1944-45: USTTA Membership Can Only Go Up? 1944: Opening Half-Season Tournaments. 1944: Appearance of Marty Reisman. 1944-45: Midwest Tournaments, including the Western’s. 1945: Non-Midwest Tournaments, including the Eastern’s.
It’s Wartime—people on the home front are busy. Can they be serious about playing table tennis? Serious enough to become a USTTA member? War or no War, it’s the decades-old question…and approached in the decades-old way. President Nidy’s right-hand, his Executive Secretary Helen Baldwin, the new Membership Chairman who’d succeeded the I’ve-had-enough Larry Minneker, announces a "Membership Contest" between the USTTA Affiliates. Except that, with regard to some of these Affiliates, ought we to think, What’s the use? Until the necessary local Saviour arrives, forget Maryland, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania? Those states, once with hundreds of members (five years ago Pennsylvania had 501 members, now they have 9), couldn’t even qualify for consideration, for to be in the Contest an Affiliate had to have at least 25 of the now only 1232 USTTA members listed in the season-ending May, ’44 Topics. Of course there are incentive prizes for the current 13 Affiliates eligible (you can soon make that 14, for all Texas has to do is hold that Nov. tournament with Hazi to increase its members from 5 to 48). Two prizes: one for the Affiliate with "the largest membership, and another for the one with "the largest percent of increase." Specifically the prizes will be—ready?— "high quality pre-war balls and paddles." Uh, how many of these are there, and they will go specifically to…who?
Never mind. With Berne Abelew as its new President, Affiliate leader Illinois—144 members as of the Oct., ’44 Topics—is game. Indeed, even before they have their fall Membership Open, they put on their first ever Chicago summer tournament—and maybe their last, for the temperature, as Editor Wes Bishop reported in that same issue of Topics (7), was "90 degrees in the shade, and strictly ‘ceiling unlimited’ for the player." Men’s winner in this Western States Summer Open was Bob Anderson—angling-in drives in the final against South Bend’s Henry Gish. "Andy" had just been given a medical discharge from the Service, and was about to take Allan Thomas’s (that is, Allan Levy’s) place touring with Coleman Clark.
Bishop said that Milwaukee’s Blank twins, Carrol and Carlyn, "hit the jack pot of audience-favor by appearing in different costumes, so that it was "the first time that people have been able to tell which was which." Carrol, unmistakably, was the twin who won, while Carlyn, unmistakably, was the twin who was upset 27-25 in the 5th in the semi’s by Mary Specht.
Bishop also covered the 14th annual Illinois Membership tournament—and opened his write-up by noting that Men’s winner Chief Petty Officer Don MacCrossen had just returned from serving in "Tunisia, Anzio, and Salerno." The "wild wampus from Wisconsin" had a tale or two to tell—at least, according to Editor Bishop who’d taken over the telling (see the unsigned "Overseas News" in TTT, Dec., 1944, 5). Turns out Don had been only about 50 feet from Mt. Vesuvius when it started erupting (but…a quick end to that story—for apparently he got the hell out of there and never looked back). However, "near the city of Pozzouli," said Bishop, "Don was walking back from a few hours shore leave" when his curiosity got the better of him…
"…It was late, in a lonely, deserted water-front village. The only sound was this weird noise that Don heard as he passed a dimly lit house. Weird, strange, yet familiar. Don stopped and cautiously peered in the window. Two small Italian boys were playing table tennis on a home-made 4x8 table, with not much more than a rag for a net and two home-made paddles. Don of course knocked and was cordially received. The children knew no English, Don knew no Italian—but managed to explain topspin, chop, and a few finer points of the game. He said he left there about dawn with the memory of two ear-to-ear grateful grins following him down the narrow, crooked street."
These "small" boys lived alone? Though it was "late" at night, maybe even in the wee small hours of the morning, Don "of course knocked" and—why, hello there!—he was cordially received, and he and the kids played until "about dawn"—when others in the house (if there were others in the house), uncomplaining sound sleepers all, awoke to hear of this fairy-tale-like strange visitor.
I tell you, you gotta watch what you read in Topics. But I do believe that in this Chicago Membership tournament the wampus whumped Anderson in the semi’s and then Columbus, Ohio’s Naval Aviation Cadet Guy Blair (9, 18, -20, 19) in the final. Bishop thought highly of Blair’s play: "Just imagine, if you can," he says, kill shots being driven back—and murderous drives being killed." As it happens, I can imagine it, can imagine Guy beating John Varga in the quarter’s and Abelew in the semi’s, and then contesting Anderson. For in little more than half a dozen years, I’ll be playing in Columbus and have occasion to see Blair’s by then only occasional hot forehand, and chuckle over his "You know, aerodynamically speaking, bumblebees can’t fly"—which I assume now was something that struck him in those impressionable days when he was an Aviation Cadet.
Since Illinois had been leading all other Affiliates in total Membership, to try to hold their position in front of the pack, they quickly ran their third tournament, the Chicago District. In the Men’s final, Varga downed his protégé, Early, the Junior winner, who in the Men’s semi’s had upset Varga’s winning Doubles partner, Walt Antonowicz. Big John, who this season would go from #11 in the USTTA Rankings to # 6, maintained—"astonishing as it might seem at first glance"—that his game was "IMPROVING by teaching and playing with players much weaker than himself." Why? Because he, as Coach of all those South Bend Juniors, was suddenly finding "small or large flaws" in his own game (TTT, March, 1945, 2). Of course the fact that he’s now playing in tournaments weekend after weekend might have something to do with his game improving.
Defending Champ Abelew came to a struggling 5th-game end when he was surprised by Boys’ Champ Gordon Barclay. Topics said of Barclay, "His temperament, winning or losing, is a pleasure to behold, and he seems to have that rare quality of playing his game and fighting all the time no matter who he plays." In short, he’s the Sport’s All-American Boy. In the Women’s, Carrol Blank drew just that this tourney—though she’d beaten returning 1938 U.S. World team member Mildred Shipman to win the Chicago Membership tournament, she was shut out here. Recently married LaVera Weber Levin beat Carrol and then Baldwin with surprising ease. An exciting Veterans’ final, though, in which Carl Nagy 12, 18, -19, -21, -14 outlasted Marlin Tucker.
Michigan’s membership dramatically increased (from 110 to 147) after Detroit held its Nov. 11-12 Jack Taggert Memorial Open. As I mentioned before, Taggert, a member of Detroit’s Intercity team before going into the Service, died when the plane he was in, on taking-off from a carrier, crashed into the sea. A 5 x 3 enlarged photo of Jack was displayed in his memory. The unusual trophies given out in this "Arsenal of Democracy" were "exact scale models of B-17’s and P-40’s mounted on bases."
Hersh won the Men’s over Varga, 24-22 in the 4th. But everybody was talking about the success of one, Alex Taub, a high school student whose Michigan rankings were 7th in the Men’s, 3rd in the Junior’s. He upset Chuck Burns—though, in fairness, Chuck "was playing his first tournament since pulling a ligament in his leg last year," and the brace he wore "seemed to slow his movements." Still, before acquitting himself well in (14, -20, -14, -16) losing to Hersh in the semi’s, Taub had also eliminated 12-year-old tenacious boy-wonder Barclay in the quarter’s –30, 17, 9, -18, 17. Taub, however, did not win the Junior’s—lost the final in straight games to Dave Spence who also won the Men’s Doubles with his Columbus mentor Bob Green.
Margaret Koolery Wilson was unstoppable. She won the Women’s over Marie Nash, and with Nash the Women’s Doubles, and with Hersh the Mixed over surprising 22-20 in the 4th resistance from Green and little known Dela Wasum.
Nebraska showed a 33% increase in Membership on holding its Dec. 2-3 Greater Omaha tournament. In the absence of John Tatom, the U.S. Veterans’ Champion who’d decided to retire, Nebraska TTA President Marv Travis worked the hat-trick. After being down 2-0 and at deuce in the 3rd, he recovered to snatch the Singles from his winning Doubles partner Warren Hotz, and took the Mixed with Women’s winner Mrs. Virginia Merica.
Meanwhile, if there are tournaments in the East, Topics sure doesn’t know about them. There’s nothing much happening in the former hotbeds of New England. Mae Clouther, we’ll hear, "continues her work at hospitals," continues to Captain the Boston Stage Door Canteen, and continues to keep the Colonial Club open two nights a week. Her Massachusetts co-champion Les Lowry got a bad break—was "the victim of the Army Air Force’s decision to release a large group of pilots in training and put them in the ground forces," so Les, much to his disappointment, is now with the infantry. As for New England’s most promising young player, Frank Dwelly, he’s already "a vet of the Marshall Islands, Saipan and Tinian campaigns."
But at least New York was organizing. At an Oct. 9th meeting at the Park Central Hotel, Reba Monness was elected to a 1-year term as President. Henry Herrmann, Dick Miles, Lou Pagliaro, and Mary Reilly were named Vice-Presidents. William Saltzman was the Treasurer, and Davida Hawthorn the Secretary. John Kauderer, Arnold Fetbrod, and Herwald Lawrence were among the established Committee heads.
Reba is also back writing her "More or Less" column for Topics. She’s strongly urging the USTTA to make it mandatory that every player wear a dignified white in tournaments and exhibitions (like the very successful Coleman Clark who, Reba tells us, meticulously washes and irons all of his clothes and presses all of his suits and ties). Reba says that every top-notch player in the country she and her friends interviewed agreed that, no, they would not lose sight of the white ball against an opponent dressed in white (Dec., 1944, 4).
Influential John Varga, however, is adamantly opposed to white playing attire. Editor Bishop, though he objects to "the riotous rainbow of distracting colors" worn by the players, and agrees that white’s fine for exhibitions, argues that in tournaments "the constant strain of looking at all white might affect some, if not all players. He points out that "army surgeons and hospitals are demanding pastels to ease eye strain" (TTT, Feb., 1945, 3). Mildred Shipman, while also agreeing that white’s right for exhibitions, says that for tournament play we "need a dark colored uniform." Here’s her ideal suggestion (though she admits it might be "too advanced for our present tournament play"):
"Why doesn’t each state adopt a style of jacket and slacks (or shorts for the girls who prefer them), making the color agreeable to the tournament rules. A shirt style and color (either contrasting or matching the jacket and slacks) would also be decided upon, and all players from each state would wear said uniform with state emblem thereon—to all tournaments. Better yet—why doesn’t each state submit its style and color of uniform to a national committee who could choose one style suitable for all, but leaving the choice of color to the individual state; making sure, however, that no two states have the same color combinations? I think it would appeal to the spectators to see all players dressed alike, with variations of color, and with the state emblem indicating the many states represented in each tournament" (TTT, May, 1945, 7).
Ah, Millie, you’ll wait way too long for New Yorkers to dress uniformly. And my guess is so will the USTTA despite next season’s clothing regulations in major tournaments for men ("grey flannel trousers, dark colored shirts "with closed necks and quarter length sleeves" but without of course "any commercial advertising during play").
The New Yorkers will finally get round to holding a tournament, though—their Dec. 8-9, 1944 New York City Open. In the Men’s final "that provided a large crowd of spectators with thrill after thrill, Pagliaro completely mastered the terrific blast of Miles’s forehand"—that is, after Louie had lost the first two games to Dick. Miles, teaming with Charlie Schmidt, won the Doubles from Cy Sussman and Bob Anderson (back touring with Clark?). Schiff partnered Mae Clouther to a win in the Mixed over Dr. Mitchell Silbert and Davida Hawthorn. Reba sort of salivates over Clouther who she says has lost "pounds and pounds." Mae’s figure, she says, "is truly pleasing, she wears white shorts in tournaments, with suntan leg makeup, ooh la la, wait until you see her…Elizabeth Arden ought to pay for an ad in TOPICS" (TTT, Feb., 1945, 4).
Absent from this strong tournament were: Eddie Pinner who was a waist gunner on B-52 missions somewhere in the Pacific; Johnny Somael who was up at Cornell taking "a special army course for medical students"; and Doug Cartland who was in Italy on Tour with Harry Cook. Doug told me much later that he and Harry were with other GI entertainers—Jascha Heifetz, Mickey Rooney, and then acrobat Burt Lancaster—and that, starting at Naples, as the English and the Americans pushed back the Nazis, they followed.
The Women’s produced two mirroring semi’s—Peggy McLean over Hawthorn, 19, 14, 20, and Bernice Charney over Helen Germaine, 19, 15, 21. McLean then beat Charney in a -18, 14, 20, -14, 14 final that for audience appeal rivaled the Men’s. George Bacon, who’d played a deuce game with Paggy, went on to win the Veterans’.
The Junior’s? Well, that event was very special, historic, in fact—for it was the first time in Topics we’d read of the Reisman brothers. David, the older of the two, came through with a 5-game semi’s win over Irwin Miller, and Marty joined him after a momentous –19, 23, 18, -24, 14 set-to with former winning N.Y. Intercity member Morris Chait. After David lost this final to Marty in straight games, he took out whatever frustrations he might have had not on a table tennis court but in a boxing ring, and we wouldn’t hear about him any more. But Marty…Marty!
Background of 14-year-old, almost 15-year-old Marty Reisman
THE Reisman was born Feb. 1, 1930. "Baby Reisman" it said on his birth certificate. Mother: Sarah, 20 years old, from Russia. Father: Morris, 25, living with his wife and now two sons on East Broadway in Manhattan. Brother: David, 1 and ½.
Marty’s father was a cab driver, a bookmaker, and a gambler—"a compulsive loser," says Marty in his celebrated fact-become-fiction autobiography, The Money Player (1974). In other words, a father, you might say, who did not practice what he preached but showed by his example how wise it would be for Marty to hustle bets on some "sure thing." Morris’s marriage lasted until 1940, after which Marty lived with his mother until he was 14, then, since it was obvious his father would encourage him to play table tennis and be proud of his successes, he moved in with him. Marty won’t forget that Broadway Central Hotel—its grandiose ballroom, dining room, and soft lobby couches a fading reminder of what a plush place it had once been.
In the beginning it was Marty’s brother David who played table tennis, while Marty only wanted to collect balls used in the Game. Perhaps almost mystically he sensed the worlds in miniature they could contain for him—it was only a matter of concentration, of focus to show him what might be found therein. This was a schoolboy who enjoyed using a microscope (today he collects them).*
In 1960 he’d tell a reporter for the New York Times how, "at the age of 12…at the Educational Alliance, a settlement house on the Lower East Side [its chief benefactor the stage and screen star Eddie Cantor]," he was first drawn to table tennis. It was a process of discovery:
"’I was in the chemistry club dissecting frogs,’ he recalled, ‘but one day I went down to the gym to watch my brother play table tennis. I hit the ball a couple of times and I knew that this was it.’"
Marty waved his racket hand over something magical that day… and, as worlds formed, he had a new identity, the first of many: the "Seward Park Champion."
Where now, he wanted to know, was the fabled Lawrence’s Club?
Not where he thought it was—the table tennis place he frequented for a few months, indeed, for $7 a week and free table time, was responsible for opening the doors to in the afternoons, cutting his last class, typing, to do so. This was "Arnold’s," just down from Jack Dempsey’s restaurant, on Broadway between 49th and 50th. Here he kept asking everyone, "Where are all the good players?"
"Out on the road," they said.
"When are they coming back?"
"In the Spring,"
The Arnold’s habitués liked having Marty around—this enthusiastic innocent. Liked his energy, his humor—for those in some clubs too soon start to grow old.
But Marty wised up—a little at a time. Just a few blocks up Broadway he found Lawrence’s…and who he thought was the porter there—a black man sweeping the wooden floor, his broom sprinkled with a curious green powder that caught the eye. The man looked at him. "Care for a game, old chap?"
It was as if the dust this man was trying to keep down had gotten into Marty’s eyes—he felt he’d been misled. Could this be the place he was looking for? But, really, he was at Lawrence’s, and this man, originally from Barbados, was the gentlemanly, articulate Lawrence himself.
Perhaps on this particular day Reisman had been satisfied just to make a confused appearance. But count on him to be back, to sooner or later find this fellow Miles…and, when Dick’s opponent of the moment took a break, brash young Marty jumped over the barrier of protocol to ask, "Want to hit a few?"
To which Dick, one of the best players in the country and the 4 and ½ years difference in age between them then meaning something, responded, "No." Thus signaling the opening salvo of, if not their continued, sometimes playful insults, round after round of mutually explosive shots and spectators’ shouts of anguish or approval.
The Nov. 19-20, 1943 Metro Open, held at Lawrence’s, had a Junior event—but Marty, then, according to The Money Player, the City’s Under 13 Champion, was not listed among the semifinalists. Of course he’d been trying to improve his game against any good player he could find. Mitchell Silbert, at that time one of the Top 10 players in New York, remembered to his dying day in the 1990’s, and always with a chuckle, how Marty had pleaded plaintively, "Dr. Silbert, would you play with me?" And Silbert, as we see in coming back to that Dec., ’44 New York City Open, was good enough to get to the semi’s before losing to Paggy, 16, 17, 20.
NYTTA President Monness, in her Dec., ‘44 Topics column (10), correctly predicts that Miles "could win the Nationals" but she’s less right in saying that this "terrific" young player Reisman "within the very near future…should be U.S. champion." She lauds Marty for being "intelligent" and for having "an excellent competitive temperament." No wonder they’d be friends for 40 years.
Though with the coming of the second half of the ’44-45 season, Marty was just going to turn 15, a boy could more easily mature in those War years than at another earlier time. It would therefore be acceptable for him to be called on, as a youngster when young men were scarce, to give table tennis exhibitions. And how convenient, and how important it made him feel, to be picked up in a limousine. Marty remembers putting on several exhibitions for bandleader Fred Waring’s show at the CBS building in Manhattan, and for Servicemen being rehabilitated at Fort Dix and Fort Monmouth in New Jersey. Once he recalls even playing in a mental hospital where an inmate, on observing Marty, ran around the table ranting and raving. Marty also speaks of several performances he gave on the stage of New York theaters with Clark, and how astonished he was to see Cokey catch and hold 1-2-3-4 ping-pong balls in his mouth. However, Marty also had the impression that if he ever put any spin on the ball, Cokey, refined gentleman off-court that he was, would look at him like, Forget about me blowing these balls out and back, I’m ready to spit at you for real.**
Midwest Tournaments, Including the Western’s
That Clark’s regular exhibition partner will continue to be Bob Anderson is clear when Cokey, with his genial personality, his honest friendliness, and pleasant smile," dropped into Chicago’s North-Town Club toward the end of winter to rehearse with "Andy" and their commentator Earl Wing, youthful veteran of NBC radio shows. Naturally the players at the Club, many who’d never seen his act, all gathered round to watch. Pretty soon there were screams of laughter. Here’s what Topics had to say about this consummate professional’s practice:
…The ‘Jingle Bells’ with the frying pans is one of the neatest take-offs of table tennis ever to hit the stage or screen. The balancing of the ball on Clark’s nose has a surprising outcome that will leave you howling—no, you can’t guess, you’ll just have to see it. The rubber ball that hops back and forth over the net and leaps from side to side with both ‘Andy’ and ‘Cokey’ swiping and missing it is a killer. The machine-gun like chatter from commentator Wing keeps you on the edge of your seat—and that 11 point game they play is, without a doubt, table tennis at its best!" (Apr., 1945, 5).
At the Jan. 6-7 St. Joe Valley Open at South Bend, Anderson had some free time, but, without Cokey to crack the whip on him, didn’t perform up to expectations. He was beaten in the semi’s of the Singles, 3-zip, by Hersh, and then in the Doubles was accused, as Topics put it, of "nonchalant playing" in the consequently "marred" final when he and the now elevated to Topics co-Editor, Abelew , went down, deuce in the 4th, to Bill Early/Sam Shannon. In the other Men’s semi’s, Bob Green was eliminated by Varga in 5 after John had escaped Dave Spence in the 5th. In the 25, -19, 14, 18 final, Max, with "superb drives" and "four consecutive killshots at the end of the 4th," had "the crowd screaming" (TTT, Feb., 1945, 5).
Minnesota planned to emphasize one day tournaments, for they had the following advantages: "easy to run,…no long waits between matches, and [better] spectator interest…." But by season’s end, since Minnesota tournaments hadn’t been reported to Topics, and since, of all the major Midwest affiliates, Minnesota had lost the most members—almost 40—Mrs. Grant, Minnesota Women’s Champ and newly appointed USTTA Women’s Chair, has maybe put a made-up face on the state of play up there. However, she’ll write out a series of table tennis questions for a "Sport Quiz" program on WLOL Minneapolis-St. Paul.: "…When the table tennis game reaches the score of deuce, what is that score?"…When is the center white line on the table used in a contest?…." These questions will stump "the experts" and earn her $15.
On the Jan. 20-21 weekend, Chicago held the Illinois Open. Seaman 1/c Billy Holzrichter wasn’t there—but he did write to Topics from the Philippines: "I’m living five men in a tent with a raised wooden floor and electric lights. We have open air showers. The grub isn’t bad either, but incomplete." Billy was optimistic enough to enclose money to renew his USTTA membership for ’45-46-47.
Who arrives from overseas, however, to win the Men’s from Varga but the Bengal Champion himself, Corporal Herb (Chubby) Aronson. The Topics write-up says the spectators "were amazed and delighted by Aronson’s two-handed dexterity, and ‘impossible’ drop-shots." His game "was distinctly better than ever before"—perhaps because he’s "added a backhand chop and drive to his pre-war stock in trade" (Feb., 1945, 6).
Quite surprisingly Aronson’s semi’s opponent turned out to be…Max Rushakoff, runner-up to Jimmy McClure in the 1934 Parker Brothers’ APPA National’s. In practice, Max had been fooling around, amusing old timers, by playing with a tennis grip…until suddenly—shouting with his old spontaneity, "What am I doing? I’m a penholder!"—he switched to his old penhold grip and started smacking in balls. Which is precisely what he did in this tournament in his 19-in-the-5th quarter’s win against U.S. #8 Mel Nichols. Says one writer in one issue of Topics, "we’re all glad to see him back for he puts color, sparkle and an occasional explosion into the game." (Like when he combines playing serious points while munching on a banana?) Says another (or the same?) writer in a later issue, "if Max would only learn to control his emotions (strangers just can’t understand him) he would be a welcome addition to every tournament." The man is sometimes an embarrassment?
Local Juniors got the better of the more hyped South Bend boys, Early and Barclay—with Charles Schaaf downing Dan Cory for the title. Sgt. Sam Hoffner from New York (but stationed at least momentarily in the Chicago area?) said his "lack of competition" while in Service "distorted my sense of values to such an extent that I thought I had a fair chance of winning [sic: the Men’s]—as the dark horse—what with all the good players in the army (I thought)." He then went on to say, after seeing Barclay lose in the Junior’s that he "is really amazing at his age. Ed Pinner and Lou Pagliaro, with whom I’ve played from the start, never were as good until years later"—a judgment, which, with all due respect to all concerned, is also likely a distortion of reality.
In the Women’s, LaVera Levin showed true grit in 14, -20, -22, 14, 12 fighting off Mary Specht’s challenge. But neither woman had an easy time getting to the final. LaVera had to go 5 to beat fellow Chicagoan Jean Scranton, and Mary, to her great credit, knocked off U.S. #9 Carrol Blank and U.S. #4 Helen Baldwin. Last year, after only that one season of competitive play, Specht was ranked U.S. #25. Now she was featured in an action shot on the cover of the Jan., 1945 Topics, and described therein as having "a hard, accurate drive from forehand and backhand, a biting chop, and a fine temperament" (2). Before losing to Levin, Mildred Shipman continued her return to form by besting Mona Buell, 20, 17, -18, 20. The Blank twins won the Women’s Doubles in 5 over Baldwin/Helen Dziubinski (formerly Helen Morozo). But Dziubinski/Early took the Mixed, eliminating in their toughest match Aronson and his brother Norm’s wife Sylvia, deuce in the 5th.
With tournaments every week in the Midwest, no wonder the USTTA Membership slide had been stopped—indeed, by season’s end the Association will have gained 200 members, up from 1232 to 1417. The Michigan Affiliate, under President Graham Steenhoven, won both prizes in the Balls and Paddles contest. In Oct., Michigan had 110 members; four months later they had 222, a 100% increase, and were ambitiously ready to host the April National’s. How’d they get so many more to sign up when, unfortunately in the last month of the Contest five other states lost a balancing 100 members? Well, the fact that Steenhoven was opportunistic helped. At the Feb. 3-4 Michigan Open, Graham "displayed a large poster with names of players in service in the left hand column. The right hand side, reserved for names of sponsors, was quickly filled in by stay-at-home members who volunteered to buy a membership for the soldiers and sailors" (TTT, Mar., 1945).
At this Michigan Open, Hersh won his sixth straight tournament—beat Varga in the final, from down 2-0 and 20-17 triple match-point in the 3rd. However, in the Doubles, Hersh, partnered by Abelew, lost to Shannon/Early. So much was made of the fact that Shannon had grown a beard (no one in table tennis wore one in the 1940’s?) that the cover of the Feb. Topics showed him in a dual role as hallowed "saint" (via a photo-doctored "halo" of light) and as (turn the cover wrong-side up) turbaned "swami." Just some imaginative fun ("for your Table Tennis Album") by boyish Editors Bishop and Abelew.
The St. Louis District TTA was another Affiliate that initially had made a big advance in their membership—they’d picked up over 50 members. Where, you might ask, was St. Louis’s ex-World Doubles Champion Buddy Blattner? Here and there in the South Pacific giving table tennis exhibitions with tennis great Bobby Riggs who reportedly once said that playing table tennis ruins his lawn tennis (TTT, Mar., 1938, 7). Apparently, it was Sussman, not Blattner, who won the Hawaiian Championships for those in Service.*** Further, Cy then got permission from his commanding officer to tour the Islands playing USO table tennis shows with Miss Jini O’Connor, one of the well-known New Jersey sisters of that name.
At the Feb. 17-18 Milwaukee Open, South Bend’s Bill Early "scored the greatest triumph of his table tennis career." After surviving a 5-game match with Abelew in the semi’s, he defeated Varga, his "acid-tongued…mentor and guiding hand, and did it under circumstances requiring the utmost in nerve, courage and stability." Down 2-0, "Bill wound up…and in a driving attack that took its toll of John’s steadiness," won the next 3 (the 4th at deuce). "His victory was greeted with a standing ovation" (TTT, Mar., 1945, 2; 12-13).
It wasn’t until the Feb. 24-25 Western Open at Chicago’s North-Town Club that current and 5-time National Women’s Champion Sally Green made a re-appearance in Topics. Surely she must have hit balls somewhere? Enough, anyway—for she was able, "with her ever present crossed fingers," to get by the formidable Leah Thall in the final. "Leah made some beautiful ‘gets’ when Sally burned them down the backhand corners," but lost 18 in the 5th. Said one observer, "Was not Sally simply superb when she was proudly, even arrogantly, defending what she claimed as her rights, by bitter contest, to the Championship? What a recovery, after Leah had her down, when Sally hit her stride through those final terrific drives."
Sally apparently didn’t play the Mixed, but just as if it were yesterday—well, 1939, 1940—she and her former U.S. Open co-Champion Mildred Shipman won the Women’s Doubles. I was surprised that Kuenz, who generally only plays locally, went to Chicago, but she knew what she was doing, for she and Lasater deserved the Mixed—knocked off Carrol Blank/Abelew 18 in the 5th in the semi’s, then upset Thall/Varga in 5 in the final. In the Men’s, Hersh, having gotten by Abelew in a 19-in-the-5th semi’s, had an unexpectedly easy time with Aronson who was "bewildered" by Max’s "blistering drives."
Non-Midwest tournaments, including the Eastern’s
Tibor Hazi’s presence in the Texas Open at San Antonio helped to bring in a flurry of new USTTA members. But his absence in D.C. had proved disastrous. President Guy Birch had been wildly enthusiastic at the start of the season. Earlier, the D.C. TTA had initiated "a junior and boys tournament…every Friday night…which drew 21 stories in the Washington newspapers." Then Burch got the idea of a series of "point tournaments" (with points being awarded, much as in past Hammond/Wilkinson Cup play, for both participation and results). All this local interest, he thought, was sure to pay off. So confident was he that he put in a bid to hold the ’45 National’s and issued a challenge to Membership leader Illinois—said if they couldn’t get 225 members they wouldn’t win the Balls and Paddles Contest, D.C would (TTT, Nov., 1944, 7). So what happened? Never mind the National’s, the D.C. Association didn’t run a single sanctioned tournament, and their membership suffered the worst decline of any Affiliate during the season—went from 117 to 55.
At season’s end, Dougall Kittermaster, USTTA Tournament Committee Chair, could take encouragement from the fact that there were almost twice as many sanctioned tournaments this year as last. However, almost all of these, as we’re seeing, are being played in the Midwest. Anyway, Kittermaster’s tournament duties, after more than a decade, are over. Soon he’ll leave Chicago for Windsor, Canada "with his new bride, to be top man of a Gold and Copper mine which he inherited from his family."
The only remaining tournament played this season in the East was the March 10th (one day only) Eastern’s, held at the Masonic Hall in New Rochelle, N.Y. Stanley Church, the Mayor himself, was there and gave someone the key to something, though apparently not to the venue, for it was made clear that, whether play was over or not, the Hall would be locked up promptly at midnight.
Never fear—Miles’s win in the Men’s was quick. Likewise, Peggy McLean’s—she mercilessly 12, 8, 8 annihilated Davida Hawthorn in the semi’s before allowing Bernice Charney an average 18 points a game. McLean may have started with Herwald Lawrence as her mentor, but Reba Monness says that for four years now Peggy’s been taking lessons from Pagliaro. As for the 17-year-old Charney—a shy girl, never wore make-up, said her contemporary Harold Kupferman—Reba grants that she has "natural talent," but claims she needs "more strokes and strategy." Reba also points out that Bernice isn’t the "fighter" she was since her brother David, five years her senior, who helped her learn the strokes and gave her pep talks, has been in Service. However,"George Chotros’ ardent ‘rooting’ should inspire her."
Reba thought Somael had put on too much weight, but he and Sol Schiff defeated Webb and Milwaukee’s Duane Maule to win the Doubles. Only in the Junior’s was there much excitement. In the one semi’s, Marty Reisman 14, 23, -19, 14 downed Irving Miller; in the other, Keith "Tibby" Shaber outlasted Morris Chait in 5. Marty then won the final in 4.
Long Island held a Closed, but it doesn’t seem to have been a sanctioned tournament—the more so because it was played at East Rockaway on Apr. 13th, the first day of the Detroit National’s. Men’s winner Arnold Fetbrod didn’t care, and neither did the runner-up…none other than Mark Matthews (yep, the Marcus Schussheim of old), who keeps mysteriously reappearing from time to time to remind us of what our heritage was and how we’ve progressed. Under President Frank Milano, the LITTA currently had 70 USTTA members, most of them playing in weekly 16-team round robin matches. .
The only sanctioned tournament reported in the South—the Feb. 4th Miami Open, held in Miami Beach—gave the USTTA 18 new members. New Yorker Sam Hoffner, who apparently didn’t play in the tournament, said that interest in the Game in Miami Beach was only "fair, with not enough tables or good enough equipment and facilities in most cases for the number of players."
Could that same assessment of the Game be made in cities everywhere in the U.S.?
*Marty once sent me a Dec. 19, 1995 N.Y. Times article about a device "called a scanning interferometric apertureless mircroscope [SIAM]" that can "directly examine and analyze fragments of matter as small as genes."
**The March-April, 1972 issue of Topics quotes an article from the Feb., 1966 N.Y. Daily Mirror that details the bizarre story of a woman who accidentally got a ping-pong ball stuck in her throat and choked to death. Reportedly it rolled off the table tennis table under which she, in open-mouthed excitement, and her boyfriend were making love.
***In the Jan. and Mar., 1945 issues of Topics, the "Overseas News" column speaks of Blattner and Riggs playing a "series of exhibitions" in the South Pacific. In the Apr., 1945 Topics, Dr. Harry Sage, Chief Medical Officer aboard the U.S.S. Typhoon, reports that "in the ‘Hawaiian Championships,’ for service personnel, Bud Blattner defeated Joe Kolady in the finals and defeated Bobby Riggs in the semis" (6). However, in the Feb., 1945 Topics, Reba Monness says Cy Sussman "just won the championship of Hawaii" (4), and in the Nov., 1945 Topics, the "Overseas News" receives a letter from Sussman himself that says, "The only table tennis I’ve played was in the Hawaiian Open (which he won) [this is an interpolation by the Editor] and a few exhibitions with Bobby Riggs." Newspaper clippings I have show two Servicemen at a base fighting it out to play Riggs, "supposedly for the 14th Naval District Championship," then Riggs easily defeating the winner. When, immediately afterwards, the call went out for Riggs to play volunteers, Sussman was the army entry and beat Bobby, 2-1. In a Mar. 7, 2000 letter to me, Cy recalls "the famous challenge match when I was stationed at Hickam Field in the Pacific." In a short bio of Sussman, which presumably he got from Cy, George Schein says Cy won the "Hawaiian Open Championships" and "the servicemen’s championship (the above 14th Naval District Championship?) by defeating Bobby Riggs in the finals." It would seem, though, that if Cy did win both Hawaiian Championships, he still considers the challenge match the most significant.