Martha Frankel grew up in a warm and loving family of die-hard gamblers, where her father's poker games and her mother's mah jongg mingled with big pots of delicious food and endless gossip and storytelling. The kids did their own gambling: Martha, her sister Helene, and their cousins bet on which of their ever-dieting mothers would lose the most every week, which cousin could hold their breath longest underwater or who could eat the most matzo. She went with her father and uncles to the track most Tuesdays, carrying the daily Racing Form in her bookbag.
About Martha Frankel
An Interview with Martha Frankel
More About Martha Frankel
When she was eighteen, Martha left for to the University of Miami, looking to find a life that didn’t include detailed daily study of the sports section. She thought the gambling gene had passed her by. She studied English in hopes of becoming a writer, dropping out when her ill-advised advisor told her that English majors become English teachers, not writers.
Then Martha met editor Annie Flanders, who was just starting the original Details magazine. Annie gave Martha her start as Details’ book reviewer. Martha also wrote the magazine’s first “Knifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” a first-person column about plastic surgery, where she described her own breast reduction (this was in the 1980s, when such procedures were far less commonplace).
Her first celebrity interview was Aidan Quinn, and she started doing more entertainment pieces. She interviewed Elizabeth Taylor and director Nicholas Roeg, and toured the newly opened Tribeca Film Center with Robert De Niro. In 1990, she started writing for other magazines and traveled around the world to interview international entertainment personalities such as Roman Polanski, Juliette Binoche, Anthony Hopkins, Susan Sarandon, a 19-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio, and then-heavyweight champ Mike Tyson.
Her work has appeared in magazines as diverse as The New Yorker, Fashions of the New York Times, Japanese and German Men's Vogue, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, and Movieline's Hollywood Life. She has been an on-air contributor to VH1's Sexiest Movie Moments, Entertainment Tonight, and Inside Edition.
For the past fifteen years, she has co-hosted of the Woodstock Roundtable, a Sunday morning radio talk-show on WDST in Woodstock, NY. And since the inception of the Woodstock Film Festival in 2000, she has been the moderator of the Actor's Dialogue, a live interview which has featured, over the years, such noted actors as Lili Taylor, Stanley Tucci, Steve Buscemi, Liev Schreiber, Olympia Dukakis, David Strathairn, Marcia Gaye Hardin, and Peter Reigert.
She won a NYFFA Award in creative nonfiction, was the 1997 Philip Morris Fellow at The MacDowell Colony, and the 2003 Artist-in-Residence at SUNY Ulster, where she taught a class in memoir writing.
Martha Frankel lives near Woodstock, New York with her husband, woodworker and sculptor Steve Heller. Hats & Eyeglasses is her first book.
Q. More and more women seem to be taking up the game of poker. What do you think has caused this new surge in interest?
A. Television has made poker glamorous. Poker is the new smoking.
Q. In the book, you mention that women are treated differently from men at the poker table. Do you think there is a double standard?
A. Women are treated differently from men every place in the world. But at the poker table you can use it to your advantage.
Q. For many novices, maintaining a good poker face is almost impossible. Do you have any good “poker face” tips?
A. Botox or thinking of your opponents naked.
Q. Can you share with us some classic mistakes that beginner poker players make?
A. Body language—leaning in when you have a good hand, grabbing a handful of chips when you want to make a big bet, foot tapping, finger strumming.
Q. What are your favorite poker variations and why?
A. I like hi/low games because the pots are bigger and the players looser.
Q. Why were you so successful playing poker in card rooms and casinos, but lost so much playing online?
A. One reason is that I read people really well, and online I couldn’t do that. I can be fun in person, but not nearly so online. And sexiness doesn’t translate virtually. Oh, and there’s always the possibility that online poker is crooked.
Q. In the book you talk about knowing that you had to stop gambling online, but not being able to physically quit. Can you tell us a little about that experience? You were losing tens of thousands of dollars? Why couldn’t you simply stop?
A. Why do junkies continue to turn tricks while their children hide in another room? Why do emphysema patients get wheeled outside the hospital to have another Marlboro? Addiction is addiction, and while I was strung out on online poker, I couldn’t see my way out of it.
Q. Do you ever feel tempted to play online again or to play more often than just your weekly game with friends?
A. No. I am so over online poker.
Q. Was the gaming at your home something you shared eagerly with friends, or kept hidden? Was there ever any sense when you were growing up that gambling was somehow a little bit bad or wrong?
A. Are you kidding? Kids begged to come to our house because you could play cards all weekend. As for bad or wrong, neither, just fun.
Q. Did it ever seem that your parents or any of their friends were unhappy about their gaming, in the sense that they complained about serious financial problems due to their losses?
A. No one ever complained, but I did witness my uncles whispering in the phone to their bookies. And I did hear my aunts nagging a few times when the rent money wasn’t where it was supposed to be.
Q. What was your experience with 12-step programs when you were trying to stop online gambling?
A. I would have been better off with 12 quarts of ice cream for all the help they offered me. From what I’m hearing, gamblers who are serious about stopping often wind up at Alcoholics Anonymous instead of Gamblers Anonymous.
Q. Do you play the lottery or any other games of chance?
A. Never. Poker appealed to me strictly because it was a game where skill came in to play.
Q. Do you feel that online gambling should be banned or more strictly regulated?
A. No. I think people need to regulate themselves, not let the government do it. But I worry that so many young kids are playing online. Still, isn’t stopping them the job of their parents?
Q. What are you working on now?
A. A really salacious novel about middle-aged sex, which is a lot hotter than most people give it credit for.
Q. What would you like to be if you weren’t a writer?
A. The Zamboni driver for the New Jersey Devils or third base coach for the New York Yankees.
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