First-Time Author Publishes Three-Act Bobby Fischer Play


When 12-year-old Joe Coppola was hospitalized for a ruptured appendix in the mid-1950s his uncle gave him his first chess set to help pass the time while he recovered. That experience developed into a passion that has lasted a lifetime.

His fascination with chess included following and studying the life of American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer. Coppola has crafted a three-act play called “64?!” Several years in the making, the script was published in November 2023.

The Severna Park resident planned to go into publishing following his graduation from college, never expecting to be an author, although he loved to write. Coppola’s publishing career was sidelined when he enlisted in the military during the Vietnam War. He returned to the New York City area and taught middle school English. A friend piqued his interest in law enforcement, and he joined the Secret Service in Washington, D.C. He retired from the government after 24 years and began a second 13-year career in corporate security at Johns Hopkins Hospital. In 2006, Coppola retired for good, and with his schedule now more open, he said he returned “full throttle” into chess.

“I joined the Annapolis Chess Club, began studying the game again, and entered local tournaments,” he said. “I also started to think about writing something, but I didn’t know in what form or what about.”

A friend encouraged him to write about something he loved. Naturally, Coppola thought of chess, and his favorite player, Bobby Fischer. Coppola had followed Fischer’s life intently through his public rise to fame as a chess prodigy, to his world championship in 1972, an event that played out during the tumultuous Cold War. Coppola decided to write “64?!”a play about Bobby Fischer.

“There are hundreds of books, two movies and even a song about Bobby Fischer, but not a play,” Coppola said. “I love theater, so I had my format and my topic.”

For the next two years, Coppola immersed himself in researching Fischer and took several writing classes such as playwriting and writing monologues. The first draft was completed.

By chance, Coppola realized he had a connection to Mel Johnson Jr., an accomplished actor and director from Coppola’s hometown of Queens, New York. Johnson agreed to read the script, and a partnership was formed.

After a few years of rewrites, Coppola had the script copyrighted in 2010. In 2011, Johnson felt the script was ready for a table read. After another year of critique and script tweaks, the script was ready for a stage reading in 2012, and it garnered a standing ovation from the actors and an audience. Coppola entered the script in a festival, but his work didn’t land in the top three, which was required for it to be created into a play. It was a long process, but Coppola was proud to have completed the play.

Fast forward to 2023 and Coppola had the idea to publish his play and give the final product to his family for Christmas that year. Without anyone knowing, the book was published in November 2023. He inscribed each book with a special message to each family member and presented his gift to all on Christmas Eve.

“After that night, I thought, mission accomplished. Now on to something else,” recalled Coppola, but Amazon had a different idea. “The book started to sell and was getting five-star reviews!”

Coppola is now shopping his play to local theaters and performance groups with the hopes of one day seeing his work onstage.

The unique title “64?!” has several meanings. Sixty-four was Fischer’s age when he died in 2008, and there are 64 squares on a chessboard. The ?! marks are a chess annotation indicating a dubious move. The three-act play is an homage to the dubious life of Fischer. It takes place in 2008 with flashbacks to events from 1950 through 1972, the year of his historic chess defeat of defending champion Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union. The match took place in Reykjavík, Iceland.

“64?!” is available on Amazon.


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