A strict and well-defined pecking order attends nearly every aspect of tennis in the show-business colony. Whom you play with and where you play are every bit as important as how good, or how good a sport, you are. Dropping in at a public tennis court some evening on your way home from the studio is acceptable, but only if you don't make a habit of it. And when you get ready to join a tennis club, you'll want to keep the peculiar priorities of Hollywood tennis firmly in mind.
The Los Angeles Tennis Club is one of the best. It features a sprinkling of good movie names (Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Charlton Heston), but most of its members are solid burgher types—doctors, brokers and businessmen. None of them are Negroes (although Arthur Ashe holds an honorary membership) or Jews. The entrance fee is $2,000, and dues are $30 a month.
A few blocks away is the Beverly Hills Tennis Club, which—despite its snitzier name—ranks slightly lower on the show-business tennis totem. It is a no-nonsense tennis club, with a low-key, Howard Johnson-type clubhouse and a tight membership (150) that includes some of the gold-plated names of the town: Richard Zanuck and Dean Martin, for example. A perennial attraction is Gilbert Roland, who plays there daily.
For those who don't belong to a tennis or country club (Riviera and Hillcrest are two of the town's more popular country clubs), there are always the courts at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which veritably bubble with social activity and gossip. Here pro Alex Olmedo, the genial Peruvian and past Wimbledon champion, gives lessons to all comers for $20 an hour. Taking lessons from Olmedo is yet another status symbol around town. The hottest names among local teaching pros are Olmedo and Pancho Segura, formerly the resident pro at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club. If he's in town and in the mood, Pancho Gonzales has been known to hit a few to VIPs. To remark that Gonzales is your tennis pro is comparable to letting slip that Jackie and Ari were your houseguests in Palm Springs last winter.
Well-known pros make out well financially. Patty Heard, who headquarters at the court of toy inventor and renowned eccentric Jack Ryan (whose residence is an English manor house, with moat, fire engine and 120 telephones), enjoys a nourishing clientele that includes Polly Bergen, Gary Crosby, Marge and Gower Champion, Dyan Cannon and Barbra Streisand. Miss Heard's schedule is as mind-boggling as her host's domicile: she claims to have 539 clients and to give as many as 25 lessons a day and to be booked a year in advance.
Even when you take lessons from a top pro, tennis remains a tough game to master, and so most of Hollywood's busiest personalities aren't its best tennis players. Paul Newman, who likes tennis and takes lessons, is described by Fiske as "a fair player, but nowhere near the class of a Dabney Coleman or Lefty Brown." Dabney and Lefty are actors, too. They are not as busy as Newman.
Currently one of the circuit's greatest social successes is Joianna Ogner, the pretty blonde wife of a tennis-playing Volkswagen dealer from Bel Air. Known as the Perle Mesta of Hollywood's tennis crowd, Mrs. Ogner took up the game with a vengeance eight years ago. She now plays on a $50,000 hand-finished court at her Bel Air home and has achieved a reputation for having this year's In place for social tennis. She has even put together a little red book with the names and numbers of more than 300 prospective tennis partners.
The secret of Mrs. Ogner's success as a tennis hostess may be her charm, her wealth or the fact that she draws some of Southern California's top-seeded tennis amateurs to mix with her show-biz and society guests. It is not unusual to find UCLA's Haroon Rahim and the Bruins' doubles ace, Steve Tidball, smashing tennis balls to one another or to Mrs. Ogner's guests on her sumptuous court. Her crowd also consists of husband Irv, the Volkswagen man, Dinah Shore, Actors Jim Brown and Vince Edwards, Actress Elke Sommer (known affectionately as "The Brute" for her smashing returns), and pros like Olmedo, Segura, Tony Trabert, Tom Okker and occasionally even Gonzales.
Mrs. Ogner's weekly routine is centered around tennis. Her phone begins ringing early in the week with calls from people fishing for invitations to games the following weekend. She relies mostly on her red book for assembling her groups. "You look over the names and see whom you haven't seen in a long time and whom you'd like to know better, and you decide." By Wednesday the choices are made, the weekend booked.
Saturday is men-only day. "They're very serious and don't want to mess around," says Mrs. Ogner. Sunday is for mixed doubles—still serious tennis, but more relaxed. Lunch is served on the terrace overlooking the court, or in the 40-by-40-foot game room with wet bar, billiards table and a glass wall that provides a view of the court. Beverages, hard and soft, flow all day (her Coke and beer bill runs over $150 a month).