BY MORT LUBY JR.
Mort Luby Sr., my father, took over the Bowlers Journal when he was 28 years old. He never went to college, and I’m not sure that he ever finished high school.
I just know that he was terribly insecure about his writing. Even when I was a kid, he would ask me to look over his copy and make suggestions when I visited the ramshackle office above the Stock Yard Press. (This was after I sharpened the pencils and changed the typewriter ribbons for Theresa Forkin, his secretary of many years.)
His fervor for bowling was just as great as his father’s. As bowling blossomed around the country and new tournaments sprouted everywhere, he hit the road. He bowled just about every major event and made at least one stab at competitive fame. He fired a 712 series in the 1927 ABC Tournament in Peoria, as he and partner George Stewart led the Doubles for more than a month. Three days before the windup, however, they were shunted down to third place.
Just about every highway in the Midwest had seen his battered old Chrysler coupe. He also was something of an aviation pioneer. I can’t tell you how many times our family drove to Midway Airport and waited for a DC-3 to descend through the gloom and bring him back to us.
My father was a heavy smoker, drinker and gambler. And he loved to eat. That’s why we had a “due bill” (a trade of advertising for food) at Mario’s restaurant in Chicago’s loop and Phil Schmidt’s in Hammond, Ind., for many decades.
His marriage to Frieda Matthaie was undoubtedly the best thing that ever happened to him. This was a merger of two unforgettable human beings.
Frieda was born around the turn of the century in Hollywood. Her father, a German brewmaster, had come to California to run one of the first commercial breweries in that state.
The movie industry was getting started, and Frieda fit right in. She zoomed up and down Hollywood Boulevard in a yellow Mercer runabout. She played bridge with film star Mary Pickford, and once had a date with J. Paul Getty. She was an avid member of the Turners, a German gymnastic society, and won many ribbons and trophies in golf, fencing, swimming, diving, tennis and javelin.
Sometime during the 1920s, she decided to travel to New York to visit some of her Turner colleagues who had moved there. She got off the train in Chicago to break up the trip and arranged a side trip to the Indiana Dunes. While at a party there, she was intrigued by a curly-haired young man named Mort who played a mean ukulele. A small romance ensued.
Off she went to New York, only to receive a bizarre telegram from Chicago.
“Go down to Tiffany’s and buy a ring,” my father wrote. “I’m coming to New York to marry you.”
He turned up a few days later and they marched together down the aisle at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
They were a team. Although her California family practically ostracized her for marrying this odd bowling person from the frigid Midwest, Frieda embraced the sport avidly. Always an excellent athlete, she soon led her women’s league at the Beverly Recreation.
Of course, she got a lot of first-class instruction. When Andy Varipapa came to our house, he and my mother would descend to the basement and practice on the concrete. I can still hear those bowling balls whacking the basement walls.
She traveled with my father on many of his trips, sitting patiently in the Chrysler while he made “calls” on advertisers. I was always amazed at her patience with some of the loopy characters that inhibited his world. The wife of the Pabst Blue Ribbon advertising director was a loud drunk who came to our house and played the piano (badly) and sang off-key. My mother would smile sweetly and bring her yet another whiskey sour. Pabst ran a lot of full-page ads in those days.
Like most Americans during the Great Depression, we suffered financially. Our house on May Street was sold and we moved into a small apartment a few miles away. Bowlers Journal shrank to digest-size, the ad count withered and, finally, the frequency was reduced from weekly to monthly.
When Prohibition ended, the beer and whiskey companies began advertising again. But few of the bowling manufacturers could afford space. We ate a lot of greasy 5-cent White Castle burgers and never missed the 25-cent Friday fish fry at Casto’s, the local saloon and bookie joint. (Even when he was almost broke, Mort Sr. loved to play the ponies.)
Despite the grim economic conditions, my father decided in 1931 that Bowlers Journal could not continue as a one-man show. He called Northwestern University and asked if they knew of a bright student who could take shorthand. The school sent over 16-year-old Sam Weinstein.
“I had to compress a three-month course in shorthand into six weeks,” Sam told an interviewer many years later. “I was the office handyman. I did everything but darn Luby’s socks.”
Sam was named Editor the following year. One of his chores was to lay out ads. His work impressed the folks at National Billiard Supply, and he was hired away in 1933 to become that company’s ad manager. He later became the country’s largest bowling distributor and a fabled radio announcer. When he finally retired his radio show, he had been on the air for more than 50 years.