I started my life of gambling at about nine years old, I was very good at flipping baseball cards and pitching coins to the line or wall, I made a small living from it. I also started bowling then which I loved since day one. I had a big choice to make at the age of fifteen, a choice between action bowling and baseball which I was good enough at to possibly turn pro sometime in the future. But then again how could baseball possibly win out against the head to head action of bowling. I was , and stiil am, a very competitive person and there’s nothing like one on one action to fill that need, especially when you throw in the gambling aspect of it.
The PBA, My Worst Nightmare
My name is AC butch, I’m from Brooklyn NY and I started bowling action in 1957 at the age of 13. These were the great days of bowling before the PBA came along and corrupted it. This site is dedicated to the truly greats of the game, the action bowlers.
The PBA screwed up right from day one; many of the bowlers that signed with them in the early years were great characters loaded with color and personality. The PBA, being the idiots that they are, not only didn’t take advantage of the greatest show on earth, but chose to penalize and strip these people of their natural gamesmanship and emotion. Tennis became so popular because of the bad boys of the game; bowlings bad boys could have made everyone else look like wanna bees. Instead of highlighting what people love to see the most, it was wrongfully taken away from all of us. The greatness of any head to head competition is the unmonitored emotion that goes with it; the PBA turned potential super stars into robots. Bowling always received good ratings, If I were producing the show the ratings would have been spectacular.
The guy who initiated the dress code for TV should of been put in jail for robbing the great personalities of the game of their identity, not to mention the huge amounts of additional income they could of earned along with the notoriety they would have received. Because of my love of the game, I watched bowling every Saturday for years, these were the same guys I bowled with and against in my early days, when I would see the Joe College make over the PBA did on them, I wanted to puke, and many times did. While I’m at it, I might as well also blast this organization for being piss poor contract negotiators, how in the world are golf and tennis pros making fortunes, when the most popular game of all is still in the dark ages of prize funds, they should be at the very least, ten times what they are. This site is not for the average bowling fan. It’s for all the people that were involved with the great action bowling of the past, to my knowledge; it doesn’t exist any more, at least not to the extent of what it was. I would like everyone that was, or is, part of the action scene, to share their memories, good or bad, with all the visitors to this site. At present I am working on a motion picture deal with Fine Line Cinema about my life story, the working title is ACTION. It’s about the hay days of action bowling from the fifties through the seventies…
This is my opinion of the PBA organization, not the bowlers, who I think are the greatest.
The PBA finally woke up in 1999 by way of Rudy Revs
Clifford Nordquist a.k.a. AC Butch
Action is a motion picture about to be made based on my life story
This is a treatment for a book and motion picture about the story of my life, which includes a very unique time in the history of bowling. The late fifties and sixties, this time period was the hay days of action bowling in the metropolitan area. The large new bowling establishments came to New York for the first time; bowling became much more popular than ever before. This was prior to, and including, the early days of the PBA, (Professional Bowlers Association) when the prize money was really low. Most of the really good area bowlers, were action bowlers, even the ones that joined the PBA.
Many of the bowling centers were opened 24 hours a day, most of them had house bowlers that would take on the outside hustlers who traveled around looking for easy marks. Many of the better bowlers became legends in the N.Y. area. Men like Iggy Russo, Richie Hornreight, Joe Santini, Ernie Schlegel, Burt Goodman, Johnny Petraglia, Freddie the Ox, Mike Lemongello, Fats & Deacon, Mac & Stoop, Sis Montevano & Johnny Myers, Lenny Dwoskin, just to mention a few.
You could walk into many bowling establishments any night of the week after midnight, the place would be packed with bowlers and their backers from all over the tri State area looking for the same thing! ACTION. A few hundred people might be there, bookies, shy locks, lawyers, business men, street people, all for the same reason, to watch and bet on some of the best bowlers in the world.
Like sport teams, and horses, the action bowlers had very loyal followings. There were also the backers, many of which had their own stable of bowlers, they would arrange matches and give their bowler a percentage of the winnings, if there were any. They also backed a lot of guys on the PBA tour, and took a piece of the pie.
New York bowlers were known through out the country as action bowlers. This whole scene started to die out in the late seventies, a lot of the bowling alleys were closing down, the ones that remained open started shutting the doors after the leagues ended for the night, the 24hr day no longer existed. We’ll probably never see this type of action again.
My First Action
The Day My Life Really Began: 1953
– On this Saturday afternoon I was with my father like many times before in a bar on Ovington Ave. But this was not just any bar; there was also a poolroom on the second floor, a restaurant and most importantly a bowling alley on the main floor. Even though I had visited this bar since I was old enough to sit on my dads lap I never was allowed to enter the bowling alley. This afternoon my father asked me if I would like to try my hands at bowling a few games. That was the beginning of my first and greatest love affair. My father was very good friends with the owner and made arrangements for me to be able to come in any every day after school and bowl a few games for free, my old man would take care of the pin boys at the end of the week. It took me almost a full year before I broke the magical score of 100, and that may have been the biggest thrill of my life.
It’s now 5 years later and at the age of 14 I was already a seasoned league bowler, I was the sub on my fathers bowling team and when ever he would rather sit in the bar and have a drink, which would be quite often, I would take his place on the team. It was the last night of the bowling league and we were in second place bowling the first place team, we had to win all three games to capture the championship. I had been bowling real well, so my father let me bowl all three games, I came through and helped the team sweep all three, we were number one.
The best bowler on the other team, Jimmy Nolan, for that matter, the best bowler in that part of Brooklyn, was a southpaw that threw a real big hook, he was in his mid twenties, was the head pin boy at ovington Lanes, and had a hot Irish temper. My father was in his mid thirties, was a Swede, and had a real bad square head temper. One word lead to another, I was astounded when I heard my father say, I’ll put my son up against you in any other house but this one, how much do you have the guts to bet.
First of all, I had never bowled for money before, outside of league bowling and some pot games (that’s where a group of guys, put up say a buck each, and the highest game wins the pot) Jimmy was considered unbeatable at ovington, that’s why my father said in any other house. To me it all sounded crazy; I was very good for my age, but not in Jimmies league. We go down to Lee-mark Lanes on 88 St, I was never there before, it was one of the brand new big modern bowling establishments.
My father and Jimmy agreed to a three game total wood match for $50. I was bowling with an Ace black and white ball; the type used on the black TV lanes every Saturday night from Neptune lanes in Brooklyn. As I stood at the line, ready to throw my first ball, my legs were shaking so badly I thought I was going to fall right on my face. Jimmy started with a split, some how the ball fell out of my hand for a strike. I went on to bowl the three best games of my life up to that point, 258, 277 and 238 for a whopping 773. Needless to say I won the match, My father gave me the fifty dollars plus fifty more from the bowling league championship, all in one dollar bills, The bank roll was so big I could hardly put it in my pocket. The next day, I walked in for the first time to the place where this story really begins, Ave M Bowl, I had a hundred in my pocket, my ball and bag in my hand, I was on top of the world.
The first real experience I had witnessing a total hustle, involved Bernie Bananas and Al, Bernie was a young Jewish boy that looked like your typical book worm, a real nerd or so you thought , he was my age, 15. Al was in his mid twenties about 6ft tall with a spare tire around the middle, just married, just moved into the neighborhood, a real nice guy, lived above a store on Ave M across from the bowling alley, he had a hi paying job as a fur cutter. Right after Al moved onto Ave M, he made the biggest mistake of his life.
Al would take the D train home from his job in Manhattan, which ran on the elevated line on McDonald Ave right along side the bowling alley. It was pay day, Als pockets were full, as he walked down the steps from the train he decided to check out the bowling alley. The second he walked through the door, Bernie new he had a pigeon. What went on the next year changed and ruined Als life forever.
Bernie would bowl Al every Friday when he got paid, after he beat Al for his the whole paycheck he would bowl one more game on credit, this way Al would have to come back the following week on pay day to give Bernie what was owed him from the previous week. That would start the whole cycle over again. Al couldn’t beat Bernie if both his eyes were covered; it was an out and out hustle. Al became a degenerate gambler, lost his wife, his job, and everything else.
|In the early days at Ave M, back in the late 50s, it wasn’t what you would call a big action house, mainly the kids, such as myself, Roy, Marc, Bernie, Norman and many others would bowl pot games and some head to head matches. Many of the local bowling alleys such as Elmwood, Leader, Windsor, Shell and Jamar had the same situation.Saturday mornings and afternoons were the big times to us. A women by the name of Jose owned the lunch counter at Windsor lanes in Boro Park, she had her own stable of teenage bowlers, we would go down there on Saturday mornings and challenge her guys, trying to get into her deep pockets. It was something to talk about and look forward to all week long. We set up a lot of home and home matches and that’s when the doctoring of the alley conditions would come into play, trying to gain some sort of an advantage, it usually would backfire.I remember the time I was bowling A home and home match against one of the top guns from Elmwood lanes. The first three games were at Ave M, I was ahead by a total of 38 pins going into their house. I threw a semi spinner and bowled much better on fast dry lanes. The lanes at Elmwood were so oiled down that nobody could hit them, the condition was actually laughable, the 38 pins became monumental, I won the match. If they had left the lanes alone, he would have had a legitimate chance of beating me.|
I Found Heaven
All my life, I was bored with, quote un quote, with normal everyday people! I love characters, and was Ave M Bowl ever filled with them. I found my heaven at a very early age. There were people like Bernie Bananas, old man Al, Iggy Russo, Sal the Plumber, the list goes on and on. One of the guys that lived on Ave M had written a big hit song, Poetry In Motion, sung by Johnny Tillitson, It was constantly being played on the bowling alley juke box. Another guy from the neighborhood Neil Sedacca was constantly riding up and down Kings Hi-way in his red convertible playing his own hit songs. It was a great time, I wish everyone could experience what I did.
One of the things I learned early was the importance of getting on the good side of the people that ran the snack counters at the alleys. My favorite food at Ave M was a Tuna sandwich on rye, heavy on the mayo, potato chips and a cherry coke, it was really Tuna mixed with Bonita, I loved it. Charlie was the main counter man at night and would hang out after his shift was up at 2am, he would bet on some of the bowlers. That was the magical hour when most of the action bowling began, all the straight people were home sleeping, and we, the night people took over. Charlie was in his forties, short, balding, a little pudgy and very low keyed. Charlie had power, he controlled the food, and how much some one like myself would get for free? It all depended on how well Charlie did betting on you. I got lots of food.
Then there was the big money backers, the lawyers, shylocks, business men, they all had there own stable of bowlers, like race horses, this was there hobby. They would negotiate matches for their bowlers, when, where, and for how much. The bowler would usually have nothing to loose and get a percentage of the winnings. Some bowlers would get greedy and dump their backers and the people betting on them, (loose on purpose, while an accomplice was betting on his opponent) this can be very dangerous to say the least. It is also looked down at by almost all of the bowlers.
One person famous for dumping was Iggy Russso. Iggy was legititmally one of the best bowlers in the Country, and that was his problem. He was a true clown, he talked like he had a horn stuck in his throat, carried 3 balls in one big bag at a time when everyone had only one ball, his pants were clipped up above his socks, and he loved to taunt his opponents. It got to a point that Iggy had to dump games in order to get matches. It didn’t always work out so well for him, like the time he found his brand new car busted up and burning outside in the street, not to mention all the times he had a gun put to his head
Ave M Becomes A Big Time Action House: 1960
– The real action started at Ave M when two guys by the name of Mac and Stoop joined forces and made Ave M their home. They would go onto turning Ave M into probably the biggest action house in the Country. The big name bowlers came from all over the place, gunning for these two Damon Runyon type characters that would become legends in their own time. One of the greatest moments I remember is the night this 16-year-old tooth pick from Long Island came into Ave M with his backers. I honestly thought the ball weighed more than him. He went on to cleaning out the house; his name was Mike Lemongello, one of the greatest action bowlers of all time. He also did very well on the pro PBA tour as did many of the action bowlers who came out of Brooklyn, such as Johnny Petraglia and Marc Roth just to name a few. Through out the years there were many good action houses in the Metropolitan Area, Paramus, Yonkers, Kuskies, White Plains, White Stone, Colony, Kings Lanes, Fitzimmons, Bowlmore, Gil Hodgers, and many, many more, but Ave M was in a league of it’s own, thanks to Mac and Stoop. These were the days that most of the major alleys stayed open 24hrs a day, 365 days a year. What more could I ask for.
In my teenage years I had one major problem, my father, he was very strict about me being home no later than 10pm. That was fine before I started hearing about all this great action that was going on late at night after the leagues were over. By this time we were living on a dirt lined Street in Bensonhurst, across the street from the Cemetery. One Friday night I awoke about 3:30 in the morning and started daydreaming about what must be going on at the bowling alley. It became to much to bare just thinking about it, so I decided to gamble, I very quietly got dressed and stuffed some pillows under my blanket and wrote a message that I left early to go fishing with my friends. My bedroom was in the back of the second floor of our home, I went out the window and jumped on top of the back door porch, I then climbed down the peach tree.
I walked the 10 blocks or so to the bowling alley, the anticipation and excitement was mounting every step I took, I felt the blood vessels in my temple jumping for joy. When I finally turned the corner at Ave M and McDonald, the site in front of me was beyond my wildest expectations. The entire block of the bowling alley on Ave M was loaded with double parked cars, they were all over the place, the entrance to the bowling alley was brightly lite and many people were hanging around outside the door.
As I made my way into the bowling alley my heart was pounding and now I totally couldn’t believe the site in front of me. All 28 lanes were going and the place was so crowded you could hardly walk in. Money was being bet on the games like it was water and all the famous action bowlers that I had only heard stories about were there live and in the flesh. They came from all different areas, Long Island, New Jersey, Westchester, Philadelphia, you name it. My whole body was tinkling. I had to go to the bathroom real quick, which was on the second floor behind the locker rooms. As I walked up the steps there were people all over the place, a big crap game was going on inside the locker room. I really thought I died and went to heaven. From that day on I was totally and hopelessly hooked, the world of action was definitely my world.
Six months later after sneaking out of my house and returning before dawn almost every night of the week, it finally happened. It was about 4 am , I was bowling a match with a total of about 500 dollars bet on me, a very sizable amount in those days. It was the tenth frame, I needed 4 or more pins to win the match, as I picked up the ball, I saw my father standing there, starring at me. My knees were knocking, I hit my ankle, threw a gutter ball, and lost the game. My father said to me, pack up your gear and get in the car.
On the way home I expected to have my head busted open, instead, he listened to how much all of this meant to me, and he became my backer. I started spending every free moment I had at Ave M, I became a real good bowler, but was smart enough to stay away from the big names in the game. I bowled with the 190 class action bowlers. It was easy for me to make a living off of those guys. Certain nights of the week, the action was at different houses, Saturday Night was Central Lanes. Later on it would be Yonkers Bowl, Friday Night was Whitestone in Queens. Ave M was the only house that had the constant action 7 nights a week for a period of 2 to 3 years running.
We had all the great action bowlers coming there. Bert Goodman, Sis Montevano & Johnny Myers, Fats & Deacon, Kenny Barber, Joe Santini, Freddy the Ox, the greatest bowler that ever bowled on 4lb lead centered logs, Stoop was the second best. The list goes on and on. They would come in with their own crew of backers, and people that just wanted to bet on them. There’s a whole story around each bowler and their backers which you’ll see in the motion picture.
To say they were all very colorful characters, would be a vast understatement. What started bringing all these bowlers to Ave M and kept them coming back was Mac & Stoop, who mostly bowled as doubles partners at that stage of their lives. These were two of the biggest characters of all, especially Stoop. I never tired of their endless stories about their lives, on and off the lanes.
Besides being great bowlers they also were great whoremasters who loved to party. Mac was older and one of the most respected persons I ever met, as a bowler and a human being. The sixties was really a very innocent time in bowling circles, people were looking to make a rep for themselves, and a match usually ended when someone went broke.
The seventies were much different, everyone seemed to be looking for an edge. I saw matches end before they began, like the time at Yonkers bowl, when the great Richie Hornright walked off the lanes because his opponent Joe Beradi, threw 10 power house strikes in a row in practice. I was shocked, I never saw that before, and Richie was truly one of the best action bowlers in the world.
1961 – Ave M Bowl – Butch & Bernie Bannans vs Doug (the rug) Weinstein & Dickie Wholin
butch at 18 years old
This was my all time favorite doubles match, I was 17 years old and in my prime, I was at my very best that year, Bernie who I’ve bowled with and against for the last 3 years at Ave M was just coming into his own, for the last 6 months had really stepped up his game and was bowling some real serious action. I was considered a notch above him.
It’s a friday night about 12:30 am and in walks Irving the lawyer from downtown Brooklyn with his son Dickie and doubles partner Doug. Irving was a big better and was backing one of the best doubles teams around in what I call the class B action bowlers. Class B was where most of the everyday action took place, these were great bowlers within their own right, guys that could step up to the plate and beat some of the class A action bowlers on any one given night. For instance guys like Buffalo, The Cane, Bee Bee Notoro, Tommy Dinardo, Beeper, Larry Starr, Les Sager, Les Shirwindt, etc. etc. the list goes on and on. as good as these guys were, their in my class B status.
They came in looking to bowl Mac & Stoop who hadn’t showed up yet, I walked over to Bernie and said lets take a shot at some of Irvings money. Bernie said yea, lets do it. We bowled them on 21 & 22, the first game was for round $300, I bet 50, bernie bet about the same and the back covered the rest. Now $300 nowadays might not sound like much but lets put it into it’s proper perspective. In 1961 a brand new ford or chevy cost about $1500, a caddy about $2500, a slice of pizza was 15 cents, a hotdog at nathans 20 cents, a gallon of gasoline 25 cents, bowling cost 50 cents a game, the average US postal employee was making about $80 per week and supporting a family on it, get the picture!
We lost the first game, won the second, lost the 3rd, the bets remained between 3 and 4 hundred a game, each game was very close and the back action stayed with us, Irving was covering anything we put up. In walks my partner and best friend Paul, he sees what’s going on and his eyes light up, he’s there for the beginning of the 4th game, gives me a hundred to put up in the middle and says were partners now start cleaning their clock. The bet goes up to $500 and we win the next 2 straight. the four of us had been shooting between 190 and 220 the first 5 games, Ave M was never considered a high scoring house.
The next 2 games goes to the opposition for about $600 each. These two guys could really bowl and go the distance but it all finally came together for Bernie and myself, over the next 6 games Dickie and Doug bowled real well but not good enough to beat the 230 plus average I shot and the 220 plus average that Bernie shot, we won all six of the final games, All toll we took Irving for about 5 big ones, I split $2000 with Paul, a thousand each… These were the days when people didn’t quit being 2 or 3 down…
Irving came over after the match, shook our hands, said great bowling I only wish Mac and Stoop had been here. The following week I bowled Doug the rug with his loaded ball on 5 and 6 and cleaned his clock, Irving wasn’t with him so the money wasn’t as big…
Oh yea, Doug was a lefty, we did bowl lefties in those days.
Last Weekend Before The Big Mistake: 1966
It’s 1966 and one of the toughest matches I ever bowled was against Richie Grossman, who would be found a few years later in the trunk of his car in Gravesend Brooklyn with a bullet in the head. It was a Friday night, A week before I would make the biggest mistake of my life, getting married, I left my future wife about midnight and walked the 5 blocks to the bowling alley. The night before, my crew, consisting of Paul, Doug, and Larry, had made a mid size hit of about eight hundred bucks, that was suppose to be our kitty for tonight’s action. Paul wanted me to bowl Richie , Doug and Larry felt he was to strong because I wasn’t bowling that much lately, and Richie was a workhorse. Paul immediately split the kitty up and told Doug and Larry to go get fucked, he turned to me and said bowl him, you’ll eat him alive.
It turns out it was one of my best nights ever; my first three games were 290, 289 and 246. The first 15 games I averaged about 240 and we were up about eight thousand, by far the most money we were ever ahead. Richie went broke, I paid for the lines, the match was over, or so I thought. I was feeling great, couldn’t wait to get out of there and split the money with Paul, in walks Sal the plumber. Richie talks him into backing him and here I am, back on the alleys again. It’s now 5:30 in the morning; all the people that were betting on me had gone home, we were covering Richie for about fifteen hundred a game. By nine thirty, Richie completely wore me out, I quit, winning 300 hundred dollars. Richie was pissed that I quit, while he was still down thousands that the outside betters had left with earlier.
The next night I was at Leader lanes at about 1 am, I was still exhausted from the night before and swore I wouldn’t bowl. My partner Doug begged me to bowl doubles with him. Relentlessly I gave in and bet only ten dollars a game out of disgust of what happened the night before, we went on to beating 4 different doubles teams, never lost a game all night long, cleaned out the house, I never increased my bet past ten dollars, many thousands had been won, I made 170 dollars. I walked out the front door with my ball in hand, went to the middle of Coney Island Avenue, the sun was just beginning to come up, a lot of the guys were walking out wonderering what I was doing. I slowly went into my approach and delivered the ball down the middle of the avenue, it hooked slowly towards the gutter where it ended up. That was the last time I threw a bowling ball for quite some time. The following Saturday I got married and didn’t even walk into a bowling alley for the next ten years.
Butch’s Big Hustle: 1976