Most people—even the beautiful ones of Beverly Hills and Bel Air—are content with one tennis court. Jerry Ohrbach of the department-store family is twice blessed, with a court beside his Holmby Hills house for weekday games and one at his place in Malibu for weekends. Most of the fringe benefits of social tennis—lunches, free-flowing drinks, betting and beauteous starlets who watch and are watched—are absent at the Ohrbach courts. "We don't go in for any of that stuff," he says. "No nonsense. Just tennis." To play in this high-performance setting, Ohrbach has put together a group that includes fellow department-store magnate David May, Actor Philip Reed, Beverly Hills Councilman Fred Leopold, Jack Kramer, Dick Savitt and Hank Greenberg.
Another familiar face around the court is tennis pro Bob Harmon, who occasionally plays in Ohrbach's foursomes. Ohrbach explains, "We try to make the game as good as we can. Harmon could sweep up the court with us if he wanted to, but he plays to our skills." Occasionally, when the Ohrbach game is short of good players, he calls on Hillcrest Country Club pro Don Lutz and, when they're available, Kurt Niklas, president of the posh Bistro restaurant in Beverly Hills, and comic Dan Rowan.
For those looking for side action with their tennis, the court of Robert Evans, production chief at Paramount Pictures, offers fertile prospects. Evans, who headquarters in a million-dollar house in Beverly Hills with his wife Ali MacGraw and their newborn son, enjoys putting his money where his game is—that is, pretty high. His Calcuttas and side bets are legendary. The latter average $100 to $250 a set but have been known to get up as high as $1,000 when the competition is stiff. When it was rumored recently that Evans might be shaky over at Paramount, some of the luster went off his games, despite the high rolling that goes on there. "You can always tell when you're slipping in Hollywood," observed one wag. "You have trouble getting a decent foursome."
Jennings Lang, a Universal City Studios vice-president, draws a mixed bag to his court in Beverly Hills. The players usually tend to be business types, with a sprinkling of actors and actresses thrown in for spice. At Charlton Heston's place a favorite partner is Sam Match, a former pro who now sells stocks. The games at the Heston court are described by one man who's played there as "strictly tennis...no broads or anything like that." Heston is reportedly sensitive about his game, one reason he plays with Match most of the time. A partner who took him on at his country club recalls how Heston quit one losing match abruptly when a covey of girls gathered around to watch.
Robert Stack, Kirk Douglas and Dean Martin also have courts but don't play as much as the Hollywood tennis activists. Martin used to bring in pro Tommy Cook to teach, but with the Martin children now pursuing their own show-business careers, the court has fallen into disuse.
A boost up the social ladder is a distinct possibility if you play at Director Richard Brooks' house, or at the court of Producer Ray (Funny Girl) Stark and wife Fran. A woman player can do worse than one of Mrs. Robert Stack's ladies' games or an afternoon of tennis at the Edgar Bergens', though the pace is markedly slower and the average age visibly higher.
Joan Ross, an ex-actress now married to Producer Frank (The Robe) Ross, adds a certain élan to her tennis afternoons by leashing her pet cheetah, Kubo, to a nearby bush while her guests are playing. Saturday is the big social mixed-doubles event here, accompanied by a lunch, archery and swimming. The cheetah tends to keep the ball in play. In one game, recalls Producer Norman Lloyd, an errant shot bounced the ball right at Kubo's feet. "We all watched it for a long time, and finally we broke into an argument over who was going to go get it." Besides Lloyd, Mrs. Ross has such players as Jacques Bergerac, Dinah Shore, Producer Sam Goldwyn Jr. and Actress Eva Gabor and husband Dick Brown. Eva's sister Zsa Zsa joined them once. "Zsa Zsa kept the shade throughout the game," Mrs. Ross recalls.
The rating list of prospective players on the local tennis circuit is every bit as closely watched as the overnight Nielsens. The most sought-after guests are young men like Ron Preissman, a literary agent and real-estate heir. "Ron meets all the requirements," says one hostess. "He's a nice guy, young, good company and an excellent tennis player." Preissman was a nationally ranked junior at 15 and now gets at least five invitations every weekend. "On Saturdays I'll play at Dino's at 10, then go to the Ogners', play and have lunch, then around 4:30 I go over to Bob Evans'," he says. It's more of the same on Sundays, only on different courts, through a rigorous 15 sets every weekend.
Another guest without whom no status tennis match on the circuit is complete is Wendell Niles Jr., an ex-football player on the coast and the son of the wealthy former radio announcer. Niles receives more than 20 invitations a week to play tennis but is particular about where he plays. "I usually accept only four. Dinah's, Bobby's [Evans], Charlton Heston's and Jennings Lang's. Oh, I play at other places, especially if I'm trying to make a business deal, but those are the courts I prefer." Niles is one of the circuit's better players, despite the fact that he doesn't have a court of his own. "With 20 invitations a week, who needs one?" he asks.
Zimbalist is another "most wanted" guest, as was 20th Century-Fox ex-boss Richard Zanuck before he was toppled from his studio perch.