Re: Little Mo if she were around today......
There are over 5000 results for "Maureen Connolly" in just one of the archives I have access to, with a very bad signal-to-noise ratio, so please be patient.
Some things worth noting from this article:
* She was a sports columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, so if we have any San Diego residents lurking and so-inclined, a trip to the local library's microfilm newspaper archives might yield some interesting results.
* From the description of her riding injury, it seems amazing that she even able to walk all that well again, given the medical limitations of the day.
* How eerie that only one out of her four childhood playmates lived to the year 1987.
REMEMBERING 'LITTLE MO'
She has special place in local sports history
San Diego, CA
Friday, July 3, 1987
HAD Maureen Connolly's tennis career not ended so abruptly -- she was only 21 when a leg injury forced her to retire -- there might not be any dispute that she was the very best woman who ever played the game.
As it is, her place in tennis history -- and in San Diego's sports history -- remains forever secure.
Tomorrow marks the 35th anniversary of Little Mo's first of three straight Wimbledon titles. She was not quite 18 when she won the All-England Lawn Tennis Championships for the first time, thus becoming the second-youngest winner of the women's title.
The year was 1952.
The previous year, she had become the youngest winner of the U.S. Open at Forest Hills, beginning another streak of three straight titles. From '52 through '54, she was ranked as the world's best woman tennis player.
Less than a month after she had won her third straight Wimbledon in '54, disaster struck.
Connolly was riding Colonel Merryboy, the Tennessee walking horse she had received as a gift from San Diego admirers after winning the Grand Slam the previous year, when she was side-swiped by a cement truck on Friars Road.
The frightened horse wheeled and turned abruptly and Connolly's right leg was crushed against the truck. The horse was unhurt, but Little Mo suffered a fractured and severely gouged right leg. Worse, the leg's tendons and ligaments had been shredded.
The date was July 20, 1954.
Connolly was hospitalized for two weeks. By September, after weeks of intensive therapy, she was able to start playing again. As a goal, she entered the La Jolla Invitational, set for March.
But her efforts at rehabilitation were in vain.
All she could do was rally with friends. She was unable to compete at any higher level and, though she tried to come back, she knew her career was over.
On Feb. 22, 1955, at the age of 21, citing her intention to be married to Norman Brinker, a San Diego State sophomore, Little Mo announced that her playing career was over.
She was quoted by Jack Murphy, the late San Diego Union sports editor:
"I've been working every day for an hour and a half, but it's not the same. When I don't hit a shot well, I get mad. Instead of trying to play harder, I get sullen. I don't enjoy it. I've lost my spark....
"Tennis is a wonderful game and I leave it with no regrets. I've had a full life, with lots of travel and I've met a lot of wonderful people."
Little Mo plunged into a previously part-time career as a Union sports columnist and as a magazine writer and British TV commentator on tennis. She pursued her degree at San Diego State, gave tennis lessons and eventually became a mother and lent support to her husband's career.
As for the accident, she retained the celebrated attorney Melvin Belli, who after two reversals finally won a settlement of $110,700, based on income she had expected to win as a pro.
Her last San Diego tennis appearance was in 1966, when she faced one-time rival Nancy Kiner in friendly exhibitions at the Community Concourse and at La Costa. Connolly won both handily.
Kiner was not surprised. "Once you've got it, you never lose it," she said.
Until she died in 1969 at the age of 34, Little Mo never lost it. Until the end, she was outwardly as full of life as ever.
Stomach cancer had ravaged her body but not her soul. Maureen Connolly -- who would have been 53 this year -- left a legacy that touched all who knew her.
Louise Brough, Connolly's finals opponent at Wimbledon of '52, remembers Little Mo as "all
business" on the court.
"She had this way of nodding her head, a habit that went along with her brisk manner," said Brough, now 64 and living in Vista. "You knew that when Maureen was nodding her head, she was playing well."
Prior to Wimbledon, it was uncertain whether Connolly would even compete that year.
"She had a shoulder injury," said Brough, herself a four-time Wimbledon champion. "They tried to keep it quiet, but I knew about it because we had practiced together on the Wightman Cup team."
During that Wimbledon, Connolly had temporarily dropped Eleanor ("Teach") Tennant as her coach, mainly because Tennant had advised her to default from the event.
(In fact, her relationship with Tennant, who earlier served as Alice Marble's mentor, was filled with stormy moments. Tennant emphasized a serve-and-volley attack, while Maureen chose to stay on the baseline, blasting forehands down the line.)
"Teach wasn't happy that we had played together, because she wanted her to take it easy," said Brough. "In fact, she may have strained it by playing with me.
"But Maureen took it into her own hands because she wanted to play."
Remembering the '52 Wimbledon finals, which Connolly won 7-5, 6-3, Brough said:
"Centre Court was a bugaboo at first for Maureen, which it usually is for a first-time player. But she certainly played well. She was really a tough little player, one of the best I ever played against. She was at least as good as Chris Evert and would have given Martina Navratilova a very tough time."
In '53, Connolly beat Doris Hart 8-6, 7-5 to win Wimbledon, and the next year defeated Brough again 6-2, 7-5 for the title. Brough won Wimbledon the following year.
It was Nelson Fisher, a now-retired sportswriter who specialized in horse racing and tennis for the Union, who first used the nickname "Little Mo."
Connolly stood 5-foot-5, and Fisher thought he would contrast that with "Mighty Mo," a battleship named "The Missouri," then regarded as "the world's hardest hitting fighting vessel."
"Being a newspaperman, I knew that Maureen Connolly was too long for a headline," said Fisher. "When Maureen was about 11 or 12, I was flying back from the Belmont Stakes and saw a newspaper with 'Mighty Mo' in a headline. So I thought of 'Little Mo.' "
Many years later, in '78, NBC aired a movie titled "Little Mo" -- a biography on which Fisher served as a consultant.
Glynnis O'Connor played the title role, with Anne Baxter as Maureen's mother; Michael Learned as "Teach" Tennant; Anne Francis as Sophie Fisher, Nelson's wife; Mark Harmon as Norman Brinker; and Leslie Nielsen as Fisher.
"Most movies take a lot of liberties," said Fisher. "And this one did, too. But after seeing the final version, Norman decided, and we all agreed, to ignore them."
The last time Fisher saw Connolly was a few weeks before she died. Even then, he says, only her closest friends knew the seriousness of her condition.
"She was taking double doses of morphine and in terrible pain," said Fisher. "But, you know, when I walked into her room, she smiled just like her old self.
"They let me in for about five minutes. All she wanted to do was talk about the Belmont Stakes, where I had just been. When I told her how sorry I was to see her in a hospital, she said she had accepted her fate. Two weeks later, she was dead.
"She was a wonderful athlete, mother and wife, a wonderful friend to me and my Sophie. We spent 25 of the best years of our lives with her. I can't ever forget Little Mo."
Ralph Trembley spent many a weekend in the late '40s watching Connolly play as a junior. Then director of San Diego's parks and recreation department, Trembley always had an interest in developing the area's better tennis players.
When Trembley remembers Maureen, he also recalls "The Big Four" -- Maureen and her three tennis-playing girlfriends, Marion Vernon, Dianne Kostial and Patsy Zellmer, who was Little Mo's frequent doubles partner.
"Those little girls were inseparable," said Trembley. "They did everything together."
Only Kostial, now a landscape architect in Boston, is alive today. In a haunting coincidence, Zellmer, who once was nationally ranked just behind Connolly as a junior, died of cancer several months before Little Mo's death.
The first time Trembley saw Connolly play was her first tournament ever at Morley Field.
"She started playing at age 10," said Trembley. "She went up to (the late) Wilbur Folsom and asked if she could play. Of course, he said yes, as he always did. After a few weeks of instruction, she was quite a player."
Folsom, said Trembley, "was the kind of coach who lives for the day he gets a Maureen Connolly.
"But Little Mo's mother was the temperamental kind, and something happened when Maureen was about 15. She absolutely forbid Maureen to go to Wilbur, or even to mention his name. She cut him off from all credit.
"It was heartbreaking to all of us who loved both Maureen and Wilbur."
For Ben Press, the Hotel del Coronado tennis pro who grew up with Little Mo in the University Heights area of North Park, thinking of Connolly brings back memories of hitting worn-out balls back and forth, under bad lights, until they were summoned for bedtime.
"The kind of talent she had can't be acquired," said Press, who guesses that he played more than 500 matches against Connolly and as her mixed doubles partner. "It comes from up above."
Especially her return of service. "It was better than anyone else's I've ever seen," said Press. "Her game was utterly head-and-shoulders above any woman I've ever seen.
"Obviously, I'm partial, but she was only 20 when her career ended. Just think how good she could have become."
Brinker, Little Mo's "Sir Galahad," as dubbed by Nelson Fisher, recently described her as "an
incredible human being who happened to be a very good tennis player."
Now 56 and president of Chili's Hamburger Grill & Bar, a nationwide restaurant chain based in Dallas, Brinker says he remembers the time he first met Maureen "like it was yesterday."
Even then a world-class polo player and equestrian, Brinker stabled his horses in Mission Valley, in the same stable where Connolly kept Colonel Merryboy.
"I had been a member of the Olympic (jumping) team," said Brinker, "and I arrived back in town in July ('52). I knew her only because I had read about her.
"She was more than a hero to people in San Diego....She was an idol. I thought it was
marvelous that she had achieved what she had. But I had imagined that she would be a 'little miss priss,' real pampered.
"One day, at the stables, she came right up to me and said: 'Oh, that must be (Brinker's horse) Rip Snorter.' The minute she left, I thought, my gosh, she's really a neat person."
Brinker and Connolly were married in June 1955. They had two children, Cindy, now 30 and a resident of Dallas; and Brenda, now 28, who lives in New York.
In the early '60s, the Brinker family moved to Scottsdale and, a short time later, to Dallas, where Norman continued his successful business ventures.
A partner in the original Jack-in-the-Box chain here, and former president of Burger King, he now is the largest shareholder of the Pillsbury Corp. His financial worth is said to exceed $100 million.
But his life since Maureen's death has been marred by further tragic brushes with cancer.
His present wife, Susan, lost a breast to cancer several years ago, and her sister died of the disease. The Brinkers now preside over the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation, which supports cancer research.
What Brinker remembers most fondly about Maureen now is "her tremendous will to live," he
When Connolly was first diagnosed as having stomach cancer, a year or so after her last
exhibition with Kiner, she refused to feel sorry for herself, said Brinker. Only family members and close friends were advised that the cancer was malignant.
"She was always so positive, so up all the time," recalled Brinker. "She just said, 'We'll beat this together.' And I believed her.
"After the autopsy, one of the doctors said to me, 'She can't have lived that long. Everything is gone. She should have died six months ago.'
"We had just a terrific, terrific time together," said Brinker, his voice halting. "She was a remarkable woman."