A nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn he was not. Bobby Fischer, though Jewish and from Brooklyn, was not nice at all.
In fact, the American chess prodigy–who made international headlines when he defeated the Russian reigning chess king Boris Spassky, in 1972–was a rabid anti-semite, anti-American, and basically all around bigot. Many talented celebrities are known for having vile prejudices but few, perhaps none, have become more famous for them.
We come to see why in Frank Brady’s new biography, "Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall — From America’s Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness," says the New York Times in today’s laudatory review. (Brady speaks at the Barnes and Noble on 82nd and Broadway, in Manhattan, on Tue., Feb. 1 at 7 p.m.; it’s free.)
Fischer was born in Brooklyn, in 1943, to a secular Jewish Russian immigrant named Regina. Bobby only had a sister, Joan, but never knew his father. That’s about as sedate as his Jewish history gets.
By the time he was 16, a high-school dropout (he averaged D’s) but already a promising chess star, he was giving glimpses of the anti-semtic views that would become his trademark over the next fifty years. "Yeah, there are too many Jews in chess," he told Harper’s in a profile from 1962, when he was 19. "They seem to have taken away the class of the game. They don’t seem to dress so nicely. That’s what I don’t like."
It is hard to remember now, but, despite those ugly remarks, they did not dominate the picture until the late-1970s, when he quit the game for good. His obstinance and eccentricity were known, but most people brushed it aside: he was, after all, basically a kid. Even Henry Kissinger, then Nixon’s national security advisor, placed a call to him before his 1972 match. Fischer had been refusing to participate because the organizers weren’t paying him enough, but Kissinger knew, if Fischer won, it’d be a coup for America. Fischer didn’t take Kissinger’s call, but he went nonetheless.
And won big.
Then fell hard.
Based on this excellent profile in The Atlantic from 2002, it appears Fischer’s victory over Spassky was both the beginning and end of his halcyon days. He grew increasingly secluded, demanding more and more money for tournaments which sponsors refused to oblige–all the while blasting missives against Jews, Russians, Americans and just about every other group he could think of.
According to The Atlantic story, the root cause of his anti-semitism was his outlandish megalomania. Still, his anti-semitism was of a highly cultivated sort: he read Mein Kampf incessantly, not to mention The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and various other anti-semitic classics, in an effort give intellectual heft to his screeds. Here is The Atlantic’s key paragraph on Fischer’s Jewish problem:
He began studying anti-Semitic classics such as Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He became obsessed with German history and the Third Reich, and collected Nazi memorabilia. It was rumored that he slept with a picture of Adolf Hitler hanging over his bed. Larry Evans [a friend] says that Fischer’s admiration for the Führer had less to do with anti-Semitism than with insatiable ego. "We once went to see a documentary on Hitler," Evans recalls. "When we came out of the theater, Bobby said that he admired Hitler. I asked him why, and he said, ‘Because he imposed his will on the world.’"
Whatever the cause, his last years were perhaps his most despicable. Fischer did not step foot in America after George H.W. Bush issued a warrant for his arrest, in 1992, for defying a ban of U.S. citizens from traveling to war-ravaged Yugoslavia. Fischer went there anyway, briefly coming out of retirement to face Spassky in a meaningless anniversary rematch (Fischer needed the money, desparately; he also won the match).
But he found a home on AM radio, where he broadcast a late-night show based from a wayward station in Manila that agreed to air his rants. Here’s some keepers from those golden days:
- "They’re lying bastards. Jews were always lying bastards throughout their history. They’re a filthy, dirty, disgusting, vile, criminal people." (From March 10, 1999)
- "The United States is supposed to be a government of laws, not people. But that’s a lot of shit. The United States is totally controlled by dirty Jews. And these are ruthless, lawless, criminal people. They’ve been mutilating their kids for thousands of years, cutting off a piece of their penis. That’s illegal too, but that never stopped the dirty Jews." (From June 27, 1999)
- "Hopefully the Jews will get it in the neck soon. They have a lot of enemies all over the world. These biological weapons are getting very cheap and easy to deliver. I’m optimistic, I’m hoping that Washington DC will be wiped out." (From Oct. 16, 1999)
And then, shortly after Sept. 11, 2001: "Yes, well, this is all wonderful news,” he said on air. “It’s time to finish off the U.S. once and for all.”
For more pearls, go here.