Judy Kay-Wolff


                                                    CIRICUS PROGRAMREDO - Copy

One of my fondest bridge memories dates back to 1970. While continuing to condense old files, I happened upon a pile of correspondence detailing the arrival and performance of the Omar Sharif Circus Road Tour for their exhibition at Philadelphia’s Drake Hotel. The excitement was at fever pitch and we even arranged for enthusiastic locals to graciously pick up the visitors at the airport and escort them to center city in a motor parade.

I was at the helm of local preparations and recruited eager volunteers to host both our celebrated guests (Omar and the four primary world renowned Circus experts as well as the up and upcoming Dallas Aces)  who took on the ‘city’s finest.’   The so-called local attractions were Bobby Jordan, Edgar Kaplan, Norman Kay and Arthur Robinson.  Bob, Norman and Arthur were celebrated Philadelphian experts, but opted to add an interloper from New York (Edgar — who was Norman’s regular partner). This traveling entourage was graciously sponsored by Stancraft Products Company (playing cards) and Cosco Household Products (primarily card tables) with great PR firms overseeing the tour.  It was later revealed the Circus was not a great financial success but a tremendous bridge happening and the publicity for our game was unequalled.  The routine for their appearance in Philadelphia began with a press conference Monday evening.   Prior to the PC (at least in Philly) the audience was instructed not to touch upon any controversial issues — especially addressing Omar about the ongoing Israeli/Arab crises.  First question out of the box was cast at Omar by a feisty reporter, asking his views on the ‘taboo’ subject.  So much for following orders.

The mornings were devoted to interacting with the public .. interviews by local TV stations and guest appearances at Wanamaker’s, a center city department store, where crowds of autograph seekers besieged Omar.    Afternoons zeroed in on bridge playing which included matches early in the week between the Circus Teams and later on became a three way match, including the local stars which the audience enjoyed on closed circuit TV (basically vugraph).  

The big attractions were the afternoon duplicates in which the visitors intermingled with the stars. Arrangements were made so that the attendees did not have to leave the hotel with both lunch and dinner between sessions available at comfortable prices.  In addition to section tops and masterpoints, handsome gifts were awarded to those who accepted the challenge of playing against the experts and beating their scores.   Also, the duplicates accommodated experienced players as well as novices.  The planners didn’t miss a beat.  Bobby recalls his lovely late wife Debby confessing to him, that when the Circus came to Chicago, she waited in an hour long line to assure her ability to secure an East/West so she could play against Omar.  I remember lots of ladies calling me offering to pay anything for advance tickets to the Circus (and they didn’t even play bridge) — just wanting to get a glimpse of Omar and kibitz him!   In some cities they even had an area cordoned off for his admirers.

For those of you who go back that far, you will recall the primary drawing card of the OSBC was simply Omar though his bridge talents were dwarfed by world renowned Italian bridge idols … Benito Garozzo, Pietro Forquet and Georgio Belladonna, plus French superstar Claude Delmouly.   The Headmaster of The Circus was Egyptian organizer (and sometime player) Leon Yallouze, accompanied by charming Host/MC/Super Magician Bud Dietrich and a brilliant relatively young overseer by the name of Mike Ledeen who later became a world recognized authority on terrorism! 

Last, but not least, the newly formed Dallas Aces rounded out the trio .. (Billy Eisenberg, Bobby Goldman, Jim Jacoby, Bob Hamman, Mike Lawrence and a fella by the name of Bobby Wolff).  Bobby’s help was enlisted by owner/sponsor Ira Corn who recently had put the Aces on the map.  Subsequently, Bobby hired Joe Musumeci, a retired Colonel with the Strategic Air Command, as their popular and dedicated coach.  

There you have the contestants and vital administrators who appeared at the Drake for the conclusion of a seven city tour over forty-three years ago. Photographs are not my bailiwick, but I was able to post a copy of the Philadelphia Edition of the Circus program above.  I have also researched the whereabouts of those stars today.  Of the fifteen Circus players in Philly back in 1970, nine survived and sadly six have passed away. 

Surviving LOCALITES — ARTHUR ROBINSON (age 77). 
  Deceased: ; Bob Jordan (2004), Edgar Kaplan (1997); Norman Kay (2002)
Surviving CIRCUS MEMBERS — CLAUDE DELMOULY (his age eludes me);  PIETRO FORQUET (age 88); BENITO GAROZZO (age 86); and OMAR SHARIF (age 81). 
  Deceased: Georgio Belladonna (1995).
Surviving DALLAS ACES:  BILLY EISENBERG (age 76);  BOB HAMMAN (age 75); MIKE LAWRENCE (age 73);  BOBBY WOLFF (age 81).
  Deceased:  Bobby Goldman (1999); Jim Jacoby (1991).

I might also add that over the years I crossed paths with Omar on a few occasions and was nonplused by his continued graciousness and modest, humble demeanor despite overwhelming universal recognition and popularity.  He just wanted to be ‘one of the guys.’  However, by his own admission, his uncontested ‘first love’ was bridge.  Acting was just a ‘job.’  It takes all kinds!


JayOctober 27th, 2013 at 9:40 pm

I remember seeing Omar play once years ago but I cannot remember who he played with at the time. Can anyone tell me who his regular partner is/was? Does he still play competitively?

Judy Kay-WolffOctober 27th, 2013 at 11:00 pm

Hi Jay:

I have not seen hide nor hair of him in years. However, I have two memories of his partnerships. The most vivid was, of course, during the Circus when he alternated partnering Benito, Pietro, Georgio and Claude, playing their system.

My other recollection was in Deauville in 1968. It was one of my earliest exposures to a World Bridge Championship when Norman was on the U. S. Team. Omar was playing for Egypt, and though it was not bandied about — most of the Arab countries’ players were friendly with the Israelis. However, the Egyptian Team was issued a directive by their country to forfeit against Israel — which caused quite an uproar. Of course, Omar’s team followed orders but unobtrusively Omar spent the afternoon in his suite, hosting the Israeli Team for bridge and lunch. He was indeed a wonderful emissary for our game.

Some days I can’t count trump, but this memory was indelibly fixed in my mind.

Paddy JayOctober 28th, 2013 at 5:58 am

My, this brought back memories. A friend and I drove 60 miles to Los Angeles to see this traveling show (it must have been the same show). We didn’t play bridge, but we watched the viewgraph. It was quite enjoyable. Afterwards we went to the Brown Derby for a snack and Bobby Goldman came in and we asked him to join us…..telling him we had just been to see the bridge playing. We had a nice conversation. I am now 78….haven’t thought about that night in a long time. And I did get to see Omar!

Judy Kay-WolffOctober 28th, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Welcome to my site, Paddy Jay. You really struck a cord with your reference to Bobby Goldman. You may remember that he was a native Philadelphian. Back in the late fifties, I was an enterprising young enthusiast who organized a regular Sunday night duplicate in a local suburban locale and eventually ran ten tables. That was amazing in those days. One night a handsome young guy showed up and kibitzed. As we were tallying the scores (by hand, of course), he invited me to play the following week — an offer I just couldn’t turn down!

As fate had it, he was ordained to become one of Bobby’s esteemed colleagues on The Dallas Aces! Sadly he passed on at a very young age and was posthumously inducted into The ABCL Hall of Fame.

AlanOctober 28th, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Wasn’t Mark Blumenthal also from Philadelphia?
I have a vague recollection of him playing for The Aces.

Judy Kay-WolffOctober 28th, 2013 at 5:42 pm

Hi Alan,

It was so long ago I would have to venture a guess. I met Mark when he first moved to Philly .. not sure when .. but he was already an accomplished player. Norman and I became friendly with him and on rare occasions I was lucky enough to be his partner and teammate! My recollection was he married and moved to the Boston area and did get involved with The Aces. Not sure exactly when. We did keep in touch via the Internet but lost touch in the last few years.

Sorry I was not of more help.

JSOctober 29th, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Your Circus tale brought to mind a funny incident. I threw an informal get together at my home on an ‘off-evening’ earlier in the week before all the serious action took place. I recall my friend Joan offering to sew on a button which had just fallen off the shirt of one of The Aces. I guess you can figure out which Ace it was. Right on — Bobby Wolff.

Judy Kay-WolffOctober 29th, 2013 at 3:36 pm


I actually did recall the story — but was not sure where it occurred — at the hotel or elsewhere. Weird the things we remember!

Ken TakedaNovember 20th, 2013 at 2:19 pm

According to Wikipedia, Claude Delmouly passed away 8 February 2006, just before the Turin Olympiads

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 20th, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Thanks, Ken:

I lost track of Claude over the years. I only knew him very casually, but I remember him as handsome and friendly from the Circus days.