Whitney Part 4:
C. F. Stewart
Tennis players, the world-class variety, did not earn a bundle of money practicing their craft in Whitney’s day—to make an understatement. Unlike today's players, they didn't have coaches, trainers, and publicists.
They had patrons of sorts, and every once in a while a player would fall into a situation that was too good to believe. Like when Whitney flew in a military aircraft from Palm Springs to San Juan, Puerto Rico for a tournament.
Whitney had just won the Palm Springs Invitational. He was sitting at the famous Bamboo Bar in the Racquet Club having a few beers with an actor named Charlie Farrell, who, along with another actor named Ralph Belamy, founded the club.
In its heyday the Racquet Club was a Hollywood hangout. The Bloody Mary was invented there. Marilyn Monroe was discovered there.
Suddenly Whitney realized that he had missed his connection out of Palm Springs International Airport. Farrell said no problem.
He made a phone call and the next thing Whitney knew, he was on an aircraft with Air Force markings heading for San Juan. Charlie Farrell must have thought that a trip to San Juan sounded good, because he brought along a woman friend for company.
Charlie called Whitney "Chauncie." He'd holler across the tennis court. "Chauncie, it's tea time." On the trip to San Juan "tea time" lasted from takeoff until they returned to Palm Springs. Vic Seixas won the tournament mainly because he was lucky enough to miss most of "tea time."
Situations like Whitney's lucky trip to San Juan happened, but, for the most part, tour players of Whitney's era were like gypsies, traveling from one tournament to another without the guarantee of appearance money or even a place to sleep.
Before the ATP and open tennis, being a tour player was tough all the way around. The competition was horrendously good.
But players traveled all over the world playing tennis for silver cups, hot dogs, and half a loaf of bread. Whitney was often literally on the streets hitching a ride from one tournament to another.
If a player received an airline ticket from a tournament promoter, he immediately asked the carrier to relinquish the ticket and finagled a cheaper way to travel.
Tour Life in Berkeley
The Berkeley Tennis Club has hosted the Pacific Coast Tennis Championships every year since about 100 years before the free speech movement. The Club is the coolest tennis club west of Newport R.I., and wasabout three miles from Whitney's front door.
Obviously, lodging was not an issue, but transportation was an issue. He could ride with his dad to the tournament, he could borrow his dad's car, or he could bum a ride from one of the competitors.
As we will soon discover, in one case bumming a ride from a fellow competitor was not a good idea.
The 1960 edition of the Pacific Coast Tennis Championships featured a gaggle of great players: Barry MacKay, Marty Riessen, Dennis Ralston, and Whitney. In the quarterfinals, Whitney lost a close match to Riessen and was eliminated. MacKay beat Ralston and wound up in the finals against Riessen.
But in 1960 the drama was not confined between the white lines of the tennis courts at the Berkeley Tennis Club. In fact, the extracurricular activities off the court made the 1960 Pacific Coast Tennis Championships' on-court activities seem dull.
There was always a party, because parties were an integral part of tour life. Whitney loved the social part of being a tour player, and he hated to miss a party as much as he hated to lose a tennis match.
At any tournament from Wimbledon to Forest Hills, the first question Whitney posed to the tour director after he checked the seedings was, "Where's the party?"
The post-quarterfinal party during the 1960 Pacific Coast Championships was held in Orinda, California. As the crow flies, Orinda is not very far from the Berkeley Tennis Club, about a mile and a half.
Traversing the Berkeley Hills is the issue. You need to negotiate the Caldecott Tunnel.
Whitney thought it a bit embarrassing to ask your dad to drive you to a party. A 28-year-old guy being dropped off at party by his father might be viewed in some circles as odd.
Whitney asked Barry MacKay instead. MacKay had borrowed a car for the duration of the tournament. MacKay knew Whitney was always good fun and, when he got into the swing of a party, he was great fun.
Orinda is a sleepy little town where a big event is when the movie theater features an R-rated movie. Barry agreed to let Whitney come with him, knowing Whitney tagging along meant that the party would be anything but dull.
Barry, Betty Hannis, Whitney's current girlfriend, and Whitney headed off to the party in Orinda. The drive through the Caldecott Tunnel on the way there was negotiated without incident.
Everything considered, Whitney was enjoying himself. He had a couple of glasses of champagne, and managed to deflect the advances of two female admirers, a blonde from Cardiff-by-the-Sea and a socialite from San Francisco.
But their advances left Betty Hannis tapping her foot in unbridled annoyance. By early evening, Whitney had enough of the party, and was definitely ready to move on. Barry and Betty voiced a similar desire, so the trio decided to call it an evening.
All went well on the drive home until they reached the tunnel. Barry enjoyed driving fast, and Whitney was something of an Adrenalin junkie --a potentially lethal combination.
They roared through the mouth of the tunnel, and into the bowels of the tunnel proper. Actually, racing into the tunnel is nothing every resident of Contra Costa County under 30 has not done a million times.
A problem occurs when all three people in the front seat decide to change the radio station simultaneously. A disaster occurs when the non-driving duo looks up and sees two red brake lights glaring astonishingly close.
Barry MacKay had very good reflexes. If he didn't, Whitney, Barry, and Betty would be residing in very cramped quarters in a Colma cemetery. No actually, only Barry and the Betty would be in Colma. Whitney, as a veteran, would be in the vet cemetery at the Presidio in San Francisco.
Fortunately for everyone, Barry's reflexes prevailed, he slammed on the brakes, and steered the car literally up the side of the tunnel. The car rolled over on its top, resembling a launched missile as it shot out the west end of the tunnel.
Miraculous driving or unbelievable luck, the car slid to a stop without making contact with anything other than shrub eucalyptus saplings and a variety of wild grasses.
Luckily for Barry, Whitney, and Betty, the Oakland Fire Department was in the process of cleaning up a previous accident. A grizzled old firefighter peeked into the up-side-down car and asked if anyone was hurt.
When the smoke had cleared, Whitney called his dad who promptly raced to the crash scene and then drove everyone to his and her respective places. Barry won the tournament, unaffected by the drama of the previous day.