She Broke the Gender Barrier … in Billiards | Flashback


Welker Cochran, proprietor of San Francisco’s mythical poolroom the 924 Membership and an eight-time global champion in billiards, had heard about Masako Katsura. American servicemen getting back from Tokyo had described her ability with a cue, and Cochran had despatched his personal son to scout her out in Japan (famously, his son reported: “This lady is healthier than you’re!”). Nonetheless, he used to be shocked when Katsura, five toes tall and no more than 100 kilos, strode into his membership. She gave a personal efficiency that offered Cochran, who then went to bat for her with the Billiard Congress of The us, telling them, “She has one of the vital absolute best strokes I’ve ever noticed.”

Katsura, also known as Katsy for brief, arrived in america in 1950 on the age of 37 … and in a while thereafter broke the gender barrier in three-cushion billiards, a well-liked type of pool during which the cue ball will have to contact 3 cushions to earn issues. She positioned 7th (of 10) whilst changing into the primary lady to compete for a global billiards identify at a championship in San Francisco in 1952, then went on to complete 5th and fourth the following two years. Her occupation introduced her a measure of popularity, with tv appearances on ABC’s You Requested for It and CBS’ What’s My Line? in 1958. But she disappeared from the scene now not lengthy after, sooner or later transferring again to Japan sooner than passing away in 1995.


Katsura’s exceptional existence in billiards started with tragedy. After her father died when she used to be 12, Katsura moved in along with her sister and brother-in-law, a billiard parlor proprietor who started educating her the sport. She took to it briefly. “I follow sooner than parlor open on a daily basis for 2 hours,” Katsura informed New York sports activities journalist Jimmy Cannon. “I play males six, seven hours an afternoon.” And she or he beat them. At age 15, she received the ladies’s instantly rail championship and shortly after started traveling Japan, China and Formosa (now Taiwan) along with her sister, additionally an achieved participant. Already a top-flight billiards celebrity with two second-place finishes within the Jap three-cushion championships, Katsura used to be giving billiards exhibitions when she began doing classes with Vernon Greenleaf, an American serviceman stationed at Haneda Air Base in Tokyo. The pair married in 1950, and the following yr Greenleaf used to be transferred to a submit in San Francisco.

Katsura’s enjoying occupation can have ended with that transfer, if now not for the imprimatur of Jap champion Kinrey Matsuyama, who had spoken all over the place about Katsura’s prowess. And the American billiards scene used to be nonetheless hopping.

Her seems have been a part of the spectacle: Trade companions dressed her up in tight kimonos and top heels. But it surely used to be her ability that used to be are compatible to kill.

Within the 1930s, The New York Instances had a mean of 3 articles in keeping with day about billiards, says Mike Shamos, a Carnegie Mellon professor and a professional on billiards historical past. However International Warfare II took its toll, and the sport used to be in decline when Katsura arrived. “Many of the gamers, guys within the target audience, have been in another country and in carrier,” Shamos notes. Nonetheless, three-cushion used to be interesting partly on account of its brute pressure. “It’s now not a sport of delicacy. It attracted a definite form of spectator that enjoyed photographs serious about a large number of energy,” Shamos says. The Instances nonetheless averaged a piece of writing an afternoon, despite the fact that, and so long as 51-time global champion Willie Hoppe used to be within the sport, it remained well-liked.

If truth be told, Hoppe used to be the protecting champion when Katsura arrived to play in 1952. The general public used to be fascinated. “San Franciscans who didn’t know a cue from a cucumber crowded to peer her,” reported Time mag. And Katsura didn’t fail to provoke: The largest disillusioned of the match used to be when she received 50-46 towards Ray Kilgore, a neighborhood boy nicknamed the “Massive Killer” who used to be noticed as having a shot to dethrone Hoppe.

After the championship, Katsura did exhibition excursions throughout The us with one of the game’s biggest gamers, together with Cochran. Her seems have been a part of the spectacle: Trade companions dressed her up in tight kimonos and top heels. But it surely used to be her ability that used to be are compatible to kill. “She would homicide you. I came upon rattling fast you have to now not depart her an open shot. When you did she would take the ones balls clear of you and stick them proper up your pooper,” says Danny McGoorty, one in every of her sufferers, in pool professional Robert Byrne’s 1972 e book, McGoorty: A Pool Room Hustler.

However Katsura stayed somewhat out of the highlight, fending off skilled tournaments within the overdue 1950s … it used to be rumored to be on the request of her husband, or on account of her frayed nerves. She emerged for a 1961 identify fit towards billiards champ Harold Worst however misplaced.

Nonetheless, the First Girl of Billiards knew the way to make an go out. In a wonder look at Palace Billiards in San Francisco in 1976, the 63-year-old borrowed a pool cue and ran 100 issues instantly conveniently. That very same yr, a bunch of younger feminine gamers based the Girls’s Skilled Billiard Affiliation. Katsura used to be one of the vital first other people inducted into its Corridor of Repute.

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