On Politics: Smashing the glass ceiling
Bonanza columnist McAvoy (“Mark Twain”) Layne authored an interesting “Pine Nuts” column titled “When Billie beat Bobby” a couple of Bonanza issues ago describing his recollections of the 1973 Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs “grudge” tennis match.
If you’re too young to remember it, the current motion picture “Battle of the Sexes” shows King winning in three sets. Layne recalled his painful introduction to gambling since, being at the time a male chauvinist, he placed $20 bets on Riggs with each of five female teachers with whom he shared quarters on Maui.
Layne recounted how his male chauvinism vanished, as he forked over the hundred bucks and that thereafter he became an advocate for women’s rights.
Glass ceilings for women were very much in the minds of “Battle” co-directors Jon Dayton and Valerie Faris. Both Dayton and Billie Jean’s husband Larry were from Grass Valley and Dayton was in the area recently to compare notes with Larry.
He told The Union in Grass Valley: “We got the script a couple of years ago and we knew Hillary Clinton would be running against a man in the election so we knew this was the right time to tell this story.”
In the 1970s, male tennis professionals, led by Jack Kramer, were fiercely opposed to women ever becoming professional tennis competitors. They pressured sponsors to not provide purses, or to encourage females to star in the world of tennis.
Billie Jean had still another anchor affecting her life. She realized at a very early age that she was attracted to other women. She tried to discuss this with her mother who told her: “Let’s not talk about that just now.” Nonetheless, Billie Jean married Larry in 1965 and they were together 22 years.
So it was that Billie Jean was able to induce aging tennis hustler Bobby Riggs into the match of the century. Promoters packed the Astrodome in Houston and aired the match on television, and 90 million viewers watched King triumph.
In smashing the tennis glass ceiling, she also smashed the closet door. She began an extended relationship with her secretary, Marilyn Barnett, which unfortunately ended in a lawsuit over Billie Jean’s substantial earnings and accumulations.
The Larry and Billie Jean King connection to the Sierras extended beyond Grass Valley. In 1969, the two of them formed TennisAmerica, Inc., which bought land in Incline Village, Nev. Their 7-acre parcel wrapped around the Visitors Center and fronted on Tahoe Boulevard.
The vehicle access is now Glen Way. They built two buildings of living accommodations, as well as number of tennis courts and an administration building. The Billie Jean King tennis camp was open for business. I have seen title instruments affecting the land signed by Martina Navratilova, but it was unclear what part she played in TennisAmerica, Inc.
The venture came to an unhappy end. On Feb. 10, 1975, a sports brief appeared in the New York Times which read: “TennisAmerica, Inc., the firm founded by Billie Jean King and her husband, Larry, is negotiating with a major creditor in a final effort to avoid bankruptcy. Attorney Skip Crist said today that TennisAmerica has made arrangements to pay off debts to all creditors except a major mortgage payment owed to Kaiser-Aetna for purchase of the Lake Tahoe Resort and Racquet Club at Incline Village, Nev. Kaiser-Aetna foreclosed on the deed of trust. Mrs. King, her husband and Dennis Van Der Meer, a tennis coach, founded the tennis teaching club in 1969.”
There was, however, a happy ending. In 2006 the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., a 46-acre complex with 33 courts and the Arthur Ashe Stadium, was rededicated as the U.S. Tennis Association Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is still waiting for a happy ending.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org