1940: Changes in USTTA Officials, Membership, Serve Rule. 1940: Summer Vacation Tournaments—Minneapolis, Providence, Toronto. 1940: Professional Exhibitions Continue. 1940: No Women’s East-West Matches, No Eastern Pre-Intercity Tournaments. 1940: N.Y. Again Wins Intercities.
When our Pan-Pacific players returned from their once-in-a-lifetime experience, they would soon find the usual summer/fall tournaments to play in or read about. So, regardless of what had happened or was about to happen in their lives, little apparently had changed in the table tennis world?
Change—But Not Unexpected Change
Since the USTTA Executive Committee was made up of volunteers, it could come as no surprise that some of them had had enough, didn’t want to continue serving. Jim Clouther of Arlington, MA agreed to carry on for one more season as President—but 1st V.P. Ed Cannon of Toledo, 2nd V.P. Robert Sturtevant of Minneapolis, and Treasurer Urban Lamay of Philadelphia, after a year in their respective offices, called it quits. Jerrold "Jerry" Woodruff of Omaha moved to 1st V.P., while his previous position as Executive Secretary was taken by Victor Rupp of Philadelphia who, for two issues in 1939, had been Editor of Topics. The 2nd V.P. position was left vacant until late fall when Carl Nidy was appointed. Bill Gunn continued as 3rd V.P. Former USTTA President Morris Bassford was back—this time as Treasurer. Completing the leadership was the newly elected Recording Secretary, Don Larson of Minneapolis, who would give up his position as head of the Minnesota TTA. The Honorary USTTA President? That was no longer the USTTA’s English benefactor H.N. Smith, but Carl Zeisberg, the authoritarian President/Editor of the 1930’s. However, Carl apparently didn’t want this titular honor, so the USTTA abandoned it (though keeping the Honorary Vice-Presidents with several omissions rather than additions).
Thomas "Bob" Berna remained the General Secretary of the Association—the Headquarters of which was at the Middle Building, 34 South 17th St., Philadelphia. After but a single season, the 1939-40 Editor of Topics, Harry Harris, was succeeded by Mel Evans, Jr. of Lancaster, the Pennsylvania TTA Executive Secretary. He, too, would edit the magazine for only a year. In a Sept. 5, 1940 letter to Evans, President Clouther agreed to his suggestion that "TOPICS PRESS CARDS" be issued to members of his staff and selected affiliate reporters. This would enable them to attend all tournaments and exhibitions free. The Exhibition players themselves paid the USTTA an annual $5 registration fee—for which they saw their name in small print on a "Roving Racquets" list in Topics. Clouther thought the Press Card perk would be an incentive to "add color and life" to the reporting. But though about a dozen representatives of the magazine were named, not one of them ever did much of a tournament write-up.
The USTTA Membership—was that in flux too? In Feb., 1939 the total number of members was 3,198—alas, a misleading total, for it included those with either a regular or group membership. The idea of the group membership was to induce socially-minded beginners, not tournament-minded players, to bind together in an area and join the USTTA for a mere $.10 a player a year. The Association had in mind "bona-fide members of certain specific church, school, social, business and industrial organizations." Naturally this opportunity was abused—and so something had to be done about it.
By Oct. 1, 1940, the USTTA had 2710 regular members—no longer at a fee of $1 a year but now $.75 a year—and 1915 group members. Ridiculous that over 40% of USATT members were paying just a $.10 membership fee, thought Larry Minneker, President of the Ohio TTA. He sponsored a Constitutional Amendment that would deny cheapskate offenders "the right to participate in any USTTA sanctioned open tournament, to receive a National ranking or to hold a National office" (TTT, Dec., 1940, 10). This Amendment, retroactive to Sept. 1, 1940, and extended by several affiliates to forbid offenders from playing in a State Closed or receive a State ranking, was passed by the USTTA Board of Governors—the Affiliated State Association Presidents, of which at the moment there were 15. (The USTTA also had District Associations, such as W.C. Vogt’s Kansas City, Missouri TTA; Affiliates in Unorganized States, such as Boone, Iowa that had only the requisite 5 regular members; and the Group Membership Affiliates in Unorganized States, such as the San Diego YMCA TTA.)
Just how many members the Association had for its fiscal year after Oct. 1 was not made clear to the membership. Headquarters itself didn’t always know—since sometimes "persons collecting memberships" were guilty of "holding them up...then submitting them in one lot." Thus members who’d paid their dues "several months" before they were forwarded to Headquarters complained that they’d missed issues of Topics. Month after month, through the 1940-41 season and beyond, the Association talked of "races" between states to see which Affiliate would bring in the most members. But—as only monthly tallies among the changing leaders were enthusiastically mentioned,* never any total summary—it was impossible to tell, through the changing rhetoric beginning with the Feb., 1942 Topics ("We regret to report that several of our Eastern affiliates have dropped greatly in membership"), just how much progress had been made, if progress there was, in total regular membership.
That W.C. Vogt I mentioned a moment ago wrote a Sept. 18, 1940 letter to President Clouther expressing confusion about the wording of the USTTA Close Law No. 4. He thought perhaps one could still serve holding the ball with thumb and hand. Frank Yetter, Chair of the USTTA Rules Committee, in a return letter patiently explained the obvious. The rule states "thumb free," and specifically warns that the player may not "pinch the ball with the palm of his hand."
To clear up any confusion, the USTTA changed the wording of this Close Law No. 4 so that it read: "Any form of spin in service imparted by any agency but the racket is prohibited. The player shall in all cases serve with serving hand OPEN and FLAT, fingers straight and together, thumb free" (TTT, Dec., 1940, 6). Strange, then, that months later, the March, 1942 cover of Topics shows Tibor Hazi, readying himself for the Eastern’s as it were, preparing to serve, fingers not cupping but clawing the ball as he’s about to throw it into his racket. Later, in a Nov., 1941 Topics article, "Don’t Throw it Up," Yetter issues a further clarification—says there is no service rule that says you must throw the ball up. If any umpire asks you do this, "Don’t throw it up" (9).
Another source of confusion was the habit of some tournament sponsors to refer to "events for local unranked players as ‘Class B’ Tournaments, while others refer to them as ‘Class A’ events. Hence in the Jan., 1941 issue of Topics the request went out "that all sponsors refer to their events for top-ranking players as ‘Championship Tournaments,’ and those for unranked players as ‘Class A’ events....Events for strictly ‘beginner’ class players should be referred to as ‘Novice’" (11). But the wording here can’t be too helpful: "top-ranking players" implies there are also low ranking players, and the distinctions between low ranked and unranked, and unranked and novice players are likely to be very fine indeed. Moreover, in the very next issue of Topics (Feb., 1941), comes a report from Bill Holden, manager of the Boston Clarendon Club, that the annual Massachusetts state tournament will have a Men’s "Class B" event (14).
1940 Summer Vacation Tournaments
Circuit as well as local players, with little or no interest in whatever USTTA Headquarters was momentarily preoccupied with, likely took advantage of the additional summer fun offered them—swimming, fishing, boating—at both the Minneapolis July 20-21 Aquatennial Open and the Aug. 9-10 Provincetown, MA Open.
Bill Holzrichter and Bob Anderson on their return from Japan resumed their normal Mid-west tournament play—though, as George Koehnke tells us, Billy, "who works for his dad in the Acme Sheet Metal Works, recently fell asleep on the job," dreaming no doubt of exotic trips to come. Result: he "fell through a basement window," and had to have "over half a dozen stitches in his arm" (TTT, Nov., 1940, 17). In that Minneapolis Auditorium, however, Holzrichter was up, not down, for he won the Men’s—over a hard-to-beat Harry Lund in the quarter’s, Michigan’s #1 Max Hersh in the semi’s, and his winning Doubles partner Anderson in the final. U.S. Team Captain Bill Gunn (vacationing on the way back to returning to normal life in Mamaroneck?) took the Men’s Consolation. Marge Koolery was the Women’s Champion as expected, but in the semi’s Grace Janowiec exacted revenge on #2 seed Tiny Moss for having beat her in the March Minnesota Closed. Grace also teamed with new Minnesota TTA President Ed Sirmai to win the Mixed.
Forget the summer mosquitoes, Chicago-based Anderson seemed to have been bitten by the travel bug. Three weeks after the Aquatennial tournament "Andy" turned up in Provincetown, 1200 miles east, having a good time but losing in the Quiniela to Defending Champ Eddie Pinner. Perhaps the player who most enjoyed this year’s Cape Cod vacation though, and he hadn’t missed a one, was Mt. Vernon, N.Y.’s Jack Hartigan who, there on his honeymoon, rose to the occasion by upsetting #2 seed Cy Sussman. Abbott Nelson also had a good win, coming from 2-0 down to defeat #6 seed Frank Dwelly. In eliminating both Charlie Schmidt and Johnny Abrahams with ease, Pinner again took the coveted Men’s Silver Cod trophy and now needed only one more victory to retire it.
Mae Clouther, meanwhile, did retire the Women’s Bronze Dolphin trophy—by defeating Massachusetts’ #2 Corinne Delery in the final. Mae also teamed with Barbara Shields to snatch a 19-in-the-5th Women’s Doubles thriller from Delery and Alice O’Connor. But Alice got a first-place prize anyway—for after Anderson and Sussman had rallied to down Pinner and Cross in the Men’s Doubles, Bob sweetly passed his Cup to Alice. Passing the hat, you might say, were the tournament organizers who donated whatever proceeds there were to the War Relief Fund of the American Red Cross.
The annual Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) tournament in early September in Toronto was a further reminder to the Americans enjoying themselves that there was a War going on and that it had somehow come close to home—for a number of Canadian players could be seen wearing Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) uniforms. Detroiters duked it out in the Men’s—with Hersh steadily outpointing the mercurial, ever gallery-minded V. Lee Webb.
Ruthe Brewer won her third straight CNE Women’s Championship—in 4 over the increasingly ambitious and competitive Leah Thall. In the Men’s Gimbel International Matches, the U.S. prevailed, 6-4, over a Canadian foursome of Henri Rochon; the winning Open Men’s Doubles pair of Jean Jacques Desjardins and Pierre Chapdelaine; and Leo Rosenzweig, the Open Mixed winner with Brewer. Hersh and Webb accounted for two singles each, Green one, and the teams split the two doubles matches.
In her Topics column (Dec., 1940, 5), Gladys Hotsenpiller writes that shortly after this tournament, on Sept. 26 in New York, U.S. #2 Brewer married H. Dyer Crist, whom she’d met only three months earlier in a shipboard romance. "Chris," as she called him, "had been on a newspaper assignment in Manila and was coming home to work at Michigan State College." They would make their home in East Lansing, Michigan, Ruth would practice in Detroit—Mayor Jeffries himself had just offically opened a new 18-table downtown Club there—and would continue playing in tournaments...almost as if her table tennis life—her life—would hardly change.
Jimmy McClure’s Aug. 24-25 Indianapolis Membership tournament I’ll mention—not because Earl Coulson won the Men’s over Joe Kolady, but because the U.S.’s #1 and #3 women players, Indiana’s Sally Green and Betty Henry didn’t play. Since there was no Women’s event, I assume no new women members were to be gotten at this "Membership" tournament. Sally was on summer vacation, with of course a racket packed in her bag. In Buena Vista (not in Mexico but Colorado), she couldn’t resist combining pleasure with pleasure, and played some competitive matches at Colorado TTA President Charlie Cox’s Denver Club. Betty, however, in perhaps as much of a surprise move as Ruth’s, decided not to play table tennis this season (or any season to come?). But could even aficionados blame her? Life offered so much—the future had so many possibilities for one so young.
Vacation spots some players might have chosen were Puerto Rico and Hawaii. There were table tennis tournaments there too. According to San Juan’s Enrique Otero (Topics, Oct., 1940, 18), Puerto Rico held its first official Island Championship beginning in 1937—with Pilo Braschi the winner in both ‘37 and ‘38, and Luis Rigual, a civil engineering student at the College of Agriculture and Engineering at Mayaguez, the Champion in ‘39. Hawaii and Honolulu reportedly had a (former?) Champion in Michael "Bud" Creamer (TTT, Nov., 1940, 13), but his quarter’s loss in a September, 1940 San Diego tournament to winner Carl Heyl, Ohio #17 for 1938-39, didn’t suggest that his play was impressive. Heyl, who’d run the Final phase of the Women’s East-West Matches in Cleveland, on resettling in California had become Secretary of the San Diego TTA. He arranged an October Intercity Match with a 6-man Los Angeles team that included moviedom’s Don Terry and Don Siegel.** Result: L.A. 32—San Diego 4.
The New York player/official Dick Geiger, an Ensign in the Naval Reserve stationed at Pearl Island, Hawaii, just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor (which he survived), said he talked with Al Fortier, "second ranking player in the islands," and learned that this past summer when the U.S. Team stopped there, Bill Gunn "trounced Otto Schilling, reputed to be the island’s best" (TTT, Jan., 1941, 14).
Professional Exhibitions Continue
Vacationers looking for autographs of celebrities would do well to follow Coleman Clark’s peregrinations round the country. The Oct., 1940 issue of Topics features three photos of Cokey at the exclusive Coconut Grove nite club in Los Angeles (6). Dressed impeccably on court and off, this consummate table tennis professional is shown going about his business. Which is....(1) to perform—with the well-rehearsed help of his foil of a partner Mark Stevens, both dressed all in white—on a table set up on the dance floor between the bandstand and the seated patrons. To any one of these onlookers game enough to challenge him and beat him while he plays sitting in a chair, he offers a cup bearing the modest inscription, "I beat Coleman Clark."***
Cokey’s business is also...(2) to "work"—dressed in white jacket and dark tie—the audience, particularly the "important" people. Here he’s shown smiling and talking amiably with elegantly-dressed-actors Heather Thatcher and Basil Rathbone....And, finally, Clark’s business is…(3) to realize—and one doesn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce it—that fellow entertainers like the limelight, like at least momentarily to be part of the show. At a ringside table, comedians Arthur Treacher and Joe E. Brown, also in tuxedos, are shown obligingly absorbed in Clark’s current book, Table Tennis.
Bellak and Glancz were out west too. Laci had a table tennis equipment base in Portland, OR—was importing good-plywood Slazenger rackets for $.75 and selling them for $2, and had access to the best balls from abroad.****He was getting orders from local sporting goods stores, but when the War started in Europe, he could no longer get rubber rackets or balls. Bellak’s status and influence could be seen in a Topics ad from the local Rodda Paint Company. It urged players to surface their own table with a "new slate-like finish" that offers a "perfect bounce" and that’s been "Acclaimed by world champions who have played in Portland." Perhaps, too, Laci’s theatrical background provided the Portland TTC with the idea of holding the finals of their City Tournament "on the stage of the Orpheum Theatre before a crowd of 3200 fans and theatre goers." As anticipated, Hal Philan and Mayo Rolph were the winners.
In another sense, Portland player/artist Jack McLarty was a winner, for on attending art school in New York City he came up with sketches of some of the top Eastern players, including National Champ Lou Pagliaro. In an article, "Table Tennis in 1940," in the Bob Viducich-edited Dec. 6-7 Pacific Northwest Open Program (13), McLarty praised Paggy’s reflexes, and said his eyes were so good that he "could read the labels on phonograph records while they were turning on the old 78 rpm machines" (a claim which I sought confirmation of from Louie in his old age, and which he proclaimed to be "Nonsense"). What does Jack most remember about playing Pagliaro? This:
"...[It] was his quickness. If I went to hit a hard drive, he was already back twelve feet, waiting; but if I changed my mind and drop-shot, he seemed to be right at the table, ready to kill anything the least bit high; and, of course, he had that 250 mile an hour forehand. That stroke, by the way, was almost circular in motion rather than back and forward. I think Miles picked this stroke up from ‘Paggy.’ [As we’ll see shortly, Dick certainly had the opportunity to copy Louie’s strokes.]"
During their West Coast Tour, Bellak and Glancz played serious-minded opponents like Seattle’s Ray Pearson, San Francisco’s Charley Sarber (who went 5 with Philan in the Pacific Coast Championships), and L.A.’s Don Terry and others at Russ and Spark Magnus’s Hollywood Courts. But they also had their moments of frivolity. Topics Editor Mel Evans, Jr., in continuing the USTTA’s tradition of trying to link table tennis with actor-celebrities, claimed that while Dorothy Lamour was appearing at the Golden Gate Theatre Laci was supposed to teach her table tennis and she was supposed to teach him how to sing. Evans also wrote that "the boys played Clark Gable and [his wife] Carole Lombard in a private match at Beverly Hills’ Chasen Restaurant" and also took on "Peter Lorre (of Mr. Moto fame) and Paul Lucas, both of whom are considered good players."
Of course Ruth Aarons can’t resist the show-biz life either—and continues to find success of sorts. Her fall season opens at New York’s Hotel Astor with Bernie Grimes. Several months later, with Glancz back in town, you can find her giving an afternoon exhibition with him at Bloomingdale’s Department Store on 79th. Then in March she’s in Pennsylvania—at Butler, and afterwards Pittsburgh. From a Butler reporter I find out what I didn’t know before: "She has studied dramatics at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York....She has studied voice under Joseph Regneas of New York City and in the near future expects to make her debut as a singer." The Butler newspaper columnist John J. Hall says that "Miss Aarons was born to the part of a dainty little fairy queen..." (RAS, 110)—but then, wow, when she plays table tennis, she...what? Looks like the 5’3", 110-pound young athlete she is?
Ruth won’t make it as an actress or a singer—nor as a songwriter, though Glancz would later tell Topics that "Guy Lombardo is preparing to plug one of her hits [sic] on the airwaves." But come July-August, 1941 she’s still an attraction in her third engagement with Sandor at the chic Rainbow Room atop New York City’s Rockefeller Center. Sitting in a chair, spotting her opponents 9 points a game, she makes everybody happy by sometimes awarding a bottle of champagne to those brave enough to accept her challenge. After Ruth and Sandor come down from on high, common folk can catch them on stage at the Beacon Theater, Broadway and 74th.
Aarons is hyped—and in the most outrageous, fiction-over-fact manner—in a Collier’s article written by Bill Davidson shortly after the U.S. enters the War. It’s called "This Babe, RUTH," and I’ve a copy of it inscribed by Davidson "To Ruth, my first star interview." That it’s a first I can believe—and, had his Editor been interested in truth, it would have been Davidson’s last interview—at least for that magazine. Forget his mention of the possibility that Ruth isn’t married yet because she’s already been harried so by rumors that she is married to this or that exhibition partner—say, "Michele Glichman, the Russian champion" (that is, Michel Glickman, the 1931 French Champion—stage name: "Michael French"). Forget such a minor mistake—or Davidson’s perpetuation of the myth that Ruth had never lost a tournament match. Here are just a few howlers that make for an inimitable read:
"Miss Aarons is not only the greatest table-tennis player in the world—she is also beautiful and streamlined. She possesses all the glamor of a besweatered starlet. In a game which features lanky, wizened males, and chunky horse-faced females [can you guess who’s alluded to here?], she stands out like Betty Grable in a Home for Aged Spinsters....
It is the consensus of the experts that Ruth possesses the hardest forehand the game has ever seen....
Ruth also plays a defensive game that is amazing. She can retrieve any shot within thirty-five feet of the table....In Bucharest in 1937 [sic: for Baden near Vienna], she kept a ball in play for one hour and thirty-five minutes—in the process of which she exhibited so much grace that she was approached with ecstatic offers by the manager of the Rumanian Ballet....
In 1936...when she first arrived in London to appear before a record crowd in world-famous Wembley Stadium [sic: on their way to the Prague World’s, the U.S. Team played an exhibition at Paddington Baths], the girls were still playing in ugly tennis skirts. This was all Ruth needed. The next day she stepped onto the floor of the stadium, clad in her most clinging, contour-revealing, scarlet and blue slacks. The dowagers gasped, as only English dowagers can. The police made ready to close the establishment for indecency. Ruth was yanked off the floor, and deposited on the carpet before the International Table Tennis Association. The officials thundered, they pleaded, they wept. But Ruth refused to take off the slacks.
Finally the officials yielded and allowed play to resume. Before the end of that tournament, there wasn’t a skirt to be seen on the floor of Wembley Stadium. Every girl in the place was wearing slacks!..." (RAS 116-117).
Incredible lines, as anyone who’s read Vol. I of this History knows. And Davidson speaks of Ruth’s "flair for the dramatic"!
Could she really be pleased by this account? Alas, maybe—‘cause, as we know, in show-biz, exaggerations are a given.*****Anyway, back now to the real world of fall, 1940 tournament table tennis.
No Women’s East-West Matches
Because of the apparent lack of mobilized t.t. activity in the East—though months go by, no one volunteers to succeed Violet Smolens as USTTA Women’s Chair—and because the pregnant Mildred Wilkinson Shipman, past organizer of women’s play in the West, is no longer active (on Jan. 20 she’ll give birth to a daughter, Susan), there are no East-West Matches scheduled this season. Had there been, by the Nov. 30-Dec. 1 Men’s Intercities, some, though not all, of the following women would have been chosen to qualify for the West team.
Gladys Hotsenpiller, who’d begun calling her Topics column "Glad Tidings," won the Sept. 27-29 Chicago District over Mrs. Jean Scranton, unranked last season but 18, 19 tough in this final.
In U.S. #1 Green’s and U.S. #3 Henry’s absence, the third Indiana star, U.S. #9 Mary Baumbach, did not win the Oct. 12-13 Indianapolis Open. She lost to that city’s Dorothy Elkin, who also beat Louisville’s Martha Kiefer and South Bend’s Liz Hornyak, gold medal winner, almost 45 years later, at the Helsinki World’s Veterans Championship.
After successfully enduring a 28-26-in-the-5th test of nerves against unranked fellow Ohioan Violet Schoonover in the quarter’s, Leah Thall won the Nov. 2-3 Dayton Air City Open, deuce in the 4th, over Defending Champion Norma Studer.
U.S. Champion Green, "devoting much of her time to her studies at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music," maintains that the heavy load of her schoolwork is preventing her from practicing or playing in many tournaments. But in winning the Nov. 23-24 Miami Valley Open at Hamilton, Ohio, she appeared able to spot her opponents—Toledo Public Parks Tennis Champion "Pete" May in the semi’s, and Leah Thall in the final—seven points a game. As for U.S. #2 Ruthe Brewer Crist, perhaps with her marriage and move to East Lansing, Michigan, she’d played so little that her early-round loss here in Hamilton to U.S. #22 Kiefer was understandable. However, paired with V. Lee Webb, Ruthe did win the Mixed—over Ohio #1 Cal Fuhrman and Green.
There was a fantastic ending in the Minneapolis 10,000 Lakes Open the last weekend in November. For, though 12-year-old Tiny Moss (even in adulthood she’d be known as Tiny) knocked out Grace Janowiec, 19 in the 4th in the semi’s, few could expect the Ed Litman-coached prodigy, after only two years of play, to defeat Des Moines’ U.S. #11 Helen Baldwin in the final. But she did, and, with—take your choice—astonishing maturity, or the fearlessness of youth...33-31 in the 5th. Many years later, when Moss was in her mid-to-late 60’s, she wrote a letter to Minnesota TTA President Rex Harris on the occasion of Litman’s induction into the Minnesota Table Tennis Hall of Fame (see Rex’s article in Table Tennis Today, Sept.-Oct., 1955). "Eddie," she said, "had a profound effect on my life. He was not only my mentor, but my best friend and superb role-model" (41).
The Nov. 30-Dec. 1 Intercities, played at the DeSoto Hotel in St. Louis, would accommodate, as usual, only seven teams. Five of these would be from the Midwest—Chicago, Indianapolis, Columbus, St. Louis, and Detroit—and, as expected, many of the players representing these teams contended in preparatory tournaments.
In the Sept. 27-28 Chicago District Championships, Bob Anderson avenged his loss to Holzrichter in the summer Aquatennial. Billy’s victim in the 8th’s was the artist Gustav "Gus" Rehberger who nearly 30 years later would do the action-drawings for Dick Miles’s The Game of Table Tennis (1968). Also, Chicago’s well-known Radiologist-to-be, Bill Meszaros, makes an early appearance here in the first of his several decades of competition—loses to Ralph Muchow in the 8th’s, 22-20 in the 4th.
1939 U.S. National Champion Jimmy McClure didn’t play in his Oct. 12-13 home-town Open, so the lesser Indianapolis stalwarts fought it out—with #1 seed Earl Coulson, the Topics-listed Instructor at Jimmy’s club, surviving hand-to-hand combat with Joe Kolody, 19 in the 5th in the quarter’s, and Earl’s former pupil, Defending Champ Chuck Tichenor, in the final, 17 in the 5th.
At the Nov. 2-3 Air City Open at Dayton, Jimmy Shrout had an exciting semi’s win: down 20-15 match point in the 5th to Michigan’s #1 Max Hersh, he won 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 in a row. But then, alas, couldn’t begin to string enough points together in the final against Tichenor.
The following week in St. Louis Tichenor’s eventual successor as U.S. Boys’ Champion, Allan Levy, beat Don Lasater in both the Boys’ and Class A events. More contested were two quarter’s matches in the Men’s. Lester Perlmutter, the St. Louis #2, down 2-1 to Bill Diller, the St. Louis #4, and seeing it was no time to diller-dally, won the 4th, then had a dilly of a 31-29 5th game thriller before going on to lose to Dill—er, Bill—Price. Meanwhile, the St. Louis #5, John McCloskey, 19, -19, 22, -29, 16 had his own roller-coaster, marathon-match excitement against the St. Louis #3, Herman Brodski, before advancing to a predictable end opposite Garrett Nash who’d only rather recently returned to St. Louis. The Topics reporter said of the final that "Price made remarkable returns and then came in to drive and win his points." How Nash, who lost in 4, scored his points wasn’t made clear, but the reporter—anonymous, perhaps for fear of reprisal—did say that Garrett "has a world of natural ability and a minimum of thinking ability" (Jan., 1941, 17).
At the Miami Valley Open, held just before the Intercities, Shrout got by Detroit’s Jack Taggert in 5, then lost in the semi’s to Bob Green, 19 in the 5th. Webb, the erratic Michigan #4, squeaked by Mitchell in the quarter’s, 19 in the 5th, then beat the Hamilton, Ohio home favorite, Fuhrman, in 4, and finally eliminated Green in straight games.
At the 10,000 Lakes Open in Minneapolis, on the Nov. 30-Dec. 1 weekend of the Intercities, #3-seed Harry Lund began to establish his superiority over the older Twin-Cities Eds, defeating Litman in the semi’s and Sirmai in 5 in the final, thus earning for himself his first National Ranking (#39).
Question to the Players: Who would win the Intercities this year?
Possible Answer: "New...New...New York." Which would suggest that the Empire State’s opponents were so cowed they could hardly get out the intimidating name? For certainly there could be nothing new in New York winning its 9th Intercities in the last 10 years. Maybe all the opposing teams did stutter, as it were. Maybe they faltered because they were too self-conscious. Maybe they needed to learn to relax a little with their opponents, have a chat in between points with them, or with the spectators—like Nash, everyone’s exception to the rule of intimidation. Anyway, one could read in the Nov., 1940 Topics that Dr. Bryng Bryngelson, "Director of Speech at the University of Minnesota," uses table tennis in his clinics to help his stammerers. He makes the point that one’s "hand patterns [are] coordinated on the same side of the brain where his [her] speech functions." So the doctor brings his patients to the t.t. table and as they play he has them "communicate purposely for the relief of self-consciousness and the eradication of fear" (5).
Possibilities here, right? At least for Dr. Bryngelson’s patients—and the good doctor himself who, for his pathological article in our magazine, was rewarded with an honorary membership in the USTTA. But forget the analogy. Right answer to who would win? A single, curt "New York"—said with a snarl by the St. Louis forces who, as we’ll see in a moment, would lose a 5-4 last-tie fight that showed them to be anything but whimpy.
As opposed to the Columbus team that would finish with zero wins, the 4-man Detroit squad got off to a great 1st-round start against St. Louis, the only team to use five players, though Perlmutter and McCloskey, who’d be winless, would play just one tie apiece. St. Louis felt they had an obligation to risk playing Perlmutter (0-3) against Detroit (McCloskey they’d put in against hapless Columbus), and when Nash lost right off the bat to Hersh and Bernstein, St. Louis was beaten 5-3. Garrett, I’d better hasten to say, lest anyone think otherwise, was complimented in the Topics tournament write-up—not for his mediocre 6-7 record, but for his (and Bellis’s) "courteous conduct." Give credit where credit is due, eh?
Later, however, Detroit had Bernstein (5-6) sitting out their last two ties versus teams they might beat—Indianapolis and Philadelphia—while Taggart, taking Bernstein’s place after winning two from Ohio, dropped all 5 of his matches. A down day for Jack, but much worse was to come. Less than three years later, "The plane in which he was a radio operator and gunner took off from a carrier, and after flying a few hundred yards suddenly dived directly into the sea." On Nov. 11-12, 1943 the Michigan TTA would hold a Memorial tournament in his honor.
Against Indianapolis, Detroit’s Webb lost to McClure 18 in the 3rd, and his teammate Hersh failed to win a 3-game must-win match from Coulson. Against Philadelphia, Webb, who it was said from time to time, tie to tie, "amused the crowd with his humorous antics," gamely came through—19 and 21 over Ham Canning, and -20, 19, 17 over Abbott Nelson. So that after Hersh beat Nelson, but lost to Bellis, 22-20 in the 2nd, the tie was 3-3. Then, however, Webb succumbed to not-so-dizzy Izzy, -20, 16, -18, and Hersh to Canning, 10, -19, -18. Hence Detroit, despite that upset start, ended with just 2 wins.
Indianapolis quickly took their lead-off tie against Philadelphia when Coulson beat Canning, and Kolady 19, 19 beat Nelson. It only remained for McClure to win his 3, which he did. However, in the Indianapolis-St. Louis tie, though Jimmy got the better of both George Hendry and Nash, albeit 19 in the 3rd against Garrett, Indianapolis could do no more. Unaccountably, this Intercities, the 5th he’d played in for Indiana, seems to be Earl Coulson’s last tournament. Without explanation he now just vanishes from the pages of Topics.*****
Bad enough that St. Louis had severely diminished much of the home crowd’s hopes with their opening loss to Detroit. But when midway in the tournament they were beaten 5-2 by Chicago, everyone knew that their cause was hopeless. Down 3-2 after Holzrichter had done in both Hendry and Nash in 3, and Anderson had added a key 3-game win over Price, and after Nash had easily waved away Herb Aronson, and Hendry had gained control to thwart Anderson, St. Louis, down 3-2, still had a chance. When, however, Aronson finished off Price in 3, Nash had to win. And up 1-0 and at 21-all, it looked like he might—but then Anderson turned the match his way, and Chicago remained unbeaten.
Though not for long. New York’s Lou Pagliaro was just too strong, and Eddie Pinner almost equally so. Eddie had been formidable enough to have won the Oct. 18-19 New York Queens Championship, 20, -19, 16, 18 over Schiff in the semi’s, and 13, 16, 1 (sic: 1?) over (a to hell with it?) Charlie Schmidt in the final. Chicago’s Holzrichter began with a 22-20 1st-game win over Louie, but then was never in the match. Against Pinner, Aronson, after losing the opener, persisted to deuce in the 2nd, but couldn’t stay alive. Nor could Billy, despite winning the 1st from Eddie, bring home a much needed match. Since Anderson would be unable to take a game from Paggy or Pinner, only Bob’s deuce-in-the-3rd win over Irving "Whitey" Sheraga, who would then lose to Aronson, prevented runner-up Chicago from being 5-0 blown away.
Undefeated New York’s last tie had been scheduled against St. Louis in the hope that it would be a climactic, tournament-deciding one. But though St. Louis, with two losses already, had no chance to win these Intercities, they resisted New York mightily and so did not totally disappoint their supporters. To upset the Easterners, and set up a New York-Chicago play-off, Price, Hendry, and Nash would all have to beat Sheraga. And, since reportedly for 20 tournaments now Pagliaro had been invincible, two of the St. Louis players would have to defeat Pinner as well. When Garrett in his 1st match downed Eddie, getting by him deuce in the 2nd, St. Louis was primed. But after Pinner pummeled Price, it was left to Hendry to stop him—and George couldn’t quite do it, lost this tie-turner 19 in the 3rd (maybe abruptly coming out of his defensive mode to risk trying to take over the offense as he often did at a late stage of the game). In the 8th match, Price 20, -13, 19 held on to beat Sheraga, as his teammates had earlier. This moved St. Louis into a 4-4 tie, after which the still undefeated Pagliaro recorded his 12th victory—an easy one over Price—and with it earned the Outstanding Player Award.
Tournament Chair Claude Camuzzi is praised for a job well done—and History is made with a scoring system called "Scorite." Apparently the scorekeeper doesn’t have to say a word—he merely pulls one of the two cords to his left or righ
t on the apparatus in front of him, and, voila, you have the first automatic score keeper that "not only tabulates the score accurately but designates who is serving....The time may come," says Topics, "when all large tournaments will be using these automatic score keepers" (Jan., 1941, 18).
*As Ohio TTA President (succeeded, sometime in Feb./Mar., 1941, by George Sturgiss), Larry Minneker had pressed for more regular USTTA memberships. He was still pressing for them in his role as Editor of the "Ohio Net News"—a relatively short-lived publication, I gather, because Ohio TTA members apparently weren’t very receptive to its few mimeographed-off, pictureless pages. In the Vol. 2, No. 8, Apr. 15, 1941 issue, Minneker lists in order the five states with the most USTTA members—which are, as of Apr. 1, 1941: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Kansas City, and Minnesota. He professes to speak rationally to Ohioans—says, "With the thousands of players in our state, there is no reason for not having at least a thousand members."
**Siegel, whom I’d given some background on in Vol. I—as the director of Clint Eastwood movies, for example—was remembered as a table tennis player into the new millennium. U. S. Hall of Famer Dick Evans told me in July, 2001 that host-critic Robert Osborne, for I believe Turner Classic Movies, had prefaced a recent showing of "Charley Varrick," starring Walter Matthau (then "young enough to be a lover," Dick said), with a comment about the former California titleholder being in this movie. "A famous ping-pong champion," Osborne had called him. So of course Dick watched carefully—and, sure enough, in a three-second or so scene in the back of a Chinese restaurant, there was Siegel playing, as promised.
***One of the "I beat Coleman Clark" cup winners—though in a performance in Cincinnati—was famed bandleader/pianist Eddy Duchin.
****Bob Viducich tells the story he heard about Bellak and his balls:
"…He [Laszlo] ordered the finest balls available from France in the bulk at perhaps 100 to 1000 gross at a time. (The numbers seem to get larger with each passing year.) Anyway, everything went well with his business until a U.S. customs official decided that each ball had to be marked ‘Made in France’ to identify its country of origin.
Since the balls had no such mark on them, Laszlo had to fly to New York and hand stamp each one of the 15,000 to 150,000 balls!…[Dec. 6-7, 1980 Northwest Open Program, 22]
*****I’d mentioned in Vol. I how violinist Jascha Heifetz’s prowress at table tennis had been hyped (he’d even been made an Honorary Vice-President of the USTTA). Now in the Nov., 1940 issue of Topics, Metropolitan opera singer Eleanor Steber, on being interviewed by Editor Mel Evans, Jr. maintains that Heifetz, whom she knew quite well, "talks table tennis as much as he does music." Steber also says that when she attended the New England Conservatory of Music at Boston, the table tennis tables there "were always crowded with eager young musicians, who made up in spirit what they lacked in playing ability" (10).
Another Topics article, dealing with musician Oscar Levant’s book A Smattering of Ignorance, reveals that "the distinguished composer, Arnold Schoenberg...when he went visiting, used to carry his own table tennis rackets with him." Levant also says that he used to spend "hours" playing table tennis with George Gershwin (May, 1940, 16).
With regard to Gershwin’s play, the July 5, 1993 New York Times had an article by William Grimes on "Gershwin...Family Memories" as recounted by 82-year-old George and Ira’s singer/dancer sister, Frances ("Frankie") Gershwin Godowsky. The following passage caught my eye:
"The Gershwin family lived [in New York City] on 103rd Street at Riverside Drive, keeping a kind of artistic open house that drew hordes of show-business folk and Broadway and film stars. ‘You’d walk in the entrance and there’d be people standing all around, with very exciting Ping-Pong games going on,’ Mrs.Godowsky said."
Turns out that Ruth Aarons’ half-brother Alex produced a number of Gershwin successes from Lady Be Good (1924) to Pardon My English (1933). And since Ruth lived at 150 Riverside Drive, within easy walking distance of the Gershwins, and since her brother had this close association with George and Ira, I can’t help but speculate that she had casually watched, if not tried her hand at, the competitive play that was often going on at the Gershwin house. Further, though in Vol. I I documented how she repeatedly said she came to play table tennis on a rainy day that saw her tennis game interrupted, I wonder if, consciously or unconsciously, in her formative childhood, amidst those show-business people she lifelong wanted to be like, she might have acquired her initial liking for the Sport.
Another Times article, this one by Alex Witchel on the actor Mickey Rooney, and appearing just two days after the Gershwin one, has Mickey claiming, "I lost my hair because of tennis and Ping-Pong....I was the Southern California Ping-Pong Champion for five years. But I took too many showers and the soap was not Vidal Sassoon." Oh, oh—more hype. For when "Andy Hardy’s Double Life" opened in New York in 1943, Mickey was in his early 20’s, and from the photo of a scene in that movie I saw reproduced in the Times, unless he had the most miraculous toupee of the day, he sure had all his hair. Of course in an article back in 1938, Rose Stradner, former Viennese stage star, then with M-G-M, said that the teenage Rooney was a player "of almost professional skill" (TTT, May, 1938, 3). Truth or illusion? Probably, as in the films many a reader sees, something of both.
******Earl Coulson, a charter member of the Indiana Hall of Fame, died in 1986 at the age of 68. As he was destitute, Jimmy McClure saw to it that he received a proper burial