Monday, July 31, 2006

Celebrity Poker: Albania, 1935

From an era long before "Celebrity Poker" became a staple of basic cable TV -- indeed, from an era before there was basic cable TV . . . this little New Yorker story, vintage 1935, illustrates another kind of celebrity poker:

A quartet of gentlemen adventurers connected with the Standard Oil Company, and headed by a Mr. Owen, have just returned from Tirana, the capital city of Albania, with a surprising little tale. Seems that after a strenuous summer of surveys in the Balkans, they came to Tirana with hopes of finding excitement and gaiety. Tirana, however, turned out not to have any night life at all: no night clubs, no theaters. After a late dinner, the four retired to their hotel suite and settled down to an evening of draw poker. Beside them, a tall French window overlooked a darkened city. Far away across the city, a light shone in the royal palace; elsewhere there was nothing. In about ten minutes, the telephone rang. Mr. Owen answered and was addressed first in Italian, then in French, and finally in English. He replied in English, and a small sad voice inquired, "Is it bridge or poker?" He said it was poker. "This is King Zog speaking," the voice went on. "I wonder if I could come over and take a hand." Owen told him to come right ahead. He arrived 15 minutes later, played for the rest of the evening, and lost the Albanian equivalent of $1.50, after which he bought them a round of drinks at the hotel bar. Seems he keeps a telescope at the palace, and manages to get in quite a little night life that way.

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