"Yeah, here's Tilden again," he said, and he walked out of jail and into the rain.
His opportunities were now even more diminished. Friends who had been willing to accept the first arrest would not forgive him the second. He went back to Forest Hills and realized, as he approached old friends, that they would literally turn their backs on him and pretend he did riot exist. "Oh God, you could see them snub him," says two-time U.S. champion Sarah Palfrey Danzig. "He was so kind, so good. He deserved better from us all." In Philadelphia, his alumni files at Penn were purged, his pictures stripped from the walls at Germantown Cricket Club. No one rallied to his side. "They didn't, they didn't," Carl Fischer, an early prot�g� and old friend, says. "Myself included."
One of the few who did make a special effort was Gloria Butler. She went to Los Angeles where she found Tilden teaching on a public court near Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Tilden saw her across the way and stopped his lesson, but he just stood stock-still as she drew closer, closer. By now, he had been rejected so many times that he did not have the nerve to approach old friends. Even when Miss Butler reached him, he only stood and looked at her, tears forming in his eyes. At last, she understood, and called his name and fell against him, and only then did he put his arms around her, but he was shaking so that he could hardly hold her. "It's all right, Bill," she said. "It's all right, it's all right."
Miss Butler helped him locate a better apartment in the hills just above Hollywood, taking another flat below him for herself. She stayed for the next six months or so, observing the agony he was suffering. Nights he would be painfully restless. Sometimes she could hear him pacing the floor, and so she would go to his apartment and cook for him, play cards with him, read the bad plays he was still trying to write and take him out for a drive. Anything to comfort him.
In the daytime he could still be happy playing tennis. He would drop by the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where an old friend, Frank Feltrop, was the pro. He'd ask Feltrop if there was anybody looking for a fourth for doubles. No money, just a game, just a chance to play. Did anybody want to play tennis with Big Bill Tilden? Sometimes Feltrop would not let him on the courts till he got cleaned up; sometimes he even had to give Tilden a clean shirt or shorts.
In 1953, Feltrop, who is now pro at the Deep Canyon Club in Palm Desert, Calif., got a sponsor to put up $10,000, big money for the pros then, to hold what he christened the National Professional Hardcourt Championships at the Beverly Wilshire. Feltrop brought Tilden in as something of a co-promoter. Big Bill not only induced people like Vinnie Richards to come out and enter the event, he sold boxes to all his Hollywood contacts. He was alive again, involved, full of enthusiasm, and, above all, ready once more to stand in the spotlight. Though Tilden had turned 60, Feltrop monkeyed with the draw a little so that the old man had a good chance to win one or two matches.
Then, just days before the tournament was to begin, Feltrop was summoned to the hotel manager's office and shown a stack of mail from women's groups and indignant citizens. The manager said he was sorry, but he had a hotel to run; the Beverly Wilshire could not be identified with any degenerate ex-con. "My God," says Feltrop, "that was the saddest thing I ever had to do in my life. They didn't even want him to set foot in the place again, but I couldn't tell him that, I just couldn't. I just told him they wouldn't let him play in the tournament. And he was heartbroken. Right there I think he knew he didn't have a hell of a lot to live for anymore. He said, 'But, Frank, Vinnie's coming out, all the old gang.'
" 'I'm sorry, Bill, I'm sorry. I can't do anything.'
" 'I'll sue you then, I'll sue the hotel,' he said all of a sudden. Oh, he still had a crust on him, an unbelievable hide. I just said, 'Come on, Bill, it's your arm that's been hurting, isn't it? You can't play with that arm, can you?' And then he nodded and said yes, he would say his arm was hurting, and after that, he just turned and walked away. He must have been down to 150 and he was all bent over then, so his bald spot in back was showing. Jesus, it was awful. The poor old son of a bitch."
One more place was closed to him. He went back up into the hills, to Chaplin's court. Chaplin had left the country and had been barred reentry, but Tilden still had use of the court, although he also had fewer and fewer students. In May he wrote Richards: "Vinnie, could you please send me a couple of dozen balls and a racket or two? If I had them I could get some lessons to give. I need the money badly." Richards immediately prepared a packet to send. On June 2, Tilden went to see a pupil, Herbert Brenner, with a deal. Brenner was away from his office, so Tilden left him a note, offering 40 hours of instruction for $200—a cut-rate five bucks an hour—if Brenner would pay in advance, now. He wrote: "I am in real need of money at this moment—therefore this offer."