The next day the
Atlanta papers carried my picture and this headline: BLONDE YOUNG BARONESS
THREATENS REPORTERS WITH KAISER'S ARMY. The experience taught me never to
trifle with American newspapermen!
Half a century
ago the summertime German embassy of Constantinople was located in Tarabya—that
lovely resort on the Bosporus. My grandfather was physician to the Sultan Abdul
Mahmud in those days, and my sister and I often spent our summer vacations in
Tarabya. Turkish women were still kept as virtual prisoners in their homes, so
women tennis players were scarce, and my sister and I were much in demand as
tennis partners. As a courtesy to my grandfather the Sultan would send his
royal kayik with 10 oarsmen to give his physician a chance for an outing on the
Bosporus. But since grandfather was usually much too busy, my sister and I with
our tennis rackets and our ankle-length white dresses would step into the long
elegant kayik and, with Oriental carpets trailing behind in the blue water, let
ourselves be rowed down to the German embassy.
In Rio de
Janeiro, where I lived for three years before my marriage, we usually played
tennis with the members of an English club at Icarai, a residential suburb
across the bay from Rio. Brazilian girls were not inclined to sport, so again
my sister and I had many tennis beaus. The club was a short distance from our
house and we'd often take the local streetcar. There were first-and
second-class sections. Our young English friends, clad in spotless white
flannels and tennis shirts open at the neck, and we girls in long white dresses
and picture hats would always take first-class seats, and invariably the
conductor would insist on our getting into the second-class section. In answer
to our question "Why?" he would indicate the open-neck sports shirts of
our companions. Brazil is noted in my memory for having substituted a collar
line for the color line.
It was in Brazil,
too, that I first played tennis with my husband. It was when he came to meet my
family and celebrate our engagement in December 1909, after he had finished
tutoring Vincent Astor. I was a little disappointed in his tennis and made up
my mind then and there that I would not try too hard to demonstrate my
superiority on the tennis court. But it wasn't long after he began taking
lessons that he was able to beat me quite easily.
One can learn
something from every player one meets. I remember that on one occasion in our
early Brooklyn Heights days I was playing against Mrs. Bargar-Wallach in an
invitation tournament. Nobody knew her age, but she had been a tennis player
for decades and always liked to help younger players. Her costume was still
that of my early girlhood—long skirt, high-necked blouse and flat sailor hat.
We were playing at the River Club of New York, and, when it came to changing
sides, I suggested that since there was no sun or wind we would save time by
not changing courts after every second game.
dear," she said with a knowing smile, "I always insist on changing
sides—you see, that gives you a chance to get your breath back."
We have played
tennis all over the world. In Buenos Aires we enjoyed playing mixed doubles
with Tom Curran and his daughter—he was then head of the United Press in South
America. In Santiago, Chile we were able to arrange mixed doubles with the
First Secretary of the Embassy. There, as almost everywhere outside the U.S.,
we had ball boys. In Chile they were the most ragged, emaciated boys I'd seen
anywhere. But the ball boys on lovely Bali Island were a joy. Not only did they
never throw you the ball, they thought they were on the court to perform a
ballet, which they did delightfully. They'd throw the ball up as high as they
could, then run to the opposite side to catch it, all the while speaking to the
ball in a coaxing way: "Here balli balli balli!"
And now a word
about the inevitable problems that arise when man and wife play on the same
side of the net. Every married couple knows that somehow or other, no matter
how much you love your wife or your husband—it is sometimes a real trial to
play as partners. When playing with a stranger, a woman doesn't mind obeying
him if he suggests politely: "Try standing a little closer to the net,"
or "Let me take the center court shots." But a similar suggestion
coming from the man you have promised to love, honor and obey is not only
unwelcome but often irritating.
So we agreed to
forgo suggestions or criticisms while on the court. Praise is permitted
provided it includes no overtone of sarcasm. It is surprising how much
self-restraint is sometimes required, especially at the beginning, to observe
this simple rule—but it works!
There is nothing
like tennis to help you make delightful friends. We are fortunate in counting
Alice Marble as one of ours. Not only does she rank with the top women players
of all time in skill, grace and power, but she is also unselfish, warmhearted
and a wonderful all-round human being. She was always ready to play with us and
our friends—and she would play as one of us and really enjoy it.