Turner Classic Movies airs classic shorts from the golden age of moviegoing when for less than a dollar you got two movies, a serial, a cartoon, a newsreel and, yes, a short subject, non-animated. One of these shorts is titled Strikes and Spares and, I kid you now, shows a man tossing a bowling ball down the lane so that it curves all the way from the right side over to the left side AND THEN curves back to the right side to knock over the 10 pin standing all alone. And that was only one of the amazing feats of precision bowling that Andy Varipapa could do. Even if you aren't a bowler, and I'm not though I do prefer to wear the shirts and shoes of the sport, you can't help but be mesmerized by what Varipapa could do with a bowling ball.
If Andy Varipapa were around today he would no doubt be hosting some kind of trick bowling reality show. As it is, he was the unofficial Ambassador of the Lanes, making the eyes of audience members both young and old, novice and experience, nearly burst forth from their eye sockets. And if those eyeballs had shot out, I have little doubt but Andy Varipapa could have tossed them down the bowling lane and knocked over any individual pin he so desired. Andy Varipapa is an example of how this country thrives based on immigration; it has been said that Varipapa converted more non-bowlers to the sport than any other human being. He came to America as a young boy and spared no time in striking out to learn all he could. This passion for knowledge eventually led him to become the icon of trick bowling (which he preferred to call precision bowling), though he could play straight as well. He set a world record of 68 perfect games over his career. But it was his trick bowling that really set him apart and made a name for himself. You might say he was a precursor to the modern athlete who gets more famous than his talented peers by showboating; except, of course, that Andy Varipapa was more talented than his peers as well. (Lesson to be learned, Terrell Owens.)
What also sets Varipapa apart from second-tier showboaters of today is that he basically had to learn trick bowling in order to make a living. Despite the popularity of bowling across the United States, there just wasn't much money in tournaments. But people paid well to see things like Varipapa sending two balls down the lane ambidextrously, having them cross over the paths of each other, and knock down the 7 and 10 pins simultaneously. He was also a showman. One of his tricks involved about a dozen bathing beauties lined up diagonally down the lane, standing astride with just enough room for his curving ball to smoothly glide between their ankles and knock down a pin at the end. In fact, Andy Varipapa didn't even need his hand to make a bowling ball curve ridiculously down the lane; one of his most popular trick bowling shots involved pushing the ball off with his foot and still managing to get a wicked curve.
Andy Varipapa was such a talented and popular trick bowler that he didn't even need to knock over any pins at all. One of his showstopper tricks involved sending the black orb veeeerrrrryyyy sssssllllllooooowwwwwlllllyyyy down the lane, where it momentarily stopped just before it reached the pins, and then came rolling right back to a waiting Varipapa! Another big hit involved three pins set up on two lanes. Andy would roll the ball down the left lane where it would hit a pin set to the right about halfway down the lane, causing the pin to fly across over to the right lane where it would knock down another pin, while at the same time the ball would begin to curve over and knock down the last pin on the left side.
Click on this link to take you to a YouTube video where you can watch many of the trick shots I write about in this article.