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LOVE SETS AND DIRTY SHIRTS
Sam Boal
November 29, 1954
Sidney Wood and Donald Budge, two former champions of enterprise, now foster the interests of tennis?and their own?with an outfit that washes almost anything
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November 29, 1954

Love Sets And Dirty Shirts

Sidney Wood and Donald Budge, two former champions of enterprise, now foster the interests of tennis?and their own?with an outfit that washes almost anything

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The puckish face behind the stacks of cleanly washed shirts in the picture above may seem strangely out of place to those who remember the great tennis combination shown at the right. Sidney B. Wood Jr., the youngest American ever to win the Wimbledon Men's Singles, seems about as unlikely a candidate for a laundryman's job as Donald Budge, the strongest player the game has ever known, is for the post of emcee on a TV program. Yet, in their post-competition incarnation as Budge-Wood Service, Inc. of New York this is precisely what the boys are doing, and from the looks of things they're just about as successful at these jobs as they used to be on championship courts around the world.

Certainly they are as unique in their chosen professions as they once were when they were tennis players. Their laundry enterprise, for instance, is probably the only one in existence which is prepared to wash just about anything. Budge-Wood's will wash your shirt or your wife's. They will also wash your rugs, your house or even your office building if it should happen to be a bit dirty. These things will be done mostly through Sid Wood, who has been known to deliver certain laundered items personally at the service entrance of a swank apartment house, then stroll around to the front door and, immaculate in white tie and tails, join the dinner party for which his laundry's services were needed.

A STRIKING TRANSFORMATION

The transformation of Don Budge is, if anything, even more striking. A taciturn and bashful man, Budge is largely preoccupied with the management of another Budge-Wood project: the plush new Town Tennis Club in midtown Manhattan. Built a year or so ago at a cost of some $215,000, put up by William Doelger, a Manhattan realtor, for the edification of 200 carefully picked members, this establishment is designed to be a mecca and a training ground for the best players in the country. To further this aim and promote the game, the partners have put the club on television, and Budge, who is the club's pro, acts as commentator on the games, which feature well-known tennis stars who put on rousing performances and well-known film stars who (sometimes) don't. Either way, it's a far cry from the red-haired champion who used to think that when he said "Heck!" or "Gosh!" he was expressing himself pretty eloquently.

The Budge-Wood Service, apart from the Town Tennis Club, occupies 12 different outlets in New York, with its principal base in the Budge-Wood building on Manhattan's East 61st Street. The operation currently employs about 375 people of varying talents and last year did a gross business of just under $1,100,000. This is about three times as much as the total gate at a Wimbledon match, and for two amateurs who set out full of ignorance to make a dent in the shirt-washing business, it is quite an achievement.

Budge and Wood came to their present occupation by highly divergent paths. Budge, the son of Scotland's celebrated soccer player, John Budge, who emigrated to California before World War I, grew up in the tennis-rich atmosphere of the Sunshine State. He didn't play a game until he was 14, but, once started, he soon became formidable. This combination of a masterful back-court game, a smashing skill at the net and the game's most powerful backhand made him a great player in an age of greats. Coupled with this was an engaging shyness?tall, awkward-looking, with his red hair and toothy smile, he felt that he was anything but God's gift to girls and defensively cultivated a retiring air.

BRICK WALLS IN THE BACK YARD

This did not prevent him from wooing and winning a pretty Los Angeles girl named Deirdre Conselman, whom he met after his Wimbledon triumphs in 1938. She was the daughter of William Conselman, a film writer engaged in the crushing task of turning out the early Shirley Temple scripts. Her interests were more intellectual than those of Budge, but he followed her willingly through the pages of the Saturday Review, to the theater and other unaccustomed places, retiring, when the going got too tough, to his favorite pastime of building brick walls in his back yard. For her part, Mrs. Budge learned to share?as she still does?his enthusiasm for hot and cool music.

Sid Wood, on the other hand, came to health and athletic prowess the hard way. Max Eastman recalls the day in 1916 when he stood looking down at the crib occupied by young Sidney, the son of his college friend "Big Sid" Wood, a mining engineer. "Big Sid" had just explained that the boy had been ill from infancy. He seemed unable to take sufficient nourishment and had spent the first four years of his life virtually immobilized.

Eastman remembers that he looked into the face of his friend. "In a gust of ice-cold rationality," he wrote in his book, Enjoyment of Living, "I said to Sid: 'Why do you try to keep him alive? Why not let him die and get another?' "

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