Chris Marlowe, a 25-year-old volleyball player with the steel jaw line of a television detective and a mop of hair to rival Farrah Fawcett-Majors', is not the shy, retiring sort. Friends recall the time they were partying it up in a Portland, Ore. hotel room, batting a volleyball around with little concern for lamps, mirrors or other bric-a-brac. A buddy returning from an errand came in and Marlowe, with exquisite timing, spiked the ball toward the opening door. It caught his victim smack in the forehead, only it turned out to be not his friend but the hotel manager, who had come up to stop the noise.
When Marlowe was playing basketball at San Diego State, the team traveled to the University of Hawaii for a game. As part of a special promotion, fans were asked to wear hats. At a crucial point a Hawaii player had a technical foul called on him and the irate fans responded by bombarding the court with hats. A brand-new straw boater slid to a stop a few feet from the San Diego huddle.
"I knew in my mind what I wanted to do," says Dick Davis, Marlowe's San Diego coach. "So when Chris got a mischievous look on his face and said, 'Step on it, Coach, step on it,' I did. The crowd really blew." Davis cackles at the memory. "The guy has got a special kind of leadership ability."
Others describe Marlowe differently. His volleyball teammates, for instance. "He's just the Big Cy," says one. "It's short for Cyclops and I don't know how it came about, but it doesn't matter because everybody thinks it's psy for psycho. Cy does things his own way, like nobody else on a volleyball court. He's also completely obnoxious out there."
Marlowe has charisma in a sport that badly needs it, and he is also the key man on what has been the best amateur team in the nation the last couple of years—Maccabi Union of Beverly Hills. Marlowe is Maccabi's "quarterback," a setter who puts the ball up above the net in perfect position for the spikers to pulverize it. He also hits the ball himself, blocks and plays excellent defense when the rotation takes him to the back row. And he snarls at the other teams through the net. Marlowe is one of the truly accomplished snarlers in the sport.
With Marlowe providing completely obnoxious leadership and winning the most valuable player award, Maccabi won the United States Volleyball Association championship last year in Schenectady, N.Y. Two weeks ago it won the AAU title in Honolulu. The final game was televised, but Maccabi spoiled the show by drowning the local favorites from the Outrigger Canoe Club 15-0. Last week in Hilo, Hawaii, Maccabi finished second in the USVBA championship, but Marlowe and teammate Paul Sunderland were named to the All-America team.
"In my opinion Chris is the best amateur setter in the United States," says Maccabi Coach Richard Scott. "Marlowe is the only guy who can get the U.S. into the Olympics in 1980." says another coach. "He just has to marshal himself. and control his emotions. He likes to go in short bursts. We don't have another setter with his capability."
Marlowe also seems to have enough ham and hot dog in him to stock a butcher shop. When the squeeze bottle full of water is passed during a time-out, Marlowe takes a big gulp, then pretends to wash out each ear. When a certain play works three times against a frustrated blocker, Marlowe gestures that the same play is coming right at him again.
But if Cy Marlowe is a ham, he comes by it naturally. His father is actor Hugh Marlowe, currently seen on the TV soap opera Another World and once heard as Ellery Queen on radio. The younger Marlowe wants to be an actor, too, and is studying at two acting workshops while supporting himself by tending bar at a restaurant in Westwood, near the UCLA campus. So far he has resisted joining the professional International Volleyball Association. "It's not that much money," he says. "I could probably get $10,000, but I'd have to give up my job and my lessons. I'm committed to my acting career right now."
So far Marlowe's one part has been in a beer commercial with five of his pals, working up a volleyball thirst. His teammates, who love to razz him, insist that he didn't make one good set during the taping because he was always looking at the camera instead of the ball.
Marlowe grew up in Pacific Palisades, Calif., an affluent seaside section of Los Angeles that is the richest volleyball area in the U.S. He was an all-city basketball star at Palisades High and played on the 1969 high school volleyball team that sent players to UCLA, UC Santa Barbara and San Diego State, the three powers in the sport at the time.
Marlowe went to San Diego State on a basketball grant-in-aid but was short for a forward and slow for a guard, and as a result was only a part-time starter. In time he paid more and more attention to that other round-ball game invented by that other YMCA instructor in western Massachusetts, and eventually he played on the San Diego State team that won the school's first and only NCAA volleyball title in 1973, the first time UCLA had failed to win it in its four-year history.
Besides Marlowe, there was plenty of other talent around to keep the fans hopping from one court to another at the USVBA Nationals in Hilo last week. Wilt Chamberlain, a winner twice in his 14-year NBA career, even found himself on another championship team, Sir Dal Rae Nicks of Beverly Hills, which won the senior men's title.
In the women's open the favorite was Adidas of Garden Grove, Calif., a well-heeled team that arrived with a coach, an assistant coach, a trainer, a PR man and, it seemed, a set of new uniforms for every match. Three of the stars were from USC's collegiate champs, and most of the rest are planning to enroll there. You see, the Adidas and USC coaches are one and the same—Chuck Erbe, an authoritarian who subscribes to the Oriental school of volleyball sacrifice and hara-kiri workouts.
Unfortunately for Erbe and his young, dedicated athletes, they were beaten twice by the aptly named but sponsor-less South Bay Spoilers of Hermosa Beach, Calif., a good team made much better by the addition of a 6'5" member of the U.S. national team, Flo Hyman. Hyman, a student at the University of Houston, is one of the few blacks in top-class U.S. volleyball. Many volleyball officials in the U.S. feel that if more black athletes took up the sport, the U.S. would be more competitive with Cuba, Japan and the other world powers. The thought of a Julius Erving, a David Thompson or a young Wilt Chamberlain spiking for the U.S. is indeed appealing.
Last Saturday in the Hilo Civic Auditorium, the final match in the men's division was between Maccabi Union and the unbeaten team that had knocked Maccabi into the losers' bracket, Chuck's Steakhouse of Santa Barbara. Calif. Chuck's was a fine team, it was clear, if only because it had two Palisades High grads in the lineup, plus the NCAA player of the year, USC's Celso Kalache. Maccabi jumped off to a 12-4 lead in the first game but was behind 14-12 when the eight-minute clock ran out.
The second and final game, which Chuck's won 14-9, featured a classic sneering-snarling exchange between Marlowe and Dave Olbright of Chuck's. Olbright blocked a Marlowe spike and sneered. "I'll never forget the look on Marlowe's face when I blocked him," said Olbright. "I'll remember that for the rest of my life." On the next play Marlowe snarled and almost drilled the ball through Olbright's chest.
At the tournament-ending luau Saturday night there were a few boos when it was announced that Marlowe had made the All-America team. Perhaps his future in acting is as a villain.