Friday, July 10, 2015

V 5 N. 65 Clifford Severn, First Adidas shoe rep in US, Hollywood Actor, International Cricketeer

Clifford Severn (1925-2014)
  For years my co-blogger Roy Mason has  ended his reports with  a sign off that "Cliff Severn is still advertising this month touting Adidas track shoes on the back cover of TF&N".    In the 50s and early 60s Cliff was probably the only person west of the Mississippi who handled those shoes.  I'm not sure how he distributed the much sought after footwear either from the back of his car, from a store front , or mail order.  Several of our readers including Ernie Cunliffe have mentioned seeing Cliff at meets and getting shoes from him either with hard earned cash or hard earned track performances.  The stories vary.  When I started doing a google search last year for more about Cliff, and about Vandervoort's Hardware store in Lansing Michigan (one of the few other Adidas distributors in the US), I found an obituary about a Cliff Severn,  child actor and international crickteer who lived in the Hollywood area.  But alas there was no mention in the obituaries about his connection to Adidas.   However  name and the location were just too big of a coincidence not to be Cliff.   Finally another obituary popped up this week confirming that the man was indeed all three personages.    If any of you have had any face to face encounters with Cliff that you would like to describe, please feel free to contact us, but be careful what you write, as it will most probably end up attached to this article.   Pictures of Mr. Severn would make one think that he was indeed a man of some eccentricity.    He was born in England of South African parentage.  He came to America with family in the late 1920s and before long was appearing as a child actor in several films along with his brothers.
Cliff Severn in Hollywood Film Days

 While in Hollywood he learned the game of cricket probably from his Pa or  the British colony in film land, and played regularly with David Niven, Errol Flynn,  Boris Karloff.  Karloff, that's precious, because I can only imagine Frankenstein stumbling around with a cricket bat as the villagers are chasing him up into the hills with their burning torches.  Cliff founded several cricket clubs in the L.A. area and even  represented the US in a match with Canada, thus making him an 'international' in the cricket world.  He also started importing Adidas shoes in the early 1950's.   He is credited with encouraging the company  to develop tennis shoes out of which came  Stan Smith tennis shoes and soon after some  basketball shoes.  He  also represented the company during the World Cup of Soccer when it was held in Chile.   By   the late 60's  he owned   C & C Sports and the Sweat Shop. I imagine Cliff was by passed when Adidas started expanding rapidly and needed an organization that could manage things on a huge national and international scale. But to any of you who were a regular reader of Track and Field News in the 50's and 60's,  Clifford Severn was a household word.

The Thousand Oaks Acorn covered all the bases, or should I say wickets, in this obituary.

Clifford Severn

"Man I did not know Cliff passed . I had long talks with him about Adidas stuff. He told me Adidas screwed him later on when they went to a big  distribution system after he set the ground work. "  Phil Scott

wow.....clifford severn.
in high school we had to call Cliff's business in North Hollywood to order Adidas.
Someone had a brochure and we'd call, make the order and pay COD when UPS delivered...usually the next day.
Sometimes we would drive all the way up to his store to get running shoes.
Mike Solomon

Mike Larabee became the adidas rep too.  Phil Scott

Who was the  400 meters Gold Medal winner in 60 Olympics?   Larabee?  He  also had a track shoe distributeship in Santa Barbara--LA  Ricardo Romo

George: I just spoke to Percy Severn, Clifford's widow. She is working on a book of her late husbands life. I sent the blog site and the article about him. She is going to correspond with me about the book and stuff.  Phil

Hello Roy and George-what a flashback this posting gave me. After wearing "Chuck Taylor" gum soled shoes with a black canvas upper in the 9th and 10th grades (1956-1957) my dad drove me up to North Hollywood to Cliff's place of business and bought me my first pair of Adidas shoes. Other members on that Excelsior High School team wore some other brands but after reading the Track & Field News ads that touted how many Olympic Champions and World Records were achieved in those Adidas spikes what choice could a budding 880 runner have but to wear those shoes with the three stripes.
If the ads in Track & Field News were not enough, check out the foot ware laced up on the starting line of the 1957 Millrose Games Mile run: Burr Grim-Adidas   Ron Delany-Adidas  George King-Adidas   Jim Beatty-Adidas   Bob Seamon-Adidas and Laszlo Tabori-Adidas!

Included on the front page of this February 1957 T&FN edition is an early headline about the "Wonder Boy Herb Elliot".

Here is the ad that my Dad and I responded to in 1957 that made me feel like I was a real track man with a pair of the red with white striped spikes:

Competing companies at the time included Ruddell and Brooks:
But the icing on the cake came when the man Herb Elliot made Adidas his shoe of choice. Even the boys from Abilene Christian got on board!  It was ADIDAS all the way!

Feel free to use any/all/none of this reply. I just enjoy the chance to go back and recall these exciting times in my running career.
Thanks again for the ongoing history lesson.
Darryl Taylor


  That  "Human Sky Writer" pole vaulter picture I sent you a while back had me wearing red and white stripe Adidas shoes --- 1956 version. I don't remember where I got them ---it was probably mail order so probably from Cliff.

Rest of the story --- 1984 to 1986 I lived in Santa Maria, CA ---Mike Larabbe's home town.  Mike and I ended up being tennis doubles partners and were a pretty successful team ---good athletes playing tennis rather than classic tennis players would be a good way to classify us.  Mike did not like my cheap tennis outfit so he gave me a fancy Adidas sweat outfit so we would "look right".

 When Mike died about 10 years ago, his wife sent me a pair of Adidas spikes from his inventory ---still have, brand new.

   Bill Flint

I missed the Cliff Severn article-there’s a Bowerman connection that I hope I can do justice:

By 1954, Bowerman had established a long distance relationship with Adi Dassler, knowing that he made the best product in the world. He imported some Adidas product through an Austrian  friend from the war (referenced in Kenny Moore’s “Men of Oregon”), but when that dried up, he complained to Adi that purchasing Adidas product in the U.S. was too expensive for most track teams. He particular called out Severn for marking up the shoes too high, and asked Adi for the distributorship, because he claimed he could take a lower margin and make them more accessible.
Adi said he had to honor his current commitment to Severn, but once the current contract expired, he would like Bill to have the distributorship. Obviously that never happened. But, Bill continued to purchase and dissect Adidas spikes, learning how they were constructed and using the spike plates as a base for his athlete’s handmade calfskin shoes, which were considerably lighter than say, a Adidas’ Melbourne.
Rick Lower


Unknown said...

Hey Romo,

Larabee was 64 and Otis Davis was 60. I know because I was hauling up 6th behind Otis in 60. Still have my red.white and blue Adidas from the games. Only wore Adidas and Puma warmups during my career.

Larry Loveridge said...

Thank you for this blogger site... I attended and ran cross country and track (hurdles, sprints, jumps) 1962-1965 at James Monroe High in what is now called North Hills, CA. All my shoes were purchased through Cliff at his store at 10436 Magnolia in North Hollywood. And Mike Larrabee was our math teacher at Monroe in 1964 and he'd come out and run fartleks with us for workouts before he went over to Tokyo. Literally, he WAS a man among us boys. We even made him an honorary Letterman member of our track team. I later keyed my events to the Triple Jump and Intermediates and toured the US representing the US Navy and then as a member of the All Military CISM team up until 1970. My teammates were the likes of Charlie Greene, Mel Pender, Jim Kemp, Geoff Vanderstock, Tracy Smith, Kenny Moore, Neal Steinhauer, Les Tipton, and our coach was Ralph Higgins. I still have my original Adidas and also the TJ shoes I jumped in from that era.

Larry Loveridge
North Hollywood CA

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