Archive for March, 2018

Old Point Comfort Hotel Alleys—The Bronx (1916)

March 29, 2018

4018 Boston Rd.

Balancer Glove (1967)

March 27, 2018

1977 World Cup Poster

March 25, 2018

The Diamond Bowling Alleys (1897)

March 22, 2018

Baltimore bowling alley owned by baseball stars Wilbert Robinson and John McGraw

In Search of Johnny King

March 20, 2018

First published in Bowlers Journal International, May 2011. 

Johnny King celebrates his ninetieth birthday this month.  In bowling’s golden age of the late 1950s, he was a legendary figure.  And like most legends, it’s sometimes hard to separate the fiction from the fact.

To begin with, his actual name was Howard King.  Growing up in Cleveland during the Depression, he was forced to drop out of school and go to work in a factory.  He eventually became a precision grinder.

King didn’t make his bowling mark until he was in his thirties.  Then he won the Cleveland Match Game Championship twice, and in 1956 posted the city’s highest league average, a lofty 223.  That same year he took home one of bowling’s biggest checks in the George London Dream Tournament.

Now he began to appear on TV, and the legend began.  In 1957 King was all over the tube.  He scored big on two syndicated film series and even rolled a 300 game in front of the cameras.  The year ended with King the top TV money-winner, with prizes totaling over $25,000—about $200,000 in today’s money.

King was fun to watch.  He bowled with a long cigar stuck in his mouth, approaching the line slowly and smoothly, sending the ball out onto the lane without a sound.  Then he went into action with a dazzling array of body English.  A teammate claimed that King used to practice his moves in front of a mirror.

Johnny King was a star.  More women were bowling, and they became some of his biggest fans.  The ladies liked Johnny. Johnny liked the ladies, too.

He moved to Chicago to bowl with Buddy Bomar’s Munsingwear team.  That caused a flap, since King had already promised to join the Pfeiffer Beer team of Detroit.  Pfeiffer captain Lou Sielaff, ordinarily a soft-spoken gentleman, blasted King all over the bowling press.

If King was bothered, it didn’t show.  He won the first of two straight Chicago Match Game titles and finished fourth in the World’s Invitational.  He made exhibition tours for AMF.  During an appearance in Indiana, King averaged 277 for seven games.

He was a tough opponent, and looked for every edge.  During one match, King flicked some cigar ash onto the side of the approach and started sliding his shoe through it—which made his opponent start worrying about sticking.  Another time, on the bench during a TV match, King pulled out a mirror to comb his hair.  The mirror reflected the glare of the overhead lights onto the other bowler, just as the man was releasing his shot.

King was also known for his prowess at gin rummy.  He won so regularly that many people refused to play with him.  Others kept coming back for more, trying to figure out how he did it.  According one bit of locker-room gossip, King could have won the 1957 World’s, but ran out of gas after playing cards all night.

He continued on Bomar’s team, then bowled the 1961-62 season with Fresno in the National Bowling League.  The NBL folded after one season, but King and some of his ex-teammates won a Classic Division eagle as the California Bombers at the 1963 ABC.  That December he won his only PBA title at Hialeah, Florida.

He was living in Florida and selling liquor dispensing equipment when he was tapped for the first Great and Greatest Tournament in 1978. He teamed with Johnny Petraglia and finished in the middle of the pack.  It’s worth noting that King was the only “Greatest” invitee who is not in the Bowling Hall of Fame.

And that’s it.  I’ve talked to dozens of bowlers and writers and bowling officials, and nobody knows what happened to Johnny King.  For the last thirty years, he has communicated with the bowling world strictly through rumor.

Happy Birthday, Johnny.  And if you get a chance, drop me an e-mail.

Update: Some months after this article was published, I learned that Johnny King had passed away in Florida on March 12, 1998.

For this story and 89 more, buy a copy of my book The Bowling Chronicles.  Available on Amazon, or from McFarland Publishing for bulk orders.  A more useful award for your league champs than one more trophy!


Ned Day Bowling Book #4 (1948)

March 18, 2018

Dick Battista (1971)

March 15, 2018


Newsday Eastern Open winner, 1967, 1968, 1970

1 PBA title

2 hearts (1 original, 1 transplant)

Catherine Fellmeth Stop-Action (1947)

March 13, 2018

West End Recreation

March 11, 2018

3425 W. 26th St.

Andy Varipapa’s Hempstead Recreation (1949)

March 8, 2018