Given his long and from time to time almost magically resuscitated table tennis life, and being blessed, or damned, as he is with an insatiable urge to promote himself, Reisman has to be the most hyped player in our esteemed Hall. So how separate fact from fiction, the man from the myth...and for how long?
I've tried, as I'm about to show--but I know I'll have to start all over again....
"Mr. Reisman, on court #2, please."
He got out there, looked up at the ceiling, went round to the other side of the table, began tap-tap-tapping the ball nervously on his racket, hit a couple of balls with his opponent, and came off the court.
"I can't play on this table. There are shadows here. I don't play unless I have perfect conditions."
The Tournament Director is called for. He is very busy. What? Reisman won't play! He sees Marty standing there, looks at him as if he were mad
"There is nothing we can do about the air-conditioning--it's just gone off. People will have to stay hot."
"No, no. It's not that," I say. I know you're preoccupied, but it's just that Marty can't see well enough on table #2. Can't he play on #1 after Miles gets finished?"
Slowly the Tournament Director understands. Something happens in his eyes. He strides to the microphone. Mr. Reisman has exactly two minutes to begin play. Otherwise he will be defaulted!"
Something happens in Reisman's eyes. He immediately goes up into the stands and sits down. A spectator next to him is grinning like the Cheshire Cat in Wonderland.
The Tournament Director is reasoned with, cajoled, flattered, appealed to. He throws up his hands in exasperation, in despair. It so happens that he's been approached at a particularly bad time. The matches are not running as smoothly as they should be. He's behind schedule.
As Reisman, sitting above, is bantering with those about him, and the Tournament Director, watched by the grinning Cat, is looking continually at his watch, I hear someone suggest if it might not be possible for somebody to go up into the rafters to see about the lights. Another asks, "Why can't they play the match scheduled on #1 on #2 and play the match scheduled on #2 on #1?"
Miles is appealed to. No, he doesn't want to trade courts. He, smiling, agrees with Reisman. Reisman is right. The lighting is unquestionably better here. Court #1--that's where he, Miles, belongs. That's where he's going to stay.
Both the Tournament Director and the crowd very much want Reisman to play. The Tournament Director knows that the spectators feel they get their money's worth when Marty plays, and the price for every non-player to watch the matches is 75 cents. The Tournament Director unquestionably recognizes Marty's class, his charisma--knows he is, rightfully, a legendary player. And Reisman is quite aware of the questions his "Manager" Bill Marlens has repeatedly posed to him, "Does not a star owe his public the pleasure of his talents? Can he legitimately say, 'Everyone comes to me, I come to no one?'"
The Gordion knot of the tied-up moment needs to be patiently untied or a severance will be made. On the one hand, there is Reisman proudly holding out for being a professional among amateurs. Ideally he wishes to settle for nothing less than the ideal. It's a matter of principle, of soul-strength with him. Or, if it isn't, he'd like it to be. Reisman is Reisman. He and his unique lifelong game are not to be associated with the masses in any comparable way. They do not protest the court conditions, but he must. In this 1971 Empire State Open, as in how many other tournaments over more than a quarter of a century, Reisman is really in the far-off tower or, if you like, castle court of the dreamer-artist, readying himself to play.
On the other hand, there is the practical-minded Tournament Director not wanting to give anyone--including National Champions, legendary figures in the Game--special privileges. This, too, is an ideal, an abstract--one which puts less emphasis, less importance on the individual.
And yet the individual player/spectators are no different from anyone else--they need their heroes, men who stand out among men, as their gods do. And such men get the glory. But not theTournament Director, not usually--his lot is not a dramatic one. He has a job to to do, run carefully planned, time-scheduled matches of a mathematical sameness that will give him a sense of completeness and an aesthetically satisfying tournament. It's therefore difficult for him to revere even a legendary Reisman and his expected, yet unpredictable, sense of attention-getting drama. With his cat-and-mouse-like warm-up play of long, five-game (first-round?...second-round?...third-round?) matches, Marty has been the bane over the years of anyone trying to time-schedule him.
Alright, the two minutes are up, so--Wait! Marty's rising. He's being surrounded by people urging him to play. Yes, he is going to play! He walks back into the court. Announces very loudly, "I'm playing this match under protest."
Shadows there may be for Reisman, but for the first two games he completely dominates play. It's as if his opponent is paralyzed--until, finally, in the 3rd game said opponent begins to score. And now it's apparent that there's something missing in Reisman too--a competitive toughness, a lack of concentration. When was the last time he played in a tournament?
As the two combatants are playing the 20-all point in this 3rd game, a ball from an adjacent table hops the barrier and comes bouncing into Reisman's view. "Let!" says Marty and stops play. His opponent does not like this call--it's of course the umpire's prerogative, not the player's, to call a let, though, rule aside, there seems to be justification for it here as the ball has carried right into the side of the table. A word or two is spoken. Marty says defensively, "We've always called Lets around here when a ball comes into the court." The conscripted young umpire, who's not on anyone's Official Umpires list and probably never will be, is appealed to, and, perhaps a bit intimidated, agrees that yes, it was a let.
This no point, as it turns out, is very much a turning point. From now on, everything somehow goes wrong for Reisman. Though he's very serious, his mind always on the play, he begins making errors--and now that Marty's opponent has gotten the idea he can win a game, and another, and another from this no longer casually magical figure, more psychic force than man, the whole match swings dominatingly around.
No, all was not well with Reisman. It might have been that, consciously or unconsciously, he was psychically disturbed, more so even than his opponent, by his instinctive urge to prevent the point from being taken from him. He, who proud, was above stooping, had stooped a little.
Twenty-five years ago, he might have been two games down, and at deuce in the 3rd, and, with a smile, given the ad point to his opponent, taken an extra bet or two--and then of course eventually closed out the match. Such a scenario had long been the prevailing hype on him, ad infinitum, from many a writer. It was precisely this (what shall I say?) Elizabethan gallantry, this proud bullfighter-flirting-with-death bravado, backed up by an in-over-the-table bravura performance, that so engaged and thrilled the audience, and, more importantly, fed Reisman's aging but undiminished, nay, increasingly mighty spirit.
But, enough fantasy hype, fiction has to give way to fact. What a falling off there was then with this perfectly human cry of "Let!" "I'll make a ghost of him who lets me," said Hamlet to those who would try to deter him from doing what he wants to do. Reisman's cry made him as mortal as Hamlet. And so the psychological ambience, the romance, the fairy tale spell that Reisman and his opponent were caught up in dissolved. And Reisman appeared to be what he was--a 41-year-old "has been" and one considerably out of practice at that. And so the dream that the Reisman of old would come again and bring the heroic to our so often banal tournament scene was over. Reisman and Reality were finally one....
I told you. It's hopeless. Marty, a reigning United States Champion--the year is 1958, or 1998--only appears to be in the same space-time continuum as the rest of us. Still, what can I do but pretend to orient you to the world that made him....
He was born Feb. 1, 1930. Mother: Sarah, 20 years old, from Russia. Father: Morris, 25, living with his wife and now two sons on East Broadway in Manhattan. Brother: David, 1 and 1/2.
Marty's father was a cab driver, a bookmaker, and a gambler--"a compulsive loser," says Marty in his celebrated fact-become-fiction autobiography The Money Player. In other words, a father, you might say, who did not practice what he preached but showed by his example how wise it would be for Marty to hustle bets on some "sure thing."
Morris's marriage lasted until 1940, after which Marty lived with his mother until he was 14, then moved in with his father who encouraged him and was proud of his table tennis success.
In the beginning it was Marty's brother David who played table tennis, while Marty only wanted to collect balls used in the Game. Perhaps almost mystically he sensed the worlds in miniature they could contain for him--it was only a matter of concentration, of focus to show him what might be found therein. After all, he was a schoolboy who enjoyed using a microscope (today he collects them).
In 1960 he told a reporter for the New York Times how, "at the age of 12...at the Educational Alliance, a settlement house on the lower East Side [its chief benefactor the stage and screen star Eddie Cantor]," he was first drawn to table tennis. It was a process of discovery:
"'I was in the chemistry club dissecting frogs,' he recalled. 'but one day I went down to the gym to watch my brother play table tennis. I hit the ball a couple of times and I knew that this was it.'"
He waved his racket hand over something magical that day...and as worlds formed, he had a new identity, the first of many: the "Seward Park Champion."
Where, he wanted to know, was the fabled Lawrence's Club?
Not where he thought it was--the table tennis place he frequented for a few months, indeed was responsible for opening the doors to in the afternoons, cutting his last class, typing, to do so. This was "Arnold's," just down from Jack Dempsey's restaurant, on Broadway between 49th and 50th. Here he kept asking everyone, "Where are all the good players?"
"Out on the road," they said.
"When are they coming back?"
"In the Spring."
They liked having Marty around--this enthusiastic innocent. Liked his energy, his humor--for some clubs too soon start to grow old.
But Marty wised up--a little at a time. Just a few blocks up Broadway he found Lawrence's...and who he thought was the porter there--a black man sweeping the wooden floor, his broom sprinkled with a curious green powder. The man looked at him. "Care for a game, old chap?"
It was as if the dust this man was trying to keep down had gotten into Marty's eyes --he felt he'd been misled. But, really, he was at Lawrence's, and this man, originally from the Barbados, was the gentlemanly, articulate Lawrence himself.
Perhaps on this particular day Reisman had been satisfied just to have made a confused appearance. But count on him to be back, to sooner or later find this fellow Miles...and, when Dick's opponent of the moment took a break, brash young Marty jumped over the barrier of protocol to ask, "Want to hit a few?"
To which Dick, already one of the best players in the country and the 4 and 1/2 years difference in age between them then meaning something, responded, "No." Thus signaling the opening salvo of, if not their continued, sometimes playful insults, round after round of mutually explosive shots and spectators' shouts of anguish or applause.
By the summer of 1943, the Top 10 players in the N.Y. Metropolitan Rankings were: 1. Lou Pagliaro (1940, '41, and '42 U.S. Champion). 2. Sol Schiff (in the late 1930's one of the world's best players). 3. Dick Miles ('43 U.S. Open Doubles finalist). 4. Eddie Pinner ('41 U.S. National's runner-up). 5. Doug Cartland (member of the winning N.Y. Intercity Team in '37 and '39). 6. Johnny Somael (U.S. Men's Champion to be in '44). And lesser lights, all of whose games, nurtured in this cluster of greatness, would continue to make them formidable opponents: 7. Arnold Fetbrod. 8. Charlie Schmidt. 9. Freddie Borges. And 10. Mitchell Silbert, who, to his dying day in the 1990's, always got a chuckle on confiding to others young Marty's plaintive plea to him at Lawrence's, "Dr. Silbert, would you please play with me?"
The Nov. 19-20, 1943 Metro Open, held at Lawrence's, had a Junior event--but Marty, then, according to The Money Player the City's Under 13 Champion, was not listed among the semifinalists.
It's not until Dec., 1944 that any mention of Reisman is made in Topics. Then Reba Kirson Monness, just elected President of the NYTTA, in her "More or Less" column has more rather than less to say of Marty:
"...Marty Reisman, also of N.Y.T.T.A., is 14 years old and already a terrific player--within the very near future he should be U.S. Champion, he's intelligent and has an excellent competitive temperament...."
One can see why they were friends for 40 years.
Though Marty was only 14, a boy could more easily mature in those War years than at another earlier time--for it would be acceptable for him to be called on, as a young man when young men were scarce, to give table tennis exhibitions. Marty speaks of several performances he gave on the stage of New York theaters with the renowned Coleman Clark, and how astonished he was to see Clark catch and hold 1-2-3-4 ping-pong balls in his mouth--though if ever you put any spin on the ball, he looked at you like, "Forget about me blowing these balls out and back, I'm ready to spit at you for real."
Marty also remembers giving exhibitions with future National Champion Peggy McLean for bandleader Fred Waring's show at the CBS Building in Manhattan, and for servicemen being rehabilitated at Fort Dix and Fort Monmouth in N.J., and once even playing in a mental hospital where an inmate, observing Reisman, ran round the table ranting and raving.
Because of wartime rationing, there were fewer tournaments and fewer players traveling to them than usual. But the Dec. 8-9 New York City Open had to be one Marty would remember. In the Junior final he beat his older brother in 5--and thereafter David Reisman took out whatever frustrations he might have not on a table tennis court but in the boxing ring.
At the Mar. 10, 1945 New Rochelle, N.Y. Eastern's, Miles beat Somael 3-0 in the final of the Men's (after Johnny had earlier knocked out Marty 3-0), and Reisman downed '44 New York State Junior Champion Keith (Tibby) Shaber in the final of the Junior's, 3-1. Marty was getting better, but he'd have to work hard to catch up with Dick.
Like Miles, Reisman played "ten to twelve hours a day." But, unlike Dick, whose grandmother called him a "bum" and tried on occasion to teach him a lesson by locking him out of the house, Marty's tolerant father didn't mind "the late hours."
When Reisman began participating in the Friday night tournaments at Lawrence's, he had, for his age, a strong, off-the bounce attack, but a weak defense. So one time, on bringing a friend up to watch him, Marty naturally wanted to show off, and so asked his opponent Schiff if he'd play all defense against him. Sol refused--told Marty, "That's no way to learn the game."
Miles says that when Reisman first began appearing regularly at Lawrence's "I probably wouldn't even play with him. Later, I couldn't give him 5,...couldn't give him 4,...3,...so we went to 2 (-1). He got good very, very fast."
Reisman says that for a while at Lawrence's he was "in awe" of the best players, but soon "was able to beat them all: all but Miles."
The first indication of their fierce rivalry to come was at Marty's debut National's in 1945 in Detroit. Marty must have been a cocky kid, proud of his early hustling career that no doubt began somewhere with nickels, dimes, quarters, for in the second round of the Men's, he went 19 in the 5th with Toledo's U.S. #42 Michael Louris. It's difficult to believe that this match could have been 100% for real, for Marty then upset the #5 seed, South Bend's Bill Early in 5 (after being down 2-1 and at 21-all in the 4th). After that, in a rather -11, 16, -12, -12 uncontested quarter's match he fell to Miles, the eventual winner over Defending Champion Somael.
Reisman doesn't mention anything about his early-round Men's match with Louris in The Money Player, but he does say that prepatory to playing South Bend's #3-seed whiz-kid Gordon Barclay in the quarter's of the Junior's (a match which according to the tournament schedule would surely follow Marty's close win over Louris), he made an innocent mistake. Went up to a man whom he thought was the intermediary who would hold the money he wanted to bet on himself against Barclay (uh, $500 Marty says entertainingly in The Money Player), and was shocked to learn that this man was Graham Steenhoven, the President of the Michigan TTA (and later the USTTA president who would lead the 1971 U.S. Team on its "Ping-Pong Diplomacy" trip into China).
Steenhoven was aghast to find this 15-year-old juvenile (juvenile delinquent?) blatantly gambling, a USTTA no-no--so he responded by throwing him out of the tournament. Fortunately, though, Marty would soon be reinstated--rescued by Freddie Borges, protector of youthful, pained innocence, as well as New Yorkers and Jews.
How much all this affected Marty's play in the Junior's is unclear. Maybe now, faced with officialdom's wrath over his future as a role model for USTTA youth, he was afraid to win the title? Don't bet on it. In fact, maybe he hadn't been hustling at all in his early match with Louris, just was "cold." Schiff said that it often took Marty an hour and a half to warm up. Anyway, Reisman did beat Barclay, 18 in the 4th, but then lost to Toledo's #2-seed Bob Harlow, -20, -20, 16, -17. After which, the #1-seed Early, on getting by "Tibby" Shaber in 5, trounced Harlow in straight games.
That summer of '45, Reisman, U.S. #12, turned up in Columbus, Ohio for their July Open and beat U.S. #5 Early again, and in the final U.S. #8 Guy Blair. He was now recognized by one and all as a Top 10 player.
But it wasn't only Miles Marty had to worry about. Near the end of the '45-46 season, he lost in the 8th's of the Eastern's to Les Lowry in straight games. (To his credit, Les, though he'd trial-by-combat experienced the horrible inward thrust of losing that '44 National's final to Somael from 20-14 match-point up in the 5th, he'd not given in to disgust or despair and quit competing.)
Then, at the post-War '46 New York City St. Nicholas Arena National's, the first to be held in the East in five years, and one that contained perhaps the strongest U.S. Men's field thus far ever assembled, Reisman was again thwarted. He won the Junior's--again, as he had in the Eastern's, over fellow New Yorker Irwin Miller--but in the Men's suffered another 8th's loss, this time to Schiff. Quite possibly it was up to this point the (12, 15, -19, -19, -18) most disappointing loss of his young career. Sol then did to Pagliaro what he'd done to Reisman, came from two games down to win again. And didn't cool off until he met Miles in the final. Said Topics, clearly dismissing the 16-year-old Reisman, "Miles has reached a peak in his game that will not be surpassed by any present outstanding players. Someone new and fresh will have to come along to dethrone Dick." U.S. #18 Reisman was no longer in line...unless you read Reba Monness's column, though even she expressed some reservations:
"...Dick Miles is playing very well. [Reba wishes she were in his shoes, a National Champion? Further on, she says he just won the National's in her shoes-- literally, her borrowed sneakers.] Marty Reisman who is a definite threat to the National title at some future date [no longer the "near future" of two years ago] has grown five inches within five months [perhaps that's slowed the growth of his game?]....Junior champ Marty has an excellent offense, beautiful retrieving game but he's still weak on defense...."
And weaker still, on occasion, Reisman might have appeared. Leon Ruderman, who half a century later would be the U.S. Over 70 Champion, tells of a match he watched in 1946 at City College that amused him. Here was Marty and another "anonymous" player out to outhustle one another, each trying in the beginning to lose the first game so as to increase the bet. Except, as they went into the end-game, Marty's opponent got wise to the fact that Marty was better than he'd thought, and, wanting to grab the one-game money and run, smacked in a winner to take the lead. But of course in the process he'd "outed" himself and his intention, and so Marty quickly finished him off.
But come the new '46-47 season, Reba lets us know that "Marty Reisman, about whom you have heard and will hear more and more, defeated Miles in a Friday night tournament [at of course Lawrence's Broadway Courts, so no wonder the place was always jammed on Friday nights]."
Reisman, however, was not on the winning '46 N.Y. Intercity Team of Miles, Schiff, Pagliaro, and Somael (Cartland might have been their 5th man, but he was absent, too, for he was on a U.S. Tour with Harry Cook). Since play at this tournament largely determined the U.S. Team to the '47 World's, Miles and Pagliaro with perfect records, Schiff with only one loss (to 1943 U.S. Champion Billy Holzrichter), and Holzrichter with only one loss (to Lowry) would represent us in Paris--Somael having hurt his chances by losing in the Chicago tie to both Holzrichter and Bob Anderson.
The Feb. 2 Eastern's final--won by Miles over Reisman in 4--must have seemed like a Friday night at Lawrence's, except it was Sunday, and Groundhog Day, which perhaps cast a shadow on Miles that suggested some upcoming wintry weather in Paris. (Poor Dick--a chance to be the World Champion, but in that cold Hall his arm would "freeze.") In the Junior's, Reisman, in a slam-bang counter-driving battle, again scored over New Yorker Morris Chait (whom he'd been down 2-0 to at the Nov. New York City Open). But Marty and his friend Reba lost the Mixed final in 5 to Pinner and Leah Thall (later Neuberger).
At the Mar. 28-30, 1947 National's, Reisman, seeded #6 in the Men's, was beaten -23, 12, -20, 9, -17 in the 8th's by Jimmy McClure, seeded #14. Though outscoring Jimmy 100-87 in points, Marty couldn't win either of the match-deciding close games. And, though he won the Junior's over Barclay, he and Reba couldn't win the Mixed final against Miles and England's visiting 1947 World finalist, Betty Blackbourn, a two-winged attacker who, as a corporal in the War, drove not table tennis balls but motor vehicles.
Two weeks later, at the Bethlehem Pennsylvania Open, Reisman not only lost to Pinner in the semi's of the Men's but to N.Y.'s Norman Schuman in the semi's of the Junior's. Best not to talk about that.
A hot August--so a working vacation to Provincetown for the annual Quiniela there. Five groups of players played preliminary matches and those with the best record in each group advanced. These five then began a round robin with the winner of the match remaining at the table. The Champion was whoever won five matches first--in this case Reisman, over Cy Sussman, Cartland, Frank Dwelly, Sussman again, and Lowry.
Then up to Toronto for the Sept. Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) tournament--a first for Marty, since the annual play here had been suspended for six years. This time participants were to wear all white--perhaps the better to contrast the humans with the animals in the Small Judging Ring venue they shared.
Perhaps. But Reisman in white, practicing with Cartland, was all bloody, as if he'd been back in some adjacent straw-filled stall learning to be a hog-butcher or something. "I was subject to nose bleeds in those days," he says. "Since I couldn't stop the bleeding, I took a cab to a hospital where they packed my nose with cotton. But then I had to sneak out of there; they wanted to keep me overnight, and I had matches to play." The bleeding started up again, so Marty went to another hospital, and though they tried to help him, maybe did everything short of giving him a transfusion, when he got on court to play Schiff, he said he kept swallowing blood. "But Dr. Harry Sage, from Columbus [he'd won the last CNE, in '41], came out of the stands, helped me, gave me something that maybe shrunk the blood vessels, and finally the bleeding stopped."
Though Reisman had not been picked for the U.S. Team in Toronto--McClure, Schiff and Pinner, with Bill Price as Captain, would blank the Canadians in the International Matches--you might say he, even more than those Team members, looked "out for blood." He won the Under 18 Junior's, but, far more importantly, he won the Men's--his first Major. In the quarter's he beat U.S. #7 Pinner, 16 and 19. In the semi's, U.S. #2 Schiff, 18 in the 5th. And in the final, U.S. #5 Cartland, also in the 5th, after being down 2-0.
At 17, he had arrived--was now ready for any covering reporter's expected question: "To what do you attribute your success?"
With a vision beyond his years, yet without sounding like W.C. Fields, he could answer, and would, again and again, "Talent, my boy, talent. I never took a lesson in my life. I was a natural at the game."
Two months later though, in the round-robin matches at the New York City Open that would determine New York's Intercity Team to Milwaukee, Marty had a mediocre 4-3 record. Still, it was good enough to make the Team with both Miles, and, surprise, the unranked Brooklyn College freshman Chait, who gave Miles his only loss, and who beat Reisman in the accompanying Junior event.
This threesome--Miles, 12-0; Reisman 12-1 (a loss to Holzrichter), and Chait (9-2)--would be the youngest Team for quite some time to win the Intercities or, as it would later be called, the National Team Championships, then the U.S. Open Team Championships.
Picked to represent the U.S. at the Feb. 4-11, '48 Wembley World's (with warm-up matches first in Sweden) were our Men: Miles, Reisman, and two members of the runner-up St. Louis Team at the Intercities, Garrett Nash and Bill Price, and our Women: Leah and Thelma Thall and Mae Clouther.
This was Marty's first World's, and of course it was an inspiration to him there in London's Royal Hotel to watch the best players on the Continent arrive, carrying their egos with the same care as they would their favorite rackets. Marty's play at Lawrence's was lineage enough: though he lacked world-class experience, he had the requisite confidence and sense of self to be accepted into such rough-hewn royalty. Their values were his, and--whatever the country, wherever the court--he would share with them the action he lived for.
In Swaythling Cup play, by defeating Sweden (5-1...Reisman lost to Flisberg), Hungary (5-2...Reisman lost to Sido), Jersey (5-0), and England (5-2), we advanced to the semi's. Miles was 10-0 undefeated--with wins over the whole English Team of Barna, Johnny Leach, and this year's about-to-be Singles Champion Richard Bergmann. Reisman posted a 4-3 record--losing (-20, -16) to Bergmann, but scoring a gutsy (20, 23) win over Leach (after being down 20-14 in the 2nd!). Nash, 4-2, lost to Soos and Barna, but beat Sido and Bergmann (as he had in his celebrated money match during the War years). Team Captain Price made a token appearance to down the very weak Jersey players.
Against Defending Champion Czechoslovakia in the semi's, we lost 5-2, for Ivan Andreadis ("the best stroke player of the day") by moderately but relentlessly topspinning, beat both Miles and Reisman. And none of our players could stop Defending World Champion Bo Vana--though Miles made a very good try (losing 18 in the 3rd) and Reisman an even better one (losing 15, -19, -19). Czechoslovakia then went on to defeat France 5-2 to retain their Swaythling Cup title.
Table Tennis, the official magazine of the English TTA, had this to say about Vana's key wins in that U.S.-Czech tie:
"...Vana was very lucky to overcome young Reisman, although he showed supreme champion's spirit when he realised that a faint chance remained.
He pulled the 3rd game out from a losing spot of 9-14, and the last 5 points of one-hundred-percent attack against inspired youth made him a firm favorite with the crowd, and probably restored his own confidence for the whole tournament.
Vana seemed to remember this spasm when playing Miles, and almost exactly repeated himself in the 3rd game. Here Miles' nerve became suspect in that he never varied from this heavy backhand chop stroke during the critical 5 points, notwithstanding that Vana was obviously gaining on the 'rate of exchange.'"
"There are two mysteries about U.S. Table Tennis," the Program for the Wembley World's had said. "One is why in so great a country, where the game is played so much and so well, the Association remains so small; and the other is how, of so few organised players, so many turn out so brilliant and strong." After watching play at Wembley, one London correspondent was of the opinion that when 22-year-old Miles and 18-year-old Reisman "are on form they are unbeatable; no one can stand up to their terrific hitting to both wings at sharp angles."
However, in the Men's Singles, Reisman, Nash, and Miles all lost yearned for, what-might-have-been matches--instant replays for a lifetime. After getting by Sweden's Sven Cedarholm (with "a dazzling two-winged attack" in the 5th) and France's Alex Agapoff (19, 19, 22), Reisman, dropping a pivotal 4th game, went down in 5 (20, -18, 14, -19, -12) to the eventual Champion Bergmann. Nash finally succumbed 25-23 in the 5th (after being down 12-3 and up 17-13) to 5-time World Singles Champion Barna. And Miles, in his quarter's match, up 16-9 in the 5th, and favored at that point to win the Championship, couldn't, or wouldn't, hold steady against Vana. (In hitting himself out of the match, Dick in effect just reversed the losing strategy he'd employed against Vana in the Team's.)
U.S. Captain Price, who lost in straight games to the strong Yugoslav, Frantisek Tokar, would later comment on how the forehands of Miles and Reisman were "admired by the Europeans." He then went on to contrast them:
"...Miles starts his stroke about head high and describes a rather large loop which gives him a terrific snap, while Reisman starts his stroke at a point only slightly behind contact which means he doesn't have nearly as much of a backswing as Miles. However, he generates considerable racket head speed...in that short space...."
Bergmann, who attacked with the European elbow-out forehand, was a popular Champion here. Born in Vienna, the son of a Polish father and Italian mother, he was a naturalized Briton who'd served in the Royal Air Force during the War. His come-from-behind win over Andreadis in the semi's--he was down 2-1 and 9-4 (with a 20-minute time limit on the game)--and his win in the 5th over arch-rival Vana gave him (after triumphs in '37 and '39) his 3rd World Championship.
In regaining his title Bergmann had reason to be a proud man, and one, he believed, who was not getting his just due:
"In future I shall concentrate my activities on coaching and exhibitions, and I shall only reappear in competitive table tennis if an all professional association is formed.
My decision is based on the fact that it is possible to reach the top in world table tennis and still be a poor man. I have played here tonight before more than 8,000 spectators, and for my performance I shall receive no reward."
Indisputably Bergmann had a great belief in himself, and no doubt he was a powerful influence on 18-year-old Reisman, who, 50 years later as the U.S. Hard Bat Champion, would still have that faith in self, that Bergmann-like self-esteem that would allow him to believe his past could be resurrected, become again his present.
Even today when (less often now) Marty does his trademark "cigarette" trick--on one side of the table he stands a cigarette on its tip, then moves back around the net on the other side, and...crack!--there's a reverberative echo of self-assurance. The late Bill Marlens once asked Marty how he had the nerve to do this trick before an expectant audience time and again, and he said, "Well, Bill, I throw the ball up...I take my racket...and I just believe. That's it...I just believe."
So, as we go back into our Sport's history, it's not difficult for us to believe that, according to one knowledgeable English observer of these '48 Wembley World's, Miles and Reisman, should be ranked among the top 5 players in the world, and Nash close behind them.
But though Dick and Marty suffered Singles disappointments and (did either of them care?) an early round Men's Doubles loss, there'd be more than some consolation here at Wembley for Miles. He and Thelma "Tybie" Thall (later Sommer) would be the first Americans to win the World's Mixed Doubles--largely because Tybie cared so much.
Before coming back to the U.S., our Team went to Dublin, birthplace of the great Irish writer James Joyce, whose Ulysses Miles used to carry around with him almost as a talisman. Here in the final of the Leinster Championships Dick beat Marty in 5, after Marty's "magnificent retrieving" had taken out Barna in 5 in the semi's.
On returning to the States, Miles beat Reisman, 3-0, at the Feb. 28-29 Ohio State Open in Cincinnati. But two weeks later, at the Eastern's in Hempstead, Long Island, Marty 3-1 rebounded, gave Dick his first loss of the U.S. season.
The huge Marching Building at the Fort Hayes Army Post in Columbus, Ohio--"third in the United States as a convention city," home of the Thall sisters--that was the site of the Apr. 2-4, 1948 U.S. Open, sponsored by the National Guard and under the direction of Bob Green. Though this weekend Columbus also, very inconveniently, hosted the State Basketball Championship, if you could get in to eat at the Mills Cafeteria, you could see displayed the $1000 worth of table tennis trophies and some photos of the stars in the 250-entry tournament.
Would, though at these National's, there'd been videos of the Men's matches particularly--especially Schiff over George Hendry, Chuck Burns over Nash, Cartland over Lowry, Reisman over Holzrichter, and, most especially, Miles over Reisman in the 12, -16, 20, -18, 20 dynamic climax.
Here's the Topics' account of that final that tries impartially to praise both players:
"2000 people screamed and cheered as Miles defeated Reisman in a deuce- thriller, fifth-game final at the National Table Tennis Championships in Columbus, Ohio. Every heart pounded and blood vessels were strained as Reisman deuced it up in the fifth from 20-18. The next two points were some of the greatest exhibition of driving and defending ever seen in the history of United States Table Tennis. Reisman drove his heart out against the mighty Miles backhand chop defense....Driving ball after ball for minutes on end against the country's steadiest defense....[The] playing was so superb that one player or the other had to be forced into an error, neither making [hardly] any...of his own volition. Keeping the ball away from Miles' murdering forehand drive Reisman forced him to play defense throughout the match, giving him only an occasional shot on the forehand side. Garnering all his points by forcing Miles into error or hitting through his backhand defense, Reisman played a remarkable match and a smart one that was anybody's guess as to the outcome...."
And here's a local reporter's subjective assessment of that final between, as he says, the "fidgety" and "none too popular" Miles ("Mr. Prima Donna") and "the ever popular" Reisman (it's as if Marty wrote this reporter's copy?):
"...[Miles] was so worried over winning this one that while Reisman joked around and was having a good time in the match, Miles stopped play 58 times to wipe his sweaty brow, five times to use his handkerchief on his moisty paddle, four other times to tie his shoe laces, twice to let the crowd know they were making too much noise. All that after asking the referee to ask the photographers to please refrain from flashing bulbs while 'The Great One' was playing."
It's left to USTTA Topics columnist Helene Cinnater (President Elmer Cinnater's wife) to speak of Reisman "clowning one second and so serious the next," to praise Miles for his "intestinal fortitude, " and to remark on "the loud whistle blowing during the last crucial point of that 5th and deuce game, when silence was conspicuous." Whistle blowing? As is the case so often with Marty, who's usually interested in being more entertaining than exact, there are different versions as to what actually happened. I heard, for example, that the telephone rang at deuce in the 5th, and that Marty quipped mid-stroke, "Tell them I haven't won yet." But never mind if that phone anecdote's apocryphal, it has the ring of truth--an instance where fiction is truer to Marty than fact.
Reisman was also thwarted both in the final of the Men's Doubles when he and Lowry couldn't hold a 2-1 lead against Tibor Hazi and Johnny Somael, and in the quarter's of the Mixed when he and Reba Monness lost in 5 to the runner-up St. Louis team, Price and Betty Schaefer.
But Marty wouldn't be denied for long. Back to defend his CNE Championship in Toronto in Sept., '48, he and Miles played another thrilling final--with Miles momentarily staving off defeat by a gritty 26-24 win in the 4th, only to have to yield to Reisman in the 5th.
Marty also paired with Schiff to win the Doubles over Harlow and about-to-be U.S. Junior ChampionWally Gundlach.
The following month, in their Bronx Open final, back came Miles again, after being down 2-0--this time to win.
In the Nov. New York City Open that would determine N.Y.'s Intercity Team, Miles, as he had last year, again lost to Chait, who could only muster a 3-4 record. Reisman, after losing to Miles, was also 6-1, and Schiff and Cartland finished 4-3 (Schiff beat Cartland, but lost to Bellak). Doug didn't go to St. Louis, but was named to the World Team when Sol's work wouldn't permit him to be absent for so long. In the Intercity ties played at the DeSoto Hotel, New York (Miles, Reisman, Schiff) was 6-0--won for the 12th straight time, and in the process didn't lose a match.
The U.S. Team to the '49 Stockholm World's and the English Open that followed were obligated to do exhibitions in Sweden and later in England. Because the USTTA's "Fighting Fund" contributions weren't nearly enough to cover our players' expenses, these exhibitions were necessary since, by contracting for them, our Association would be guaranteed a $1,000 from each country.
On arriving in Sweden the Team split into two nearby units. Capt. McClure, Reisman, and Tybie Thall played matches in "the little fishing town of Gravarne," where they were presented with "beautiful leather-fitted cases." Miles, Cartland, Peggy McLean, and Mildred Shahian went to Ljungskile where for their friendly efforts they received "gifts of glass vases."
The Team came together for more exhibition matches--in Tibro and Halmstad, for example--and for a tournament in Norrkoping before 900 spectators. But the Jan. 19 International Match in Gothenburg between Sweden and the U.S., played Swaythling Cup-style, drew the largest attendance by far. Since every match had on the average a 19 or deuce game, the show must have generated quite a home-crowd response. The U.S. was down 4-1 but rallied to win 5-4 when Miles beat Bengt Grieve, 27-25 in the deciding 3rd of the 9th and last match.
Eventually then, it was on to Stockholm for the Feb. 4-19 World's. Favorites to capture the Swaythling Cup were not only the Czechs, winners the last two years, but the Americans who'd twice lost to them, and perhaps the Hungarians, for, according to Barna, Jozsef Koczian, twice a winner over Andreadis this season, was "the most improved of all the Continental players." France, Sweden, and England were capable of upsets. Bergmann, the World's #1 professional, had decided to represent England both in the Team's and the Singles--perhaps because some were saying, what to others was absurd, that, since he was out of practice, he was afraid to play. Of course, having something to prove, he proceeded to win the pre-World's Netherlands Open over Leach, though at one point being down 18-10 in the 5th to Michel Haguenauer of France.
The Swaythling Cup Schedule was very bad for the U.S. They opened at 9:30 a.m. against Norway, the weakest team in their Group, and so got no practice (not unless they'd already been able to start money matches in some back room). Their 2:00 p.m. match was scratched because Poland decided not to send a team. And now at 7:00 p.m. they were up against powerful Hungary (who, as it happened, had no warm-up either for they'd had the same schedule as the U.S., only in reverse--Poland, then Norway).
Before this tie, Miles "jokingly offered to bet that his side would win." This (and likely another thing or two) so incensed a Hungarian broadcaster covering the tournament that he aired his wrath publicly by calling the Americans a "bunch of dollar imperialist puppets, reactionaries and betting braggarts." Faced with the threat of being barred from using Swedish radio if he persisted in using such "slander and propaganda," the broadcaster remained unrepentent. If, after reading this special story to the New York Times, USTTA officials were disturbed enough to send a threatening wire to this fellow, or anyone else, the article didn't say.
In Swaythling Cup play last year, Miles had disposed of Ferenc Sido, 2-0, but then had had 19-in-the-4th trouble with him in the Singles. Here in Stockholm, in the opening match of this key tie, he lost to him 15 and 13. Cartland (-11, 20, -16) tried to come back against Koczian but couldn't. And when Reisman lost in straight games to Soos, the U.S. was down 3-0. However, Miles took care of Koczian as expected, so if Reisman could win his match with Sido, we still had a chance. The massive Hungarian's heavy racket repeatedly sent the ball thudding into Marty's much lighter one, but Marty had just enough feel to pull out a win, 23-21 in the 3rd. That was it for the U.S. though--Cartland fell to Soos, Reisman to Koczian, both two straight. Since Hungary advanced to the final undefeated, it made no difference that we survived a 5-4 struggle with France and won the rest of the ties with ease.
Czechoslovakia was not tested in its Group, but in the final with Hungary it was far different. With the tie tied at 3-all, Vana defeated Sido to send the Czechs up 4-3. But Koczian, proving that Barna knew what he was talking about, again outplayed Andreadis, and the veteran Soos was too strong for Vana's Defending World Champion Doubles partner Ladislav Stipek who'd later have the consolation of winning the Consolation's. "Matches were interspersed by Hungarian war-cries," and after Hungary had won 5-4, a "beaming" Sido "carried [Soos] from the table shoulder-high."
None of our women were saddled so, but they were no less exuberant, their spirits no less lifted, because--with McLean beating World Champion Gizi Farkas and England's #1 Franks--they'd won the Corbillon Cup! For the second--and last--time in History.
Farkas, by the way, had no sooner won the Singles Championship for the third straight year than she was arrested. As Time magazine put it:
"...As with her other compatriots, Gizi's excursion this side of the Iron Curtain was an occasion for stocking up on nylons, watches, lighters--all the paraphernalia of the bourgeois West [Reisman in The Money Player says he was interested in stocking up on such things too]. She was so awe-struck at the sight of Swedish abundance that she had bagged a handsome wool jacket without paying for it. 'I've never seen such a beautiful thing before,' she admitted. 'I just couldn't resist it.'"
Gizi, previously hailed by Szepesi for her 'moral superiority over her fellow contestants,' was ignominiously packed off [to Hungary] by plane. [Szepesi was the Hungarian radio broadcaster who'd called the Americans, among other things, "betting braggarts."]
In the Men's Singles (before Soos took out Defending Champ Bergmann in the quarter's), both McClure and Cartland lost tough 2nd round matches--Jimmy to Sweden's Arne Andersson, deuce in the 5th, and Doug, -20, -20, 5, -15, to his friend "Alex" Ehrlich, Poland's wily 3-time pre-War World finalist, and afterwards even wilier concentration camp survivor. Miles ("frail, monk-like") moved to the quarter's without difficulty, where he met Barna's "dark horse," England's Johnny Leach, who'd beaten Sido in 4 in the 8th's. It couldn't have been closer, but Dick, though he had three match points in a row, lost it, 24-22 in the 5th.
That left Reisman, who'd also advanced to the quarter's, with wins over Yugoslavia's Zarko Dolinar, destined to be a World finalist in both Singles and Doubles in the mid-50's, and Max Marinko who, on expatriating several years later, would be many-time Singles Champion of Canada.
Now Reisman met Barna's pre-tournament pick as Champion, Ivan Andreadis, whom Marty had lost to in the Team's last year. So what happened? Reisman: 3-zip, 18, 13, 17. Then, in the semi's...if only Marty had won that first 23-21 game against Vana--but he didn't, and that ended his great run. Still, no American man to this day has ever gotten further in the Singles.
Leach, having survived Miles and Soos in 5, also outlasted Vana, 17 in the 5th. He thus became at 25 the new World Champion, the first native-born Englishman in 20 years--since Fred Perry did it in '29-- to win the title.
In 1st-round action in the Mixed, Leach and his partner Peggy Franks knocked out Defending Champs Miles and Thall in 5. But Tybie did very well to reach the Women's semi's. Reisman and Peggy McLean were stopped in the semi's by the Czech runner-ups Vana and Kveta Hruskova. In Singles Peggy gave Hruskova, who'd turn out to be the losing finalist, a scare by winning the first two games.
In Men's Doubles, Reisman and McClure lost in the 8th's to the Yugoslavs, Tibor and Vilim Harangozo in 4. But Miles and Cartland moved on to the semi's where they were beaten by Andreadis and Tokar in 4.
On now to the English Open, where, as in this most recent World's, the ITTF had finally decided to seed players on a merit basis (before, they'd merely separated competitors from the same country and, if the two best players in the world met in the 1st round, so be it).
Miles, Reisman, Cartland--all on Miles's World Top 10 list. Did they think of themselves as amateurs or professionals? Easy to judge that, huh?
Dick, continually unhappy with his accomodations, voiced his objections to the London Press:
"'We'll never win the men's singles title the way we go at it,' declared Miles. 'We don't have enough money to do the job right.
Our association sold us to the sponsoring association for $1000 to help pay our expenses there [to Sweden] by ship and the Swedes collected $6000 out of our exhibition tours. Even though we drew full houses nearly every night, we stayed in the cheapest hotels.
Players had meal tickets at a restaurant [here in London],' Miles continued, 'but I could only go [that is, stand] one meal. Last night Marty Reisman collapsed in his hotel and the doctor said he needed more sugar.'"
So Miles and Reisman took it upon themselves to leave the hotel the English had billeted them in and move to a better one, and of course, regardless of the repercussions that might follow, bill the ETTA.
This '49 English Open was sweet for Reisman. Winning the Men's Singles at this prestigious tournament, something no other American male has ever done, was perhaps his greatest accomplishment....Back home it earned him two sentences in an unsigned column on "Overseas News" on page 9 of the current Topics.
In the quarter's, Marty had to go 5 to beat the formidable ("ferocious--like an animal")"Alex" Ehrlich, who'd upset Leach in 5. Ehrlich won this Open in '36 and, though he'd be in his 40's, would win it again in '51. In the semi's, Reisman bested Miles in 5--regarding which match England's Table Tennis Review said, "The younger American stood practically flat-footed hitting from both wings with amazing accuracy, whilst Miles chopped viciously, only occasionally cracking a forehand...."
And in the final, as may be seen in Bobby Gusikoff's "Legends" tape, Marty, pirouetting returns, outlasted the 38-year-old Barna, in 5 (after losing the 3rd from 20-15 up). Said a writer for the English TT magazine:
"At present he [Reisman] seems to ignore his opponent, playing a private little game all his own with the ball. 20-15 to Marty is a chance to hit 5 off the table...unless it is the fifth game, when he seems to concentrate for the first time in the match.
His outward appearance of judicial calm is belied by frequent ear shattering yells, discussions with the spectators, and self-exhortations. Whether these are spontaneous, to release tension, or just part of the act, we cannot say.
Until we know this impish young man with the interesting new technique better, we shall have to ask, in his own language, 'Who are you kidding, Marty?'"
Reisman also figured prominently in the Mixed at this English Open. He and Peggy McLean, who won the Women's Singles, were beaten in the final, 23-21 in the 5th, by Miles and Tybie Thall.
After some exhibition play--the last in Southhampton on Feb. 25--the Team left for home on the S.S. America. En route, Miles, Reisman and Cartland received word that disciplinary action was going to be taken against them. Doug had remained in the London hotel originally assigned him, and so couldn't be faulted with Dick and Marty on that, but both the Swedish and English Associations were protesting that all three players hadn't honored all their exhibition commitments and ought to be punished.
No sooner had the ship docked in New York than the players were whisked up to the Springfield, Massachusetts Y for the Mar. 5-6 Eastern's. Cartland, on advancing to the semi's, defaulted to Reisman--another action USTTA officials would deem "detrimental" to "table tennis" and hold him accountable for. Miles of course also advanced through the semi's, with a straight-game win over Frank Dwelly.
For the first three games of their final, Dick and Marty put on a spectacular match--with Defending Champ Marty (-17, 19, 20) taking a 2-1 lead. But then, strange, Marty just (-6, -9) collapsed.
As expected, Reisman and McLean won the Mixed.
But the Men's Doubles was perhaps a unique final in Dick and Marty's lives. Reisman played with his good friend and psychic supporter David Hartman who, parodying William Blake's famous "Tiger" poem, penned:
"Miles, Miles, always tight
Choking every Friday night.
What boy fire red knocked
thee in Wembley dead?
When Reisman's bat bangs
down the ball and plasters
you against the wall, do
your backers smile to see,
Did he who made the
hawk make thee?"
Miles played--and won--with Eugene Fately, someone who'd make such an impression on him that, beginning four decades later, Dick would spend 10 years building a novel in part around him.
It was April Fools Day at the 1949 New York National's, but there in the St. Nicholas Arena Miles, trying for an unprecedented 5th straight Men's Singles title, couldn't be more serious. He advanced to the final with ease--giving up only 40 points to Somael in the quarter's, only 32 to Pinner in the semi's (after Eddie "ran to the point of exhaustion" against Bellak in a 5-game quarter's).
On the other side of the Draw, Reisman, perhaps playfully (or obligingly?), dropped a game to "chiseler" Arnold Fetbrod in the quarter's. It was surely for both Fetbrod and Ty Neuberger, even more than for Reisman or anyone else, that Topics prior to these National's had implored...
"PLEASE DO NOT GAMBLE.
If we have repeated ourselves until you are worn with the echoing, it has been with one intention--to impress you."
Fetbrod and Neuberger were not easy to impress--at a June 11 E.C. Meeting, the USTTA would suspend both of them "indefinitely."
The St. Nicholas Arena Open Program had described Reisman as "a charming and likeable personality, with a keen sense of humor, that he gives rein to even in his tournament play."
But in his -8, 12, 16, 17 semi's match with Schiff (who'd outlasted Nash in 5), it seemed to some that Reisman was playing "a private little game all his own," and that one's query to him should have been, "Who are you kidding, Marty?"
Here's Topics Editor and former U.S. Team Captain Bill Price compaining about what he saw as Reisman's "almost unbelievable bit of chicanery" against "one of the nicest guys to ever swing a paddle":
"...Schiff had a very hot first game and ran through Reisman very easily, 21- 8. Now Reisman knows that a hot Schiff remains hot for only so long and that a half hour wait is almost sure to cool him off. So he made Schiff wait for a half hour.How did he get away with it?...We all know that a five minute rest period is permitted players between the third and fourth games but none is allowed at any other time. Reisman had an excuse of sorts, the rubber was allegedly peeling off his paddle and he had to have it repaired! Why he didn't take care of this before the match is controversial, perhaps he was prepared for such an emergency as a Schiff playing his top game, or perhaps he planned to lose the first game and then stall for quite a while, while his 'colleagues' went about the crowd making more bets at better odds. One thing we do know, Marty had been playing with his racket in that shape ever since he left for Europe, for luck.
In any case, it was a beautiful sight watching the officials looking benignly down from their boxes at Reisman's shenanigans and doing absolutely nothing about it. They also could not have helped watching the unusually heavy betting going on. Why this was permitted is another mystery, and made their 'no betting' rule pretty laughable. I don't know, from where I sit it looks as though this game is controlled by a very few, very shady characters, and if something isn't done about it some of us are going to take our leave...."
Consider this a ruse on Reisman's part, or not. Applaud, or don't, columnist Helene Cinnater's line that those "who atteneded the Nationals will be pleased to know that Sol Schiff beat Reisman in the Conn. Open!!!" As for me in regard to this incident, I'm reminded of two earlier matches. The first is where McClure and Schiff, down 15-10 in the 5th, in their '38 World Doubles final against Barna and Bellak stalled for time, feigned a possible ankle injury to Schiff. The second is when 1943 U.S. Open Champion Billy Holzrichter was leading Schiff 17-13 in the 5th in the '47 National's and Billy, on catching the edge of the table with his racket, sheared the rubber loose from his blade, and had to stop the match. In '49 Reisman sent out for glue, but in '47 Holzrichter was helped by another player who had some glue conveniently at hand. Still, Billy said that when he continued, it was as if he had a different paddle, and he lost his lead and the match.
Pyschological factors were introduced in all these matches, I'm sure.
And maybe in this St. Nick final too, for when Reisman played and lost to Miles, 3-0, it appeared to most observers that he "erred in allowing...[Dick] to take the offense too often." At any event, Marty, perhaps a little distracted by some of the bad vibes his "unwarranted delay" had generated, was not at his best when he needed to be, his altered racket now unable to retain its "luck" (for only in the 2nd, from 12-18 down to 20-19 up, did he threaten to swing the match in his favor).
In the Men's Doubles, 3-time U.S. Open winners Pinner and Sussman were beaten in the final by--guess who? Reisman and Schiff. Which proves what? That, as we'll see in Part II, even though at season's end, Reisman was suspended (along with Miles and Cartland and so denied a National Ranking), no one could deny his charisma or stay mad at him for long?...