Chess Journalists of America

The following interview was published in The Chess Journalist, Vol. XXVIII, No. 3, Consecutive No. 93, September 1999. One-time only publication rights have been obtained from the contributor. All other rights are hereby assigned to the author. Articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of the CJA, its offices or members. Copyright 1999 by the Chess Journalists of America.

Interview:   Frank Brady
by Pete Tamburro

To anyone associated with chess in the 1960s and 1970s, Frank Brady needs no introduction. To those new to the chess scene, Frank Brady was well known for a variety of reasons: first editor of Chess Life magazine, the biographer of Bobby Fischer and the creator, editor and publisher of Chessworld magazine, a glorious artistic and literary triumph that unfortunately lasted only three issues. They are collector's items today. At the time he was editor of Chess Life he was also business manager of the USCF. His most notable chess book is, of course, Profile of a Prodigy, but his literary talents in biography have extended outside the world of chess: Hefner, Onassis:An Exaggerated Life, Barbra, and Citizen Welles.

The original plan was a short interview about Chessworld magazine, but once our conversation got rolling at a mid-Manhattan restaurant in August, it seemed to take on a life of its own. Frank Brady is an interesting man, truly an entrepreneur of chess and writing. I pointed out to him that in the many adventures he had on the tightrope of life he attempted to cross, the only safety net was his intellect. He replied,"Recently, I told an old collegemate of my wife's ... if you fall off the horse, get back on ... a smaller horse, and one that you know you will be able to ride. I've failed a million times, but I keep getting back on smaller horses, and most of them I can manage." You will find that the horses that he fell off still were memorable rides and the smaller ones he got back on were fair sized in their own right.

PT: How did the idea of Chessworld first occur to you?

FB: Well, I always felt when I was editor of Chess Life and business manager of the USCF that a magazine that was devoted to more than just analysis and game scores and crosstables -- although I realize that's an important factor to chess players -- would make a viable publication. I attempted in my brief editorship of Chess Life to do as much as I could along that line -- to capture the lore and history of chess. Some chess players like myself are interested in historical aspects and the personalities of chess, so it was always in the back of my mind that that could be done. When I left Chess Life I probably thought that Chess Review's days were numbered. I actually underestimated the publication's staying power. When did Chess Review go under?

PT: 68 or 69.

FB: I sort of sensed the diminution of energy in I.A. Horowitz. Personally, I believed that Chess Review was not going to be around for long. There would be the possibility of another publication. And the difficulty I had was that I had no money (laughing)! I started the publication by going to Horowitz and telling him what I wanted to do and asking him if he would run an ad -- a two page center spread.

PT: Is this it (pulling out the issue)?

FB: That's it! I haven't seen it in so long ... I asked him if he would publish it. I think the reason he decided to run it was that he thought Chessworld would knock out Chess Life!! I can't be sure about it, but why would he want me to run it. He wanted $500. My wife was a school teacher. I wasn't working. I was trying to make a full time situation for myself. I told him I would sign a personal note and would pay him back if he ran it on credit. He wouldn't accept that unless I had a co-signer, someone of note. So I got Saul Rubin who was then president of the Marshall Chess Club and an attorney and a good friend of mine. He co-signed the letter that I would pay back the money. So Horowitz ran it. In other words, it cost me nothing to run.

PT: Then what happened?

FB: I remember waiting and waiting and waiting and not getting the responses as immediately as I thought I would get. Then they started to pour in, absolutely pour in. At first twenty to thirty, then hundreds of subscriptions from the ad. The first thing I did was pay back Horowitz the money to run the ad. Then I placed the ad in Chess Life a number of times.

PT: How many people did you think were going to be necessary to support the magazine?

FB: Well, I didn't think that far ahead! I'm not an accountant. In the back of my mind I guess I thought I was going to get about 20,000 subscribers.

PT: Wasn't that the circulation of Chess Life and Chess Review combined?

FB: I thought people would like Chessworld better. Chessworld had commercial possibilities that Chess Life and Chess Review didn't have, and I felt that I could promote it, sell it and make it viable.

PT: Could you think of any other promotional outlet other than Chess Life and Chess Review?

FB: Sure. I sent out mailings to chess clubs. I took a small ad -- it cost me a fortune and it didn't work -- in The New York Times Book Review section. It was a $1000 ad for a few lines and I got less than a dozen subscribers from that. I did mailings. I did promotions to the mailing list from the USCF. And Dr. Albrecht Buschke [legendary NYC chess bookseller and historian -- PT] had a list of players from all over the world. I mailed a hand written and hand addressed letter to everyone. I got 2000-3000 names. We got a tremendous number of subscribers from foreign countries as a result.

PT: How many subscriptions did you eventually end up with?

FB: I would say something like 5,000. [Another new magazine, edited by Larry Evans, The American Chess Quarterly, had about 2,500 subscribers at the time -- PT]

PT: At ten dollars a pop? It put you on a par with Chess Life. [CL and CR both had almost 8,000 subscribers at 5 and 6.50 per year -- PT]

FB: The problem was it cost so much. Even mailing it out was so expensive. We kept running out of money on the little postage meter. It would stop: no money left in the meter. I never made a penny personally on Chessworld. My wife was supporting it on her meager school teacher's salary. We operated out of our apartment. Donald Walter, who had worked for me at the USCF, was an all-around employee. The rest of the staff was my wife, Maxine Kalfus, and Anabel Brodie and art director Leonard Lowy. They were paid a small amount. Among the big expenses, before computers, was typesetting. And my art director always asked me for more and more money to keep up the quality, but I didn't have the money to give him. One of the early supporters was Bobby [Fischer], and Bobby came up with the idea of an article on the ten greatest masters which he did with Neil Hickey, Lisa Lane's husband. My office was the one Frank J. Marshall used at the Marshall Chess Club. It had a spiral staircase and a fireplace. I loved being there, but there was only room for one person to operate. My wife and I then moved to Greenwich Village to a one bedroom apartment that we made into an office and living quarters. We slept in the living room. We had to get up early in anticipation of the visitors.

PT: How did your wife put up with the visitors, photographers, artists and chess players?

FB: The only way to get to the office was through the living room. Bobby came all the time as did Raymond Weinstein. There was a constant stream of visitors. My poor wife had no place to go to rest her head. I don't know how she did it. Fischer and I would often go to dinner alone and then play 5 minute chess at the Marshall.

PT: That first issue -- how did you come to get all the Morphy stuff?

FB: I don't remember how I met David Lawson but I went over to his house in Brooklyn Heights. He had an incredible collection -- not just Morphy. He, like Morphy, was a tiny man. He related to Morphy in an almost supernatural way. His apartment was like a museum. He had Bobby's original scoresheet of the Game of the Century and scrapbooks upon scrapbooks, and autograph letters from Steinitz, Tarrasch, etc. I brought Bobby over there once. He saw the cast of Morphy's hand. Bobby put his hand on it and he engulfed Morphy's hand. I became fond of Lawson, a real character. It was like talking to someone from the 1860s. My wife and I and he and his wife Rosalind socialized.

PT: What was the price he wanted to use all this material?

FB: The original price was $250, but later he wanted $1,000!

PT: He changed prices??

FB: Unfortunately, yes. He hadn't turned over the photographs yet. We just had the text. We finally agreed on $500, but it was a great blow to me personally and to Chessworld.

PT: How was your first issue received?

FB: People loved it! Dozens and dozens of letters! We put some in the next issue. People were not doing it to flatter me.

PT: How did you get Kotov to write for you?

FB: I had been Business Manager of the USCF from 1958-1961. I had opportunities to correspond about individuals and teams competing in tournaments abroad with many people from other countries. I had written the introduction for the Dover edition of The Soviet School of Chess. My name doesn't appear on it because, as an active Democrat, in the 1950s I was so concerned about being thought of as a communist. The president of Dover said we would keep it a deep dark secret. I think I was attracted to Soviet chess like so many chess players. I wrote to Kotov. He did the article for a minimal fee.

PT: The fellow Paul Leith, who wrote the article on the contemporary portrait of Shakespeare playing Ben Johnson, didn't mention the book by Tracy Kingman on the subject. I always wondered where you got the idea.

FB: On his wall, Lawson had a large print of it. I admired it. He gave me a smaller print as a gift. Leith also worked at Chess Life for me. It was a controversial hire as he was a known communist. Jerry Spann [USCF president, 1958-1960 -- PT] asked if I realized the implications. I said it had nothing to do with how well Leith could write. Jerry said it was OK as long as he didn't write political articles. So I asked him to do the Shakespeare article, but I didn't check his sources. In retrospect, it's a solid article.

PT: And you got Botvinnik to do an article [How to Lose a World's Championship]. Did you write to him, too?

FB: I wrote to Yakov Estrin. At a time when no Soviets were coming to New York City, somehow he came and stayed on the Upper West Side. He got in touch with me at the USCF office. He was always trying to promote Botvinnik. Later, I went to Yugoslavia to meet Botvinnik to do a biography, but it didn't work out.

PT: Why not?

FB: To this day, I really don't know. We met in Skopje during the Olympiad when I received my F.I.D.E. International Arbiter's title. He insisted that Grandmaster Alberic O'Kelly de Galway sit in on the meeting as a witness. He was very guarded. I wrote a proposal which he read. I said if I came to Moscow, my wife and I would have to have some living quarters and money. He said it could not be worked out. Botvinnik couldn't work it out? Maybe he just didn't choose to work it out. Maybe it was bad chemistry.

PT: The second issue of Chessworld. Did you notice there might be problems?

FB: There were problems from the beginning: mostly the amount of money put into the mailing, promotion and typesetting. I tried to put out a magazine of national importance. At the university, I teach a course in magazine journalism. I like to use my own experience with Chessworld to the effect that it is possible (though in my case I failed) to start a magazine with no money.

PT: What do you suggest to people today contemplating similar projects?

FB: Now you can do everything on computers. In seven days you can be up.

PT: Could you make money from it? E-zines are doing it because they get a lot of hits and advertising. How come you didn't have any ads, other than your own, in Chessworld?

FB: I tried to sell advertising. I went around. I also had the idea that the magazine could be like American Heritage, sell no ads and just sustain itself on its subscription income. In other words, the reader was getting a book. I couldn't sell one ad.

PT: Do you think a magazine like yours has a place today -- or does it have to be like some web sites such as Tim Krabbe's site or Chess Cafe or even TWIC?

FB: It's a very interesting question. It applies not only to chess, but to other businesses on the Web as well. There is a place for magazines. Maybe 50 or a 100 years from now it will be different. However, remember that after a while a computer screen can affect your eyes.

PT: Is it just that or is there a hands on feeling in a magazine? Or is there something aesthetic-the pictures are better or you can carry it around.

FB: It's tough to curl up with a computer or sit on a park bench with one or on a subway. It's much easier to take a magazine wherever you go.

PT: Is a magazine a work of art more than a computer can be a work of art?

FB: I hate to knock new technology. A magazine is more attractive, but I don't know if there is anything inherently sacred in a printed page over a computer screen page.

PT: You had about 5000 subscribers. Were there any other sources of income?

FB: We started to sell equipment. Herman Helms, editor of the American Chess Bulletin, had died and left everything to his assistant who had worked with him for 50 years, a Miss Sullivan. Unfortunately, she was hit by a car and killed a short time after. Their attorney called me up and I bought the ACB estate for $500.

PT: You couldn't know until now that that advertised sale in Chessworld started a huge fight between a 17 year old boy and his parents.

FB: Really? You wanted to buy something from Chessworld?

PT: I wanted to buy everything on the page and use my savings.

FB: I'm so sorry! Did you buy anything?

PT: No, when I was a kid I listened to my parents.

FB: It all was sold. I tried to sell equipment, but I saw I would run out of money. I went to potential investors. I put an ad in the classified section of the New York Times requesting investors. I finally settled on an ad agency: J.B. Rundle. It was the only legitimate offer. The officers of the company came down to my apartment. They couldn't believe I was putting out a magazine of such quality out of my bedroom. They loved it. They weren't even chessplayers. They said, "We'll give you $20,000 and we'll see how it goes." I had to give them virtually all the stock of the company--the biggest portion of the business. That enabled me to get out the next issue. We issued a catalogue. That cost a great deal of money to print. We used a walk-in closet for books and chess sets. After the third issue, it was over. They kept sending their accountant to check the books. "You're not going to make it," he said. "You're not bringing in enough income." I didn't think I could personally continue doing it. I'd devoted a part of my life to it, but I had to find work.

PT: One of the things I regret is the articles that were predicted but never appeared.

FB: I got the ideas by going to the NY Public Library. I asked Joe Mask, a librarian there , to get me every single chess book, thousands, in the stacks of the library. For three weeks, from early morning to late at night, I was going over there every day. After I read, scanned and absorbed everything, I had a list of ideas.

PT: What happened to the psychology of a chessplayer article?

FB: A psychologist, Dr. Norman Cantor from Mt. Sinai, was assigned, but he never finished it during the first three issues.

PT: And the "Do the Russians Cheat at Chess" article?

FB: The Spann-Meyer debate at the Marshall Chess Club pretty much covered that.

PT: And the chess and education article?

FB: Milton Hanauer, a chess master and an educator and agreed to do it, but didn't.

PT: The Hollywood crowd?

FB: Never had the time, but we intended to.

PT: Did you feel you were going to be an activating force in the chess world?

FB: Yes. I felt as though we had support. I felt we could sustain Chessworld.

PT: The thing in your ad that did it for me was that picture of Lisa Lane.

FB: (Laughing) She was my friend. We both lived in the Village.

PT: Did you meet her through chess?

FB: Yes. She came to a tournament I directed in 1958. She had pre- registered. She was late and I had started her clock. She was furious; but it started a long friendship that we have maintained over the years until this day over forty years later..

PT: What ever happened to the article by one of the country's top mathematicians that proved that computers would never play well?

FB: I don't remember who that was.

PT: He probably prefers it that way.

PT: Was it hard to get people to write for you?

FB: No, I had my chess contacts and I had sent out press releases to writers' journals asking for submissions. We received a lot of responses and published some.

PT: Did you ever think of starting up again?

FB: At this stage of my life, no. I'll be retiring in a few years. Going through a bankruptcy was a terrible, hurtful experience. My wife and I -- we were in our 20s -- could barely pay rent on the apartment. The magazine was a good experience, however. I'm glad I did it, but I would never do it again, unless someone like the Hearst Corporation or Conde Nast or Time Warner would come along to back me. Sure, then I'd do it.

PT: Do you think those three volumes bound together could sell as a book?

FB: It's an idea I'd never thought of. It gets mentioned every now and then. It's in the Book of Lists by Soltis.

PT: Did the chess community support it or were there just x number of chess players?

FB: Yes, I believe the chess community supported it. The universe of chess players was smaller then, however.

PT: With all the arguments about what should go in Chess Life today, should there be room made for history and lore.

FB: It should be integral to the magazine.

PT: Why?

FB: Because it's part of the game. Chess is an art and it's a science and a magnificent game and has been for thousands of years. It's not just a discussion of whether you play a particular move in some variation. We want to know something about the game: the history of the game, the beauty of the game and the people that play it. It's very interesting that it is impossible to try and establish a demographic of the typical chess player. I think it's important to capture some of that uniqueness. The history that is going on right now should not be lost because we have 22 pages of analysis and nothing to do with the why of the players -- their rationales, their idiosyncrasies, their tensions. I think people would like an in-depth article on not only Kasparov, but others as well.

PT: It is curious that the fabled Chess Pie only had three "issues." Chessworld had three. American Chess Journal had three, but threatens a fourth. Is there a curse?

FB: (Laughing) I guess what usually happens is that the first issue gets the second and third out. No, there is no curse. Three strikes and you're out.

PT: Is it viable today? Or can it just make it on the net? Could you do a Chessworld today?

FB: I would suggest to anyone that wants to duplicate Chessworld to get backing. You can start a unique magazine today. Joel Benjamin did it.

PT: How would you sell your idea to the public? Chess and general public?

FB: I would make a presentation to potential backers, a makeup dummy, present a business plan, construct a budget, supply them with statistics on the popularity of chess by pointing to chess set and other manufacturing sales. I would have included numbers of chess clubs, key organizations like the USCF along with how you would promote it. One way we tried was to promote through an exhibition.

PT: The 400 board thing? The Fischer simul?

FB: That's right! Fischer wanted to break the world's simultaneous record. Unfortunately, Kennedy was assassinated, so we cancelled the exhibition.

PT: How do you sell chess lore and chess history to the public? You look at book sales and 90% are opening books promising to show you how to win in 10-20 moves.

FB: I don't know the answer. I just simply don't know the answer ... I would say there are certain people that don't care about the history or the magic of the game. All they want to know is what's the best move in the King's Indian. They're never going to be concerned. But possibly you can do it with attractive productions and name writers perhaps outside the world of chess.

PT: Are there new things we haven't tried?

FB: I rarely see good in depth articles on players. I recently saw one on Seirawan in a California newspaper written by a regular journalist: Wonderful, well-written, insightful. You don't see that much that is interesting. Michael Rohde and John Watson are very good writers.

PT: Let's talk about your personal chess experiences before all this ...

FB: I had a knack for starting a chess club. I lived on the Brooklyn/Queens border and wanted to get an active club going, which I did. To get a club affiliation with the USCF, I went to the address and rang the doorbell. Kenneth Harkness, business manager of the USCF, came out in his bathrobe. I kept going over there for chess equipment and score sheets for the club and Harkness and I hit it off. One day he asked me if I would be interested in helping him direct the U.S. Amateur. After a couple of years he asked me to be his full-time assistant at $60 a week. I was already making $175 a week at an ad agency. I took the job. My mother said, "What are you doing? You should see a psychiatrist!" I took it because I loved chess. It was the greatest thing I ever did in my life. I ended up [in 1958 and 1959] (unofficially) running the office as Harkness continually disappeared, going around the world as a bridge instructor on luxury liners. I came up with the idea of turning Chess Life from a newspaper to a magazine and put it into effect. Harkness formally retired and suddenly I was both business manager and editor.

PT: What made you stop?

FB: The Fischer-Reshevsky match controversy. I backed Bobby. The USCF president, Fred Cramer, did not want me to cover this (in Chess Life) because they didn't want to lose the Piatagorskys' patronage.

PT: Why did you leave?

FB: I felt I had to. I don't know whether I was fired or I quit. All I know is that he was happy that I left and I was happy to leave. I just couldn't continue. I felt Bobby was U.S. Champion and should be accorded more respect.

PT: How did you strike up a relationship with Fischer?

FB: Over the years, in tournaments, we talked. When I became business manager and editor it was natural to be involved with his concerns. And his mom was a stage mother, of sorts. Bobby was one of the few people, as much as I detest what he has become, who ever, when he saw how broke I was, asked, "Do you need any money?" That's hardly ever happened. He realized my wife and I were struggling. That was nice of him to do that. We got along. I liked him and I think he liked me.

PT: Where did you go after the USCF?

FB: Eros magazine. Ralph Ginzburg had done a [now legendary] piece in Harper's on Fischer and we met through that. I stayed there one year and then went on to Playboy after Chessworld in large part due to the skills I showed in producing that magazine and also because I had written Profile of a Prodigy. By 1969-1970, I had moved on to publishing Avant Garde magazine. In 1970, my wife and I went on an extended trip to Africa and Europe and ended up living and teaching in Spain in the Balearic Islands. I taught drama.

PT: Did you teach Lope de Vega?

FB: No -- mostly Thornton Wilder. In Franco's Spain you couldn't have public assemblies, even with 22 high school students, without first writing to the Spanish government to ask permission. We rarely heard back, so we had constant rehearsals and few performances. We then returned to America, and I secured a job as an account executive with Metromedia with KSAN in San Francisco. The chess scene in San Francisco was enjoyable. I became close friends Bob Burger, the Sam Loyd of the Bay Area who did a fine book, The Chess of Bobby Fischer. I also had the good fortune to know Guthrie McClain, editor of the California Chess Bulletin. The Fischer-Spassky match rediscovered me. In Reykjavik, I became a reporter for ABC Wide World of Sports, for PBS -- feeding to Shelby Lyman, for a BBC documentary, as a columnist for an Icelandic newspaper and also as a paid yet uncredited contributor to Harold Schonberg's reports to the New York Times. I was making a lot of money from chess!! A couple of thousand a week! Of course, that ended. After the match, I came back to the U.S. and for 5-6 years I was a free lance writer and wrote books and started seriously to go to school. Finally, in 1978 I began teaching as an adjunct at Columbia and later at City College , NYU, and St. Johns. Finally, St. Johns offered a full time position where I am now a full professor and chairman of the communication and media studies department. I still teach one course in journalism at Barnard College as I have for the last 18 years.

PT: How many degrees do you have?

FB: Four: BS from SUNY, MA from NYU (film), MFA from Columbia (Writing) and a PhD from NYU (Communications)

PT: What are your plans now?

FB: In terms of chess, I want to play. I play one game a day on the net on Game Zone. I could never figure out what they're doing at ICC. In the Fall, I'll go the Manhattan or Marshall. I would like to continue to serve in national chess such as the Cramer Awards [he is the chairman of that committee].

PT: Do you see a gentle irony there?

FB: Yes, but Fred Cramer did what he felt he had to do as president of the USCF, and I had to follow my beliefs as editor of Chess Life.

PT: Should the editor have any freedom?

FB: Someone once said the freedom belongs to the person who owns the publication. The editor, however, should have as much latitude as possible.

PT: Any other plans?

FB: I have many other non-chess interests and will pursue those.

PT: What is the best experience you've had in chess?

FB: The playing. I really feel that it has helped me as a person, such as some of the things Franklin pointed out in his essay on chess: learning foresight, circumspection and caution, and that chess is not just an idle passion. I actually feel after I play a game of chess that I'm a little smarter, like one IQ point higher. There have been years and years of entertainment and reward. I think back to the US Championship with Bobby playing when he went 11-0. As the director of that tournament, I saw the games as they happened and talked to the players. That was exciting.

PT: Did Fischer ever mention the streak?

FB: No, it was like a no-hitter. Nobody wanted to jinx it by talking about it.

Other "best" experiences: Saturday afternoon at the Marshall having a really wonderful time going over games with other players. Playing at Forest Park in Queens in the early summer evenings, listening to Strauss waltzes drifting down from the carousel through the trees. I felt like I was in another age. It was delicious -- the chess and the music -- I wished it would go on forever.

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