DOUG CARTLAND -- PART IUSATT Hall of Fame Inductee (1984)
by USATT Historian Tim Boggan - © 2000
The official USTTA publication, Table Tennis Topics, first mentions Doug Cartland when in Apr., 1935, as part of an exhibition at Chapel Hill given by visiting New York stars Abe Berenbaum, Rudy Rubin, Chet Wells, and George Bacon, Doug was said to have lost the University of North Carolina table tennis title to Rudy’s kid brother, Len, a non-tournament player.
A second mention of Cartland--perhaps he’s not yet moved from Chapel Hill to New York City--has him playing in the Jan., 1936 Washington, D.C. American Zone tournament (winner gets his way paid to the World Championships) and losing to 16-year-old D.C. Champ Elias Schuman, 12 and 15.
Decades later, Doug denied that he had ever played either of these matches--which I suppose is understandable, since, in their insignificance, why would he ever want to remember them? In fact, it’s been my experience interviewing long-time players that they remember only what they want to remember and not always very accurately at that.
The Feb., 1937 World’s at Baden, near Vienna, would result in an exceptional success for U.S. Table Tennis. Our players would sweep, for the first and only time, both the Swaythling (Men’s) and Corbillon Cup (Women’s) Team Championships. Cartland didn’t make that historic five-man U.S. Men’s Team, but he did give himself a theoretical chance to. He qualified for the New York Intercity Team, and so, along with former U.S. Champions Sol Schiff and Abe Berenbaum, and outstanding newcomer Bernie Grimes, he came to the Lake Shore Athletic Club in Chicago to compete in his first Intercities, the Jan. 1-3 tournament that would determine the U.S. Team members to be selected to Baden. As expected, Cartland’s New York Team won, and Doug, having the 8th best record in the seven-team field (5-3, with losses to Top 10 stars Ralph Muchow, George Hendry and Bud Blattner), was proclaimed one of the "most improved players in the East."
Cartland’s forehand was something like Ruth Aarons’, for, just as she made contact with "a stiff wristed" forearm stroke rather than "a wrist flick" (she’d repeatedly insisted she wanted to be a tennis player), so too did Cartland, who in college was a tennis player, the #2 or 3 varsity player behind the nationally-known #1 Bitsy Grant. And while, as Schiff has said, this made him an extremely steady topspinner, "his wrist is locked so firmly for low balls that it is very hard to unlock it in time to take a wallop at high ones." Thus, since point-winning opportunities have to be taken advantage of, this stroke, lacking flexibility, wasn’t one Schiff would recommend. Still, Cartland, born July 20, 1914, whose great career was just beginning--beginning late, lasting long--would go on to have the reputation as "one of the six best U. S.-born players in the hardbat era" (along with Schiff, McClure, Pagliaro, Miles, and Reisman), and "the best player never to win the U.S. National’s."
Although Doug was ranked U.S. #10 for 1936-37, he fell to #14 the following season. Perhaps one reason was because he was pursuing his own inimitable ways of making a living. "Dixie," as he was sometimes called, had been an "honor grad" at the University of North Carolina, and, reportedly, if he weren’t already writing stories for pulp magazines, he soon would be. More importantly, he was "a puzzle expert"--had won $15,000 in a New York Post contest. "Worst thing that could have happened," he later lamented--"all the players kept trying to borrow money from me." Reportedly, he then won $10, 000 in another contest only a year later, one he wasn’t eligible for--this time under an assumed name.
Likely it was for one of these contests that Doug went to the sponsor’s headquarters and got the official Dictionary the contestants would be bound by. He then saw what 99% of the others didn’t see--that a single word could become two if used as a noun and also as a verb. Hence, since "nut," say, could not only be used in various ways as a noun, but also as a verb--to nut, "to seek for or gather nuts"--he ended up a couple of thousand words ahead of his competition.
Since Cartland was so adept at reading dictionaries, and once at least constructing one (using all the letters of a contest word or phrase), it may not have been surprising that on one occasion Webster’s gave Doug a job going through their "New International Dictionary" to "check out misprints." Since Doug was being paid so much for each misprint he uncovered, one could readily believe he found "150-160 misspelled words"--"rerag" for "retag," for example. Alas, though, when the computer came in, Doug’s rapt attention was no longer needed.
No doubt this sort of exacting work was fun for Cartland, but surely there had to be more chance for rewards through illegitimate rather than legitimate application of such diligence. Likely a new automobile he’d win in a contest was the result of some energetic deception. However, sometimes a hustle wouldn’t come off. As when Doug enlisted a West Coast player to enter a contest for him, then sent the fellow a contest-unlocking list of words, and followed by dispatching an intermediary to check and see if all was going to plan. The intermediary and the player quarreled, the police came and confiscated the golden list, and only after the contest was over did Doug get it back.
Ah well, win some, and--with more than a bit of foot-stamping and more than a few choice words--lose some.
In the Feb., ‘38 New York Metro Open, Cartland beat Berenbaum deuce in the 4th, but then was overpowered by Johnny Abrahams in the final--not a bad loss, though, for in the upcoming National’s Johnny would pair with Emily Fuller to win the Mixed.
In these late Mar. Philadelphia National’s, Doug had a bad draw--caught the Defending and that year’s Champion as well, the Hungarian International, Laszlo "Laci" Bellak, in the second round, and lost -20, -16, 12, -8. Which, since play in the National’s was so important to one’s ranking, was another reason why he’d be dropped from the Top 10. Bellak, Cartland acknowledged, was really "tricky" and "one of the few players to keep me on defense."
Fuller, the ‘38 U.S. Women’s Champion, also began as a tennis player back in her hometown of Bethlehem, PA. Later, as she became more and more interested in table tennis, she took up residence with her mother in New York, in a penthouse on Central Park West. Here at this Essex House Paul Whiteman, the famous band leader, was one of her neighbors. Doug remembers that, sometimes accompanied by her mother, whom Doug would chat with--"a nice lady"--Emily would come to the table tennis club for a practice session with some male player--she always tried to improve her game by playing against men--and would think nothing of keeping a taxi waiting out front for her for maybe a full two hours. Since no one could have been more frugal-minded than Doug, this extravagance made quite an impression on him.
Also, Emily, who at her own expense had been a last minute replacement on the U.S. Team to Baden, had not only paid her own way to those 1937 Chicago Intercity Tryouts but also the way of Cartland and the other New York men players (she flew, they drove)--and perhaps Doug’s niceties to mother and daughter had something to do with this.
When in Oct., 1938 John Kauderer took over as President of the New York Metro TTA (MTTA), he and his fellow officers decided they’d plan a few local tournaments and establish City Rankings. But none of the commercial table tennis centers in the City wanted to run these tournaments and risk losing money. So they evolved a Borough Championship Plan whereby matches would be played at various borough clubs, out of which would come winners and then an overall winner. As it happened, the Plan was maintained only in Manhattan and the Bronx, and getting the matches played would be a "dragged out affair in which it was hard to maintain a competitive spirit." In light of which, it wasn’t surprising that the overall winner was Cartland, who just edged out the almost equally tenacious Charlie Schmidt. (Schmidt, like Cartland, something of an unknown player in other parts of the country, would beat Doug in the semi’s of the Jan., 1939 Metro Open, and by the following season would be U.S. #3).
The Jan. 31-Feb. 1, ‘39 Philadelphia Intercities saw the powerhouse New York Team sweep aside the unusually weak competition. Schiff and Cartland were again members (and their friend, the strong New York woman player with "a man’s game," Ruthe Brewer, their "team mascot"). This was the Intercity that Sol bicycled to--a 90-mile journey. A reporter asked him why he’d done that, and Sol replied: "Table tennis requires a great deal of runnng and to keep in shape for a tough match I try to build up my wind. Pedaling a bicycle strengthens the leg muscles and gives me that extra bit of stamina when the pressure is on."
As the winter tournaments were coming to an end, Cartland and Schiff had finished doing an exhibition in Rochester and were being driven to the National’s by Tex B. Lloyd, President of the Geneva Finger Lakes TTA. They were moving along, making good time, but as it had gotten a little stuffy in the car Tex was asked to please open the window. Wanting to oblige these famous players, whatever the request, Tex promptly opened...the door. It seems he was hard of hearing. And now, no doubt about it, the car needed a new door.
A Minneapolis attorney, Al Meagher, had invented a ball-throwing robot for practice--and at the Toledo National’s that’s what U.S. #7 Bill Price, "our most graceful player," must have felt he was up against when in the 8th’s he lost 12, 17, 9 to Cartland’s incessant topspin. "Doug was like a machine," someone said--and, as that would become such a familiar line through table tennis time, you might say he was more durable than one too.
Cartland’s quarter’s opponent at Toledo was 17-year-old Billy Holzrichter, who four years later would become the U.S. Champion. Against Philadelphia’s defensive star Izzy Bellis, it was as if Billy had heard and taken Doug’s advice to heart--"You can’t try to hit through Bellis too quickly. You’ve got to work the ball." Easier said than done no doubt--but Billy showed unusual poise and maturity in waiting for the right ball to begin again and again the sustained attack that would upset Bellis, the #1 seed. Then, varying his strategy against the sometimes volatile Abrahams, Billy forced the offense and beat Johnny 19 in the 4th.
But Cartland stopped Holzrichter cold. Perhaps after two good wins Billy had a letdown, or, more likely, he just couldn’t find a way to combat Doug’s technique--a combination of unwavering concentration with super-steady forehand control.
Cartland would lose in a four-game semi’s to the eventual winner of this National’s, McClure, but USTTA Ranking Chairman Reginald Hammond, writing in the USTTA publication Table Tennis Topics, would emphasize that Doug’s "fine play wasn’t fully appreciated" because of "Jimmy’s greatness" (his success in beating two-time Champion Bellak in the quarter’s, then last year’s World semifinalist, the visiting Hungarian Tibor Hazi, in the final). Jimmy, who had Doug down 14-2 in the 4th, said he was "zoned in" after getting by Bellak, "had all the confidence in the world and nothing looked impossible for me to hit."
Unlike Bellak, Fuller successfully defended her Singles Championship--proving that her practice play against men continued to pay off. Against men, she said, "I find myself hitting harder, chopping deeper and playing faster"--a point of view that was echoed in Sol Schiff’s 1939 Table Tennis Comes of Age. This book was actually a collaborative effort between Sol and Doug--so no surprise that in a beginning Acknowledgement Sol expresses "grateful appreciation to Mr. Douglas Cartland for invaluable assistance in the preparation of this book."
Just who wrote what, and whether Sol and Doug always shared the same viewpoint, is open to question. Years later, in 1953, the Barnes Sports Library would publish Cartland’s Table Tennis Illustrated (for which he was reportedly paid $10,000). Only at first Doug had to make it clear to the Editor that he had not plagiarized from Schiff’s book. "I wrote those lines back then," he said indignantly,"so I sure as hell ought to be able to use my own lines in my own book!"
Topics columnist Reba Kirson (later Monness) said that this 1939 book would "knock the women’s game strongly, with [former U.S. World Champion] Ruth Aarons to find interesting reading therein." Sol denied such an attack, but perhaps Reba had a point. Consider these lines:
"There is no real reason why the best men players should be several points better than the best women. And yet today they are. Differences in strength and psychological reactions might account for slight masculine supremacy it is true. But only lack of practice, lack of enthusiasm, and lack of time account for the difference.
The offensive game is winning among men, but very few women can hit well in a pinch. They happen to be more nervous, or seem to lack the power of concentration....
...[As] yet there are few women who have well-rounded games with which to battle for the offense or great enough knowledge of tactics to want to battle for the offense."
While these comments are at least somewhat controversial, they’re mild to the strange advice which follows:
"And I suggest that you play as often as possible against women rather than men. That is, of course, if you can get good feminine competition in your neck of the woods. Until the women’s game gets more like the men’s [and how in the world might it do that?] there’s very little real reason for playing with men, learning to return their faster shots and hit their harder chops, when you’ll have to play against a different geared game altogether. Strive to attain the perfection of a man’s game, but, even before that, strive to attain those strokes that will help you to defeat your feminine competitors.
And when you play with men in serious matches such as in mixed doubles [would there be any other time?], pay attention to the game. And pay attention to the sort of clothes you wear to take part in the game. Wear short skirts, or, better still, "shorts," and a pair of regular sneakers. And play to win--to make a good shot rather than a good appearance...."
Surely, even 60 years ago, much of this would be condescending. For women not to try to improve their game by playing against better players just because they’re men, not only smacks of "women ought to know their place" but isn’t sound advice and in fact can only be confusing--especially since, as Sol and Doug know, the best women players of the day wanted to practice exclusively with men, including Sol and Doug’s friend Brewer (U.S. #3), and the succession of U.S. Champions--Aarons, Aarons’ successor Fuller, whose "forehand and backhand drives" Sol and Doug maintain "are very sound and capable of making many points even against masculine opposition," and Fuller’s successor Sally Green (later Prouty) whose forehand Sol and Doug praise as "a quick and vicious stroke, patterned after some of the best among the men’s players."
At the ‘39 National’s, both Schiff and Cartland played Mixed Doubles (and from their results against strong teams presumably played with high seriousness)--Schiff with his girl friend Brewer (they lost 21-19 in the 3rd), and Cartland with former Pennsylvania #1 Matilda Plaskow (they lost 23-21 in the 3rd).
With the mid-Mar. National’s, the official USTTA season ended and, though there were at least 25 more tournaments to be held through May, the Rankings were rushed out (Cartland was U.S. #9).
Of course Doug, who’d be ranked #4 in New York (behind Grimes, Schiff, and Lou Pagliaro), continued to play--at one point, three tournaments in four weeks. At the Apr. 22-23 Middle Atlantic States in Newark, N.J., he beat U.S. #4 Grimes, deuce in the 4th in the semi’s, and Charlie Schmidt in the final in straight games. On winning the tournament, he loaned the as yet ungraved perpetual Filing Trophy he’d been given the year’s use of to Delaware’s Paul Capelle so Paul, who next season would get his first U.S. ranking (#40, last among the men), could impress his parents with..."Hey, look what I won!"
Then at the Apr. 29th Southern New England Open at Providence, Doug beat Dan Klepak (U.S. #21) and Johnny Abrahams before losing in the up-for-grabs (19, -18, -21, -22) final to former Parker Brothers’ APPA U.S. Champion Jimmy Jacobson who’d knocked out Schmidt and U.S. #13 Les Lowry.
And, finally, at the mid-May Master’s Invitational at the Klepak-managed 5th Ave. Courts, Doug got to his third straight final, taking out Lowry in the quarter’s and Grimes in the semi’s before losing to the scrappy U.S. #6 Pagliaro. Also, again playing with Mrs. Plaskow, Doug lost the final of the Mixed, deuce in the 5th--to Brewer and Baltimore’s Manny Moskowitz.
But however much Doug enjoyed competitive play, he knew he couldn’t begin to make a living at it. So he not only collaborated on a book with Schiff, he went on Tour with him. Years later, in the early 1980’s, Sol described in an interview for Hikosuke Tamasu’s Table Tennis Report what, partnered with Cartland, such a Tour was like:
"...Doug Cartland and I went to various schools and YMCAs, 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 the 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."
Sol and Doug really knew the pre-War table tennis scene in the U.S. In fact, as their 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."
Cartland was back for the Sept 29-30 Brooklyn Championships, and though he lost to Schmidt in the quarter’s, he and Schiff--Sol sometimes having to push the rather husky Doug out of the way because they were both lefties--downed Pinner and Sussman in the Doubles.
Three weeks later, Doug not only played in the Oct. 19-20 Manhattan Open, he brought his mother with him. First big-time tournament she’d ever seen him play--"He looks pretty good to me," she said. She probably also liked it that, reportedly, he didn’t smoke, didn’t drink. Certainly he was in good shape--had built up his stamina from his years of tennis at Chapel Hill. In this New York tournament, he beat Schiff in the semi’s 3-zip, and Grimes in the final in 5 (after being down 2-0).
Afterwards, Doug had his picture in the Dec. Topics--not with his mother but with Donna Dae, singing star of the Fred Waring radio program, whom it was said he was giving pointers to. Such instruction couldn’t have given him back problems, could it? Something did--and, though he played in the Nov. 9-10 Manhattan Championships, where he beat Sy Sussman in the semi’s before losing to Eddie Pinner in the final, he didn’t try out the following week for the 1939 New York Intercity team and consequently his later appeal to be given a chance to be on it was turned down.
Early 1940 tournaments, even the Apr. Indianapolis National’s, Cartland was absent from because he’d gone to Florida, where, as the "Recreational Director" of the Hollywood Beach Hotel in Hollywood, he would "teach tennis and table tennis," and play some exhibitions with defensive star Harry Cook, who back in the fall had won the annual Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) tournament in Toronto. (Cook would then do a New England Tour with Lowry.)
For the Apr. 1941 National’s at the Manhattan Center, Doug was momentarily back in New York--perhaps readying himself to move into his mother’s house on Pinehurst Ave, (up around 187th, near the famed "Cloisters") which would become his permanent residence. Out of practice, he perhaps not unexpectedly lost in the eighth’s to Washington, D.C.’s best, Stan Fields (father of the later USTTA Hall of Famer Bobby Fields), who, in addition to having managed the D.C. Ice Palace Club, also often made his living giving table tennis exhibitions.
Two weeks later, though, Cartland had returned to Florida and was doing shows with Schiff who, since it was essential not to make errors, appreciated the dependability of Doug’s forehand. Of course by this time their exhibitions were routine. They’d get used to whatever table they’d be playing on, do the "trick" shots--hit the ball behind their back, under their leg, blow the ball, pretend to swallow it, blow it back out, keep 1-2-3-4-5 balls going, play jingle bells with pots and pans--then follow maybe a 7-point pre-arranged game plan, and finally invite audience participation. Nightclub shows would last 12-15 minutes; Theater shows maybe half that because there were more of them. During one-night stands before a table tennis audience, they would play a 2/3-game match and accept challenges from the best local player(s)--Doug or Sol giving a talk while the other played.
On Apr. 16, for example, they were doing an exhibition at Stetson University (courtesy of the Women’s Athletic Dept.) in De Land, Florida. And if in their free time Cartland wasn’t too busy writing letters to set up future exhibitions, or if they weren’t traveling that day, they could see a Hope/Crosby/Lamour "Road" movie, then go over to Jo Ann’s Coffee shop and have a "Fountain Special"--an ice cream soda, two for $.15.
At the last of the Metro Association Summer Tournaments, in Brooklyn, Cartland was back in New York, and, as if his competitive touch never left him no matter how many exhibitions he played, knocking off U.S. #2 Pinner in the final. Perhaps this prompted Sandor Glancz to say in a "Gossip from Gotham" article in Topics that "Cartland plays the best game in the city," and that he, Pinner, and Pagliaro, "will be very close this season."
As we’ll see in Part II, Cartland and the best players in the country will be very close for years to come.
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