Andy Varipapa

Bowling’s First Superstar


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About the Book

Born in Italy in 1891, Andy Varipapa immigrated to the United States in 1903, uneducated and unable to speak English. Equipped with little more than athletic ability, the will to succeed, and a healthy dose of self-confidence, he became bowling’s first superstar. In the 1940s and 1950s, Varipapa was the world’s most famous bowler. For more than 50 years, he dazzled fans with an array of never-before-seen trick shots in person, on movie screens, and on television. Varipapa was not only a performer but one of the greatest bowlers ever. He won the prestigious BPAA All-Star tournament in 1946, silencing critics who claimed he was just an entertainer. And he did so at age 55, long past most bowlers’ retirement age. To prove it was no fluke, he repeated in 1947.
Bowling fans recognized the outspoken and brash “Great Varipapa,” who once said, “I’m the most skillful, talkative, and controversial bowler who ever lived.” Few knew Andy, the kind and loyal family man and friend. Sourced from interviews with family and friends and more than 1,000 secondary sources, this first-ever biography of Varipapa tells the personal story of bowling’s greatest showman and one of its most influential figures.

About the Author(s)

Glenn Gerstner has taught sport management, economics, and finance at Adelphi University, Hofstra University, Farmingdale State College, and St. John’s University. He lives on Long Island.

Bibliographic Details

Glenn Gerstner
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 251
Bibliographic Info: 42 photos, glossary, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2024
pISBN: 978-1-4766-9333-0
eISBN: 978-1-4766-5244-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii
Preface 1
Introduction 5
One. Arrival 11
Two. The Bowler 16
Three. Husband, Father, Machinist 23
Four. Lawler’s 29
Five. The Match 35
Six. Tricks 41
Seven. Hollywood 49
Eight. Out in the Cold 57
Nine. Andy Comes to Town 64
Ten. Who’s the Champ? 74
Eleven. A New Kind of Tournament 81
Twelve. The War 88
Thirteen. ­All-Star Andy 97
Fourteen. ­Back-to-Back 105
Fifteen. Respect 114
Sixteen. Traveling Man 122
Seventeen. Television 133
Eighteen. Boom, Jackpot, and Heartache 142
Nineteen. No Slowing Down 154
Twenty. Century Lanes 165
Twenty-One. A Lasting Honor 172
Epilogue 179
Appendix I: Tournament Victories, Awards, and Honors 187
Appendix II: Glossary of Bowling Terms and Acronyms 189
Chapter Notes 193
Bibliography 225
Index 237

Book Reviews & Awards

• “I always knew my grandfather was special, but it wasn’t until Hall of Fame night at the 1982 ABC Championships that I realized how special he was. When Pop was introduced, the fans went wild, and I know now that he was truly the Tiger Woods of his day. Glenn Gerstner’s book captures the essence of who Andy Varipapa was, on and off the lanes.”—Andy Varipapa II

• “Glenn Gerstner details Andy Varipapa’s greatness and how much he advanced the sport of bowling in the 20th century. One example was the 1978 ‘Great and The Greatest’ tournament that paired current stars with the legends of the game. Although Andy was in his late 80s and no longer competing, he was a top vote-getter among the bowling writers who selected ‘The Greatest.’ Anyone who enjoys the sport of bowling will love this book.”—Johnny Petraglia, PBA and USBC Hall of Fame

• “Andy Varipapa is the Babe Ruth of bowling. Synonymous with the sport, the name Varipapa, to this day inspires smiles, awe, and wonder. Bowling is fortunate to have had Varipapa as an icon. His combination of skills and flair to entertain was the perfect package to bring bowling to the masses. Thanks to this book, I was back on YouTube, watching black-and-white videos of Andy on the lanes with a smile.”—Tom Clark, PBA Commissioner

• “Andy Varipapa was the greatest trick-shot bowler of all time. He was an excellent bowler—he won the BPAA All-Star back-to-back at age 56 and 57—but will be forever known for his trick-shot artistry. He spent time perfecting these jaw-dropping shots, so much so that fans still want to see them. Although some have changed a bit, many are still used today in exhibitions by the PBA’s best. This book captures Andy’s incredible story and his passion for bowling. Sit back, enjoy a walk back in time, and learn about one of the best to roll a ball down a lane.”—Parker Bohn III, PBA and USBC Hall of Fame

• “Anybody who saw Andy Varipapa bowl never forgot him. Now, Glenn Gerstner’s biography brings the great showman to life for a new generation. The book is fast-paced and fun to read while also putting Varipapa into the context of his times. Anyone interested in bowling will want to buy a copy of Andy Varipapa: Bowling’s First Superstar. At the same time, serious history students will find this a worthy addition to the literature of 20th-century popular culture. The book has my highest endorsement.”—J.R. Schmidt, PhD, senior writer, Bowlers Journal International

• “Between 25 years on tour and almost another 25 years as the analyst of ABC’s Professional Bowlers Tour telecasts, I’ve watched the world’s greatest bowlers since I was a youngster. Andy Varipapa was a unique talent. Nobody could do the trick shots he did, and he was bowling’s greatest showman. Glenn Gerstner’s book recounts Andy’s extraordinary trick shots and accomplishments in competition, including a couple of memorable matches against my father. Anyone interested in learning about the history of bowling should read this book.”—Nelson (Bo) Burton Jr., PBA and USBC Hall of Fame