Judy Kay-Wolff


Johnny Crawford is just a name from the past to many of you.   He ranked up there as one of the ‘great characters’ of the game — handsome, charismatic and blessed with the good fortune of leading an incredibly charmed life.   He was, as they say, Runyonesque.  My late husband, Norman, had the pleasure of being his teammate and friend and related many unbelievable Crawford Stories.   This is perhaps my favorite one ….

Johnny’s first wife, Marie, was a descendent of Martha Custis (Washington).  After his divorce from Marie, he married a lovely woman, who just happened to be the Reynolds Tobacco heiress.   Even before he tied the knot with Leslie, Johnny lived in the fast lane, hustling all kinds of games and usually emerging a winner.  The Crawfords had a lovely estate in Camden, South Carolina, where Johnny hosted many soirees.  He loved sports and it was no secret he was an inveterate gambler.   One weekend in the late fifties or early sixties, he invited many of his bridge cronies to his Southern haunt.   He arranged (and picked up the tab for) their flights, had them welcomed at the airport and chauffeured to his home for a weekend that Norman, for one, would never forget.   Bear in mind, Norman had just made the big time — when, in his late twenties he was invited to join Crawford’s teams with the likes of Becker, Rapee, Roth, Stone, Silodor, et al.   He was a rookie stockbroker on weekdays and an aspiring bridge expert on weekends.   Norman was very modest (although everyone recognized a superstar in the making), but it was still quite exciting to be included among the bridge hoi polloi and in the company of so many notable old timers.

The morning after Norman’s arrival, he noticed a crowd hovering around his host as he was speaking on the phone.   He curiously found his way over to Johnny who was writing at fever pitch and eventually, when the group thinned out, Norman asked him what was happening.   Norman learned he had been polling a number of his regular bookies, negotiating the ‘best prices’ for the Sunday pro football games.   Johnny could see he piqued Norman’s interest, and volunteered, “Would you like to get in on it?”   This was an unfamiliar scene to Norman, but too embarrassed to be thought of as a wimpy outcast by his new peers, he enthusiastically piped up, “Sure.”  Johnny replied, “O. K., kid.   You can have 5% of my action” ….. whatever that meant!  It sounded innocuous enough.

The rest of the weekend was spent over cocktails and elegant cuisine in a relaxing atmosphere — a perfect opportunity to see how the proverbial other half lived.   The following day, after a sumptuous breakfast everyone settled in to watch the game the local station provided.  Remember — fifty years ago (before cable and Direct TV) there was usually only one game that could be seen or heard but that could never present an obstacle to this crew.   Since bridge animals collect friends in just about every port in the U. S., a simple telephone call would get the job done.  Getting an up-to-date score would be the first order of business and sometimes the caller would simply request that the telephone be set down beside their TV or radio for a live broadcast.    Whoever said bridge players were dumb?????

As the limousines lined up to transport everyone to the airport for their return flights, Johnny stood at the door routinely accepting and handing out quite a bit of loot.   As Norman passed by, Johnny tapped him on the shoulder and presented him with fifteen hundred bucks (which equated to 1/20 of Johnny’s bet).  You go figure it out!.   This was Norman’s first exposure to how the big boys lived (and bet).   All the way home, Norman rejoiced reflecting upon his windfall, as he had no idea if he had lost how long it would have taken him to pay off his first gambling debt!


James McLarenDecember 12th, 2008 at 9:46 pm

As Dean Martin would say:

You keep those stories coming, Judy, because Jeannie and me, we read them all.

Twice. And then we chop them up and sprinkle them in our alphabet soup and enjoy them all over again.

Peg KaplanDecember 14th, 2008 at 1:35 am

My grandmother told me a similar story from the ’40’s. She was on a cruise, and was invited to join a rubber bridge game. She asked about the stakes, and was told “a quarter.” Sounded OK to my grandmother, so she sat down to play for a few hours.

At the end, she was a small winner. Still, her jaw almost hit the floor when they tried to hand her several hundred dollars! Grandma thought that they were playing for a quarter cent. Nope; it was 25 cents a point – quite the stakes in the 1940’s!

Like Norman, she wasn’t quite sure what would have happened had she lost big!

Gary M. MugfordDecember 15th, 2008 at 6:32 am

Not a bridge story, but a very good Johnny Crawford story …

Johnny was involved in a golf game against a ‘fish’ who didn’t have the faintest clue he was a fish, but knew Crawford was the better golfer. They agreed that Johnny and he would exchange balls after the first shots, Johnny being a much better driver. The fish proceeded to gain a bigger advantage by dinking his drive a few inches off the tee and then watching as Johnny played true and stepped into each drive, sending it far and straight down the fairway. Despite the duplicity, the fish still was only up a stroke with Johnny approaching the final hole. As per his custom, the fish stepped up to the tee and dinked it, yet again. Laughed while doing it. Johnny then stepped up the tee and drove it with all of his might … in the opposite direction of the hole. Turned to his opponent and asked, “Want to pay up now or play it out?”