Masako Katsura was a Japanese carom billiards player who peaked in the 1950s. She was known by the nickname “Katsy” and was occasionally referred to as the “First Lady of Billiards.” By completing and finishing among the best in the largely male-dominated world of professional billiards, she paved the way for women in the sport.
Masako Katsura Biography, Wiki, Net Worth, Age, Relationship & More
Katsura became the only female professional player in Japan after initially studying the mark with her brother-in-law and subsequently under the guidance of Japanese champion Kinrey Matsuyama. She finished in second place three times at Japan’s national three-cushion billiards tournament. She gained notoriety for scoring 10,000 points during exhibitions of the straight game rail.
Katsura immigrated to the country in 1951 after getting married to a U.S. Army non-commissioned officer in 1950. While there, she received an invitation to take part in the U.S. government-sponsored 1952 World Three-Cushion Championship. Katsura was the first woman to ever compete in a world billiards tournament, finishing seventh in the final standings.
Welker Cochran and Willie Hoppe’s successful demonstration tours of the United States helped Katsura get international recognition. She later competed in the world three-cushion championship in 1953 and 1954, finishing fifth and fourth, respectively.
For a few years, Katsura largely vanished from the public eye. She participated in thirty exhibition performances in 1958, but the following year, she and Harold Worst only competed in one exhibition engagement. In 1959, Katsura made her television debut on ABC’s You Asked for It.
She later made another appearance on CBS’s smash hit What’s My Line? When Worst, the current world champion, challenged Katsura for the World Three-Cushion championship in 1961, Katsura made a comeback to the competitive arena. He overcame Katsura, and she stopped competing in the sport afterward, only making a fleeting cameo in 1976. She relocated to Japan in 1990, where she passed away in 1995.
Masako Katsura was born in Tokyo, Japan, on March 7, 1913. Though little is known about Katsura’s early years, we do know that she had a brother and three sisters. Katsura was only twelve years old when their father sadly went away.
She moved in with her older sister and her sister’s husband, Tomio Kobashi, after his passing. At the time, Kobashi was the owner of a pool hall. Kinney Matsuyama, a highly regarded pool player in Japan who had numerous times won the national three-cushion championship, was someone Katsura met in 1937.
Matsuyama excelled not just in Japan but also internationally, winning four second-place places at 18.2 balklines in world competitions before World War II. In addition, he was the 1934 U.S. national champion. Naturally, Matsuyama was impressed with Katsura and made the decision to mentor her and teach her the tricks of the trade for competitive play. As the only female professional billiard player in Japan by 1947, Katsura had established herself as a well-known figure in the sport.
Marriage and titles in Japan
A master sergeant in the U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Corps with 22 years of service, Vernon Greenleaf noticed Katsura in 1947. Vernon Greenleaf is unrelated to pool and carom billiards champion, Ralph Greenleaf.
On November 30, 1950, the couple exchanged vows, although they never had children. By the time she was married, Katsura had already accomplished a great deal. She finished in second place at the national three-cushion competition in Japan not once, not twice, but once the year before her wedding.
She finished second once more the year after getting married. She also performed a demonstration at that time, winning 10,000 points on the straight rail. Mind you, this wasn’t just any feat; it took her 4 and a half hours to nurse around the table 27 times. She didn’t continue over 10,000 points other than the fact that it was a benchmark round figure.
Greenleaf was transferred from Tokyo’s Haneda Air Base to a U.S. position in 1951. On the USS Breckinridge, he and Katsura, who had little English language skills, left for the United States. At the tail end of December 1951, they arrived in San Francisco.
This was only a few months prior to that city hosting the 1952 World Three-Cushion Billiards Championship, which was set to start on 6 March. After hearing about Katsura’s brilliance from Matsuyama, Cochran, whose billiards hall was hosting the competition, extended her a conditional invitation to compete in the world championship.
Before sending her any final invitations, Katsura organized a private show for Cochran to visit after she landed in the country. She was able to turn to a balkline with great accuracy and do 300 and 400-point runs while straight rail, which astounded Cochran. Not only that, but she also excelled at three-cushion, consistently scoring high.
1952 World Three-Cushion Billiards Tournament
Katsura made history when she entered the 1952 World Three-Cushion Billiards competition as a woman for the first time. It had only been ten years since Ruth McGinnis became the first woman to be invited to compete in a men’s professional pool tournament, making history (the New York State Championship of 1942).
The round-robin tournament will feature Katsura, her coach Matsuyama, the tournament favorite and defending champion Willie Hoppe, the Mexican champion Joe Chamaco, Herb Hardt of Chicago, Art Rubin of New York, Joe Procita of Los Angeles, Ray Kilgore of San Francisco, Jay Bozeman of Vallejo, and Irving Crane of Binghamton.
The championship match, which lasted 17 days and included 45 games, was held at Cochran’s 924 Club. Each participant has to play every other participant once. The tournament had the highest attendance of any pool competition since before World War II, according to reports.
In 1952, Cochran declared he would end his seven-year retirement to go with Katsura on an exhibition tour. He remarked, “Now some of the millions of admirers who wish to witness this attractive first lady of billiards can. On April 18, 1952, the two began a three-day engagement at the Garden City Parlor in San Jose as a preview of their tour.
In order to promote Katsura’s demonstrations, billiards champion Tex Zimmerman and well-known pool hustler Danny McGourty, who both had a hand in planning the tour, emphasized her exoticism and physical allure. Katsura was given side-slit, form-fitting kimonos by Zimmerman’s wife, which she wore throughout her exhibits with high heels.
Katsura was a little woman, standing barely 5 feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds. She was 39 years old, although McGourty subsequently said that she “looked twenty-nine” and was “cute.” She was renowned for bouncing about the pool table in high heels while grinning at the onlookers.
Katsura moved back to Japan in 1990 to live with her sister Noriko. She declared it was where she intended to spend the rest of her time. In 1995, Katsura passed away. A memorial competition dubbed Katsura Memorial: The First Ladies Three Cushion Grandprix was conducted in her honor in September 2002. It was broadcast on SKY PerfecTV!
On March 7, 2021, Google featured Katsura in a Doodle on its home page in honor of International Women’s Day.