Bobby Jones: How I Play Golf

"How I Play Golf" and "How to Break 90"

Bobby Jones enjoys the results of his tutorial with Frank Craven.
Bobby Jones enjoys the results of his tutorial with Frank Craven.

After winning the "Grand Slam of golf" -- the USGA Open, USGA Amateur, British Open and British Amateur competitions -- in 1930, Jones became a national celebrity. Convinced of his star power and his appeal to the everyman, Warner Brothers signed him to produce a series of instructional films bringing basic golf techniques to the silver screen. George Marshall, director of the famous "Perils of Pauline" serial, was chosen to direct the Bobby Jones series. If you've ever seen a cartoon or TV show where an evil, mustached character ties a young woman to railroad tracks, then you've seen a distant cousin of "The Perils of Pauline." O.B. Keeler, Jones' personal beat writer and biographer, went to Hollywood with Jones to write the films.

Jones wanted to take on the game of golf club by club -- to show the viewer each successive piece of equipment in the context of a real-life hang-up or common mistake. Each episode starts with a skit performed by the biggest stars of the time, including W.C. Fields, Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney and Douglas Fairbanks. The skits are based on humorous, stereotypical characters of the time, like the boss who is always sneaking off to play golf and the nagging wife who turns out to be smarter than the husband. Jones makes an appearance as himself, a concerned onlooker ready to help solve whatever golf problems come up for the main character in each skit.

Jones recalled, "There was a story line in each episode, but we didn't have a script -- they made it up as we went along. The plots wound up at the end of each 10-minute short and there was a lot of horseplay and comedy, with the instructional business woven in."

The skits are as interesting as the golf lessons for their examples of old-school trash-talking and a bygone lifestyle that involved tobacco pipes, fedoras, pressed white shirts, v-neck sweaters, argyle socks and short pants. In addition to the lessons on golf, the skits teach us that in the '30s, trash-talking was an art form. These old duffers have a way of getting under each other's skin with plain, profanity-free language. The practice of being aggressively smug seems to be a lost art.