1947: Miles/Leah Thall Take Eastern’s. 1946-47: Midwest Winter Tournaments. 1947: Price/Kerns Win Western’s. 1947: U.S. Team Had Envisioned Better Results Overseas—Miles Disappoints.
Since the vaunted U.S. Team, with Captain Carl Nidy accompanied by his 18-year-old daughter Carol, won’t leave for Europe until Feb. 6, and then will have two weeks of exhibitions and practice before the Paris World’s start, I want, before we follow their progress, to bring us up-to-date through some December/January tournaments and the early February Eastern’s and Western’s. I’ll begin with what little action there is in the East then pick up the more extended play in the West.
It’s a fault, I think, that, though New York City’s John Kauderer continues to be on the USTTA E.C., we just never read much in Topics about play in the Northeast and specifically in New York. The National Association, its magazine Editors, "Americans," as Miles says, have been very Midwest oriented and so haven’t been interested in taking the lead to establish a liaison with the socially and culturally suspect New Yorkers who remain, and seem to want to remain, "outsiders." But meanwhile readers country-wide are deprived. For those many interested in weekly tournament play at Lawrence’s, the lights might as well be out at that fabled Club, its cluster of great players, the Broadway nightlife there, nonexistent.
In the Nov., 1946 Topics, we did hear about unusual play in New York City—at Midston House, a residential hotel, where Ross Ackerman ran a "Reverse" tournament. (Ackerman, a friend of both Bellak and Glancz, is the guy who, back in 1938, wanted to sustain a rival NYTTA to Kauderer’s established Metro TTA because there were, well, undesirables in that Affiliate.) Turns out Ackerman was having problems getting players to participate in an annual Midston House tournament. They felt they weren’t good enough, didn’t want to be embarrassed. "Then one evening Ross heard a player say, ‘If they would hold a tournament where the poorest player wins—I sure would win it.’ Yeah? Really? So, "O.K.," Ross thought, "I’ll run such a tournament." And, wow, players immediately signed up. Ackerman umpired each match, and if he judged a player wasn’t trying his best, he/she would be disqualified. "A cup was presented to the woman who won the tournament for being the poorest player and the tournament itself caused real fun for both players and spectators" (3, 13). Caused fun? Imagine that.
With USTTA Executive Secretary Berna’s return and the Association Headquarters back in Philadelphia, we of course hear what’s happening in Pennsylvania. And, my god, wouldn’t you know that in Bethlehem, Lillian Caretta, the new PTTA Recording Secretary, picked up on Ackerman’s "success" and ran a Reverse Tournament of her own. Then she set up the Club’s Challenge Board in reverse, so now members would have "to dethrone the losers in order to obtain their rightful position on the board." All this and a picture of her in Topics too.
The Pennsylvania Intercities, meanwhile, was won by Philadelphia, led by Al Butowsky. Lancaster, with Bob Fritsch losing but one match, was 2nd, Reading 3rd. Other cities competing were Bethlehem, Hazelton, and Norristown.
According to Topics, then, aside from the Eastern’s, that’s about it for what’s going on in the East halfway through winter. Oh, Guy Burch, because of ill health, resigned as President of the D.C. Association—which didn’t stop him from being Director of the Washington Population Reference Bureau. Jimmy Shea took his place. And soon George Foster, Commissioner of the U.S. Court of Claims, who’d encouraged the Hazis to move to Washington, would take Shea’s place.
The 1947 Eastern’s were held Feb. 1-2 at Philadelphia’s Fleisher Auditorium, but without Sol Schiff and Lou Pagliaro who "were forced to remain in New York due to illness in their families." Topics Editor Mel Evans, Jr. had to have come over to the tournament from his Lancaster, PA home, for he had a couple of complaints to make in the next issue of the magazine:
"Recently I witnessed a major tournament [some indirection—this could only be the Eastern’s] and was very much surprised to notice a single’s match being sandwiched between two tables that were being used for doubles play. Practically every other point at the singles table had to be replayed due to un-intentional interference. Conditions like this (which might be avoided so easily) are certainly not conducive to the best brand of table tennis.
Another annoying item proved to be the utter disregard of ‘time.’ Practice was supposedly limited to a few minutes, but I watched several players [I’d like to bet $5 one of them was Reisman] enjoy a 25-minute warm-up session. This malpractice, coupled with the inability of the committee to properly schedule the events, delayed the final matches until long after midnight" (Mar., 1947, 2).
Since Ohio’s Thall, who heretofore had not played in the Eastern’s, would be sailing for Europe from New York before next weekend’s Western’s, she made the most of this tournament opportunity. Down 2-0 in the semi’s to Monness, she rallied and, after winning the 4th at 19, advanced to the final. There, against McLean, with games 1-1, she won the 3rd at 19 and with the 4th the title. Leah also took both Doubles—the Women’s with Hawthorn who, though losing to McLean in the Singles, had (-19, -21, 19, -21) played her almost point for point, and the Mixed with Eddie Pinner over Reisman/Monness, then Hazi/Clouther, both in 5.
Miles won the Men’s—downed in succession Mitch Silbert in 4, Frank Dwelly in 4 (after Frank had gotten by Morris Chait 24-22 in the 4th), Tibor Hazi 3-0, and Reisman in 4. In the semi’s, Marty, behind 2-1, had outlasted Pinner. Also, in winning the Junior’s, Reisman was said to have had a slam-bang counter-driving battle with Chait. Pinner and Sussman took the Men’s Doubles from Miles and Freddie Borges, 23-21 in the 4th. Borges, who’d be fighting it out in the Over 80’s in U.S. Nationals come the new millennium, would be U.S. #27 this season, but seemed to be playing better than that. He and Miles had beaten Hazi and his fellow D.C. partner Hal Green in the semi’s, deuce in the 5th. And Freddie himself, playing for Columbia University in the Jan. 18th New England Intercollegiate’s, had won the Singles in 5 over Les Lowry, and the Doubles with Eugene Fately over Les and his brother Dick. Hazi was playing well—had beaten Schmidt and Sussman—but was a week away yet from being 35. So no problem for Charlie Schmidt, he won the Veteran’s—over Simeon Sabre who’d struggled through 5 games with Bill Gunn.
Hazi had finally returned to Washington after 39 months overseas and had gone to visit his friend Henry Wallace, former Vice-President under President Roosevelt. Tibor had corresponded with Wallace while he was in the Service—though, as he said, "Every letter I sent was censored, since I could never indicate where I was." When Tibor arrived at Wallace’s, Mrs. Lyndon Johnson was visiting too (her husband was in the hospital having a gall bladder operation). When the liaison in charge dutifully but skeptically informed Wallace that a Mr. Hazi wished to see him, the response was, "Tibor here? Bring him right up!" Hazi said the liaison was amazed. But Wallace had throat trouble, couldn’t speak, could only write notes.
Bellak, who’d been giving exhibitions with Hazi in India but had preceded him home, didn’t play in this tournament, nor would he in the upcoming National’s, for he’d gone off with Henrietta Wright to do USO shows in such places as Hawaii, Iwo Jima, the Philippines, and Japan (where Laci said the Japanese players, who understandably didn’t like Americans, refused to go on court with any of our Occupation Forces). When he came back to the States from overseas, Bellak was asked, "Don’t you want to meet your fiancée?" A line which you’ll agree needs a bit of explanation.
Years earlier, Laci had met a fellow named Moss (originally Moskowitz), a Hungarian immigrant who was running a successful photography shop in New York City at 46th and Broadway. Moss made glossy photos of celebrity performers and when Laci and his friend Glancz wanted to do shows—the Easter Show at Radio City Music Hall, for example—they needed publicity shots. After Bellak introduced himself by saying, "I’m Hungarian too," and Moss jokingly replied, "In that case you’ll have to pay in advance," they became friendly. Moss as it happened had a sister, Lilly, who’d been caught in the War—her husband killed on the Russian front, and she herself having suffered in a concentration camp for more than a year. When liberated she’d made the three-week walk from Vienna back to Budapest. Moss asked Laci to do him the favor of writing a letter pretending that he was engaged to Lilly and so getting her into the U.S. as a possible G.I. bride. "Of course you don’t have to marry her," said Moss. Laci obligingly wrote the letter, but thought nothing more about it.
When he came back to New York, he agreed to at least meet this Lilly. They went to the Tavern on the Green, had dinner, danced. She had five brothers, was something of a tomboy but was also attractive, feminine, could play the piano, had a sense of humor, and seemed comfortable with him. He liked her, began voluntarily to see her. She’d been trained as a dressmaker, so got a job in the New York Garment District, but she was too precise, other girls worked faster—she didn’t like the life, even had difficulty breathing. Laci wanted to be with Lilly, but he also wanted to be free. No obligations, said Lilly, continue your table tennis shows.*
Eventually they married, lived somewhat spartanly in small digs. Lilly made a kitchen out of a big closet, put in a small refrigerator, and got a chance to show off her gourmet cooking by inviting that same Ross Ackerman I spoke of earlier to dinner. Laci was pleased—proud that "Lilly had made a home for me." After a while, Moss, more a salesman type than an organizer, not only had Lilly working for him but was asking Laci to take on the job of managing his large shop and the tens of people he had working for him. This Laci did, and, gaining experience, would eventually strike out on his own.
Minnesota’s membership had climbed back up (85 by the end of December), so their affiliate was ready to run another tournament. The Dec. 7-8 Ten Thousand Lakes Open was pretty much a replay of the last Minneapolis tournament two months earlier. In the Men’s, Lund again beat Sirmai in the final. Lund/Sirmai again took the Doubles—this time from Singles semifinalists Ed Litman and Dave Krawetz. The Women’s was again won by Marilyn Jensen over Janet Jamieson. Harry and Shirley Lund again won the Mixed from Sirmai/Jensen. However, Plains States invaders took the Veterans’ events. Des Moines’ George Wicker beat Omaha Club Champion Johnny Tatom who was proudly urging Minnesotans to come play in an upcoming tournament at his just opened Omaha TTA two-story clubhouse, "complete with showers, brand new Detroiter tables, and a special rumpus room." In the Junior’s, Bob Stotts avenged his earlier loss to Eddie Kantar.
At the Dec. 14-15 Missouri State Open there was more déjà vu—with George Hendry defeating Bill Price in the Men’s final, 19 in the 5th. Before losing to Hendry, Don Lasater, in a crowd-pleaser, had rallied from 2-0 down to eliminate Bill Diller. Price/Diller took the Doubles from Hendry and Junior Champ Don Schuessler. Tom Klutho won the Boys’; Topeka’s Cecil Woodworth the Veterans’. Who else but Delores Kuenz would beat Betty Schaefer for the Women’s, and who else but Kuenz and Lasater would win the Mixed.
Count on the South Bend St. Joe Valley to be held the first weekend of January. But—surprise—don’t count on the results always to be in Topics. Somebody goofed—could it possibly have been Varga? Hard to believe, but this was his tournament. Table tennis was his life. Wasn’t it? Not totally—though he seemed almost every week to be at a tournament with his "kids," whom he sometimes helped with expenses. A lifelong bachelor, with seemingly no interest in women (reportedly he once had a girl back in Hungary who died), he could play the European gallant—Jimmy McClure’s wife Nell told me that John, on greeting her, used to kiss her hand. He was still at Bendix (though long ago officials had stopped him from roller-skating round the place)—indeed, he had an important position there as Research and Consulting Engineer for the Universal Joint and Axle Division. As Dana Young in an Apr., 1947 Topics interview with him tells us, he’d helped the War effort by working on the design of the "front drive axle of the ‘Jeep’ and amphibian ‘Duck’ and the hydraulic pump of the famous 5 inch dual purpose naval gun." Moreover, Dana tells us, John did have outside interests:
"…He enjoys working on various committees of the South Bend YMCA, is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers, a member of the St. Joseph Valley chapter of the Engineer’s Club, a member of the South Bend Motorcycle Club (and enjoys cross-country jaunts on his high powered ‘Ariel’), plays tournament chess, is active in photography and model aircraft work and plays a wicked game of bridge. He likes to eat and eats a lot…with steak smothered in onions, chilled tomato juice by the gallon, pink Texas grapefruit, toasted almond ice cream, freshly baked pumpernickel bread with Hungarian style cottage cheese heading the list. [Also, as some of his charges testified to in awe, he did open-mouth justice to the Oliver Hotel’s Sunday Prime Rib Buffet.]" (4, 6).
Sure enough, Minnesotans did come to Tatum’s Jan. 25-26 Midwest Open. And guess who won the Men’s and whom he beat? Yep, Lund over Sirmai—again. And the Women’s? Nope—Jensen tried valiantly but, after getting by Omaha Club Champion Virginia Merica, fell in 5 to Denver’s Rita Kerns.
On that same weekend, an Intercities Match was held at a USO site in San Antonio—with the home Club just getting the better of Houston, 3-2. Winners for San Antonio were: Sgt. Manning Fowler over John Patterson; Jodie McCarley over Carter Richardson, 26-24, 27-25; and Louie Scharlack over Mac McAdams. Winners for Houston were: Harold Folkes over John Stewart, 2-1; and Leland Smith, who’d won a recent tournament at the YMCA in Houston, over Cubby McCarley.
At the Feb. 1-2 Ohio State Open at Cincinnati, Bob Green won the Men’s over Dayton City Champ Cal Fuhrman in straight games, and this despite the fact that Tournament Director Nellie Weier (WHY-er) refused to call the Expedite Rule which would have given Bob an advantage over Cal who hadn’t much of an attack. Tybie Thall, who was enjoying teaching "a weekly t.t. class for Columbus youngsters," was an easy winner in the Women’s. Later, in the final of the Ohio Closed, Green was up 2-0 and had a big lead in the 3rd against Bob Harlow when he made an awkward chop-stretch to his backhand and, ohhh, hurt his arm so badly, pulled two ligaments, that he had to default.
Des Moines’ Western’s
The Western’s were held Feb. 8-9 in Des Moines in one of the worst blizzards there in years. Defending Champion Price, who was never really threatened, won the Men’s—over Lund in the quarter’s, Garrett Nash in the semi’s, and Dan Kreer in the final. The best matches were in the quarter’s: Kreer finally outlasted Ozark Open winner Lasater, 31-29 in the 5th; and Hendry, who fell to Kreer in the semi’s, 19 in the 4th, beat Barclay in 5. In the Doubles, Price/Nash had to rally from down 2-0 to take the title from Barclay/McColley. Dayton’s Howard Thomas, a long way from home (did he drive his cab to Des Moines?) was the Veterans’ winner—over Omaha’s Dominic Rocco. Veteran’s Doubles went to Ramon Williams and Lynel Overton, runner-up in the Consolation’s to fellow Chicagoan Wayne Stille. In the Junior final, Barclay, pressed, rebuffed Schuessler’s –11, -14, 20, 19, -14 bold try.
In the Women’s, the four quarter’s results told their tale: Kuenz defeated Jamieson, 17 in the 5th; Dolores Mortenson defeated Melba McClain, 25-23 in the 4th; Specht, down 2-0, defeated Lund, 18 in the 5th; and Kerns defeated Schaefer, 24-22 in the 4th. Kerns was the eventual winner—in 5 over Mortenson who’d beaten Kuenz, deuce in the 4th. In the Mixed, Price/Schaefer slipped by Hendry/McLain, 24-22 in the 5th, then stopped the winning run of Lasater/Kuenz.
U.S. Team Has Disappointing Results at World’s
O.K., we’re caught up with U.S. tournaments, now let’s catch up with the U.S. Team abroad. Before our players arrived in Paris for the Feb. 28-Mar. 7, 1947 World Championships, they played warm-up matches in Great Britain. After arriving in Southampton on Feb. 13, some of our players, tired though they must have been, participated in a Feb. 14-15 tournament in Glasgow against English and Scottish players. Pagliaro, showing "a sticky chop defence and incredible agility," won the Men’s—beating England’s Kim Stanley, then Benny Casofsky of the English Swaythling Cup Team (after Casofsky had eliminated Schiff, "hit [him] off the table," in the semi’s). Paggy also won both Doubles—the Men’s (with Schiff) over the Manchester team of Casofsky/Les Cohen; the Mixed (with Monness) over Schiff/Clouther in the deciding 3rd. Eighteen-year-old Scottish Champion Helen Elliot, "a determined fighter," took the Women’s from (the only non-Scottish players in the field) Monness in the semi’s and Clouther in the final. Elliot, partnered by Betty Pithie, also came first in Women’s Doubles—over Monness/Clouther in 3.
After exhibitions on the 17th at Middlesex and Wolverhampton, it seems that only Miles, Holzrichter, Hawthorn and Thall (has "a fierce drive on both wings") played against a North of England squad in Liverpool on Feb. 18. At any event, the U.S. won this match 9-0.
Then after an exhibition in Surrey on the 19th, the U.S. on Feb. 21 defeated England, 7-2, at Westminster Central Hall in London, with Ivor Montagu himself as Referee. Highlights of this Match that might easily have gone to the English included Pagliaro’s lead-off deuce-in-the-3rd win over Manchester’s George Goodman; Holzrichter/Hawthorn’s comeback from 17-9 down in the 3rd to ’46 English Mixed Doubles Champion Eric Filby/Betty Blackbourn; Schiff’s –19, 18, 16 turnaround to beat the English #1 Leach; Thall’s 21, 20 victory over the ’46 English Open runner-up Blackbourn; Miles/Pagliaro’s 19-in-the-3rdwin over Leach and his mentor Jack Carrington, Editor of the official English TTA magazine Table Tennis; and Schiff and Holzrichter’s successful 17, 20 close-out of Filby and English Team Captain Adrian Haydon, 8-year veteran of Swaythling Cup play. Vera Dace, England’s best, scored twice—paired with Leach for a surprisingly easy win over Schiff/Thall, then beat Hawthorn in 3.
So, with these small triumphs behind us, and, somewhere along the line, a Match with the Irish in Omagh involving Miles and Pagliaro, and in which Thall and Hawthorn were to compete against two Irish men, on to Paris.
Mel Evans, Jr., the Topics Editor, quoted the following lines from an unidentified writer that he thought best summed up the U.S. Team’s entire overseas trip:
"Following a whirlwind tour in which snow and ice lent their hazards to the normal strain of traveling, the Americans came up smiling and pleased the crowds everywhere by their cheerful and sporting table demeanor and their dashing style of play" (May, 1947, 3).
Hmmm, perhaps. (Did they get to see Paggy stick in his ears, then pop them out? That would have drawn smiles all around.)
Surrey Champion Ron Crayden, in the Feb./Mar., 1947 issue of Table Tennis, described the most touted American, Miles, proud of his first USA jacket, as "a slim, slight lad of 22 [actually 21], with dark, wavy hair, exceptionally bright eyes and great natural charm. Showing a chop defence like Amouretti’s and a forehand whip-drive like Vana’s, he had us guessing, because no one could say how hard he was trying. Agile, but rather lazy, talented but inexperienced, here is a player and personality for all to see" (3). In Paris, however—what with, as Mae Clouther put it, "the extreme cold, weak lighting, and the poor tables"—you can bet that the Americans, particularly Miles (whose best playing weight was about 118 pounds), were not smiling, not cheerful. In fact, said Mae, Dick was always sleeping. The Palais des Sports was so cold (because of a strike the whole city was freezing?) that "many players donned heavy sweaters or scarves" to play. Scotland’s Helen Elliot (later Hamilton) told me years later that she remembered seeing a very thin Miles out there on court with two hot water bottles tied to his waist.
For Swaythling Cup play, the 18 teams were divided into two round robin groups. The co-favorites, Czechoslovakia (in Group 1, where Scotland didn’t show) and the U.S. (in Group 2), were shoo-ins. No other member-nations of the ITTF at this time had the top-player strength or at-home depth of these two countries. The Czechs (35-0) didn’t lose a match, and the Americans (40-4) weren’t challenged either, except perhaps in the 5-2 tie with the English in which Miles won all three of his matches. I haven’t the individual results, but more than half a century later Pagliaro led me to believe that he’d avenged (or at least would have avenged—"You’ve no chance now, Bubley") his 1938 26-24-in-the-3rd Swaythling Cup loss to the eccentric Ernie Bubley. Ernie was the current English #2 who still wore a glove on his playing hand and on just recently becoming engaged had his fiancée, Jackie, wear one too when she played.
In the final, Czechoslovakia, who’d won the last Swaythling Cup in Cairo in ’39, defeated the U.S. 5-2. Pagliaro defeated Ivan Andreadis, but fell to Bohumil Vana. Schiff downed Vaclav Tereba, but was beaten by Andreadis. Miles lost—according to one teammate, gave up from the beginning, really—to all three Czech players. Word had it that "most of the time" here in Paris Dick suffered from "a severe head-cold." But as this Team final was played after Dick was eliminated in Singles, and consequently had asked Captain Nidy not even to play him in the Czech tie (a request of course that Nidy had to refuse), there sure was something more troubling Dick’s head than a cold.
Whereas, as we’ll see in a moment, all the other U.S. men did at least respectably well in the individual events (Singles and Doubles), Miles did not. On these slow, dead tables, he lost in the 2nd round, 3-0, to Leach, whom he’d beaten in the Team’s. "It was sad watching him play and lose," Holzrichter said, "because he was so much better than he showed." A combination of the cold and nerves forced Dick to repeatedly cramp up (Schiff said he tried to rub some life into him); his forearm would lock, and he couldn’t hold the racket. He thus became fearful of playing long points, and so suffered long-term psychic consequences. That is, in later matches in his career, he said he sometimes felt he had to attack when he didn’t want to, else he feared his arm would tighten. Lots of negative thoughts went into Dick’s head as a result of this match with Leach.
Of course Johnny, even now, had to be considered a great player; he would go on to beat Tereba before losing to Vana in the semi’s. When Miles first saw Vana play, he thought, "I can give this guy 5 points." But writing in the Dec., ’46 issue of Table Tennis, Leach had said that Vana was "invincible"—was maybe 5 points better than any of the other world-class Czech stars. "The speed and accuracy of his footwork and shots are a table tennis player’s dream" (9). And ’46 English Championships Program Editor Bill Parker in the Nov., ’46 issue of Table Tennis Review, the other English table tennis magazine, had said that "Vana, at the age of 26, retains all his old speed and the forehand kill and has in addition developed a very fine backhand" (8). Richard Bergmann, who in the last big tournament of the English ‘45-46 season at Wembley Town Hall had lost to Leach 24-22 in the 5th, picked Miles to win the World Singles—with ’46 English Open winner Vana and Tereba his other choices. Because Richard agreed that such a cold venue as this one affected " both the players’ muscles and the flight and resiliency of the ball," he could say that "Miles needs a year’s play outside the U.S.A. before he can be fully judged."
Bergmann had refused to defend his 1939 World Singles title here in Paris, but had made up thousands of leaflets (in supposedly six languages) issuing a 500 pound ($2,000) challenge to anyone who’d accept. Which raises the question whether a player could accept (as Garrett Nash did earlier) without being accused of gambling and being banned from National and International tournaments.
There were still no seedings in World Championships at this time. But players from any one country were drawn into different quarter’s of the draw, so that it would have been impossible for any of our men to play one another before the quarterfinals. However, very good players could meet in 1st round play—as witness Leach’s win, after being down 2-0, over France’s ’45 Champion Alex Agopoff, or Pagliaro’s elimination of the 35-year-old Barna. According to Bill Parker, the plate that had been put into Victor’s arm after he’d broken it in a car crash in 1935 had been taken out, and he’d been winning recent tournaments in Britain, twice over Leach. "I had great respect for Barna," Louie said, "but he couldn’t read my chop." Records passed on to me by former Historian Leah Thall Neuberger, who may have seen the match, have Paggy winning in 5, but Louie in his old age would tell me he killed Barna 3-0, and perhaps he did.
Sol Schiff, considered one of the favorites to win the World Singles 10 years earlier, gave the Hungarian Ferenc Sido, winner of a recent international tournament in Vienna and destined (with earlier wins over the Czech Ladislav Stipek and the Frenchman Michel Haguenauer) to be World runner-up here, quite a battle before falling in the 2nd round in 5.
As for Billy Holzrichter, here’s what Ron Craydon in the Feb./Mar., 1947 issue of Table Tennis had to say about him: "[He’s] a carthorse where Miles is a racehorse. Bulky and genial, and employing a repertoire of Bob Hope facial expressions to cover the little eventualities of the game, this courtly squire of the table will amuse and delight many, and surprise a few, but never win a key tournament" (3). Billy, too, thought the playing conditions were deplorable—he complained how the freshly-painted tables quickly turned the ball so green he had difficulty in the poor lighting seeing it. But en route to reaching the 8th’s, he may well have surprised two-time World semifinalist Adrian Haydon, as well as the French #2 Maurice Bordrez, before losing to Hungary’s Ferenc Soos.
Soos, who would be beaten by Vana, had been fancied a winner by fellow Hungarian Ervin Brody, befriender of our World Champion U.S. players in the 1930’s. Soos, said Brody rather extravagantly, "is much superior to everybody in the game and if he gets beaten once in a while it is because he likes to please the crowd with some freak shots."
Pagliaro, after getting by Barna, went on to defeat Sweden’s Arne Andersson (Consolation winner over Casofsky), then Switzerland’s Hugo Urchetti, President of the Silver Star Geneva Club, then current and future 7-time French Champion Guy Amouretti, then in a 9/4, 19, 13 quarter’s match (in which if a game wasn’t finished after 20 minutes, whoever was leading was declared the winner) Poland’s Alex Ehrlich, 3-time World runner-up. Earlier, Alex had knocked out the stylish Andreadis, Czech National Champion at 15, considered by someone writing in the Nov., ‘46 issue of the Danish TTA magazine, BordtennisBladet, the #1 player in the world. In the semi’s, against Hungary’s Sido, a long-time factory worker who’d not been recognized by many, even Bergmann, as a possible contender for the title, Louie, down 2-1, but up 20-16 in the 4th , thought his ball hit the edge. "But," he said, "the umpire ruled against me, and no one—not our Captain, I don’t know if he was even there—nor any of our players—said a word. And I lost six points in a row, the game and the match."
"If I’d have taken Sido," said Louie, " I think, with my consistent defense, I’d have beaten Vana and been World Champion." Maybe so. But though Paggy’s cut strokes were stylishly crisp, and though he had good ball control and kept the ball low over the net, he was unable to start any sustained topspin offense. Sido, on the other hand, was patiently aggressive, maneuvering again and again to create the opportunity to pick a ball hard to set up a winning point.
Vana beat Leach in the semi’s 10, -19, 20, 16, and Sido in the final 21/20, 14, 9. In hitting his great forehand with a racket he claimed was 13-14 years old, he accompanied his upstroke with a little body hop.This prompted Miles to call him "The Flea"—the more so because Bo didn’t like to be made fun of. In fact, Vana’s vulnerability had earlier made him the butt of a story by the mischievous Bellak:
"In 1938, the World’s began at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Vana had come from Czechoslovakia alone, and couldn’t speak a word of English. Worse yet, for some reason whoever was to meet him at the station didn’t show up. So Vana didn’t know what to do—he just walked around saying, ‘Ping Pong?’…‘Ping-Pong?’ Of course the police soon picked him up (‘Ping-Pong?’…‘Ping-Pong?’) as a vagrant and a loony.
‘Ping-Pong?’…‘Ping-Pong?’ Finally somebody made the connection and called the English Association and later Vana came back to that same train station as the World Champion. It just shows you, you don’t have to have brains to play ping-pong."
The English women were the aficionados’ choice to win the Corbillon Cup (the donated Cup itself was lost during the War)—and, Captained by Margaret Osborne Knott, their #1 player in the 1930’s, they did…without losing a single match. As the U.S. women were originally in Group A with the English, they couldn’t get to the final. Dace, also an excellent lawn tennis player who at Wimbledon in ‘46 had reached the quarter’s of both the Women’s and the Mixed, defeated Hawthorn; Blackbourn defeated Thall in 3; and Dace/Blackbourn defeated Thall/Hawthorn in 3. But a 3-2 win over Scotland (after Elliot had beaten both Thall and Hawthorn) allowed the U.S. to come 2nd in their Group. In Group B (which saw nearly half the field not show for their ties), Hungary, led by Government typist Giselle "Gizi" Farkas (married name: Fekete), advanced to the final with a 3-2 win over Czechoslovakia.
In the 64-entry Singles, the Czechs entered six players, which meant that four of them would be in different quarter’s. By chance, however, Eveta Hruskova, whom we’d hear much of later, played teammates in both the 2nd and 3rd round, reaching the quarter’s with a 5-game win over 26-year-old Defending Champion Vlasha Depetrisova (married name: Pokorny) before losing in 4 to Dace who’d easily defeated our Hawthorn. In the 2nd round, Thall, after winning the 4th at deuce, led Farkas 16-9 and 17-13 in the 5th, and so almost caused a sensation, for after escaping Leah 21-18, the 21-year-old Hungarian would go on to win the title without dropping another game. In the Oct., 1947 issue of Table Tennis, Editor Carrington paid tribute to Leah by putting her picture on the cover and writing about her as follows:
"…Does not rely upon defence to win her titles, however; her strength lies in her ability to make sudden breakaways from defence, swing two sharp forehand drives to opposite corners before her opponent has realized the crisis. If these are returned Leah usually settles down to close play again, until the next opportunity.
…Socially as well as tactically, Leah is a ‘good mixer,’ and during the wearing and wintry sessions of the World and English Championships, there was always laughter to be heard in any little group which gathered around her. A favourite subject for the Paris caricaturists, her comments on their efforts were more amusing than the pictures themselves!" (11).
One of Farkas’s victims was the 1933 and ’35 Czech World Champion Marie Kettnerova who’d fiercely challenged our own Champion Ruth Aarons at the ’36 and ’37 World’s.** (Ruth, 10 years after her suspension and retirement, could still be seen, not only with Sandor Glancz in the ‘46-47 season’s back-page Munro Sports ad in Topics, but in solo graceful action on the front cover of—why her? why there?—the very first, Sept., 1946, issue of the English Table Tennis Review.) To get to the final, Farkas then stopped lefty attacker Dace, whom Bergmann had picked to win the Championship.
On the other side of the draw, in the 8th’s, Mae Clouther was beaten by Elliot, 3-0 ("They made a packet on me," said Helen, referring to those who’d bet on her against Mae). Meanwhile, Blackbourn was spared a 1st-round meeting with Angelica Adelstein Rozeanu, the perennial World Champion beginning in 1950, when the Rumanian contingent didn’t show. Blackbourn, 23, "a brilliant hitter forehand and backhand," who as a corporal in the War had been a driver of a different kind, motoring vehicles about, beat Vera Votrubcova, in the late 1930’s the World Women’s and Mixed Doubles Champion, and then the Scot Elliot to reach the semi’s.
Coming out to meet Blackbourn, and lose to her in straight games, was Austria’s 1938 World Champion Trude Pritzi who’d at least been 13, -13, 11, 10/8 engaged in the 2nd round by our Reba Monness. But although Blackbourn had beaten Farkas in the Team’s, she lost to her three straight in the final. One observer of Gizi’s game, writing in the Feb./Mar., 1947 issue of Table Tennis, said she was, "Hardly spectacular, but sure and courageous, and possessing the champion’s instinct for turning the pressure on or off at the right moment in a big match. Has a splendid defence but wins mainly by a sudden back-hand flick varied with drop shots" (19).
In the Men’s Doubles, although Miles was so down on losing to Leach he didn’t want to play, he did finally agree to go on court with Pagliaro, but they lost a rather uncontested 2nd-round match to—a team they’d beaten in a warm-up exhibition match a week earlier—Leach and his friend Carrington whom Johnny had eliminated in the quarter’s of the Singles. This English team then bested the formidable Czech pair of Tereba/Stipek to reach the final. Elsewhere, in the 8th’s, Schiff/Holzrichter lost in 5 to Sido/Soos who in turn were beaten by Vana/Adolph Slar. After the remaining Czechs—Frantisek Tokar and former Yugoslav National Champion Max Marinko—lost to Haydon/Barna, this English Captain and his partner, the about to be naturalized Brit, dropped a 5-game semi’s to Vana/Slar, easy winners in the final over Leach/Carrington.
Fate flipped out—came up with a ridiculous pairing in the Women’s Doubles. Farkas and Pritzi, the eventual winners, had for their 1st-round match Blackbourn and Dace, surely the #1 team. Then in the 2nd round they met the 1937 and ’38 Champions, Depetrisova/Votrubcova. And in the semi’s Thall/Hawthorn (who earlier had only to beat the lesser known Czechs Fuerstova/Zelenkova). In the lower half of the draw, in the 2nd round, Elliot and England’s #3 Peggy Franks who’d won the Nov. Ilford Open (over Blackbourn and Dace) were knocked out by Hruskova/Kettnerova. Clouther/Monness then rallied from 2-1 down to beat these Czechs. After which, taking advantage of the relatively weak opposition, the Americans blitzed a Belgian team to reach the final. But there, on dropping a 21/20 1st game, they couldn’t recover and had to settle for 2nd place.
Neither Miles nor Pagliaro played in the Mixed. Clouther paired with the Czech reserve Moudry and they were immediately eliminated by Agopoff/Elliot. Monness got to play two matches with Sido before losing to Stipek/Hruskova. Ditto Schiff with Thall before succumbing to the Austrians Otto Eckl/Pritzi. But Holzrichter/Hawthorn, making the most of their advantageous draw, advanced to the semi’s where they were beaten by Slar/Depetrisova. In the other semi’s, Soos/Farkas finished off Barna/Franks, then won the title in 4 from the Czechs.
At the ’47 English Open, played for the most part Mar. 12-14 at Lime Grove Baths, with the finals on the 15th at Wembley, the Men’s was won by Tereba, the Women’s by Farkas. (Former Hungarian star Dora Beregi Devenny, now a naturalized Briton, having married a British soldier, was pregnant and couldn’t defend her title.) The Men’s Doubles went to Vana/Slar, the Women’s Doubles to Blackbourn/Dace; the Mixed to Vana/Votrubcova.
The American men, including Miles, fought well. Schiff again lost a disheartening match early—19 in the 5th to Marinko, the veteran penhold blocker with the outsized bat. Holzrichter, after 18-in-the-5th downing Bubley, couldn’t be upset at not upsetting Vana in the quarter’s. And, while Pagliaro must have headed home as planned, for he wasn’t listed in the Program’s draw, Miles beat the many-time French Champion with the "hammer" grip, Michel Haguenauer. Then he’d had to wait (uncertain as to who he’d like to see win?) until Tereba finally outlasted Leach, 19 in the 5th—after which Dick dropped –19, -18, -23 games to the formidable Czech and his terrific forehand that allowed him to win the title here.
Perhaps after seeing the above summary of U.S. play overseas readers won’t think our overall performance too disappointing. But everyone expected our players to bring home at least one World title—and we had our chances. Team Captain Nidy was not sympathetic to our National Champion’s loss: "Dick Miles faced the hard facts of life for the first time and came out second best. In another year he might be wiser, but I somehow doubt it." Here, too, is the about to be naturalized Britisher Bergmann in his Twenty-One Up giving his impression of the Yank effort as typified by Miles:
"…Poor Dick Miles, knocked out by Tereba this time, his confidence undermined, dazed and shaken by constant defeats, began to reconsider his rash presumption that because he was a Yank and had beaten everything ‘over there’ without hardly ever conceding a game, no one in the world could obstruct his victorious path. He found out at no negligible cost that it is no mere coincidence that continental players won all the world titles ever since the game started in real earnest" (110).
Of course Bergmann has conveniently forgotten all our World title wins back when the game was played in earnest in the 1930’s.
*After the War, Laci did at least one Tour with Sandor Glancz—wherein the two used their old pre-War M.C., Herbert W. Allen, who’d served with the Occupation Forces in Austria. Allen was a serious stamp collector, so knowledgeable that through his collecting he became rich. Yet for $55 a week and expenses, he went on this gig with Laci and Sandor, presumably just for the fun of it. In Cleveland, their last stop, there was a team of Chinese acrobats on the bill with them (for two weeks, said Laci, the two performing families had lived in a single, foul-smelling dressing room). At the very last show of their Tour, traditionally one where the participants don’t care much, take liberties with their performance, Herbert was calling the score when one of these acrobats crept out of the wings behind him and…"Twenty to nine-TEEN!"…goosed him.
**In 1937 after Defending Champ Aarons beat 1936 runner-up Kettnerova in the semi’s, she faced Austria’s Trude Pritzi in the final. Because of a controversial time-limit rule, this match was stopped, and despite a near-even vote by Jury members the title was declared "Vacant"—quite an historical oddity. However, decades later, USATT Hall of Fame founder Steve Isaacson requested, through me as ITTF Council Member for North America, that both women posthumously be declared co-Champions. ITTF President Adham Sharara agreed. At the Federation’s General Meeting at Osaka, Japan in 2001, with the approval of the delegate body, Sharara awarded appropriate plaques and certificates to representatives of the U.S. and Austrian Associations. Accepting for Aarons was USATT President Sheri Pittman, who was very pleased that a U.S. woman player could again be recognized as one of the greats of her era.