Here's a recent article on Bev. She is recovering from breast cancer.
Matching up against disease
By Doug Krikorian
Posted: 03/09/2009 10:29:01 PM PDT
(Stephen Carr / Staff Photographer)
Beverly Fleitz shows a 1950s portrait of her greeting Queen Elizabeth at a garden party before she played at Wimbledon. She made it to the tournament's finals in 1955, losing to Louise Brough. Fleitz is now retired and living in Naples and faces a new opponent after undergoing a mastectomy Feb. 11.
Beverly Fleitz hands over a thick lavender-colored album with gold trim entitled "Our Tennis Journey," and it turns out to be a family anthology that is dominated by photos and newspaper clippings of her when she was a bright comet streaking across the athletic firmament.
"You might find some things in here of interest," she says softly.
She is a fascinating lady who maintains a bright mien in a dark time, and she affects a strong spirit that I'm sure she displayed on tennis courts around the world back in the 1950s when she held victories over the likes of such legendary performers as Althea Gibson and Maureen (Little Mo) Connolly.
She was one of the top female players in the sport in those days and even made it to the Wimbledon finals, where she lost to Louise Brough, 7-5, 8-6, in 1955 - the same year she also won a French Open doubles title with Darlene Hard.
"I also should have won that Wimbledon title," she says with wistfulness. "I had beaten Louise Brough the previous two times we had faced each other - and beat her the next two times I faced her. "But that day she got the better
She is seated in the front room of her Treasure Island home in Naples that has a dazzling view of Alamitos Bay, and she is casually dressed in a pink and black Adidas sweat suit.
She smiles softly, and this sweet, perky 78-year-old lady admits recovery has been difficult from having undergone a double mastectomy Feb. 11.
"The doctors would like me to try chemo or radiation, but I'm not going to do that," she says. "I've heard chemo makes you nauseous, and I experienced enough of that during my pregnancies (she has four grown daughters). I don't want to go through it again. I'm just going to enjoy whatever time I have left with my husband and family. I have no complaints. I've had a great life."
For sure, Beverly Fleitz has had one great, compelling, astonishing, memorable life, ranging from the 58-year marriage she's had with a wealthy Long Beach businessman and Poly High graduate, John Fleitz, who also was quite a tennis player himself, to the close relationship she has maintained with her children and 10 grandchildren, to the remarkable tennis career she had that resulted in her meeting so many famous people and visiting so many famous cities and attending so many famous events.
How many people ever can say they attended a garden party hosted by Lady Crossfield prior to Wimbledon - and warmly shaking the hand of Queen Elizabeth at the event?
How many people ever can say they hold victories over Althea Gibson and Maureen Connolly - two of the greatest female players in the history of tennis?
How many people ever can say they played the sport with two forehands - able to shift the racket from one hand to the other as a result of being ambidextrous?
How many people ever can say they have been on a first-name basis with icons of the sport like Jack Kramer, Pancho Gonzalez, Ken Roswell, Lew Hoad, Vic Seixas, as well as countless others?
How many people ever can say they participated in four Wrightman Cups and never lost a match?
How many people ever can say they have played tennis in front of the likes of Errol Flynn and Clark Gable and Gene Tierney and Sydney Chaplin and Dinah Shore and George Montgomery and Gilbert Roland and so many other Hollywood personages?
Well, Beverly Fleitz, who was born Beverly Brown in Providence, R.I., and grew up in Santa Monica, can. This 2005 inductee into the Southern California Tennis Association Hall of Fame began playing tennis at age 11 at Lincoln Park in Santa Monica under the tutelage of her father, Frank Baker, who was the assistant recreation director of the city at the time.
"I just took to tennis immediately," she says. "It's something that came pretty natural to me. And, of course, I liked it."
By the time she was 17, she was etching quite a reputation around Southern California, as she won the Pacific Southwest Championship in 1947 and other local tournaments.
She cut quite a dazzling figure on the courts, and several newspaper articles in her scrapbooks emphasize her attractiveness - she is described as "lissome, "stunningly attractive," "beautiful" - along with her dominating play.
At 19, she was smitten by the actor Scotty Beckett - he appeared in the "Our Gang" shorts and also portrayed the young Al Jolson in the "Al Jolson Story" - and they eloped to Las Vegas.
"When I called my parents and told them what I was planning to do, they begged me not to," she relates. "Well, I was young and dumb and didn't listen. My parents were right. I made a terrible mistake. Four months later, I got a divorce."
Her next try at marriage would be slightly more successful, as she and John Fleitz have been inseparable since exchanging vows in 1951.
"We first met at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club when I was 17 and he was 18," she says. "The first time he saw me, he said he fell in love with me. Four years later, we were married."
Beverly Fleitz throughout the 1950s was the only female tennis player on the tour who was married and who had children - and she actually had to drop out of the 1956 Wimbledon quarterfinals when she became ill from the effects of being pregnant.
"The queen's gynecologist and three of his assistants visited my hotel room to check on me, and he said it wouldn't be proper to have an incident at center court," relates Fleitz. "I agreed, dropped out of the tournament and flew back to the United States."
Shortly after she won the Pacific Southwest Championship for the fourth time, in 1959, she decided the physical, mental and traveling toll that tennis was taking on her was too much for a 29-year-old mother with two children.
"My body was starting to break down, and I just wanted to spend more time with my kids," says Fleitz, who moved to Naples with her husband in 1985 from Rolling Hills Estates where her daughters, Kimberley Durate, 56; Julie Kazarian, 52; Lisa Fleitz, 48; and Jamie Fleitz, 45; attended Palos Verdes High.
At the time she stopped playing in world-class tournaments, she was the No. 1 ranked female tennis player in America.
She would continue to perform in exhibition matches, and didn't give up the sport for good until 1985.
In the meantime, she took up golfing, and it's not exactly a surprise she would become quite proficient at it.
She has played often across the years at the Virginia Country Club, where her husband has been a long-time member.
The couple also belong to Ironwood in Palm Desert, where they have a home on the golf course.
She is hoping to soon revive an old family tradition with her children and grandchildren.
"For years we'd always get together and go to Kauai and just have a great time," she says. "I'm hoping we can do it again, God be willing. I'm looking forward to it, really looking forward to it..."