Once upon a time people would step and look when 30 men began slicing each other with double-edged words. That was over 100 years age. But foggy morning duels went out with the Virginia Reel, and Hollywood has corned up the fine art of fencing; and nowadays few people pay much attention to Rene Peroy and his varsity swordsmen.
This has never bothered Peroy, though. His two dozen fencers don't get glory, but they like the quick, fast game that always keeps them on their tees. They also can get some good laughs out of the movies. For fencing isn't the brassy, horeic sport of technicolor films, and not even Peroy--an Olympic champ--would try to hold off the French Army with one saber and some balsa-weed chairs.
In fencing, the idea is to move your sword as little as possible. That's the idea Perey in trying to get across. Sweeping your weapon grandly through the air, he says, in like stepping to stretch when you're boxing Joe Louis.
So the Blockhouse fencing room has never sounded like the Anvil Chorus in ragtime. Peroy's French accent can always be heard throughout the afternoon. He'll stand by with a manager while two of his charges fight it out, and the script will run something like this:
"On guard. Fence."
"Masterson. On guard. Fence."
This dialogue, chopped up now and then by some words of advice, somehow seems to make good fencing terms. Last year, Peroy built a top-flight squad that lost only to Cornell and Yale--the latter game by a heavily-disputed one point. Last year also produced a team that pulled as many Three-Musketeer antics as a fencing team can. John Gay used to slash his saber as if he were swatting mosquitoes in a Cuban jungle. Red McNeil had his own little trick. He'd lunge out with a saber and then roll onto his back to escape the counterpunch. It was unconventional and it looked good, even if it was kid stuff for MGM.
Gay and McNeil have graduated, and this year's Douglas Fairbanks is a sophomore named Fels Carter. Carter is inmber three man in the saber department right now, behind Tom Masterson and Bob Westhrin, who play a little more soberly. The saber is always the best weapon for razzle-dazzle stuff, since duellers can use the side of the sword to score touches. In the epee and foil, only the point counts.
Westhrin and Ray Pierce, who also rates high on the saber ladder, are sophomores. In the other weapons, '51 doesn't do so well and the old-timers take over. Captain John Ager is top man in epee, a three-sided sword with a cup-shaped hilt, Giles Constable and Masterson fill up the top three, and may be the group to face Bowdoin in the first game this February.
Chip Arp heads the foil-wielders, followed by Joe Verra and Bill Raney. Verra played on the squad in 1947 and took a breather last winter by sweeping the House League in all three weapons. His best instrument is still the foil, which has a flatter hilt and four sides. Five touches are needed to win a foil match three will do in epee.
The team has one of the biggest schedules in its history this year. After Bowdoin come Cornell, Princeton, MIT, Army, Columbia, Amberst, and Yale, Eli is by all odds the top match; after last year's defeat the squad is looking forward to the Yale fencing game as the Harvard Provision Company looks forward to the Yale football game. "We won't do too bad," says Peroy.