This issue we will read about the life of one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, Ted Allen, as written by another Hall of Famer, Bryon Jaskulek. This article does not dwell on Allen's pitching triumphs, but tells us about the showmanship and promotion aspects of Allen's career. Jaskulek was 1st NHPA Vice President from New York and the Editor of the NHPA official magazine, The Horseshoe Pitcher, and wrote this article for the January 1949 issue. This is an extraordinary article written in the heyday of Allen's career, not in the twilight of his career.
Outline of the Horseshoe Pitching Life of Ted Allen
By Bryon Jaskulek, Editor
Ted Allen first picked up the game of horseshoes while farming and ranching in Kansas. Living in the more remote sections of western Kansas, he became interested in tossing horseshoes, because that and hunting were the only outdoor sports. He teamed up with his father, who was a well-known pitcher, having taken many state "open" prizes himself. Ted learned to beat the best of them and at the age of 12, he was thrilled to hear one expert say, "If I had that boy, I would take him to Chicago." The man probably did not know himself why he mentioned Chicago, but by a coincidence, Chicago was the place where Ted first won a World Championship at the World's Fair in 1933.
The family moved to Colorado in 1922. While farming and attending school, Ted won county and state championships. He was state champ 8 years out of 10, losing the two to his brother, Ira. Ted won the four Rocky Mountain Region Open Tournaments that were sponsored by the Denver Post and all the county tournaments expect one.
The family again moved on to Oregon in 1932, planning to settle there. But after winning the Oregon State title that year, glowing letters from a horseshoe manufacturer in California led him to believe there was a "pot of gold" to be found in that state. So, with some persuasion from Ted, the family moved to California. After three trails, he was convinced that he had been following a wrong trail. Acts were a dime a dozen around Hollywood. Ted and his parents then moved back to Bolder, Colorado in 1936. Ira Allen stayed in California, where he has been ever since. The first few years there, Ira won several Northern California titles, and the California State Championship once. It was his brother who always gave Ted his steadiest competition in the years they used to pitch in contests together. Ira took the Colorado State away from Ted twice and the Oregon Open Title once.
However, it was during Ted's stay in California, 1933 to 1935, that he won his first World's title in Chicago. All Ted's life he wanted to be somebody and he has an idea that his horseshoes would be the means of getting him some place. And the following years proved him right. And now he was ready to give it a try. The championship afforded him the first opportunity to advertise himself as the world's best. The year following his first title he took Fernando Isais, who is now present champ, with him on the barnstorming tour of horseshoe clubs in the middle-west.
Finding it to be a hard road to travel, Isais dropped out of it after that first year. But Ted wasn't yet convinced that it couldn't be done properly. He was sure that a fair living and a good time with plenty of traveling could be gotten out of it some way by hard work and
learning how. He considers those first few years hard ones to break into good show business. But he paved the way for those who later came pitching in show since the war. His good appearances in shows made him in demand in sports shows from coast to coast and when he had to turn down some shows they procured Jimmy Risk and Casey Jones, and Guy Zimmerman.
But getting back to the first years, with the lessons learned from the first year Ted corresponded ahead for appearances, and went alone in 1935. He went all the way to the east states ending up the summer season in New York City, making the rounds of all the fine horseshoe club courts in the metropolis, guided by that man-about-town, "Pop" Schavel, for a solid month. Then after an interview with Brig. General Kilpatrick, President of Madison Square Garden, he engaged for one day at the World's largest rodeo, with the understanding that if the act went over well, they would "contract" him for the entire show.
Not only did it go over well, it played the entire 24-day show. He was also booked back each year at the same show for three more years. It was the first time a horseshoe pitching act was presented in that manner in the Big Town. It was considered one of the best acts that the Garden ever booked. More people saw the act that way than any other possible way because the annual New York Rodeo draws more attendance than any other attraction there, now running nearly a month annually. George Schavel of Brooklyn assisted Ted the first two years, thereafter he used cowboys.
It was a big event in Ted's life. And during those same years he also booked a few of the country's largest theatres, starting out with the once world's largest, the Roxy Theatre in New York City. Then followed the best theatres in Boston, Providence, Chicago, Dayton, St. Louis, Washington D.C. and some smaller cities.
Besides playing in the annual Midwest Tournament 1935 to 1939, which tournament took the place of an absent World's Tournament from 1936 to 1939. Ted won all of them except in 1938, losing to Fernando Isais, who finally gained a victory over Ted, after many years of trying, but this did not mean losing his World's championship. He won the Rocky Mountain title sponsored by the Denver Post, with top notchers from the entire western states competing, four years in a row 1929 to 1933, incidentally the only four years it was held.
In all the years of playing shows, Ted holds the unique record of repeating most of the shows he has booked. There is only one other act that has beaten his record of four straight years at Madison Square Garden; it was a High School horse act, which played there 7 years, at the rodeo. But he did repeat at the Rodeo in Rochester, N.Y. 7 times. He was honored to play at one of the Army retired generals horse shows right after the war. But one of the fine shows which he played, where the elite of aristocrats attend, was the swank Santa Barbara Horse Show in California in 1941. Only one act each year is booked as a special feature there. When an act plays that show it is lucky, indeed.
From the appearances at the Garden an offer from one of the country's best traveling rodeo shows, and the best in the East, came a yearly job with the J.E. Jim Eskew Rodeo Show for seven years, five were pre-war and two were post-war, starting in 1937.
Besides putting in his featured act of clowning the horseshoe pitching trick, he rode cow ponies whenever he wanted to make it a better show and to fill in as all show people do with a traveling unit. Another featured act in which he worked in the show was a rough and tumble comedy bucking ford as an acrobat, playing the part of a kid in knee pants. The rodeo made its appearance all over the eastern states and as far west as St. Louis and Chicago. In recent years, just before and after the war, this rodeo outfit teamed up on different occasions and at different times with both the Roy Rogers troop and the Gene Autry bunch. Both movie cowboy kings insisted that the horseshoe pitching and the ford acts be included in their shows, as two of the main featured acts. Roy Rogers, himself, could easily have been an excellent pitcher if he had time. During the weekly shows at each city, Rogers and the Son of the Pioneers, indulged in tossing the shoes, four-handed games, with no scientific turns. Surprising to Allen was the good aim of Rogers, and in the first lesson in the 1¼ turn from Allen; he never lost his aim, with about 50% ringers.
Among the nation's air hook-ups that interviewed Ted, are the Breakfast Club of Chicago, where he was on twice, once pitching at Don McNeil and using some of the sound effects. Clem McCarthy of New York had him. Farm and Home hour had him twice on the national hook-up, too. There have been so many smaller stations that have used him he cannot remember the names of some of them. Several newsreels featured him, the last one was with Roy Rogers rodeo using some of the cowboys as scenery in 1947 in Chicago. He was top star in two movie shorts. One was a Grantland Rice sport light. He was co-star in another one of a Camel Cigarette short with a famous diving champ.
While in the Army, the War Department turned down two requests for his transfer to special services to give exhibitions for the soldiers, because of his male nurse training for hospital work, at least until after Germany fell. Utilizing a golden opportunity to get the transfer through while he was home from overseas on a T.D. furlough, he then was put to playing for hospitals, and building horseshoe courts at Camp Carsen Hospital for convalescents. Later to New York City to go overseas after the war, and made a couple of appearances at Camp Shanks with Joe Louis. Discharged a month later he was immediately contracted by the Garden to stand by to play there if a certain high school horse failed to make his appearance.
Three times Ted Allen sustained injuries in the rodeo work. The first two times it affected and hampered his practice seriously, just before the year's largest tournament. The first injury was in 1938, before the Midwest National contest in Des Moines. His injury caused a shortening of his swing without any follow-through whatsoever. That was the only time he lost the Midwest National and it was to Fernando Isais. By the following year his injury has healed sufficiently to have him back in good form and he won all his 36 games.
The second injury and a serious one, came just three weeks before the important World Tournament in 1947. In Gerry, N.Y., a well-broken horse went on a bucking spree and Ted dislocated a hip and had several torn ligaments. Practice had to be cut to six short days.
Many people attributed his losing that year to a bad case of poison ivy, but Ted says that the injuries to his leg and hip did more to tear down his stamina than anything else, as he was unable to walk until a week prior to the tournament. Yet his contract called for his appearances as usual, and Ted was enough of a trooper that he did not desire to be left out of the show, but his speed was retained to hobbling.
It was the tournament when he received his most serious injuries. It was in a "bucking Ford" act in September at Philadelphia. Ted had a dislocation of the color bone from the sternum, torn ligaments and muscles, a transverse fracture of a vertebra and a vertebra out of place. Although, hospitalized and ordered by the doctors to remain behind, he refused and five days later moved with the Roy Rogers Rodeo to Detroit making the move in a specially built bed in the back seat of his car. It is typical of a rodeo man to go along even if he has two broken legs.
In Detroit, his employer asked him to try pitching on the opening night, but remained out of the Ford act for two weeks, in spite of the injuries, as it was the rodeo's first appearance in Detroit and a lot depended upon a good show as it was being televised. Later a horseshoe pitcher spectator mentioned that it looked as though Ted Allen had changed his form of delivery. No wonder. It was only by extreme slowness and concentration that he was able to get, happily, about 75% ringers to make it look good. It was unfortunate that in both of his shoulder injuries the fall was on his right shoulder. In another month his soreness lessened up a little, but he never regained his easy delivery until the following summer of 1948. He has had to stay off a horse for a while but he figures that by the summer of 1949 all his usual form and stamina will have been regained, without letting down during the tournament. Yet in spite of his injuries the past two years he has made several new world records.
He was the first man to pitch on television. It was at the first all television show immediately after the war in Buffalo. It must be said here a fine compliment was paid to his act and to the game of horseshoes when the television projection men spoke unanimously that his act showed up on the screen best of all and therefore they enjoyed taking it more than some other things. Altogether his act has been televised in four places. Besides the above mentioned he was shown on it at the Roy Rogers Rodeo in Philadelphia, St. Louis and Chicago. On one occasion, he also sat with the television announcer to explain the rodeo to him as it progressed for the listeners benefit.
Ted took his championship responsibility seriously, believing that it was his job to look and act respectable, that he must look the part of a clean champ. Yet it must be said that horseshoe pitching did not make him that way. He was practicing what he had always been practicing while going out for school sports and really believed that by living cleanly he would be able to stay on top of the heap a lot longer, at least he figured his chances would multiply. Knowing that many eyes would be on him during his tour of exhibitions, he kept a careful check to see that the young children respected him for clean living. He believes that he has attained at least two of his goals. To have become a champion and to have traveled a good deal. His first years at barnstorming the country were the hardest, but he gained a lot of experience. He spent a great deal of each day answering hundreds of questions. And those were the years for most of is autograph fans because of personal appearances. On one occasion in Detroit, he was crowded and jostled by hundreds of kids for autographs. He climbed a big sign hoping to get above and reach down. It was impossible to write on the ground. But the kids climbed there too and the sign fell over.
In all of his exhibitions and personal appearances, not counting millions who must have seen his five newsreels and two movie shorts, as near as can be calculated by the attendance at the different shows he has played with, there have been around 17,947,000 people who have witnessed his act, besides there have been around 200,000 who have witnessed him in action in tournaments. Due to the fact that he entered the show business when certain kinds of it were having its best years, he continued to perform in top shows for 18 years.