Dr. Jake – aka J.R. Schmidt from Bowlers Journal – is the author of Dr. Jake’s Bowling History Blog, a searchable and comprehensive history of bowling’s stars and their accomplishments. You can link to the blog at the image above and also from the sidebar of this website under Bowling Links.
He recently sent me a copy of a great article he wrote in Bowlers Journal back in 2009 relating some anecdotes provided by some of the game’s stars on their interesting interactions with Andy over the years. I have posted them here and you can have a laugh at “Andy being Andy”.
ANDY VARIPAPA STORIES (August 2009)
Twenty-five years ago this month, Andy Varipapa died. He was ninety-three years old. Whether he was the greatest bowler of his era is open to debate. But nobody can deny he was the greatest showman. Andy created memories—and not just among the fans. Some years ago I had the pleasure of conducting oral history interviews with a dozen veteran stars. Sooner or later, there would always be an Andy Varipapa story.
Shirley Garms described her first exhibition with Andy. As part of the act, Shirley was supposed to stand out on the lane with her feet apart, and Andy would roll the ball between her legs. Once she was set, Andy told her to move her feet closer together. Shirley followed orders, but Andy wasn’t satisfied.
Andy had Shirley adjust her stance a few more times. As the space between her feet narrowed, she began to wonder what would happen if Andy’s aim were off. “Finally, he said ‘All right!’” Garms remembered. “He threw the ball and I closed my eyes. That ball just barely went between my legs.”
At the height of his fame, Andy was one of the best-known athletes in America. That became apparent to Joe Norris when the two men made a European exhibition tour. Andy did a lot of shopping and returned home with thousands of dollars in merchandise—and didn’t bother to keep any receipts. For anyone else, that might have been a problem.
“We landed and we’re waiting for the customs inspection,” Norris said. “This agent walks by, recognizes Andy, and takes him off to meet his supervisors. Well, Andy’s gone about twenty-five minutes. When he comes back, they pass us right through and don’t check anything.”
Ray Bluth recalled a Varipapa incident from a TV match at Faetz-Niesen Recreation in Chicago. The two men were loosening up before going on. “We’re in the process of practicing, and Andy took his bowling ball and sanded it,” Bluth said. “That’s against ABC rules, so they took his ball away from him.”
Andy lost the match, but it didn’t faze him. Afterward he told Bluth, “They wanted you to win the show.”
Before one of the BPAA Doubles events, Andy found himself without a partner. He phoned his friend Buddy Bomar, and Bomar fixed him up with a very young Bill Lillard. “It was in Buffalo during practice on Friday night,” Lillard said. “Andy walked in and calls out ‘Hey kid, help me carry my bowling balls in.’ He had eight balls and we brought them all in, and I think he used all eight of them in the tournament.”
Varipapa and Lillard finished second. For Andy, that was a disappointment. “Andy didn’t bowl as well as I did,” Lillard recalled. “So when we’re finished, he said to me, ‘Kid, here’s $50—buy [your wife] a new hat.’”
Carmen Salvino observed that “Andy had a way of talking arrogant, yet you loved him for it—he never sounded boastful.” He often kidded Salvino that Carmen was “Number Two” after the Great Varipapa.
When Salvino was inducted into the Chicago Sports Hall of Fame, Andy was brought in to introduce him. “They hand me the trophy and Andy grabs it out of my hand,” Salvino chuckled. “I try to pull it back, and he grabs it again. It looked like Abbott and Costello up there. I say ‘Andy, it’s my day!’ But he says, ‘Number Two, settle down!’ So what can you do?”
The only time I met Andy Varipapa was in 1970, at the last All-Star Tournament. He’d been having some wrist and arm problems, and had started bowling left-handed—and was doing pretty well, even at age seventy-nine. When I complimented him on his switch, he looked annoyed. “What am I supposed to do?” he snorted. “Sit home and grow tomatoes?”
Then he laughed. And I had to laugh, too.