Fads and Faddicts
THERE IS a song in the movie, “Murder at the Vanities,” called “Where do they come from and where do they go?” that expresses exactly what I want to say. Where do they come from—these crazes, fads and fancies that strike us periodically, swiftly? Yo-yo, miniature golf, bagatelle? Yesterday unknown; today a great public amusement that sweeps the world. And where do they go when they disappear? I want to add more questions: What starts them? Who puts them over?
Introduces them to Canada? And what will be next?
The easiest jumping-off point in this examination will be lo agree that everyone, except me and thee, reader, is crazy. And, if you can believe something an eminent scholar told me, we are becoming crazier every day. He said: “You see, the average mental age of the Western world has corresponded to that of a person of about sixteen years; since the spread of universal education it has dropped to eleven.” Craziest of all are the people who are devotees of some screwy pastime which we, at the moment, do not fancy.
During an exhibition not long ago, I lost sight of a friend for a few minutes and then found him dropping nickels into a gaudily painted device behind a pillar. This thing stood breast high and exhibited four or five separate columns of brightly painted fruits, the idea being to pull the heavy crank on the side of the machine with sufficient finesse to stop three or more cherries, apples or bananas in a row opposite the indicator. He used four of his own nickels and all of mine. W’ith the last one the machine made a horrible noise as though its iron bowels had been ruptured, and deposited three five-cent pieces in a cup hung on its middle. My friend was radiant.
"Oh, no, of course you can’t—but look at the fun you have.”
“Well,” I said, “1 think it’s the craziest game I ever saw. That’s not my idea of fun.”
In the train on the way home I pulled out of my pocket a crossword puzzle that had been giving me some trouble and began to pencil in new names. My friend leaned over his paper.
“Good heavens! Do you do those things? That’s the craziest way of wasting time I know. Why don’t you read something that’ll do you some good?”
And that was the story when I began enquiring among the patronizers of the frivolities that amuse the world. Ping-pong poisoned the jig-saw fiend; coin game fans loathed puzzles. None apparently gave any thought to the origin of their particular delight; it was there and they liked it. Delving deeper, I found that these vagaries were divided roughly into four classes: Participator games, those for spectators, mental exercisers and physical tests. Skill entered into some, luck into others; many were a happy combination of the two. All were contests. And behind the development of none of today’s games was blind chance, but patience, hard work, trial by error, and clever propaganda. Crazy as they seemed, these pastimes contained rhyme, reason and profit as well.
No sharp line divides crazes from legitimate sports. They all began as fads before they settled down to, for instance, the dignity of golf. For years the world knew that dour Scots shepherds knocked bits of stone around with their staves and called it “gowf.” The stones cost nothing, the staves they had anyway—it was a proper Scots game. Halfway through the eighteenth century the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews was established, but it was 150 years before it became a craze in North America. Now, though it no longer gives the câchet it once did, it is part of the lives of millions. But at this moment it is a craze in Eastern Europe, where it is just beginning.
Soldiers Spread Games
TE’ YOU want to know how they start, take the world’s oldest game—dice. There is no record that Adam and Eve, leafily idle, cast lots in the Garden of Eiden, but it is practically certain that their mysterious and numerous family did. When they had passed from the oddly-marked-pebble stage, they burned spots on the small bones between the sheep’s shank and its foot, and insisted on honesty by having the
thrower shake these up in the dark interior of a cow’s horn. As with badminton and ping-pong, we can thank soldiers for this game, for they spread it over the entire earth.
Dice has had no fickle flush of public acclaim; its waves of popularity have been tidal. Long before Romulus and Remus had been sired, Egyptian princes, bereft of robes and jewels, slunk home, shift clad, in the Alexandrian dark. Rome reclined over her knucklebones, wagering everything from daggers “that pierced the tyrant” to slaves and provinces. Hearty English Crusaders brought dice to Britain and gambled themselves gratuities that governments, centuries later, more or less gladly gave to soldiers who had done their jobs well. Knucklebones became hazard to the Sun King’s France and the England of the Restoration —and hazardous it was for the property and lives of the bloods of the day. The great gamblers, Major-General E'ielding, the Marquis de Guiscard and Sir John Jacob, who played by ear, knew no limits in the night’s play. The Duke of Hamilton and his opponent both fell dead in one of the dozens of gaming duels that occupied London and Bath. Then British sailors took the game to the uninitiated parts of the world that remained. Now it is craps, chuck-aluck and scores of variations; more “bones” are sold than ever before.
Dice is the classic example of the game of chance. In it is exhibited one of the strongest instincts of mankind—to gamble. The second oldest game and oldest wholly manufactured one, chess, is all skill. Persia, India, China are credited with its origin. It has existed for 5,000 years and is the forefather of draughts, backgammon and playing cards. Like most others, chess and versions of chess have been considered fads, and sometimes dangerous; in ancient Greece, in Rome, Spain and nineteenth century England. In the mists of the past, Indians, too poor to have carved pieces, are supposed to have played the game with cards.
These cards, with their four kings, were spread through Europe by the returning Crusaders, where, owing to lack of skill, instruction and reproductive ability, they languished for about 200 years. Unlike most games, cards in England were first played by the lower classes, coming slowly upward through the pubs, coffee houses and clubs to the drawingrooms of the nobles. For years they were played only at Christmas; then gradually, about two centuries ago, they began to replace the fatal hazard. Card crazes have been persistent—whisk or whist, bridge whist, bridge, auction and contract. Not to mention euchre, pedro and five hundred. Ely Culbertson is said to be still making $60,000 a year out of his knowledge of bridge, and the public.
As playing cards became established, a change gradually came over the public amusements of England; due more however, to the rise of industrialism than to any gentling of the people by bits of colored pasteboard. Bear, bull and duck baiting have disappeared. It is no longer considered amusing to tie a duck in the centre of a pond and set a dog on it. But cock fighting, then a public attraction, is still a great private and unlawful delight for thousands of Canadians. Prize fights were revived in Britain’s sporting world— those seventy-five round bouts with bare knuckles. Men were men then. Women were women, too, for they stripped to the waist and entered the public ring. William Hogarth gave the fancy his enthusiastic support, painting gratis the cards that called citizens to the bouts.
Believe it or not, women’s efforts in the ring are being revived; and shortly we will be able to watch tough and powerful young ladies pound each other in public again. Already women wrestlers have appeared on both North American coasts. I feel sure that democracy will never rest until mixed bouts are popular.
Tennis, the Oldest Game
T)HILIP ASTLEY, the English forerunner of Phineas T.
Barnum, gave Britishers displays of freaks, peep shows, grinning matches and side-show contests that rivalled public executions in popularity. After him, entertainment in England settled down to an era of whist, waxworks and respectability. Then some idiot invented the bicycle—and humanity rode out of the sober nineteenth century into
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the mad twentieth. Crazes, as we know and remember them, followed each other with regularity; today they are multiplying like rabbits. Astute business men have long realized that the world has said, in effect, “Amuse me,” and now, with modern publicity, any well-backed and well-tested promotion can become a “craze.” If it is good, really good like badminton, it will become a new “sport.” Let us look at some of the successes and failures.
For a thousand years the Chinese have decorously spun a top in mid-air, keeping it whirling with a yard of string fastened to the ends of two-foot-long sticks. Napoleon’s Josephine and perhaps 500 dainty ladies of the First Empire elegantly copied their slant-eyed sisters of the East. In 1906, a French soldier turned engineer, Gustave Phillipart, made the game easier and gave the world diabolo. Introduced at a Paris garden party, it became the rage of Europe and entered Canada as a manufactured novelty. But, like the mah jong of twenty years later, it proved too difficult to play.
Its simple child is yo-yo; played with one string and one hand and developed, according to some authorities, from the old rubber play ball with an attached elastic band. For fifteen years yo-yo’s sales were poor. Then an expert demonstrated its possibilities to the manufacturers, who were amazed and who called in their advertising counsel. According to J. Murray Smith, Canada’s Conklin Brothers popularized it in England. Though I have never been able to do more than break a window with the one we had in our house, yo-yo’s tricks are infinite. Millions have been sold, and the world market is considered good for another ten years. Yo-yo is a marvel, for it has immense revival possibilities for many generations.
There are oldest sports and most fascinating crazes, but easily the greatest game on earth today—viewed from its popularity—is tennis and its offspring. Seven hundred years ago in the peaceful days of the Eleventh Louis—France’s immortal Saint Louis—idle cavalrymen began knocking a helmet around a field with their long lances. When one man, keeping it away from the others, found himself in difficulty he would pin it to the ground while the spectators called, Tenez! Tenez! Soon they had unpointed and shortened their lances and substituted a heavy hide-bound ball for the casque. Before their nineteen-year-old king and his thirteen-year-old bride, they jousted back and forth over a line. The first game of tennis had been played.
About the same time, 6,000 miles away in India, their lance-ends swathed in a tight ball of homespun, brown-skinned mounted men were playing much the same kind of game. Only they did not shorten their weapons, dismount or lace a flat bat on a handle to knock their ball in the air. Instead, the cloth end of the striking instru ment became a hard mallet—and the fast and dangerous game, polo.
Back in France the ball-in-the-air game developed into the tennis craze of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Now it is played in every country in the world in one form or another and, since 1928, has become highly professionalized. Frederick John Perry, Helen Jacobs, Jack Crawford, Menzel and other topnotchers are still amateurs; but Tilden, Richards. Bruce Barnes and Ellsworth Vines, under New York impresario Bill O’Brien, are big-salaried professional players.
One division of the early game kept the ball on the ground—croquet. The sporting Lansdownes brought it to England from France in the middle of the last century. It at once became a “craze”—eminently suited to the public decorum of Victoria’s reign. Today it is being revived under the aegis of its leading North American devotee, author
ess Kathleen Norris. At her California ranch, one may play day and night on a $20,000 special court. I confess to croquet as a prime passion of my own.
Another peer sponsored and gave a name to the fascinating feathered birdie of badminton. In 1873, His Grace, Hugh Edward Fitzroy Somerset, ninth Duke of Beaufort, of Badminton Park, Badminton, Gloucestershire, gave hospitality to a lively young officer of the Poona Horse on furlough in England. From India the latter had brought a brother officer’s invention, a peculiar variation of tennis. Played with a short, high net and a small light racket, the game had amazing speed. Twice a craze in England, badminton captured Canada a few years ago. Now it is a sport.
A quarter of a century later, restless British officers, fed up with whist during a lull of the South African War, cleared the orderly-room table of its litter of indents, requisitions and crime sheets, and experimented with still another version of tennis. Indoor tennis, tennis on a table. This game was even faster than badminton. Ping! went the ball; pong! it zipped back. Need I say more—ping-pong was born.
Good game that it is, table tennis is now at the height of its revival and World Champion Viktor Bama is fast making it into a universal sport. I call it table tennis because ping-pong is too lilylike for the incredible proficiency it requires; besides ping-pong is the owned and copyrighted name of the great novelty firm of Parker Brothers.
'T'HAT IS the start and development of some of the biggest games, once crazes, and brings us down to today. The economic system based on profit being what it is, one could only suspect that hovering in the background are interests whose business it is to care for the needs of our eleven-vear-old minds. Largest of these is William Rabkin’s International Mutoscope Reel Company. A few days ago Friend Rabkin gave me the low-down on modern crazes.
Ever on the lookout for those things that irresistibly attract the body public, he mulled for a long time over the wonder with which citizens watch digging operations. Many surrounded a mere hole, more attended pick-and-shovel exhibitions, but to see a steam-digger eager crowds blocked the street. Rabkin set his big Manhattan plant to work.
The result can be seen along Los Angeles Main Street, London’s Edgeware Road, in Vancouver, Berlin, Paris or Cape Town. The same eager crowds surround electric, glass-enclosed diggers that, for a penny, nickel or franc, can be manipulated to unearth from an excavation of colored candy such prizes as fountain pens, pocketbooks or cameras. The game can be infinitely varied in detail; only one point never changes—the public deposits its coin before it has its fun. Last year, on this continent, nearly ten million dollars clicked into coin games.
The other big coin game of the moment is pin ball, or bagatelle. In this the player fires a metal ball through a field of upright pins by means of a spring plunger over which he has some control. As the ball drops into slots in the table, he scores and is rewarded with money, tokens, merchandise or just a good score, depending on the degree of moral turpitude with which such games are regarded in your particular community. While I was in London last year a full 100 shops, containing nothing but these games, opened
in the West End. This year at the Jubilee. 1 expect to see ten times as many, for Rabkin says business is booming.
Only a small part of the people want amusements that call for exertion, hence the simple pin ball replaces for many the effort of bowling and the fatigue of standing around pool or billiard tables. Young people are not so particular and have revived 1910’s popular craze, roller skating. Nearly 200 years ago you could struggle over Holland’s fiat stone roadways and wooden wharves on “wheel shoes,” but it was not until the middle of the American Civil War that an inventive New Yorker redesigned the Dutch contrivances into an acceptable roller skate. Since then they have gone through that process a dozen times, until today we have racing skates, ballroom skates and. most popular of all, sidewalk skates. For fifteen years twelve has been about the age limit; now it is creening higher. A fellow told me that two dentists in Detroit were skating to work. I know that Jane Wyatt, charming player in a current Dickens picture, carved for herself a sizable slice of publicity by roller-skating for days up and down Park Avenue in New York. Anyone, it was felt, who would do that was worthy of the attention of Hollywood.
And manufacturers can thank that same Hollywood for the present revival of the bicycle. About three years ago, comely beyond belief in white shorts and rollcollared sweat shirt, Mary Carlisle borrowed Tom Brown’s bike to call on another “baby” star. She gave Helen Mack a ride back on the handlebars, and before the week was out half-a-dozen studio kids were whizzing around on their boy friends’ bicycles. Then Joan Crawlord squandered fifteen minutes pay on a wheel of her own. The minor craze was about to die when a momentous discovery was made. It was the exercise ideal for keeping their dear little tummies fiat.
Manufacturers have met the demand of women riders with a lighter, more easily controlled machine. A million above normal were sold on this continent last year, and expectations for 1935 are even better. Like the new types of roller skates, they are being introduced again to girls of high-school age. Clubs reminiscent of those of the turn of the century are planning rides and tours. And behind it all is an alert publicity bureau.
Who Knows What’s Coming?
TN THAT remark lies the keynote of
modern crazes—an alert publicity department. Many of the fundamental amusements came about naturally or accidentally; most of the later ones were but developments of earlier diversions. Those that flattered the vanity of the player, moderately tried his skill and provided a humanly appreciable combination of energy, luck and ability have persisted and become legitimate games or sixjrts. Those that sinned by being too difficult, too strenuous or pointless, fell by the wayside. Fair games that have not lasted are only shelved. For instance, an attempt is to be made to bring back the amusing pogo stick. Miniature golf, the greatest post-war fad, is only resting between the acts. The millions that were jx)ured out for courses will rain again; but this time, probably, into the pockets of a single corporation that will own all patents and rights. 5k), as with humanity, the bad are buried deep and permanently, and the good are resurrected after a time for a better life.
There are several methods of marketing. The idea that millions of people blindly “go” for a certain craze is amusing to the experts behind the scenes. The thousand odd novelty manufacturers of the world—that is, the big ones—maintain research departments as reliable as science can make them. Ideas are tested in every conceivable way before being put on the market. With something good, like jig-saws, consumer sales resistance is broken far in advance by skilled publicists. A straight novelty that sells on sight but has little future—rubber rhumba girls—is treated differently. Salesmen flood the market on first orders, then the original makers go on to something else. For com-
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petition is knife-keen in crazes. Rival firms watch each other’s every move; and watching everybody in the world is that economic menace of the East, Japan !
What will be the next craze? William Rabkin says 1935 will be a quiet year; but no one who knows him will believe that. Walter Hurd of Billboard tells me that pin ball will grow, cranes will be improved, and that more crooners than ever will sing through automatic phonographs. Advanced and automatic scoreboards for coin games were heralded at last month’s Chicago Novelty Show; the idea being to give the increasing throngs of spectators of these games more, immediately, for nothing. A new magic-finger game pushes merchandise off a revolving table in an attractive and mysterious fashion—after it has digested your coin. All Walt Disney’s characters have cut into the toy and novelty field, the newest being a bunny on a handcar for Easter. This follows the Mickey Mouse handcar, that lifted one big toy firm out of receivership last Christmas.
If more roller skates and bicycles do not completely unbalance city motorists, the brand new game of street jx)lo surely will.
Children play it with a mallet and ball from scooters; older boys and girls from bikes. Indoor or backyard tennis—known to the shipbroken as deck tennis and played with rings instead of balls and bats—is to be featured. Verandah and clubroom shuffleboard looks good to some sporting establishments.
But the backbone of the business will likely be ping-pong; almost all authorities agreed on that. We may also look forward to the lesser arts involved in flagpole sitting and dance marathons. Also debunkers, while I'm mentioning abominations. And a new spectator sport is coming to line itself alongside baseball, football and hockey— mass games, formations, races and what-not in the air.
There is no certainty. Eleanor Schirmer, barefooted and loosely clad, has cavorted before an astonished Sunday congregation in moral Boston, so it may be “dancing in the churches.” It may be toxophily—archery to you—but if one wanted to make a reasonably sure guess, I should say that Canada’s 1935 craze will most likely be the game that is sure of revival every five years, or offener— a very old game—politics.