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
After the U.S. Team's return from the English Open, the two biggest tournaments prepatory to the March National's were the Eastern's at Washington, D.C. and the Western's at Kansas City, Mo, both held in parallel fashion the last weekend in Feb.
Schiff was eager to play the minute he got back and so must have lamented the fact that he'd just missed the Middle Atlantic States Championships. A good thing, though, he hadn’t been riding with Charlie Schmidt down to that Baltimore tournament:
"‘Charlie,’ says one of his fellow New York passengers, ‘watch that truck up ahead!’
‘I see it,’ he acknowledges.
‘Charlie!’ another player yells. ‘Watch that truck ahead!’
‘I see it,’ Charlie says....Then drives right into it!"
"He vas good, but I vas better"--that was Charlie's signature phrase. Now for a time not to be heard, since Charlie would be out of the game for a while, recovering.*
Two of the New Yorkers riding with Schmidt were Charlie Mintz and Seymour Solomon--the latter "nervous as a player or as a spectator" said his contemporary George "Gus" Sempeles (and so how much more nervous as Schmidt’s passenger!). Since reportedly Seymour wore a hearing aid, perhaps he didn’t hear clearly the first warning to Schmidt and so yelled out the second? Solomon was the 1933 NYTTA National’s runner-up who’d halted Marcus Schussheim’s string of successes, and his angled-off penhold attack had been much admired by Sempeles. But, said Gus, "When Mintz persuaded Solomon to switch from penholder to shakehands, Seymour’s game dropped 3-5 points."
Sam Silberman, having recovered from an injured rib, managed to win this Middle Atlantic tournament after being down to fellow New Yorker, U.S. #19 Melvin Rose. Emily Fuller took the Women's--beating first Swathmore high school student Ruth Wilson (winner of the Philadelphia Club for Women and Penn State Open January tournaments) and then Baltimore's own, Dorothy Halliday. More a blot than a dot in the private writ of Fuller's game-plan, Halliday, in going 5, showed Fuller she'd better get to playing ever more seriously if in just five weeks she wanted to be National Champ. Trenton's Forrest Sweeney, Men's Doubles winner with Abbott Nelson, lost in Men's Singles when Tournament Chair Manny Moskowitz and other officials agreed to enforce not of course the ITTF 20-minute Time Rule but the U.S. Expedite Rule (which comes into effect if the ball's crossed the net 25 straight times).
Schiff, back in the U.S. only one day after his success at the World's, immediately entered the N.Y. Metro Open. However, despite a -18, -4, 20, 9, -17 rally, he wasn't on firm enough ground yet to withstand Johnny Abrahams's semi's attack. Though Johnny had lost to Izzy Bellis two weeks earlier in the final of the Penn State Open, here in this Metro final he 7, 19, 11 overpowered Doug Cartland, whose steady, locked-wrist topspin had proved deuce-in-the-4th too much for Abe Berenbaum. Abe, apparently curtailing his play more and more, was already "being boomed" (particularly by the N.Y. Team members?) as Captain of our '39 World Team to Cairo (TTT, Mar., 1938, 12). But since the USTTA had no money to budget such a trip and was in fact almost $450 in arrears from the last World’s (which is just about what a 1939 round trip ticket to Cairo per player would cost), how would Capt. Abe and his players get there? So far, the Sphinx wasn't saying.
Schiff was the only U.S. Men’s Team member who went to Washington for the Eastern's--but that wasn't the reason he got a lot of attention. After beating Silberman in the quarter's, he was faced with Bellis who'd taken out the Massachusetts and New England Closed Champ Les Lowry.
Earlier in the season Schiff had acknowledged Bellis as "the greatest defensive player in America," and said that if he would only "learn to attack in the pinches he would be on top" (TTT, Dec., 1937, 14).
Now in their semi's match, despite the fact that in the first two games (which they'd split) Sol was hitting and Izzy chopping, they'd gotten into such a cautiously played 3rd game that after a particularly long rally the Expedite Rule--which, since its inception, badly needed modifying--was put in. As might be expected, Schiff, the better all-around player, won this game. The 4th Bellis won--but, since the ball never crossed the net 25 uninterrupted times, the Rule was not in effect. (Today, once put in, the Expedite Rule has to stay in the rest of the match.)
In the 5th, the ball again crossed the net 25 times, so the Rule was back in. In 1938 this meant that if the server's opponent succeeded in returning the ball for the 13th time, the server had to forfeit not just the point but the entire match! (TTT, Feb, 1938, 6). With Schiff down 18-14 and serving, play exceeded the 25-stroke limit--which meant that Sol had lost the match, did it?
No. For the Tournament Committee, apparently unbeknown to Schiff and Bellis, neither of whom seemed to fully understand the Rule, had found a USTTA By-Law which gave them the authority to agree among themselves beforehand that such a transgression should only be penalized a point (see W. Cameron Burton’s Feb. 28, 1938 letter to William F. Dismer, Jr.). The chief parties concurring in this change were the Chair of the tournament (soldier-lawyer George F. Foster of D.C. who in WWI had served with the 79th Division of the American Expeditionary Forces in France) and the D.C. TTA President (W. Cameron Burton).
At this 19-14 in the 5th point, Sol nevertheless walked off court--for the second time--saying, as he'd said before, that he wanted to default the match. Earlier, Sol had been irritated by Izzy's repeated catching of his serves, the more so because of the umpire's continued assurance that he had no trouble seeing the ball in Schiff's hand. Also, Sol had been convinced that when it was Bellis's turn at offense (according to the Rule, all the server's strokes had to be offensive) some of his strokes were more defensive than offensive. No surprise of course that Bellis then leveled the same charge against Schiff. Such an accusation not just in this match but in so many others sometimes had to be an exasperatingly hard call for the umpire. Ought, say, a shot that may or may not set up a following forehand be considered a "sharply-angled placement" (offensive) or a change-of-pace, more-to-the-center "block-shot" (defensive)?
Perhaps what really bothered Schiff here--might have been at the rub of his I-want-to-default frustration--was the humiliating thought that he was accused of playing like a chiseler. It may well be that, being primarily an attacker, he'd always disdained the Expedite Rule, really didn't know or care to know its variations and any local ramification that might be applied to it. At any event, each time part of him wanted to quit, the other part of him was persuaded, by Morris Bassford and others, to return to the table. And, ironically, from 19-14 down, he eventually won this match.
Which drew the sardonic response in Topics that, "because they thought the wrong man won, many of the 1,000 spectators needed cough drops next morning to ease their hoarse throats" (Apr., 1938, 12). Schiff then went on to beat Jimmy Jacobson, 20, 17, 20, in the final.
Emily Fuller, the favorite, took the Women's by defeating Mae Clouther who earlier, after losing in the New England Closed to Stahl, had won the Massachusetts Closed over Shields. Their play? Nothing apparently to cheer about.Hendry, Kuenz Western Winners
Over in Kansas City, MO at the Scottish-Rite Temple this same weekend, George Hendry, the only other member of the '38 Men’s Team ready to play, seemed a little wobbly too. In the quarter's he had to go 5 to beat K.C.'s U.S. #23 Herman Mercer (who'd been 10-6 at the Intercities with a win over Abrahams). But then in the semi's, on meeting Blattner who, inactive though he might be, was still not going to lose to a top local player, Tom Howle, Hendry, having learned to put the ball first to Bud’s far forehand then to his backhand, moved on, presumably with some ease, to the final. Whereupon, in what must have been a rousing climax to the tournament, George -17, -18, 6, 21, 11 took the attack away from Garrett Nash to win the Championship. The Western’s seemed to be a special tournament for George, for the earlier one he’d won, in 1936, 18 in the 5th over "his tutor" Bill Price, he saw as the turning point of his career.
Hendry later said that while he as a defender had had trouble adjusting to the lower net (his floaters weren't cutting it, as they say, so he had to learn a heavy chop), Nash as an attacker came into his own. "Garrett appeared to some to be wild and reckless," said George, "but he really wasn't. He was quite savvy and got a lot out of his game."
Indeed. While Hendry was playing abroad, Nash had beaten Edwin Woody to take the Missouri Valley at Omaha, and then, coming into the Western's, he'd won tournaments three weeks in a row. First, the Ohio State in Columbus, where, in a spectacular final with Earl Coulson, who invariably wore a dinky hat to hide some head scars,** Garrett had -14, -16, 23, 15, 10 resurrected his and the spectators' view of his game. Then the Central States in Huntington, IN--over Tournament Chair Ned Steele, who in the semi's had one-upped Nash's comeback win over Coulson the week before: Steele, from 20-15 match-point-down in the 5th, had 19, -12, -17, 23, 23 downed poor Earl (who did at least beat Ned in their following week's final at Fort Wayne). And, finally, Nash had won the Illinois Open at Evanston, downing in the semi's St. Joe Valley victor Al Nordhem and in the final Ralph Muchow (himself a recent double winner in Chicago tournaments).
Topics Editor Joe Berna printed only bare-bones results for this Western's and other tournaments--said there just weren't enough ads in Topics to print additional pages. But I presume one of the eager entries was 14-year-old Frank "Bud" Miller who a month before had defeated Claude Edwards to win the Kansas City Metro Open. Bud was 0-6 at the Intercities, but "Experts" were saying that he was "better than George Hendry was when he was 14" (TTT, Mar., 1938, 16). In this year’s National’s, Miller would beat Indianapolis’s Charles Tichener in the first round of the Boy’s, then lose in the quarter’s to Albert Arace. Arace would then fail to defend his title in a harrowing deuce-in-the-5th final with fellow New Jerseyite Scott Stickle. By the end of not this season but another full season of play, Tichenor would win the first of his two successive U.S. Boy’s Championships, and Miller (see Kansas City...Handbook, 1939-40, 35) would be ranked #14 in MO.
The Women's Singles? Dolores Kuenz, of the '37 winning U.S. Corbillon Cup Team, showed she wasn't ready for retirement yet by beating the Missouri Valley Champion, young Sally Green. Sally was fast building a reputation, had taken tournaments the past two weekends--both of them over Helen Ovenden, winner of January's Chicago Cook County and St. Joe Valley Opens. The veteran Ovenden was suddenly doing O.K., too, huh? Hammond couldn't bring himself to rank her last year, but this year he wouldn't be able to keep her out of the Top 12.Beginning of Hammond and Wilkinson Cups
As would be obvious from an inspection of tournament draw sheets, particularly in the Midwest during this mid-season time, some players--like Garrett Nash or (studies or no studies) Sally Green--were inveterate Circuit regulars, playing every week or almost every week.
To encourage such participation had been the purpose behind the new Reginald G. Hammond Cup for Men, the Mildred Wilkinson Cup for Women. These Cups (see TTT, Dec., 1937, 17) were given to those competitors who during the season earned the most "points" in U.S. competition--the points being graded according to the importance of the tournament and one's performance in it (the National's, for example, being worth four times as much to those who made, say, the semi's there as opposed to those who made a semi's in a State Open). As Hammond’s Sept. 27, 1937 letter to the E.C. and Ranking Committee explained, since the "race" had to be open to all players, obviously international tournaments, like the World's or the English Open, could not be counted (penalizing, in effect, the country's best players who were tied up for four weeks abroad). Nor could the Intercities be counted, for only seven teams were allowed to participate.
Since Hammond thought of the idea (originally he'd proposed a "Zeisberg trophy"), Zeisberg felt the Men's Cup should rightly be named after Reg. The Women's Cup (again following a suggestion by Zeisberg) was named after Wilkinson because she'd taken the initiative to organize the Tryouts for our '37 Corbillon Cup Team.
Realizing the appeal to the players--compare today's long list of Ratings where everybody’s name gets into print--Hammond argued convincingly that "what will do wonders [for participation in our tournaments] is printing a list of the 50 or more leaders each month in TOPICS."And print them Topics did. So, as the players came into the heavily-weighted Eastern's/Western's and National's (tournaments the Association particularly wanted more entries in), a March, '38 Topics headline shouted that the races were "Hot" and listed 67 players Ranking Committeeman George Schein had recorded as having anywhere from 50 points to 3 points.Bellak Successfully Defends His U.S. Men’s Singles Championship
On the one hand, the sponsoring PA TTA wanted to encourage entries in the Mar. 24-26 (Thurs. evening through Saturday afternoon) Philadelphia National's; on the other, they wanted an elite field--as the hype had it, "Only the best" for this "MAJOR SPORT."
The playing venue decided on by General Chairman Bob Metcalf (soon to succeed Urban R. Lamay as President of the thriving PA TTA) and his Assistant Chair Gene Smolens was the Hotel Broadwood. Here, so convenient to the matches, a player could be accomodated in the men's dormitory, with shower and towel, and the free use of the hotel's pool and gymnasium, at a cost of only $1 a day, half as much as a private room with tile bath.
However, the entries this year compared to last were far more limited (perhaps in part because the tournament, played on 12 Detroiter A tables, 6 of which would be in the ballroom, and 3 in each adjacent lounge, for some reason was not extending over to Sunday). Last year the Men's event permitted a Draw for 128, this year only 64; also, last year the entry fee was $2, this year $5 (which included the first-round losers’ usual option of entering the Consolation). The Women's, the Veteran's (had to be 35 on the day the event started), and the Boys (couldn't be older than 14 on the day the event started) were all limited to 32--with the entry fee for Women and Veterans $3 and for Boys $1. General admission for any one of the six separate sessions ranged from $.57 to $.75 (for the featured matches); Reserved Balcony Box Seats from $.86 to $1.14. A Reserved Seat ticket good for all sessions cost $3.50. Also, want to show off your table tennis wares? Only $25 for an Exhibit Booth for the entire tournament--no extra charges.
These arrangements seemed to be half encouraging, half discouraging. At any event, there were 60 entered in Men's Singles, 30 in Women's Singles, 14 in the Veteran's, and 25 in the Boy's. With only one exception, no one who entered the Veteran's or the Boy's entered the Men's Singles. There didn't seem to be any law against it, but, even if you could afford it, it apparently just wasn't done. The one exception was a purely honorary one: Philadelphia Senior Champion Thomas C. Bradley, "Father of U.S. Table Tennis," as Zeisberg repeatedly called him, would be given the honor of playing Defending Champ Bellak in the 1st round of the Men’s. An embarrassing honor? Never fear, everyone would be laughing at Laci.
For the first time, players came to the National's from the far-off Northwest. Don Vaughan and Ray Pearson had passed up the Mar. 11-12 Pacific Coast Open (won by Beverly Hills Tennis Club pro Bill Weisbuck over Don Terry and others), and, breaking their long trip in Kansas City, had attended the Western's where they were defeated in the eighth's by relatively weak players. USTTA Nominations Chair and about-to-be Recording Secretary Vaughan, who a few months earlier had lost his chance for the Portland City title he'd first won in '33 to Hal Philan, was not as strong a player as Seattle's Pearson. Of course Hammond couldn't seed Pearson among the top 8 here--he wasn’t ranked at all last year--but, as he noted to his Committeemen George Schein and Elmer Cinnater, he wanted to put him in the next 8 as a "complimentary and publicity" gesture.
The Oregon TTA President, mountain climber Telore W. Abendroth, whose unusual first name (see Bob Viducich article in the 1979 Pacific Northwest Open Program) was a composite of two papers--the Telegram and the Oregonian--his dad had worked on about the time he was born, didn’t make the journey to Philadelphia. Nor did the Washington TTA President, Rudy Ursic, who was about to marry Seattle’s #2 woman player, Marian Hoffman.
But three other Northwest players, all from Seattle, participated. Two of them were Western Oregon Champ Walter Judd, who’d lost at least three recent tournaments to Pearson, and 17-year-old Georgianna Fossas, winner of the Jan. Washington State, the Feb. Victoria, B.C. Open, and the just played Pacific Coast Championships where she’d outlasted tennis great Pauline Betz (TTT, Apr., 1938, 13).
At the National’s, Vaughan, Pearson, Judd, and the "very pretty "Miss Fossas, a brunette, whose hair, reporter Betty Hardesty noted, "hangs in a long bob nicely waved on the ends" (GSS I, 166), would all lose in the first round. However, prior to his play here at the Broadwood Hotel, Pearson, making the most of his cross-country trip, had gone up to and won the MA Middlesex Open over Arthur Sweeney. Now at the Broadwood he would give the MA #1 Lowry a good battle in the quarter’s of the Consolation. Also, George B. Fossas, Georgianna’s father, reached the quarter’s of the Over 35’s before losing to Mamaroneck’s Bill Gunn who provided at least a little competition for Morris Bernstein, winner of this Championship for the second year in a row.
Other far-away entries were Twin Cities rivals Litman and Sirmai. Ed and Ed had come all the way from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area--Litman to make it no further than a NYC hotel room where he was trying to recover from the grippe (TTT, Apr., 1938, 9), and Sirmai to play Pagliaro in the first round. Perhaps, though, playing Paggy was more fun, more a match to remember, than losing in the deciding 3rd to U.S. #22 Lowry in the Consolation's?
What a long trip for so little play it was for most of these competitors. How they must have cared about watching others, particularly the best players of the day. How sociable they must have been: who could imagine any of them not wanting to stay at the Broadwood or missing the Friday night 10-piece orchestra dance there (TTT, Apr., 1938, 3).
One participant, Carl Heyl, "traveled 996 miles to the National's by route of thumb; 27 rides, 47 hours, 46 cents transportation expense" (TTT, May, 1938, 13). Months before, he'd donated $2 to the '38 Fighting Fund, and now was Treasurer of Cleveland's Advance TTA. Young and enthusiastic, he already knew how to spend or not spend money, eh?
With 27 different drivers you never can tell what kind of ride you might have. But neither can anyone else. The car Nash, Nordhem, and Betty Henry were riding in to the National's overturned near Toledo (TTT, Apr, 1938, 8), the very city where 10 days earlier, at the Lake Cities Open, Betty had been soundly beaten by Sally Green, and with Hendry had even lost the Mixed to Nordhem and his South Bend partner Mary Baumbach. Nash might have thought himself jinxed, for, along with Hendry, he’d also had a transportation problem getting to this Lake Cities Open, a well-attended tournament with $500 worth of trophies that would help Toledo secure the following year’s National’s. Enroute from St. Louis, Nash and Hendry were stranded and put in a call to the Greens for help. Then they caught a bus and, after arriving at Indianapolis at 4 a.m., "hiked two miles with grips in hand to the Greens, woke them up, and piled into their car" (Mar. 16, 1938 Toledo News Bee).
No doubt the accident on the way to the Philadelphia National’s shook Henry up more than Nash or Nordhem. In fact, reporter Betty Hardesty wrote that because of an ankle injury, it was "first believed she would be unable to play." Maybe, too, after peaking at the World's Henry’s mind, her body, said, "Look, I can never do better than what I've done, already I'm losing interest." Anyway, gamely presenting herself in her U.S. Team outfit--"dark blue blouse, trim grey slacks, and the red-white-blue belt"--she'd drop a 5-game match in the 1st round of the National's to Brooklyn's fast-improving Ruthe Brewer who'd not even been ranked last season.
In trying to set up a Draw for the Men's Singles at these National's, Hammond begins with Schiff (21-4 in Singles matches at the World's) as the obvious #1 domestic seed, to be positioned in the top half, and Laszlo Bellak, who'd been granted leave from the Hungarian army to defend his title, as the obvious #1 (and only) foreign seed, to be positioned in the bottom half.
But now, as Hammond explains in a Mar. 9, 1938 letter to our World Team Captain Bassford, with copies to Zeisberg, Cinnater, and George Schein, he has a problem with McClure's 3-0 loss to Grimes at the World's. "Assuming that Grimes did beat McClure in a match where both were putting their best into the game, then the ranking of these two and Hendry becomes a difficult triangle with no conclusive answer possible." He wants to know from Bassford if there are any extenuating circumstances in that McClure loss, and gets the reply that "Jimmy complained of being very tired" after his brilliant win over Bergmann. This, coupled with the fact that Hammond doesn't have "any record of [Grimes]...playing in a single tournament in the country this year," decides him.
The East-West "fixed" positioning of the seeded players he suggests to Committeemen Cinnater and Schein will be followed to the letter at the National's. Top half: Schiff vs. Blattner; Bellis vs. Hendry. Bottom half: Pagliaro vs. McClure; Grimes vs. the winner of Nash and Bellak. This seems reasonable--except it's very hard on Nash who, just before these National’s, had won two more tournaments: the March 12-13 Lake Cities Open, when this time he'd "outslugged" Hendry, and the March 19-20 South Bend Studebaker Great Lakes Open where he’d again gotten the better of Coulson. Play to the quarter's did progress almost as anticipated, for only one of these positioned players would not advance.
Schiff, however, who’d been given a bye in his first match, unexpectedly had a 5-game scare from another red-headed lefty, the PA #4, Morris Glatt. Who says giving exhibitions hurts your game? Not Mo who, with Intercollegiate star Len Sarner, had performed at the 500 Club in Atlantic City and elsewhere. Perhaps if Glatt had let his first opponent, Westchester’s Austin "Bud" Briggs win their match, Bud, who’d done the Feb., ‘38 Topics cover-illustration of Bellak, would draw Mo in action too? But then better to take the match, for what would such an illustration later be worth?...Maybe more than you might think, for when nearly half a century later Briggs died, Sandor Glancz, echoing Octavus Roy Cohen’s assessment 35 years earlier (GSS I, 179), remembered him as "one of the greatest illustrators of the century" (TTT, Nov.-Dec., 1973, 16).
Al Nordhem had built up a 10-point lead over Earl Coulson in the Hammond Cup race prior to the Western's and the National's, but he too had to struggle in the 1st round--just got by the Pennsylvania #3 Joe LeBow in 5. In the 2nd round, another 5-game match did him in--he lost to Princeton's Abbott Nelson who himself had had to go an opening 5 games to beat off the forcing play of U.S. #20 Abe Krakauer. In the 8th's, however, Nelson could find no stand-and-fight footing and quickly fell to Blattner.
Johnny Abrahams, who would win the Mixed with Emily Fuller over the successive Midwest pairs of Nash/Green, Hendry/Henry, and, in the final, Blattner/Kuenz, was upset, really upset by his 9, 12, -12, -20, -16 loss to Indiana's Steele. But Ned, who'd be ranked U.S. #16 this season, could do no more than take a game from Hendry.
Manny Moskowitz, the Maryland #1, defeated (would you believe it, he can't give it up, National’s after National's he turns up) Marcus Schussheim in 5. Against Bellis, though, Manny had no more chance than did O’Connor earlier. This was Richard O’Connor, from Yonkers, but it might as easily have been "Cuba" Champion Jimmy O’Connor. Cuban Champion? But Jimmy’s from Mamaroneck. Yeah. You want a title? Take a vacation someplace. Go to Florida with Reba Kirson. To Bermuda with Lucia Farrington and play a practice set or two against Captain Arthur Rowe Spurling and his cut-down squash-stringed racket. Visit Havana. Start a little "Club" somewhere. Run a little tournament. Come back a Champion.
Berebaum, meanwhile, moving toward the close of his career, had momentary (-19, 19, 8, 16) 2nd round trouble with Lowry. Then, "with the gallery groaning and imploring Izzy to hit one," Abe lost unexpeditiously, decisively to Bellis in the 8th's.
There was no better 1st round match in the Men's than Paul Capelle's deuce-in-the-5th win over N.Y.'s Paul Nesenker. After which the PA #5 made a -19, -15, -23 quite respectable showing against the heavily favored McClure. Jimmy then went on to 3-1 defeat Ralph Muchow who in the doubles paired with Nordhem to take two exciting matches--a 5-gamer from Bellak and Abrahams, and an even more intense 21, -23, 19, 14 one from Blattner and Hendry--before losing in the final to Schiff and McClure.
Pagliaro lost a game to Sam Silberman, but easily moved on.
No advance for Paggy's doubles partner, Bernie Grimes, though. In the 2nd round he was upset, outhit in 5, by 17-year-old Don MacCrossen, "the wild wampus from Wisconsin" (TTT, Apr. 1938, 4-5). Don, son of the former Milwaukee TTA President, C.B. MacCrossen, the well-known maker of "Pro" bats, had been the best player in Milwaukee since he was 14 and runner-up in the Boy’s at the National’s to George Hendry. Back then when the older established Wisconsin players found out they couldn't beat Don, his brother Jack, and some other youths, they just dropped out and the whole state's membership drastically declined. Ironically, Don wasn't looking to be dominant in table tennis; he wanted to move to California, be a golf pro. It didn’t seem likely young MacCrossen wore a glove when striking a table tennis ball, but he might have slipped over his racket handle one of those 15-cent rubber grips his dad was selling (TTT, Jan., 1938, 22). After beating Grimes--Bernie’s defeat shows he "lacks championship caliber," said the outspoken Reba Kirson (TTT, Nov., 1938, 12)--Don had an easier time with Gordon Muchow, Ralph's brother, who'd earlier survived New Yorker Richard Geiger's 19-in-the-5th challenge.
Nash opened 3-straight comfortably against N.Y.'s Dan Klepak, who'd go on to win the Consolation over the Ohio #2 Merle Arens. But after losing the 1st game at deuce against Bellak, Garrett had totaled as many Hammond Cup points as he could this tournament.
Earlier, Cartland, too, had lost the 1st game at deuce to Bellak, but had then taken a game from him. According to an Oct., 1939 article by J. P. Allen, Doug was now or soon would be writing some stories for pulp magazines. But of course it was Laci who really enjoyed being the storyteller. Especially when the stories were about him. He had a child’s delight in them and for decades would tell them again and again--the same self-aggrandizing ones, but tinged with humor and ironic self-deprecation, so that you’d take such pleasure in his pleasure, in his humanity, really, that they’d disarm you every time. Here’s his boyhood friend Glancz to share a couple with you:
"Laszlo’s favorite story is about how one day he was walking on the streets of Budapest with Victor Barna and Miklos Szabados ["The Three Musketeers" of course of Hungarian table tennis]..and, according to Bellak, Barna and Szabados were arguing as to who was better. Bellak finally told them, ‘Look, I’m sick of your arguing. Why don’t we ask the first stranger and let him decide?’ He stopped the first stranger and pointing at Barna and Szabados asked him if he knew either of these two gentlemen. Whereupon the stranger said, ‘No, Mr. Bellak, I don’t.’"
Perhaps this one is Glancz’s favorite story:
"...[In] 1928 in Stockholm...[Laci and I] played in the world championships, and as always shared the same room. I woke up in the middle of the night to hear Bellak talking in his sleep. ‘Captain,’ he was saying, ‘who is the greatest player you ever had on your team?’ After a pause, Bellak said, ‘Thank you, Captain’" (TTT, July-Aug., 1972, 4).
Three of the quarter's matches at these Philadelphia National’s produced no more irresolution, no more of a conflict than that one-sided dialogue did in Laci’s dream: Schiff beat Blattner 3-0, Bellak likewise MacCrossen, Hendry the same with Bellis. "Izzy was a real con artist," said George. "One time before we were to play one another he stole my racket and sold it. But I found the guy he sold it to and got it back."
In the remaining quarter’s match, however, Pagliaro had a difficult 19, 21, -7, 12 time with McClure. With Jimmy actually outscoring Lou in points (73-72), Topics proclaimed this match the tournament's "Biggest thriller":
"Dynamite McClure and Dynamic Mite Pagliaro [were]exploding drives at each other. With 1,500 pairs of eyes glued upon them, Paggy drove Jimmy out of position 3 times, then rifled 3 consecutive ungettable cross-court smashes off Jimmy's forehand corner for the last 3 points and victory" (TTT, Apr., 1938, 3-5).
In the semi's, Schiff was forced into 5 with Hendry. From what Sol would say in Table Tennis Comes of Age (1939)--and perhaps here I should point out his "grateful appreciation" to fellow writer Doug Cartland for his "invaluable assistance" in the making of this book***--one gets a clue as to what his match with Hendry might have been like:
"Hendry gives you a ball that looks easy to hit. But try and kill it! It keeps coming back, back from one side, back from the other, from twenty, thirty feet away, until finally in disgust you either miss an easy drive or take a desperate and rarely successful chance.
...[Hendry] fools the attacker time and time again by clever wristwork. Particularly on his forehand, Hendry varies the spin so well that on one shot you have a skidding, breaking ball that scarcely rises from the table and on another shot you have a normally bouncing ball with very little spin" (11-12, and 23).
But in this 20, -19, -15, 12, 13 semi’s, George didn’t fool Sol enough--though he might have won the match 3 straight. Up 20-18 in the 1st, he missed a game-point kill--and as he said, "It shook me up." Of all the matches he’s lost, this one against Schiff is the one Hendry most regrets. For had he beaten Sol, he might have been able to hold Bellak--they’d played in England for shillings and he’d done alright--and thus might have become the U.S. Champion.
In the other semi's, Bellak--said by Schiff in his Table Tennis Comes of Age (128) to be the "most brilliant and versatile stroke artist in the game"--won in 4 but was never seriously threatened by Paggy. Why? Doesn't Paggy have a good offense? Yes, but again perhaps Schiff and Cartland, writing so soon after this match, can give us a hint of what went on:
"...[Bellak] half-volleys the service, half-volleys your fastest drives, sends over three or four fast half volleys in rapid succession, and when he forces an opening comes in and starts his ferocious offensive" (54).
So it's the two #1 seeds in the final...with Bellak successfully defending his Championship in 5. Mayer Brandschain, writing in the Mar. 27, 1938 Pennsylvania Record, spoke of Bellak’s rally from 20-15 down in the 4th and Schiff’s edge ball at 20-19 that sent the match into the 5th.**** Then he said: "The decisive thing for Bellak in the tense fifth game, in which he first trailed by 5-9, was his ability to win points against Schiff’s service." Perhaps more than anything else, though, it was Laci's "very exasperating backhand, played with so much sidespin and deception" (Table Tennis Comes of Age, 41) that gave Sol the most trouble? Anyway, more than 50 years later, Sol would remember it was Laci's ability to hit shots, stroke the ball, in a way you'd never expect that was so disconcertingly effective.
While waiting for the presentation of the Ben Glickman trophies--USTTA Honorary Vice-Presidents Octavus Roy Cohen (author) and Sidney B. Lenz (bridge expert) were doing the honors--"Bellak amused the crowd with his ball-juggling monkey-shines" (TTT, Apr., 1938, 4). Here was a player nonpareil who bounced those Coleman Clark tournament balls off his racket this way and that, and from the top of his head to the tip of his sole. Don’t think that Laci didn’t care about the formal presentation of a large Championship trophy to him, though. Although as a youngster he enjoyed swimming and diving, he said he decided to "concentrate on table tennis" because that sport, one "the wealthy could play," offered "better prizes."Fuller Wins Her First National’s
In the Women's, the East-West quarter's matches were seeded as follows: Fuller (#l) vs. Green (#8), and Stahl (#5) vs. Kuenz (#3); Clouther (#4) vs. Harrison (#7), and Spannaus (#6) vs. Wilkinson (#2). As play progressed, three of these eight players would be upset.
In the top quarter, where true to form Fuller and Green would routinely advance, there was only one interesting match: Rhode Island's Madeline Teghtmeyer might have wanted to thank Providence for her asterisked 19, -29, 19, -23, 19* win over Philly's Henrietta Wright, and so might far-away long-match enthusiasts vicariously imagining such a seemingly endless on-into-the-night encounter. But, alas, that long ago little star, still so unmistakably viewable to Topics readers, warns us that what we see probably isn't reality --the scores "are doubtful" (TTT, Apr., 1938, 6).
In the bottom quarter of the top half, there was Brewer's 5-game upset of Henry. This was also starred--as if there just weren't enough umpires or white elastic armbands to go round, and as usual the women were getting short shrift. The armbands? The umpires would slip one above one of their elbows to indicate to spectators (and the way they were keeping score perhaps to themselves?) that the player nearest that elbow had won the game. A quaint idea, no? (TTT, Apr., 1938, 8). Brewer legitimately advanced alright, but, after winning the 1st against Jane Stahl, she couldn't contest the match.
When Dolores Kuenz was -14, 20, 17, 14 hard-pressed by unseeded Barbara Shields in the lst round, it was no big surprise that she was upset in 4 in the 2nd round by Ruth Wilson, the #12 seed, who by the Eastern's was second only to Green in the Wilkinson Cup race. As expected, though, Dolores did win the Women's Doubles with Fuller.
In the top quarter of the bottom half, Mae Clouther and Clara Harrison remained unbeaten. But Clara, who'd flown in from Cleveland--her husband according to Topics gossip columnist Reba Kirson was being mentioned as a possible candidate for "Governor of Ohio (political not t.t.)," (May, 1938, 9)--had to work hard to beat Matilda Plaskow after this PA #2 had been 5-game-extended earlier by Lucia Farrington.
In the last quarter, there were upsets aplenty. N.Y.'s Helen Germaine came off the tennis courts long enough to gradually regain the game that had made her a threat to win the 1934 NYTTA National's. First she rallied from 2-0 down to upset Ovenden, then, showing great heart, she scored another never-say-die (-19, -19, 18, 20, 18) victory over Mae Spannaus. Ovenden, however, even though there wasn't an event for first-round losers in the Women's, had to take some consolation in that she and Buffalo's Sylvia Maisel registered a great Women's Doubles win when they upset Henry and Wilkinson in 3 to get to the finals. Poor Henry, she couldn't connect this National's. World semifinalist--and she'd be ranked #10 in the U.S.
Dorothy Halliday began by defeating Reba Kirson, the Philadelphia "Florida Women's Champion" (besides sunning herself, she'd been her usual free-spirit self trying to organize some t.t. there). How "in" the title of her Topics column, "A Gal's Slant," would be today. And how offensively "out" one of the lines from that column: "A South African cousin of mine (honestly she's white) advises that this game [table tennis] is being played at all the clubs there" (TTT, Oct., 1937, 9).
Halliday went on to stop Germaine, but only after Helen 14, -19, -12, -15* had been unable to keep her momentum going.
In other quarter’s matches, 16-year-old Wilson beat Stahl, and Clouther beat Harrison, both without dropping a game.
The best match in the quarter's saw young Sally Green, in a losing -10, -17, 19, 9, -10 effort against Fuller, almost turn the match around. The fact that Fuller came from a monied family and could have a N.Y. taxi wait outside for her, say, a full two hours while she went in somewhere to practice was undoubtedly a comfort to her. But she was not "soft," and when she had to win that 5th game against the fierce drive of this destined for greatness teenager, Green, she did.
One could understand Emily’s later realization, though, about "how much more I still have to learn before I am half-way satisfied with my game" (TTT, May, 1938, 5).
The semi's matches weren’t contested. Fuller lost the 1st to the #12 seed Wilson, but again so steadied that thereafter it was like a 10-point game. Halliday, the #13 seed, allowed Clouther a mere 35 points.
In the 12, 14, -19, 9 final, when Fuller was leading 12-5 in the 4th, and "Baltimore’s ultra-glamorous, ultra-defensive Dorothy Halliday [had] checked Emily's hitting by lefthanded push shots to Emily's backhand," the Expedite Rule was applied..."and the duel of brunettes ended as a hitting contest" (TTT, Apr., 1938, 4).
The importance of umpires had been asterisked as it were by an article that came out in Topics just before these National's. The writer was USTTA Rules Committee Chair, Cornelius G. Schaad, who 10 years earlier had written his pro-Parker Brothers Manual of Ping-Pong. Much of what he says is applicable to any table tennis era:
"Before a tournament the committee should select capable umpires to officiate during the entire tournament. If possible umpires should be named who can call the score so that galleries can hear. Nothing is more annoying to a spectator than to be wondering what the score is or who is leading. Also, umpires with personality and color should be selected at least for the more important matches.
At tournaments with galleries present the umpire should not allow too long a warm-up period....
The umpire must not be afraid to lay down the law. He should be in sole charge of the match. He should call the score after each point, call the shots as he sees them, and no appeal from his decision should be allowed if it is a matter of judgment....
The umpire should be respected and players will be more apt to co-operate in the enforcement of the rules when they know competent officials are in charge of a match.
It might be well to form a National Umpires Association whose members would officiate at all important tournaments..." (TTT, Feb., 1938, 15).
Ah, an Umpire Development Program....An Association of Officials....It would really happen...in the next 50 years or more.
Meanwhile, the focus was on Fuller. "Being tall and dark and pretty," she was a natural successor to superstar Ruth Aarons. As reporters had so often described the old Champion, now in much the same way were they describing the new one: "Miss Fuller," said Betty Hardesty in a Mar., 1938 article, "is grace personified. The rhythm of motion as she races from side to side to send over the net her sweeping strokes make[s] you think in terms of ballet dancers rather than athletes."
In the beginning Emily had improved her hand/eye coordination, and had learned about footwork by playing in tennis tournaments in her hometown of Bethlehem, PA. Then one summer in the early 1930’s, as she was vacationing in California, following up on her plan to take tennis lessons and play in tournaments, Fate, with an unexpected cross-court opportunity, scored a winner:
"...[In] Hollywood the manager of the country club where she [Emily] had been playing tennis suggested she take part in a table tennis tournament. Ginger Rogers, Fay Wray, Alice Marble and Gracyn Wheeler were competing.
Perhaps the attraction of playing against the movie stars sold her on the idea. Perhaps it was that California table tennis is played out of doors. Anyway, Emily Fuller entered the tournament...."*****
And the rest, as they say, is History.
*Schmidt’s name, and consequently this accident story, came up at the Sept. 23, 1995 Reunion I attended at Miles’s home in New York City. Likely Schiff, Pagliaro, Cartland, or Reisman initiated the story, for all seemed familiar with Schmidt, whose ranking would rise from U.S. #18 in the 1936-37 season to U.S. #3 in both the 1939-40 and 1940-41 seasons.
**Bob Green told me that Coulson wore such a hat to hide such scars, and McClure confirmed it--though Jimmy said that "later" Coulson no longer wore the hat. No doubt at some tournaments he wouldn’t be allowed to.
***See viii. Maybe Sol also owes a debt to Coleman Clark’s Dec. 1936 article in Esquire titled "Table Tennis Comes of Age"? (See Ras, 54.) Clark culled his article from Hammond’s Topics report on the ‘36 World’s.
****Schiff’s edge ball, so fortuitous in this 4th game, was apparently non-controversial. In his Table Tennis Comes of Age, Sol puts forward the idea that, to avoid controversy, the table ought to be very slightly enlarged with the understanding that then any edge ball would have to be considered out.
****Mar., 1938 Hardesty article. See TTT, Mar., 1940 for Fuller’s pre-California exposure to the game: "[She] played her first tournament in 1933 on a boat to California, where she intended taking lawn tennis lessons. She won that tournament, felt so good about it she got into one at Hollywood--and was quickly and efficiently eliminated." See also TTT, Nov., 1937, 10, where she says that she never played Ginger Rogers in a tournament. At the 1934 APPA National Championships in the Hotel Carter in Cleveland, Fuller was seeded 3rd and, after beating Helen Ovenden, lost to Aarons in the semi’s, 3-0. This is the first record I have of her playing in a tournament--though, since she was seeded 3rd, the organizers had to have had some data on her.