Pauline Betz Addie, a Dominant Tennis Champion, Dies at 91
By Robin Finn, The New York Times
, June 2, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/03/sp...ewanted=1&_r=1
Pauline Betz Addie, a dominant American tennis champion who at the height of her amateur career was abruptly barred from the sport in 1947 because she had openly considered turning professional, died on Tuesday [May 31, 2011] in Potomac, Md. She was 91.
Her son Gary confirmed her death, at an assisted living facility, saying she had had Parkinson’s disease.
Betz Addie, who was groomed on the tennis courts of Los Angeles, was a five-time Grand Slam singles champion and the world’s top-ranked woman when, in April 1947, the United States Lawn Tennis Association notified her by cable — she was in Monte Carlo at the time while competing in Europe — that she was barred indefinitely from taking part in any further amateur matches.
Another American player, Sarah Palfrey Cooke, a multiple Grand Slam champion, was also suspended. The two were ruled ineligible for the 1947 French Open.
Betz, who was 27 at the time (and had not yet married and added her husband’s name), had spoken openly about possibly leaving the amateur ranks and touring for pay with the likes of Jack Kramer and Gussie Moran. She and Cooke had discussed doing so together, and Cooke’s husband, Elwood Cooke, had sent a letter to the tennis association’s member clubs soliciting bookings. The letter, specifying fees the women would expect to receive, prompted the lawn tennis association to suspend them.
Betz had written to Cooke, who lived in Manhattan, asking how their plans for touring were coming, but she had not signed any professional contracts when the association issued its ruling. Her defenders called the decision unjust and premature.
"She was ruled out as an amateur on the basis of intent," Kramer wrote in his 1979 memoir "The Game: My 40 Years in Tennis," written with Frank Deford. He likened the Betz suspension "to what the Olympic committee did to Jim Thorpe" when it took away Thorpe's Olympic titles because he had earlier played semiprofessional baseball.
"It was a crime," Kramer wrote.
After the ruling, Betz said, "I’m not going to sit in a corner and cry about this."
She then began an entertaining but historically insignificant stint on the fledgling professional tour circuit, abandoning her Grand Slam career to play for pay from 1947 to 1960. As a professional, earning $10,000 her first year, she went undefeated in a field far less challenging than the amateur ranks.
At the time of her suspension, she had been undefeated in her last 39 matches, earning the No. 1 ranking. She owned a half-dozen Grand Slam titles, five in singles, a lonely discipline in which she excelled by virtue of her athleticism and a competitive streak so fierce that she routinely thrashed her outclassed opponents without surrendering more than a couple of points. Her only Grand Slam doubles crown came in the French Open’s mixed doubles competition in 1946.
Her news media coverage was often gushing. In 1946 she made the cover of Time magazine. "Pauline is a trim 5 ft. 5; her hair is strawberry blonde, sun bleached and wiry," the accompanying article said. "Principally because of her green eyes she seems to have a ready-to-pounce, feline quality. A straightening of her shoulders is a characteristic mannerism — a squaring away that seems to symbolize in an otherwise relaxed girl, a won't-be-beat spirit."
Though World War II curtailed Betz’s ability to test herself on foreign surfaces, she won on the grass courts of Wimbledon in 1946 — the only year she competed there.
At home, however, she was a demon on all surfaces. After capturing the national indoor and clay titles in 1943, she prevailed on the grass at Forest Hills in Queens, N.Y., where she fought her way to a record six consecutive finals from 1941 to 1946, winning four.
Betz's only defeats during that streak came in 1941 and 1945 against Cooke, who was superb hitting volleys, and was Betz’s stylistic opposite. Betz referred to her as "a good friend and a thorn in my side." Cooke joined the professional circuit just ahead of Betz in 1947.
In 1949 Betz married Bob Addie, a sportswriter for The Washington Post
, taking his surname. The next year, the player-turned-promoter Bobby Riggs persuaded her to join a co-ed barnstorming circuit featuring Pancho Segura as well as Kramer and Moran. Betz Addie and Moran (Gorgeous Gussie in the news media) became circuit rivals, Betz Addie wearing leopard print short-shorts to compete with Moran’s famous lacy panties, which had caused an international stir at Wimbledon in 1949.
In one match, Betz Addie outplayed Moran so thoroughly that Riggs asked her to be more merciful to make his floundering tour appear genuinely competitive. She refused to lower her standards.
The tour was short-lived, but Betz continued to play professionally until 1960 while also teaching tennis. In 1955, she became the first woman to be named club professional at Bethesda's historic Edgemoor Tennis Club. The actor Spencer Tracy, a former boyfriend, was among her students.
Pauline May Betz was born on Aug. 16, 1919, in Dayton, Ohio, and raised in Los Angeles, where her tennis-playing mother taught physical education in the Watts section. Pauline bought her first tennis racket when she was 9, trading some of her father’s pipe collection for it at a thrift shop; her father made her take on a paper route to pay him back.
Her quickness on her feet and her piercing backhand passing shot soon distinguished her as a potential star on the local public courts. In 1939, she attained her first national ranking in the top 10; she was 19. That same year she received a scholarship from Rollins College in Florida, where she played on the men's tennis team, filling the No. 4 spot behind No. 1 Kramer.
In college she was known as a gifted all-around athlete, whether playing table tennis, golf or pickup basketball games with men. After graduating in 1943, she climbed to the top of both the United States and international rankings.
Betz Addie and her husband, who died in 1982, had five children, two of whom, Rusty and Gary, became tennis teachers. They survive her, as do two other sons, Jon and Richard; a daughter, Kim Addonazio; five grandchildren; and a great-grandson.
Motherhood did not diminish her on-court tenacity. In a 1959 exhibition, when she was five months pregnant with her fifth child, Ricky, she defeated the indomitable Althea Gibson, the first black woman to win a Grand Slam title. Betz Addie was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1965. In 1997, she marched in the United States Open parade of champions to help christen Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows, N.Y..
Until 2003 she continued to compete at the club level, in part, she said, to "keep up" with her grandchildren. She also taught tennis at Sidwell Friends School and at clubs in the Washington area. She wrote two books, "Wings on My Tennis Shoes" and "Tennis for Teenagers."
Betz Addie said her first wish was to be remembered as a good wife and parent. Her backup wish? To be remembered as one of the best of her era. Kramer paid her that honor in his memoir, calling her the second-best female player he had ever seen, behind Helen Wills Moody. Betz Addie, he said, was "terribly underrated."