But, on his own terms, he was at last beginning to look in a few corners for some understanding of his homosexuality. "Women are a lot of bitches," he told Gloria Butler, a young friend he had known for years. "When someone is a genius, when they have a great task in life, they cannot afford to be depleted by a woman. Women wear down a man. They have no right to make a man of genius share their petty demands."
Another time, riding on a train with a young pro, Tilden suddenly felt compelled to bring up the subject, and, almost stridently, delivered this message: "Those of us who have my way of thinking, well, we look upon ourselves as the chosen few. I think it's my responsibility to convert young boys. We are the exceptional ones that God has smiled upon."
That was a rare, inexplicable revelation. Most often, though, he studiously avoided the subject in tennis company. How incredibly difficult it must have been for him: a lifetime in the midst of the most completely secure heterosexual community. There are relatively few homosexuals in big-time male sports. And, more than most, athletes are antipathetic to homosexuality, seeming to both despise it and fear it with a vengeance that must have placed Tilden on trial with himself almost every day of his life. Even when he came to some grips with his own status, he seems to have looked upon other homosexuals and more common homosexual practices as "perverted." Once, when a flagrant adult homosexual managed to get into the locker room and introduce himself, coyly, to Tilden, Big Bill felt either so threatened or so ashamed that he flew into a rage, and nearly threw the interloper out bodily.
And yet, the farther he fell from the spotlight, the more effeminate became his actions, the more bold his liaisons. By the time he moved to Los Angeles in 1939 the word had preceded him, and the greatest name in the history of tennis could not find a teaching job at a club. He gravitated, then, to the Hollywood community, where he had old ties. Clifton Webb rented Constance Bennett's estate one summer and brought Big Bill over to his court to coach the likes of Garbo, Katharine Hepburn and his old pal Tallulah.
Joseph and Lenore Cotten permitted Tilden to use their court to teach, and so did Charlie Chaplin, whom Tilden had first met in 1923. Soon, Big Bill was co-star of The Big Tea (where tea really was the beverage served), which Chaplin held every Sunday at the court on his Summit Drive estate. Chaplin and Tilden would often entertain the guests after matches, swapping stories and opinions. It was a bizarre scene. Tilden prot�g�s, such as Arthur Anderson, Noel Brown and Gussie Moran, would be in attendance, along with tennis pros and a number of movie stars: Garbo, Tallulah, Errol Flynn, Joseph Cotten, Spencer Tracy, Montgomery Clift, Olivia deHavilland. As well, there would be various Chaplin children, his wife and his young paramour, Joan Barry.
Despite the fact that Tilden was locked out of club coaching and no longer a drawing card, these days brought bursts of happiness. With his favorite prot�g� of all, Arthur Anderson, and the youth's mother, Marrion Anderson, Tilden had found his first family situation since 1908; he was back in the company of actors, whom he idolized; and he was once again attempting to write plays, and to appear in them. For the war effort he put a little tennis troupe together—featuring Big Bill in comic drag in one sequence—which played hospitals and bases.
In Los Angeles he fell into an amiable routine. Breakfast early (and always out) around Hollywood and Vine, usually with young Anderson. For the rest of the day, playing or coaching at the movie stars' estates, tooling around in a '42 Packard Clipper that looked and smelled like a traveling gymnasium. Many nights he would go over to the Little Bridge Club on Sunset or another women's club on La Brea, where he could play bridge with old ladies who didn't know Big Bill Tilden from Hirohito.
His spare time was spent with his new family, the Andersons. Both are still living in the Los Angeles area. Arthur Anderson, an engineer with an explosives firm, is a tall, gaunt man, utterly humorless and uncompromising on the subject of Tilden. His mother, once similarly unyielding in his behalf, now sees Big Bill in broader perspective, freckles and all.
Arthur Anderson first met Big Bill around 1940, when he was teaching at a fading luxury hotel named the Chateau Elysees, up in the Hollywood Hills. Anderson lived close by and would come over to watch, and Tilden, always on the lookout for young boys, noticed him, and, impressed by his intense demeanor, volunteered to give him free lessons. The friendship grew. Marrion Anderson was an outspoken woman, a bookkeeper who knew nothing of tennis, but she saw that Tilden was a kind man, and good for her boy. Her husband had been an alcoholic who abandoned the family, so Tilden, with his violent obsession against liquor, was an ideal companion.
For a time he even moved in with the Andersons, strewing his dirty clothes all over his quarters and dollar bills about the house when Mrs. Anderson would not accept formal rental payment. But there was never a trace of romance, or even any consideration of a marriage of convenience; and, as always with his prot�g�s, Tilden made no advances to Arthur. "You know, Marrion," he said many times, "Arthur's the only real son I ever had." And to Arthur: "You and your mother are the only close family I ever had."