Now Dick Ritger, there was a guy that was methodical. He never played cards, always went back to his room. Salvino hung around but wasn't an action guy. Weber wasn't. A lot of the top names weren't. But some like Dave Soutar, Dave Davis, Don Johnson - they were all action guys. They would play cards but they were great too. Johnson had 26 titles and he would play cards all night. Some of us could do it, other guys couldn't. Obviously one of the great characters to come out of the action bowling scene was Iggy Russo. What can you tell me about Iggy? ML: Iggy Russo, he was just one of a million. Unbelievable. He was kind of crazy, he was nuts. He wasn't great, but he was good hustler. Well, he was better than people thought he was and first of all he pulled a lot of dump jobs, a lot of shady matches. He was a good hustler, he would bowl just good enough to win so everyone thought he was a 180 average bowler. He used to bowl a lot of guys that weren't that good, 180, 175 average guys, and he would just bowl good enough to beat them. He would beat them a couple games and then dump a game back and let a guy win a game or two. He got away with murder, he screwed so many people. How he didn't get shot I don't know. He was like a legend dumper and people would still bet on him. He would bowl matches where you'd say 'He can't be dumping this match! It's too easy, he can't lose to this guy.' He would be dumping and you'd never know it. One time at Gil Hodges Lanes he was dumping a match, and he gets up in the tenth frame and needs a mark to win lot of money. But he was betting against himself. So he is sitting in the settee area before he goes up to bowl. I wasn't there, but good friends of mine were there, and some shady mob guy comes up to him and says 'You better get a mark or you're a dead man.' I guess he didn't know what to do, so he gets up in the tenth frame, drops the ball, and fakes a heart attack. He lays out on the approach grabbing his heart and he is acting like he can't breathe and they called an ambulance and they took him away. He knew he would get beat up or killed, so that's what he did. And that's the type of guy he was. He wasn't going to win the match and lose money. Did you find yourself in a lot of dangerous situations back then? ML: Oh we went to some bad places sometimes, but I never really worried about it because I wasn't alone. You know we used to go to some places in Brooklyn that were a little shady. But if I travelled alone, yeah, it might have been scary. But we used to go with guys, friends of mine that were big - two guys that were body guards with me. Back then you know it never happened, you never thought about it. There weren't robberies and all that. Now it could happen more. So many people could have gotten robbed so easily, but like in Central you could have walked out of there with tens of thousands of dollars and you never heard of any robberies. I don't know what it was. Thank goodness the crooks never came to the bowling alley. These days you would be more scared of it happening. Another guy you hear a lot of stories about is Kenny Barber. ML: Kenny Barber! Oh, Kenny was the loudest nut in the world. He was funny, just a crazy guy. You talk about a hustler? He came in one night to bowl me in Sunset Lanes, I had never seen him before or heard about him. So we set up a match, he is going to bowl me. So we start bowling and he is in my home house now, right, and some people were in from Brooklyn or Queens. He was pretty good, threw a big hook, kind of a spinner. Good, tough action bowler. If I bowled him on ten different conditions I would beat him on eight out of ten of them - he threw too big a hook to beat me. Anyway we're bowling and I beat him the first game and I am beating him the second game, and about halfway through the game all of a sudden he starts having trouble with his thumb hole, dropping the ball. But now he is hustling me and I don't know it. He is slowing me down, every other ball he is complaining about the thumbhole, and before you know it he threw me out of whack. He beats me the second game and the third game. I think I beat him the fourth game, so we're even. He beat me one or two games more than that, threw my timing out of whack. I was taking five, ten minutes between every ball. After that I said 'That's it, no more.' And we never bowled each other after that.
He was just a wild nut. After meeting him and hearing stories about him, at first I didn't like him at all. The first time I met him I didn't like the way he acted, but then I said you know, the guy really is a nice guy, but he was crazy. He just wasn't sane. He just did wild things. I don't know what he was involved in and I didn't want to know. He wasn't the kind of guy I wanted to hang around with, he could have been dangerous. You used to bowl as Ernie Schlegel's doubles partner in your action days, right? ML: Yes, Ernie was one of the best. They set up a match with me and him at Whitestone Lanes and we bowled all night long. After the match was over and the smoke cleared we were even, and he says 'We're gonna make a lot of money!' I said 'What do you mean?' I was unknown at the time, it had just started to get out that I was pretty good. So he said 'Listen, we're not ever going to bowl each other again. I am going to take you around. I have some places to take you where they don't know you and we'll bowl doubles." I said 'OK.' So we used to go up to Raceway. Well he took me in there and he says 'Look, I will set up a match.' No one knew me at all in that area, and he set up matches against guys that were really easy matches to start out with, every weekend, every Friday and Saturday night for 6 months we never lost. I am out there trying hard and Ernie is doing nothing, shooting 180, 190 and I am going 'What's wrong with this guy? I am shooting 220, 230 every game and we're going back and forth and more and more people started betting on the other guy, the hometown guy. Now the money is getting big. More and more people are betting, the matches are getting up to $500 a game, $1,000 a game. Now all of a sudden Ernie starts shooting 250s. I still didn't know what was going on. He pulls out another ball and shoots lights out. In those days, it was so different from now. Then guys bowled 'til they were broke. You didn't bowl a few games and quit. In those days guys would bowl until they had no more money in the house. But you started out slow, not the top bowlers right off the bat, and you just kept winning, kept beating guys week after week. Then the matches got harder and harder, but we still won every week. It got to the point when there was nobody left to bowl but there were always places to go. We used to travel to Connecticut. Ernie was famous back then for his antics on the lanes. What was Ernie like back then? ML: When Ernie was bowling against me, he would try to trash talk, and I said 'Ernie, that might have worked on some of the other guys you bowled. But if you want to beat me you're just going to have to beat me. You're not going to rattle me or shake me up, no matter what. It's not going to shake me.' He laughed and said 'Yeah, you're right.' But he would rub it into guys when we used to bowl other teams. He was really bad, he would really rub it in trash-mouthing people. If he got a strike in the tenth, he would get a light hit and he would yell 'Fruit salad!' He would get the whole crowd going. He was a wild man, a showman. I was real quiet. Schlegel sings the praises of an action bowler by the name of Dewey Blair. Did you ever have any matches against him? ML: That's an amazing story. When I used to bowl action in Central I always heard about this guy Dewey Blair. He was the best anybody had ever seen, but I had never seen him and he never went on tour. Finally one night up in Yonkers they set up a match with me and him, and everybody is betting on him. So the first game, he beat me 269-268. The next game we both start out with first six, and I get up in 7th frame and I get the first 7. Now he throws a strike and he has the first 7 too. But on that 7th strike he rips his thumb, a big chunk of skin comes off, and he couldn't finish game so he had to forfeit. It was like the weirdest thing in world. This was going to be an unbelievable match, and now he rips his thumb and couldn't finish. And that was it, I never bowled him again. I was so upset because this guy is the best I have ever seen. He didn't throw much of a ball. He threw a straight ball, but he was deadly accurate. He never came around again. He was like a ghost - a legend, but a ghost.