The Day the Stars Came Out

The Day the Stars Came Out

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                Like a poorly rehearsed play, nothing seemed to go right. 
What started out as a brilliant idea was fizzling out before everyone's eyes.   Perhaps it was just because of the times, which would be understandable, but it most certainly wasn't because of any lack of effort or narrowness of vision.

     Already in December of 1944 plans have been put in place for a Pan Amercian Chess Congress to be held in Hollywood, California:
"Chess Review,"  December 1944

"Chess Review,"  January 1945
The American Chess Bulletin

     However, as late a May, 1945, there was some media confusion over the venue:
Excerpts from "Chess Review,"  June 1945

     The United States' involvement in the war in Europe was technically over in May of 1945.  It would be September before it would end in the Pacific. Still-in-place gasoline rationing as well as military priorities made civilian traveling not impossible but certainly far more complicated.  Both Hollywood and chess organizations had contributed to the war efforts, particularly to alleviating the soldiers' plight.  While not promoted as a celebratory congress, there must have been an air of excitement and relief accompanying the tournament as the hostilities abated.  The prize money may look paltry, but it was considered extremely generous for that time. Seven years earlier, AVRO, possibly the strongest tournament to that date, awarded 1000 guilders first prize, considerably less than the Pan-Am tournament even factoring in inflation and the exchange rate.  In order to raise that amount of prize money as well as all the overhead costs involved, Herman Steiner, the organizer, must have done a yeoman's job and made effective use of his many well-heeled contacts.  Spectators were charged $1.00/day or $12.00 for the entire event. The play, scheduled from 10 a.m. to midnight daily (games initiated in the evenings with adjournments played in the mornings), started July 29, after a reception and pairing selection the previous day, and lasted until August 11. August 12 was reserved for festivities, prize allocations and a live chess show.  Seventy-six year old Herman Helms, the "Dean of American Chess," served as TD and stayed with the Steiners.

     Of the many entrants only 12 actually showed (Mariano Castillo of Chile, Dr. Joao de Souza Mendes of Brazil, Carlos Guimard and Jacobo Bolbochan of Argentina, Julio Salas and Mariano Catillo of Chile, Alfredo Olivera of Uraguay, Abe Yanofsky of Canada, Edward Lasker and Albert Pinkus of the USA all didn't show) and one was replaced, leaving a total of 13 participants
     Weaver Adams, the last minute replacement, arrived 3 days late with Dr. Cruz of Brazil in tow. Herman Pilnik of Argentina, who missed his flight and was injured in an auto accident in Yuma, Arizona, also arrived three days late.  Starting inauspiciously with only 9 entrants, the schedule was thrown into havoc and when the late-comers did arrive, playing catch-up further complicated things.  Herbert Seidman, who was on leave from the military, was recalled to duty early, forcing him to forfeit his last two games while Steiner learned that serving in a dual roles as organizer and player seriously hurt his game.
a bruised Herman Pilnik

     With all the above problems, somehow this first Pan-Am Congress was a complete success.

The Lucky Thirteen



     The tournament was largely sponsored by the L.A. "Times," making it the first time an American newspaper, perhaps any newspaper, sponsored a chess event. "Chess Review" also credited the California Chess Association, the Los Angeles chess association and the Hollywood movie industry as co-sponsors and/or organizers.  As shown in the banner at the top, the venue was the Hollywood Athletic Club. This building was at that time also the home base of Herman Steiner's famous, celebrity-studded Hollywood Chess Group.

The Hollywood Athletic Club circa mid 1930s

     The event was envisioned as multifaceted affair comprised of 5 separate tournaments:

     Here is the busy interior:    


             Brazilian Singer/Dancer and Hollywood film actress Carmen Miranda
             draws the pairing before the tournament begins.

     N. May Karff shared first place with Mary Bain (Nancy Roos coming in third ) in the Ladies' tournament. Nancy Roos, a professional photographer, contributed many tournament photos to both "Chess Review" and "The American Chess Bulletin."
Mary Bain playing N. May Karff with Nancy Roos watching

     The Masters Reserves Open was won by Harry Borochow. The Scholastic Tournament was won by Eugene Levin.  The advertised "Military Tournament" seems not to have taken place but was replaced with two separate tournaments: Class A and Class B. Harry Carlson won the Class A and Walter Fieg won the Class B.

     Sammy Reshevsky won the Master's Tournament quite handily. The next four winners, Fine, Pilnik, Horowitz and Kashdan, were fairly close.

Reshevsky and Fine playing their critical 9th round game before 800 spectators .

     Reuben Fine won the 1st Brilliancy Prize for his win against Steiner:

     The following game, played on Frank Marshall's birthday, was awarded
the Marshall Memorial Brilliancy Prize:

     Pilnik made a sweet Queen sacrifice to end his game against Boston's Weaver Adams, winning the 2nd Brilliancy Prize in the process:

     But Weaver Adams had his own day in the sun:

                                                   Business  and  Pleasure
   Reshevsy studies his move while Horowitz hobnobs with film director Fritz Lang 

     Hollywood-spice flavored the congress by adding another layer of appeal.  Finance aside, the movie industry participated and helped promote the tournament. The familiar June 1945 "Chess Review" cover featuring Herman Steiner, Charles Boyer, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall was meant to draw attention to the Pan-Am Congress:
phpALyqXP.jpegCover of "Chess Review,"  June-July, 1945

The caption reads:

Lauren Bacall gives chessmaster Herman Steiner "the look" while Charles Boyer and Humphrey Bogart (both keen chessplayers) finish a game between takes on "The Confidential Agent" in which Boyer (left) is starring. The scene is Boyer's dressing room at the Warner Bros. Studio. These and other movie stars will take an active part in promoting and sponsoring the forthcoming Pan American Chess Congress at Los Angeles (see Chess Briefs).

     Mitzi Mayfair, who had only been playing for a little over a year, played in the Ladies' tournament under her married name, Mrs. Charles Henderson.  She came in 8th out of 9 contestants, winning 1 and losing 7. He husband played in the Masters Reserve, tying for 9th/10th place (out of 17) scoring 7 wins, 5 losses and 5 draws.  Other actresses such Linda Darnell and Roseanne Murray could be found playing offhand games. Many actors and actresses took part in the entertainment side of the event and members of the movie industry were frequent spectators.
Linda Darnell (L) and Roseanne Murray (R)

Reuben Fine, Hector Rossetto, Mitzi Mayfair and Isaac Kashdan watch.

 Hector Rossetto watching Mitzi Mayfair       Roseanne Murray watching Herman Steiner

Roseanne Murray watches Reshevshy beat Weaver Adams


Marlene Dietrich watches Dr. Jose Broderman (L) play Hector Rossetto

     The final day of the congress was pure Hollywood.
Barbara Bates (L) plays Dawn (Daun) Kennedy (R) on ice.
Julie London (far left) and Jean Trent (far right) watch
     All four ladies above had minor roles as "palace maidens" in the Universal production "Night in Paradise" which was being filmed at the time.

    The last day brought a speed chess tournament, a live chess show, an awards dinner and the distribution of prizes.

"The diner was attended by 150, with Gregory Ratoff as toastmaster.  Linda Darnell, 20th Century Fox, was guest of honor and distributed the prizes.  Statuettes were awarded to winners and medals to eight others in each group.  Herman Steiner, originator of the congress, received an ovation." "The American Chess Bulletin"

     Humphrey Bogart, who worked promoting the Congress, was scheduled to have been the Master of Ceremonies but doesn't seem to have made it.

     "A speed tournament, with a time limit of ten seconds a move, brought the program to a conclusion. Twenty competed including Samuel Reshevsky and Reuben Fie.  The result was a three-way tie for first place among Reshevsky, Fine and Hector Rossetto.  
     With two games remaining to be played, Fine having lost only to Harry Borochow of Los Angeles, was leading with a scote of 17-1.  Thereupon Rossetto defeated him smartly and caught up with him, while Reshevsky also attained 17 points by winning fr Dr. W. O. Cruz of Brazil.
      Horowitz was placed fourth with a score of 15-4 and Herman Steiner won 5th prize with 14-5."  "The American Chess Bulletin"

     "The American Chess Bulletin" also revealed that  "Toscha Seidl, famous violinist and chess enthusiast, was present and consented to be assistant tournament director for the ninth round.  Arthur W. Dake of Portland, Oregon,member of two champion United States teams, and now a member of the Military Police at Camp Roberts, also attended."
     Seidl had played against Capablanca as one of 32 opponents in a Dec. 16, 1919 simul at the Manhattan Chess Club. Of the 32, only 3 escaped defeat by drawing. Seidl was one of the three, drawing with a KGD.

     Linda Darnell (below left), the "Queen of Ceremonies," announced the moves for the Live Chess Game and later handed out the awards and prize money.
       Linda Darnell and Herman Steiner                     Barbara Hale and Bill Williams
     In the Live Chess Game,  the White "pawns" in bathing suits were "Earl Carroll Girls" who were employed at his theater/supper club.  The Black "pawns" in formal gowns were identified only as "Latin Beauties."
     The White Queen and King were Lt. P. B. Clagett, U.S.N.R. (of Mitchellville, Maryland) and Roseanne Murray.

     The Black Queen and King were Barbara Hale and Bill Williams (above right).

     All that was mentioned about the Live Chess Game in the media was that it was supposed to have been the United States, playing the other Pan-American countries.  The US team had the Black pieces, their opponents, the White.
     The Black team consisted of Reshevsky (captain), Fine, Horowitz, Steiner, Adams and Borochow while the White team was comprised of Pilnik (captain), Rossetto, Cruz, Araiza and Camarena. The United States gave checkmate on the 32th move with QxQ.  The LA "Times," mentioned, "Mitzi Mayfair and Victoria Putnam, actresses, who actually moved the pieces, were heralds."

php11Uff2.jpegBarbara Hale (second from left) as the Black Queen

What began in confusion, ended in pageantry

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