by Dave Williams
A recent article in the December 2017 issue of Bowlers Journal International (“Ruining Movie Magic,” by Jef Goodger) got me to thinking about how many times I’ve seen a certain strike on TV or in the movies.
It brought back memories of my days at AMF, when media would ask about a shot of a strike for a particular commercial or movie scene. Jack Graziano, Public Relations Manager for AMF at that time, would contact John Mazey, Advertising Manager, and he would go to the archives and send video of a strike for the particular venue.
But whenever the particular video did not match what the venue called for, Mr. Mazey would get in touch with me to help him with a staged activity at a local bowling center or studio. As a member of the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA), I was in a unique position at AMF to offer a bowler’s opinion while still being in the executive “carpet area” of the headquarters building in Westbury, New York.
In addition to offering information about products and implementation, I was also the “bowling ball tester” at a time when AMF was experimenting with urethane bowling balls, from the original AMF Angle, to the Gray, Gold, Blue and Ultra – the first ball to offer the flair ball track, as a result of varying weight blocks within the ball itself.
While I now realize that I probably should have held out for a loftier pay check, at the time I was just so excited to be there and involved that I sometimes felt like paying them for all of the free products and time allowed to experiment with the different concepts.
I probably should have considered contract residuals as well, because I became the face behind all of the print and television ads of that era. There’s a story behind every one of those campaigns, but the one that truly relates to Goodger’s article involves a video session for the National Bowling Council.
As the bowling guru at AMF, I was invited by Lance Elliott, Executive Director of the National Bowling Council, to provide the bowling shots for an upcoming Learn to Bowl series on tape. We would be conducting the filming at Melville Lanes, which was close to the AMF Headquarters in the nearby town of Melville, New York. Filming would begin after the completion of league play each weeknight at about midnight.
My introduction to the producer of the filmed series was epic, but not unprecedented in the annals of Hollywood lore. We exchanged pleasantries and I was given a script which included all of the bowling shots that I was to perform, beginning on the next night.
Later that evening I reviewed the contents of the script and didn’t get much past my first bowling shot. It stated, “throw the ball and let it hit the head pin so that all the pins fall except the ten pin, and make it wiggle.”
The next evening when we began filming I told the producer about the nuances of bowling and how commanding pins to react in a certain manner was just not possible. He acknowledged what I said, but we forged on with his preconceived script.
When it came time for my bowling shots, I discovered that I was to use an 8 pound bowling ball, so that the ball would match the one being used by the young bowler in the film. After about fifty shots, I told the producer that it just wasn’t possible because I couldn’t control the lightweight ball.
That’s when the producer became a bowling instructor! First he had me move closer to the pins; closer and closer to the pins, until I was within 10 to 15 feet from the pins. But alas, still not the desired shot.
So then the producer told me to throw it harder, and he would slow down the speed in the actual final draft; harder and harder I threw the ball, until…
Bang! The 8 pound bowling ball hung up on my fingers and lodged itself in the masking unit. By this time it was approximately 3AM, so we decided to pick it up again the next evening.
We eventually finished the filming and the producer was happy with the result. Many years later when the National Bowling Council office in Washington, D.C., was being dismantled, Lance Elliott asked me if I would like the original reel to reel high band master tapes.
I still have them, and they will someday be a part of the Bowling Museum historical records. And who knows, maybe the bowling shots will become a part of those archived videos from which Jef Goodger speaks in “Ruining Movie Magic.”