Where did Andy Varipapa grow up?

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In Bowling
Andy Varipapa was born in Italy. Here is a great history on a bowling legend: When you reach the age of 90 in this country you seem to take on some majestic qualities you never had before. Just check out your daily newspaper. Seldom does a week go by without the local nonagenarian being queried about life, love and the most delicate military and political situations. They are quoted as though the words came straight down from the heavens. And that's the way it's been with Andy Varipapa and bowling these days as he nears completion of his 91st year. But there is a big difference; that's the way it's been with Varipapa for more than 50 years, and his thinking doesn't age, it seems to get sharper. No man in any sport has for so long captured the attention, fancy and imagination of friends, foes and fans as has Varipapa. Some called him a clown, some thought he was a showboat, but nobody ever doubted his talent or his genius. He came into bowling centers in almost every state and many foreign countries as a hero or a villain, but in victory or defeat, he always left a hero. As Vic Kalman put it so well almost 30 years ago, "Varipapa astounded, affronted and entertained." When he wasn't supplying comic relief and relaxation, he was ever teaching, creating interest and enthusiasm, the traits he has carried as far back as he can remember, even to those farm chores in Italy when he had to watch the cows go round instead of the pins go down. He came to this country with his mother and brother, and the thing he knew best was that he didn't know enough. His formal education was practically nil, but that gave him a lifelong yen to learn. "I wanted to learn so badly," recalls Varipapa. "I went to day school, night school, I took correspondence courses, and the proudest moments of mine came when my son and two daughters and their children received the best college training. I love to sit at the family table and be surrounded by doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, scientists and teachers, and know I had something to do with instilling the need for learning in them." It wasn't all that easy. Andy worked from the time he was 10 years old, at whatever was available. He was a delivery boy for a butcher shop in his early teens, and as he made his rounds in the winter he would toss and kick ice down the street, making believe it was a bowling ball. "Bowling wasn't my first love in sports," Andy said. "I loved baseball and I was a pretty good infielder. Like everything else, I taught myself, so when I felt I was ready to play with some of the good teams, I put an ad in the paper, and I got a tryout and made one of the better semi-pro teams, even got paid a few bucks a game." His baseball career ended when he broke a leg, and though many know about the broken leg, few know how it happened. It came riding a bike to work during a strike, and Andy lost his concentration while riding. Andy had a try at boxing, too, and he was pretty good, winning five in a row. Why did he quit? He points to his teeth, "I like them the way they should be, nice and neat and even, and in one fight I got hit in the mouth and I didn't want to lose or damage them. Besides, even though the pins can be aggravating, they never hit back, do they?" Varipapa, with his natural athletic ability and will to win, also became a good golfer and a pretty fair man with a cue stick. "I soon realized that second best was no good. You are the best or you are a nobody. After a number of jobs I became a machinist third class at the Brooklyn Navy Yard around 1917. In a few years I was a machinist first class, and from then on I was first class in everything I did." He began to build a bowling reputation in the 1920s, averaging 207 for 90 games in 15 different centers, and 212 and 213 for other outings of 150 games in different bowling centers. In an earlier period he also operated a billiard parlor with 11 tables and a 10 lane bowling center. He seldom bowled in leagues but did get involved in pot games and matches, though the latter were never his cup of tea. "I never cared much for the gambling part of match play bowling. I really didn't want to take money from other bowlers and I didn't want them to take mine. I wanted to be paid for my bowling talent, and that's why so many of my matches were productions. I wanted guarantees because I wanted to earn money to support my family. But don't get me wrong, though I didn't look for matches, I never backed out of any either." Varipapa never tires of telling the story when then world champ Joe Falcaro took Andy as a partner in a doubles match against famed Philadelphia bowlers Charlie Riley and Jim Murgie, back in 1930. Varipapa was introduced as though the was just a casual visitor, and when he ran into a 6-7-10 split on his first toss, the crowd figured he was just another flash in the pan. He then tossed 17 consecutive strikes, averaged 260 plus for seven games, and fired three 279 games in the process. "That was the birth of Andy Varipapa as a major figure and Falcaro should get all the credit," says Andy. "Falcaro and me bowled quite a bit and believe it or not I was known as the unassuming Varipapa. That didn't last too long. I began to speak my mind when I felt conditions were not right or anything else, and I spoke out for everyone, not just myself. "I knew that you couldn't make any money bowling matches and there wasn't that much in tournaments so I worked hard to perfect my trick shots, and with it I worked hard on my presentation too. Many a year I drove more than 40,000 miles, and as I drove I didn't waste my time, I worked on my speaking, and polished my showmanship." It was that genius for showmanship, combined with a passionate will to win and be the best that made him one of the game's most respected figure He also was controversial, but those who came to heckle were as welcome as those who came to cheer. Both paid for the right, and Varipapa was making big money in days when most bowlers were getting crumbs. He could truly be called the sport's first pro bowler, though his good friend and the man whose style he liked most, Jimmy Smith, had toured the country before Andy. Hollywood called in 1934, and Varipapa feels that Elmer Baumgarten, American Bowling Congress executive secretary from 1933 to 1951, was the man most responsible. Andy once said he could make a bowling ball do anything but talk. But he did make them talk in a unique way. Picture a line of chorus girls standing on a lane, feet spread apart to allow enough room for a bowling ball to roll through. Or visualize another narrow path created by delicate and expensive lamps on each side. Then marvel at the Varipapa magic as he sends the ball accurately through the legs or the lamps, and it clears those obstacles to make a left hand turn and topple all 10 pins. Then the favorite shot of many, when Varipapa rolls a ball slowly down the lane, and it stops, then returns to whence it came, back to Andy on the lane approach. If those bowling balls could talk, they would tell of the many years Varipapa spent performing his skills, from the unpredictable rolls of the ball to the banter and patter that went to make up the complete show. That first movie was a smash, and some 25 others followed, and in 1981, Andy was still performing as millions saw him on the popular "That's Incredible" TV show. Varipapa the showman kept an audience in the palm of his hand. He was quick witted, could handle any heckler, and always seemed to be able to come up with the right retort. On one of his trips two priests came to see him three nights in a row, and the show was the same. One of them politely informed Andy that they were planning to see him in the next city on his tour and asked if he would do the same trick shots. Andy answered the question with his own: "Father, when you go to a different town, do you change the prayers?" Varipapa the showman also was Varipapa the family man. Though he took off every September to be gone months at a time, his children - son Frank and daughters Connie and Lorraine - had nothing but praise for him and even his lifestyle. "He was our father, and this was his job," said Frank. "My mother (Andy's late wife Alice) ran a pretty tight ship and my father made a good living. And when he was home he spent a great deal of time with us. We went to the beach a few times a week, he had time to play baseball and golf with me, and I just couldn't think of how anyone could be a better father." Daughter Lorraine adds, "We knew that he was famous and that in order to do what he had to do he had to travel. But we always knew we were first in his thoughts, wherever he was. It wasn't always easy, but it was our way of life." Lorraine, a fine bowler in her own right, worked with her father, and also helped him with many of his instructional clinics. More than 30 years ago Andy and Frank started a bowler's pro shop, one of the first and most modern established, and it still operates today, with Frank and namesake grandson Andy, as the proprietors. Varipapa the man was always a proud man, one who said his piece, no matter the subject or the person. An analyst of the game and its conditions, he often criticized when he felt it was justified, and still does. He has also been lavish with his praise. Sometimes he created some resentment, from both proprietors and fans, but that didn't concern him too much. "You must have your ups and downs," says Andy. "I've always been honest in my business dealings and my opinions, and I've always felt that I had the right to speak out, since nobody knew the game as well as I did, and still do, and I don't think anyone could love it any more than I do. I have no regrets, I think I could have been used better by some of the people in bowling." Though he was named to the ABC Hall of Fame in 1957 as the 18th member, some still feel that he should have been in earlier. And as so often happens, even the iron man melted a bit at his induction, as the tears of joy welled in his eyes, and he had to use gestures until he regained his composure. Varipapa also was a great instructor. In 1939, the Detroit News, in conjunction with the Greater Detroit Bowling Proprietors, started a bowling school with Varipapa as the chief instructor. The late John Walter, the News bowling editor and the mastermind behind the clinics, was always one of Varipapa's favorite people. The clinics went on for some 20 years and Walters noted that the paper's officers called it the greatest sports promotion they ever had. The schools were copied by many newspapers throughout the country, and as Andy points out, could still be used today. To this day Varipapa can still cite dates and places and almost the exact number of people at each center. "That's not hard," says Andy. "Just figure as many people as each place could hold." And one who backs up that statement is Steve Cruchon, publisher of Detroit's Bowlers Digest, long one of the finest bowling writers in the world. At that time local stars were used to aid Varipapa and one of the newly established young stars in the Detroit area was none other than Cruchon. "His impact was fantastic," recalled Cruchon. "Everywhere he went the people jammed the lanes, and many of them became regular bowlers because of him, and his impact still remains. Not too long ago, Varipapa was in town on a personal visit and somehow it became known that he would be stopping in at Fred Wolf s bowling center, and before Varipapa arrived, the place was jammed with people who wanted to catch a glimpse of him. "And he even stopped traffic on one of our main streets many years ago. Streetcars were still running then, and Andy went for a stroll. Someone on the car spotted Andy, the conductor stopped the car, people got out to say hello, and the car held up the traffic, and nobody complained, once they found out what it was all about." Varipapa was and still is a stickler on instruction. "Every bowler should take four steps because that's the best," says Andy, "And those that say a bowler should use his natural style are wrong because bowling is an acquired art. And the same goes for bowling balls, they should be light enough to control. Most women and a lot of men should use 13 pounders if that is what they need." Over the years Varipapa has been a master at short sayings. Here are some of the best Varipapaisms: . After winning the 1946 All-Star - "This has long been overdue. It's about time the world's greatest bowler was also the world champion." . "When Varipapa walks in the pins shiver, but every major event should have new pins. In many cases the pins are so bad that all you have to do is roll the ball, hit the headpin and pray to the almighty, and the pins flop over from either prayer, shock, or just plain exhaustion." . "Newspapers made me. They used to call me unassuming, then I became the walking talking machine." . "A pioneer seldom gets much more than satisfaction." . "They are not trick shots. They are highly skilled precision shots developed by manipulation." . "People over 50 eat too much, drink too much and don't get enough exercise." . "I'm the best bowler I ever saw." . "I never wanted all the money that was available to be made. I was always willing to settle for half." I got a little taste of the Varipapa touch during our first meeting more than 25 years ago. As a kid I was lucky enough to bowl on the same team with Lou Campi, and I was his doubles partner on many occasions. Previously, "wrongfoot" Lou had teamed with Varipapa to win the Bowling Proprietors Association of America doubles. It was an All-Star and Campi brought me over and said, kiddingly I thought: "Andy, I have a good bowler here who wants to meet you, and he says he's never heard of you." Varipapa bellowed: "If he's never heard of me he can't be a very good bowler because when you're good you've got to know who's the best so you know who you have to beat." Later I rolled on the same team with Andy and though he was well into his 60s he averaged 211 for the season. His prowess was long overlooked until he won back-to-back All-Stars in 1946 and 1947 at ages 55 and 56. But he always was tough, doing well in all areas of competition, particularly in events such as the All-Star and ABC tournaments where conditions were usually on the tough side. I also happened to be involved when he rolled nine consecutive strikes to win $9,000 on Phillies Jackpot Bowling back in 1959 when he was 68 years old. There are a couple of behind-the-scenes stories there. First, the producers of the show were dead set against even allowing Varipapa to appear. They couldn't believe any man that old could hold up. Then, after winning the $9,000, Andy, in his own way, practically took over the show by taking the mike from the announcer and giving a short lecture. The announcer was almost fired over the incident. What did his peers, all fellow ABC Hall of Earners, think of him? Billy Sixty from Milwaukee bowled against him and wrote reams about him too. "You could never get mad at Andy. I beat him in a match one time and he made some comment about the alleys, but it was always in a way that you accepted it. There was nobody quite like him and there never will be again. "Often Varipapa, Falcaro and Hank Marino would get together and they could eat a wagon load of spaghetti, but that Italian connection formed the most colorful and talented trio that did the most for bowling when it needed it most. "Varipapa always was a gentleman with the women, knew how to handle people and behind that big frame was an even bigger heart. One night we were in a bowling center having a bite to eat when a local judge who bowled in the league there came over and asked Varipapa if he would do a shot or two. Andy didn't hesitate, stayed there for two hours of his own time without any pay, and they talked about that night for 25 years after." Allie Brandt, author of the record 886 series, think Andy is the best who ever walked down a lane. "He did more for the game than any other person, was a great competitor and the finest advertisement I ever saw for the game. Anybody who ever said he wasn't a terrific howler had to be a bit jealous because Andy knew how to make money at the game." Campi, Varipapa's doubles partner, saw Andy as one of the smarter bowlers in the sport. "When Andy asked me to be his partner he did it because I was bowling better than anyone else at the time, and he was a good judge of talent. I rolled well all the way, and Andy came on strong. He could always dig down and was a fighter who could always put on a hot streak to pull out a match or a tournament." One of the men Varipapa respected most, and he respects all top bowlers, past and present, was Nelson Burton Sr. "He always was tough, and he always was a gentleman," says Andy. Nelson Burton Jr., who joined his dad in the Hall of Fame in 1981, remembers: "When I was a kid, whenever Varipapa or Ned Day or any of the other greats were in our town, they would visit my dad and come to our house and it was great training for me just to hear them talk, and I learned much that I didn't realize until later years when it came time to use some of those tips." Joe Norris has been around almost as long as Varipapa, and has his niche in bowling history as one of the best, and best-liked bowlers, as well as one of the best storytellers. Notes Norris: "I always thought of Andy as in the same class with the old western gunfighters. Every time Varipapa went into a town the local hotshot wanted to knock him off to get a reputation. Why not, they had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Andy was supposed to win, and he did most of the time because he picked his matches, the lanes and his partners with care. "This sport will always need an Andy Varipapa. He always added zest and life to every tournament, even though he could get on you pretty good. I was in charge of the lane installation when he won the back to back All-Stars, and when he didn't win in the third year he wanted to know what I had done to him." Norris has had personal experience with the Varipapa power. "In 1950 Andy, billiard player Willie Mosconi, ABC executive secretary Frank Baker and I had an assignment to go to Europe to entertain the troops. We were to leave from an air base in Massachusetts. When we got there we found out they had lost our papers so we couldn't take off and they put us up in a hotel. "Somehow a local radio station found out that Varipapa was there and asked if he would do an interview. He told them he would and asked me to go along. When he got on the air, they asked him what he was doing in town and he answered, 'Well, we're going overseas to entertain the troops, that is if we ever get there. I don't know how they operate, these generals don't seem to know what they're doing. I wonder how we won the war. Adds Norris, "It wasn't an hour after the show that we got a call that everything had been taken care of and we took off," In Europe Varipapa was buying plenty of merchandise and Norris and the others didn't inform him that he should keep a good record and all the receipts or else he might have trouble with customs on the way back. "We figured we'd have some fun," recalls Norris. "So when we get back we're just waiting for Andy to get in trouble because he has so much stuff and no receipts. Would you believe that one of the agents recognizes him, takes him in to introduce him to all the officials, and they didn't check any of his luggage. He had a ball while we had to wait. "Andy has a brashness and a charisma that opens doors and hearts. He's given all of us plenty of thrills, laughs, and some good ideas too." In his long years, the high and the mighty, the rich and powerful have paid homage to Andy, including presidents, as former chief Jimmy Carter did when Varipapa became the first bowler inducted into the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago in 1980. But one night they came from near and far to honor Andy on his 90th birthday. As newsman Bob Zellner, long a personal friend, pointed out; "34 years ago we held a dinner to honor 'old man' Varipapa for his feat of winning the All-Star at age 55. I guess we'll never stop having dinners for him." All-time bowling greats Carmen Salvino, Dick Weber and Earl Anthony attended. Salvino, himself one of the most colorful performers in the sport, noted, "Andy always tells me I'm number two, and I'll accept being second, but only to him. Varipapa is the only all-time complete bowler, a man who could win the toughest competitive events, instruct, and still wow everyone with his trick shots," Anthony, named the bowler of the 1970s, asked Varipapa to write something on his dinner program and Andy penned, "Keep bowling, you should be real good some day." Salvino ended his talk by saying, "Andy, I hope we're around for your 100th birthday." And Andy responded, "We should be, everyone here looks pretty healthy." Varipapa rolled his first 300 in 1927. We may not have seen his last yet. He has 78, all but one in matches and exhibitions. How do you end a story on Andy Varipapa, a story of a man for all bowling seasons, a story that never has ended and never will end. You bow to young Steve Martin, winner of the 1981 Brunswick Memorial World Open, dedicated to Varipapa. Martin, a fine pro who wasn't born until Varipapa was 67, after accepting the cheers of the crowd, looked over and said simply and sincerely, "Mr. Varipapa, you're a wonderful man." Nobody ever said it better.
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