The bald fact is that Billie Jean King, athlete, ex-el chubbo, bespectacled, flat, waffled, stubby, has become something of a sex symbol. Movie stars have asked her out. There are stage-door Johnnies at tournaments. While
has not invited her to pose in the raw, it did feature her in March as The Interview, firing such titillating questions at her as has she seen a dirty movie (yes, Deep Throat, but Larry got tired of it midway, so they left). Not long ago Esquire ran a long lecherous article by novelist Dan Wakefield, which was little more than an extended mash note.
Some of the interest in her most private life is more than genially searching; it borders on raw inquisition. Alone, perhaps, of any public figure, she has been asked point-blank if she is a Lesbian. She denies it. But most of the interest in the sex lives of Billie Jean and the other women players seems to be benign, of the healthy boys-will-be-boys variety previously devoted to movie queens.
Billie Jean cackles when the matter of her being a sex symbol is raised. "Hysterical! Hysterical! Me, with these little short legs!" But she is practical enough to realize that a guy who buys a ticket to look at the girls has bought a ticket as sure as the guy who buys a ticket to look at the girls' forehands. Notwithstanding the fact that Johnny Miller's face, George Foreman's musculature and Joe Namath's libido have been written about ad nauseam, a great many loony women throw a fit any time any article about a female athlete makes any reference to the bodily form that her dear soul travels in. Mere mention of the word "breast" in a sports article will turn legions of these honeys into Pavlov's bitches; 85,712, in fact, picked up their poison pens three paragraphs ago to write indignant letters to the editor.
Billie Jean herself not only thinks that sex is a dandy thing to have lurking around sports, but she also employs sex as sort of the ultimate gauge of equality between women's and men's athletics. This may be described as the Get-It Quotient, which she expounded on not long ago while enjoying a training meal of French toast. "There's a lot of ugly fellas among the male athletes," she said, "but just because they're athletes they get it all the time, don't they? Now, never mind prize money and publicity and all that. When we reach the point where all the women athletes are getting it, too, regardless of their looks, just like the fellas, then we've really arrived."
It was past four o'clock, and this was her first taste of food all day. She can set her mind to many things. And in a genuine way, she is a beauty, for her stockiness disappears when she shifts into action on the court, the waffles trumped by the total grace and fluidity of her form.
Billie Jean adores jewelry, but she has no abiding interest in clothes; she hates to shop and dresses in pretty much the same civilian outfits again and again—pants and blouse, maybe a sweater, that kind of thing. She wears them well, mercifully applying a different standard from the one that determines what she wears on the court.
As a backlash from those days when tennis was all white all the damn time, Billie Jean has it engraved on her brain that color is good; therefore more color becomes more good and lotsa color best of all. Here is one of her typical tennis outfits, one that made a young woman reporter wonder who was "sabotaging" Billie Jean: pale purple warm-up sweater, pink and pea-green dress, with a bluish swath cut between those colors across the bosom and speckled with rhinestones; dark blue panties with matching wrist bands; striped blue-and-white shoes and no ankle socks, but with those tacky little pompons sticking out at the heels. Truly.
Mr. Billie Jean King, which is how he signs autographs, is younger and better looking than the little woman, and in many ways more of an enigma. Unflappable, pragmatic, analytical, as pale of emotion as of face—many in tennis merely classify him as a dead fish and are done with it—Larry is the emotional mirror image of his wife. And yet he has undeniably been vital to her development. Behind every great woman....
Female athletes have discovered that most of them were close to their fathers. Billie Jean was even named for hers. She was to be Michelle Louise—MICHELLE LOUISE BEATS HOBBY RIGGS!; like that any better?—but Bill Moffitt was away in the war, so his wife gave him the honor. It was natural progression for Billie Jean to transfer the dependent affection from father to husband. Of all the misconceptions about Billie Jean, the single most erroneous one is that she is somehow against men. Indeed, she prefers the company of men to many types of women (housewives, for example, whom she feels lost with) and has often selected men instead of women to fill jobs where she thought the fellas were better qualified. Musing late one night, she admitted that the main reason she had to seclude herself before the Riggs match was to try to get comfortable with the idea of beating a man. "That's still not easy for me to do," she said. In the final analysis, she thinks she might not have been able to defeat Riggs, the man, except for the fact that he became so distasteful a person that "what he stood for" at last overshadowed who he was.
And so, if Larry gave her the man she very much needed when she left home, she has provided him with capital and entr�e, things that a poor, ambitious boy could only dream of. If anything, Larry handles the difficult role of being married to a famous woman almost too well. It never seems to be a case of him competing against her, but rather of him trying to do too much with her—which is why they have been extended financially.