USA Table Tennis
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5
- Chapter 6
- Chapter 7
- Chapter 8
- Chapter 9
- Chapter 10
- Chapter 11
- Chapter 12
- Chapter 13
- Chapter 14
- Chapter 15
- Chapter 16
- Chapter 17
- Chapter 18
- Chapter 19
- Chapter 20
- Chapter 21
- Chapter 22
- Chapter 23
- Chapter 24
- Chapter 25
- Chapter 26
- Chapter 27
- Chapter 28
- Chapter 29
- Chapter 30
- Chapter 31
- Chapter 32
- Chapter 33
- Chapter 34
- Bibliography & Acknowledgements
For the last three seasons Marcus Schussheim had been the strongest player in the New York Metropolitan Ping-Pong League and had won all the important Parker Brothers’ APPA tournaments--the 1929 Little Carnegie New York City Championship, the 1930 Metro Championship, and the 1931 National Ping-Pong Championship. Indisputably he was the #1 player in the country. In fact, he had won every single league or tournament match he had ever played...except--shhh, you could hardly count it--once, under very poor, very cramped playing conditions, he did lose a league match to a White Plains player forever unidentified (MMS, 19).
By the 1930-31 season’s end it was also becoming indisputably clear that, like Schussheim, Parker Brothers, too, wanted to be the one and only winner--that is, of course, in selling "Official" equipment. They wanted a Parlor Game resurgence to take place and--see in Schaad’s Ping-Pong (25) a photo of tennis star Bill Tilden playing Ping-Pong in a tux*--they hoped that not only glamorous movie stars and other celebrities they cultivated would find Ping-Pong fashionable and fun to play but so would players from every walk of life.
And, no doubt about it, Ping-Pong was addictive--the more so to all those who, like the athletic Schussheim, thrived on competition and prided themselves that, hah, if the outsiders only knew, Ping-Pong players were not effete or effeminate, not sissies but sportsmen.
But sportsmen--whether the best of them were called amateurs or professionals--wanted the best equipment, wanted to move with the times, liked the idea of manufacturers competing to bring out something new, something better. Take the Parker Brothers so-called "bullet" ball, for example. Since it weighed 42-46 grams and was therefore much heavier than the "light-weight" European ball of 37-39 grams (TTT, Feb., 1934, 2), didn’t it leave something to be desired? And was it good to have just one company--though granted a company with money to spend to promote the sport--call all the shots? Shouldn’t the players themselves have some control over their destiny? Obviously if you didn’t approve of the Parker Brothers official "line" you shouldn’t be trying to play in their fancy Ping-Pong tournaments. So, take it--the Parker Brothers Ping-Pong tables, nets, posts, rackets, balls, rules--or leave it.
On Sept. 17, 1931, members of the Metropolitan Ping-Pong Association meeting at the Hotel Alamac in New York City unanimously voted to leave it--to form a New York Table Tennis Association (NYTTA).
ITTF Chair Montagu in a six-page Jan. 3, 1932 letter to NYTTA General Secretary Bernard Joel offered what help he could. He outlined his past problems with Parker Brothers, noting particularly that since the APPA was "registered as a limited share company in which all shares were in the hands of a commercial firm [Parker Brothers], and in which the constituents associating [the players] had no voting power," such a body could not have any amateur status and so could not join the ITTF. Under President Randow, however, the Metropolitan Ping-Pong Association (MPPA) had at least been provisionally recognized by the ITTF as a body in good amateur standing supposedly free from trade influence. Though after that meeting at the Hotel Alamac many N. Y. players left the MPPA, it, wouldn’t officially disband until Sept., 1934. But of course the ITTF had immediately transferred its allegiance to the NYTTA.
In that letter to Joel, Montagu had the following advice for the rebellious fledgling Association:
"...I should not...make so definite and pointed attack on Messrs. Parker Bros, nor even mention them by name. You will survive as an association, not by the fact of your opposition to an unjust tyranny, but by the mere fact that you are the sole amateur governing body of the game in your country, acting correctly as a sports governing body in all matters."
Note that he says governing body not just in New York but in the country. He clearly emphasizes this point:
"You cannot win or even exist [against Parker Brothers] if you remain content with being the N.Y.T.T.A. You must form yourselves into a provisional national body....[The ITTF can help you] because if you can show the existence of an international federation of which at least twelve other countries are officially recognised by their representative governments and ministries of health and sport, the public will at once perceive how impossible it is for a trade-owned body to meet [with those countries as an equal representative for the U.S.]....
Visionary words no doubt. But for the moment one step at a time.
Soon the NYTTA had their own offices--at the "Hotel Times Square, 43rd Street west of Broadway" (or, less White Way magically, 3rd St. and Eighth Ave.). To celebrate, Col. Fitzhugh Minnigerode of the New York Times gave a little talk, and (since this Headquarters had a Club Room where two tables were made available to the public) Schussheim, Willard Rogers, Sydney Heitner, Fred Festger, Henry Rabinowicz, Bernie Joel, and future NYTTA President Fred Thompson played exhibition matches. Former N.Y. Governor Alfred E. Smith sent a letter of congratulations, and famed illustrator Tony Sarg tossed out the first ball.
Naturally the newly formed NYTTA was now in competition with the financially much better off APPA, and naturally pressure had been put on the country’s #1 player Schussheim to be the leading renegade in the "outlaw" Association. Schussheim went along
with the NYTTA, but privately, it seems, he didn’t know what to think. Hadn’t he been doing pretty well with Parker Brothers? They’d given him his first rubber racket, silver loving cups for winning their Championships, glamorous venues, and considerable publicity. Wherein lay his playing future? What advantages, if any, were open to him now?
Earlier our perennial Champion, who by this time in his teens was running his own Rapid Messenger Service, had supposedly told New York columnist Joe Williams that he, Marcus Schussheim, was primarily an "artist" and that there wasn’t "enough money in America" to make him turn Ping-Pong "professional." However, Williams, who’d referred to Schussheim as "Shush shine on, silvery moon" and "Mr. Shoeshine" (intimating perhaps that the Lower Eastsider was not only poor but unworldly, naive, a hopeless romantic) now said, in an Apr. 28, 1932 World Telegram article, that he had reason to share another view of Mark with his readers:
"Our Mr. Schussheim is not the artist at heart we took him to be. Art for art’s sake is not his credo. When you mention Art, it appears, he is disposed to ask, ‘What about Marcus?’
I have seen some letters which our Mr. Schussheim wrote to the [APPA] tournament promoters in which he suggested that his participation in the [Second Annual National Ping-Pong] championship was of sufficient box office importance to warrant the payment of certain gratuities.
Naturally, this was very shocking to the promoters...."
Oh naturally, says Mr. Williams who, enjoying his role as a sophisticate, goes on to drop the irony:
"If I appear to be making out a case for the ping-pong promoters it is only because the history of most sports justifies their procedure. My chief quarrel with the gentlemen--including the ping-pong people--is that they attempt to conceal their business aspirations under the veil of altruistic sports competitions, when as a matter of fact it is all a bold sales campaign...."
With Mr. Williams’ talk of concealment in other people’s minds, it’s time to present Mark’s clarification, albeit almost 60 years later in a Dec. 22, ‘89 letter to me, of, first, just what really was said in that Schussheim/Williams interview and, second, what really Mark wrote or rather didn’t write to Parker Brothers.
In reply first to Mr. Williams’s question, "Are you planning to turn pro?":
"My answer to him [Williams], which every good player could understand, was, ‘You must be kidding. Who would be stupid enough to pay five cents to see me play? We are having a tournament here--a  National tournament with free admission and I am almost positive there isn’t one single spectator in this whole crowd. There are approximately 1,000 people watching and they consist of 369 players, their families, their very close friends, and newspaper reporters.’ Mr. Williams couldn’t possibly print my answer which definitely would not have pleased Parker Brothers. Instead he wrote, ‘Marcus Schussheim was primarily an artist and that there wasn’t enough money in America to make him turn professional.’ Did he forget I told him I lived in a tenement house on the East Side where we paid nine dollars a month in rent? I may have been naive but I wasn’t stupid. Mr. Williams knew I was running a messenger service in New York where I saw a future and there was no possible future becoming a Ping-Pong pro."
And in reply to Mr. Williams’s later statement that, like a pro, Mark wanted to be paid by Parker Brothers:
"Mr. Williams also said...that I was not defending my  title...because I was not paid certain gratuities. He also said that he had seen some letters which I wrote to the American Ping-Pong Association (Parker Bros.) wherein I was asking to be paid. I can assure you I never wrote...any such letter. It was a known fact by Parker Bros. that I and the leading ping-pong players were not going to play at their tournament....Mr. Williams had no knowledge that a New York Table Tennis Ass’n was formed. All he wanted to know [though apparently he didn’t ask Schussheim] was why I wasn’t defending my title and I assume Parker Bros
told him I wasn’t playing because I wanted to get paid."
From Mark’s point of view--a point of view not shared by many a Champion to come--he, Schussheim, the National Champion who reportedly hadn’t lost a single match ever, couldn’t really help Table Tennis become popular (perhaps because he wasn’t interested enough to try to do so?). The U.S. wasn’t Europe--where the Sport was already established, and where to Schussheim’s later amazement (he would be our first representative to the World Championships) great crowds of people actually paid good money to watch the world’s leading players. Though ITTF member countries varied in their definition of an "amateur," by the mid-1930’s, if not before, professed or unprofessed professional players, providing they had their country’s blessing, could play in World Championships--for, as Montagu tells us, his ITTF, adroitly sidestepping the amateur/professional issue in their international matches, treated all entries as merely "players" (115-117).
Parker Brothers, too, could be flexible if it was in their interests to do so. At a Jan., 1932 APPA meeting in Boston just before their initial N.Y.-Chicago Intercities they standardized their racket--it now had, a "rubber surface several inches longer in diameter than the old racket" (Ned Irish in GSS I, 38). But they had no problems about allowing professionals in other sports to play in and give publicity to their 1932 National’s. Of course, as APPA President Sidney Lenz said, it may be that Gene Tunney, Bobby Jones, and other "ping-pong addicts" won’t play (GSS, 81), and even if, say, Bill Tilden did, none of the table tennis amateurs in contention to win cups would care, for no outside professional’s entry could affect them.
Schussheim, though he sided with the NYTTA, thought, along with many another player affiliated with either the NYTTA or APPA, that Parker Brothers was on the right promotional track when it gave out all those complimentary tickets to black-tie high society to help fill the house at the APPA’s upcoming 1932 National’s--a Championship that would be played in the grand ballroom of N.Y.’s swank Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Chicago star Max Rushakoff, a Russian immigrant, would speak admiringly of how "the upper strata of society jammed the boxes, at a cost of three dollars a person," and how it was "these people, after all, [who] make a tournament, what with their high station and evening clothes" (Table Tennis, Apr., 1932, 1). Moreover, would not these glittering attendees feel good about supporting such a worthwhile cause? All gross receipts for Saturday night’s final matches were going to the Child Welfare League.
Parker Brothers always wanted to bring an image of well-to-do Hollywood glamour to Ping-Pong (as in fact those in Table Tennis would want to do too). As late as the spring of 1934, after the USTTA was well on its way to completely taking over the U.S. tournament scene from the APPA, Reader’s Digest carried a pro Ping-Pong/consequently anti Table Tennis article by John R. Tunis, the following lines of which voice a class-consciousness (as if to say, Ping-Pong "shelters, so to speak, the highbrows of the art"):
"Harold Lloyd is chairman of the Pacific Coast Ping-Pong Association, which includes Ginger Rogers, Conrad Nagel, Fay Wray, Nancy Carroll, Lew Ayres, and Howard Deitz.
It would be nice to be able to enumerate an equally imposing list of big shots who enjoy Table Tennis, but this is impossible. Its cohorts, being recruited from the East Side of Manhattan and the South Side of Chicago, are named Bernbaum [read Berenbaum], Schiff, Schussheim and Lipschitz [read Lipschutz]."**
Table Tennis has often been considered a predominately "poor man’s" sport, its players notoriously "cheap." It’s also been considered a "Minority" sport in the U.S., and for many years a "Jewish" sport. Implicit in these attempts to categorize it is the looked-for explanation as to why Table Tennis has never gained the recognition that those who play it avidly feel it deserves.
Schussheim was more a realist than a romantic. New York City Champion, then National Champion, he certainly was, but he wouldn’t join the genteel New York Ping-Pong Club, even in the highly unlikely event he were asked to. He didn’t fit the black-tie Parker Brothers image. As I said before, one has only to look at that photo showing Mark receiving his 1930 Metropolitan Ping-Pong Championship trophy from the unsmiling tuxedoed elite to understand how privately disapproving they were of this Lower Eastside winner.
Schussheim, then, did not defend his APPA National title. But though a majority of the best New York players joined him in remaining loyal to the NYTTA, the 1932 APPA National’s, as we’ll see in a moment, was a great success. Not only were the New York Ping-Pong Club members supportive but also all the leading Westchester players.
First (APPA) Intercities
After the APPA’s New York beginnings in 1928, ping-pong had also gotten big in the Midwest. The best Chicago-area players of the 1930-organized Western Ping-Pong Association would form a Ping-Pong liaison, a fraternity of sorts, with the New York Westchester group to hold the first Intercities (later known as the National Team Championships, then the U.S. Open Team Championships). In this initial 1932 two-teams-only match-up in Chicago, which early table tennis historians Louis E. Laflin, Jr. and Peter W. Roberts say "attracted nine hundred paid admissions, while hundreds were turned away," New York (that is, Westchester: Jimmy Jacobson, W. C. "Chet" Wells, Neil Schaad, and Don Conner) would defeat Chicago (Coleman Clark, J. R. Leininger, Dougall Kittermaster, and D. W. "Digory McEwan), 6-4, before a gallery that "was on its feet a good part of the time, cheering and shouting at the top of their voices" (TTT, Feb., 1948, 11). There’d apparently been no problem accomodating spectators in the afternoon when Clark had won the warm-up Singles Tournament, beating Jacobson in 5 in the semi’s and Wells three straight in the final. But for the much anticipated East-West evening matches (this time Clark lost to Jacobson), "the circus seats erected in the ballroom of the Interfraternity Club adjoining the Palmer House" were "totally inadequate" to handle the crowd.***
At these first (1932) Intercities, then, the APPA Chicago and Westchester players seemed pretty evenly matched. But that didn’t mean the Chicago players were as good as the New Yorkers.
In his (1930) Ping-Pong Schaad had written:
"It is the writer’s opinion that our best players are to be found in and around New York City....The writer has personally played leading players from Cleveland and Chicago, and while the Middle Westerners can hold their own against plain hit strokes, they have trouble in returning the various spin serves and cut strokes. The writer cannot emphasize too strongly to all American players to try and use more spin in all their strokes. Spin is the basic principle of Ping-Pong" (34-35).
And in his 1930-31 (Top 25) National Rankings, Schaad had showed that his New York over Chicago assessment of player strength hadn’t changed--only four Midwesterners were ranked: Coleman Clark (#9), Max Rushakoff (#23), Yoshio Fushimi (#24), and J. R. Leininger (#25).
But of course in the 1932 Ping-Pong National’s at the Waldorf, Schussheim and other strong N. Y.-area players were "outlawed," and so the Midwesterners would
be elevated, would place five of their players to four of Westchester’s in the APPA’s Top 10 Rankings.
"What about Ping-Pong players elsewhere?" you may ask. "Weren’t they considered for Rankings?" They were organizing--Elmer Cinnater, for example, he’d be President of the St. Louis District PPA****--and the most powerful of them would emerge, especially from St. Louis, but at the embryonic moment there was no opportunity for them to compete against the ranked players from New York and Chicago.Parker Brothers 1932 (APPA) National Championships
Given the still prevailingly casual, parlor-game image of the sport, it wasn’t surprising that a sportswriter announcing these 1932 National Ping-Pong Championships would be condescendingly cute. Here’s Paul Gallico writing in the Apr. 17, 1932 New York Daily News:
"...unless some authorities step in and forbid this thing there will be some tragedies, tragedies that might have been prevented. The game as it stands today is entirely too rough. The men are going "all out," in their efforts to conquer....Only an athlete in the best of condition can hope to survive one of these gruelling matches. I say to the authorities who are running this forthcoming shambles at the Waldorf: ‘What steps have you taken to protect the players and the public? Is there adequate medical supervision? Are the players examined before the matches? Is there a doctor in constant attendance? [Of course the irony reverses itself, convolutes, as the sport, more and more athletic (its world-class players subject to fatigue, drug testing, injury), approaches the 21st century. But Gallico, caught in the continuum of the 1930’s, can make only the one point.]
Americans have always professed to be horrified at the German ‘Mensur,’ the duelling with razor-sharp, two-edged swords, in which the students fight one another until the floor is red with blood and one or the other or both are disfigured for life. Cockfighting and bulldogging are forbidden in this country (both sports are carried on privately in Jersey), the bullfight of old Spain is banned. Even boxing is carefully regulated and limited. But apparently no one is going to protest the brutal exhibition about to be staged in the guise of sport in one of America’s great hotels...."
In contrast, Tunis, taking Parker Brothers and the Championships seriously (but not too seriously), has this description of the APPA tournament:
"The [Apr. 15-16] 1932 championship in the Waldorf attracted several thousand spectators every night of the week, all space about the tables were jammed, and the boxes crowded with onlookers in evening clothes. On the floor were 14 tables in two parallel rows, a high net separating the two lines, and a number on the back of every contestant. As in the Davis Cup matches, every contest was properly umpired, while the Parker Cup, perpetual symbol and so forth, was high on a raised platform at one end of the room" (RHS, 63).
And of course, since there were a respectable 256 entries in all, one slightly playful reporter could not fail to point out the donor of that Championship Cup: "Happily watching the matches from a lavish box was George Swinnerton Parker of Boston, decorated by a white goatee and a pique evening waistcoat" (TTT, Nov.-Dec., 1975, 6). APPA President Sidney Lenz and APPA V.P. Frank Hunter were prominently there. Lenz had taken up the game "when the old Waldorf-Astoria discarded its billiard tables and replaced them with 40 [table] tennis tables. That was during the [turn of the century] craze for the game."***** But it was Parker, with over 50 Spalding Sports Stores across the country willing to help promote Ping-Pong clubs, leagues, and tournaments, who seemed to have a monopoly on everyone’s attention. After all, as that covering reporter noted, didn’t the Parker firm manufacture not only Ping-Pong but "640 other indoor games of which Mr. Parker personally [had] invented more than 200"?
And the players, particularly those who’d advanced to the Quarter’s, were they as happy as Mr. Parker--over the playing conditions, for example? Well, says that reporter, since there were "eight feet of free space behind each [table]...most of the contestants wore leather-soled shoes because rubber ones gripped the carpet and made it slide." Play in this ballroom was on a carpet? Apparently so--even for the following late rounds:
Close-match Quarter’s: Coleman Clark d. Digory McEwan, 18, -18, 19, 18; Chet Wells d. Richard Wilson, 11, 17, -16, -19, 17; James Jacobson d. Court Gerstmann, -12, 12, 15, -19, 18; Abe Krakauer d. William Weinberg, -21, 16, -12, 10, 10. Semi’s: Clark d. Wells, 14, 17, 16; Krakauer d. Jacobson, 17, -16, 18, -11, 23. Final: Clark d. Krakauer,10, 13, 15.
As you can see, the Singles winner of these 1932 Championships--and in the years to come he would make the most of it--was mid-thirtyish Coleman "Cokey" Clark. Once having gotten by Joe Blatt in the 8th’s in 5, he avenged his 1931 loss to #3-ranked "Chet" Wells, and then in the final he scored an easy win over Abe Krakauer who, though attending New York University, was probably still managing the Game Room at his Tompkins Square Boys’ Club. Said young Krakauer, a former member of the swim team at DeWitt Clinton High School and a sometime (bantamweight) sparring partner for his brother Archie, "I almost collapsed after five close sets with Jimmy Jacobson ten minutes before I started against Clark at 2 o’clock in the morning" (Harry Grayson in GSS I, 82).
The Westchester players fought it out in the first-time Men’s Doubles event with Westchester Closed Champ Jacobson and George T. Bacon, Jr. downing Wells and Schaad in the final in straight games. Clark says in Modern Ping-Pong that Jacobson and Bacon "signaled to one another before every service so that the other might know where to expect the return from the type of sidespin imparted to the ball" (61). Jimmy had what Clark calls not so much a "freakish" as an "unorthodox" grip: "[he] puts his thumb along the edge of the bat with his forefinger stretched along the middle of the blade...[then] strikes the ball on the same side of the racket from either side of the body" (22). He thus anticipates the "windshield-wiper" grips of the U.S. Champions in the 1970’s and early ‘80’s, Danny Seemiller and Eric Boggan. Jacobson "blocks with the greatest nonchalance the hardest slams," says Clark, and can "put away for keeps the set-ups" (52). William R. Stewart, whom we’ll shortly meet as one of the first organizers of the USTTA, also speaks of Jimmy’s fast, flat kill-shots and adds that he quite unstylishly hits "backhand and center alley returns from a stooping position with his racket in front of his face" (67). By season’s end, the APPA would rank Jacobson U.S. #2.
As for the APPA’s #1, Clark--at this point in history, what might we know about him?
Who better to tell us than the expatriate Japanese penhold defensive star Yoshio Fushimi, APPA #8 for 1932, whose showmanship Clark valued. In Modern Ping-Pong
Clark pictures Fushimi "rushing towards the table like a mad bull to return a short shot just over the net," only to crash "headlong into a ladder on the top of which perched a referee"
--whereupon, as Yosh returned the ball and won the point, down came "the ladder, referee, ice water and all" (52).
Fushimi, who 50 years later would still be involved in U.S. table tennis by helping Bill Hornyak run his annual Michigan City, IN Duneland tournaments, was one of Cokey’s most valued exhibition partners. Since they played churches and schools, country clubs, Big Ten basketball games, and night clubs together, Yosh is well qualified to offer this background on Clark:
"Coleman Clark was born...[Mar. 13] 1896, later graduated from the University of Chicago where he starred on the football and basketball teams. He was captain of the tennis team and in 1916 won the Big Ten doubles championship.
He served overseas during the 1st World War as an ambulance driver in the French and American armies and was decorated with the French Legion of Honor [Croix de Guerre] for gallantry in action. After the war, he was a member of the Chicago Athletic Association track team and...[was] the 1922 Central A.A. U. shot- put champion.
He was employed by A. C. Allyn and Company, stock and bond brokerage firm, whose president once owned the Chicago White Sox Baseball Club" [Aug. 14, ‘89 Fushimi letter to me].
Yosh also speaks in this letter of how he himself came to know the early Chicago Ping-Pong scene and thus meet and practice with Cokey (so nicknamed, it’s said, because of his fondness for Coca-Cola):
"One day in [Jan.?], 1930, I saw an article in the Chicago Daily News that a major Ping-Pong tournament would be held in Highland Park, a suburban village north of Chicago. I hopped on a train to witness the matches as I used to play in my high school days in Shizuoka, Japan [Josh came to this country, to Chicago, to work for his uncle’s import firm, the Fuji Trading Co., in the fall of 1925 at age 19].
The tournament director spotted me among the spectators and asked me if I played the game and urged me to enter the tournament just for fun, and to add an international flavor to the championship. He took me to a basement room to practice with me and explained to me that they...[played a] 21 point game instead of [the] 10 point game I used [to] play 5 years ago in Japan."
Much to his surprise, says Yosh, he almost won this tournament, lost in the final to that year’s Chicago District Open and Closed Champion Ray Leininger--a loss Yoshio, as runner-up to Coleman Clark, would avenge the next year in the 1931 Chicago District Closed Championship.
A few weeks after his introduction to the local ping-pong scene, Fushimi did win the Chicago North Shore tournament at Kenilworth, Illinois, downing in the final Robert Clark, Cokey’s brother, who was the President of the Western Ping-Pong Association. This victory, he says in that ‘89 letter to me, led him "to be invited to [the homes of] some of the wealthy families...[in] the Chicago suburbs on Sunday afternoons where neighbors gathered to play ping-pong. It was their life style in those days, instead of [the] T.V. football parties enjoyed by them now [in the late 1980’s]."
By this time, too, he’d been invited by Coleman Clark and Ray Leininger to practice with them every Saturday afternoon in downtown Chicago at the Interfraternity Club. This Club, Yosh, quoting from Clark’s Modern Ping-Pong (78), tells us, consisted "of a thousand college fraternity men," and had the "finest ping-pong facilities in the country." There were four tables in a room that had been "scientifically lighted and decorated to afford ideal playing conditions."
Finest facilities in the country? Perhaps. But how seriously did these well-off frat men take the sport? You, Yosh, were runner-up in a Chicago-area tournament when you hadn’t played for 4-5 years! Not a bad result, eh? Just how good were you when you were a high school tennis and table tennis coach back in Japan? Or, perhaps more to the point, just how good were the best of those Chicago contemporaries of yours?
In Ping-Pong Schaad speaks of a tournament in "the early part of 1930"--the first Chicago District Championship--played at the Highland Park Club:
"There were 84 entrants with seven tables, the entire tournament being played by the process of elimination in one night. Mr. Ray Leininger came off champion with Coleman Clark of the Interfraternity Club of Chicago, runner-up. Mr. Clark, however, won the Interfraternity Handicap Championship from scratch, defeating Mr. Leininger in the finals" (41).
But just what this local dominance means the following season relative to the best New York players can be seen in Schaad’s 1930-31 National Rankings where only Clark is ranked among the top 22 players in the country.
Still, by 1932 Cokey, who with his brother Robert had learned the game on the family dining room table, knew how to win a major tournament. He’d won the APPA Western Championship two years running, twice scoring wins over penhold-topspinner Max Rushakoff who soon, for a short time (challenged by his successors Paul Pearson and Billy Condy), would become Chicago’s best player. But no win of Cokey’s before or after could ever begin to match that big one at the Waldorf--the 1932 APPA National Championship. Here, in his own words, is what he felt on winning:
"I think I have had my share of thrills. One could scarcely drive a Ford ambulance up and down the battle front for fifteen months during the World War without feeling a chill or two along his spinal column. Be that as it may, I shall recall as long as I live the delicious buzzing in my ears on the night of April 16, 1932, as my Interfraternity Club team mates swarmed over the barricades in the magnificent grand ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York City, formed a circle about me, and sang as they never sang before that inspiring University of Illinois song which opens with the refrain, "Hail to the Orange.’ Nor shall I soon forget how proud I felt as George Swinnerton Parker, donor of the Parker Cup, perpetual symbol of ping-pong supremacy, presented it to me with a gracious speech. Sidney Lenz was there, too, clasping my hand in his friendly way. Then there was Conrad Nagel, Nancy Carroll, Johnny Weismuller and a sea of smiling faces. Flashlights boomed, little boys pushed ping-pong balls under my nose to autograph, and everything was pink. It was hard to believe that I had won ping- pong’s highest award, the National Championship of the United States" (Modern Ping-Pong, 79).
What fun, huh?
1932 NYTTA National Championship
And the "outlaw" New York Table Tennis Association--were they too having a glorious National’s?
Well, go up to the 9th floor of L. Bamberger and Company Department Store in Newark, N.J., pay your 50 cents admission fee ($1 for the final), and find out.
Since you could play in this NYTTA National’s even if you were a Ping-Pong member (though presumably an uncommitted one), there was at least a decent turnout--close to 150 entries. And again a reporter was struck by what a great social leveler the Sport was:
"The [entry] list includes artists, bankers, newspapermen, lumber men, aviators, educators, students, Boy Scouts, business men, Wall Street men, social workers, lawn tennis players of standing, and one taxi driver and one messenger boy" (MMS, 67).
Curious as to who that messenger boy was? Sol Schiff maybe? He was, or rather soon would be, a 14-year-old working after school and on weekends, delivering packages for Schussheim’s Rapid Messenger Service. But, no, it wasn’t Sol. He told me he didn’t have the fare to go over to Bamberger’s. However, as it happened, he had been able to enter the Ping-Pong National’s at the Waldorf because, as he says, he "was just a kid" (though already a very good player). That APPA draw, he points out, was loaded; anyone suspected of being more loyal to TT than PP was crowded into one half and sooner rather than later eliminated. Perhaps, though, Sol exaggerates, for the Draw seems fairly balanced to me.
The very great majority of players in the May 12-14 Bamberger NYTTA National’s were of course from the N.Y.-N.J. area. But there was some representation from other parts of the country.
Though 1929/1930 Philadelphia City Champ Max Rudolph didn’t show, there were two very important player-representatives from that area present--Thomas C. Bradley and Carl Zeisberg--both of whom would shortly be instrumental in forming the United States Table Tennis Association (USTTA). Bradley had already organized the Drexel Park, PA Ping-Pong Club and, also, just two months earlier, an intercity match between Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington.
There were players from Maryland and North Carolina, from Pittsburgh, Rochester (though not Tex Lloyd), Indianapolis, and Chicago (yes, there were "outlaw" players there too; indeed, they were everywhere). Dr. H. L. Mercer from H. E. Webb’s Table Tennis Room in Kansas City didn’t come, nor (though a player from Nebraska was entered) did Omaha’s 6’ 4" Ray Phelps who’d win the 1933 Iowa Championship. Phelps had a "shovel" grip, and, like N.Y.’s Jacobson, used only one side of the racket for both forehand and backhand--thought he could get to balls faster that way. However, unlike Jacobson, he used two different surfaces--sandpaper and rubber. "When I run into a chop artist or a fingerspin...expert," he once said, " I use the sand side....But when I have the advantage in spin I stick to the rubber side." In Jacobson, who signaled to his doubles partner, and Phelps, who used his racket to double-sided advantage, we see examples of how what were thought "innovations" in the Sport decades later were already long anticipated and how Table Tennis History repeats itself.
Joyce Portnoy, winner of the Missouri State Open over Vernon Tietjin in 1932 and Ernie Trobaugh, Jr. in 1933 (the year he also defeated Armando Correa to win the California State Open) might have been a participant to watch in these National’s, but maybe at the time N.Y. was just too far for him to come? Still, entrants registered from Texas and New Mexico. Of course the West Coast was 3,000 miles away. Ditto the Northwest. However, Portland, with sponsorship help from the A. G. Spalding Co., did hold in 1932 both a City Championship and a Pacific Coast Championship. Naturally, though, its best players, George Couch and Don Vaughan, as well as Seattle’s Harry Packard, the Pacific Coast Champion, could hardly be expected to hop a plane cross-country to...a department store.
Some names of interest appearing in the Bamberger draw were: Phil Miller, whom Schaad, the season before, had called a "comer"; Sydney Heitner, the 1932 Bronx Champion with, oh, that heavy forehand chop; ‘32 Brooklyn Champ Bernie Joel; Fred C. George, "60-year-old former New Jersey Champion" (actually the first, in 1930); ‘32 Metro Junior Champ Isadore Rosenblatt and runner-up Frank (Freddie) Tencza; John A. Morgan, who, in addition to being the 1932-33 President of the NYTTA, would be Chairman of the 1934 NYTTA-sponsored first USTTA National’s; ‘32 Manhattan Champion Henry Rabinowicz; the Festger brothers, Fred and Bill, the latter editor of the short-lived Jan., 1934 leaflet New York Table Tennis and for three subsequent months co-editor with Carl Zeisberg of the official USTTA publication Table Tennis Topics; and Sam Silberman, later coach of our one and only World Singles Champion Ruth Aarons, with whom he would win the first and last (1934) APPA Mixed Doubles Championship.
Other entries important enough to be mentioned here were: Rudy Schaumann, ‘33-34 NYTTA Recording Secretary; George Schein, 92nd St. YMHA mentor to young Sol Schiff and many another aspiring youngster; Joe LeBow, soon to be Pennsylvania State Champ; Francis J. MacCoy, Jr., future President of the New Jersey TTA; Ralph H. Langsam and Lloyd Waterson, NYTTA National Doubles Champs in ‘33; 14-year-old Manny Moskowitz, who, later, much later, would be the sole U. S. umpire to officiate in the 1983 World Championships, and Manny’s Rutherford High schoolmate, 6’6" basketball star Mel Silverman (afterwards Florida psychiatrist Mel Sylvan).
Silverman, prepatory to playing the flamboyant Willard Rogers in the final of the 1932 N.J. State Championship, decided he’d go to the movies to take his mind off the coming match. And, unbelievable, what did he see? A Warner Brothers short with famed sports announcer Ted Husing narrating clips of a ping-pong tournament that featured, among others, Rogers--the intimidating showman and great crowd-pleaser fond of using a wooden racket primarily because the click of the ball on the wood accentuated the swashbuckling strokes he acrobatically preferred. No, Silverman did not afterwards go out and win that N.J. final--he lost the first two games to Rogers and couldn’t quite recover.
In these 1932 NYTTA National’s, however, no shots were taken of, or by, the "Bounding Basque." He’d been defaulted--or withdrew--supposedly because of an ankle injury. The story going round though was that Rogers had appeared "without a player’s pass, was refused admission and left in a huff after being unable to get anyone to come to the door who could identify him" (GSS II, 6). Rogers himself said that after an hour’s wait he finally got into the playing hall but was so disturbed and disgusted that he withdrew. After talking with officials he then left. Next season he’d join a group of players in N.Y.
And the women? Did anyone know who Nina Berman and Fan (Magaric) Pockrose were? Titleholders of some kind, they hyped these National’s in an exhibition. But, sorry, no women allowed in the Championships proper. Maybe next year.
Defending Champ Schussheim’s opening match was against steady forehand topspinner Rudy Rubin who was said to have had "a tricky side-spin slice that was practically as effective as the real drop shot later brought over from Europe by Schussheim" (Dick Geiger in TTT, Apr., 1941, 4). However, as one reporter put it, Mark, "without changing from his street clothing, nonchalantly stepped up to the table and conquered in successive games" (MMS, 67). Amazing, was it? And not a little patronizing. Sixty years later, Joe Blatt still recalled vividly how Mark was not well liked by the players, how he’d cockily come over to a draw and say, ‘Let’s see, who do I play in the semi’s?...Oh, he’s no problem." Perhaps it was Mark’s air of invincibility that had prompted one awestruck teenage Boys’ Club reporter to say a year earlier that it "would take a supernatural player to defeat Schussheim" (MMS, 25).
Other players of course were not so casual, were hard-pressed to win...if not in one round, then in another. In the 8th’s, "South American Champ" Fred Holland upset #2 seed Sydney Heitner in a 19, -12, 21, -10, 19 thriller, and Henry Rabinowicz, down 2-0, outlasted George Schlissel, 18, -14, 11, 18, 15.
Heitner, however, would go on to win the important June 20-21 1st annual 92nd St. YMHA tournament after going 5 with Rogers in the semi’s, then settling his score with Holland in the final.
Schlissel, Sol Schiff was telling me, used a strange racket--the wooden blade covered with a very thick crude sponge (of the kind that his N.J. Association would unsuccessfully ask the USTTA to ban?)--so that often if his matches went the full 5 games, his 3-5 pound racket became just too heavy for him to play well with.
Viennese-born Rabinowicz, who laid claim to being Ruth Aarons’ "first"
instructor, would later, in World War II, en route to winning the Purple Heart and three battle stars, catch a couple of bullets in his playing arm. I met him in the early 1970’s and understandably his feelings about the War were still strong: "Hitler took an innocent man and killed him just because he was Jewish. Such a man as Hitler could never win the War. Why? Because God decides who wins." Bent in concentration, he was watching the matches there at the Westfield, New Jersey Club, surveying the scene after a long absence. "There are so many colored people playing now," he said. "There wasn’t one when I was playing." I wanted to know if he was still active. "Oh, yes," he said--"at the Brighton Beach Baths in Brooklyn, where there are seven open-air tables. Sometimes a wind comes up and interferes with our game."
Back in the 1932 NYTTA National’s, Rabinowicz, in advancing with an 8th’s win over Schlissel, got the worst of the draw, for in the quarter’s he had to meet Schussheim. Here are the complete late-round results: Quarter’s: Marcus Schussheim d. Henry Rabinowicz, 14, 8, 17; Ralph Langsam d. Captain Arthur Rowe Spurling, -23, 14, 18, 13; Mel Silverman d. Fred Holland, 16, 12, 20; Phil Miller d. Harry Osterweil, 12, 15, -19, 13. Semi’s: Schussheim d. Langsam, 12, -20, 10, 17; Miller d. Silverman, 15, 17, 19. Final Schussheim d. Miller, 19, -20, 16, 10.
One reporter had this to say about the final Championship match:
"He [Schussheim] allowed Miller to do the hard driving, but he kept the ball going back at him so fast that Miller had little chance to set himself for his drives. Schussheim made some remarkable gets all through the match, robbing his opponent time and again of what looked like sure points..." (MMS, 69).
At 1932 season’s end, with their separate and distinct National Championships having drawn to a close, the rival Associations would rank their Top 10 players as follows:
American Ping-Pong Association:
1. Coleman Clark. 2. James M. Jacobson. 3. W. C. "Chet" Wells.
4. Max Rushakoff. 5. George T. Bacon, Jr. 6. Frank Work. 7. Richard H. Wilson.
8. Yoshio Fushimi. 9. Edward Svigals. 10. D. W. "Digory" McEwan.
New York Table Tennis Association:
1. Marcus Schussheim. 2. Sydney Heitner. 3. Henry Rabinowicz.
4. Phil Miller. 5. Fred H. Holland. 6. Seymour Solomon. 7. Willard T. Rogers.
8. Elisio Da Silva. 9. Harry Osterweil. 10. Ralph Langsam.
So. There again was Schussheim: sitting on top of the table tennis world: #1. Or on one of the twin peaks anyway. Did he mind sharing that honor with a man he could give, say, at least 3 points a game to? Would he, after all, have preferred to be in Coleman Clark’s APPA position? Have had Clark’s relationship with Parker Brothers?
In a July 6, 1987 letter to USTTA Executive Vice-President Gus Kennedy, Mark Matthews (who half a century earlier as "Marcus Schussheim" had already begun to disappear, his name fading away in an even then seldom looked at Scrapbook) summed up his feelings this way:
"...In 1932, I was 20 years old [or would be in August], and very very immature and somewhat naive and stupid....[The] members of the new Table Tennis Association felt it was very important that I [being National Champion] become part of the new group, convincing me that no sport could ever grow if it is owned lock, stock, and barrel by a private company. Looking back, I now feel it was a terrible mistake. Parker Bros. spent lots of money developing the sport which was becoming very popular all over the country. More important, they were well organized. They spent money on publicity, advertising and running beautiful tournaments at exclusive hotels. When the new association took over, the whole picture changed. The new association depended on getting donations from the small table tennis manufacturers which amounted to very little. The new association held the 1932 National Table Tennis Championship at Bamberger’s Department Store in Newark, New Jersey while Parker Bros. held its National Championship in the main ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, one of the most famous hotels in the world. As usual, the tournament had many celebrities as guests, all in formal attire. The official[s] and referees also were dressed in formal clothes and...[this] gave the tournament a feeling of importance. From the player’s point of view, all this meant nothing [sic] but it did a great deal for the sport. When I compare the tournament at...[the Waldorf] to the tournament at...[Bamberger’s,] it would be like comparing the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament to a local parks tournament....The only spectators at Bamberger’s were players and their...[families]...."
What is Mark saying in his old age? That without money, without glamour, the Sport is doomed? That it will never get much recognition if at this point in History some governing body other than Parker Brothers prevails?
*Schaad in his Ping-Pong hype said that Tilden was a "very expert and brilliant" player (35). Coleman Clark said that Tilden "is scarcely above the dub class. He still prefers to play lawn tennis rules and selects the obsolete, old-fashioned sandpaper rackets" (TTT, Nov., 1937, 4).
**From Tunis’s "Sport in Miniature," an American Mercury article reprinted in Reader’s Digest, Mar., 1934, 43-45 (RHS, 63). Perhaps of the celebrities mentioned, Howard Dietz is the only name not well-known. He was identified as a composer (MMS, 41), "co-author of Bandwagon" (TTT, Feb., 1948, 14), "MGM publicity director" (MMS, 36), and "MGM promotion chief" (TTT, May, 1936, 10). Berenbaum, Schiff, and Schussheim are of course New Yorkers, but Schiff, for one, did not come from the Lower Eastside. Ray Lipschutz was from Philadelphia. Tunis didn’t care about being careful and (because Parker Brothers was paying him to write this article?) seemed only to want to suggest Jewish names that would not give Table Tennis the "celebrity-status" or "respectability" Ping-Pong offered.
In the Sunday, June 30, 1991 issue of the Los Angeles Times, there’s a review by G.K. Oswald of Tunis’s life and work. Tunis "may have been the most successful free-lance writer of the day," says Oswald--which meant that this ("hired gun"?) piece on Ping-Pong was nothing more to him ("Writing is a business," he said) than just one of the "estimated 2,000 newspaper and magazine articles" he wrote to make a living. From this Ping-Pong excerpt I’ve quoted though, you’d never think that in his kids’ sports novels, on which his fame rests, two of his sub-plots would revolve, as Oswald says, on "Bobby Russell learning to accept that being Jewish does not disqualify a major-league catcher," and on "a whole town dealing with race and class prejudice and rooting for a black forward."
***Unidentified (Chicago?) table tennis writer (perhaps Reginald Hammond) who, in a Neuberger-compiled Binder has a series of comments on each year’s Intercities, up through 1940.
****See Section B, Sports, of the Sept. 21, 1994 issue of Sun City, AZ’s Daily News-Sun: "Cinnater introduced the sport to co-workers at the Missouri-Pacific Railroad in the early 1930’s. There, he converted an empty room into a table tennis room complete with four tables. As peers caught on, Cinnater organized leagues [then joined the APPA]." See also TTT, May-June, 1934, 1.
*****Carl Zeisberg in Mar. 26, 1938 Philadelphia Evening Bulletin (GSS II, 81).