SI Vault
 
GROUCHO IS FONDLY REMEMBERED FOR HIS REAL-LIFE ROLE AS A TENNIS FATHER
Arthur Marx
June 23, 1986
On a hot Labor Day afternoon in 1940, I played Carl Earn in the men's singles finals of the Santa Monica City Championships while Groucho Marx, my father, looked on from the grandstand. Groucho had come not only to root for me, but also to award the trophies after the match.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
June 23, 1986

Groucho Is Fondly Remembered For His Real-life Role As A Tennis Father

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6

"If he's your boy, you pay for the pants."

"Out of the question," said Jones with a snort.

"I always suspected you were a cheapskate from the smell of those cheap cigars you smoke," countered Groucho.

"I don't smoke," replied Jones.

"Then you have even less of an excuse to smell that way."

Considering Jones's lack of humor, it's a wonder I wasn't banished from tennis for good. But he took every insult Father dished out and not only didn't ban me, but after persuading Groucho to spring for the gabardines he personally drove me to the tailor and stood by while I was measured.

VIP treatment from Jones made me realize just how important my victory over Kramer had been. Suddenly I had the confidence to beat players like Wade, whom I had never defeated before. Soon I was elected to the Junior Davis Cup team, which was considered by many to be the greatest group of juniors ever assembled on one squad. Moreover, I was put on the Spalding "free list." This meant I would receive Spalding rackets in exchange for using that company's equipment in tournament play. Nothing pleased my father more than not having to pay for my tennis rackets. As much as he wanted me to become another Tilden, he used to complain vociferously to me about the size of our monthly tennis club bills. "Three hundred dollars for rackets, balls and Cokes. Why, that's outrageous!" he would roar. "A family of four could eat for a year on what you spend at the club every month. Can't you play with old balls?"

One day my father said that he had good news for me. " Ellsworth Vines has agreed to coach you." I was in the hands of Vines for my last year as a junior, and my tournament record improved so much that I wound up ranked fifth nationally in 1939.

However, there was one person I could never beat—Ted Olewine. I had come close on several occasions. Once I even had him at match point only to end up blowing it because his passing shots were too accurate. Then, while I was playing him in a practice match one afternoon at our club, I discovered something about his game I had never noticed before. If I went to the net on his forehand, he always cross-courted his passing shot. If I went in on his backhand, he would always go down the line. Armed with that knowledge, it was relatively easy to anticipate his passing shots and put them away. I beat him two straight sets and rushed home to tell Father that I had finally unlocked the secret to Olewine's game. I thought he would be delighted, but instead he launched into a tirade about how I was turning into a "tennis bum."

"You don't think about anything else anymore. You're getting to be a bore. I don't think you've read a book in weeks or practiced the piano or done anything else that will do you any good."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6