04 November 2022

Fashionable Fischer

Last week's post in the 'Fischer Friday' series, 'To Sam, With Thanks' (October 2022), featured an eBay item,

Signed by Bobby Fischer to his friend Saemi Rock, a.k.a. Saemundur Palsson, friend and bodyguard in 1972.

Palsson is seen frequently in 'Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World' by Brad Darrach. The previous post where I quoted the author was October 1972 & 1997 'On the Cover' (October 2022), about a day where Darrach and his LIFE colleague, photographer Harry Benson, spent with the soon-to-be World Champion.

According to Darrach (p.125), Fischer first met Palsson on the 4th of July, the day the American arrived in Iceland. After an anecdotal account of their meeting, Darrach wrote,

And that's how Bobby Fischer, cast up like Robinson Crusoe on a desert island, found his man Friday -- the smiling, cunning, tireless Nordic aborigine, loyal as a tapeworm, who from that moment enveloped him in a private atmosphere as a baby is wrapped in a bunting. Bobby has an affinity for men like "Saemi" (pronounced Symie) Palsson, for soft, agreeable, motherly men who allow him to feel all-powerful.

Here's another excerpt from Darrach (p.128), constructing more dialog from the same day. It touches on a subject important to Fischer: men's fashion.

"I would be very honored," [Palsson] said, "if you would come to my house for dinner sometime."

"Yeah, yeah." Bobby was in high spirits now. When they started off again he wanted the truck to go faster, but Palsson had a good thing going and didn't want to spoil it. "With that valuable cargo," he explained later, "I wanted full control of the machine. So I told him a Land Rover couldn't go any faster than seventy or eighty kilometers an hour."

On the way back, Bobby asked about tailors -- who were the best ones and how much would it cost him to have a suit made up? "I want something mod. Not too mod but a little, y'know?"

Palsson promised to check out a British tailor who had set up shop in Reykjavik.

"But I don't want him using my name in ads or anything, unnastan'?"

Palsson understood.

By the time the Land Rover stopped in front of Bobby's house it was almost 6 A.M. With somebody to boss around, Bobby had already begun to act more confident. He felt he had put down a root in Iceland; maybe the place wasn't as bad as he had thought.

The next day the two men met again (p.139):-

[Fred] Cramer's car crunched to a stop in front of Bobby's house at 10 P.M. Bobby was dressed and had company.

Saemundur Palsson, out of uniform, had arrived about an hour earlier with his seven-year-old son, Asgeir. Palsson noticed that Bobby was keyed up and restless. "D'ja call the tailor?" he wanted to know right away. Palsson said the tailor had agreed to open his shop any night that suited Bobby. "Not bad," Bobby answered.

Squeezing close to his father, Asgeir sat staring at Bobby with big scared eyes. Whenever Bobby looked back, he stuffed his head in his father's armpit.

"Asgeir!" Palsson protested in Icelandic. "Why are you so shy? Mr. Fischer won't hurt you. He's a very nice man."

Asgeir said something to his father's armpit.

"Aw!" said Palsson, and explained to Bobby, "He is shy because you are so famous."

Flattered, Bobby noticed the child. "Hey, Oscar," he said, "ya want some apple juice?"

Palsson translated. Asgeir blushed and nodded.

Bobby got the juice and Asgeir sat drinking shyly. He had a broad rosy face and enormous brown eyes set far apart, like a lamb's. Bobby decided he liked him and Palsson insisted that Asgeir liked Bobby too. "Yeah," Bobby said, "I get along good with kids."

There's a well known photo from two months later showing Bobby in a suit, 'not too mod but a little'. It is placed in chronological sequence in Fischer Wirephotos II (March 2016; first photo, fourth row; see also the second photo). My guess is that the suit was purchased in Iceland.

The suggested caption said,

NXP1751250-9/17/72-NEW YORK: World chess champion Bobby Fischer manages a big smile as he walks from a plane to a limousine following his arrival at Kennedy airport from Iceland 9/17. UPI we/al

Another Fischer photo showing the same suit is on Facebook: 'Fischer and Quinteros forged a strong friendship from 1971' (facebook.com). The fellow behind Quinteros is a fuller view of the person that I've cropped out out of the photo pictured above. Who was he?

An equally well known photo is on the same Facebook group: 'During a championship match in Reykjavik, Iceland, Bobby Fischer went to a tailor to buy two suits' (ditto; further link to nytimes.com). Fischer is sitting next to a photo of Rudolph Valentino. Some people think Fischer looks like Valentino.

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