Chapter XXXIV. 1939: Ranking Committee Again Chooses to Disregard the Many Spring Tournaments. 1939: Nash/McClure and Green Capture Similarly Abbreviated Hammond and Wilkinson Cup Contests. 1939: Bellak/Hazi on Pacific Northwest Tour. 1939: Aarons/Fuller; McClure/Schiff: ‘30’s Champions Keep Busy. 1939: Zeisberg Era Ends; Innovative USTTA Unable to Build Up Tournament-Playing Membership.
Despite the fact that there were more than 25 late March, April, and May tournaments still to be played, the season’s rankings were again rushed out within a month of the National’s (the Men’s on Apr. 13, the Women’s on Apr. 19). Since the Hammond/Wilkinson Cup races were also over with after the season-ending National’s, none of these many spring matches officially "counted." Of course that didn’t prevent players from playing, perhaps with enough success to further their arguments that the rankings were surely suspect.
New England organizers held tournaments on three consecutive weekends (paid admission to such tournaments was usually 25 cents a session). In the Apr. 14-15 New England Open at Cambridge, Les Lowry, ranked, just the day before, U.S. #13, won the Men’s over Charlie Schmidt, U.S. #12, deuce in the fourth. In the one 4-game semi’s, Lowry downed former APPA Champ Jimmy Jacobson. Although Jimmy wasn’t considered active enough even to receive Insufficient Data in the rankings, he played in all three of these April tournaments and played very well. In the other 4-game semi’s, Schmidt, who couldn’t force the offense but could pick a loose ball and hit it hard, upset Sol Schiff, U.S. #5. Lowry, paired with 15-year-old Frank Dwelly, the MA #3 who’d learned the game at his Cambridge Y, also won the Men’s Doubles--over Jack Kyger and Schiff in 5 in the semi’s and National Veteran’s Champ George Bacon and Jacobson 24-22 in the 4th (after the latter pair had beaten Arthur Sweeney and John Holden deuce in the 5th).
In the Western Massachusetts Open at Fitchburg the following weekend, Lowry, repeatedly forced back "20 feet" from the table,-19, 17, 18, -26, 19 barely won a marathon final from Jacobson--which, in Fitchberg anyway, seemed officially important enough for the mayor himself to present the trophies.
And in the Apr. 29th Southern New England Open, as Providence would have it, the inactive, unranked Jacobson showed even more what he could do. Maybe he’d been making side trips to Worcester? To work out on the sly with Dr. H. P. Frost’s "Practice Board" table? In order that you can imagine its potential for the "serious student of table tennis" here is Frost’s description of what Jacobson might have seen:
"...The apparatus is suspended over the table by 4 chains. A rope and pulley pull it out of the way so a regular game may be played. One person can set it up in less than a minute.
The ball is hit after a bounce on the player’s [flat] side of the table, passes over net, bounces on tilted [up] table [half], then on hanging board [the aforementioned suspended "apparatus" above] then [back down] on tilted table [half] and back across net. Balls that fail to return over net [well, some of them anyway] roll to your feet down the inclined board under the table..." (TTT, June, 1939, 14).
Whether Jacobson or anyone else wanted Dr. Frost’s practice prescription for success or not, at Providence unranked Jimmy beat #12 Schmidt in the quarter’s, 2-1; beat #13 Lowry in the semi’s, 3-0; and beat #9 Cartland in the -19, 18, 21, 22 sharply contested final (after Doug had knocked out first Dan Klepak and then Johnny Abrahams). Having then more of Jacobson than he could finally handle, Lowry slit his wrists? C’mon, we all know that’s an exaggeration--what loss could be that bad? Topics reported only that come summer Les had an accident--and that the tendons of his left wrist were cut (Nov., 1939, 10).
The Women’s matches in these New England tournaments? Well, U.S. #5 Mae Clouther was always noticeably there. But she won only in Fitchburg--from unranked Corinne Dellery.
At Cambridge, perhaps weakened by the flu that kept her from the National’s and/or lack of practice, she lost in the semi’s, 3-0, to U.S. #9 Mae Spannaus. In the final, Mae then shut out Helen Germaine, after Helen (Insufficient Data) had upset U.S. #3 Ruthe Brewer in a 14, -27, 6, -12, 20 topsy-turvy match.
Providence provided Spannaus with two more wins. In the final, she again beat Clouther, though this time 19 in the 4th, and in the semi’s she gave Brewer another bad loss. Unlucky for Mae, lucky for Ruthe, these matches wouldn’t be applied to their ranking records. In the other semi’s, Clouther had no trouble with Newark, N.J.’s Molly Kareivis who’d 2-1 gotten by Rhode Island Champ Jane Stahl.
There was indeed a Rhode Island State Championship immediately after the March National’s--but though Tony Fionte defeated Norm Middleton, 3-0, it was Norm who was ranked #1 in R.I. and Tony (somebody said he made more money coaching table tennis than in his jewelry business) who wasn’t active enough.
Newark, N.J. also hosted three tournaments after the season had officially ended. In winning the Apr. 14-16 North Jersey from Scott Stickle, Dan Kreer avenged his March Essex County semi’s loss to Scott. In the semi’s, Stickle had to go 5 to get by Princeton Tiger Abbott Nelson, while U.S. #15 Kreer, who’d soon be working the summer resorts again with Nelson, his exhibition partner and winning U.S. Intercollegiate Princeton teammate, had to hustle to 26-24 slip by Morris Miller.
Kreer then went on to win the N.J. Closed--over Bill Cross, who’d been runner-up to Stickle in the Essex County Open. Stickle was straight-game surprised in the quarter’s of this State Championship by two-time U.S. Veteran’s Champ (and Newark Broad and Market Streets Club Instructor) Morris Bernstein.
Dominating the N.J. Women’s play were U.S. #14 Molly Kareivis and U.S. #22 Alice O’Connor--with Molly winning both the Essex County and North Jersey tournaments from Alice, and Alice the more prestigious State title from Molly.
In the third Newark tournament, the Apr. 22-23 Middle Atlantic States, the visiting New York players, too strong for the locals, produced some very good play among themselves. In the quarter’s, Cy Sussman, U.S. #18, forced Bernie Grimes , U.S. #4, into the 5th. And in the semi’s, both Grimes and Lou Pagliaro, U.S. #6, fell in close matches--Bernie beaten by Cartland, deuce in the 4th, and Lou a loser to Schmidt, -24, -19, 18, -13.
After Doug had won the final, 3-0, he loaned the as yet unengraved perpetual Filing Trophy he’d been given momentary use of to Paul Capelle so Paul (Look what I won!) could impress his parents (TTT, May, 1939, 8).
Actually, though Capelle didn’t win any title here at the Mid-Atlantic, he and Molly Kareivis in the quarter’s of the Mixed put on maybe the best show of the tournament in beating Dan Klepak and Helen Germaine, 18, -22, -18, 28, 22. The final of the Mixed--Ruthe Brewer and Manny Moskowitz over Matilda Plaskow and Cartland--was also a deuce-in-the-5th thriller. In the quarter’s of the Women’s singles, Ruthe rebounded from last week’s loss at Cambridge to Germaine, pulled out a win in 5. Along with her current nemesis, Spannaus, Ruthe then advanced to the final--but Mae beat her, as she would the next weekend in Providence.
So, three straight singles titles in April for Spannaus--and five good wins: two over U.S. #5 Clouther, two over U.S. #3 Brewer, and one over Germaine who’d split matches with Brewer. And yet none of these wins would count towards a ranking or a future seeding. Ridiculous. Moreover, it was Clouther, not Spannaus, who, with English actress Gertrude Lawrence (she had a table set up back stage to help "keep her fit"), got her pretty picture in Topics facing the National Rankings page (May, 1939, 5).
For New Yorkers there was another significant tournament: in mid-May, the Master’s Invitational at the Klepak-managed 5th Ave. courts. Pagliaro or "Little Dynamite"--called "the most spectacular player in New York," one who never failed to have the crowd with him (TTT, June, 1939, 19)--took the Men’s Singles and Doubles (though here he won not with Melvin Rose as he had in the Mid-Atlantic States but with his usual partner Bernie Grimes). In the quarter’s of the Singles, Paggy played another close match with Schmidt--this time was victorious, 19, 20, -19, 20. Then, in the semi’s, he scored a "wild 4th game," very intense win over Hazi, -18, 18, -19, 24, 17. And in the final he 19, 20, 17 more or less relaxed against the tenacious but predictable Cartland. Doug, the winner over Schmidt of the N.Y. season-long Borough Championship and a finalist in his last three tournaments, took out Rose in the eighth’s, Lowry in the quarter’s, and Grimes in the semi’s. Given such a strong field, other Men’s matches were expected to be close and were: Berenbaum, in a rare appearance, played what couldn’t quite be called a -20, -19, 18, -17 swan song with Grimes; Sam Silberman, still at it at the end of the ‘30’s as he was at the beginning, gave Lowry a 4-game fight; and both Johnny Abrahams (19, -19, -17, -20) and Cy Sussman (-18, -17, 20, -16) put up stubborn resistance against Hazi. Even Frank Milano in a losing decision (19, -20, -20, -18) battered U.S. #18 Sussman around the court.
Frank... Who? Oh, just another of those peripheral N.Y. "sleepers" whom many players outside the area may never hear of. At the moment he’s trying to make a name for himself not as a table tennis player but as a heavyweight boxer. It won’t always be so. Here, let’s quickly bounce off the ropes with him into the future--take one of his flyers:
"...Even up to the present day the name Cavalier di’Milano is synonymous with Great Deeds of Strength, Athletic Ability, and Sportsmanship.
Today’s Francesco di’Milano is a direct descendent of that 16th century Cavalier di’Milano.
Since early boyhood, he has followed in the footsteps of his great ancestors with his wonderful feats of strength and athletic ability, excelling in ...100 yd. dash...shot putt...N.Y.C. Rifle Champion...Archery...an accomplished Pianist and Organist...N.Y. State Table Tennis Doubles Championship Runner-up, 2 years Brooklyn-Queens-Long Island Champion (also holds a national ranking)...Pro- Boxing and Pro-Football with Dodgers and Boston Yanks...N.Y. State Heavyweight Weight Lifting Champion 4 years (made a 575 lb. deep knee bend)...Rowing...and now a sensational TV star, the famous Pro-Wrestler."
Hadn’t aficionados been saying for a decade now that their sport wasn’t for sissies? Take off your cape, Frank, and show ‘em what you got.
A month earlier, at a Greater N.Y. Fund Sports Show at N.Y.C.’s Hippodrome, site of what would become Madison Square Garden, wrestlers and boxers were among those posturing and performing, along of course with table tennis players. Years later, Tibor Hazi was telling me how, when his wife Magda and Bernie Grimes had finished their 11-point exhibition game, the audience had cried for "More! More!"
Magda won the Women’s in this May Masters Invitational, but she was no more an overly intimidating figure than her husband. In the quarter’s she -17, 18, 20, 19 almost came to grief against Germaine, then 19, 18, -16, 20 had more anxious moments with Brewer, and finally still had to keep winning 19, 20, 18 close ones against Clouther. Matilda Plaskow, who lost 3-0 to Mae, earlier 19, 20, 19 broke if not Spannaus’s spirit, her winning streak.
Meanwhile, down in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania TTA was having its 5th annual end of season Banquet. Chaired by Mrs. Lee Muhlemann, the event featured this year’s Guest of Honor, Honorary USTTA President H.N. Smith. All enjoyed seeeing the earlier released Warner Brothers short "Table Manners," lent by TATCO President George Perryman, himself just released from a 6-week hospital stay. Carl Zeisberg was the Toastmaster, and though the barrels of beer for the 119 present were donated by Joe LeBow, that didn’t stop re-elected President Bob Metcalf and other officials of the Association, once they’d all gotten together and sobered up, from suspending old Joe "indefinitely" and Len Sarner too for "failing to answer official communications" (TTT, June, 1939, 17).
At a Baltimore restaurant, the Maryland TTA re-elected Max Israelson President, with Walter A. Halliday and Samuel Stallings as two of his V.P.’s. But this next season neither Maryland Champ Dorothy Halliday or her runner-up sister Virginia Stallings will compete, Israelson will resign because of illness, and the Max Graf-managed Baltimore Club, official MTTA Headquarters, will have ceased to function (TTT, Oct., 1938, 21, and Feb., 1940, 11).
The last tournament at this Paddle Club, the Apr. 29 2nd Annual Max Graf Tri-State (Maryland, D.C., Pennsylvania), a unique round robin team event, featuring one Men’s Singles, one Women’s Singles, and one Mixed Doubles match, was won by Maryland’s Manny Moskowitz and Dorothy Halliday, 2-1, over runner-up teams from D.C. and Pennsylvania. Manny lost in straight games to both D.C. Ice Palace Manager Stan Fields, D.C. Champion over Elias Schuman, and to Ham Canning who’d just succeeded Mort Lieberman as Manager of the Arch Street Philly Club. But Dot, as expected, beat both U.S. # 19 Mrs. Henrietta Wright and young teenager Jane Stauffer, D.C. Champ over an even younger Carolyn Wilson. The deciding, less predictable Mixed Doubles then went to Maryland, with both matches going the full 3-game limit--the Maryland team getting an assist against Philadelphia when Wright "fell and turned an ankle."
Careers end, careers begin. Some Champions flower earlier than others. Ohio #5 Leah Thall, we’ll discover, is a bloomer, but a slow one. In the May Hamilton, Ohio Open, she lost in the quarter’s in 5 to Detroit’s Marie Van Loon. Margaret Koolery was the winner--over Ohio #1 Norma Hieronymous Studer. Cal Furhman took the Men’s, for the 7th time. His defense was too strong for U.S. Boy’s Champion Tichenor in the semi’s and Detroit’s Max Hersh in the final. The runner-up, destined-to-be many-time Michigan Champion, downed all the other Ohioans he faced--Ray Reid, Sam Shannon, and Merle Arens.
When the Ohio Rankings came out, Fuhrman of course continued his long reign as the state’s #1. But though Al Beals had had an earlier win over Shannon and had beaten Mark Neff, Bart Loomis, and Harry Sage to win the Apr. 1-2 Akron-Cleveland Open, it might seem something of a sick joke that, after Beals had been upset in the season-ending April Akron District tournament, won by Al Findlay over Virgil Smith, the Ohio TTA, including conscientious officers Arens and Sage, couldn’t decide between Arens, Beals, Sage, and Shannon as an Ohio #2. So they made them all #2--or #5. No such problem for the Ohio women though. After Jane Everling had defeated Hazel Stambaugh on her way to winning the Akron-Cleveland Open and Hazel had defeated Jane to win the Akron District, it was clear that Jane should be ranked Ohio #6 and Hazel #7.
Just after the National’s, there’d been interesting Mixed-Up Doubles action in the South Bend Closed, where Betty Henry, paired not with past partner, Coach Varga, but with Bill (or Will) Hornyak, beat big John and apparently his newest, most promising coaching interest Mary Baumbach. As expected though, Varga did defeat Hornyak for the City title.
In both the April Motor City Open and the April Ontario Open, V. Lee Webb, U.S. #32, was the Men’s winner--first, in Royal Oak, MI after being down 2-0 in the final to Harvey Davis; then in Canada, again in 5, over Detroit’s Al Marshall who’d upset U.S. #24 Davis. At Royal Oak, Detroit’s Patricia Monteith won the Women’s, deuce in the 4th, from Michigan TTA Secretary Marie Van Loon. But at Windsor, Toledo’s Margaret Hart was too straight-game strong for Monteith; while the colorful Webb won the Mixed (TTT, June, 1939, 24) partnered with someone whose name (can it be for real?), Jolly Shave, mirrors in my imagination still-shots of flamboyant upstrokes and good-humored statuesque-follow-throughs.
Nash/McClure and Green are Hammond and Wilkinson Cup Winners
Marie Van Loon will eventually become Mrs. Garrett Nash, but that’s more than two years away yet. Garrett has just surprised everyone by hurrying off to Rochester, N.Y. "to teach T.T." and, oh, yes, to marry a Miss Dorothy Smith (TTT, May, 1939, 6, and June, 1939, 19). Of course he was used to moving fast--had to this season as last to win the Hammond Cup. As he’d told Rochester columnist Clune, and doubtless Dorothy too, he so "loves the game" that he "likes the potluck barnstorming around the country, but refuses to admit that he intends to make table tennis his ultimate life’s work." This year Nash had to share Cup honors with McClure who’d played sparingly but was able to pick up 64 of his 80 points in just one tournament, the National’s. Almost automatically then, this Cup goes to the National titleholder? Wouldn’t that discourage rather than encourage more play on a "circuit"?
And the Women? Definitely they needed more incentive to play against different competitors. Because U.S. # 2 Sally Green traveled to so many tournaments she could again win (with 60 points to Fuller’s 56) the Wilkinson Cup--especially since Fuller’s Championship at Toledo was worth only 32 points, just half that earned by McClure. Anyway, score just 1 lowly point for the whole season and your name would be among 300 or more listed in the June, ‘39 issue of Topics. Score 2 and you’d surpass 100 paper competitors.
Mrs. Dorothy Benson, unranked but, with 5 points, tied for 26th in the final Wilkinson Cup standings, won the late-April Greater Kansas City tournament and so kept runner-up Mrs. Lee McFadden, unranked but tied for 12th in total Cup points (12), out of the top 10 (or rather would have, had the match officially counted). Ninth--that’s where, for whatever it was worth, Omaha neighbor Virginia Perkins, unranked, had end-of-season officially positioned herself. The Greater Kansas City Men’s winner was U.S. #30 Dr. Herman Mercer--over Dorothy’s husband Harry, who in the semi’s had beaten K.C. High School (and this summer’s Boy’s Public Courts Lawn Tennis) Champ Frank "Bud" Miller.
At the April Topeka City Championship, the organizers had the good sense to encourage more play by having, in addition to the regular events, a Class B and Class C (TTT, June, 1939, 24). Decades later, such events would become de rigueur at every local, state, regional, or national tournament in the country. In this City Championship, Cecil Woodworth defeated Glen "Red" McMurray to win the Men’s; Louise Schoonover beat Mrs. Rose Baeder to take the Women’s.
In the April Central Western States at Des Moines, Chaired by USTTA President-to-be Carl Nidy, U.S. #34 Joe Camero was upset deuce-in-the-5th by Peter Starrett who then downed Jack Mueller in straight games in the final. U.S. #11 Helen Baldwin won the Women’s over a had-to-be-improving Virginia Perkins in 4.
Up in Minneapolis, Ed Litman successfully defended his Minnesota title over his long-time rival Ed Sirmai in 4. Israel Krawitz may have been a "terrific chopper," but against Litman he didn’t win a game, whereas in the other semi’s Sirmai had to go 5 to get by David Krawitz. In the Women’s, Grace Janowiecz, "after sensational rallies," upset titleholder Harriet Tonstad in 5. Litman and Sirmai won the Men’s Doubles, and Litman and his sister Belle the Mixed. Deja vu.
Mrs. U.S. Grant, General Manager of the new Minneapolis Club at Lake and Hennepin, pushed hard for both tournament and basement play. Turns out there was a May Day clean-up and paint campaign parade, so Mrs. Grant, her brother, Harry Lund, the Club’s resident "Instructor" who’d been taught to play by Sirmai, and some others decorated a trailer float with crepe paper, mounted and anchored a table tennis table on it, and using 1,000 cracked balls played their way through the downtown district. The lettering on their float read: "CLEAN UP, PAINT UP, BACK YARD & BASEMENT. MAKE ROOM FOR TABLE TENNIS TABLES." The float not only created a lot of interest and presumably later some serious-minded visitors to the Grant/Lund Club, it won a scroll for being the "nicest looking" in the whole parade (TTT, June, 1939, 18).
Bellak/Hazi Pacific Northwest Tour
Off on a Spring Tour of a different kind and with a longer route--out to Kansas and Colorado and from there to the Pacific Northwest--were Bellak and the visiting Hungarian star Hazi. Their start-off point the last week in March had been the Alcazar Gym in Baltimore and Heurich’s Gym in Washington, D.C. where they played exhibition matches against Schiff and Bellis. This same weekend at the new Olympian Club in far away Seattle, Ray Pearson, warming up in the Washington State for play against his distinguished, soon-to-arrive visitors, beat Harold Philan in 4; while, just in case Magda might be accompanying the barnstorming pair and wanted a match, Georgina Fossas was as ready as she could be with a 3-1 victory over Betsy Frank.
After several days of traveling, Bellak and Hazi could be seen at a Congregational Church in Topeka where local sports columnist Jim Reed said they seemed to make the ball "squat down flat like a poached egg or squirm over the net as if pulled by an unseen thread."
Then they traveled on to reach Denver in time to put in an Apr. 8 Saturday night appearance at the "new $230,000 Lincoln Room of the Shirley-Savoy Hotel" (TTT, Apr., 1939, 16), not coincidentally while Colorado prexy Charles Cox was running his State Closed. Perhaps the 5-game finals among the locals--Delford Fedderman over Jerry Galantiere, Leslie Friedman over Beatrice Conover--offered, if not more comedy, more drama than the looked-forward-to professional exhibition that followed? Not likely. Not--see TTT, June, 1939, 10--when a Fred Perry vs. Don Budge lawn tennis match a week earlier drew 500 spectators and Bellak vs. Hazi drew 800. Onward!
First stop in the Pacific Northwest: the Crystal Garden in Victoria, British Columbia. One reporter for The Daily Colonist, after seeing the first of two evening performances, said that Bellak "was the whole show....Blowing the ball back over the net, striking it with the edge of the paddle, juggling ball and paddle, actually playing a game all by himself...." Hazi, however, was "a favorite with the women fans." The 200 or so spectators also "seemed more than pleased with the fight displayed by the local stars" playing with or against the pros. No, don’t think Bellak would ever be mad at some mistake of his amateur doubles partner; if Laci unexpectedly did a little whirl and let out with a kick. You wouldn’t see foot striking flesh, you’d see the all-controlling sole of his shoe batting the ball back.
At Seattle, sure enough, Pearson was prepared. In their second encounter he beat Hazi, deuce-in-the-3rd, for the only local win on the month-long Tour. No way Bellak was gonna lose, though--he’d won, according to one account, "140" straight matches, or, as another paper had it, "160 matches without losing one game."
This was standard hype of course, not to be taken seriously--but go ahead, make a face. That’s what Bellak did at the Western Sports Centre--made faces at the spectators. And what’s more, said a Vancouver reporter, they liked it.
In Portland, where Bellak and Hazi played before going back to Canada and finishing their Tour in Calgary and Edmonton, it wasn’t Tibor but Laci who got to partner pretty Mayo Rolph in a doubles match. Dick Jordan, Harold Philan, and Don Vaughan, said Don Vaughan, "were much improved over last year and made the Hungarians work for their points." Three weeks later, the Portland Western Oregon Open was held--though not in the old club set up in the Whitehouse boxing gym but in the new "‘posh’ clubrooms of the Worcester Bldg"? Philan would win this one over Jordan. But it was Vaughan who bragged good-humoredly in Topics (June, 1939, 10) that he’d blanked Bellak, 3-zip. Yep, in a fishing contest. Don had caught 3, Bellak, who’d paid $3 for an Oregon fishing license, had caught 0....Who ate the fish? Hazi.
On the West Coast, then, Bellak and Hazi’s Tour came deja vu to a close. And now, even as Chance isn’t the least bit worried about presenting as yet unseen opportunities for both men, I wonder, as the peripatetic Bellak must so often have done, "What now?...And for how long?" Which reminds me of my favorite Bellak story:
"He [Bellak] was living in Paris, in a little apartment next to the Moulin Rouge, and was giving an occasional table tennis lesson to a millionaire (one lesson equaled two weeks average pay). He was also spending some time playing bridge with this millionaire, his wife, and his wife’s boyfriend.
"How’d you like to go to Biarritz for a while?" said Mr. Millions to Laci one day when Laci had all of $5 in his pocket.
Laci, uneasy were such a personage to come knocking on his humble door, waited outside to be picked up at the Place Pigalle, and from the start had a great time: was wined and dined, given pocket money to gamble with, was recognized by one and all as a man of considerable means--a millionaire by association.
But just about the time Laci was getting used to the good life, to what it was like having money, it was time to go back to Paris, to the Place Pigalle, where waving goodbye to his friends, he reflected with Chaplinesque ruefulness that, well, he still had that $5 in his pocket."
Aarons/Fuller;McClure/Schiff: ‘30’s Champions Keep Busy
Back East, Bellak’s pal Sandor Glancz and Ruth Aarons were still going strong. Early in April, though, at the Windy City’s Chicago theater, in between showings of Errol Flynn’s "Dodge City," Ruth "stumbled into the orchestra pit in an attempt to return a difficult shot." But perhaps she recovered quickly enough to later join Sandor in offering, as part of their engagement, "free instructions to patrons on the lower promenade of the theater" (RAS, 107--Chicago American article). It was all part of what Ruth wanted--being in show biz--and, as Bob Considine said, of Ruth making about as much money "as a so-so big league ball player" (RAS, 106).
Sing no sad songs for Ruth. This summer she and Sandor were again celebrities among celebrities at the Rainbow Room taking on all comers. Edgar Bergen would win a bottle of champagne for Charlie McCarthy, and Gloria Swanson’s 14-year-old son would win...well, an orangeade, and a bottle of the bubbly for Mum (Leonard Lyons’ "Lyon’s Den" article in the July 25, 1939 N.Y. Post).
This summer, too, Aarons, retired but not retiring, was favored as a semifinalist in the Gold Star Mothers’ "Typical American Daughter" contest. But Ruth, golfer Patty Berg, and songstress Cobina Wright, Jr. were all runner-ups to Hollywood’s Priscilla Lane (TTT, Oct., 1939, 9).
As for Ruth’s successor, Emily Fuller, she, too, was about to retire from competition, pursue her singing career. That is, as soon as she finished her table tennis duties. She still had to be crowned Queen at the annual Banquet of Champions at the Masonic Temple in her hometown Bethlehem--a late April affair that was sponsored by the local Boys’ Club Fraternity, an organization she’d had ties with for years. Six hundred people attended, among them many of the town’s leading citizens (TTT, June, 1939, 7). Would that so many have come on occasion to watch her play.
Emily’s successor? She sings too--reportedly with an all-girl orchestra (TTT, May, 1939, 8). Disguised she’ll be out there in Colorado this summer--in a dude ranch costume (TTT, Oct., 1939, 19)--but no one’s trying to keep her name a secret. On her return, ask around the pool at the Riviera Country Club what people think of Sally Green, what her limitations are, what promise she has. Chances are they’ll point to the sky.
And the current Indianapolis U.S. Champion--what’s he doing this summer? Has started a tennis shop? Yep, is capitalizing on his title, making a name for himself--and of course he’s selling there or soon will be the new (newer, newest?) McClure racket P. Becker & Co.’s put out. There’s summer league play at the Indianapolis Paddle Club, but don’t expect Jimmy to have much time to play, at least for now--he’ll have to mind the store. However, in May the National Champion did find time to play some exhibitions--one in South Bend, for example, that helped raise $200 to buy an artificial limb for a local player who’d lost a leg in a train accident (TTT, June, 1939, 16).
And Jimmy’s World Champion Doubles partner, Sol Schiff? As usual, he’ll be out on the road from time to time--though not always in partnership with Cartland. Climax your 1939 summer vacation with three days at Tamiment, PA’s Special Sports Week or their gala Labor Day Weekend (Aug. 29th Supper through Sept. 2nd Dinner--$25). Catch Sol’s Aug. 28 exhibition--he’ll be assisted by Dan Klepak, Sam Silberman, and Matilda Plaskow.
Years later, in the early 1980’s, Sol described, in an interview for Hikosuke Tamasu’s Table Tennis Report, how, partnered with Cartland, he was making a living at table tennis:
"...I played at theaters and night clubs, three or four performances a day, and each performance lasted about ten minutes. Doug Cartland and I went to various schools and YMCA’s, table tennis clubs, and private clubs also....Suppose we wanted to stay one week in, say, the State of Illinois. We would go down to [the] telephone company, and look at all addresses of sports clubs, and we would write them....[Then] we rearranged the tour so that we didn’t have to travel a lot. We would be in their area one or two weeks at a time, and played all around the area. Then we went out for another State....For exhibitions, we used to drive around 100,000 miles every year. When we played exhibitions at night clubs and hotels, the arrangement was done for us by booking agents and we stayed in hotels maybe one month as part of the show. Most of the times I played with Doug. Occasionally we played with a girl because [the] audience would much like to see a man and girl play rather than two men play....
[Asked about his income, Sol replied,] At that time, the average salary of a married man was about 20 dollars a week, and I was making about 100 dollars a week.... [Exhibitions averaged] 30 dollars each. We travelled, and gasoline cost about 8 cents a gallon. We used to stay at motels for 50 cents a night, and food would not run more than a dollar or a dollar and 50 cents a day" (Apr., 1981, 4-5).
Both Sol and Doug really knew the pre-War table tennis scene in the U.S. In fact, as their 1939 Table Tennis Comes of Age shows, they had a prophetic sense of what one day, long after one War, and another, and another, world-class table tennis would become:
"With the increase in offensive success the tempo of the game will be stepped up. Strictly defensive play as a means of outlasting your opponent will be unknown. Half-volley play will increase. Service will be hit or half-volleyed whenever possible.
...Today, with few exceptions, there is no struggle for the offense. Tomorrow there will be a continual struggle for the offense, with the driving of drives and the topspinning of topspins brought to a degree of accuracy and perfection now hardly conceivable.
...As the game gets faster, develops into more of a driving affair and a battle for the drive, it will become even more interesting to the American spectator....He likes speed. And speed he’ll get, in increasing doses, in the table-tennis game of the future" (120-22).
Zeisberg Era Ends; Innovative USTTA Fails to Build Up Membership
Meanwhile, in the here and now of 1939, this historic first decade of organized ping-pong/table tennis play in the U.S. comes to an end. Much has been accomplished, and yet the broadest hopes of our earliest enthusiasts have not been fulfilled. Ping-pong is still much more a popular game than table tennis is a recognized sport. Will it always be so?
Superstars, while still young, have given up playing seriously. Marcus Schussheim, Ruth Aarons, Buddy Blattner, and Emily Fuller (though she herself may not know it yet) come foremost to mind. Others, most notably Jimmy McClure and Sol Schiff, will continue on past their prime to serve the sport for decades. Young players we’re already very familiar with--Lou Pagliaro and Sally Green--are about to dominate our National’s. But only for a while. The era of Miles and Neuberger is coming as the rhythmic play of generations of Champions moves back and forth, in and out.
The World Championships that had been held in Europe since 1926, and in which our world-class players had figured so prominently, were stopped by the too barren, too heavy sands of time in Cairo. Could what had accumulated be faced head on? When asked when these Championships might be resumed, and Americans might again be fighting for their country’s honor overseas, the Sphinx was non-committal.
In the U.S., the changes brought about by England and France’s Sept., ‘39 declaration of war against Germany would not ever be quite so profound as they were elsewhere in the world. Our National Championships, miss what heartbeats they might, would continue on in much the same way they had for a decade now--with minimal participation.
Our Association had been innovative. New and improved service rules insured that the ball was put into play. Then the net was lowered, the matches if need be expedited, so that the ball wasn’t kept too much in play. However, no satisfactory balance was ever struck in adding up and subtracting the numbers of our ever-changing Membership. After the last Feb. 1, ‘39 total of 3,198, no one, through the entire 39-40 season, had any enthusiasm to publicly come out with the disappointing tally. Thousands of once hoped-for members seemed far away, forgotten.
Still, deserved thanks go to the autocratic Carl Zeisberg and those who most supported him as USTTA President and Topics Editor. No one could have tried harder or more relentlessly to create an Association. But eventually even he had done all he could and relinquished power.
Now the USTTA ship of state would be headed by newly elected President Jim Clouther. As if already caught up in the swirl of coming events, he pleads for everyone’s cooperation, his figure of speech all too shadowy relevant to the times:
"Such a widely scattered organization is bound to face difficulties each season, but many can be overcome by intelligent application of common-sense plus co-operation. Like the crew of a submarine, we cannot function as a unit until everyone recognizes his particular work is essential to success" (TTT, June, 1939, 4).
Perhaps one day there would be a rallying of the masses to the sport?
Clearly people loved the diversion of playing pit-pat ping-pong. And of being entertained by the exhibitionists of the day in 10-15 minute routines. But tournament play seemed to demand too serious a commitment with too few rewards.
Still, to the aficionado, the sport was fascinating, mentally and physically addictive--else how explain how players all through the ‘30’s came regularly to tournaments to play so few matches? When one couldn’t play, one wanted to watch.
And perhaps later, when one couldn’t play or watch, one wanted to read about these players--and imaginatively replay their tournament life and times.