A VISIT WITH HARRY WILLIAMS
By Russ Jensen
While going through my files I came across a series of "notes" I had made after my visit to pinball pioneer Harry Williams in early 1978, and subsequent phone conversations with him in the years to follow. The article to follow was written to pass on the information I gained from those conversations.
First, let me briefly relate the story of how I came to visit Harry in the first place. One day while talking to pinball author/historian Roger Sharpe on the phone, he suggested to me that I call or visit Mr. Williams sometime, who he described as a very friendly individual. I didn't really think at that time I would have the "nerve" to call this great man, but I took his address and phone number anyway.
Well, several months later my wife and I were visiting friends who lived about 50 miles from Palm Springs where Harry lived. I decided that I would try calling him to see if there was any chance I might visit him sometime. I called him, told him of my interest in pinball, and that Roger Sharpe had suggested I get in touch with him, and said that I would sure like to come see him sometime if it would be no bother. Much to my delight he responded by asking when I would like to come, and when I asked "how about today", he again surprised me by saying "alright, come on over".
I talked to my wife and our friend and they agreed to go to Palm Springs and look around while I visited Mr. Williams. We then drove to Palm Springs and they let me off at Harry's house agreeing to return in an hour or two. Well, I'll tell you, those were two of the most enjoyable hours of my life! That memorable visit occurred on March 18, 1978.
I had decided not to take many notes during my visit because I felt it would be more casual and relaxed if I didn't. So we just had a friendly visit and afterwards I made additional notes concerning the "highlights" of our talk. For this reason, the information in these articles may not be in a real logical order, but it does cover what I later considered to be the most interesting information gathered from this "pinball great" during that visit and the phone conversations that followed later.
I rang the bell and was cordially greeted by Mr. Williams who invited me in and we sat in the living room. Shortly, his charming wife served us coffee and we began discussing both of our favorite subject, pinball. I started by telling him about my pinball collection (about 10 or 12 games at that time, I believe) and showing him pictures of them. I remember him asking me why I had so many Bally games and my saying that it was because they seemed to be easier to find in our area. When we got to the picture of the one Williams game I owned at that time (and still do), SHOO SHOO from 1951, Harry said, "oh yes, that was one of my dogs". Ever since then I have thought that that was a very interesting piece of "pinball trivia".
We then began discussing his early game designs and the company he founded, called Automatic Amusements, in Los Angeles in the early 1930's. He said his shop was located in the 2500 block of Pico Blvd., an area I walked through many times as a teenager in the early 1950's. That area of Los Angeles is still "coin machine row", even today.
Harry brought out his scrapbook and started telling me about his early designs and showing me ads for them. Three of the games he talked about were ADVANCE, SIGNAL, and DEALER. Harry described features of these games in some detail and I could clearly see that he was justifiably proud of his early handiwork. I also remember being impressed by how clearly he remembered details of games he had designed over 40 years earlier!
Harry told me that Bally and Exhibit in a few cases bought the rights from him to manufacture and distribute some of his designs in the Mid-West and East, letting Automatic Amusements take care of the West. He said, however, that part of the "deal" was that Bally had to credit him as the designer in their advertisement for the games. Harry also told me about the first game he designed with a "light-up" backboard. He said the game was called TRIANGLE, but so far I have never found any information on a game by that name. Harry told me it was one of the first games to have such a backboard, but that Genco's KINGS (April 1935) may have been out first.
He also told me that even though "one-ball payout" games were quite popular in the mid-thirties he only designed one such game. This, he said, was called TURRET and the top arch had 3 "slots" for the ball to enter which paid 10, 20, and 30 cents, respectively. The holes on the playfield, he remarked, paid varying amounts, up to 3 dollars. Also during our discussion of Automatic Amusements Harry told me that when he went to work in Chicago in 1935 he left his father in charge of the Los Angeles business.
A major part of our discussions that day centered around the period of World War II. Harry said that when the war broke out he, and his game designing partner Lyn Durant, were working for Exhibit Supply, the company he said "that made the best games in 1941". He went on to say that Exhibit didn't seem to be too interested in obtaining "war contracts". They let Harry and Lyn out of their contracts and they decided to form a new company, which they called United Manufacturing, to rebuild games and get into war work, where the money was in those days.
Harry told of he and Lyn going to Washington DC trying to get "war contracts" and of Dave Gottlieb being there at the same time. He remembered Dave as saying, after they had been there for awhile, "let's go back home and make games". At that point I mentioned a Gottlieb "war theme" game I had recently seen called HIT THE JAPS and asked Harry if he remembered that as being a "conversion" by Gottlieb. He replied that he did not believe that Dave Gottlieb had ever made any "conversions", saying that it was probably a production game made after the war started.
We then discussed the "conversions" made by United, and later Harry's Williams Manufacturing. Harry said their conversions had entirely new playfields. The original cabinets, he remarked, were re-used, but new designs were applied using decals made by Advertising Posters which he said were hard to tell from a new paint job. He emphasized that only the electrical and mechanical parts and the cabinets were re-used in their conversions.
Harry said he left Lyn Durant and United in 1942, and started his own Williams Manufacturing Co. in 1944. He said Williams' first machine was a "fortune telling" arcade machine called SELECT-A-SCOPE. He also mentioned another early machine he made being an arcade shooting game called PERISCOPE. These games were also "conversions" in that they were built with parts taken from "pre-war" games, since new parts could not be obtained during the war for "non-essential" Items such as amusement machines.
I then mentioned an old Williams game a friend of mine owned called ZINGO which had a vertical playfield. Harry said he remembered it also as being another early Williams game.
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: Williams Manufacturing made two pingame conversion games in 1945. The first was FLAT TOP, an example of which now resides in the beautiful Stan Muraski collection in Rockford Illinois. An example of the last Williams conversion, LAURA, is owned by Richard Conger of Sebastopol, California, included in his extensive pin collection.)
After the war was over, Harry said, his first all new game was SUSPENSE which was the first such game to be produced. He said this was followed by Gottlieb's STAGE DOOR CANTEEN, and then Bally's VICTORY SPECIAL.
Harry then told me that at the time when Harry Mabs at Gottlieb came out with the first flipper, Williams had also been working on a similar device. Their's, he said, used a shallow hole into which a ball would drop, which would then be kicked out by a "bat" behind the hole. This was an "automatic" action, however, and not controlled by buttons on the cabinet. When I asked him if he remembered SUNNY as being Williams' first flipper game he said he could not remember.
I also asked Harry why Williams made a few games in 1953 employing "score reels" and then went back to "light bulb scoring". He replied that it was because the paper they used for the reels had problems with "burning". I guess due to heat generated in the backbox, although thinking about it now I am confused about how that could happen, unless they used light bulbs to illuminate the reels.
Regarding United in the later years, Harry said they had "trouble" in the Fifties because they were producing the controversial "bingo games". I then asked him if the reason United's bingo circuitry was different from Bally's was because Bally had some sort of patent on it? Harry replied that he did not think so and that the reason was probably that since Lyn Durant was a good circuit designer he probably thought his method was better than Bally's.
At one point during our visit our conversation was temporarily interrupted by a phone call. It was someone from New York City (I believe either a newspaper reporter or writer) asking Harry some questions about his career. Also during our conversation, Harry told me that he had recently been contacted by a couple from the San Francisco area, Jim and Candace Tolbert, who were writing a book on pinball. He then gave me their address and phone number in case I wanted to get in touch with them.
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: A short time later I called them and talked to Candace. She told me about their forthcoming book, TILT, and said they were also going to begin publishing a coin-op magazine called "Amusement Review" which, she said, was to cover both older games and the "current scene" as well. She then asked if I would like to write a column for them on old pingames. I told her I had never written before, but she convinced me to try it. I finally agreed, and so began my "pinball writing career". Incidentally, my column for Amusement Review was called "Five Balls, Five Cents", a title I decided to retain when I started writing for COIN SLOT in 1981, and still use today.)
Well, there you have it, a brief account of my memorable visit with the late coin machine pioneer, Mr. Harry E. Williams.
But my association with Mr. Williams did not end there! In the years to follow (up until his untimely death in September, 1983) I called him on the phone on several occasions, asking questions about his career and remembrances of events in pinball history. In future articles I will relate information obtained during these conversions in much the same way as I have just described my original visit to Harry. So stay tuned!
THE HARRY WILLIAMS "PHONECONS" PART 1
ILLUSTRATION: ZINGO PHOTO
Last time I told about my memorable visit with pinball pioneer Harry Williams at his home in Palm Springs, California in March 1978. After that visit I had the occasion to talk on the telephone with Mr. Williams several times between that time and his untimely death in September 1983.
During these conversations I asked various questions of him and made notes of his answers and comments. Many different subjects were discussed during these calls and not necessarily in any particular sequence; just as the questions came to mind during the call. In this, and succeeding articles, I will describe the information I gained from this great man during these telephone conversations.
Before I start presenting the content of these phone conversations with Harry, a word about the accuracy of this information. You must keep in mind that most everything Mr. Williams told me was from his memory of games and events which, in general, took place between 30 and 50 years earlier! For this reason everything he said may not have been entirely accurate. Names of games may have been confused, etc. However, I have made little attempt to try and correct this information, even though I may have reason to believe that some of it was in error. I will report what Harry told me and it is up to the reader to assign whatever amount of credence he wishes to this information. As a final note on this subject, let me say that during these conversations there were many times when I felt that he sounded unclear on some points, but with others his memory appeared to me to be "crystal clear",
My first phone conversation with Mr. Williams occurred on May 1, 1978. I first asked Harry if he had heard of Universal Industries, a company in existence in the late 1940's, one of who's games, a 1-ball horserace game called WINNER, I had just acquired. He told me that the company had been founded by Mel Binks (a designer for J. H. Keeney Co.) and Lyn Durant, Harry's friend and ex-partner in United Manufacturing and owner of that outfit at the time. Harry went on to say that United was eventually taken over by Seeburg in the late 1960's, just as Williams was taken over by the same company in the early Sixties.
I next asked Mr. Williams about two old games owned by a friend of mine, Fred Roth of Thousand Oaks California, on neither of which we could find any manufacturer's name. One of these games, TORPEDO, he said he did not exactly remember, but from my description of its features said it sounded very similar to Bally's FLEET of 1934. The other game I mentioned, STAR-LITE, (also from the mid-Thirties) he said he thought may have been made by Chicago Coin.
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: Upon looking up TORPEDO in "Pinball Collector's Resource" (by my friends Rob Hawkins and Don Mueting) I found three games by that name made in the 1930's: one by Dudley Clark Co. in 1934, and one by Jennings and another by Exhibit Supply, both from 1936. There was only one STAR LITE listed made by Exhibit in 1935.)
When I finally asked him about another of Fred's games, an early game by his Williams Manufacturing Company called ZINGO, he had a better recollection. He said he remembered making that upright game during World War II using parts from pre-war games (since during the war game manufacturers could not get any new parts or war essential materials). When I told him that Fred's machine had large colored light bulbs mounted on each side, Harry said he did not remember building it that way, the lights probably being added by an operator.
Finally, Harry told me of the very first machine made by his Williams Manufacturing. He said it was a fortune telling arcade machine called SELECT-A-SCOPE. He then told me that one of these machines was still in operation in an arcade on the pier in Santa Monica, California. That ended our first telephone conversation.
My next phone call to Mr. Williams occurred a little over a year later, on April 2, 1979. I first asked Harry if he knew which company first originated the "match feature"? He replied he thought it might have been United, or possibly Keeney, remarking that Keeney designer Mel Binks was a good designer. He then said that his ex-partner Sam Stern might remember, but that he himself was not sure.
I then asked Harry if he remembered the pingames made by Williams in the early 1950's, which had a "bingo format". He replied he remembered them producing LONG BEACH (the only true "bingo pinball" made by Williams). When I asked him about a flipper game with a bingo format and a "circus motif", the playfield for which my friend Rob Hawkins had found, he said he did not remember it, again saying that Sam Stern might recall it.
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: I finally found out, by looking at Mike Pacak's old pinball brochures at Pinball Expo '87, that that game was called STARLITE and was made in 1953. Other Williams "flipper/bingo" games were: DISK JOCKEY, FOUR CORNERS, and HONG KONG, all made around that same time.)
Harry next related to me the story of him leaving his Williams Manufacturing Company in 1959. He said the company was bought in that year by the Consolidated Drug Company. He went on to say that he and Sam Stern had been partners in Williams since 1947. He told me that Consolidated let the partners opt for either cash or stock in the company. Harry said he took the cash, but Sam decided to take stock instead. He went on to say that Sam later regained control of Williams for a short time, but finally sold the company to Seeburg in 1963.
I next asked Mr. Williams if he remembered who originated the "pop bumper"? He replied he thought it was Exhibit Supply. When I told him about the 1938 Stoner game, ZETA, I had when I was a kid, and that it had a "spring type" pop bumper in the center of its circular playfield, he said he remembered that game and that it could have been the first use of such a device.
I then asked him if the Exhibit games made just prior to the war were the first games to use "eject holes"? Harry quickly reminded me that his 1934 pioneer electric action game, CONTACT, was the first to use such a device. He also said that CONTACT was an early game having a "ball return", referring to its "Contact Hole", I suppose. Harry then went on to say that some other games in the mid Thirties had various forms of "kickout holes", but that the invention of the "bumper" by Bally in late 1936 caused this type of feature to virtually drop out of sight (bumpers becoming the rage) until the Exhibit games that I had mentioned.
The last thing that Harry mentioned during this conversation was that he had recently attended a special showing of the new Brooke Shields movie, "Tilt", the idea being that the producers wanted him, the inventor of the "tilt", to endorse the film. He said that the film wasn't too bad but that its portrayal of 'pinball hustling' "certainly could not help the image of the industry". Harry ended by saying that the movie was somewhat boring to him and that he hoped it would not be very popular and didn't think it would be. Well, we never really had a chance to find out since the film was never really released to theaters, but several years later made limited appearances on cable and regular television.
The next telephone call to Mr. Williams took place on July 2, 1979. I first asked him which games produced by his Automatic Amusements Co. in the 1930's were also produced by Bally (he had told me during my original visit with him that he let Bally produce some of his designs for Eastern and Mid-Western markets, while retaining the West Coast for Automatic Amusements). He replied that ACTION and SIGNAL in 1934 were the only ones.
I next read to him a list of Automatic Amusement games I had and asked him if it sounded complete? He replied that he also designed two games which were not on that list, namely CHEVRON and KNOCKOUT, both from 1935. He then told me about a game called MULTIPLE which he said he designed for Bally, in which a ball landing in a hole at the top of the playfield caused the values of other scoring holes to increase, as indicated in small "windows" located above those holes.
Harry next told me about his career after leaving California to go to Chicago in the mid Thirties. He said he went to work for Dave Rockola in 1935 and stayed there until sometime in 1937. He said while working there he met young designer Lyndon (Lyn) Durant and that they became good friends. Harry then told me that they both left Rockola in 1937 and went to Bally where they worked for a short time because, he said, they "did not like the conditions there". Harry then said that he and Lyn went over to Exhibit Supply in 1938, and that that company was nearly bankrupt at the time. He went on to say, however, that Exhibit became one of the leaders of the industry by the early 1940's. He then remarked that at that time even Gottlieb copied some of Exhibit's games.
The last part of our conversation dealt with the beginnings of United Manufacturing during the war years. Harry said that he and Lyn left Exhibit and formed United just before we got into the war. He said he left United probably in late 1942 after they had produced 5 or 6 "conversion" games, starting his Williams Manufacturing (the forerunner of the current Williams Electronics) sometime in 1943.
Harry then told me that United's "conversions", unlike those from most of the other outfits producing such games during the war, had entirely new playfields. He went on to say that all the parts from the old games, from which these "conversions" were made, were disassembled, cleaned, and sometimes replated. He then said that the only wood used from the old games was the cabinets themselves.
Finally, I again mentioned that upright style Williams conversion game, ZINGO, owned by a friend of mine. Harry said he remembered that he made one mistake in the design of that game, that of putting a "slope" to its playfield (instead of being perfectly vertical) because, he said, it made it more difficult for the player to shoot the ball with any velocity.
This concludes my discussion of our first three phone conversations. Next time I will continue to describe later similar calls.
THE HARRY WILLIAMS PHONECONS (PART 2)
ILLUSTRATIONS: 1938 LIGHTNING photo, 1934 LIGHTNING ad, and 1938 LIGHTNING ad
Last time I described the first three telephone conversations I had with late pinball pioneer Harry Williams. This time I will relate information he passed on to me during two additional phone calls.
The next time I talked to Harry was April 29, 1980. We first talked about two games produced by Exhibit Supply in the 1930's, both of which were named LIGHTNING. Harry told me that the first LIGHTNING, which came out in 1934, was patterned after his pioneer "electric action" pingame CONTACT. Harry said he sketched out the design of this game and made it such that it was not an exact copy of CONTACT. He then told me that Exhibit produced the game under a license agreement with Fred McClellen who's Pacific Amusement Mfg. Co. was producing CONTACT.
I then asked Harry if he remembered a later Exhibit game with the same name which I had recently purchased? He said he remembered he and Lyn Durant designing a game by that name when they worked for Exhibit, but did not remember much about it. When I told him that the game had "electro-magnets" under the playfield which caused the ball to move in unusual ways, Harry said he remembered a game he designed called BUTTONS which used that idea, and thought that LIGHTNING may have come after that.
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: According to the information I currently have, LIGHTNING was first advertised in Billboard magazine in August of 1938, with BUTTONS being advertised several months later in October.)
Harry then said he remembered that principle being used in conjunction with rubber rebounds such that the ball would "bounce back and forth over a scoring button to add up score". He called that idea an "adder-upper", and said he thought it was automatically disabled when the "1000 scoring unit" was advanced. Harry did not, however, say on what game that idea was used. In a final remark regarding LIGHTNING he said he remembered it having a short scoreboard attached to the playfield and said that Stoner had originated that cabinet style with their 1937 game RICOCHET.
I next asked Harry about the "free play" idea which had been originated by his young shop assistant in the early 1930's, Bill Bellah. He said Bellah's device was mostly mechanical, and not the electrical device used for years utilizing a solenoid mounted beneath the coin chute (Harry remarking that he himself came up with that idea later on). Harry then said Bellah's invention used a metal drum, mounted near the front of the playfield, which had numbers on it (showing through a small window) indicating the number of "free play credits". He went on to say that this unit was mechanically linked to the coin chute to allow it to be pushed in without using a coin as long as credits were indicated. He said, however, that the drum was advanced, when replays were earned, by an electric solenoid.
Harry then went on to say that he believed that the first game to employ this device was made by Keeney, but he could not remember its name. He said it was then used by Rockola on a game that he believed was called FLASH. Harry then said he remembered that game as having two indicating type counters, one for "replays" and the other to indicate a "winning number". He said that the "winning number" would start out as "1", and if the ball went into the number "1" hole, a replay would be scored and the "winning number" advanced to "2", etc. Harry then remarked that in this way one replay was scored for each consecutive numbered hole into which balls landed. He again emphasized that the "free-play" Counter was mechanically linked to the coin chute.
The rest of this phone conversation dealt with Harry's current design efforts. He said that Stern Electronics was trying to standardize on a longer playfield (23 7/8" by 46") as was used in their game BIG GAME. The last thing he told me was that he was currently working on a new game which he said would probably be called (of all things) LIGHTNING!
My next phone call to Harry, which occurred on March 24, 1982, dealt mainly with things that coin machine historian Dick Bueschel wanted me to ask him about.
I first asked Harry if he remembered a game designer in the 1930's named Bon McDougal (who Dick had heard about as having been rumored to be the actual designer of CONTACT). Harry said that he had known Bon, and that he did once work for Pacific Amusements (PAMCO), but started with the company at about the same time as he himself left, which was at the time of release of his last PAMCO design, MAJOR LEAGUE in late 1934. Harry said he thought Bon was responsible for the design of a series of 5 Pamco games, referred to as "the quintuplets", the names of which he could not remember. Finally, he remarked that Bon was better known as a "wing walker" than a pinball designer.
Harry then asked me if I had ever found one of his CONTACT games? When I told him I now owned one he asked if I would send him pictures of it, which I later did. He then asked which size game I had, and when I told him I had the "Junior" size (24" x 44") he told me that he made those in his own shop because Fred McClellen did not want to make that size in his. Harry then remarked that the idea of making a model of that size came from Los Angeles May Company department store.
I next asked Harry if he remembered a game, supposedly made by Exhibit, which had balls in the backboard (Dick Bueschel had found a patent for that game and wanted to know if it had ever been produced). Harry said he vaguely remembered the game, but not its name. He then said he remembered he and Lyn Durant working on it, but thought it may have only been a "prototype" and never released. Harry went on to say that many games never got past that stage. When I read him the names on the patent (Eugene Kramer, Percy Shields, and Milton Gitelson) Harry said he had heard of Kramer, had never heard of Gitelson, but had known Percy Shields very well. In fact, he said, Mr. Shields once worked for him in his shop on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles.
While we were on the subject of "prototypes" Harry mentioned a "puck" game he once designed at Williams. He said it was called FLYING DUCKS which was build as a prototype only and never went into production. Harry also said that at the present time Stern Electronics had a game called CUE which never got past the prototype stage.
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: That was indeed true as I have since seen one of these rare prototypes at several pinball shows in recent years which is owned by Las Vegas "Super-collector" Tim Arnold)
I next asked Harry about another early game designer, Ken Shyvers from Seattle, whom Dick Bueschel was interested in finding out about. He said that Ken was a very good designer, and that he designed the first "score totalizer" in conjunction with Lyn Durant around 1936. (When I later told Dick Bueschel about this he told me he had the patent for it!) Harry went on to say that Ken also designed CANNON FIRE for Mills, then remarking that Ken sold his designs on a "royalty" basis.
When I asked Harry if he had any pingames at home he replied he had two. One was a home game he designed for Brunswick, and the other SPLIT SECOND which he designed for Stern.
I next told him about Dick Bueschel interviewing the son of Earl Froom, one of the designers of the pioneer pingame WHIFFLE. Harry said that he had always wondered if WHIFFLE was the "first pingame". I then told him about Mr. Froom having a copy of an advertising film his father had made for WHIFFLE. Harry said that he thought that was very interesting and would like to see it someday. Harry then remarked that he had the capability of "converting" 16mm films to video tape.
The final topic of this phone conversation concerned the Stoner Company. I told Harry that I had just acquired a very nice 1938 Stoner pin called ELECTRO. He then told me that Ted Stoner was a "wood worker" and had a lot of wood-working equipment in his plant, but did not have a router. Harry went on to say that Stoner had been given a contract to make prototypes for CONTACT. He said that he visited the Stoner plant at that time and saw they were drilling the holes. He then told me that he got them a router but found out that they were still locating the hole positions "by hand". Harry then said that he once said to Ted Stoner "no wonder you talk about your 'custom aristocrat line'". Finally, he told me that Stoner made 750 CONTACT prototypes.
This will conclude this installment of my detailing of my phone conversations with Harry Williams. The present article may seem somewhat short, but next time I will relate the phone call which dealt primarily with Harry's famous pioneer pingame, CONTACT. In that same article I will conclude this series with the final bits of information I received from Harry during our last telephone conversation before his untimely death. Most of that conversation, however, contained "repeats" of things that he had discussed during earlier conversations.
HARRY WILLIAMS PHONECONS - THE FINAL CHAPTER
To view a larger picture of Billboard Ad, click on picture.
ILLUSTRATIONS: 1934 CONTACT photo and Ad
The last two telephone conversations I had with Harry Williams were both in 1982. The first of these was on April 7. I phoned Harry on that day to ask questions regarding his famous pioneer pingame - CONTACT. Before making the call I had prepared a list of questions to ask him regarding that subject.
I first asked Harry if he had designed any games before CONTACT? He told me that he started in pingame design designing "replacement boards" (new playfields which could be substituted on an existing game) to be used on Mills' OFFICIAL. He said he did not put any names on these boards and that he sold them for $5 each. Harry went on to say that this gave him experience in determining the proper placement of the holes, pins, etc., on playfields. He then said that those playfields were "custom made".
Harry then told me that the first complete game he designed was called ADVANCE and that it was "entirely mechanical". He said that he sold it to Seeburg, adding that this game was the first to use his now famous "tilt" mechanism, and also the first pingame to have a "visible coin chute".
I next asked Harry about Fred McClellan and how he got into the pinball business, and about his Pacific Amusement Mfg. Co. (PAMCO)? He said that Fred was originally a carburetor manufacturer and then decided to get into the games business. Harry then said that Fred started by selling two large pingames, MASTERPIECE and METROPOLITAN, which were actually made by a cabinet company, Fred acting as a "jobber" for the games.
I then asked Harry how he came up with the idea for the first "electric action" pingame, CONTACT? He told me that around that time he was running low on cash, receiving very little royalties from Seeburg for ADVANCE. He said he knew he needed a new idea to make some money. Harry then told me that he went to seek advice from a Christian Science practitioner who told him that his worries were "blocking his mind" and advised him to relax and meditate.
Harry went on to say that he took this advice and one day, while relaxing on a park bench, he all of a sudden got the idea for CONTACT. He said he quickly made a sketch of his idea on a large pad of green paper which he carried with him. Harry told me that his new design required electric solenoids, and he wondered where he could obtain them. Then, as luck would have it, he discovered that there was a shop next door to his small shop which made just the items he needed.
Harry then continued, saying that he built a model of his new game and showed it to Fred McClellan, whom he had heard about because of his selling of MASTERPIECE and METROPOLITAN. He said Fred thought the "electric action" was a great idea and wanted to buy the rights to it, and have the cabinet shop who had build his previous games build it. Harry said that he convinced Fred to do his own manufacturing rather than sub-contracting it to someone else. Fred agreed.
Harry went on to say that he actually made the "Junior" size in his small shop on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles, with the other models being made in Fred's shop on Hope St. Later he said Fred opened a plant in Chicago and also had a sales office in Portland Oregon. Harry went on to say that CONTACT was produced for almost one year (an extremely long production run for any pingame, past or present) and he estimated that between 28 and 33 thousand games were actually manufactured. This, of course, included all four sizes of the game.
I then asked Harry about the use of his "tilt" and bells on CONTACT. He said the first models had neither attachment, but that both were added somewhere during the first 100 games produced. He then said that later models used an electric "pull- chain" tilt mechanism he designed, having an indicator on the playfield which pointed to either "OK" or "TILT". This incidentally, was the forerunner of the still current "plumb bob" tilt mechanism.
Finally, I asked about the several models of CONTACT and their prices? Harry replied that the large model, "SENIOR", which was 5 feet long, sold for $100 and that the "standard size" "JUNIOR" model sold for $75. Regarding the small "BABY" model, Harry said that the idea for making a small version of CONTACT came from Los Angeles' Bullocks Department Store. He said they wanted a "home model" to sell, and that they produced the BABY in both a coin-op and a non coin-op model for home use.
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: You may recall from one of my earlier phone conversations with Harry that he said it was the May Company Department Store and the "Junior" model (which I believe was a mistake). Well, his memory might have been a little hazy but at least it appears that one of the large Los Angeles department stores gave Harry the idea for his BABY model of CONTACT.)
That ended my conversation with Harry on that day. The information I obtained during that phone call was used as the basis for an article I wrote for the Summer 1982 issue of Pinball Collectors' Quarterly entitled "CONTACT, Pinball Goes Electric".
The last phone conversation I had with Mr. Williams, before his untimely death in September 1983, took place on Sept. 14, 1982.
We first again talked about the two games called LIGHTNING with which Harry had been involved. He said that right after CONTACT came out Fred McClellan sold the rights to Exhibit Supply to make a "copy" of CONTACT (which they called LIGHTNING) for a royalty of $1 per game. When Harry found out about this he said he told Fred that he was "crazy" since he paid Harry $3 per game to put out CONTACT. Harry went on to say that he suggested to Exhibit that they make some changes to the playfield of LIGHTNING so it wouldn't be exactly the same as CONTACT. He then said that he offered to do that for them, and that Exhibit agreed.
I then asked Harry if he remembered getting a patent on CONTACT, or the game he later designed for Exhibit called BUTTONS, both of which Dick Bueschel had a copy of. He said he did not remember having a copy of either patent.
I again asked Harry if he remembered that 1938 Exhibit game (which I used to own) which was also named LIGHTNING. That game had electro-magnets under the playfield which caused the ball to do all sorts of crazy antics, just like was used on BUTTONS. He said he couldn't remember that LIGHTNING particularly. When I then asked him if LIGHTNING could have been a "prototype" for BUTTONS, he said he didn't know.
The rest of this final phone conversation dealt with Harry's current involvement in the games business. Harry said he had designed a "pin-vid" (combination pinball and video game) and sold it to Gottlieb. He said he thought that they might call it either "THE CUBE" or "PAPARAZI". He then told me that the video part of the game used a "Rubick's Cube" motif. Harry then explained that this game had a pinball playfield in a video cabinet and used mirrors. He then said that the pinball and video play of the game was "fully integrated". Harry also told me that both Bally and Williams showed interest in his game, but that Gottlieb could use its existing CAVEMAN tooling to produce it.
Finally, Harry said that he thought there was great potential in videos. He then remarked that he was currently designing video games for Stern Electronics, and also for a Japanese company which he did not name.
Well, there you have it, a run-down of my memorable visit with pinball pioneer Harry Williams in 1978, and the subsequent telephone conversations I had with him during the next four years. As I said at the start, there were many times during my talks with this fine gentleman that it seemed that he was having trouble remembering things correctly, but other times his recollections seemed "crystal clear". At any rate, being able to talk with him on so many occasions was certainly one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life! Anyway, it's something I'll never forget!
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