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Tennis, Anyone? Budge, Cramm, Thurber, and the Nonexistent Mrs. Poos

Filed under: The Squib Report   Tagged: , , , , , ,

Martin Schneider writes:

I noticed in Jay Jennings's review of Marshall Jon Fisher's A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, a World Poised for War, and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played, in the Wall Street Journal, that James Thurber is mentioned as "the tennis-besotted writer for The New Yorker magazine." I didn't know Thurber was such a tennis fan; does anyone know if the subject pops up much in the better-known Thurber collections?

The intersection of tennis and The New Yorker cannot but remind me of my father, who was a fan of both things for most of his life (Herbert Warren Wind was a particularly special byline). Furthermore, I remember him telling me about that particular match—Don Budge against Baron Gottfried von Cramm in 1937, a sort of tennis version of the second Joe Louis-Max Schmeling bout, which happened a year later (turns out, both Schmeling and von Cramm were good guys; the story of von Cramm's life is especially interesting). The setting was Wimbledon, but the match was not a part of the well-known tournament; it was a Davis Cup semifinal.

Knowing a fair amount about the subject but not about the book, I feel confident in recommending it anyway. The book apparently omits an amusing story connected with the match that my dad used to tell. Here it is, quoted from Budge's memoir (I found it here):

I know I was still in a daze in the locker room. It was as if everyone was trying to outdo each other in congratulating me. Tilden came in, and it was right then that he came over and told me it was the greatest tennis match ever played. Others had about the same thing to say as Tilden did—everyone, that is, except Jack Benny. He came in with Lukas an Sullivan, and while they were raving on at length, Benny just shook my hand and mumbled something like "nice match," as if I had just won the second round of the mixed doubles at the club. I remember, Jack Benny was the only calm person in the whole locker room. The place was like a madhouse.


After I won at First Hills, I went out to Los Angeles to play the Pacific Southwest Tournament. After my first-round match there, which was a rather normal, unexciting one, I looked up from my locker, and who should be coming at me but Jack Benny. He was positively beside himself, hardly pausing to say hello before he launched into a babbling, endless dissertation on how wonderful, how exciting, how fantastic the Cramm match had been. It was like one of those scenes from his show. I would keep trying to interrupt him, unsuccessfully. "But Jack"—I would try to start. And he would go right on.

"Magnificent, Don. It was just marvelous. Why when you—it was incredible. And then you—why, I've told everybody about it." And on he went.

"But Jack," I kept on, so that at last he stopped long enough to take that pose he is famous for, the palm cupped on his cheek, staring at me curiously. "Jack, I don't understand," I began. "At Wimbledon, after the Cramm match, you were the only person I met who was relaxed and calm. Now you carry on like this. The match was two months ago. Then you were unmoved. Now you're jumping around all excited. What is it?"

"Don," he said. "The truth is, that the Cramm match was the first tennis I ever saw. Now since then I've seen others, but at the time I thought all matches were more or less like that."
I decided to search Thurber's New Yorker contributions for tennis references, and found a silly and slight short story called "This Little Kitty Stayed Cool." I can't improve on the abstract:
Tells of girl who is an excellent tennis player. Her name is Kitty Carraway. A man by the name of Poos is proposing to her, but she doesn't like the name Poos and refused. It just doesn't sound as nice as Kitty Carraway. Argument.

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