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"Mount St. Marshall": The man behind the volcano that was


By Gianmarc Manzione
USBC Communications

The car fire that firefighters squelched outside the Hilton Inn Lounge in Akron, Ohio, just up the block from Riviera Lanes where the next day a 21-year-old Marshall Holman would win the first of his two Firestone Tournament of Champions titles, raised no one from their seats that night.

“They had stayed in their seats while the fire department extinguished a pretty good car fire in the hotel driveway,” writer Doug Bradford observed of the bowling royalty mingling in the lounge.

The figures crowding the lounge after a final round of match play that Friday night were characters that defined an irreplaceable era of professional bowling — Billy Hardwick in his “rainbow trousers,” Dick Weber with his “ice cream suit” and the peroxide-brightened hair that prompted Tour pals to dub him “The Blond Fonz,” Earl Anthony chatting with the Ebonite execs whose contract offer would soften his resistance to “PBA School” in a few years.

If any of them thought back to that driveway fire after Holman sealed his historic win at the 1976 Firestone Tournament of Champions and considered it a sign of things to come, they would quickly find that they were on to something — something the PBA Tour had never seen before.

The fire Holman brought to the lanes the following afternoon would do more than raise people out of their seats; it would raise hell.

Holman, then with a head of hair so full it looked like a lion’s mane, paused at the foul line after a key seventh-frame strike against Hardwick in the Firestone title match. He scowled at the pins with a toothy grimace, pumping his clenched fist three times before turning to take his seat again.

Chris Schenkel and Bo Burton shared a vaguely nervous laugh from the booth, and the cocky kid from Medford, Ore., was well on his way to becoming the man called “Mount St. Marshall.”

Holman and his gritted teeth amassed many monikers from that day on: “The Medford Maniac,” “The Medford Meteor,” “rum raisin in a world of vanilla,” “the compact little cannon.”

In a 1982 Bowlers Journal profile, Holman himself preferred to be known as “a Jaguar in a world of Volkswagens.”

“Bowling is like cottage cheese,” he said in another interview. “It can be kind of bland. Well, I’m the salt and pepper that makes it more palatable.”

Those are the words of the Marshall Holman who rarely struggled to afford himself the approval his critics withheld, critics who mistook that brash exterior for the man himself when in fact it was merely the cloak that disguised the frightened boy inside him.

“I’m very confident,” Holman said as Bo Burton asked him if he was nervous in advance of his Firestone title match against Billy Hardwick. “I’ve got a good shot on the TV pair, and I think I can win.”

That was some pretty big talk for a kid who had just become eligible for the Firestone only months earlier. Then again, that “kid” had recently decimated PBA and USBC Hall of Famer Carmen Salvino, 270-213, to win his second title before he was old enough to spend a dime of his prize check on a beer at the bar that afternoon.

These days, the “other” Marshall Holman, the one who runs a tax service in Oregon and looks back at the 22 titles he gathered on Tour as the life of a man he no longer knows, more readily fesses up to the artifice behind the machismo.

“It was a defense mechanism,” Holman says. “I was young, and I was still pretty new to the game. It was my way of not letting my competitors know that I was nervous. But it was unbridled, in-your-face enthusiasm, and people hadn’t seen much of that on tour at the time so they were taken aback by it.”

Back in 1982, fresh on the heels of his first of two U.S. Open titles (1981, 1985), Holman shed some light on the man behind the volcano.

“People think I’m cocky but cockiness is my shield against the hurts out there,” Holman explained at the time.

If coverage throughout the bowling media was any indication, though, not many people were buying the psychoanalysis he had to sell.

“I suspect that when Marshall first tumbled from his crib, he muttered ‘Well, no more Mr. Nice Guy!’” John Archibald quipped in a Bowlers Journal story that same year.

In the aftermath of the PBA’s 10-week suspension of Holman after he kicked out a foul light on live TV at the 1980 PBA Doubles Classic in Las Vegas, though, even Holman could not have expected to find many sympathetic ears within the bowling community.

“A man has to hesitate before pleading on behalf of Marshall Holman,” Archibald continued. “You begin to think how the public defender assigned to Attila the Hun would have felt.”

“When the pin gods aren’t cooperating, neither is Holman,” Dan Herbst wrote in Bowlers Journal. “Let him perceive the smallest sounds during a bad shot and he’ll look in the direction of the culprit and scratch his forehead using all but the four outside fingers.”

Holman may have come off as a “maniac” to many as he punched at the air and seethed, but one man who saw the worth in Holman’s penchant for showmanship was the master showman himself, the man whom Holman grew up idolizing: Salvino.

“I’d rather have one Marshall Holman to any 10 of the robots we have out there,” Salvino said of Holman’s place on the PBA Tour in 1982.

Showman or not, today Holman takes a different view of the man he was in his former life.

“It’s like that Sinatra song, ‘Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention,’” Holman says from his Medford home. “Well, there’s more than a few for me. I was just young and immature. Obscene gestures toward the pins, confrontations with fans. They would say something derogatory to me and I’d stare them down or respond rudely to them.

“I don’t know how I made it through all those years on Tour without getting in some physical confrontation.”

If “Mount St. Marshall” put on the airs of a fighter on the lanes, he is the first to admit that reality paints quite a different picture.

“Even though when I was on the lanes I probably looked like I was a pretty good fighter, I have a perfect record in fights in my lifetime, the last one being in seventh grade. I stand at a perfect No Wins and Three Losses,” he jokes.

One record that stands far from perfect is the TV record Holman recorded in his career, at one point losing 19 of 21 TV matches and, by the time he appeared on the 1985 U.S. Open telecast, winning just six of his last 20 appearances as the top seed.

But win or lose, hero or villain, Marshall Holman always delivered the show that fans expected and just as they had done so many times before tuned in for another episode of “The Medford Maniac.”

“Can you believe it? People have come up to me and told me they think I’m disgusting, that they’d rather watch someone just go up and throw the ball and then sit down,” a 25-year-old Holman wrote in a story titled “Why I Act the Way I Do.” “Sure. And they like to watch the test pattern on their TV sets, too.”

Holman’s perceived “cockiness” might well have been his strongest defense against “all the hurts out there,” but clearly it also originated from a keen sense of show business.

But that is how it is when you’re the son of a man who spent decades in show business himself. Phil Holman, who took meticulous notes on his son Marshall’s television work for ESPN in the 1990s and shared his observations after each telecast — “my father passed away in 2001, and I still have those notes,” Holman says — proved to be no shabby showman himself the day he sat atop a San Francisco flagpole to do his radio show in 1953, a feat for which he earned national exposure and the nickname “Holman  the Poleman.”

Phil Holman worked at KOBI-TV in Medford among other outlets before turning to a career in advertising.

“Larry Lichstein used to call me ‘Holman the Bowlman’ because of my father’s nickname,” Holman recalls.

“My father would take over the intercom at Safeway and do one of his routines,” Holman told the Medford Mail Tribune shortly after his father succumbed to cancer in 2001. “I’d say ‘Dad, we only came for a quart of milk.’”

According to a 1976 story by then-Editor-in-Chief of Bowlers Journal Jim Dressel, Phil Holman “became the world’s first flagpole-sitting disc jockey.”

How fitting it is, then, that the man whose obscure eccentricities carved their minor niche in American history is also the man whose son made plenty of history himself, a son whose name will be forever enshrined in bowling lore when the United States Bowling Congress officially inducts Marshall Holman into the USBC Hall of Fame on May 12, 2010.


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Posts: 705
Reply with quote  #2 
Thanks for posting this, Kieth. IMHO, Holman, AND his personality were something that enhanced the appeal of the pro bowlers tour. And it was ALREADY great to start with.

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Reply with quote  #3 

Good story. And honestly he is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet off the lanes.


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Reply with quote  #4 
Yes, that was a good read. Speaking of Marshall Holman, I received my card back autographed! He's a nice man indeed!
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