Don Carter, U.S. champion, had 11 strikes in a row. One more and he would have a perfect 300 and win a new Pontiac car. The last ball left his hand, and a mighty roar swept the jam-packed Faetz-Niesen lanes. It was echoed in bars, restaurants and homes by a television audience of 250,000. What happened, on a seemingly perfect pocket hit, is shown in the photo sequence on the opposite page.
Carter's 10-pin "tap" might well have been the most heartbreaking in bowling history. But it was also one of the most important, for it propelled Peter DeMet, the largest Pontiac dealer in the Midwest, into the game with all his energy, promotional ability and cash. DeMet, who bears a striking resemblance to Actor John Wayne, is doing as much this year to build up spectator interest—and boost professional bowlers into a higher income bracket—as anyone else has done in a lifetime.
"A TREMENDOUS INTEREST"
"When I began sponsoring a bowling show on television last year," DeMet said a few days ago, "I had no idea there was such a tremendous interest in the game. But when Carter rolled that 299, everyone in Chicago talked about it next day. Every paper carried the story under big headlines." His pale blue eyes sparkled. He ran a hand excitedly through his hair, prematurely grey for his 41 years. "I became convinced," he added with conviction, "that bowling had a great future as a spectator sport."
DeMet, who made his first million in automobiles at 35, has the courage of his convictions. This season he not only is sponsoring weekly head-and-head match games on TV (NBC, 11-12 p.m., Sat.) in Chicago, but he has invested $300,000 in Championship Bowling films which are being televised throughout the country, bringing the best in bowling into thousands of homes.
Both on TV and film, the contestants roll three games. The winner receives $200, the loser $100, and an additional $25 is awarded for each game won. Anyone who rolls 300 on TV gets a Pontiac, while for the film series the prize is $1,000. No one has yet received a car for a perfect game, although Steve Nagy of Cleveland turned the trick recently against Ed Kawolics of Chicago—the only 300 game ever filmed. (Several 300s have been seen on other TV programs, but no permanent photographic record was kept. In the case of Carter's 299, the cameraman started shooting only after the ninth strike.) Carter had another nerve-tingling "nearly" in the film series, hitting 298.
"So far I've signed up 25 of the country's best bowlers," DeMet said proudly. "We've shot 26 films and have 13 to go."
The son of poor Greek immigrants who settled in Chicago at the turn of the century, DeMet has become one of the most popular figures in financial and sports circles here. Professional bowlers, some of whom are not easy to please, say he has been more than fair. Besides prize money, they receive expenses and a percentage of the profits.
A FABULOUS SUCCESS
From all accounts, the DeMet shows are enjoying fabulous success. One reason is that bowling is hand-tailored for sports fans who gamble, since it is practically impossible to rig a match without being obvious—and anyone who did would be barred for life by the American Bowling Congress. A Chicago columnist has estimated that more than $1 million changes hands after each Saturday TV event.
In addition to the betting and the high caliber of the bowling, the shows have a great asset in "Whispering" Joe Wilson, the unobtrusive NBC sports-caster whose voice, ranging from a whisper to an excited shout, adds to the drama on the lanes. Wilson, like DeMet, knew little about bowling a year ago. Today, like his sponsor, he is at the top of his field—thanks, in part, to a 10-pin that didn't fall down.