- 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
1944: Somael/Green Win National’s. 1944-45: Familiar E.C. Officers, Familiar Voices. 1944-45: USTTA Servicemen Abroad.
The National’s—where hold them? Well, in such an uncertain time, why change what in St. Louis at least, you could count on? The venue for this Mar. 31-Apr. 1-2, 1944 event would again be the St. Louis University Gym, and the Tournament Committee would again be headed by USTTA Ranking Chair Elmer Cinnater and St. Louis TTA President Tommy Gibbons. Last year, the Mutual Broadcasting Company had "agreed to broadcast the finals of the tournament beginning at 10:00 P.M." Whether that happened satisfactorily or not, or even happened at all, I don’t know. But this year Mutual apparently wasn’t interested, and so the USTTA began asking members and their friends to write letters to the Company urging that the "exciting matches" the night of April 2 be broadcast "to the millions of table tennis players and enthusiasts who will not be able to attend."
Missing in the 66-entry Men’s were Tibor Hazi, Chuck Burns, and Dick Miles, all ranked last season among the Top 5 in the U.S. Tibor initially was able to get a furlough (I believe about this time his wife Magda had an emergency appendectomy), but at the last minute it was canceled. Chuck, who perhaps was working at a war plant and months away yet from testing his trick knee on a USO Tour, had pulled a ligament in his leg and was wearing a brace. And Dick, according to Hazi, didn’t come out to St. Louis because he knew Tibor would beat him (though likely 19-year-old Dick just didn’t want to make the effort and/or didn’t have the money to spend).
Also missing was Garrett Nash, beaten in last year’s U.S. Open by Miles. Garrett was stationed with the Eighth Air Force Service Command in England, and that winter, at the Polytechnic Institute in London, became the first American ever to compete in, and consequently the first American ever to win, the "South of England" Singles and (with Geoffrey Harrower) Doubles. Harrower, in his 1966 Table Tennis, speaks of one of the players from the Free Czech Forces stationed in England, Lance Corporal Berger, whom Nash beat 3-0 in the Singles final, as being a "very clever player, who could hit accurately down the center of the table" (125).
However, an event of far more importance, one that greatly increased name-recognition for Nash, occurred on Apr. 12 following our U.S. Open. At the Queensbury Club in London, Garrett would (17, -13, 10, -12, 8) win a celebrated money match from the current World Champion Richard Bergmann. Both players had played up the encounter. Said Bergmann, "I’m doing six miles of roadwork every day to get in shape." Said Nash, "I’m doing six miles of roadwork every day too, but these taxi fares are keeping me broke" (TTT, Dec., 1947, 3).
ITTF President Ivor Montagu, in his later In Memoriam tribute to four-time World Champion Bergmann, said that Richard’s rare losses "were often due to some unanticipated factor." In this case, because "Nash was one of those comparatively rare and fortunate players who are able to hit the ball with no swing back, and so both late and giving away no clue as to its direction." Just exactly what either player, and their backers, could risk wagering,* and did, is highly speculative—but word had it that it was in the thousands of pounds (or, well, hundreds anyway) and Garrett on winning took his share and said, "I spent it well."
As for the man often labeled "The best player never to win a World Singles Championship," S/Sgt. Laszlo Bellak, he was here in St. Louis for the Open, on leave. But after downing Don Lasater, deuce in the 4th, Laci fell in the quarter’s in 5 to Johnny Somael. Defending Champion Billy Holzrichter, though out of practice (or, say, rather, he wasn’t "tournament tough," for he seldom practiced), advanced to the semi’s with an 18 in the 4th win over Mel Nichols. Then it was Army (Pfc. Somael) vs. Navy (P.O. 1/c Holzrichter)—with Somael again winning in 5 to reach the final.
In the opposite half of the Draw, Sol Schiff went 4 with Marlin Tucker, Consolation runner-up to Bob Green. Then, tested more severely, Sol 26-24 in the 4th eliminated Max Hersh, who in the two weeks previous had won both the Michigan Open and Closed over S 2/c V. Lee Webb. That was the end of Sol’s advance though. In the quarter’s he dropped a 5-gamer to fast-moving Les Lowry. Meanwhile, Varga, though on a run—he was about to be elected Indiana TTA President, win the Indiana Closed over Sterling Mitchell, then triumph as Chicago Cook County Open hat-trick winner—couldn’t take a game from #2 seed Allan Levy. But Levy in turn was beaten 3-0 by Lowry. "If you had to name someone who had a good-looking game," said Freddie Borges, a U.S. Top 25 player, "the first person you’d pick would be Les Lowry."
The resultant final between Lowry and Somael would be talked about for decades. Into the 5th they’d gone—about which Topics had this to say:
"...Lowry’s drives were burning the corners and Somael’s returns were beautiful. The counter-driving of both players brought the crowd to their feet. John could do nothing about the score as it now was 20-14 in favor of Lowry and everyone, except Somael, thought the match was over. Slowly, with fine driving and beautiful returns, John finally brought the score to 20-20. Then the impossible was done and complete—Somael took the next two points and with them the championship" (Apr., 1944, 6).
I assume Editor Wes Bishop, who lost in the 1st round to Somael, wrote this account, for Associate Editor Berne Abelew had a by-lined article in the same issue in which he said that "Somael’s fine all around game, his deadly steadiness, topped off by a never wavering courage in the face of seemingly certain defeat—combined to produce...‘the little miracle of 1944.’"
Leah Neuberger, later the USTTA Historian, who was also very prominently at the tournament, wrote that the score in the 5th game was actually 20-13. Pauline Robinson Somael, Johnny’s wife, in a Nov., 1970 letter to Topics purportedly written by her young daughter Katie, likewise gives 20-13 as the score (9). Borges also agrees—and 45 years later he described to me what happened from 20-13:
"Lowry had been playing carefully, would get into long points. But leading 20-13, he tried quick smashes—wanted to end the match with a bang. At 20-16 Somael got a net. At 20-17 Somael got an edge. Then Lowry choked."
The only problem with this rendition, told to me so definitively, was that, unlike Editors Bishop and Abelew, Borges wasn’t at the tournament. Millie Shahian, then a New England neighbor of Lowry and later to win both the English and U.S. Opens, wasn’t at the tournament either. But Millie said, in a 1983 letter to Somael’s wife, Pauline, shortly before Pauline died July 31 of a heart attack, that Les, whom she considered "a very sweet guy, told me that he did not choke at 20-13 but that John outplayed him each and every point—and this despite the fact that Sally [nee Green] Prouty had put a four-leaf clover under each leg of the table. I mentioned to John that Les had not played since the national’s, and he said sincerely, ‘If I knew he’d feel that bad, I would have let him win’—and I believed it."**
Bellak couldn’t defend his Men’s Doubles title with the absent Hazi, so he paired with Holzrichter—and won again...without losing a game. Laci, a lefty, preferred Doubles to Singles because he could use his deceptive strokes to greater advantage, get his usually righty partner set-ups. In Singles, he said, he needed to hit harder, but the fact that he had two fingers on the blade prevented him from hitting with power—though Miles, for one, disputed this, and cited how well Schiff smacked the ball with his two fingers on the blade. Holzrichter felt that "Laci was a fabulous doubles player. He could receive with his backhand and shove the ball all over the place." Their last two victims were, first, Schiff/Somael, then Levy/Nichols. Until the War was over, this would be U.S. #3 Billy’s final match.
Levy, who’d lost two 19 games to Lowry in the semi’s, successfully defended his Under 18 Junior Championship, again defeating Lasater in the final. In the new Under 15 event, Varga-coached, Indiana Boys #1 Richard Leviton downed Varga-coached, Indiana Boys #2 Gordon Barclay, not yet a teenager, 19 in the 4th. Naturally there were big ovations for plucky little Gordy.
Varga’s pupils at the South Bend Y’s small gym paid a minimal fee for their table tennis fun, but they had responsibilities. As big, barrel-chested John had a deep voice and a disciplinarian’s manner, there was never any question about whether they had to follow Club rules. "Where’s my sweater?" one kid asked. "In the wastebasket," boomed John. "If you’d have cleaned the Club like you were supposed to, you’d have found it." Some rules were perhaps whimsical. One of which was that you couldn’t wear a hat. In fact, John had a sign hanging in the Club that read, "Please, the hat." Wearing a hat at the table in John’s presence was a sign of disrespect? More understandable was the penalty imposed for losing your cool and hitting the table with your racket. You might not play for a week.
The winner of the Veterans’ was #1 seed Johnny Tatom who went through the field more or less unchallenged. Runner-up Louie Scharlack, playing with his "air-conditioned bat," was voted "the most untiring player in the tournament." To us in the new millennium, where 50/60/70-year-olds remain vigorous, he may not seem to have any reason to be tired. He played one match in the Men’s—a 19-in-the-4th good one against young Mel Nichols—and one Veterans’ Doubles match. But perhaps his five Veterans’ Singles matches (5 games in the quarter’s and semi’s) were played straight through, without much of a break? As if, given an unrelenting schedule and the often extended points of Hardbat play, a winner needed as much on-court endurance in the slow, slow pace of yesterday as in the fast-paced present?
Of course for yesterday’s Topics—the Apr., ‘44 one anyway—the action at this St. Louis National’s was anything but slow, the Women’s winner hardly an inveterate grinder:
"...things happened as fast as a three-ring circus—so much going on at the same time that we all went mad trying to keep up....
Sally Green, Indianapolis, Ind., sailed through all competition, winning everything three straight** to not only defend her title, but to establish a new all-time record by winning the Women’s Singles National Championship five times in a row. Her drives and slams were as accurate as a rifle shot, but faster, and her beautiful, but seldom used, defense swept everything before her" (6).
Later, on seeing her play, the famous English Coach Jack Carrington said, "Sally Green uses the dropped bat style and is easily the most deceptive hitter I have seen in the girls’ game" (Table Tennis, Mar., 1952, 9).
Early-round matches of particular interest in the 45-entry Women’s were: Shirley Nelson’s down 2-0, deuce-in- the-5th win over George Hendry’s sister Melba McLain; Barbara Cannon’s up 2-0, 19-in-the-5th near elimination by Colorado’s #1 Rita Kerns; and San Antonio’s Marjorie Willcox’s 5-game win over South Bend’s Helen Morozo. Two seeded players drew a Blank and came up short against Milwaukee’s twin threats: 7th seed Michigan Closed titleholder Margaret Wilson lost to Carlyn, and 8th seed Kansas City, Missouri TTA Secretary Dorothy Benson went down to Wisconsin Closed Champ Carrol.
Conspicuously absent were the strong East players—Bernice Charney, Peggy McLean, Mae Clouther, and Reba Monness. Hawthorn beat Kuenz 3-0, then lost -14, -14, 20, -19 in the quarter’s to #4 seed Helen Baldwin. In the semi’s, Helen played perhaps the best match of her life, but from the edge of her dusted-off mantlepiece tottered and fell what might have been—invisible Destiny favored Leah Thall, 26-24 in the 5th.
Though not all the time. Fortune winking at Leah was wickedly fickle. Defending her Mixed title with Holzrichter, she lost in the semi’s to the eventual winners Lowry/Green—26-24 in the 5th. Down match point, Billy juiced a chop return low over the net...and Sally pulverized it past an astonished Leah. "Give her 10 more tries and she couldn’t do it again," said Billy "It was the shot of the match." Bellak and Barbara Cannon, recent Michigan Open runner-up to Leah, could do no more than reach the final with a win over Somael/Hawthorn, who’d been lucky to slip 22-20 in the 5th away from the South Bend team of McColley/Morozo.
Leah Thall/Baldwin won the Women’s Doubles—over the Cannon sisters who’d taken a 27-25-in-the-4th semi’s-sneaker from Hawthorn/Wilson.
So? Is anybody counting? Ask Leah—as of now that’s 1-2-3 U.S. Open Women’s Doubles and 1-2 Mixed Doubles titles for her. Can it be long before she adds a Singles Championship?
1944-45: Familiar E.C. Officers, Familiar Voices
For the upcoming 1944-45 season, the USTTA Nominating Committee (Stan Morest, Dougall Kittermaster, Ed Cannon) proposed a slate that was to be voted on by the 11 Affiliates (actually, 17 Affiliates were listed in Topics). Only 8 Affiliates Voted "For." The other 3—District of Columbia, Michigan, and St. Louis District (piqued for one reason or another?)—didn’t vote at all, and were publicly chastised in Topics: "The presidents of these affiliates deprived the members in their associations their rights and privileges to vote as provided in the Constitution, by not casting their ballot either for or against the slate [each individual member vote wouldn’t necessarily count; the majority of member votes would determine the one vote the Affiliate would register]." As of Oct. 1, 1944, Illinois under President Berne Abelew had the largest USTTA membership of any state (144). But D.C. under Guy Burch had the second largest membership (112), Michigan under Graham Steenhoven the third largest (110), and St. Louis under Tommy Gibbons the seventh largest (86). Why this huge chunk of USTTA membership (more than a third) didn’t vote was never discussed in the magazine.
Meanwhile, we read:
"Today--in steamy jungles, in Alaskan huts; in fact, wherever tables can be brought to, or made—table tennis is being played...and enjoyed—and is becoming a permanent part of the sports habits of millions of people who not only never played it before but possibly scoffed at its ‘manly’ possibilities.
Civilians as well as members of the armed forces are newly becoming acquainted with table tennis as it really is—truly a full fledged sport.
For years we have been carrying on an educational program [sic] to bring table tennis to the point of mass population. Gradually, progress has been made. But, in the past two years, war conditions gave table tennis an impetus that did this very job for us, and did it wonderfully.
As a result when the day of peace comes, table tennis will be at a point where expansion can be quick, thorough and permanent—IF PLANS TO MEET THE SITUATION ARE MADE, and are ready for operation....
To make a plan function means that every member of the U.S.T.T.A. will have a part to play. We are confident that when the time for action arrives, and the plan is laid out, everyone will be ready and willing to jump in and help do a real job" (TTT, May, 1944, 12).
Now, of course, is not the time for action, so there isn’t any plan—just the hopeful refrain that there are "thousands who like t.t. and will gladly become USTTA members."
For better or worse then, some officials are hanging in there. Vice-President Carl Nidy ("he receives as much pleasure from organizing as he does in playing") was elected President of the USTTA, and as of June 1, 1944 the Association Headquarters had been moved from Toledo to the Insurance Exchange Building in Des Moines, Iowa, I presume to Nidy’s own office. This meant that, although Morris Bassford continued on as Treasurer, and John Kauderer as Recording Secretary, the three E.C. members from Toledo had bid their fellow workers adieu. With Past-President Larry Minneker retiring, Executive Secretary Ralph Berry followed suit and was replaced by Des Moines’ Helen Baldwin. When Ed Cannon gave up his Vice Presidency, that left only Chicago civil engineer "Ed" Kuhns remaining as 1st Vice President, so two new Vice-Presidents had to be brought in.
One was a salesman for a Chain Company, E. W. "Ted" Chapman, former President of the Indiana TTA, who back in the ‘30’s had sometimes courted his wife-to-be, Isabel, a nurse, by devoting date-time to "learning to play table tennis." Chapman will later be profiled in Topics as someone on the move, who doesn’t care, for example, to sit and watch movies. By 1946 he’ll be serving his third term as USTTA Vice-President and will be characterized as a "joiner." And rightly so—for by then he’ll be "past President of the Hammond [Indiana] Junior Chamber of Commerce, President of the Community Hospital Association, a Director in the Lake Hills Country Club, and a member of four or five lodges" (Oct., 1946, 8).
The 3rd V-P, a traffic representative for the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway Company, Charles F. Cox, Jr., had been President of the Colorado TTA, the affiliate that under his three-year leadership had shown "the greatest growth" of any in the Association. Twelve years ago he and his wife came to table tennis because they "were looking for a sport in which both could participate in and one that would afford good, clean exercise and one that promoted friendliness, goodwill and good sportsmanship" (TTT, May, 1944, 5). A genteel Ideal—our Sport promulgated that? It was announced that Cox would move to Tulsa because of a business promotion, but shortly thereafter he was elected Tournament Chair for his Denver Club whose President was now Denver Post reporter Frank Haraway.
Wes Bishop remained as Topics Editor, Berne Abelew as Associate Editor. Bishop justly lamented last year’s lack of nation-wide representation in the magazine: "Personally, as the editor, I think New York players have taken up sewing. Likewise for Portland, and anything west of Minneapolis [except Denver of course]. Anything south of South Bend (thank the Lord for guys like Varga) have decided mothballs are more interesting than Table Tennis." He urged every Affiliate to "appoint a TOPICS correspondent" (TTT, Oct., 1944, 5).
The first two issues of the magazine (Oct. and Nov., 1944) featured cover cartoons by Chicago commercial artist Frank Foster—one showing a bombardier, preoccupied, neglecting to pull his bomb release as he’d been ordered to; another a bailed-out airman, anti-aircraft fire exploding all about him, even zipping through his parachute, totally oblivious to it all. And why was this? Because both airmen were deeply immersed in reading Topics.
These cartoons were meant to dramatize the intense interest members of the Armed Services the world over were showing in Table Tennis—both in playing it and watching it. Says one letter writer to Topics, "it’s amazing how many of the boys from the mountain country and farm regions never heard of the game at all—but these are the ones who seem to take to it the quickest and with the most enthusiasm." The cartoons also suggested that our Service men and women might like to read Table Tennis news from home. So why not buy them a USTTA membership or at least a subscription to Topics? (Actually, since either costs just $1 a year, you might as well buy them a membership.) There was a little complication though. According to the Post Office, USTTA Headquarters "may accept subscriptions from persons serving in the Armed Forces overseas only upon written request from the individual to whom TOPICS is to be mailed....If this is impossible, the membership may be taken out with an address in the U.S.A. and re-mailed...for 3 cents regular or 12 cents airmail" (TTT, Nov., 1944, 8/Jan., 1945, 2).
1944-45—USTTA Servicemen Abroad
Before moving on to the 1944-45 season at home, let’s take note that during this next year some of our USTTA members are quite far flung—and most of them maybe not having the greatest time. Bellak’s a good opening example. As we’ve seen, Laci was certainly a felt force at the St. Louis National’s. And so he’d been and would continue to be in his day-to-day duties as a Serviceman. Bellak’s usefulness to the Army began not by blowing balls across an exhibition net, but by being trained to put up, over all of San Diego (best to be prepared, eh?) a balloon barrage of the sort that had saved England. Laci’s job, since helium wasn’t available, was, first, to machine-generate, out of silicon, hydrogen that would be put into containers. Then he’d see to it that the balloons that were attached to cables would be brought down, and—CAREFUL!—just the right mix of oxygen and hydrogen hosed in to refill them. Since Laci would have some free time, he got his Westchester friend Jimmy O’Connor, who’d been drafted as a medic and sent to France, stationed with him so they could do table tennis exhibitions together.
But then Bellak was re-classified with Army engineers and assigned—where he’d be for 2 and ½ years—to India. From there the U.S. could bomb Japan. Except there was no gas available for the would-be bombing planes. Hence Laci’s responsibility was twofold: (1) to construct out of metal plates the occasionally needed landing strip for planes flown into the jungle, and (2) most importantly, to lay down pipelines from Calcutta through Burma. Every 30 miles in the jungle there’d have to be a pumping station—one capable of exerting 300 pounds per square inch (three times the force necessary to start a locomotive, said Laci).
Bellak was in charge of about 25 men, and one of the first things he had them do was dig a deep well there in the jungle where clear water was precious. One guy objected to this manual labor, said, "I’m the cook." Cook? Laci was surprised, for he knew the fellow to be the former manager of a Woolworth’s five-and-dime store. "Were you a cook before?" asked Laci. "Yeah," said the guy. "I went to cooking school for two weeks."
Likely this fellow helped dig as well as the others, for Bellak, sure enough, got cool, clear water to come up and out. Then he cleared a lake—made a swimming pool out of it. Continuing to civilize jungle life, he saw to it that generators not only provided the luxury of hot and cold running water, but that they also allowed for an electric fan over everyone’s bed, and outlined at night the path to the four-seat outhouse. Ah, but the flies in that outhouse. To try to get rid of them, the men would pour gasoline into the holes. However, Laci said, not all his men were as smart as the five-and-dime cook. One fellow had a smoke in the outhouse, then flipped the butt of a lit cigarette down one of the holes. That night, as they say, the shit really hit the fan.
This experience reminds Bellak, who delights in telling his life stories to anyone who’ll listen, of the time before the War when he was in India putting on exhibitions with Barna. Given the crude conditions where they were staying this particular night, it was necessary that Laci, in order to relieve himself, go to a nearby outside pit. In the dark, following a well-worn path, he suddenly stepped right into this shit hole and sunk up to his hips. Some time later, after he’d privately cleaned himself up, Barna asked him for directions to this pit. Without warning Victor, Laci told him, "Just follow the path." Barna left, returned—and said he almost fell into the shit-pit. Laci ends this story by shaking his head and saying, "Victor always was lucky."
I’ll return to Bellak’s ’44-45 overseas adventures in a moment, but first I have to speak of what in the meantime his friend Hazi’s been doing. Sometime after his induction in May of ’43, Tibor had spent three months at Fort Harrison, IN attending Finance School. Now he was settled in, working at the Base Finance Office at Kelly Field, in San Antonio, Texas. During the summer he gave "more than 30 exhibition matches for Army installations, hospitals, and local USOs during his off-duty hours." He also appeared in a local Brooks Field "Night of Champions" with other sports figures, including former World Welterweight titleholder Fritzie Zivic and St. Louis Cardinal Enos "Country" Slaughter, 1942 National League batting champ, who was in Cadet School. Among those assisting Tibor in all these shows were the Texas tournament regulars—Cubby and Jodie McCarley, Marjorie Willcox, Louie Scharlack, Manning Fowler, and Martin Krakauer who told Topics that, after being in a plane wreck and getting glass in both eyes, he credits his table tennis play with restoring his normal vision (Feb., 1945, 3).
In mid-November, Hazi of course won everything he entered at the San Antonio Texas Open—the Singles over Krakauer, the Mixed with Willcox who’d won the Women’s over Marteen Ronk, and the Men’s Doubles with Scharlack (who enjoyed inviting local Servicemen to his home where he had a 25 x 40 playroom with two Detroiter AA tables, good lighting, and air-conditioning). The Kelly Field "Flying Times" thus put the number of awards tallied by Tibor to date at "1,339."
Since I sometimes get information about Tibor from storyteller Bellak, let’s go back, see how Laci’s doing after whatever New Year’s high he could muster. Yep, he’s still on that pipe dream of a mission. But by February, ‘45 who else should be in India but Hazi. According to Laci, Tibor’s wife Magda (who I see from a D.C. paper was playing a little locally in his absence) was worried about him, so she asked Laci to try to find him. He obliged—told me he traveled, staying with missionaries en route, until he was close to the Burma border. And there, somewhere, was Hazi—forlornly peeling potatoes (or at least that’s what Laci said he was doing). "Got a cigarette?" Tibor cried, literally cried, on seeing Laci.
I suspect, however, having seen Tibor’s scrapbook and a clipping therein from a Serviceman’s "Holy Cow" Newsletter (Assam, India, Feb. 13, 1945), that Hazi, who was with the Air Force and about to give a local table tennis exhibition under the direction of a Special Services officer, was not quite so forlorn as Laci pictured him. Perhaps it was through actor Melvyn Douglas—who, as we’ve seen from that Aronson letter, was in charge of USO recreation troupes—that Hazi came to Calcutta to do exhibitions. At any event, Laci said that once a month he had to journey to Calcutta for supplies and that Hazi would see him there. They frequented a Chinese restaurant, which, according to Bellak, Hazi didn’t much like until he ate shrimp fried rice. Then, every meal, it was shrimp fried rice, shrimp fried rice.
It’s not clear to me whether Tibor was in attendance when Laci lost a deuce in the 5th final there in Calcutta at the Bengal Championships to Aronson, for it was on Christmas Day that Chubby wrote home to his family in Chicago that he’d had this great win (he was down 2-0 and down match point in the 5th but stayed alive with, as Topics put it, "one of those incredible two-handed drop shots he made so famous." Thanks to Douglas, Chubby had indeed, along with Ned Steele, been touring the China-Burma-India (C-B-I) area, and had been a big hit at exhibition after exhibition.
He was shown on the cover of the Dec., 1944 Topics playing in a chair, one foot propped up on the table, while, to the amusement of the Servicemen in the background, he casually read from a small book at the same time he ho-hum block-returned his opponent’s ball. Topics reported that "The Evening News of India" found Aronson "irresistible," and said that he "brought the house down with his clowning." The best feature of any Aronson Program was his "effort to play with his racquet in his mouth. It sounds utterly incredible," said the News article, "but Aronson controls his return with precision and beats his opponents with superb placements." Word was that during one particular exhibition, which also had its serious side, Aronson defeated the Bombay Provincial Champion R.S. Cooper (later a student and Central league player in London), and that back in October he’d won the All-India title (8; 12).
For some reason, however, Aronson’s name was never on the USTTA Honor Roll. A not forgotten Bill Price, you remember, did belatedly get his name there—and that was before he wrote to Coleman Clark that he’d been wounded in action:
"…I was hit by a fragment of a German 120 mm mortar shell, the fragment lodging in my right ankle where it is going to stay. An operation to remove it would endanger the tendon so we’re letting well enough alone. I don’t know if I’ll go back in show business or not, a lot depends on how my ankle reacts" (TTT, Nov., 1944, 5).
Several months later though, Bill writes again from Italy that he was part of a "hastily gathered" U.S. Team that beat a British Team, so apparently his ankle couldn’t have been bothering him too much.
Table Tennis was always popular at hospitals. The Rochester, N.Y. player Ted Moser played exhibitions at them when he was stationed in Algiers. And Londoner C. Corti Woodcock, former English TTA Chairman and now Honorary Vice President of the USTTA, who acted as Ruth Aarons’ "advisor" at her 1937 disciplinary hearing with Ivor Montagu, says that Barna’s exhibitions alone (U.S. Army Medical Corps Capt. Stan Morest, based in England, prevailed on Victor to come to his hospital) have so far "earned the best part of 15,000 pounds for Red Cross funds." Manny Moskowitz wrote Topics from somewhere in the Pacific that, after he suffered a broken bone in his right, playing hand, he won a Red Cross-sponsored tournament playing left-handed. Later, we’ll see that Hazi will team up with Bellak on an Exhibition Tour of India and Burma (once remarking that they performed at "Red Cross clubs with eight tables and were busy all day"). Also, in the absence of her husband, Magda Hazi, back in Washington, D.C., answered the call of the Red Cross and went out to play table tennis with the wounded at Walter Reed Hospital. "Some of them are in wheel chairs," she said, "some have already their artificial legs and some lost either their right or left arm; but it is amazing how cheerful these boys are and how anxious they are to learn the game, or to re-learn it with their left hand" (TTT, May, 1945, 7).
Yessir, everybody wants to get a handle on the Game, play table tennis—er, ping-pong.
*At Nash’s 1991 Hall of Fame Induction, he, and indeed a son echoing him, seemed very proud of the fact that Garrett had "never worked a day in his life"—had always found it challenging to take what opportunities he could to survive by his wits.
**See "Tribute to John and Pauline Somael" in the magazine I edited for 8 issues, Timmy’s—Sept.-Oct., 1983, 25. In this same letter, we learn that before her heart attack Pauline had been suffering from cancer—a "tumor on her spine" had made her thin and weak. And poor Johnny: Pauline said he’d "lost most of his sight and was in and out of hospitals all last year—but we’re still hanging in there." Only not for long. Grief-stricken Johnny committed suicide within a week of Pauline’s fatal attack. They’d been married for more than 25 years….Though it’s human nature to want to exaggerate and so mythologize the more Somael’s amazing comeback, there does seem to be more evidence that the score was 20-13 rather than 20-14 when Johnny began his rally. In the Nov., 1945 Topics, 3, an article by "Oldtimer" also says the score was 20-13….As for Les not playing after what had to be a traumatic loss, there weren’t any tournaments for him to play in. New England wasn’t holding any, and by the time N.Y. got round to having their first of the season, the Dec. 8-9 N.Y. Open, Les was already in the Service.