Chapter VI: 1933-34: Emergence of Superstar Ruth Aarons, Her Background and First National Titles. 1933: First Provincetown Silver Cod Tournament. 1934: Modified Knucklespin at (APPA) Metro Open. 1934: Striking Success of Jimmy McClure (and Fingerspin Fun and Fury Too) at 3rd (APPA) Intercities.
In the spring of 1933 there suddenly appeared on the table tennis scene a woman destined for greatness. Her name was Ruth Hughes Aarons, and she would be the only U.S. player, male or female, ever to win a World Singles Championship.
Just a few weeks before her 15th birthday, she’d had her first "bewildered" glimpse of the Sport at the NYTTA’s May, 1933 National’s. Here, she was to write later, she played her "first match in a tournament"--"against a girl [Iris Little] as scared as I was." She was beaten in this match, already a quarterfinal because there were so few entries--and so was ranked by the NYTTA #5 for the 1932-33 season.*
Following that, her "first and most pleasant table tennis thrill" had been winning her "school tournament." Once she’d brought home this victory she was hooked--ready to compete in earnest. Playing the entire 1933-34 season with what she would afterwards decide was the "incorrect" penholder grip, she began a streak that would culminate in incredible successes.
Ruth Aarons, USA’s 1936 World Women’s Singles Champion.
Her first APPA win was the Oct., 1933 Westchester (N.Y.) Open. Immediately following that, in November, she scored a second Women’s Singles triumph--a 6, -20, 18, 18 victory over Brooklyn’s Anne Sigman--in what Referee Neil Schaad considered one of the APPA’s six major tournaments, the New Rochelle (N.Y.) Suburban Open. Back in August Sigman had lost in the final of the annual Westchester Summer Open (held at Anna Held’s Sports Club in Peekskill, N.Y.) to Eastern Champ Nina Berman, who just this fall had become an engineering student at Antioch College in Ohio, and who, after a (school break) loss to Aarons at the Jan., 1934 Metro Open, would disappear from tournament play forever.
As the APPA season progressed toward its climax--the April National’s at the Hotel Carter in Cleveland--Aarons, acknowledging a debt to her "first tutor," the "Bounding Basque" Bill Rogers, continued to win every Women’s Singles event she entered, including the (Jan.) Metropolitan Open, the (Feb.) Eastern Open, and the (Mar.) New Rochelle Open.
Moreover, echoing our Sport’s good fortune, Time magazine (Apr. 13, 1936) would compare this "lissome, blue-eyed blonde" to "cinemactress Ginger Rogers" (something of a ping-pong player in her own right), and so would give impetus to the fact that she was fast developing into a sweet-sixteen Hollywood-type glamour girl.
Where did this Ruth Aarons come from? And how, in just a matter of months, could she become so good so quickly?
The answer is that she was a show business natural. Her father, Alfred E. Aarons, originally from Philadelphia, once owned and operated the old Avon Theater on Broadway in Chicago. Better known, though, as a New York Broadway theatrical producer, he owned and operated the Great White Way’s historic National Theatre. Although he was himself a composer and producer of musicals, he was above all "a shrewd and tough businessman." Charles Schwartz, whom I’m indebted to here for background on the Aarons’ family, in his book on George Gershwin credits Alfred Aarons with being "the originator of large-scale theatrical bookings for road shows."** As General Manager for famed international theatrical producers Klaw and Erlanger, he was "the far-sighted showman" who brought the U.S. such leading international artists of the time as "Lottie Collins (of ‘Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-de-Ay’ fame)." He was also the Manager "of Hammerstein’s Victoria, the ‘Palace’ of its day on Broadway."
His son, Alex A. Aarons, Ruth’s half-brother, gave up earning a living "from retailing men’s clothes" to become a producer himself. In his late ‘20’s he asked George Gershwin, who’d then had only "limited Broadway experience" to write the score for his Broadway production La La Lucille. They thus began "a fruitful association that lasted until 1933." The younger Aarons, in partnership with Vincent Freedly (their "Alvin" Theater in New York on West Fifty-Second Street derived from their first names Alex and Vinton), put on such Gershwin successes as Lady Be Good (1924), Funny Face (1927), Girl Crazy (1930), and, lastly, Pardon My English (1933).
Ruth’s mother, Leila Hughes Aarons from St. Louis, was the daughter of Lisle C. Hughes, Superintendent of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. A light opera singer, she was in the original cast of The Chocolate Soldier. Her son, Lisle, Ruth’s brother, had at least some recognition as a magician.***
Clearly show business was in the Aarons’ blood, and so, as might be expected, on becoming U.S. and then, spectacularly World Champion, Ruth, attractive, talented, and helped no doubt by her father’s connections, quickly turned her titles into stage bookings at some of the most renowned theaters and exclusive supper clubs in America.
Ruth’s introduction to table tennis began, as she was repeatedly to relate, in an absolutely chance way. She was playing tennis on the roof-court of a New York hotel when suddenly it began to rain. She put away her tennis racket and, looking for something to do, went down to the basement where, surprise, she tried this game ping-pong, and liked it--indeed, immediately became obsessed with it.****
That fall, when she began playing in tournaments, she was a 15-year-old sophomore at St. Agatha Episcopal High School at 87th and West End--and was living at 150 Riverside Drive, coincidentally not far from 131 Riverside Drive where in several years another future U.S. Champion and world-class player Dick Miles, whose mother was also from St. Louis, would be living.
In the semi’s of the ‘34 APPA National’s, Ruth, wearing glasses to correct her near-sightedness, had no problem beating 1933 California State runner-up and Pan Pacific Champion Emily Fuller who’d returned home to Bethlehem, PA after a year or so in California where she was said to have learned the game. In the other semi’s, Defending Champ Jessie ("Jay") Purves (she preferred to be called "Jay") had a bit of 4-game trouble in downing last year’s runner-up Flossie ("Flo") Basler.
In the earlier APPA Metro Open, Aarons, who would have a life-long interest in fashion, played against Helen Germaine and, as reporter Will Wedge tells us, came on court in "sky blue pantaloons equipped with hip pockets for extra balls," then for her final against Defending Champ Nina Berman switched to Dietrich-chic trousers, and was, throughout, "active as a mosquito" (GSS, II, 7). Now, in this APPA National’s final, Ruth played in shorts, and, again out for blood, buzzed her attention-getting way around Purves, 20, 20, 15. To "win," she’d say, "you need good eyesight and a fast brain more than strength" (RAS, 35).
Ruth’s incredibly quick rise to become the APPA U.S. Champion raises the question, "Just how good were her contemporaries? (Can you imagine any woman in the ‘90’s picking up a racket and within months becoming so dominant?)
Fuller, Ruth’s semi’s opponent in this National’s, had a lot to learn yet about becoming a good player, was still four years away from succeeding Ruth as U.S. Champion. As Emily would later tell Topics (Mar., 1940, 4), she’d "played her first [table tennis] tournament in 1933 on a boat to California" where she was going to take "tennis lessons." After winning that tournament, she "felt so good about it" that, according to reporter Betty Hardesty, when Emily was in Hollywood "the manager of the country club where she had been playing tennis suggested she take part in a table tennis tournament"--one in which celebrities "Ginger Rogers, Fay Wray, [and] Alice Marble...were competing"--and she couldn’t resist. The rest as they say, or will say after Emily’s been coached by Sam Silberman, is History.
Purves, Aarons’ final opponent in this National’s, was at the moment a stronger player than Fuller. As you can see from the scores of the final, she was no pushover. Called "the best all-round girl athlete in America before Babe Didrikson, she "excelled at field hockey. bowling, basketball, track, baseball, swimming, and golf" (YFS I, 52). Had Ruth lost either of those two first games to Jay, she might also have lost her confidence...and, who knows, might not have gone on to have the extraordinary career we’re going to follow.
Except for the fact that Aarons would switch to the "correct" shakehands grip immediately after winning her first U.S. Championship--ah, how easy such changes are for a confident 15-year-old, especially one who had superstitiously (defiantly?) etched the number 13 onto the face of her racket (RAS, 9)--this final match with Purves was a preview of the ‘35 USTTA National’s to come. So long as Ruth wanted to play, she would have little trouble retaining her dominance.
Aarons, partnered by Sam Silberman, also won the Mixed Doubles (there was no Women’s Doubles) at these 1934 APPA National’s. In the final, they beat Jimmy McClure and Flo Basler. In mid-match, Jimmy was astonished to hear his partner Flo say that she might have to leave any minute to catch a train. Perhaps, since they lost -16, -17, 13, -13, that stopped any thoughts of a rally Jimmy was beginning to have?
Anita Currey, writing for her hometown Iowa paper, tried to describe Ruth’s playing style: "[she] is about 5 feet 2 inches...weighs approximately 100 pounds and dances around the table like Bill Robinson, the tap dancer, and finally hits the ball like a baseball player" (RAS, 10).
Ruth would say before the 1936 Prague World Championships that she did indeed tap dance--to acquire the "nimble footwork that’s so necessary"--and that her daily two-hour practice sessions were "always against men players." By playing men, Ruth said, she could accustom herself to "speed" and to "shots that carry severe pace" (RAS, 11).
At her brother Lisle’s invitation, Marcus Schussheim, approaching the end of his career, dropped over now and then to play with Ruth--though, as Mark was quick to point out, it was Sam Silberman who, more than anyone else, should be given the credit for improving her game. "I came cheap," Schussheim was to say later. In return for being a practice partner, he used to get "a sandwich served by the butler and two tickets to a Broadway show."
Mark remembers the shakehands Aarons not for any "whirlwind" style but as a "great defensive player," characterized by a close-to-the-table, forcing "block/push"-type stroke that proved very effective. His recollection of that part of her game is undoubtedly accurate, for, as we’ll see later, in 1937, in defending her ‘36 World title against Trude Pritzi of Austria, she was forced to suddenly become something of a "chiseler" herself--a style she found "disgusting."
As for the APPA Eastern men’s stars that fall of ‘33, National Champion Jimmy Jacobson had started off the season like Aarons--by winning the (Oct.) Westchester Open. But then at New Rochelle (in Nov.) he was upset by shovel-grip winner (he used only one side of the racket) Joe Blatt, the ‘33 Mt. Vernon (N.Y.) Champ whom Jimmy had beaten in the final of that summer’s Peekskill Invitational.
First (1933) Provincetown Silver Cod Quiniela
Earlier that August, Blatt (who, no doubt because his father was a launderer, would go from Long Island University in Brooklyn to a laundry school in Joliet, IL), had reeled in the first annual Silver Cod Quiniela tournament by 3:00 a.m.-outlasting Jacobson and the rest of the Westchester best.
"A ‘Quiniela?’" you ask. "What’s that?" Answer: five winners of Preliminary Pools (round robins) play as follows. Winners of Pools 1 and 2 start off the deciding matches. The winner then stays at the table, while the others take turns playing him until he’s defeated; then that winner is in turn challenged. The title goes to whoever wins five (not necessarily consecutive) matches first. Try this endurance-type tournament today!
Blatt’s 1933 titles were well deserved, for these tournaments drew, in addition to Jacobson, such well known players as Harry Vinokur, ‘34 Mt. Vernon Champion; Sam Silberman, ‘34 Eastern Champ over Jacobson; Al "Stonewall" Goldman who, though ranked #9 in the East last season by the APPA, had also managed to play in the NYTTA National’s; Herbert W. Allen, about whom Coleman Clark said, "In the East no one has a more beautiful, flowing [backhand chop] stroke" (33); Alan Lobel, destined to win the ‘34 APPA Doubles Championship with Silberman; George T. Bacon, Jr., who both before and after World War II would be the U.S. Senior Champion; Harry Cook, just coming onto the scene with his difficult-to-handle fingerspins (by ‘35 he’d be the 7th ranked player in the U.S.); and Jack Hartigan, who as late as Sept., ‘34, when almost all the good players had switched over to the USTTA, was succeeding W. Sidney Felton as Secretary of the APPA.
Modified Knucklespin at the 1934 (APPA) Metro Open
The Wednesday through Friday, Jan. 3-5, 1934 (5th) APPA New York Metropolitan Open was held in the Hotel New Yorker--in that same Grand Ballroom where the N. Y. Giants had come to celebrate their 1933 World Series win. This 120-entry tournament saw Brooklyn’s Sam Silberman forced to go 5 in the semi’s to get by his protege, 17-year-old Brooklyn Boys High School student Melvin Rose, for Rose won many a point on his modified knucklespin serves alone.
In the quarter’s, playing in his first tournament, Rose had knocked out ‘33 APPA National Champ Jacobson. This "startling upset" prompted one reporter to write:
"...Jacobson is a tall, sardonic youth of twenty years, who is...a sophomore pre-law student at New York University and claims New Rochelle as his home. He has been playing ping-pong seven years....
Jacobson and Rose made an odd picture as they faced each other across a table beneath the bright lights of the hotel ballroom. Jacobson was a study in brown, his shoes, trousers and shirt being of that hue. He plays with one shirt sleeve rolled up, runs his fingers through his hair often and is very serious.
Rose featured a black and white polo shirt and a bright grin. He smiled through the entire match and obviously had Jacobson distracted. As in billiards, ping pong’s chief strain is mental. Sidney Lenz [President of the APPA] and other profound leaders of the game will tell you it requires the proper temperament. Rose has all that. He doesn’t appear to care much. [Heretofore he’d been more a tennis than a table tennis player.]
...Rose [who routed Jacobson 21-8 in the 5th game]...has a smashing forearm shot, a beautiful backhand return and a decidedly difficult spin serve.
This spin serve is causing a furor in ping pong ranks. When the ping pong powers gather this spring it is believed that they will abolish the spin serve as being unfair....
Ping pong players must bounce the ball on their own side of the net before serving. It was this rule that revived ping pong after the game had died down some thirty years ago. The game died because players were allowed to serve directly across the net as in tennis. This made it too one sided with the server always having a decided advantage. Now they are afraid that the spin serve will restore the ancient evil.
Young Rose doesn’t care if they veto the spin serve or not. He thinks it is just as unfair as do his opponents. But he doesn’t complain when they use it against him...."
The Silberman-Rose fingerspin semi’s match also made good copy for reporter Will Wedge:
"Rose would examine the ball carefully and turn it around in his fingers until the seam, where the two halves of the celluloid sphere are joined together, was just where he wanted it, and then he would ‘knuckle’ it with a marble player’s motion..." (GSS II, 20).
But perhaps because Wedge had already voiced his opinion of Rose’s serve--that it "looks like something that a kid might have invented just to amuse himself" and is "very silly and juvenile" (GSS II, 7)--he preferred to talk more about Silberman than the match:
"Silberman [19 years old] is a graduate of Brooklyn Boys High, where Rose now attends, and he claims that he taught Rose ping-pong, though not the finger spin end of it, which Silberman looks upon with disapproval, as do a majority of the Eastern players, who are ‘agin’ the finger serve for one thing because it originated in the West.
Hitch-Hiked to One Tourney
Silberman has been playing ping-pong three years. Last winter he hitch- hiked to the national tournament in Chicago on a capital of $1.50 and stuck in the going until he was eliminated in the fourth round. He claims the improvement in his game is due to constant practice and study, and copying the best strokes of the various good players he has worked against. Experts say Silberman has a ping- pong mind.
He’s quite good at clay court tennis too....
Silberman has kept himself in ping-pong form this winter by a lot of ice skating. And just before the tournament he rested up and put in extra hours of sleep to be ready for the ‘mental strain’ of championship concentration. He thinks ping- pong is real fun and genuinely good exercise, and he hopes to be national champion some day.
...Rose and his trick service caused Silberman plenty of trouble...before Silberman prevailed...13-21, 21-10, 13-21, 21-18, and 21-16. Little Mel Rose, smaller if possible even than Silberman, was in there shooting with his thumb and forefinger with all he had [and with either hand]. What he was really using was a version of the knuckleball, and it had plenty of funny hops" (GSS II, 20).
In the anticlimactic final, Silberman quickly skated by Westchester hockey coach George Bacon for an easy win.
As if the teacher had learned a valuable lesson from his pupil, in the APPA Eastern Open that followed, Silberman, who just the month before had told reporter Wedge that he disapproved of fingerspin serves, began using them to his advantage in downing Jacobson in the final. Perhaps when it came down to winning or losing, all good players thought as one?
McClure’s "Arrival": the 1934 (APPA) Intercities (Fingerspin Fun and Fury Too)
Over the Feb. 3-4 weekend at the Hotel Morrison in Chicago, leading APPA Eastern players--Jacobson, Silberman, Goldman, and Lobel--would lose (Westchester) New York’s twice-won Intercity title to an in-depth strong Chicago team of Coleman Clark, Billy Condy, Carlton Prouty, Jerry Lavan, and Robert Ratcliffe. Condy, who’d beaten Prouty in two 1933 finals, the Northwest Suburban Championship at Park Ridge and the Nov. Chicago District Open, would soon pair with him to win the ‘34 Western Open Doubles, and Ratcliffe would be runner-up to Jimmy McClure in the ‘34 Western Open Singles.
For the first time this tournament would be more like a real Intercities, more like the National Team Championship it would become, for, instead of just two cities being represented, now there were seven.
Detroit’s 5-man team was captained by 1932-35 City Champion Larry Fitch.
The St. Louis players included both the 1930 and 1934 City Champions, Leonard Rudunsky and W. Vernon Tietjen (TEET-jun), as well as Vernon’s brother Carl and the very promising players Ernie Trobaugh, Jr. and Mark Schlude (SCHLOO-dee). Vernon Tietjen, a lawn tennis player, and later a baseball writer for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat who would travel with the Cardinals’ "Gas-House Gang," was a good knucklespin server (and though the USTTA had just banned these serves, the APPA had not). Trobaugh had perfected a spin serve all his own--some kind of (how’d he do that?) moisturized thumb-and-finger-snap that seemed to come off the heel of his hand. Embryonically, you might say, Trobaugh anticipated the high-toss serve perfected by the Chinese decades later. He took the ball with the tip of his thumb and first two fingers, squeezed so that the ball shot upward to some controlled height, then, watching it drop, he struck it in however varied way he wanted to.
Given the prevalence of such controversial serves, we can well understand the point Robert E. Hart made in an article in the Jan., 1935 issue of Esquire:
"Besides giving the server a decidely unfair advantage over his opponent, *fingerspin and knuckle serves tended to slow up the game for spectators. Formerly the serve had been used only as a means of putting the ball into play. Now it was an offensive shot, with every player wracking his brain in an effort to deliver a service which would keep the ball from ever getting into play..." (RHS, 55).
Such a Sport-destroying thought might be fast-forwarded to the Chinese stars of the 1970’s?
Though presumably none of our 1930’s players were ever given the opportunity to fingerspin any of the 200,000 registered Japanese paddlers (all of whom played with wood, rubber was banned), they probably never would have been able to anyway. Why not? Because, as Stewart says:
"Their service rule is unique--the server must keep the toe of his forward foot in a circle marked on the floor four feet five inches behind the point where the end line and center meet. This makes the server be most careful. The added distance--after several tests--is almost disastrous to the fingerspin serve" (63).
Detroit and St. Louis players were not the only new faces to be seen at these first expanded Intercities.
Heading the Indianapolis team was 17-year-old Jimmy McClure, not only the current Indiana State Champion but the Ohio State Champion as well, and his teammate Jerry Jacobs who’d been runner-up to him in that Ohio Championship.
Among those representing Cleveland were its elementary-schoolboy City Champion Aaron Boksenbaum, and what would be the winning ‘35 Southern Open Doubles team of Courtney Bock and George Sturgiss.
From Dayton came the ‘33 Ohio and soon to be Southern Open Singles winner Merle Arens, and the ‘33 Dayton City runner-up Howard Thomas whose interest in the Sport would hold strong for decades. Also representing Dayton was defensive standout Calvin Fuhrman who, by downing Northwest Pacific Champion Harry Packard in 5 in the summer of ‘34 Great Lakes tourney, then winning the Miami Valley Open in Nov., and, finally, by getting to the quarter’s of the ‘35 National’s, could clearly lay claim for months, indeed years, to being the Ohio #1. Cal, reportedly, had been at the very first National’s in New York in 1931, had entered every APPA National’s since, and back in the fall of ‘32 was said to have "memorized the ranking of every individual player in Singles and Doubles" for the "[last] three years" (YFS I, 12). Quite an enthusiast, eh?
In the very first tie, Dayton almost pulled the upset of the tournament. They were up 4-1 on New York, the never-before-beaten Defending Champions. First Arens, all forehand and likely as not indulging himself in a big grin when he saw that he was getting a set-up to smack-in, upset N.Y. Team Captain Jacobson, then (in a deuce in the 3rd thriller) Fuhrman did too, and Thomas downed Silberman, and Fuhrman knocked off Lobel. But then a N.Y. team huddle with advisor Schaad turned the tie completely around, and N.Y., who would eventually finish second, rallied for a 5-4 win.
The 3-men-to-a-team round robin (5 matches needed to win the tie) format established by Chicago Tournament Committee members Coleman and Bob Clark, Dougall Kittermaster, and Reginald Hammond was coincidentally the same as the Swaythling Cup (Men’s Team) format at the World Championships. The Chicagoans had arrived at this method of play independently after rejecting the Davis Cup lawn tennis format where just one "hot" player might be enough to win the tie.
Chicago would eventually win this Intercities--but they were hard-pressed by Indianapolis. Condy, Clark, and Prouty all fell in straight games to aggressive pick-hit defender McClure, who, like Schiff and Aarons, was about to emerge as a superstar. But Condy and Prouty, who, relying "almost entirely on his forehand," was perhaps "the hardest hitter" in the APPA (GSS I, 133 and 151), beat both Joel Inman and Jerry Jacobs, and Clark added to the successful team effort with a win over Jacobs, McClure’s early mentor.
One commentator spoke of how fingerspins were of great importance in this tournament:
"Condy’s serves were practically unfathomable while Prouty’s were good enough to produce feeble returns which he murdered. St. Louis had its own assortment of trick serves based on spinning the ball three or four feet straight up in the air. Variations of applying the bat as the ball came down produced weird effects on the receiver."
McClure tells the story of how N.Y.’s Goldman had been exasperated in the N.Y.-St. Louis tie by Trobaugh’s finger-snap serves. So when it came time for one of Jimmy’s teammates to play Trobaugh in the second (play-off) Indianapolis-N.Y. tie, Jimmy whispered to him to snap his fingers when he served--even though he knew he couldn’t put any fingerspin on the ball. Sure enough, when Goldman heard the finger-snap he threw up his hands and yelled, "Another of these sons of bitches!"
As it happened, Goldman, despite being exasperated, hadn’t lost that match to Trobaugh. However, on finishing with a 10-2 record, he might well have been very upset by his 18-in-the-3rd loss to Trobaugh’s teammate Schlude. Robert Clark, though minimizing the effect of fingerspin serves at these Intercities in his American Ping-Pong write-up, tells us that Schlude saved "his peculiar spin serve until the crucial moments...[then] completely upset the usually un[up]settable Goldman" (Feb., 1934, 2). This Goldman-Schlude match was a very important one, for when Jacobson unaccountably dropped all three--to Vernon Tietjin, Schlude, and Trobaugh--N.Y. lost this tie 5-4, and perhaps also the confidence it needed to beat Chicago.
In the final Chicago-N.Y. tie, not only did Condy (with a 12-2 record, second only to McClure’s) wreak revenge on Jacobson who’d beaten him in last year’s National’s, but so did Prouty (7-2). Which suggests that the APPA National Champion was not just having a 5-8 "off" weekend, but that if opportunities for competitive play increased players everywhere would be getting better?
Paralleling Aaron’s remarkable rise to national prominence was this young Midwestern’s McClure’s. Here in wintry, windy Chicago, Jimmy, still playing with a racket fashioned for him by his father out of wood and sandpaper, lost only one match--deuce in the 3rd to Jacobson. Said a Tribune writer,"Many of the experts who watched his play were of the opinion that McClure’s failure against Jacobson was caused largely by stage fright at meeting the national champion" (GSS I, 133). However, considering the New Yorker’s unusual windshield wiper grip, it had to be a little disconcerting to play him for the first time? "Jacobson was the best ‘basement player’ I ever saw," Schiff in his reflective ‘70’s would say. But it was McClure, who’d never played against any of these APPA New York or Chicago players before, who’d astounded everyone with his 16-1 record--including at the end, in a modified (just 3 matches to a tie) Indianapolis-New York-St. Louis playoff for second place, a retaliatory win over Jacobson. This near perfect record, showing McClure’s potential for greatness, began to establish him as the Midwest’s and, his arch rival Schiff not withstanding, perhaps even America’s Most Valuable Player.
*A United Press article in a Mar. 30, 1936 Washington, D.C. paper said Ruth would be "18 in June " (RAS, 11). I think this is correct. But former USTTA Historian Leah Neuberger, in providing the ITTF with an Aarons’ obituary that announced her death on "June 11 ," claimed that Ruth was "16 years, 9 months, old when she won [the World Championship] in 1936" (RAS, 1). Since this World’s was held around the middle of March, that helps to confirm that Ruth was born in June. But Leah gave June 19, 1919 as Ruth’s birth date. I think Leah was wrong about Ruth being 16 when she won the ‘36 World’s. I think she was 17--and article after article in her scrapbook, which was not accessible to Leah, verifies this (RAS, 5-8, 10, 15, 50, 54, 59, and 64). That means she was born in June, 1918, and that when she played her first tournament match in the May, 1933 NYTTA National’s (TTT, Oct., 1937, 14), she was still 14.
**In addition to Schwartz (RAS, 1a), I’m also indebted to the following for information on the Aarons family: the Apr. 2, 1936 Philadelphia Evening Bulletin (RAS, 36); the Sept. 23, 1936 Chicago Herald Examiner (RAS, 48); a 1948 piece by Lee Mortimer (RAS, 120); the Nelson B. Bell article in the July 28, 1937 Washington Post (RAS, 92); and the Virginia Irwin article in the Apr. 18, 1936 St. Louis Post-Dispatch (RAS, 29).
***Apparently Ruth’s mother, Leila Hughes Aarons, had a brother who was given the same name, Lisle, as his father, and who then named his own son Lisle; it’s this youngest Lisle, Ruth’s cousin, that Topics (Feb., 1937, 3) said was 16 and, after playing table tennis for "4 months," was a finalist in a "Jackson County championship B division" sponsored by the Independence, Missouri TTC.
****Not only the reporters interviewing Ruth, but Ruth herself, over the years sometimes give conflicting information about her table tennis beginnings. In a Feb. 15, 1937 London Daily Express article called "Ping-Pong Girl," by Howard Whitman, Ruth purportedly speaks of a rainy afternoon in 1933. "A bunch of us just went out to the club to play tennis....[Then] it started to pour." So, on coming inside, someone seeing a ping-pong table said, "Come on over, Ruth, I’ll teach you how to play" (RAS, 64).
In a Feb. 29, 1936 New York Sun article, by George Trevor, Ruth reportedly says, "Two years ago [that would be in 1934--which is obviously wrong] my boyfriend and I were playing real tennis on the roof of a Broadway hotel, when a sudden shower broke up the game. There was a ping pong table downstairs...I never had a ping pong bat in my hand before, but I beat him [the boyfriend] and became absorbed in the game" (RAS, 11).
In a Mar. 30, 1936 New York Post article, Herbert Allan speaks of the rain "three years ago" that drove Ruth and her "playmate" down "from the roof of the hotel where she lives with her parents" to the basement, to a rec room where they played table tennis. "Ruth didn’t touch a stringed racquet again for nine months, so fascinated was she by the paddle game" (RAS, 11).
In the Mar. 21, 1937 Glasgow Mail, Ruth seems to be a native of the U.K. She supposedly says, "I had gone down [sic] to the tennis club one day. The rain came on heavens hard." So she came inside--to play ping-pong. "It was scrappy stuff of course, but I took a great fall for the game" (RAS, 79).
And finally this reporter’s variation: "Ruth was playing her favorite game of tennis up on the apartment roof one day, when a sudden squall of rain drove her inside. Just to pass the time, she began to play table tennis with a youngster named Butch" (RAS, 117).
Clearly, the reporters take liberties, sometimes manufacture quotes for Ruth. As for Ruth’s "boyfriend," "playmate," "Butch" friend, Schussheim told me that the Ruth he knew was more inclined toward girlfriends than boyfriends.
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