Talking to the Curator of the World's Greatest Collection of Photos of Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

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For the past year, one of my favorite websites to browse for hours on end has been the aptly-titled CelebritiesPlayingTableTennis.com. The site, which predates the era of single-serving Tumblrs, is a reliquary of every kind of celebrity playing what’s often referred to as the world’s most popular sport: everybody from David Bowie to Eva Braun is shown paddle-in-hand.

Curious about how the site came about, I emailed a few questions to Larry Hodges, its founder, and he was gracious enough to respond in detail. Before you read the interview (or after, I suppose), I urge you to waste a few days with the site’s 789 celebrities.

Where did the idea come from? Did you just come across a picture of, say, Pavarotti, playing table tennis and decide—I wonder if there are more like this?

I was the editor of USA Table Tennis Magazine (cir. 8000) for twelve years and 71 issues. During that time people were regularly sending me table tennis photos, including occasional ones of celebrities. And then, just as it says at the top of the page, "In a moment of sudden clarity, I realized what this world needed was a web page devoted to pictures of celebrities playing table tennis." It was no different than the sudden insight that allowed Newton to formulate the laws of gravitation or Einstein the theory of relativity.

What are your favorite images on the site?

I tend to like the ones of U.S. Presidents: Barack Obama, the two Bushes, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon, as well as presidential contenders such as Hillary Clinton, Walter Mondale, George McGovern, John Kerry, and Mike Huckabee. I also like pictures of famous movie stars, but any short listing couldn't begin to showcase the sheer number of ones on the site.

Are there any celebrities, or types of celebrities, you really seek out? Is there anyone in particular you've been anxious to find for the site?

There are two "Holy Grails" that I've been actively searching for since I began the page.

The first is one of former presidential candidate Howard Dean. I started the page during the 2004 Presidential race. Just a few weeks earlier I'd seen a picture of Dean in an online Milwaukee newspaper. However, I've searched and searched but been unable to find it. It's not a hugely important one, but it has irritated me for years that I can't find it.

The second is a drawing I saw many years ago of Babe Ruth playing table tennis in a "Believe It or Not!" cartoon, where it said that Ruth was told to play table tennis to help his eyesight. I've been unable to find it online, and when I contacted the "Believe It or Not!" people, they were unable to help me.

I'd also like to get pictures of even more presidents.

Have you ever rejected a photo of somebody for not being famous enough?

Definitely. However, I didn't keep a record of them. I've been sent pictures of actors playing table tennis, but when I check their record at iMDB. I'll find they were in just one or two movies—not exactly "celebrities." I'm sure there are some borderline ones that did make it in.

Do you know of any celebrities who are exceptionally good table tennis players, or are especially fond of the sport?

There are many celebrities who play table tennis regularly. However, few are actively involved in the sport or are very good. Here are some celebrities that take their table tennis very seriously.

Actress Susan Sarandon—She is the co-owner of the Spin Table Tennis Club in New York City. She often shows up at major tournaments, where I got to meet her. She plays regularly and takes lessons. While she is not that good (yet!), she is pretty serious about it. She recently contributed $75,000 to bring table tennis to New York City schools.

Actor Adoni Maropis—He is best known as Abu Fayed, the main villain in season six of 24, who nukes Valencia, California, and tries to set off four other nuclear bombs. He is easily the best celebrity player, winning the USA National Hardbat Championships in 2011. (Hardbat is a subset of table tennis where you play without sponge.) I've played him in tournaments three or four times, and while I won each time, they were struggles.

Puzzlist and New York Times Crossword Editor Will Shortz—He's a very good player who actively plays in tournaments throughout the country, and owns the Westchester Table Tennis Club in Westchester, NY. He's been touring the country playing at clubs wherever he goes—here's his article on playing in 145 clubs in 39 states.

Comedian Frank Caliendo—perhaps best known for his George W. Bush impersonations, he's been taking lessons for the last few years and competes in tournaments, and is getting pretty good.

Comedian and Actor Judah Friedlander—best known for his role as Frank Rossitano (the man of many sloganed hats) in 30 Rock, he's been playing at clubs for many years. I've coached him a number of times.

Delaware Governor Jack Markell—he came to two of the training camps I run at the Maryland Table Tennis Center back in the early 1990s, when he was still a businessman. Then he became governor of Delaware. As governor, he's come by the center a couple of times with his son and daughter, both of whom have since attended our camps. I keep wondering if there are a bunch of security people watching us when his kids are at our club!

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