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Varipapa, Andrew ("Andy")

VARIPAPA, Andrew ("Andy")

(b. 31 March 1891 in Carfizzi, Italy; d. 25 August 1984 in Hempstead, New York), top bowler of the twentieth century known for his trick-shot exhibitions and for popularizing the game.

The son of a wealthy farmer, Varipapa, along with his mother, Concetta, his brother, and his stepfather, immigrated to America when Varipapa was eleven and settled in Brooklyn, New York. As a young man he boxed, played semiprofessional baseball, and worked at a butcher shop and an insurance company. He also worked as a toolmaker and at one time owned a poolroom. In 1907 he began to bowl. On 17 June 1917 he married Alice (they would have three children), and from 1926 to 1931 he managed a bowling alley in Brooklyn. Averaging a score of 234 for forty-two games, Varipapa became prominent in 1930 when he joined world champion Joe Falcaro in a doubles match against American Bowling Congress champion Charles Riley and Philadelphia champion Jim Murgie in New York and Philadelphia.

The short and stocky Varipapa whipped his body into shape to become a champion bowler. He strengthened his legs by jogging back and forth across the Brooklyn Bridge. He developed sinewy arms and powerful wrists by playing catch with a sixteen-pound bowling ball, swinging the ball forward as if shooting for the head pin. At the moment of release he would flip the ball up and over his head. He also possessed a powerful chest and shoulders. Varipapa was often annoyed that his reputation as a trick-shot bowler overshadowed his championship feats. During his exhibitions he rolled strikes while blindfolded, while standing with his back to the pins, using his right hand, using his left hand, and using two hands. His greatest trick involved three lanes and fourteen pins knocked down by one ball.

Spectacular showmanship was a hallmark of Varipapa's career. After rolling a strike he would leap into the air. During a competition he would keep up such a constant stream of chatter that one writer nicknamed him "The Talking Machine." He would have liked to eliminate such antics but continued with them since he believed the fans expected them. He once remarked, "They think it's colorful. So I brag, put body English on the ball, and jump in the air when I make a big strike. But believe me when I say I'd like to cut it out."

Varipapa's spectacular career included many highlights, as well as a starring role in the first bowling film, Strikes and Spares (1934). In 1932 he played in his first bowling tournament, averaging 210 in 128 games in eight cities. From 1938 to 1947 he led the country with a 204.72 bowling average in ten consecutive American Bowling Congress tournaments. In 1946 and 1947 he became the first bowler to win the All-Star/United States Open Tournament in consecutive years. He and fellow American Bowling Congress Hall of Famer Lou Campi won the Bowling Proprietors Association of America doubles in 1947 and 1948. In 1948 Varipapa was named Bowler of the Year by the Bowling Writers Association.

Varipapa averaged 184 points for thirty-eight years in American Bowling Congress tournaments and racked up a Master 54-game, 190-point average. By appearing on television he made the public aware of bowling. He ran international bowling clinics and established successful nationwide tours.

At age seventy-eight Varipapa was plagued by painful wrist and arm problems. So he switched to left-handed bowling and averaged 180 points within eighteen months. The That's Incredible television program highlighted his bowling skills and clever badinage in 1981. He died in Hempstead, New York, of natural causes at the age of ninety-three.

In 1957 Varipapa was elected to the American Bowling Congress Hall of Fame, and in 1980 he was selected as the first bowler in the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame. He was also a member of the New York State Bowling Association Hall of Fame, the New York City Bowling Association Hall of Fame (1951), and the Eastern Long Island Bowling Association Hall of Fame (1973). He received the Bowling Proprietors Association of America All-Star Award of Merit (1963), the Bowling Writers Association of America John O. Martino Award (1977), and the Brunswick Memorial World Open Award (1981).

Varipapa's greatness was reaffirmed in 1999 when he was named by Bowling magazine as one of the twenty greatest bowlers of the twentieth century. In June 2001 Bowling Digest placed him in third place on its list of the most influential bowlers. Even his name has become a bowling term. To bowl an "Andy Varipapa" means to roll twelve strikes in a row but spread over two games rather than in one. All of these honors capped a brilliant sports career that will be hard to surpass.

For primary sources on Varipapa's life, see the Andrew Varipapa file at the American Bowling Congress Hall of Fame in Glendale, Wisconsin. Biographical sketches appear in Frank Litsky, Superstars (1975), and David L. Porter, ed., Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: 1992–1995 Supplement for Baseball, Football, Basketball, and Other Sports (1995). Articles on Varipapa include "Bowling: Handy Andy," Newsweek (23 Dec. 1946); "The Greatest," Time (5 May 1947); "I'm a Man, Huh?" Time (22 Dec. 1947); "'Andy the Great' Proves that He Is," Life (29 Dec. 1947); Bill Fay, "Bowling's Talking Machine," Collier's (10 Apr. 1948); and Larry Paladino, "Whatever It Takes," Bowling Digest (June 2001). An obituary is in the New York Times (27 Aug. 1984).

John Moran

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