Sewall “Skip” Shurtz was born in Texas and raised in Hollywood by his single stage-parent mother. Very poor, Skip’s grandmother did the cleaning at Ralph Faulkner’s Falcon Studios in exchange for Ralph giving lessons to the youngster. Lessons began when Sewall was about 5 years old. His mother put him in dance classes and acting classes, taking him all over town from audition to audition. His entire acting career consisted of numerous bit parts and a couple of small roles in features that proved not very popular. Fortunately, his fencing career took off while he was still in his teens.READ MORE...
He won numerous tournaments all over the West Coast, including a three-weapon sweep of the Pacific Coast Championships. The National epee title came in 1954, followed by the 1956 National title in foil. A member of the 1955 World Championship team, Sewall made the semi-finals in the foil event. His 1956 Olympic berth was marred by his removal from the individual foil event by the team captain over a lingering dispute over Skip’s behavior at an earlier event in Canada.
The foil team, powered by Sewall and Albie Axelrod, finished in fourth place, missing a medal by just a few touches. Skip retired from competition within a couple of years after that Olympic experience and took up the sword later in life as a coach. His philosophy was simple, saying “I can only teach what The Boss (Ralph Faulkner) taught me.”
The Latin meaning of that, according to Google Translate, is “Wine of the Spirit”. As a philistine in the ways of Latin, I’ll have to accept it. No clue. Truly.
A number of people over the years have done impersonations of the inimitable Hans Halberstadt and they range wide in both style and substance. Charlie Selberg knew Hans well and would often quote him during fencing lectures or footwork drills.
Back in December, I took a trip through Southern California to do some research, have conversations, scan a scrapbook and collect some fencing memorabilia. It was an extremely successful tour.
In the woods of Southern Oregon off a dirt road and across a valley from the winding I-5 was a fencing salle d’armes built by Charlie Selberg in an old barn. It was stuffed to the rafters with fencing memorabilia dating back decades.
During an otherwise very pleasant Italian meal I shared with two-time, two-weapon National Champion and Olympian Sewall “Skip” Shurtz and Andy Shaw of the Museum of American Fencing, Andy mentioned that he’d come to appreciate, late in life, a difficult-to-like fencer who was once a teammate of Skip’s.
It’s a common enough name. By searching the White Pages for Greco in San Mateo, CA, it returns 388 records. Widen it to the whole of the US and there’s over 36,000. In the fencing world though, one family has a lock on who you think of when putting the names “Greco” and “Fencing” together.
As many times as I’ve mentioned the Halberstadt Scrapbooks on this website over the years, I was shocked to realize that I have not, until now, written a defining story about what they are and (to me, at least) their significance.
A couple of months ago, I received an invite from Jessica to come to the OC to view the bequest of the Giambra family to the Olympic Club. Salvatore Giambra was an excellent fencer who got his start in the 1930s at Unione Sportiva Italiana
The 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia comes up frequently around here. It was, after all, the tournament from which many Hungarian athletes made the difficult decision to not return to their country. The challenging notion of having to make such a fateful...
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