- 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
1940: Sally Green and Lou Pagliaro Win Their First National’s. 1940: U.S. Team Makes Historic Trip to Japan.
Our 10th U.S. Open was held Apr. 5-7, 1940 in Indianapolis at historic Tomlinson Hall, called by one local reporter "a rambling old structure" that’s seen "bicycle races" and heard "the rantings of political orators and the screeches of old fiddlers’ contests" (GSS I, 195). The Program for these National’s offered the message that modern table tennis is not a "sissy’s" game, but a "real he-man’s sport," and one that is "clean" and "wholesome." Naturally participants vying for the $1600 in trophies had regulations to observe: "Hats, vests, VISIBLE suspenders or shirts with commercial advertising" were barred.
Though there was a good turnout—175 listed entries—most areas outside the Midwest, even where there’d been tournaments—in Texas, for example—were not represented. The Houston Texas Open had been held the week before with Paul Snively easily defending his Men’s title against tennis star Bobby Riggs in the semi’s and Curtis Clark in the final. However, Mrs. Sylvion Kivlin’s 18-in-the-5th loss to Angeline Puccio had prevented her from winning back-to-back titles. Players weren’t thinking about gas rationing being just around the corner, so no drawing the line yet because of that, but apparently traveling was just too tiring, too expensive for many.
One California-based player did come to Indianapolis—but this was Verdyn Stapleton, who with her husband Wally formed a professional, on-the-road dance team that played swank supper clubs, and surely they had an engagement at, say, Chicago’s Chez Paree or somewhere else in the area.
Three players made the long trip from the Northwest, where of course play had long been well organized. The woman was 3-time Pacific Coast Champion Mayo Rae Rolph. In 1937 she had come to Chicago to try to win a place on the U.S. World Team and, in losing very close matches, had finished 4th, one position short of having her way paid to Baden, without which assistance she was unable to make the trip. The men were Seattle’s Ray Pearson, Pacific Coast Champion, and winner of the Dec., ‘39 Oregon Open, and Harold Philan, Pacific Northwest Champion and Oregon State titleholder. Both Mayo and Hal attended Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon and commuted the 50 or so miles to Portland to play. Something more of a commute, though, was their journey to Indianapolis via Chicago by rail. But at least the McMinnville Chamber of Commerce financed Mayo’s trip.
Also coming to Indianapolis by train, and apparently inspiring by far the best filler poem in the Topics’ doggerel of 1940—to wit:
She stood on the tracks at midnight
As the train to the Nationals sped,
She was very much struck by the moonlight,
But that’s not the reason she’s dead"—
were a number of Chicagoans, including Mildred Wilkinson Shipman, Gladys Hotsenpiller, Bob Anderson, and Ralph and younger brother Gordon Muchow. They might have scored a first—for they had a table tennis table set up for practice in the club car and a picture in Topics to prove it. USTTA Public Relations Chair George "Konk" Koehnke had hyped a "Beauty Queen" photo contest in Topics for this National’s, and—in a judgment rendered by none other than ‘George Petty, the famous creator of the ‘Esquire’ Petty Gal"—a 19-year-old Northwestern coed from a skiing family, Mildred Bjone, won. Koehnke wrote that she not only received train fare (gamely showing her hammer grip in a doubles match with Ralph Muchow enroute), but was put up in a hotel suite, and given the use of a private car. In her role as Queen, she wore "earrings, a necklace, and a bracelet made of table tennis balls," and was "crowned by Governor Townsend of Indiana." Even better, she was invited by "interested spectator" Guy Lombardo "to make a personal appearance with his ‘Lady Esther’ orchestra at the Lyric Theater, where her beauty drew enthusiastic applause" (TTT, May, 1940, 8).
Wow, the attention she got! And the USTTA’s attractive young table tennis players, where were they in all this?...Uh, "Ladies in waiting...."
Since the Association had to change its original Mar. 29-31 U.S. Open date and National Guard Armory venue on discovering that the Indiana State Basketball finals would be played in Indianapolis that weekend, there was now a great opportunity for media coverage of the tournament—which influential local sponsor George Binger* took full advantage of:
"Mildred Wilkinson spoke over WCFL, Mayo Rolph over WBBM, and Ted Chapman, vice-president of the Indianapolis TTA, over WIND.
Accounts of the tournament were carried by all three major news agencies (AP, UP and INS) and the National and Mutual Broadcasting companies. Plus the Fox, MGM and Pathe Newsreels.
Commented Jack Lieb, MGM newsreeler: ‘It’s not trophies that make a tournament; it’s pretty girls in shorts.’"
The Women’s seedings, barring upsets, were expected to produce the following top-half quarter’s matches: Betty Henry (#1) vs. Helen Baldwin (#7), though Baldwin must get by the very strong Mary Baumbach first; and just married Mildred Wilkinson Shipman (#3) vs. the winner of Magda Hazi (Foreign #1) and Matilda Plaskow (#6). The anticipated bottom-half quarter’s matches: Ruthe Brewer (#4) vs. Mayo Rae Rolph (#8), and Sally Green (#2) vs. Mae Clouther (#5).
First, however, some early-round results. Glenside, PA’s pretty Mary Reilly, later U.S. Hall of Famer Mary McIlwain, made an inauspicious U.S. Open debut—losing in the 1st round to Chicago’s Jayne Weber who was then pitilessly crushed by the 17-year-old Henry, 6, 2, 7. L.A.’s Stapleton, not a regular tournament goer, did well to -18, 12, -19, -18 challenge (even win more points than) Marjorie Blattner, whose famous brother, Bud, though retired, had a series of 40 table tennis articles syndicated in newspapers. Praise, too, for the fine -15, -26, -19 effort by tender-aged Tiny Moss against U.S. #7 Plaskow. The only win of real note in the opening rounds, though, was Leah Thall’s 13, 14, 9 rough dispatch of the #7 seed, Helen Baldwin.
The more amazing then that later in the Women’s Doubles Helen and Marge Leary could upset, first, Hazi and Kareivis, then (a "minor accident," wrote the covering reporter) Brewer and Plaskow, to reach the final. There, against Defending Champions Shipman and Green, they 20, 21, -7, -11, -20 almost pulled off the most stunning victory of their table tennis lives.
In the 8th’s, Thall rallied to down Baumbach with ease in the 4th and 5th games. Hazi, too, 16, 19, -25, 11 deftly stopped Plaskow’s threat. Rolph, however, had an up-and-down, or rather down and up,-20, 11, -12, 8, 20 advance over Kareivis.
Three of the quarter’s were won in straight games—home-town favorite Green over Clouther, Brewer over Rolph, and, with the lift of more than one spectator’s eyebrow, Shipman over Hazi (perhaps Mildred did practice on her honeymoon?). But in the other quarter’s match, what, unanticipated, was happening? Henry, the #1 seed, was facing disaster in the 5th with Thall. That Betty survived this 19, -19, 17, -19, 20 scare, after trailing 20-17 in that final game, one local reporter attributed to the fact that "Miss Thall proved to be a great retriever, but lacked the finishing punch" (GSS I, 214). However, this explanation needs to be coupled with Tournament Referee Reginald Hammond’s far from clear comments on the match:
"...[The Expedite Rule] was not applied to the Betty Henry-Leah Thall match because while it was a pooping match of the worst degree, it violated neither of the requirements of being uninteresting to spectators, or upsetting the schedule of other matches. The crowd had watched so many good matches that it seemed to welcome this pushing battle by way of novelty. In any event, the referee [Hammond himself?] felt that, in spite of the hardship on Miss Thall, it was not advisable to invoke the pushing rule during the final game" (TTT, May, 1949, 7).
What was Miss Thall’s hardship? Apparently the fact that the Rule hadn’t been invoked. But why would putting in the Rule have been to Leah’s advantage? Especially if she were "a great retriever" but "lacked the finishing punch." Granted one infers that, according to law, the Rule should have been put in. But when? At 20-17 in the 5th, with Henry serving? Thus putting pressure on her to be more aggressive than Thall? Anyway, it’s hardly surprising that Leah, feeling comfortable pushing, and with three match points and a win in sight, didn’t risk trying to throw a knockout punch.
In the semi’s, Green defeated Shipman, and Brewer beat Henry. Earlier, practicing at Jimmy McClure’s Club with Bellak, Ruthe had argued with reporters that "she wasn’t dressed right for table tennis photographs." Presumably she was now. But after the 4-game final, newsmen were less interested in Wilkinson Cup winner Brewer and more interested in the National Champion—17-year-old Shortridge High School senior Green who, for luck, it was said, kept the first and second fingers of her free hand crossed while playing. Sally also appreciated the attention she received from the absent 1939 Champion, Emily Fuller, who wired her a congratulatory bouquet.
It was her comeback Doubles win with Millie Shipman that so pleased Sally though, for in her view (TTT, May, 1940, 29), "Doubles play is more exciting than singles, and in the not too distant future I may forsake singles and play women’s doubles and mixed doubles only." Oh?...
The Men’s seedings, barring upsets, would produce the following top-half quarter’s matches: Jimmy McClure (#1) vs. Les Lowry (#6); and Sol Schiff vs. the winner of Tibor Hazi (Foreign #2) and Bill Holzrichter (#5). The bottom-half quarter’s would be: Bob Anderson (#4) vs. the winner of Laszlo Bellak (Foreign #1) and George Hendry (#8); and Lou Pagliaro (#2) vs. Bill Price (#7).
Doug Cartland was originally seeded #7, but he withdrew to go to Florida, where as the "Recreational Director" of the Hollywood Beach Hotel in Hollywood, he would "teach tennis and table tennis," and play some exhibitions with defensive star Harry Cook. Doug as teacher had recently been giving some pointers to Donna Dae, "singing star of the Fred Waring program." Other standout N.Y. players absent from these National’s were dental supply salesman Charlie Schmidt, U.S. #3 for the season, and the teenagers Eddie Pinner and Cy Sussman. Cy had "played in 10 tournaments without a single bad loss" and, on not being penalized for missing these National’s, would climb to U.S. #4, while Eddie, unranked last season, would earn the #8 spot.
In the best of the 1st and 2nd-round matches, Detroit’s Charles Bernstein (not yet Chuck Burns) got by one of Minneapolis’s best, Harry Lund, and Ohio’s Bob Green held off West Virginia’s Whitey Lykins, both in 5. Also, Sam Shannon, the previous week’s Akron-Cleveland winner, downed Michigan’s Hershey Miller, deuce in the 4th. Two Chicagoans triumphed in 5—Bill Ablin over Bernstein, and Al Nordhem over New Jersey’s Bill Cross who would then win the Consolation event over St. Paul’s Ed Litman. Ohio #1 Cal Fuhrman, whom the Indianapolis Times ran a photo of playing in white dress-shirt and tie, not so gentilely knocked out Oregon’s Hal Philan, 18 in the 5th. And John McCloskey of St. Louis sneakered by Gordon Muchow, 19 in the 5th.
In the round of 32, Shannon rallied from 2-1 down to beat Indiana’s Joe Kolady, while Bill Price, likewise behind 2-1, seemed to 12, 6 just exhaust Ablin. Don MacCrossen—his father’s t.t. company was now advertising an "ELEVEN PLY basswood...non-warp, virtually unbreakable" racket—also advanced, despite the 16, 14, -19, -24, 18 tenacity of last year’s Consolation Champ, Wilson DuMez, Jr. of Chicago.
The 8th’s saw almost all the favorites hold strong. Only the placed Pearson, seeming to cruise on auto-pilot with his easy victory over Anderson, upset the seedings. McClure smashed his way to a straight-game win over MacCrossen, giving himself "pep talks" along the way to keep forcing the attack. Shannon could do no more than contest all three games against Les Lowry, who after three wins had recently retired the Massachusetts State Men’s Trophy. "Good-natured" Sol Schiff dropped a game to Herb Aronson. Bellak also went four, first with Nordhem, then with George Hendry. A reporter who’d checked out the pre-tournament scene at McClure’s Club had written how the "fun-loving" Laci had kept fellow players entertained with "tricks and antics" that included "using the edge of his paddle to return shots," and rattling off quips like, "I don’t care who wins—just so I do" (GSS I, 195). Hazi lost the 1st to Holzrichter, but then didn’t allow Billy more than 10 in any game. Bill Price, however, found himself continually 18, -15, 20, 21 embattled by the Indiana #1 Earl Coulson. And Lou Pagliaro, down 2-1 to Ralph Muchow, decided he’d better quit playing defense, and in the remaining two games, running around his forehand, 14, 12 ran roughshod over Ralph.
Pagliaro over Price, Bellak over Pearson, and McClure over Lowry—these contests were convincing enough. But the Schiff-Hazi match, won by Sol, -20, 12, 20, -8, 17, could have gone either way, for, though each man scored precisely 92 points, had Tibor started his cluster of winners at the end of the 3rd, he, not Sol, would have advanced.
The semi’s—as former USTTA Ranking Chair Reginald Hammond, brought out of retirement to be the Tournament Referee, tells us—also shakily belonged to Schiff. "McClure, leading 2-1 and 17-16, blasted a shot down the sidelines for a sure winner. When Sol returned it—even though it was a sitter that any dub could finish off—Jimmy was so amazed that he drove it off to lose his lead." Perhaps, too, McClure lost in part because he wasn’t tournament tough enough. Preoccupied with dual responsibilities—his sports shop and table tennis club—he hadn’t played enough this season to get a ranking.
Hammond also writes about the Pagliaro-Bellak semi’s. After referring to Laci’s ability "to pull new shots out of his bag when they are most needed"—as he did in the 1938 final "when, at two games all, he passed Schiff time and again with shots that Sol just couldn’t touch"—Hammond says that in this 5th game Pagliaro was ready to return them accurately. What he doesn’t say is that it took Paggy, up 2-0, the 3rd and 4th games to continue adjusting to them. Years later, Paggy, reminiscing, speaks of how at this time he was managing a Club at 91st and Broadway and how when Bellak came in every day for two or three weeks he’d play him 25 cents a game, game after game, and never beat him. Finally Laci’s friend Sandor Glancz warned him, "You’d better watch out—Louie’s learning how to play you." And, says Louie, "I was. I’d lost to him at the ’38 and ’39 National’s, but by this time I’d learned just enough and went on to win my first Championship and the confidence that went with it."
Hammond praises the umpire of this match, Claude Camuzzi of St. Louis. Apparently the audience had to adjust to him calling the shots, since "in at least four places...Claude’s instant decisions, with a brief explanation of the reasoning, reassured the spectators that the players were getting fair and impartial treatment." Would that Reggie had gone into detail, for when is such extensive explanation from an umpire required? There’s no doubt though that Louie, who’d also win the Hammond Cup, deserved Reggie’s accolades: "For sheer quickness of movement and ability to make split-second decisions, Lou has no equal. Coupled with his sound game and ideal tournament temperament, he may well stay at the top longer than any previous American champion" (TTT, May, 1940, 7). Which, given Schiff and McClure’s successes, is saying a lot.
The Pagliaro-Schiff final, won by Paggy, 16 in the 4th, was somewhat anticlimactic—but wouldn’t we all love to see, whereabouts unknown, Indiana TTA V.P. Harry Kitselman’s 16 mm film of this match. The six frames in the May, 1940 Topics show how Sol’s attack progressively takes him in his follow-through almost into the gallery while Louie, trying to retrieve, has disappeared, leaving the camera to focus on an empty table (12).
In the Veteran Singles, Defending Champ George Bacon was beaten in the quarter’s, after being up 2-0, by Nebraska State Champion Johnny Tatom, manager of the Omaha TTC and a local tennis pro. Tatum would then defeat Ed Dugan, the Chicago Stay & Play Club owner who wished he could have won to stay and play here. In the other semi’s, Bill Gunn, Westchester TTA President, outlasted previous titleholder Morris Bernstein in 5. Gunn then stopped Tatom in the final in 4, for as local Star reporter Al Roche tells us (GSS I, 218) Johnny "was tense from the outset...and never was given a ‘look in’ by observers after the first set" (though, if these observers had taken another peek, they might have encouraged Johnny to win more than the 3rd game?). This National Championship was quite a win for 38-year-old Bill, President of the Gunn Brothers Oil Co., a home heating firm in Mamaroneck, N.Y., for, as years later he told interviewer Bob Brink (West Palm Beach Post, Mar., 1981, 6), he didn’t start playing the game until he was 33.
The new Joseph D. Berna Memorial Trophy for the Boys’ Championship, donated by George H. Perryman, was won by Defending Champion Charles Tichenor over Roy Weissman in 5.
In Men’s Doubles, only one upset but that high on the Richter scale: Defending Champions Bellak and Hazi were beaten in the 8th’s by the last-minute pick-up pair of Doubles specialist Al Nordhem and Roger Downs (who in two weeks at the first sanctioned USTTA tournament in Fort Wayne will win the Indiana Closed over John Varga). Downs, wrote one reporter, "was so amazed at the outcome he stood there [at the table] blinking, as if to say, ‘Can it be true?’ He then shook hands with his partner, and still thrilled to his shoetops, shook hands with him again" (GSS I, 214). Next round Nordhem and Downs lost deuce in the 4th to Dan Klepak and Delaware Champ Paul Capelle who fell in the final, as expected, to former World Champions McClure and Schiff.
First and second-round matches in the Mixed Doubles started at the ungodly hour of 10:30 Saturday night, just an hour before the buffet supper and get-together party at the Hotel Washington. For whatever reason, McClure and Green defaulted their scheduled opener. Perhaps the fact that not only had they already played on Saturday evening but that, being in contention for other titles on Sunday, they didn’t want too many singles and doubles matches to pile up on them. One thing sure—it wasn’t because McClure was in a hurry to get to the buffet, for Topics "Sidelines" columnist Chair George Koehnke said that Jimmy was so involved in running the tournament and playing in it that he "didn’t eat a meal" the whole time.
Also out of the Mixed early was the strong team of Pagliaro and Brewer; beaten in 3 by Holzrichter and Koolery. Billy and Marge then 19-in-the-3rd knocked out the Ralph Muchow/Betty Henry duo who, down 1-0 and at deuce in the 2nd, had almost lost the round before to Ham Canning/Matilda Plaskow. Defending Champions Nordhem and Shipman were upset in the quarter’s by Anderson/Rolph. Bob and Mayo then did themselves one better by besting Holzrichter/Koolery to reach the final. In the other semi’s, Bellak and Monness, to Reba’s rousing cry of "Let’s beat these foreigners!", annihilated the Hazis 12 and 8...then lost the 3rd at 19, the 4th at 19, and the 5th at 16. Given that reprieve, the Hazis went on to win, and Reba went home to incur the wrath of her poodle who, she says, "always growls his disapproval when she returns home from a tournament empty-handed."
After this season-ending National’s, there were of course a number of Spring and Summer tournaments. Strangely, the Pennsylvania Closed—won by Mike Lieberman and Henrietta Wright—was held the same day that the Finals were played at the U.S. Open. The following weekend Ham Canning and Matilda Plaskow won the Singles at the Philadelphia Closed. Canning, someone said, had this habit of wiping his fingers on the table during points. Which suggested that maybe he (rather than the English International Ernie Bubley who wore a glove on his racket hand) should have been the subject of Dr. Stan Morest’s much lauded essay "The Unrecognized Case of Hypothyroidism," and should have been playing with Becker and Company’s new "Air-Flo" bat?—the one that had the "air-cooled handle" advertised not to slip and turn in the hand.
Three tournaments were run the last weekend in April. At the Motor City Invitational, Max Hersh defeated Gar Gomon in 5, and LaVera Weber beat Koolery in 4. The Hamilton, Ohio Open went not to hometown hopeful Fuhrman but to Downs, while Leah Thall proved much too steady for Norma Studer. At Elizabeth, Princeton’s Dan Kreer continued as New Jersey Men’s Champion, downing Morris Miller in 4.
In the May 1 Southern New England Open at Providence, the Hazis were victorious—Tibor taking the Men’s over Johnny Abrahams, and Magda the Women’s over the Massachusetts #3 Priscilla Woodbury. Elsewhere in the East, Harry Cook won the May 3-5 N.Y. Queens Championship, and Frank Milano the May 25 Brooklyn Closed. At the Ohio Mid-Summer Open at Columbus, unseeded Harry Sage upset Tichenor in the semi’s and got by Bob Green in the final. Because of some sportwriter’s error, Bob’s last name would invariably have an "e" added to it. But nobody in Columbus would be confused because Bob had just arrived to open his first club there (on Buttles Ave. and High St.), and for the next decade he’d be a strongly-felt presence.
The New York City Broadway Courts held summer tournaments—the June one went to Pagliaro, the July one to Grimes; Pinner was runner-up in both.
But while all was repetitively normal in U.S. table tennis sites the country over, Change was about to enter the lives of our players—though at first only a few were affected.
U.S. Team’s Trip to Japan for International Matches with Japan and Australia
Out of the blue, the Japan TTA surprised the Americans. General Secretary Numa issued a letter of invitation—a friendly challenge—to the USTTA to send a U.S. Team of five players for "a stay of 21 days in Japan" with "all hotel charges and travel expenses defrayed by the Japan TTA" (TTT, March, 1940, 3).
Great! So who would represent what Topics called our "Expeditionary Force" to Japan? Of our men, not U.S. #1 Pagliaro, U.S. #2 Schiff, #3 Schmidt, #4 Sussman, and #6 Lowry—all of whom, it would seem, were unable to give up their commitments. But #5 Anderson and #7 Holzrichter agreed to go. Of our women, teenagers Green and Henry, respectively U.S. #1 and #3, declined. But #2 Brewer and #4 Shipman accepted. USTTA Vice-President Bill Gunn would Captain the Team, and his wife Mae would accompany him.
Off they all went then to San Francisco to sail across the Pacific on the Tatsutamaru—the only serious complication being that the married Shipman found out on her way to the West Coast she was pregnant and decided to stay home. Mayo Rae Rolph, now about to turn 21, was U.S. #12 but last-minute geographically available, and, as she’d just reached the final of the U.S. Open Mixed with Anderson, and had been eligible for but unable to go to the 1937 World’s, she was a natural choice to take Mildred’s place. So Rolph left independently from Seattle on the Heian Maru, and, after suffering some ill effects from a shipboard vaccination, joined the others in Osaka.
Years later, describing her teammates to me, Mayo pointed out that because the name "Holzrichter" was of German origin—Japan was more and more about to use conquered Manchuria as a vast arsenal (the Heian Maru had been loaded down with scrap iron)—his passport wouldn’t allow them to go on a side trip to Shanghai. Mayo thought Billy "outgoing, with a big smile, friendly and sensitive." Anderson, "who had diabetes, didn’t take care of himself, and so would die early," she deemed "pleasant, handsome, quietly retiring." But Brewer, whom Mayo had lost to in the National’s, was, at least with her, "distant and aloof"—though by September Ruthe was married to a fellow she’d met aboard ship coming back.
Our Team, and a weaker Australian one (composed of Arthur Bowe and Kenneth Adamson), was welcomed, Gunn said, with "extra courteous consideration" as we played matches in various cities, including Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Hiroshima. Accomodations were often luxurious—Mayo particularly remembers the famous Imperial Hotel that Frank Lloyd Wright built to withstand earthquakes.
Gunn, in his Captain’s Report (TTT, Oct., 1940, 3; 14-15) speaks of the "astounding" interest in table tennis shown by the Japanese:
"...Everywhere we played there was never less than 1500 spectators present, and in many cases it jumped to four or five thousand. The only two T.T. parlors we saw in Japan were superior to any we have seen in the U.S. At one industrial plant in Nagoya there were at least 500 tables used during the day as working tables, but filled to capacity with table tennis players at lunch time or after working hours.
...[We] could not help but feel that many of...[the Japanese Association’s] important t.t. activities were handled so much better than ours back home."
This, after our USTTA had shaped an Expedite Rule, Lowered the Net, and Banned Fingerspins, and our U.S. Team members had won World Championships in 1936-37-38!
Sometimes our players were victorious in the match of the moment, often they were not. But of course on a trip like this it was more important to be diplomatic than to play well. Obviously, faced with changes in custom, one needed to have sophisticated responses. Ervin Brody, a Hungarian table tennis aficionado who’d befriended our U.S. World Teams abroad, wrote of receiving postcard after postcard from his friend Miklos "Mike" Szabados when he and his fellow International Istvan "Stefan" Kelen were making their celebrated Tour, their late-’30’s Odyssey, to Oceania and the Far East. Brody says:
"In Japan they played in the court of the Tenno, where they were given a beautiful silver plate, and reported that Nippon players touched their noses to each other before the match started. They were told that this gesture corresponded to the handshake of prizefighters at the beginning of a boxing bout" (TTT, Dec., 1941, 21)."
Gunn doesn’t mention seeing any such "handshake," but he does say:
"We had the privilege and rare honor of playing before royalty. The first night at Tokyo [June 12] we performed before two of the Emperor’s brothers, Princes Chichibu and Mahasa. We all bowed our respect before and after each match and as they entered and left the hall. Our willingness to abide by this traditional etiquette brought us rounds of applause from many spectators."
The Japanese would not send a team to the World Championships until their auspicious debut in Bombay in 1952 when they introduced the new sponge rubber racket that would change the face of the Sport. But Gunn (echoing what the Hungarian world-class players, Szabados and Kelen, had said of their 1938 matches in Japan) made it clear that the Japanese had "very fine players":
"...They invariably use cork surfaced bats [two years before, said Kelen, they used just plain wood]** which they grip in pen-holder style. All of them are fine forehand hitters although they do not drive except on a sure kill chance. Their main weakness, we discovered, was their disregard or lack of a chop defense. Effective strategy, we learned, was to feed them a chop and then counter drive their return. Holzrichter applied this technique...and it was cold-blooded murder. The rest of us, however, could not seem to put the theory into practice, mostly because of the peculiar bounce the balls took on those soft-top tables."
Brewer, in a June 26 postcard to George and Leo Schein that was stamped again in New York City July 17, confirmed Gunn’s view of their Japanese opponents—T. Kon, S. Suyama, J. Hayashi, K.Yasuhara, and K. Osada. "These Japs are really good," Brewer wrote. "They take the attack all the time. No defense just steady killing. A chop means nothing to them." Holzrichter told me that the tables the U.S. practiced on there were slick (the ball would slide), but that the tables the International Matches were played on were vastly different: they had a chalky, rough surface, and though you put heavy chop on the ball it would pop straight up and be hit away. On one such table Billy remembers losing a match, 23-21 in the 5th, to one of Japan’s best players, Takashi Kon (who’d also beaten Kelen in their initial encounter).
If the Japanese had a motive other than "Friendship Matches" in hosting this U.S. Team, it certainly wasn’t clear to our players. Gunn said the Team received so many gifts that "shipping them home became quite a problem." Rolph said that "Our Japanese hosts were exceedingly kind to us." She particularly liked "a box of oriental make up cream and a pair of exquisitely carved wooden shoes" she was given. Mayo told Topics (Nov., 1940, 10) that in general the Japanese women "have a charming poise. They are always sweet, charming and natural. They smile a great deal and laugh softly. As in many foreign countries, the woman’s place is strictly in the home. The men are considered socially superior to the women." In this unequal-partner connection, Gunn reported that "In many Japanese cities it is against the law to play mixed doubles."
Holzrichter, who’d be rescued from his downed B-24 in the War, said years later, "As long as I wasn’t a prisoner of war, the Japanese couldn’t have been nicer." In retrospect, however, a remark made by a Japanese liaison to the Team that summer of 1940 proved startling. Billy had happened to say, "We’ll be going home in a week or so," and Machita San had replied, "You may be our guest longer than you think."
Still, the July 2 letter JTTA President Usagawa sent to our USTTA President Clouther would seem straightforward enough:
"...[We] have to mention that good-will between U.S.A. and Japan, promoted by means of the table tennis matches, is a most valuable result of the scheme. With this aim in view, let us hope for the continuation of the Pan Pacific table tennis matches and also the exchange of players for the sheer purpose of developing amity between the two nations" (TTT, Oct., 1940, 16).
Amity aside, there would be no continuation of this kind of U.S.A.-Japan exchange.
*McClure told me that Binger was formerly the Advertising Manager of Block’s Department Store in Indianapolis, and that if the local paper in which his advertisements were placed didn’t put in the table tennis results they’d been given, it usually meant the loss of an ad. At the time of these National’s, Binger had his own advertising agency.
**See Kelen’s "A Journey In Styles..." in the Japanese Tamasu "Butterfly" Company’s Table Tennis Report, Nov., 1981, 4. Kelen writes of how surprised he and Szabados were at "these Japanese who kept on attacking with relentless energy, without variation to their game and with wooden bats."