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Old Dec 13th, 2002, 11:06 AM   #17
Rollo
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Found this article about Gussie Moran-QUITE a character.

Gussie Moran: The first Anna

By Diane Pucin
Los Angeles Times

November 7, 2002


LOS ANGELES -- Gussie Moran had legs that went on forever. She walked, the late designer Ted Tinling said, as if she were tiptoeing across tennis balls. She was a California girl with a California tan. She was a jock, she was beautiful, it was 1949 and Gussie Moran showed her lace panties at Wimbledon.

"Gussie was," says Jack Kramer, part of Los Angeles tennis royalty, "the Anna Kournikova of her time. Gussie was a beautiful woman with a beautiful body. If Gussie had played in the era of television, no telling what would have happened. Because, besides everything else, Gussie could play."

This week the top 16 women's tennis players in the world are playing at the season-ending WTA Championships in Los Angeles.

There you will see Serena Williams and her tight, taut, flamboyant cat suit, the outfit she showed off while winning the U.S. Open. Serena's sister, Venus, already has a $40-million clothing deal with Reebok. Serena's Puma contract is up soon. It is a safe bet Serena will earn more than Venus.

For wearing the lace panties, for being so daring as to display her knees, to be seen on the cover of magazines worldwide, to find herself playing matches where the camera flashbulbs would nearly blind Moran during her matches, she made no money.

Moran is 79 now and she wears her brown-gray hair in two pigtails, held in place by rubber bands. She wears wool tights in an argyle pattern of gray, black, pink and white. Her skirt is lightweight and pale green with a ruffle at the bottom and her sweater is blue, red and white. Moran has on big, round glasses tinted light blue. Moran still defies style convention.

In the afternoon sun, cats play in the courtyard as Moran steps outside and for a moment all you can think is that Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond character has walked off Sunset Boulevard and William Holden must be right around the corner.

She lives in a single room in a run-down building with the cement sagging. It is just off Melrose Avenue and behind Paramount Studios in Hollywood. There is a mattress on the floor. Newspapers are everywhere, for Moran loves cats and four of them have the run of her place. On one wall are dozens of cards — holiday cards, birthday cards, friendship cards. On the windows are bedsheets made into curtains. This is Moran in 2002.

In 1949, Gussie Moran was a tennis sensation. Moran came to Wimbledon and caused a scandal. Tinling had made for Moran a tennis dress with a skirt so short it didn't cover the knees and, for underneath, white panties trimmed in lace. A glimpse of those lace panties every once in a while on the body of Moran caused Wimbledon brass to cover their eyes and photographers from around the world to lie on the ground so they could shoot "Gorgeous Gussie Moran" from the bottom up.

When Moran played that Wimbledon, tennis was still a sport for amateurs. Moran had paid her way to the tournament for which there was no prize money, only honor.

When Serena Williams walked proudly onto Stadium Court at the U.S. Open in her pink and black form-fitting leotard, after all the gasping, Williams was compared to the daring "Gorgeous Gussie."

Gussie lives on what little Social Security she earned from some of her dozens of careers. She receives occasional money from an anonymous Australian friend. She would like to come to Staples Center to see this tournament. "But I can't afford a ticket," Moran says.

She loves Serena's forward fashion approach. "The cat suit was fun," Moran says. "It was attractive on Serena's body. She should show off that body and what's wrong with having a good time with your clothes and your body?

"I see nothing wrong with what Anna Kournikova does. She's a beautiful girl with a beautiful body. I love it."

She blushes when told that Kramer compared her to Kournikova. "Oh, no," Moran says. "I was never that attractive."

But even now, after some face lifts that might not have been perfectly planned, behind the skin carved deep with wrinkles that came from all those days in the sun, on the beach, that came from her perfect California tan, there is the outline of that beauty.

Moran has blue eyes that sparkle, a delicate nose, an upturned mouth.

"If I could have a wish," Moran says, "it would be to have a face lift."

But no, Moran is told, that is not necessary. "Maybe not," she says, "but I would like one."

Author Roger Kahn, a long-time friend of Moran's, remembers his first meeting with the glamour girl. "It was at Dodgertown in the 1950s," Kahn says. "All I saw were these legs attached to that body attached to that head. She asked me if I would work out with her. I said I don't play tennis but I play volleyball. So we played volleyball."

___

For nearly two hours Gussie Moran tells stories.

She tells of learning to play tennis as an 11-year-old, the daughter of Harry and Emma, of a sound technician at Universal Studios and a housewife. She speaks of her childhood in a big, wood, Victorian house a block from the ocean in Santa Monica.

"I think they shoot commercials at that house now," Moran says. "What I miss most about it is the water. I used to be able to run across the street to the beach."

Moran lost the house in the 1980s. She was a victim of rising taxes and maybe of some bullheadedness.

"Gussie asked for too much money," Kahn says. "She couldn't get it sold and then they foreclosed. Gussie used to tell me, 'I always felt a little inadequate about our house because it was wooden and all my friends had stone houses.' That was Gussie. She had this pride and she had a desire to live a certain way."

Moran started taking tennis lessons in school and she developed quickly an aptitude. She played at Santa Monica High. She was part of traveling junior teams in Los Angeles with Kramer and Louise Brough, who would be a Wimbledon champion.

There were stories of how Moran would be invited to play tennis at the home of Charlie Chaplin. "My best friends were Charlie's children," Moran says. Greta Garbo would come by to hit with Moran, Olivia DeHavilland traded forehands with Moran.

In tennis, Moran was skilled but never a great champion. The depth of women's talent in the U.S. was great and Moran is proud to have been ranked as high as No. 4 in the U.S. She was a doubles finalist at Wimbledon once and was a singles semifinalist at the U.S. Open.

Moran was 25 at the 1949 Wimbledon, coming off her best year on the circuit. But distracted by the fuss over the panties and uncertain how to handle the attention that came to her because of her body instead of her skill, Moran lost in the first round.

Within two years, Moran had left the world of amateur tennis and was enticed onto a pro tour run by Bobby Riggs.

"It was a bad decision by Gussie," says Kramer. "Bobby matched her against the great Pauline Betz who was, at that time, by far the best athlete ever to play our sport and she was also most competitive. Pauline was merciless. Not only did she beat Gussie, she tried to outdress her.

"I remember one time, Gussie came out at Madison Square Garden in a gorgeous outfit. Then Pauline came out in a leopard leotard type thing and basically outdressed Gussie in clothes, then undressed her on the court. Really, that tour was a tragedy for Gussie. I don't think she got much money out of it either."

She was promised $87,000, Moran says. "I hardly saw any of that," she says. But Moran dismisses that time as "something I did for fun." In her life Moran has been married three times — "to a former [British Royal Air Force] pilot from Jersey," she says, "the owner of a trucking company from Buffalo and an attorney from California." None of the marriages lasted more than two years and there were never any children.

After her unhappy time in the Riggs show, Moran began a peripatetic life that took her between New York and California several times. She toured military bases and hospitals as part of a tour put together by Bill Tilden. She was in a chopper that crashed while doing a USO tour in Vietnam. She did a television interview show with Bob Kelly, voice of the Rams. She did a sports talk and news show in New York for nearly six years. She came back to Los Angeles and did an afternoon television show with Bob Kennedy. It was called "Sundown." Guests such as Rosemary Clooney and Ray Charles made the program a hit.

In New York, Kahn says, Moran was a great entertainer. "She had a lovely townhouse on the upper East Side, two stories, and she'd have the most interesting parties. She was very bright, very intelligent. We would talk literature, poetry, sports. She had a mouth on her and a great sense of humor. But Gussie liked to live a certain lifestyle, maybe a bit above her means."

In the 1960s, Moran put together a clothing design company with a friend. "My clothes were in Saks Fifth Avenue and Bullocks," Moran says. "But then some things went wrong and I lost my money. I invested my own money. But everybody got paid back, they did."

She taught tennis at a Lake Encino club started by former great Alice Marble. She was a field representative for fabric manufacturer Kordel and even wrote a column for Tennis magazine.

Money never stayed in Moran's bank account for long and by the 1980s she was working at the Los Angeles Zoo in the gift shop. In 1991, her final job was as a clerk at a clothing store on Wilshire. "I lasted three and a half months," she says. "Then I quit and I haven't been able to get a job since."

Moran speaks of having more than one abortion and tells a horrific tale of being gang-raped during a 1975 centennial celebration in Santa Monica during a performance by Lawrence Welk and his orchestra. She recalls only being rescued from a dumpster by two bums who took her to a hospital.

"I never heard her tell that story," Kahn says, "but I don't doubt it happened."

Moran still walks with assuredness, with the rolling gait of an athlete and complains only of memory lapses that followed the Vietnam chopper crash, and some arthritis in her hands.

She voted Tuesday and proudly displayed her "I Voted" sticker. She eagerly discusses the broadcasting pluses of John McEnroe and Mary Carillo. "I love how they speak their minds," she says.

There is loneliness, Moran says. She has no immediate family, only some cousins. "I write them," she says, "but they don't write back."

Kahn often receives long letters from Moran and he says that friends sometimes hesitate to see Moran because they want to help her. "And Gussie has the pride of a great athlete. She does not want, or expect, help," he says.

Says Moran: "I know what people have been saying about me, I've heard it for 40 years. They say I'm a hooker, that I'm a drunk, that I'm insane. Well, I'm not insane, but maybe I'm eccentric. I'm not a drunk, though I do take a drink. And I've been promiscuous, but I've never been a hooker."

Moran takes joy in seeing the young women tennis players proudly displaying their athletic bodies. "I was not very comfortable doing so," Moran says. "Maybe it would be different now."

She just shakes her head no when asked if she ever thinks about the money she might have made and no again when asked if she feels she was born too soon, that she might have had a very different life as an attractive player in 2002.

"My only regret," Moran says, "is this: I was about 16 and entered in a local tournament. I had my driver's license and I wouldn't let my mother drive me. She wanted to very much but I wanted my independence. I realize now that my mother, who was a housewife, had only a few chances to leave her world and be out, meet people, see different things.

"I see now that I was being quite selfish and to this day I have carried tremendous guilt about that Sunday afternoon."

There are tears in Moran's eyes.
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