Fact or Fiction: The Life & Times of a Ping Pong Hustler A Review By Larry Hodges, TableTennisCoaching.com Here’s where you can download the video (60 min) or see the trailer (2:12) about the late Marty Reisman (Feb. 1, 1930 - Dec. 7, 2012). “A chronicle of the final three years of Marty Reisman’s life. A table tennis champion turned hustler. Pursuing notoriety and motivated by his love of fame and ping pong, he has to face his biggest fear: mortality.” http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00MHVVKIQ/ref=atv_bd_tk
Fact or Fiction: The Life and Times of a Ping Pong Hustler is a chronicle of the final three years of Marty Reisman’s life, a former international table tennis champion-turned-money player. Pursuing notoriety through his idiosyncratic lifestyle and motivated by his love of fame and Ping Pong, he inadvertently has to face his biggest fear: mortality. Shot over three years, the film follows Marty - a complex mix of childlike excitement, eccentric narcissism and constant charm - as he negotiates between pride, the denial of old age, past defeats and the decline of his fame and fortune, as well as his devoted wife Yoshiko’s health, all while clinging onto the hope that his own life and career are just beginning to blossom. The film’s observational style, combined with rare archive footage and interviews with key New York and London society characters such Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson and eminent psychotherapist George Weinberg, work to tell the story of one of America’s greatest. I recently watched the video on my computer, along with Tim Boggan. I knew Marty pretty well. In fact, he’s how I got into table tennis! Here’s the story. The video uses both old and recent footage of Reisman, showcasing him from his early years (growing up in the depression, discovering “a different world” in table tennis, and developing as a player in the hardbat era) to his last days, and especially the last three years of his life. Parts of it are rather dark, with much of the video taking place in a hospital after his heart surgery and shortly before Marty died. There’s also footage of him running Reisman’s Table Tennis Club, which ran from 1958 to the late 1970s. Marty was perhaps the most flamboyant and stylish 66
table tennis player who ever lived. The video features his many outfits, hats, his tailor and dry cleaner, and even the cane he used - not because he needed it, but for style purposes. Marty quotes poetry, jokes with doctors, talks and sings about mortality, teaches his forehand, shows his microscopes (a hobby of his), demonstrates the cigarette trick, talks about Satoh (the man from Japan who introduced the sponge racket and won the 1952 Worlds, the year Reisman thought he should have won), and talks about how much he was looking forward to a challenge match he had planned with 2009 U.S. Men’s Champion Michael Landers. “You’ll be in a film with the great Marty Reisman,” he explained to Landers. (The film mistakenly credits Landers as being on the U.S. Olympic team.) There’s also segments about a planned “Marty’s Bar” at Spin TTC in New York. Yes, Marty was an egomaniac, but he didn’t hide this fact - in fact, he wore it on his sleeve, with an almost in-your-face ego. And yet he could be incredibly nice if you played along with it and treated him well. He was a God to many, and enjoyed playing the role. Much of his Godhood came about from the stand he took against sponge rubber, insisting on sticking with hard rubber (and later sandpaper), which he considered a far superior game, where two players had a “dialog” when they rallied. Near the end there’s about 3.5 minutes with USATT Historian Tim Boggan, who gives sort of a fact check to some of the items in the film. (Hence the “Fact or Fiction” part of the title.) He also shows a “Marty as Don Quixote” picture, symbolizing Marty fighting the windmills of sponge.