36. Bridge: Calling all bridge teachers with a talent for celebrity

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If you’re a bridge teacher, do you have any talent for celebrity?  Anybody ever say about you when you were a kid–she/he always wants to be the center of attention! Bridge needs you to step forward and be theatrical and show off a bit–whatever it takes to become a celebrity. We desperately need another Ely or Jo Culbertson, Charlie Goren or Helen Sobel.

Here’s a quote from N.Y. Times bridge columnist, Albert Morehead, that could well be a prescription for today’s bridge establishment in marketing bridge–encourage those bridge teachers or tournament players to step up and become famous.

“Mr. Culbertson gave the game publicity . . . .  Under the Culbertson aegis, contract bridge became a social phenomenon and a social necessity almost equivalent to dancing.”

My underlining.  Morehead considered Jo to be Ely’s co-equal–“the only woman who could play on even terms with the best and toughest men” in the long history of whist and bridge. Until ex-chorus girl Helen Sobel came along, that is, as Goren’s favorite bridge partner.

Goren emulated Ely’s approach to marketing–gain credibility and status by winning tournaments BUT when it came to selling bridge and bridge books? Target social players, especially women. I believe it is not insignificant that both these bridge giants had women partners and wrote articles for women’s magazines.

One such article by Goren in Good Housekeeping in 1957 was “Women Make the Best Partners.”  He said other men bridge players should “get wise to old bachelor Goren’s secret of success”–women had been his “winning-est” partners.

As to Helen, she comes across as a woman ahead of her time and one with enormous self-confidence. She said the only hazard for women playing bridge was self-imposed–accepting the “dominant male” prejudice. Women had to, in some bridge situations, be willing to “grab the steering wheel.”

Sobel drew attention not only because women were rare at the top levels of bridge competition, but because she was beautiful. A 1944 Time magazine article described her as a tiny chic blonde who looked like Gertrude Lawrence a famous British actress of the day.

For a recent account of the four and their role in the history of bridge, read Chapter 6 of The Backwash Squeeze by Edward McPherson. Sadly, all four of these vivid bridge personalities were gone by the end of the 60s–at the same time bridge itself was being abandoned on the college campus and leading to the decline of bridge as part of America’s popular culture.  Culbertson died in December 1955, and Jo died by March of the following year. Helen Sobel died in 1969 and Goren gave up playing in the 60s when he felt his memory was failing.

The elderly like me still play today and many serious players complain we make bridge look stodgy and a game for the elderly.intended for old ladies they say.  Whose fault is that? We’re trying to stay alive and play bridge hoping SOME OF YOU-ALL will get wise and make the ACBL market sociable bridge  to present-day younger women instead of sticking only to promoting duplicate bridge and master’s points.

We’re the last vestiges of the momentum for playing bridge created by Culbertson and Goren all those years ago.

So where are the bridge teachers today willing to seek celebrity, entice the younger women in, and maybe get rich like Ely and Charlie while doing that?





One Response to 36. Bridge: Calling all bridge teachers with a talent for celebrity

  1. Audrey Grant gave it a good go, and had a good chance. She was certainly a celebrity with my students when she would visit. I’m here in Hollywood, so I get to see how fickle a thing celebrity is — how it flares in a moment of luck. I’m not sure anyone knows how to cultivate a talent for it.

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