Judy Kay-Wolff

HERE’S JOHNNY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

One of the most charismatic characters I ever met as I aspired to learn the game was the handsome, charming John R. Crawford, a teammate of Norman’s, who died at 62, long before his time.  He was well built, magnificently groomed and had steel gray eyes, to boot.   He was born in Philadelphia and was married  to a woman who was a descendant of Martha Custis Washington.   They had three daughters (Dudley, Fenton and Ames) which always reminded me of a law firm.  After his first marriage, he wed Leslie Bolton, the Reynolds Tobacco heiress and eventually moved on, marrying Carol Stolken, a good bridge and backgammon player in her own right, who died prematurely at 48.  Johnny had finally found his true love and was kidded that the only time they were apart was when he strolled down the street for a haircut.

My favorite Johnny Crawford story (no doubt told before) occurred when Johnny and his teammates returned from an international tournament, landing in New York.  Norman’s parents and an aunt and uncle offered to motor to New York to pick Norman up for his return to his home in Merchantville, NJ.   Before hanging up the phone, Norman asked his mother to bring along several thousand dollars with no further explanation as they were having dinner at one of the New York race tracks.   The money turned out to be for Johnny, an uncontrollable, inveterate gambler – but usually with great vibes.  Norman, in the next teller line, heard Johnny instructing his man, “Keep Punching till the bell rings.”  A few days later my mother-in-law received a package from Johnny, paying off his debt.  They always used to say he would bet on two cockroaches crawling along the floor, putting up a line which one would reach there first.  He just loved the action.

Another facet of Johnny’s charm was he loved playing host at Leslie’s gigantic estate in Camden, S.C.   He would send airline tickets to dozens of friends and have them met at the airport.   It was swimming, drinking, eating, card games and of course betting the ballgames.  Not even sure whether it was on radio or television though I had heard the stories so many times.   Norman, the youngest of the group, did not want to be an outcast so he approached Johnny, asking for a part of the action (whatever that meant).   “O.K., kid.” muttered Johnny.   I’ll give you 5% of mine.  As they left for the airport Sunday night, Johnny handed Norman a bundle of money.   Norman always laughed when he recounted the story that if he had lost (being a lowly trainee at Merrill Lynch on the way to the big time), it might have taken him a year to pay off his debt.   Luckily, he won.

Johnny’s bridge career took off soon as he touched the cards.  As the Encyclopedia says, “He demonstrated his adaptability by achieving national successes with many different partners and earned a reputation for competitive repartee, table presence and psychological awareness.”  He lectured extensively and helped to found the New York Card School in 1950 and departed Philadelphia in 1959 to make New York his new home base, at least temporarily.

I also recall that in honor of our wedding, although The Crawfords could not attend, a package arrived from Tiffany’s with a dozen French Limoges plates.   Since grilled cheese sandwiches were my specialty back then, I never had the pleasure of using them and my friends tease me about it to this day.

Johnny was always impeccably dressed and without a doubt the most fascinating bridge player of his era.   Being with and getting to know Johnny Crawford (even from afar) was a special experience!   He was in a league by himself.

Bringing my memories of Johnny to a close, I am compelled to include a story Bobby just imparted to me.  Whether apocryphal or true, we are unlikely to know.  The first Bermuda Bowl was held in 1950.   They did not have so-called Trials but rather tryouts by the potential applicants. Johnny chose to flaunt his skill and make a stab at it, being a  performer with incredible ‘table feel.”   As the story goes, he made a slam by picking off a singleton king off-side (missing four pieces) — to score up the contract — but was not chosen by the committee as the selectors failed to appreciate that fact that sometimes ‘table genius’ trumps the percentage tables (and his play was considered to be anti-percentage).  Rumor or legend?   A good subject for Ripley.


TonyNovember 16th, 2010 at 10:54 pm

Loved your title. Mr. Crawford was quite a famous figure when I got into bridge (a long time ago). I didn’t know he died so young — but it sounds like he made every day count.

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 16th, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Norman’s and Bobby’s paths crossed so many times. I had forgotten a story that took place in a match between Bobby’s Team and Norman’s (with Norman sitting out that session on the Crawford team). The year was 1967. The place was Montreal.

Johnny asked Norman to kibitz Bobby, thinking it would make Bobby nervous. Norman wouldn’t have any part of such an intimidation plot. What some people will do to win! (P.S. Bobby, even back then, didn’t get intimidated)

P.S.S. Bobby’s team won the match in overtime and qualified for his first Pairs Trials!

Time flies!

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 17th, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Someone just asked me privately if both Johnny and Carol were on some ‘stuff.’ I wasn’t there and I plead the Fifth. I know she couldn’t bear being without her beloved Johnny and died of a broken heart. So sad because she was not only beautiful, a good bridge player but a very sweet gal. Bridge is not all peaches and cream.

Barbara "Charlie" MurphyJune 3rd, 2012 at 5:26 pm

I went to school in Paris with Dudley Crawford and have been trying to find her after so many years. We used to celebrate “Gucci” at the Renault Pub over a mountainous ice cream sundae — all too often. If possible can you give her my email?

DudleyDecember 25th, 2012 at 2:59 am

was my father, leave leave email for Charlie Murphy

m cruiceJune 28th, 2013 at 3:39 pm

I remember your subject before his later fame (notoriety) in the bridge and high flying world, when he was still married to Georgia and was not full time performing for a very visible world audience. He was at his nicest then.