I was fortunate to become friendly with Sid and Esther Gillman during their last few years in San Diego. After writing my thesis on Sid, I continued to interview him, though I had no set purpose for the information. He and Esther were simply nice people who had lived long and interesting lives. The following interview took place on our last visit together, on June 25, 2001. I had come prepared to talk about life before the AFL. The research Gods had smiled down upon me, and during a random eBay search, I had found and purchased Sid’s high school yearbooks. I had picked up one of his Ohio State yearbooks earlier, and brought that with me as well.
The following interview occurred in the Gillman’s family room, the walls covered with mementos from Sid’s career. Sid, Esther and I sat around a table, sipping cold drinks and flipping through 70-year-old school yearbooks. It was a good day. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.
TT – Biggie Munn was in your high school English class?
EG – He graduated in 1928, because I graduated, January 1929. He was a year behind, anyway, so when I was a junior, he did his senior English.
EG – I was in the first debate club, when we did interschool debate. Jeanne’d Arc, I was president. Isn’t that interesting.
TT – What was your high school like?
EG – High school was wonderful. My class graduated 200, so it was big for those days, for a January class. I skipped class a couple of times. This is the 1929 one. Here I am here, Northern Lights. We had a lot of wonderful clubs then. Isn’t that a shame that they don’t do that. People don’t have time for that now.
TT – So you and Mr. Gillman met in high school?
EG – I was already finished. I graduated in January and I met him in March of 1929 when he was playing the piano at a private party. A sweet 16 party. I was with a date and we walked in. We looked at each other and it was love at first sight.
TT – Had he made up his mind to go to Ohio State at that point?
EG – No, because he was a senior. I went to his team football banquet at the end of the fall of 1929, when he was elected captain for the next year. Then he went to Ohio State in the fall of 1930. But this all occurred in just those few months of 1929. And I had never even met him before. It didn’t mean a thing to me until that party. As you can see I was very academic. In one of my old Polaris’, I have a picture, I played field hockey. I was a good little athlete. I was a big shot. Also, to me, I think one of the best experiences was being selected on the debate team.
The chronology of Sid and me was after I graduated from high school, which was January 1929. I met him, it was either March or April.
TT – So you graduated in January and you went to University of Minnesota.
EG – Yes, but I did the extension. I went to night school because that was during the depression and it was more important that my brothers went to college. I have a brother who is 16 months younger than I and we felt that it would be hard. I went to work. I was always a receptionist or something because I did not take any commercial courses. But I did take, at that time, speedwriting. Have you ever heard of that?
TT – Like shorthand?
EG – Yes, but it was a modern shorthand. So then I kind of talked myself into different jobs by saying that I could take dictation. In my way I could. Then I was a receptionist for Warner Brothers office until we were married and left Minneapolis. So that was fun. It was a marvelous experience because I was meeting new people and I think that’s how I learned to meet people. Never even knowing that my life would be spent away from home and always meeting people. You just don’t know, what you prepare yourself for.
TT – How was it when you were working and Mr. Gillman was at Ohio State? Did you guys continue dating during that time?
EG – Yes. He called very often. And I dated and if he had time he did. But he was committed to football. Then he even played the piano in a little band to make a little extra money. They played at fraternity and sorority parties right there on campus. But I almost attended at least one game, whether it was at Madison, Wisconsin. I remember going to Evanston, Illinois. And I went with his parents to see him play. I think that we even went to Columbus. So during the three years he was playing football we did manage to see him. Sid Gillman – The pigskin and Sid are bosom pals, it is it any wonder they harmonize so well? Look at him. We were a pretty good-looking couple.
TT – What kind of guy was Biggie Munn? Was he a good friend?
SG – Oh yes.
EG – He was a little older.
SG – Yep.
TT – And you played together on the same offensive line?
SG – Yeah, my sophomore year.
EG – Then he was a senior.
TT – Now Mr. Gillman, were you born in Minnesota?
EG – We were both born in Minneapolis.
SG – Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
TT – Did your family go first to Minneapolis when your dad came from Austria?
SG – New York City, I think. I don’t know what brought him to Minneapolis.
TT – Was he involved in the movie theaters from the beginning?
SG – Right from the beginning, yeah.
TT – What were the names of those theaters?
SG – One was Alhambra, and I don’t know what the other one was.
TT – And you worked in those theaters.
SG – Yeah, I got a couple of dollars there. I was collecting tickets. Do you have Tom Egan in there?
TT – Yes, he’s in there.
EG – Oh, he was your best friend.
SG – He was my best friend.
EG – He was the one that Sid had him call me to see if I was going steady. They were really great friends.
TT – I was going to ask you about Tom Egan.
EG – They were excellent friends. Thomas.
TT – Is he someone that you grew up with or just met in high school?
SG – Well, we met in high school and then grew up together.
TT – And then he went on to play in college.
SG – At St. Thomas.
TT – But then he took ill.
SG – He died of appendicitis. A busted appendix, that’s what killed him. Today he wouldn’t die. Today he would live.
TT – What about Tom Kennedy?
SG – Oh, he was a fair coach. He was an all Big-10 center from North High.
EG – Oh, he was marvelous. I remember when he got ill and moved after he retired. We would correspond with him. He was quite ill, but we kept up correspondence.
TT – Was he a coach that you liked playing for?
SG – A real good guy.
TT – How was he as a strategist?
SG – Good enough.
TT – What are some of the things that you remember most about him?
SG – Very few things, really very few.
EG – Tom was a quiet man, wasn’t he dear?
SG – Yes, he didn’t say much. He’d swear a lot.
EG – Did he?
SG – Oh boy, and how.
EG – You’re kidding!
SG – He’d swear a lot.
TT – Did he give you any of your beginning ideas on offense?
SG – No, nothing.
TT – Did you grow up on the North Side as well?
EG – Yes.
TT – What was the neighborhood like? Upper, middle class?
EG – I would say middle class.
TT – And how was it made up? Was it a highly Jewish neighborhood?
EG – No, I would say it was mixed. It was completely mixed. Because at that time the Jewish population was really the minority in the whole city. It was mostly Scandinavian. But that’s where we first learned about anti-Semitism. They didn’t allow the Jews to live where they wanted to in the higher class. Regardless of who you were or how much money you had. So when they talk about these things now, things haven’t changed that much. Except now money talks.
TT – Did you face any of that on the North Side?
EG – No. Because I mixed in with people very well, but I saw it and I could hear it. I could hear some things. But I didn’t pay attention. Maybe that’s how they say sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you. As long as you believe that, nothing hurt. But we saw it. I certainly wouldn’t make an issue of it because it never affected us personally.
TT – Was Mr. Gillman’s family close? Did they all go to the football games together?
EG – Oh yes. I went with his mother and dad to his high school games. We went to almost every game. I loved them. We were very close. My family loved him, his family loved me and that’s what made it a good deal.
TT – What did his brother and sister do?
EG – His brother was in the theater business with his dad. His sister is younger than Sid. As far as I was concerned she was too young. We had no association other than knowing that she was his kid sister.
TT – What other schools were interested in Mr. Gillman when he was coming out of high school?
EG – The University of Minnesota and Ohio State. But I think he was almost pre-committed. He knew that he wanted to go away to school, so that he would do better. Once we met he didn’t want any distractions, quote, unquote, and it worked out beautifully.
TT – What was the particular draw with Ohio State?
EG – A friend, George Hauser, who was the line coach at Ohio State, was a dear friend of our dentist. The Gillman dentist, whom they had gone to school with at the University of Minnesota. And he was the one that made George Hauser aware of Sid. George came back and completed his medical school at the University of Minnesota and was an assistant coach at Ohio State. That was the attraction to Ohio State.
TT – Now Mr. Gillman went to Ohio State in the fall of 1930. Did he play football that year?
EG – Freshman, no. 31, 32, 33, because he graduated in the class of 34. You didn’t play until you were a sophomore.
TT – Did Mr. Gillman adjust well to being away from home at that point?
EG – Yes, I would say so. He had enough to keep him bust with football. At that time he was playing baseball and football. That kept you busy. Until the next year the coach knew he was going to be a regular and asked him to discontinue with baseball because that went into the spring practice for football.
TT – And he became very involved in school.
EG – Oh yes.
TT – The Bucket and Dipper.
EG – That was honorary. He was selected. Bucket and Dipper was honorary junior and then he was elected to Sphinx, which was honorary senior class. It was really a great honor.
TT – And that was a combination of grades and involvement.
EG – Everything. Right.
TT – And was that something where you were voted in?
EG – Voted in, yes. Selected in by a committee of one’s piers. It involved, I assume, a few professors, faculty and the student body.
TT – Then he pledged the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity as well.
EG – Yes. (He then lived in the Zeta Beta Tau house for three years)
TT – Can you think of any other organizations?
EG – No, he had no time.
TT – What was the name of some of the bands that he played in?
EG – Nothing. Local. Someone at Ohio State might have formed a little group. Your senior year in high school you played in a group that went over to Wisconsin. They had a kitty and that was their pay. The Red Hot Peppers, I think. All jazz bands.
TT – What kind of student was Mr. Gillman? He was a busy guy.
EG – He was a good student, yes he was.
SG – Fair! Only fair.
EG – No you weren’t. You got through. You kept getting better. I have your transcripts. And he got better. He was a political science major and a history minor. So he really had to work.
TT – I would imagine that there were a lot of demands on his time.
EG – The band was just incidental, but yes.
TT – Tell me, did you like Minneapolis?
EG – Oh yes, a beautiful city. It was wonderful. But as you move around, things fall into place and you adjust where you have to. We were fortunate. We were never in any city that was extremely cold or extremely hot. Except in Minneapolis, I froze my feet. We had to walk to school and school wasn’t around the corner. We had long winters there.
TT – What about Sam Willaman?
SG – There’s not much that you can write about Sam. Sam was not a good coach. He was a terrible coach. There’s really nothing to write about there.
TT – What about Joe Gailus?
SG – Joe Gailus, yeah. He just died of Alzheimer’s a few years ago. That’s what took him away.
TT – You were co-captains in ’33. Was he someone that you got along with?
SG – Oh yeah.
EG – Terrific… I remember in 1929, it was the most devastating depression. But if I understand correctly they introduced laws so there could never be as catastrophic a depression. I saw pictures of people jumping out of the windows. I remember Charles Lindbergh. I went to the parade where he was honored after ha made that solo flight. He was being driven in an open car in Minneapolis, because he was from a small town. It was interesting at the time. Otherwise I don’t think there was anything earth-shattering.
TT – Did you have any role models that you looked up to that played sports?
SG – No.
EG – No, we never really did talk about anyone. There wasn’t the adulations. You did what you did because you wanted to do it. We would have talked about it, but there wasn’t anyone. Well, Red Grange and Benny Friedman were kind of awesome at the time. But you didn’t say, “I want to be like him.” But you appreciated the artistry. I listened to the Dempsey-Tunney fight on radio, a little crystal radio set. I remember my mother and me fighting over who was going to get the earpiece. Every once in a while I’ll look back on life and wonder why did this come so easily. But I idolized Jack Dempsey and cried when he lost. I actually had tears because he was probably my hero. They wrote more about him then. He was the only athlete, because Minneapolis had minor league baseball and the University of Minnesota had some good football teams, but I wasn’t particularly interested until I became college age. But I think I did go to some because I was dating some older guys at the time who were at the University and they would take me to the games when Sid was away. But actually during high school I had gone to a couple of games at the University of Minnesota and enjoyed them.
TT – Did you do much training in the off-season?
SG – Oh yeah, but nothing like today. It was a nothing camp. That’s all it is, running. Playing catch.