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Somerset Maugham: "Well, Willie Maugham is near the top of my hit parade. I must say he's as good an octogenarian player as you would want to meet. But I like him so well that he appears to be playing better than he actually is."
Aly Khan: "He plays a wild game. You wouldn't call it accurate, but he's very resourceful and he plays a deceptive game, a very aggressive game. He gets into trouble and he stays there more often than he gets out of it. But it doesn't matter. One stroke of the pen, and we're all even."
Humphrey Bogart: "He was very good. I want to tell you he played when he was cockeyed drunk, and he never committed a faux pas the entire night. His head was waving and his speech was a little uncertain, but he never did anything at all for which he had to be sorry."
Bogart belonged to an informal Hollywood bridge-playing cabal which also numbered the Marx brothers and George Burns. Zeppo was the best of the four Marx brothers, but Groucho had a certain low cunning, as when he challenged Ely Culbertson to a match for the world's championship. Culbertson accepted the challenge, but dropped out when he found out that Groucho had hired a hall, invited 300 movie stars and laid out a plan of strategy. Zeppo and Chico were to play, Harpo was to advise and Groucho was to sit on a girder behind Culbertson, wigwagging signals. Groucho was also the inventor of a convention which would have revolutionized the game had it not been rejected by the strait-laced arbiters of bridge. As Groucho explained his convention to a new partner, "If you like my lead don't bother to signal with a high card. Just smile and nod your head."
George Burns tells of an occasion when the Marx brothers decided to win a tournament by using the old "one-under-one" system, in which a spade bid really means a heart, a no-trump bid means a spade, etc. "Before the evening was through," says Burns, "they were so confused they didn't know what they were doing. They were the first ones eliminated."
Burns is perhaps the best bridge player in Hollywood. Well, if not the best, the funniest. Burns's bridge-table techniques have often carried him close to fisticuffs. "Once," he recalls, "I'm playing bridge with George Raft and Mack Gordon—you know, the guy who wrote Did You Ever See a Dream Walking? I have a spade void and eight hearts in my hand. I've got a hundred honors. All I'm missing is the ace, but the rest of my hand is nothing. Mack—my partner—opened with a spade. Raft passed. I bid four hearts. Mack put down his cards and stared out the window. 'Four spades!' he yelled—really yelled—out the window.
"I said I didn't know we were playing with somebody across the street, but I yelled out the window 'Five hearts!' Mack sucked in his breath.
" 'Five spades!' he yells out the window. We kept on going, and finally he yells, 'Seven spades!'
"I looked at him. 'I've got as much money as you have,' I said. 'Seven no trump.'