California Celebrities Who Play(ed) Chess

by Bill Wall

Here are a few California celebrities who play or have played chess.

Ben Affleck, the movie actor, says he plays chess at the Bel Air Chess Club. He was born in Berkeley, California in 1972.

Actor Claude Akins (1918-1994), who lived in Altadena, California, was an enthusiastic chess player. One of his last roles was playing Sheriff Lobo.

Actor Alan Alda (M*A*S*H) says he plays chess. He was born Alphonso D'Abruzzo in 1936. Mike Farrell of M*A*S*H also plays chess.

Actor Lew Ayers (1908-1996) played chess. In 1930, he starred in "All Quiet on the Western Front."

Actress Lauren Bacall, who was age 20 when she married 45-year old Humphrey Bogart, played chess. She was on the cover of the June-July 1945 issue of Chess Review, along with Bogart, Charles Boyer, and Herman Steiner. She was born Betty Joan Perske, in 1924.

Actors John and Lionel Barrymore (brothers) played chess. John lived in Los Angeles and Lionel lived in Van Nuys. John was born John Sidney Blythe in 1882. John was the grandfather of actress Drew Barrymore. Lionel was born Lionel Blythe in 1878.

Actress Polly Bergen plays chess. She said that Gregory Peck taught her chess between scenes when they both starred in Cape Fear in 1962.

Perhaps the best known actor who was a strong chess player was Humphrey Bogart. His most famous chess scene was studying a chess position in CASABLANCA. Bogart was a very active member of Herman Steiner's Chess Club. He was a USCF tournament director and active in the California State Chess Association.

Actor Charles Boyer (1899-1978) was a chess and checker player. A picture of him playing chess appeared several times in chess magazines such as CHESS REVIEW and CHESS. In 1978, he committed suicide in Phoenix, Arizona with an overdose of Seconal.

Actor Marlon Brando (1924-2004) was a chess player. He played chess for relaxation at home and while on the set of most of his movies. His chess set was later auctioned by Christie's in Los Angeles.

Producer Mel Brooks plays chess. He took some lessons from Kim Commons. Kim Commons also had the entire Jefferson Airplane among his students. Brooks had a few chess scenes in some of his movies such as Blazing Saddles and History of the World: Part I. He was born Melvin Kaminsky in 1926.

Nicholas Cage plays chess. In 1999, Nicholas started having his son Weston, age 9, take chess lessons from Robert Snyder. Nicholas Cage is a member of the Internet Chess Club. He was born Nicholas Kim Coppola in Long Beach, California in 1964. He is the nephew of Francis Ford Coppola.

NBA basketball player Wilt Chamberlain (1936-1999) played chess and backgammon. He said he always wanted to allow his mind to be part of anything he did. He died in Bel Air, California. Chamberlain invited Fischer to dinner at his house once, but Fischer didn't want to meet any other people, so declined.

Charlie Chaplin (1899-1977) played chess. In 1921, he met with Sammy Reshevsky when Sammy was a boy and giving a simultaneous exhibition at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. Chaplin mentioned his meeting in his autobiography.

San Francisco TV radio and talk show host Les Crane played chess and sponsored chess tournaments. He was born Lester Stein in San Francisco in 1935. In the 1980s, he became chairman of The Software Toolworks (Software Country), creators of Chessmaster 2000 in 1986. Software Toolworks was sold and renamed Mindscape in the early 1990s.

Musician and actor Bobby Darin (1936-1973) was a chess player and was about to sponsor the richest chess tournament ever, the Bobby Darin International Chess Classic, before he died during a heart operation in Los Angeles. Bobby explained chess moves during his Bobby Darin show. He was playing chess just before he went into surgery. He was born Robert Walden Cassotto. His wife, Sandra Dee, was also a chess player. Bobby Darin's son, Dodd, runs a chess publishing house

Actor Henry Darrow, who starred in High Chaparral, was a good chess player. He played and won a few chess tournaments. He says he has played Fischer and he drew a game with Boris Spassky. He was born Enrique Tomas Delgado, Jr. in 1933.

Actress Olivia de Havilland played chess. She also played Go, and her father was one of the first non-Japanese persons to be a Go master.

Actor Dustin Diamond (Screech in Saved by the Bell) is a chess player and has a USCF rating around 1400. He was born in San Jose, California in 1977. In 2001, he made a 4-hour chess video called Dustin Diamond Teaches Chess. He took a few chess lessons from Grandmaster Roman Dzindzihashvili.

Actress Marlene Dietrich (1904-1992) played chess. She played several games against John Wayne during lulls in film shooting. She was a spectator at the 1945 Hollywood Pan-American Chess Tournament.

Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers (both of Leave it to Beaver) played chess.

Actor Erik Estrada plays chess and is rated about 1400 by the USCF.

Actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (1909-2000) played chess.

Actress Morgan Fairchild plays chess. She once hosted a charity chess event in Mexico.

Actor Peter Falk perhaps plays chess. He has been a spectator at chess events such as the American Open in Santa Monica. He used chess in some of his scenes in Columbo. In 1973, an episode called "The Most Dangerous Match" was about an American chess champion who murders the Russian champion.

Actor Jose Ferrer (1909-1992) was an enthusiastic chess player. He was born Vincente Ferrery Centron. He took lessons and played chess at Herman Steiner's chess club (which became the Hollywood Chess Club) and remarked what a genius chess teacher Steiner was.

Bobby Fischer, for some time, lived in Pasadena, California.

Physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988), who won the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics, played chess. He taught at Caltech in Pasadena. He was a member of his high school chess club. He used the rules of chess to illustrate the laws of physics.

Heidi Fleiss, famous Hollywood madam, plays chess. In 1993, she went to prison. She passed much of her time playing chess and teaching others how to play chess. She claims she won two city championships when she was younger. She was born in 1965 in Los Angeles.

Actor Henry Fonda (1905-1982) played chess.

Actress Zsa Zsa Gabor played chess. She said she played chess on her honeymoon with George Sanders.

Actress Ava Gardner (1922-1990) played chess. She was married to Artie Shaw, and they both played chess. When she started beating him in chess, he stopped playing chess with her.

Actor Woody Harrelson (Cheers) plays chess. In 1999, he played a consultation game with Gary Kasparov in Prague, drawing in 30 moves. Ted Danson of Cheers also plays chess, but conceded that Harrelson was stronger.

Actress Katharine Hepburn (1909-2003) played chess, often with Humphrey Bogart.

Actress Kate Jackson (Charlie's Angels) plays chess. She owns a chess computer and plays chess against it rather than watch television. In the 1970s, a promotional shot of Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith, and Farrah Fawcett- Majors behind a large chess set and board was made.

Actress Myrna Loy (1905-1993) played chess and was mentioned in Chess Life as well as Chess Review magazine. She was born Myrna Williams. She was a member of Herman Steiner's chess club.

Mass murderer Charles Manson plays chess in prison at San Quentin. So does Sirhan Sirhan, who assassinated Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.

Cellist Gregor Piatigorsky (1903-1976) played chess as was a great chess patron. His wife, Jacqueline, was a very active chess player who sometimes played in the U.S. Women's Chess Championship and the Women's Chess Olympics. In 1963, he sponsored the first Piatigorsky Cup grandmaster tournament in Los Angeles. The second Piatigorsky Cup was held in 1966 in Santa Monica.

Actor Anthony Quinn (1915-2001) was an avid chess player. He played chess between movie takes with anyone who was interested. Quinn claims that the only person to constantly beat him in chess was David Niven's son. His chess sets were being sold on eBay recently.

Basil Rathbone (1892-1967) played chess.

Man Ray (1890-1996), famous photographer and painter, played chess. He lived in Hollywood. He designed several chess sets and hoped one of his designs would become the standard for the World Chess Federation. That did not happen. He designed his first chess set in 1920. He played several chess games with artist Marcel Duchamp.

Actor Keanu Reeves is an enthusiastic chessplayer. He was a chess hustler in Toronto and played on his high school team. He says when he unwinds; he plays chess on his computer.

Former Los Angeles mayor Dick Riordin plays chess. He is a friend of Gary Kasparov.

Julia Roberts plays chess and has requested chess sets available in her trailer when making a movie.

Actor and restaurant owner Mike Romanoff (1890-1971) was a strong chess player. He played many games against Humphrey Bogart. In 1946, he won $100 from Bogart in a chess game played at Romanoff's restaurant. That evening, Bogart went home, then called Romanoff to play one more game over the phone for another $100. Romanoff agreed, then lost the game. Bogart just happened to have Herman Steiner over his house, and Bogart's moves were really Steiner's moves.

Governor and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger is an avid chess player. In 2002, he played a friendly game with Kasparov. His wife, Maria Shriver, and their four children all play chess. He says that he relied on chess to keep him awake on movie sets.

Actor George C. Scott (1927-1999) was a skillful chess player. During the filming of Dr. Strangelove, he played chess constantly with director Stanly Kubrick. Kubrick won most of the games.

Actor Will Smith is an avid chess player. In 1998, he began taking chess lessons from Robert Snyder. Will Smith wrote the forward to Grandmaster Maurice Ashley's CHESS FOR SUCCESS.

Actor Jesse Vint plays chess. In 1987, he won First Runner-Up in the World Celebrity Chess Championship held in Mazatlan, Mexico. In 1988, he won the World Celebrity Chess Championship at the Century Plaza in Los Angeles.

Actor John Wayne (1907-1979) played chess. He was born Marion Morrison. He played chess between shots while making movies.

Director Billy Wilder (1906-2002) played chess.

Actor Guy Williams (1924-1999) was a chess player. He was born Armand Jospeh Catalano. When he lived in New York, he spent his time at the Manhattan Chess Club and was a member. He lived near Central Park and went to the park often to play chess. He later played chess against a variety of computer chess programs. He moved to Hollywood in 1952.

Actor William Windom is an active chess player.

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