The Pinball Blog. The Machines. The People. The Events. The Addiction! Pinball Heroes: Industry Interviews.

Sunday 25 January 2009

Pinball Heroes: Roger Sharpe

After some light relief provided by the very funny Bryan Kelly, we're back google-stalking industry legends to feature as our Pinball Heroes.

The existence of this blog might even be down to one man (so you can blame him). Had pinball remained illegal in some American states then you've got to think the whole thing would be very different! Thankfully, this one man stepped up to the plate, and the rest - as they say - is history!

Roger Sharpe.

The Pinball Blog. Player, collector, historian, author, professional? Where do you sit most comfortably?

Roger Sharpe. I've never been asked this question before and really don't know if I'm able to differentiate between the various roles I have been able to take during my 'pinball career'. So let me try to answer it this way...

I came into pinball as a player and, at one time far too many years (dare I say decades) ago, was actually a pretty good one at that. So that has definitely been a constant for over 40 years. I don't believe I have ever viewed myself
as a collector having encountered so many serious ones when I began doing research for my pinball book.

My collection
, if one wants to call it that, numbers only about two dozen machines with many that I had a hand in designing or making happen. Where I might be seen as a collector (although my son Joshua would probably call me a 'hoarder') is my collection of pinball brochures and other literature and this, again, is more an outgrowth of the pinball book and then my subsequent role at Williams Bally/Midway when we were still in the business of designing and producing pinball machines.

As for being a historian and author, those labels have remained and probably rightfully so. I have been an author and not just for the p
inball book but I have also written or contributed to thirteen other books so that label is accurate. In regard to being a historian, I take my hat off to the late Dick Bueschel and what he meant to the hobby of pinball in writing his detailed literary contributions to the history of the industry. If anything, I have viewed myself as being more of a 'popular historian' as evidenced by the approach I took with my book and subsequent writings for various publications.

And, lastly, with my apologies for being so long winded, I don't know about the moniker of 'professional'. I'm not a professiona
l player by any stretch of the imagination especially at this stage of my life. My collecting is now limited to the occasional Stern brochure or other collateral materials created for coin-operated amusement games in general as well as the various trade and enthusiast magazines. History continues to happen right before our very eyes and although I might not be documenting it per se, I am still an observer of what is and has been taking place. And, lastly, I suppose I will always be an author although I don't see myself writing any new books in the near future.

TPB. In a varied and interesting career, do you have a particular highlight?

RS. This is a very difficult question to answer since I think of myself as really being blessed when it comes to the role that pinball has had in my life. First off was just the discovery of the games and the mag
ical hold that they had on me almost at first sight. If anything, that experience helped shape and define the life I have had. Writing the pinball book has to rank at or near the top and the doors that the process opened as well as the relationships I formed were, again, life altering.

Testifying before the City Council in New York City (as well as playing to demonstrate that pinball was a game of skill and doing so on a Gottlieb Bank Shot) to over turn the ban on pinball is most assurdedly a highlight not just for myself but the entire industry and its ultimate destiny as a result of my role.

I was given the gift of being able to design pinball machines and take considerable pride in what I was able to achieve with games such as Sharpshooter, Barracora and Cyclopes to name only three. For someone who ventured into the entire world of pinball as just a player, the subsequent road I traveled was never expected or anticipated and as such is a multi-faceted highlight as I look back at my life.

But maybe the greatest highlight is the fact that my sons, Joshua and Zachary, have embraced my love affair with pinball to such an amazing extent. If there is a legacy to be had, they have and continue to carry it on with a depth of passion and commitment that makes be incredibly proud.

TPB. Your boys Zach and Josh are doing some great things with the WPPR & IFPA. Do you still get to tell them off every now and then?

RS. Finally a question that can be answered in a much more succinct fashion. As a father I guess I still have some influence and might I be so bold as to assume some 'power'. When it comes to pinball, our disagreements are few and far between and if there ever is an opportunity to 'tell them off', I honestly can't remember it. But the better question might be, do they still even listen to me--and to that I have to admit: sometimes.

What was the first machine you owned and what's been the latest addition?

RS. The first machine I ever owned was Gottlieb's Buckaroo, the replay version of Cowpoke (which was the game that I actually wanted but it wasn't available at the time). The latest addition to the collection was Star Wars Episode 1 which I got a few years ago as a birthday present.

Peter Max? Tell us more?

RS. This was a strange twist of fate brought about by my dear friend Steve Epstein the former owner of the world famous Broadway Arcade in New York City. Forgive the temporary memory loss and I am sure that someone can provide the more accurate details but for the PAPA tournament events we staged in New York, we always tied in with a charity. Whether it was PAPA2 or PAPA3, through a mutual friend, Steve was able to approach Peter Max with the sole purpose of asking him to redo artwork on a reconditioned Pin-Bot courtesy of Frank Seninsky of Alpha-Omega Amusements.

Knowing that this was happening, Neil Nicastro the president of Williams made a lone bid of $11,000 to purchase the game. It was only when I made my way to New York for the tournament that I had the chance to go to Peter Max's studio and see the game as well as meet him. Suffice it to say that the end result of what was done with the cabinet art was less than inspiring. And when I met Peter I made mention that I was the brother of Geraldine Sharpe-Newton who had been a long time friend--we actually have some one-of-a kind art pieces dedicated to her by Peter.

Anyway, his comment upon hearing that Geraldine was my sister was an apology and that if he had known, he would have done much more with the project. When the machine was finally shipped back to Chicago and Neil saw it, he was flabbergasted and wanted to just throw the game away. I stepped in and said I would take it and it resides still in my living room today.

29Jan2009 Added: Photos for this question.

TPB. When you're looking for a pinball license do you ever get approached by the license holder or do you have to go looking?

It can actually work both ways. There have been times over the years where I have been the aggressive pursuer of a particular property--whether a movie or celebrity theme. And there have been many other occasions where the license holder--a studio or agent--has approached me with the opportunity. So it is, and can be, a two way street.

TPB. Is there an existing pinball machine that you wish you'd secured the license for or been involved with the design?

RS. This question made me pause for a moment but there really isn't anything that I wasn't able to get over the years for Williams Bally or, more recently, on a couple of occasions for Stern. I will say that there were any number of licenses that for whatever reason management didn't have an interest in getting or I couldn't find a designer willing to make the commitment.

If there was a simple playing tip that you could pass on to a wannabe world champion, what would it be?

I don't know if I still have the credibility or skills as a player to offer any such guidance other than to say that you have to make the commitment to being a world class player and be able to master the broadest variety of games from any and all eras. Having said that, the best of the best do have their individual techniques and approaches to game play that, strategically, are totally different to what I did decades ago.

The methodology and science of skillful playing is now an art form of control and precision. But one piece of advice to the upcoming or new player is to not get discouraged and to hone your skills and, lastly, enjoy playing not matter what the outcome.

Are you making any appearances at events in 2009? Competing, speaking or socialising?

RS. I guess your timing is pretty good with this question since I have tended to not attend too many events or tournaments over the years. And that has definitely been the case when it comes to international events. But this year I will be attending GPO in April in Germany--or at least I am planning to be there.

In addition, the IFPA world championships are going to be staged in England in late July/early August and I will be hoping to make it since it will give me a chance to see my sister, who lives in the UK along with my niece, nephew and their families.

And, last but not least, would be Pinball Expo in the fall. Those are the ones that come instantly to mind although there could be others that I am totally forgetting.

Finally can you sum up your involvement with pinball in one word or sentence.

I guess my involvement with pinball can best be described as an enduring love affair between myself and an amazingly unique and unparalleled device that has given me so much joy and, maybe in some ways, has helped to keep me young (or at least younger at heart).

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Many thanks to Roger Sharpe, a man who certainly has his place in pinball folklore!

More Pinball Heroes coming soon...

The Pinball Blog

'The Sharpes'. Photo Courtesy The PinGame Journal

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