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59 The Great Depression spelled doom for some, opportunity for others. For Chuck Taylor, it was the time of his life. Marquis Converse had lost his company in 1928 after it went into receivership. The company’s failure was linked to an ill-fated effort to market an automobile tire, the “Converse Cord,” which had high production costs, a high failure rate, and many returns from local dealers. Mitchell B. Kaufman, president and owner of the Hodgman Rubber Co. in Framingham, Massachusetts, bought the rm in 1929, but he sold it to the Stone family—Joseph, Harry K., and Dewey D. Stone—in 1933. The Stone family ran the business for the next thirty-nine years, but in spirit, and in the public’s mind, it was to be Chuck Taylor’s company from then on. The Invisible Pass 4. 04Chuck.indd 11/18/05, 3:00 PM 59 60 Chuck’s secret was in sales and promotion. Years of touring with the Converse All-Stars basketball squad, making “special appearances” on local hoops teams and glad-handing customers in small-town sporting goods stores, plus his growing number of basketball clinics, were making Chuck a celebrity, albeit a faux celebrity. Converse revamped everything beginning in 1932 to revolve around their new star. The annual Converse Basketball Yearbook, begun in 1922 and enlarged and expanded in 1929, soon began promoting Chuck’s clinics, complete with endorsements from top coaches of the day. Beginning in 1932, Chuck’s name was added to the ankle patch of the All Star shoe for the rst time. His wellregarded College All-American picks began that year as well, next to a smiling mug shot that was to become a signature piece over the years. As if to an increasing drumbeat, Chuck was exclusively touted as a veteran of the great pre–modern era basketball teams, as well as an authority who personally knew the top coaches and best players across the country. Chuck’s clinics, which began informally at North Carolina State in 1922, became more institutionalized in the 1930s. Chuck, or a local sporting goods store, would buy an ad in the paper, or perhaps plant a story with a friendly reporter on a slow news day, and announce that a famous basketball man, one who had allegedly learned his craft with the“world champion ” New York Original Celtics or the “Olympic champion” Buffalo Germans, would be in town to offer a free basketball clinic. No admission ever was charged, and the advance publicity always stressed “the fundamentals.” The clinics, held in high school and college gyms and often assisted by varsity players, were so non-threatening that for years Chuck didn’t even sell shoes at them directly—he just sent prospective customers to the sponsoring local retailer. Clinics were held from Zanesville, Ohio, to Waco, Texas, 04Chuck.indd 11/18/05, 3:00 PM 60 61 The Invisible Pass and from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to San Jose, California. Beginning some time in the 1930s, the clinics started featuring “talking movies,”as they were rst touted, then simply“lmed highlights” from the previous season’s best basketball tournaments . A favorite during the 1950–51 season, for example, were highlights of Nat Holman’s City College of New York’s dual NIT and NCAA championships the previous year.1 Harold “Bunny” Levitt is a former Converse employee who once sank 499 free throws in a row at a YMCA meet in Chicago in 1935, then made a couple of hundred more before calling it a day (requiring seven and a half hours for the entire demonstration). Abe Saperstein, then owner of the Chicago-based Harlem Globetrotters, was so impressed with the feat that he hired Levitt to put on halftime shows for the Globetrotters throughout the mid- and late 1930s. After the war, Levitt went to work for Converse, where he co-hosted clinics with Chuck or did them on his own. Levitt said many of the latter-day clinics were held on school days as part of scheduled assemblies—classes would be cancelled for a period or two and the entire enrollment would pour into the gym or auditorium. The clinics were marketing tools, for sure, but to Chuck they were like performances. He was Laurence Olivier and Sarah Bernhardt rolled into one; the hardwood court was his stage. Former DePaul University head basketball coach Ray Meyer remembered being called out of the stands while still a college student to assist Chuck during...


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