Judy Kay-Wolff

Speaking of Stayman …

Every time the name of Sam Stayman is mentioned, to most players, it calls to mind Forcing and Non-Forcing No Trump Treatments.   To me, Stayman is reminiscent of something entirely non-bridge related and a near-harrowing personal experience for yours truly.  My remembrance emanated over forty years ago.  Sam and Tubby (his perfectly charming and loveable wife, otherwise known as Josephine) hosted an elegant late Saturday evening after-session soiree at their penthouse in New York and Norman and I were among the honored guests.  The entourage read like a Bridge Who’s Who but could not compare to the atmosphere, the rooftop view of the Big Apple and especially the cuisine.   I was a relatively new bride and Norman was so enchanted with the food and presentation, he asked the caterer for his card — with the dream of importing him to Philly one day — to treat our family and friends to a special outing.  The caterer was Norman Sorg — a name which I am sure means nothing to anyone reading this — nor did it ring a bell with either of us.  We later learned he was the former celebrated White House Chef.   No wonder!

Norman and I were married in 1963 before a mammoth audience.  However, after all of Norman relatives, bridge partners, teammates, cronies (with wives, ex-wives or significant others) were placed on the guest list (numbering 400 — with only 325 showing up, thank heavens) plus all the employees of Kay’s Pharmacy (his parents’ drugstore) — many of my cousins, old friends, lifelong neighbors, work associates and untold others were excluded because of space problems — and besides my dad was not a rich man!   However, right about the time of the Stayman shindig, we had just bought a beautiful home in the Philadelphia suburbs with a fifty foot living room/dining room.   That was the good news.   The accompanying bad news was that, after the down payment, we had no money left to furnish this magnificent marble terrazzo floored showplace (the way I would have wanted it decorated).   However, here’s where Norman Sorg’s business card came into play.  Wouldn’t this desolate site be perfect for a buffet and an opportunity to invite current friends and family to that long overdue get-together and at the same time try to make amends to all those who were ostracized in 1963.   Perfect!   We thought a beautiful spring day like Easter Sunday would be ideal.  The list of invitees totaled 150 but because there was such a weird mixture of groups (bridge buddies, ‘normal’ friends, Norman’s Merrill Lynch associates, his family and my side too (many of whom had never met Norman), our “horse friends” with whom we attended the trotters, and various and sundry other misfits, etc, — we decided to stagger the groups, starting from noon until five.  

I neglected to mention that Norman Sorg was known worldwide as The Omelet King and it was quite a simple procedure to play the roles of gracious host and hostess when the big day was about to arrive. The caterers provided the chairs, silverware, fancy cloth napkins, metal folding cooking tables, pots, pans, etc.    My only responsibility was to purchase the food, have electrical outlets available plus lots of trash bags   (You certainly wouldn’t expect such an exclusive chef to supply those).   Thus, my Saturday shopping list included thirty dozen eggs, globs of butter, tons of onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, celery, cheeses of all varieties, avocados, olives, salami, Nova Scotia lox, shrimp, sauces, bagels, rolls, rye bread, coffee, tea, cream, sweeteners, desserts, etc, etc.   However, my chore was simple enough in comparison to the job that lay ahead for the cooks the following day.   Norman and I were very enthralled and proud at the clever aspect of hosting such a unique event by such an elegant caterer — and be able to simply mingle among the crowd of guests smiling, chatting, kissing, hugging and shaking hands.    However, not everything goes according to plan.   In my mind, the unexpected turnabout was even worse than the sinking feeling of reneging before defeating a grand slam that was destined for failure.

I was so excited that I could hardly sleep and when I finally alit from my bed at 6 a.m. and opened the front door to fetch the Sunday newspaper, I was greeted by a picturesque scene from a Christmas Card — a grotesque 8 inch snow accumulation — and still descending at a rapid pace upon Penn Valley.   The whole East Coast was buried with snowflakes and my hired guns were not local — attempting to motor in from somewhere in Upstate New York (if indeed any of the interstates were open).  Here I was in the throes of a breakdown — scheduled to feed 150 hungry people and I could barely boil water.   Cooking was hardly my forte (although at this stage in my life, I am not sure what is)!   At  7 a.m. the phone rang and my heart sank.  Mr. Sorg was on the line and I could anticipate in advance his apologies and regrets.    All I could envision were the Kays eating eggs for the next several years.

Wrong!   He and his crew had left at 4 a.m. but found the New Jersey Turnpike was closed near Trenton, so they were forced to exit, were following Route 130 down to a Pennsylvania intersection and believe it or not were at my house by 9 a.m.    What was more astounding  —  of the 150 people expected, despite the blizzard, 125 showed up ravenous and never stopped stuffing their faces or gullets.   Luckily, I didn’t come close to running out of food or booze.   We originally anticipated the day would go off simply as a passing parade but the crowd gathered momentum — without anyone ever seeming to reach for their coats or boots or head toward the door.

So, you can now understand when someone mentions Stayman, why visions of eggs (rather than pasteboards) dance around in my head.


ross taylorFebruary 12th, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Judy – You have so many great stories from the Golden Age of bridge. Write a book ! I’d buy it.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFFebruary 12th, 2010 at 5:47 pm


Coming from you, I consider that the ultimate in compliments. After Ray published The Lone Wolff, we met and became friendly with Ray and Linda in Shanghai a short time later. Ray flattered me by encouraging me to write a book of my recollections of the old days, because when I meet my maker, the stories will die with me Unfortunately, I labored over TLW for the first five years of my marriage to Bobby, resurrecting a 3/4 started manuscript and it took every waking hour resulting in the taxing and abuse of my aged brain cells to edit, re-write and finally get it into print (but well worth it, I might add). Bobby’s story had to be told!!!!!

However, the new challenge would have been fun and I probably would not have run out of stories (some too embarrassing to share), but at this stage in life, I just couldn’t take the pressure or the deadlines. And, I asked myself, who would read it? Much to my surprise, I have received a host of comments like yours so maybe Ray wasn’t so far off base.

As a compromise (declining to organize and put my memoirs in print), I agreed that when the mood struck me (and you do know that women are temperamental), I would share some of these memories with the bridge blogging audience. My life with Norman (as with Bobby) was so exciting and fun-packed and being with the heroes of the game became second nature to me. I was awestruck at the beginning but as I matured, it became part of my every day routine. I never minded being Mrs. Norman Kay and basking in his beautiful shadow (and the same goes for Bobby). I AM my own person — WAS and ALWAYS WILL BE.

My ego never dictated that I had to be top banana as I always had tons of my own projects (mostly bridge related) occupying my time and was content with my station and position in life and the bridge world. Sure, I won a nice event here and there — but becoming an expert was never a pressing goal or aspiration. However, bridge has changed so much (and in my opinion — not for the better) that I have become an activist, crying out against the politics and corruption that Bobby and I feel have made big inroads into a game that once represented splendor, sanctity and dignity.

Thus, I will continue to voice my outrage directed at what I consider the current indignities befalling us and I will keep sharing some humorous memories about the old time greats whom many of you ‘youngsters’ never had the pleasure of meeting and knowing personally. The older I get, the more I realize how very lucky I was to have been graced by their presence.

JodyFebruary 12th, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Wonderful story, absolutely tops! I am laughing and laughing, and I needed some humor today. Judy, you have a good narrative talent.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFFebruary 12th, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Hi Jody:

You made my day with your kind words. (At least I don’t have any egg on my face)!

By the way, I just hung up the phone with Tobias Stone (who lives here but does not see visitors), who is past 90 but still of sound mind (though faltering physically). I am going to do a story on him as soon as time permits. He was probably about as colorful (and funny) as any bridge icon that ever held thirteen cards. He was a dear friend of mine and Norman’s and one of Bobby’s mentors. Should make for good reading. Later!