Chapter V: 1933: First U.S. vs. Canada Match. First American Zone Qualifier for U.S. Attendance at the Paris World’s. Schussheim: Our First Representative Abroad.
Knucklespin Ban but Fingerspin Allowable. 1934: Schussheim’s Last Hurrah.
The idea of International play was suddenly in the air. On Sept. 23 in New York, the NYTTA got its 1933-34 season off to an impressive start when Schussheim and four other N.Y. players, representing the "U.S.," defeated a strong Quebec team, representing "Canada." This first Team Match between the two countries--which drew a few lines of coverage by famed Broadway columnist Walter Winchell who’d dropped in on the action--was initiated by James Cooke of the Province of Quebec TTA--and the friendly rivalry continued thereafter through six decades.
National Champ Heitner had to struggle to chop down Roland Longtin, Canadian table tennis and tennis champion, 21, -21, 17, -17, 14; Seymour Solomon played monotonous defense to beat John P. Juneau in 5; Schussheim outpushed Paul Chapelaine
in 4; Ralph Langsam downed Leslie T. Read in straight games; and Schiff just got by Reginald Chapman, -18, 19, -25, 15, 20. As Willard T. Rogers reported in Topics, "Chapman was handicapped by Schiff’s serves, which brought laughs from the gallery." "Very annoying," wrote Rogers, "to be laughed at" (Nov., 1933, 1 and 4).
1933 American Zone Qualifier
Having been enthusiastically invited to become a member country in the ITTF "family" by Montagu, the USTTA now set about organizing its first American Zone Tournament. Held Nov. 17-18 at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago, it would determine who would represent the U.S. at the upcoming World Championships Dec. 2-10 in Paris. There would be three separate Championships--Men’s Singles, Women’s Singles, and Men’s Doubles--but only the Men’s Singles winner would have his way paid to Paris.
Before this tournament, the APPA warned that anyone who participated would be barred from playing in its Western Open the following week. But this 1933 Zonal Qualifier had so many entries (131) that to save face the APPA had to postpone its Western Open for a few months. Among the many players who turned "outlaw" to play were Rushakoff, Pearson, Lewis, Frank Work, Dugan, and Fushimi, who, as far back as June of ‘33, risking his friend Cokey Clark’s disapproval but irritated that he was being forced in APPA tournaments to discard his favorite racket for a Parker Brothers model, had met with Stewart and others to discuss the formation of the USTTA. (Perhaps this suggests that the Stewart-Zeisberg-Rogers meeting in New York took place during the 1932-33 season?)
The secession of a key group of Western PPA holdouts--a secession urged by a fervent, personal appeal from Fushimi--was the beginning of the end for the APPA. The defectors were all prestigious players. Fushimi had won the May, 1933 Palmer House Invitational from a strong field. Paul Pearson would soon successfully defend his Chicago District Closed Championship by downing in the final 1932 Illinois Champ Work, once "a Texas cowboy" and "son of a famous Mexican general." Then Pearson would go on to win the Singles in the 170-entry Illinois State Championships by beating 1932 and ‘33 Chicago District Open Champ Rushakoff in the semi’s and Brownie Jablonski in the final. And what kind of a racket did Pearson use? A sandpaper one--which he called "Mary Jane." Rushakoff, with his long reach and driving forehand, would later be described by his younger contemporary Jimmy McClure as something of a wild man--"a nervous guy who talked a mile a minute." However, he was recognized by Schussheim as "Chicago’s best player" and at season’s end, having turned 18 a week after winning the ‘33 Western Open, would be #1 in the Western Rankings.
Pearson and Erwin "Tiny" Lewis, who would win the ‘34 Western Open over Herman Leavitt, were the West’s best doubles pair.
"Tiny," it seems, had quite a reputation. Sixty years later, 1994 U.S. Closed Over 75 Champion Glen Clark, who, in the Chicago suburb of Aurora in 1932, had begun playing with a sandpaper racket on a single table in an ice-cream parlor (loser pays 5 cents a game) told me a story I can’t resist repeating here....
Prepatory to Glen’s entry into that 1934 Western’s, a fellow player, Hugo Anderson, had said to him, "You never did know how to play and you still don’t, but, alright, I’ll coach you at the Western’s because you’ve got more confidence than anybody I’ve seen."
In an early-round match in these Western’s, Glen was doing just fine, was 1-1 in games and up 19-10 in the deciding 3rd when his opponent suddenly requested a change of ends. As Glen obligingly rounded the table, his coach, Anderson, all bubbly, said to him, "Do you know who you’re playing against? That’s ‘Tiny’ Lewis, one of the Top 10 players in the country and the National Doubles Champion!"
Some coach. And some exceptionally confident pupil. For Glen suddenly became scared to death and unbelievably lost 10 points in a row to lose the game and match, while Lewis went on to win the tournament.
A very nice story to tell on oneself, eh?
But this sudden change I wanted to check out. The switch of ends at 10-in-the-3rd in a 2/3-game match wasn’t officially a USTTA Law until Nov. 1, 1934--that’s 7 and 1/2 months after the Mar. 16-17 Western’s, the one and only Western’s the 1933 APPA National Doubles Champion Edwin "Tiny" Lewis did indeed win, and at the La Salle Hotel in Chicago. But as both USTTA President Bill Stewart and USTTA Executive Secretary Coleman Clark, who were presumably instrumental in the USTTA adopting this ITTF Law, were based in Chicago, perhaps there, months earlier, the change-at-10 Rule was already informally in effect but only belatedly remembered by a 10-19 down, desperate-for-change Lewis and acknowledged by Glen.
So it all checks out, eh?
Uh, except for the lead-off article in the Apr., 1934 Topics that shows Glen losing in the quarter’s of that Western’s to Henry Cragg, deuce in the 4th.
As History generally shows, something’s wrong someplace....*
Not the Chicago Western but the New York Eastern players were the favorites at this 1933 Zonal Qualifier. Eight New Yorkers had entered: Schussheim, Schiff, Solomon, Heitner, Rubin, Joel, Fred D. Thompson, and George Schein. Of course they were excited about playing, but, to begin with, they had to figure out how to get to Chicago. Since most if not all of the players couldn’t afford to go by plane or train, Thompson, who’d run the popular Uptown YMCA Club (124th and Lennox), rented a van or truck and, on equiping it with mattresses, off they all went, sprawled this way and that. After riding (sometimes 20 hours at a stretch) for four days and nights, sometimes through heavy snowstorms, the players, all cramped up and sometimes exasperated, were more than ready to contend with one another out at the table, if just for the fun of taking an even longer trip to Paris.
The most significant matches of this Zonal Qualifier were Schiff’s deuce-in-the-5th win over Solomon in the quarter’s; Rushakoff’s straight-game upset of Heitner in the semi’s (Sydney had been unimpressive from the beginning--down 1-0 and at deuce in the 2/3-games 2nd, he’d almost lost to Chicago’s Judson Cross, U.S. #34 that season); and especially the Schiff-Schussheim semi’s that would likely determine which of the two would represent the U.S. in Paris.
Back in June, George Schein, Schiff’s early YMHA mentor, had recognized that, last year, when Sol was "the fifth man on the [Y’s] junior team," all he had was "a good forehand drive," but that, during his 1933 play, he’d acquired "a backhand drive, a severe forehand chop, deceptive serves, and an excellent defensive game," and so had developed into a player "of championship calibre" (GSS I, 46). Indeed, in a tune-up tournament at the Broadway Courts before leaving for this Zonal Qualifier, Sol had beaten National Champ Heitner 28-26 in the deciding 3rd, then Mark in a 4-game final. But here in Chicago, Schein would write, echoing the very same criticism that had been made of Schiff after his loss to Bernie Joel in the National’s, that, on winning the 1st game from Schussheim, Sol lapsed into "overconfidence and continuous carelessness" in the 2nd, and so allowed Mark to even the match, get some needed confidence, and go on to win it, deuce in the 4th (GSS I, 74).
Schiff himself, reminiscing to me about this match, said that, point after point, the better he’d hit in shots, the more the crowd would go crazy, and the more Mark, following the pat-on-the-back approach he’d taken toward Schiff the whole (my god, stop-for-a-minute, can’t you?) trip, would himself applaud and say something complimentary. In fact, Sol said, Schussheim seemed at times even to be "feeding" him balls--with the result that, blasting away to one rapturous Ohhh! after another from the spectators, trying to hit the ball harder and harder, Sol began missing more shots than he was making and never could find the right winning rhythm.
Message coming down from the boss: winning The Big One’s too heady stuff yet for the 16-year-old, even though he is, and knows he is, the best player in the country. Match to the crafty, experienced "old" champion who early in the tournament had found a ball he liked (in those days of course they were never uniform) and, though a few of his opponents objected, had insisted on playing with it throughout.
As for Schiff’s vaunted knucklespin serves, Schussheim says Sol did use them (they were illegal in New York but not in Chicago--the USTTA wouldn’t ban them until Jan., 1934). However, since Sol didn’t win with them, perhaps this bears out his contention that, once good players were used to them, they didn’t really give you that much of an advantage. (The rub of course was getting used to them.) Moreover, to use them well, perhaps even ambidexterously, took plenty of practice. Sometimes the server’s shot-off ball would miss his racket! Since Sol was left-handed, he would hold the racket somewhat awkwardly in his right, non-playing hand then make sure that the ball rested on his left thumb, against the middle finger, pressured into place by the index finger. After the ball was positioned precisely between thumbnail and bent thumb (careful, the ball can’t touch the nail), it would then be spun off the middle finger, marble-like, slowly for best results.
In the final of this American Zone Qualifier, no psych job was necessary: Schussheim’s defense was just too strong for Rushakoff’s penholder attack. Still, many of the points were challengingly played: one rally, it was said, "ran to at least 100 strokes each."
The other results seemed almost not to matter. Schussheim and Heitner won the Doubles--but Heitner would not go to Paris. The 16-entry Women’s Singles was won by Gertrude "Trudie" Schnur over Alice Curtiss who’d beaten the ‘33 Chicago Northshore titleholder Carol Herr two straight. Madeline Hemingway, sister of famed novelist Ernest Hemingway whose telegram "Go in and win" (TTT, May-June, 1934, 1) helped her to win the 1934 Chicago West Suburban Champion, didn’t enter.
Miss Schnur was a 16-year-old "honor student at New Trier High School" in Winnetka, IL, the same school that Billy Condy, also 16 and in a few months the 1934 APPA National Men’s Singles runner-up, attended. Perhaps not coincidentally their successes had been encouraged by New Trier Athletic Director W. L. Childs who’d already installed "twenty tables for the students" and hoped eventually "to have a hundred"?**
Trudie’s win (which she would soon follow with victories in the Illinois State over Mildred Wilkinson and the Western over Virginia Booth) was poetically appropriate, for, as Carl Zeisberg was later to point out in his Jan. 20, ‘49 letter to Peter Roberts, Trudie’s father, Will Schnur, owner of P. Becker and Company, "went far beyond what a manufacturer would do for the game." He "financed" this first American Zone tournament, "which really put the infant USTTA on its feet" And yet (perhaps because she was only 16 and would need a chaperone?) he wouldn’t finance his daughter’s trip (and doubtless the chaperone’s) for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of playing in the World Championships?
Within just a few months of returning East, Schiff showed that, though he wouldn’t be going to Paris just yet, he would be going to a World’s very soon. He moved to dominate the New York scene by winning the Manhattan Singles (and Doubles Championship with Solomon), downing in straight games in the semi’s Rudy Rubin and in the final CCNY student Abe Berenbaum, as yet unranked but by season’s end the #2 player in the country.
Schussheim and the 1933 Paris World’s
For Schussheim, however, the time was now--a rough sea might lie ahead, but what a way to cap a career! More than half a century later in that July 6, 1987 letter to Gus Kennedy, he recalls his European adventure:
"In 1933, planes did not fly to Europe. To get to Paris in time to play in the tournament, I had to rush to New York to pick up my passport and catch the S.S. United States [actually, the steamship "Washington"?] going to LeHavre. From Le Havre I took a train to Paris and was greeted by a contingent of table tennis players and immediately brought to a table tennis center where [the already 3-time World Champion] Victor Barna, [and already 2-time World runner-up] Laszlo Bellak and all the European champions were waiting for me. They didn’t even give me a chance to check into a hotel. When it came to playing table tennis, I felt like the cellar champ who took on everyone in the neighborhood. From 1929 to 1933, I lost only one match [sic] and I felt I could beat anyone. When it came to athletics, the whole world had respect for the American athletes and they [the world’s best players] were really worried about this American playing in the World Championship. They couldn’t wait and had to find out immediately how good I was. Well, it took exactly five minutes and their fears vanished. I played Barna one set and I believe I made five points. If I was smart, I would have taken the next ship back to the states, but I stayed and learned how the game should be played...."
This 14-nation World’s, as Hungarian Ervin Brody, a future friend of U.S. Teams abroad, tells us, was held "in the big Marbeuf-garage" during the 1933-35 "boom years" of French table tennis. Paris, he says...
"boasted of at least as many table tennis parlors as bistros, where day and night big and small denominations of French bank-notes kept a steady flow across the tables to find a final resting place in the pockets of needy champs, who were disguised as chance onlookers, with the innocent, ‘I never saw this game before.’"***
In the first two rounds, Schussheim said he had weak French opponents. Playfully he reported to New York Table Tennis (Jan., 1934, 1) that he equated the first of these two "set-ups" with Seymour Solomon and the second with Sol Schiff. In the third round, Mark lost a close match, 19 in the 4th, to Arnold Oschins (or Osins) of Latvia.
The "average player" at this World’s, said Mark in a Dec. 3, 1933 letter from Paris to Fred D. Thompson, "has the following four qualities:...a forehand chop as good as Heitner’s, a backhand chop which nobody has in the U.S., a forehand drive like Schiff, and a backhand drive like Leiblick [sic for Lieblich]." However, he says prophetically, these players "are not machines and can be beaten":
"It is only a matter of time before we will be considered in the same class. None of us know how the game should be really played. One has to go to school before he can become a teacher. It’s the same here--if everybody had a chance to play with them, we would all improve our game immediately."
Of course, he’d later point out, the best players in Europe are professionals--they do "nothing but play table tennis...with the sole intention of becoming perfect" (TTT, Feb, 1934, 2). No surprise, then, that the winner and runner-up in these World’s were again Barna and Bellak. Schussheim rated the strength of the foreign players as follows: "Hungarians first, then Czechoslovakians, Latvians, Austrians, French, German, English" (MMS, 75). Why were the Hungarians so good? Because, said their 1928 World Champion Zoltan Mechlovits in a letter to Coleman Clark, they’d taken table tennis very seriously even before the War (TTT, Dec., 1934, 2).
On coming home from the World Championships, Schussheim and a few other New Yorkers were invited down to the Philadelphia TTA’s Broad and Cherry St. Headquarters. At this time, the Philly Association (soon, in a metamorphosis to facilitate state expansion, to become the Pennsylvania TTA) was said to have over 300 members. Its President was Tom Bradley, and one of its Vice-Presidents was "the most colorful and crowd-drawing player in the Philadelphia area," Frank R. Veale, Jr. (‘32 Eastern Open Champ over Irv Edelstein who won it in ‘33). The City Champ was Joe LeBow who used an eccentric grip, "half-palming the racket and scooping up shots from any angle" (MMS, 75a) He was described by one lady observer as being "tall and red-headed" and looking "temperamental like Garbo" (Stewart’s Tactics, 70).
In a New York-Philadelphia team match, 1933 New Jersey Champ Ed Silverglade, who’d been an entry in the American Zone Qualifier in Chicago, defeated Schussheim. In addition to playing an exhibition with "rotund but racy" Bill Festger, Mark also gave a little talk about his experiences at the World’s. Here’s the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin’s Laura Lee describing the scene (MMS, 75):
"You could...ask him [Schussheim] questions, which everyone did--...did he raise his mustache in Paris, and how were the girls?
And Mr. Schussheim, not to be trifled with, chose to think they meant girls playing table tennis, and he said they were fine--why, there was a Hungarian woman player [Maria Mednyanszky, World Champion from 1926-27 through 1930- 31] that could beat any man in America! ["Ridiculous," Schiff would say later.]
Mark said he heartily approved of the NYTTA’s decision to accept the European lightweight ball (37-39 grains) as opposed to the American "bullet" ball (42-46 grains), the worst lot of which the ball-makers abroad had always reserved for the U. S. Offering a "higher and better bounce," too, were the "one-inch solid top wood" tables (TTT, Mar., 1934, 1 and 2).
In that article Schussheim also spoke favorably of the European style play:
"The Europeans’ game is not vastly different from ours, but their precision****in defense and agility in attack are far superior. And their headwork is beyond description.
...All the European stars play thoughtfully, scientifically, always trying for placements, always working to get the other fellow out of position for a drive. The drive comes with such speed and power that at times the driver leaves the floor completely, putting the weight and power of the body behind the stroke.
...The forehand chop is not a mere chop, but is "spooned" as low as possible. Szabados, of Hungary [the 1931 World Champion and 3-time World runner-up], often touches the floor when using this forehand chop. The same stroke when taken higher is a drive."
Knucklespin Banned but Fingerspin Allowed
The Europeans, Mark said, were unfamiliar with the knucklespin service until he, admittedly not the best practitioner of the art, showed them how to do it. No big deal for them though--at least Mark’s spin wasn’t, for they "analyzed it very quickly" and so prompted Mark to say that he thought "after a few shots they could return any spin, even from our best knuckle-spin servers" (TTT, Feb., 1934, 1 and 2). Yeah? Wait until Schiff begins serving to Barna and others.
With the Oct. 13, 1934 USTTA serve ruling that "The ball must be held by the pads of flesh of the first two fingers & thumb," the knucklespin serve would become a relic of the past. Or would it? In the U.S., where it was banned, yes--but not abroad, for the ITTF would be slow to forbid it. Meanwhile, even in the U.S. some fingerspins were allowable. I’ll hop ahead a moment to show you the 1935 USTTA/ITTF serve rule:
"...Finger-spin may be imparted to the ball in service by projecting it by hand into the air and then striking it...; it may not be imparted by holding the ball and rubbing the racket surface against it before it leaves the hand....
...No artificial aid must be worn on the fingers to increase finger-spin; a rubber thumb-stall or finger-stall violates Law 10 ‘projecting or dropping the ball by hand only’....[Though a stall or glove might be worn in case of injury so long as it doesn’t "increase service-spin."]
...[No ] deliberate deformation [may be] executed [by the player] to alter the shape of the [ball’s] surface to secure [an] improved grip....[Such deformation would be accompanied] by a sharp click of celluloid, audible as the surface resumes convexity on leaving the hand, and in no way resembling the finger snap sound of legitimate finger spin" (TTT, June, 1935, 11).
An aggressive serve remains possible through these mid-’1930’s and beyond though, for, by throwing the ball viciously in a circular motion at different positions on the clock face of the racket, the players could get various kinds of spin on the ball that, persisting unrecognized, could give their opponents trouble.
End of an Era: Schussheim Retires
After his discovery in Paris that, veteran though he was, he still had a few things to learn about the Sport (he could see he lacked a necessary strong attack), and with the realization that he was only as good as his competition, Schussheim, about whom Neil Schaad had written earlier, "He has that rare ability to raise his game as occasion demands" (36), slowly began to lose it, began to realize, realist that he was,that there was no more he could do in table tennis that he hadn’t already done.
In the Feb., 1934 first New York State Championship, he lost to the eventual winner, Schiff, deuce in the 4th, in the semi’s. In mid-March he dropped a tough 13, 9, -19, -19, -17 Metro Open final to Abe Berenbaum after threatening to run away with the match. And finally in the USTTA National’s in early April he went down in both Singles and Doubles. He lost a 5-gamer in the 8th’s to Max Rushakoff, whose "blistering drives," wrote one observer, "broke through Mark’s great defense" (TTT, May-June, 1934, 3). Then, having teamed with Defending Singles Champion Heitner, he had to settle for being runner-up to the George Schein-arranged pick-up pair of Schiff and Manny Moskowitz.
That was it--Mark’s last season as a serious contender. Though he would surface for the Dec. 3-4, 1934 American Zone tournament in New York, and though he would repeatedly play in National’s to follow, he was obviously always out of practice and would lose in an early round. "I returned to those last tournaments to remember who I was," he would say good-naturedly years later. Now he’d no longer commit himself to table tennis but to another competitive way of life.
Until 1946, when he moved to California, Schussheim/Matthews thrived as much in the New York business world as he had in table tennis, matching his Rapid Messenger Service against Western Union and Postal Telegraph. "My table tennis really gave me business contacts," Mark would emphasize. "And I suppose, in the sense that I played the Game with executives and furthered my career in doing so, I might indirectly be called a professional after all."
On making Miami his permanent home, Matthews became a successful (high rise and shopping center) builder, and managed along the way to be one of the best handball players in the state. As a Senior Olympian, he won medals in golf, swimming, racketball, and basketball. Catch him on an afternoon in the ‘90’s, say, coming off a cruise to Hawaii, and chances are some 18-year-old enthusiast with the runner-up ping-pong trophy will have paid unknowing homage to this stranger, this older man, who said he used to be--and still was--a Champ.
As the millenium came to a close, Matthews became the patron for a new USATT Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award (first recipient: Bobby Gusikoff). Still sprightly at 87, Mark traveled cross-country to present this Award in person at our 1999 Hall of Fame Banquet in Las Vegas, and was himself, for wanting to give back something to the Sport that had meant so much to him, deservingly applauded.
*That players’ "memories" can’t always be trusted is not surprising. Clark could play some, but had he beaten Lewis it would have been quite an upset. At the Feb., 1934 Kane County tournament at Batavia, IL (TTT, Mar., 1934, 4), Clark won the Singles but lost in the final of the Doubles with O’Connell (I assume George O’Connell, whom Clark doesn’t remember), and, continuing to use a sandpaper racket, played pretty well in those early 1933-34, 1934-35 years--was #18 in the 1933-34 USTTA Western Rankings (TTT, May-June, 1934, 5). Hugo Anderson had been correct when he told Clark that Lewis was a Top 10 (APPA) player (he was ranked #8 for the 1932-33 season) and with Paul Pearson was the National (APPA) Doubles Champion. At the Jan. 7, 1935 Barna-Glancz "Circus" stop at the West High School Gym in Aurora, IL Anderson was badly beaten by Barna, and Clark was badly beaten by Glancz, but of course this was to be expected. At least Anderson and Clark were locally good enough to be selected to play the famous Hungarians (TTT, Feb., 1935, 3). Anderson, from Rockford, IL, was the last nationally-ranked USTTA player--#35--for the 1933-34 season.
**Clark’s Modern Ping-Pong, 68.
***For Brody’s quotes, see TTT, Feb., 1947, 3. For confirmation of the importance of table tennis in Paris, see the Apr. 1, 1933 article in the N.Y. Sunday American--in GSS I, 143.
****In a postcard Mark sent from Paris to the New York 92nd St. "Ping Pong Team," he said, "Well boys. I got to Paris getting the surprise of my life. The players are much better than anybody ever expected. You could just imagine if Barna, world’s champion [,] could hit a penny 3 out of 5 times on a drive on either fore or backhand."