing to USTTA Historian Roberts in 1949, admit to the negative mind-set he had about Bassford? Clearly, 10 years later, Carl was still bitter toward Bassford for his actions months before Morris succeeded to the Presidency:
"Much of the ill feeling [over the Ruth Aarons affair] would have been eliminated if Morris Bassford had not been so anxious to advance himself at the expense of others and if he had played square with me. I gave him documents to take to London to show the ETTA officials that most of the rumpus was due to some misunderstandings at the outset, but he craftily failed to show them. I’d like to tell you what I think of Bassford, but can’t afford to put it on paper."
Bassford didn’t show clarifying documents to Montagu and others when he went to the Jan., ‘38 World’s? After all those exchanges between Montagu and Zeisberg, after the positions of both sides had been thrashed out so thoroughly, what further positioning, unknown to Montagu and ETTA officials, could Zeisberg be talking about? And why didn’t Bassford show these documents? What, craftily, could he gain by not showing them? Had anyone reason to think he was a crafty fellow before? Would it be a surprise to anyone if high on his private agenda was the USTTA Presidency? And, most importantly, when did Zeisberg find out Bassford hadn’t shown his documents? Are we to believe that Carl found that out at some later time, after he’d retired? I doubt it. Meanwhile, he publicly calls Bassford "a fine executive."
Perhaps Bassford had worked at maneuvering himself from 3rd V.P. past 2nd V.P. Trolle to be the President. The anonymous "Jeers and Cheers"Topics columnist "Anne Mossity" (Reba Kirson?) speaks of "Morris Bassford ‘executiving’ all over the place"--but is that something to jeer or cheer about? Perhaps Trolle, like 1st V.P. Kittermaster before him, didn’t want to be the President--which meant that Bassford was the logical choice for the position. Anyway, at this moment Bassford certainly seems to have his peers’ respect.
Zeisberg, whose psyche in part might be characterized by a little drawing he did this season--of a big shoe coming down on a worm named "Pusher"--has been increasingly non-combative this last year of his office, hasn’t been railing away at the membership as he used to, and seems resigned to saying "Goodbye" and to being properly feted.
At the Pennsylvania TTA’s May 12, 1938 4th annual banquet in Philly’s swank Arcadia International Restaurant, 200 people, 60 of whom were turned away for lack of room, came out to pay homage to Zeisberg. "A black walnut desk and chair, gold-and-onyx desk set, silver plaque, 2 quarts of champagne from friends" were presented to Zeisberg by Bassford.
Is it possible these two men really didn’t like each other? And were hiding that fact behind a mask of de rigueur civility?
Better, in saying "Farewell" to Zeisberg, if it is "Farewell," to let Kittermaster have the last word:
"No one appreciates more than I do the thousands of hours which Carl has devoted to the USTTA. We marveled at the way he did two jobs in 24 hours and still found time to sleep. He deserves the unlimited thanks of every member of our Association."
With Bassford’s Presidency came a new Editor of Topics, George White, and Guess Who as one of his Advisory Editors. After putting out just the Oct. and Nov., 1938 issues, White quit, and a (save-face?) "Notice to subscribers in the Jan., 1939 issue said that the Dec. issue "was omitted because certain materials could not be obtained during the holiday season from voluntary contributors." Perhaps White had argued with Zeisberg, who was left to do most or all of that Jan. issue.
It didn’t appear, though, that Zeisberg wanted to be the Editor of Topics. The new Editor was Victor B. Rupp--but he, too, lasted only two issues. Soon after Bassford quit, he did too.
Bassford would resign the Presidency? Yes, and without a word of explanation in Topics. And 1st V.P. Trolle? He resigned, too, without any public explanation. And with new President Stan Morest’s blessing, Zeisberg came back as Topics Editor, put together the last three, season-ending issues. In the first of these he could be fawningly shameless--captioning a triptych of Jascha Heifetz playing in a buttoned-up business suit: "JASCHA HEIFETZ, internationally famous violinist and Honorary Vice-President of the USTTA, is almost as adept with the pebbled rubber bat as with the magic bow." And, having a professional way with words, he could dress up a vulgarity, not to say obscenity, with the best of them. In describing a June, ‘39 Topics corner-cover pic of table tennis bad boy V. Lee Webb in action, he scathingly enjoys the prickly line, "His tongue seems expanded by expletives or something."
Neither Morest nor his Ranking Chair Elmer Cinnater in their letters to each other 40 years later would remember what exactly caused such dissension between Zeisberg and Bassford. Morest wrote simply that Carl and Morris had "reached a state of policy differences." Policy? What kind of influence did Zeisberg still wield? His only "office," if you could call it that, was "Advisory Editor" of Topics. Perhaps Cinnater was more to the mark when he ventured that Bassford’s resignation was the result of "mostly a clash of personalities." Bassford’s man Rupp and Zeisberg couldn’t get along? And, after all Carl’s service to the Association and the recent encomiums given him, it wouldn’t do for Bassford to try to fire him? So when the inexperienced Rupp couldn’t work with Carl, Bassford, rather than get a new Editor, had had it with Carl too? Perhaps Bassford had only been persuaded to take the Presidency when he thought Carl was ready to give up power? Here’s Morris in his first Aug. 8, 1938 communication to his E.C.:
"We have an organization built on a solid foundation due to the courageous and enthusiastic work of my predecessor. Mr. Zeisberg in retiring from the highest office which could be bestowed upon him does so with the admiration and best wishes of his many friends. He pioneered a trail during the early struggles of table tennis which makes it easier for us to follow on to new and greater fields. To whatever line of endeavor he now turns we wish him God-speed."
But Zeisberg, consciously or unconsciously, wasn’t really ready, especially if he’d read this (Thank God He’s Gone?) letter, to give up much except his local league play. Cinnater wrote that "Carl was a straight shooter and Morris would bend a little on the rules." But, granted Carl’s aim were true, if he were trigger-happy, he might just be too disturbing to be around.
Zeisberg finally did disappear from the scene, though--only to be remembered in May, 1944 when he was again elected USTTA President--well, Honorary President, for by this time he’d had enough of politics and was devoting himself with a passion to "the development of a little garden surrounding his home":
...There he had been building a low ornamental wall composed of stones contributed by friends. Each stone was associated in his mind with the donor, and as he cemented it in place it was numbered and charted on a permanent record--his friendship roll.
This unique undertaking is a monument to the values he held dear. It was unfinished, for up to the day of his passing Carl went on making friends and adding stone upon stone to his wall.
Such men are rare...."
Indeed, Carl Zeisberg was rare--the most complicated and controversial figure in 1930’s table tennis.