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The Irrepressible Mr. Mulloy

July 13, 1964
July 13, 1964

Table of Contents
July 13, 1964

Baltimore's Flags
Olympic Trials
The Outcasts
Net Play
  • By Bill Talbert

    During the past few months Bill Talbert has been teaching his 12-year-old son Peter how to play net. We felt that Talbert's instructions to his son would also be of interest to our readers, from 12-year-olds on up. What follows is intended solely for those who have never played net, those who have played it only under direct order from a partner and those who have played it with gusto but without effect. In short, it is intended for most tennis players

Baseball
Boating
Mr. Mulloy
Acknowledgments
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

The Irrepressible Mr. Mulloy

Now a mellowing 50 but far from mellow, he has spent his life tormenting the Pooh-Bahs of tennis (as at Wimbledon, above) and beating the world's best

In 1947, when Gardnar Mulloy was 33, he told the Miami Daily News that he was "growing too old" for big-time tennis and that henceforth he was going to confine himself "to a couple of tournaments during vacation time so that I can get together again with the boys." He laid his racket aside and opened the Gardnar Mulloy Cleaners, which went out of business before Mulloy had his first vacation. "I am not fanatically disposed to making money," Mulloy said, picking up his racket, and in 1948 he and Billy Talbert won the national doubles championship for the fourth time. In 1949, when Mulloy was 35, he was being called either the Grand Old Man of Tennis or washed up. In 1952, when Mulloy was 38, he won 16 tournaments and was ranked No. 1 by the USLTA. In 1957, when Mulloy was 43, he and Budge Patty became the Wimbledon doubles champions. One evening in the spring of 1964, when Mulloy was 50, he took a sip from his third glass of milk at the close of a dinner in his honor, arose and said: "Tennis has been good to me. I still consider myself as promising, and I hope to improve. I want to thank you all for coming here tonight to see if I was still alive."

This is an article from the July 13, 1964 issue Original Layout

It is Mulloy's ambition to live to be 140 and to win a major tournament at 50 or over. Though remote, the latter is not unattainable. In May, Mulloy defeated 22-year-old Frank Froehling III, who is ranked third in the U.S., to win the Atlanta Invitational, and last February he reached the finals in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. before losing in five sets to Eduardo Zuleta, 29, the No. 1 Ecuadorian player. In two other matches this year, Mulloy defeated Ken Fletcher, 23, the third-ranked Australian, in Barranquilla, Colombia and Jorgen Ulrich, 28, the Danish star, in Monte Carlo.

By no means, however, is Mulloy's fame restricted to the accomplishments of his middle age. For instance, from 1939 through 1954 he was ranked among the top 10 in the U.S. every year—not counting 1943 and 1944, when he was in the Navy—a record that only Frank Parker has surpassed in this century. Nor does Mulloy's reputation rest wholly upon his prowess as a player: Mulloy makes waves upon tennis' sometimes stagnant waters.

There are several explanations that seek to account for Mulloy's astonishing vitality, but they are not altogether valid. It is not true, for instance, that he does not drink. Mulloy has been known to drink. In fact, twice. He got drunk in 1946 in Chicago and again in 1952 in Paris. He also admits to having smoked a couple of cigars around 1926.

Mulloy himself attributes his juvenescence to daily exercise, proper diet, plenty of rest and what he calls food supplements. In New York, where he had an office until recently, Mulloy's favorite exercise is running up flights of subway stairs. "Run hard," Mulloy advises. "Bring your knees up high. People will look at you, but you'll get used to it. Carry a briefcase. The more weight the better." In Miami, where he has his home, Mulloy runs around the block—that is, he runs for 10 yards, stops, runs for 10 more yards, stops, etc. He is also an advocate of running backwards.

Mulloy has orange juice and dry cereal for breakfast and eats an ordinary dinner, eschewing fancy pies and cakes. He does not drink coffee and claims he has never taken an aspirin in his life. "I'm against drugs as a rule," Mulloy says, "and I've never had a headache." After breakfast he doses himself with Vita-care, a powdered vitamin preparation, and for lunch he eats a Nu-V Food Bar. "I guess I'm a food nut," Mulloy says. "My mother is an amateur nutritionist. I was more or less raised on the principle of food fads. I had no choice. We were vegetarians for a year or two until my father started screaming."

By no coincidence, Mulloy's latest job is Chairman of the Athletic Advisory Council of the Comidex Corporation, which puts out the Nu-V Food Bar. The bar weighs 1½ ounces, contains 200 calories and is composed of 23 natural foods—such as palm-kernel oil, mango and watercress—nine vitamins and four minerals. It was developed by Rene Laurens, a French chef who was once a Greco-Roman wrestling champion. According to the Marion. Ind. News Herald, M. Laurens has cried on at least one occasion, "C'est magnifique! It is the crowning achievement of my career!"

"My wife ate three bars a day for five days and lost seven pounds," Mulloy cries. "One of my daughters told me, 'It don't taste so good.' [Mulloy has two daughters—Diane, 21, who has been a runner-up Miss Florida, and Janice, 19.] 'Not so loud.' I said. 'I'm in the business.' Really, you'll like it after you've had more than one."

Mulloy feels he is besieged by skeptics, cynics and antifood nuts. "People come up to me at cocktail parties," he says, "and say, 'Hey, Gar, I hear you take a bunch of pills. Makes you feel good, huh? It's all mental.' 'Listen, Buster,' I tell them. "You know more about it than I do, so don't bother me.' They give supplements to pigs, cows, lawns and gasoline, don't they? Is it mental for pigs? Almost all the vitamins in the bar are natural and organic. Bugs will eat the Nu-V Food Bar. They'll gnaw right through the wrapping to get at it. Bugs won't touch your ordinary vitamin pill."

Nu-V or not Nu-V, Mulloy is still the fine figure of a man over whom beautiful women have sighed—and more than sighed—from Forest Hills to Kooyong. "If you cut off Gar's head," says one admirer, "you've got the body of an 18-year-old." And if you cut off his gray crew cut, you have the face of a 35-year-old. Mulloy's tennis does not show many signs of age either. Although his forehand is not what it used to be, in the sense that he cannot get to balls he once was able to reach, his serve is just as good as ever and his backhand has actually improved with the years. "If it's not too hot or too cold," says Mulloy, "and if all the conditions are right, I can beat anybody. It seldom happens, of course, and I can't struggle through a tournament anymore. You know, I'd be much better if I wasn't so good and so old. Everyone keys on old Gar. As Orlando Sirola, who was the third-ranked Italian, told me after he beat me in five sets at Wimbledon last year, 'I couldn't lose that match. I'd never have lived it down.'

"No matter what you hear," Mulloy says, "it isn't the legs that go first. It's the eyes. The only reason the legs give out is that the guy's not in shape. It's the eyes. The eyes determine what the legs are going to do. There's where you lose that fraction of a second. It's sad in a way. You always have the feeling that if you play a bad point or loaf, you'll make it up in the next point, the next game, the next set—you never do.

"What hurts me most, is to lose a match I wouldn't have lost in my prime. Isn't it ridiculous! The guy who beat me couldn't have been on the same court with me 10 years ago. I used to be the world's worst sport. Every time I lost, it killed me. I've gotten over that. I'm not so bitterly disappointed these days. As I travel around, I meet old friends—they look old, and fat. 'Ah, Gar,' they say, 'why are you still playing tennis? You're losing all the time. Why don't you quit and settle down?' It burns me up because it's none of their business, but I tell them, 'You're right. I think I will quit and settle down like you say. Get a job, save my money and maybe in 10 years I'll have enough to go to Europe, just like you.' I've been to Europe 35 times, and never as a tourist. Each time I was an invited guest.

"Of course, I can't play as much as I'd like to these days, and I've lost some of the spark. You get sick of competition. It's too tough, too hot, too dusty. The smaller tournaments that used to be exciting aren't any longer. They seem to be done poorly, and you play against nonentities who have a chance of beating you. When the conditions are bad it bothers me, not the young. I pick my spots now, only play in the tournaments that I enjoy, like Wimbledon, Queen's Club, Monte Carlo.

"I think I'll quit when I don't get a kick out of it any longer. But I keep getting successes, lifts. Let's be honest. Plaudits help you. You feel a little embarrassed when you get them, but you're more embarrassed when you don't. I don't think I'll ever quit. I guess I'm just a tennis degenerate."

There have been better tennis players than Gardnar Mulloy, but no man has ever played better longer. His only conceivable rival in this respect is Bill Tilden, who took his seventh men's singles title at 36 and turned pro shortly thereafter. Mulloy played an exhibition match with Tilden in 1945 when Tilden was 52. "I'm better than he was at a comparable age—when we were both over the hill," says Mulloy. "I haven't slipped as much as he did."

Mulloy has won 28 national titles, including four USLTA and one clay-court doubles with Talbert; two hard-court mixed doubles with Mrs. Patricia Canning Todd; one Public Parks singles; and three father-and-son titles with his father, Robin. His other 17 championships have been in seniors' events, for which he was not eligible until he turned 45.

Despite his various victories, Mulloy's reputation is generally linked with Talbert's, for it was as a doubles team in which Talbert, the consistent playmaker, set up the shots for Mulloy's forehand, that both men played their most memorable tennis. All told, they won seven national doubles championships—two of them senior titles—and 91 out of 96 matches, their only losses being to Australians. No other team in 50 years has had such success.

During his prolonged career Mulloy has won several hundred tournaments, has possession of 18 challenge bowls and has two legs on four others. "They don't make good trophies anymore," he says. "I've gotten rid of all the ones that are no good—the wood, tin, the bronze. I've kept all the sterling."

The USLTA singles championship has always eluded Mulloy, however. In fact, he only reached the finals once, in 1952. At present, Mulloy cannot even play in this event if he chooses to defend his senior title. There is a USLTA rule, which Mulloy refers to as the Mulloy Rule, that prohibits a senior singles entrant from playing in two concurrent events, and the senior and men's championships take place on the same dates. Mulloy is embittered by this regulation and is convinced that it was specifically formulated with him in mind. "They [the USLTA] told me they passed it because of scheduling problems and because it might endanger someone's health," he says. "They passed it because they are sore at me. I've been fighting for six years to convince them it's stupid. I told them it wouldn't hurt me, that I would enhance the men's tournament because I have a following, that I have a good chance of beating almost anyone. Each committee member told me, 'Gee, I guess you're right, Gar. I'll vote for amending it.' The amendment was unanimously defeated. I called them all liars. I held an interview and blasted them. Then one of them told me the real reason for the rule was that I might have beaten someone who could have eventually won the men's tournament.

"Wherever I go, I'm interviewed first," Mulloy says. "I'm always able to dream up something exciting to say, something colorful. Last year I called Chuck McKinley and Dennis Ralston crybabies. They are! McKinley wouldn't talk to me. Ralston didn't care. I told him, 'Don't worry what I say about you in the papers. Don't take it personally. Just think, all your friends are mad at me, not at you, and you have as many friends as I have.' No matter what you say, 50% of the people are going to object to it and 50% will think you're great, but if you're a nice guy, 50% will think you're stupid."

As Red Smith once said, "Gardnar has no special gift for silence," or, as Mulloy puts it, "One trouble with me is I'm too outspoken, but when I believe in something I fight for it."

When Mulloy was 10 he believed in a tree that grew in the middle of the street by his home in Miami. "It was a tremendous, beautiful old tree," he recalls. "One day some men came to cut it down. I protested and they told me the tree presented a traffic hazard. I told them there wasn't hardly any traffic on our street. They weren't impressed, so I climbed up the tree and told them that if they cut it down I was going down with it. I admit that besides it being such a beautiful tree I had a personal interest in its preservation—my tree house was in it. The men came up after me, but I was a little kid and I climbed up to the top limb, which was too skinny to hold their weight. When they finally gave up and left, I climbed down and called the mayor. Whoever I got, I explained the problem to him. 'This is not progress,' I said. The next day, newspaper photographers came out and took a picture of my sister with the tree. The men never returned, and then the rest of the neighborhood said I was so right."

Another example of his highmindedness (or highhandedness) occurred during World War II when Mulloy, then a naval lieutenant, was the captain of an LST. Once, on a voyage from Naples to Anzio, a British general and his chief of staff were Mulloy's passengers. At the dinner table the first night out, the general began making insulting remarks about Americans. "General," Mulloy says he said, "as long as you are a guest aboard my ship, I would appreciate your not making derogatory remarks about the Americans." The general paid him no heed. "General," Mulloy said, "if you do not stop this attack on Americans, I shall be forced to take more drastic action." "Who the blazes do you think you are?" the general inquired. "I'm the commanding officer of this ship," Mulloy said, "and as long as you are aboard it you are under my command." The general told Mulloy he did not have sufficient authority to order him to do anything. "I'm sorry, General," Mulloy said, "but if you refuse to keep quiet, I shall confine you to your quarters." At this, the chief of staff up and spoke. "Captain Mulloy," spoke he, "I advise you not to address a general in this outrageous manner." "My last remarks go for you, too, Colonel," said Mulloy. "If you dare to take any such action," the general said, "I shall put in the most severe report on you I can make." Mulloy summoned the officer of the deck and the master-at-arms and, pointing to his guests, said, "Escort these two gentlemen to their cabin." Whereupon they took the British officers by the arms and began to lead them from the mess. The general wrenched himself free at the door. "Captain," he said, "you have not heard the last of this." In that, the general was wrong. Mulloy never heard about the matter again. "Not to have defended my own country on my own ship would have been disastrous for morale," he explains.

Until he was forced to withdraw from this year's tournament because of a slipped disc, Mulloy had played at Wimbledon for 16 consecutive years, but his peculiar charms seldom endeared him to the British. Once, at the Hurlingham Club garden party, which takes place the Sunday before Wimbledon, he wore a jacket with "If You Can't Beat Me You Need Lessons" written on the back. Another time, Mulloy took off nine sweaters in two sets to ridicule a Wimbledon rule that states a player must start a match wearing a sweater. "Wimbledon was getting too staid," he said. "There weren't any laughs." He once took to the court at Wimbledon bearing the inscription DEAD END on the seat of his shorts, and when the tournament committee at Queen's did not accede to his request that, because of his failing sight, his matches be scheduled before twilight, Mulloy played wearing a miner's hat, and was only prevented by an umpire from appearing with a Seeing Eye dog.

In 1953, in the course of the Queen's Club championships, Mulloy became so incensed at a linesman's calls he threw his racket in the official's direction and stomped off the court. "I was robbed," he told the reporters. "I should have won. Your officiating stinks." According to Mulloy, most newspapers were content to publish those remarks, but the Daily Herald correspondent wrote: "After the incident, Mulloy said: 'Sure I threw the racket at the linesman.' " Mulloy contends he said no such thing, but then it has been said that Gardnar Mulloy has claimed he was misquoted in more cities, countries and different languages than any other living athlete.

A few days later, Jack Peart wrote in the Sunday Pictorial: "Gardnar Mulloy, American lawyer and amateur tennis star, hereinafter referred to as the Miami Mouthpiece, should throw his racquet over a cliff and forget to let go. For years, he has indulged his ego with a disgusting disregard for the decencies and decorum of tennis courts all over the world. Mulloy is the only man I ever knew with two chips on his shoulder.... We want no part of your peevish, spoilt-child act.... The British public did not find your asinine antics even faintly amusing. They recognize them for what they are—damn bad manners."

Mulloy started a libel action. The defense charged that Mulloy threw his racket at the linesman, missing him by two yards, and further demonstrated his annoyance by spitting. It also cited other unseemly incidents in additional tournaments. Mulloy's barrister told him that if the defense could prove only one charge a British jury could not be expected to be sympathetic toward him, and advised him to withdraw the suit. Mulloy reluctantly did so at, he points out, a cost of £142 10s. 7d., and fired off a piece to the Miami Daily News, for which he was writing a column. It read, in part: "All one hears over here is what great sportsmen the British are. I've got news for you; the English are no better sports than the spectators in other countries, and, in my opinion, worse than some." And, as he wrote on another occasion: "The common belief that sports competition creates good international relationships is bunk. The press won't allow it."

In his autobiography, The Will to Win, Mulloy takes pains to "expose the myth of British sportsmanship." He analyzes at length the different standards of behavior at football and cricket matches, and concludes, "It is easy to see how the British have made their stupendous piece of misthinking. They have tried to apply to the games which later became popular the sportsmanship rules of cricket. That these other games are temperamentally unsuited to them they refuse to admit."

It sometimes seems that everyone, indeed every thing, connected with tennis—the players, the officials, the USLTA, the rankings, the Davis Cup selections, the very game itself—has at one time or another been the object of Mulloy's impartial wrath. For instance, Mulloy has called Ted Schroeder "boorish" and has recounted how he once dumped the remains of his salad on Schroeder's head and his soup in Schroeder's lap when Schroeder insisted on helping himself to Mulloy's plate. (Coincidentally, during Mulloy's courtship of Madeleine Cheney, who is now his wife, she dumped a can of paint over his head after he hit her with a paintbrush.)

Mulloy has many recommendations for improving tennis. He thinks it absurd that the players must always wear white, pointing out that white makes the worst possible background; he believes the spectators should be allowed to make all the noise they want to and not suffer the indignity of being reprimanded by the umpire; he feels the linesmen should be eliminated and that the players should call their own balls, with the umpire acting as arbiter; and he says the American ball is too hard and ought to be replaced by the larger, softer European ball to reduce the speed of the game. "Ground strokes can't be learned with the ball we now use," Mulloy says, "so you have the serve-and-volley game, which is boring."

Mulloy's main gripe is that tennis matches should be composed of two out of three sets instead of three out of five. "The USLTA says two out of three is not a true test of tennis," Mulloy says. "So who says three out of five is? Why not four out of seven, five out of eight, six out of 11? The USLTA says two out of three would penalize the slow starter. I say three out of five penalizes the fast starter. The USLTA says look how exciting the fifth set is. I say think how exciting the third set would be. Tennis is a game of skill, I tell them, not a marathon. Sure, Gar, they say, look how old you are. Listen, Buster, I say, I said the same thing when I was 20. I can't convince them of anything.

"I used to be quite a crusader in tennis," Mulloy said recently, "but I've calmed down a great deal. Fighting the USLTA isn't discouraging—it's absolutely hopeless, and just because I recommend something, it's no good. I'm the only one. The other players are scared of the USLTA.

"When I once criticized the Newport tournament, I wasn't invited back the following year. Isn't this America? Can't you say what you want? Then, in 1953, when I had been ranked No. I, they wanted me to play there. They forgave me, said let bygones be bygones. I said I'd consider entering if I got the invitation from Jimmy Van Alen, who was the Newport tournament director. Finally Van Alen called me. I told him that I wouldn't enter his tournament. It was a dirty trick, making the guy crawl. I didn't play Newport then and I haven't since, but Van Alen is a very good friend of mine. I don't hold grudges."

Mulloy has called the USLTA "reactionary," even "un-American." "I say exactly what I feel," he says. "I write articles. They don't like my choice of words. I call them 'stupid, stupid,' and most of the members are good friends of mine. I think people in tennis like me individually, but collectively they don't like me."

Mulloy is equally dismayed by the Davis Cup committee. "The people who run it," he says, "have no concept of what they're doing. To be on the Davis Cup team is an honor, and it should be earned. Membership shouldn't be subject to politics, sectionalism, being a Californian or being the captain's favorite. I think I'd be a great Davis Cup captain. Last year I was very surprised that Ed Turville [the USLTA president] didn't pick me for captain; he and I started out in tennis together. He didn't have the guts to put me in, although he instinctively wanted to. He must have been afraid of what Gar would say."

Gardnar Mulloy was born in Washington, D.C., grew up in Miami, where his father was in the lumber business, and learned his tennis on a court that his father had built in the backyard. Despite the fact that he was the top player on his high school team, the 155-pound Mulloy really fancied himself a football star. Between 1930 and 1932 he was the captain of a sandlot team called the Mulloy Bonecrushers, which competed in a league with the Allapata Rockcrushers, the Miramar Goops and the Fort Dallas Fairies. It was, however, Mulloy's bones that were crushed. Before his football career was over, he had broken his collarbone, smashed a wrist and had been carried off the field with a severe concussion. He got into the University of Miami on a football scholarship, for Miami awarded no tennis scholarships—it had no tennis team. Mulloy formed the team, recruited the players, solicited the funds and was the star and the coach. He was also a collegiate boxer (his left ear is slightly cauliflowered as a result) until a sensational knockout he received ended that, and for a time he was the sixth-ranking three-meter diver in the U.S.

Mulloy has never done as well off the tennis court as he has on it. He says he is a frustrated architect, but since the University of Miami did not have an architecture course, he went to law school to please his father, who was a frustrated lawyer, and barely got by. Mulloy practiced in Miami for a while, but he does not care for the law. "I don't like other people's troubles," he says. "And there's too much research. I'm impetuous, and a court case is never finished per se. And the calendar's always filled."

Mulloy even ran for mayor of Miami once on the suggestion of his law partners. "It was a debacle," he says. "I made some lousy speeches. I had a name but no chance. My opponents promised things they couldn't deliver, changing their stories depending upon what neighborhood they were speaking in, appeasing everybody. It completely surprised me. I couldn't tell the colored I'd tear down their slums and then tell the landlords I'd keep them up."

Mulloy has not held any one job for more than a few years—perhaps because of his inflexible, virtuous, cantankerous and rather naive outlook, and perhaps because he was always off playing tennis. From the time he got out of law school his real business was amateur tennis—the play-for-not-too-much-pay circuit. While he was accepting invitations to be the guest of elegant tennis clubs in Monte Carlo, Copenhagen and Southampton and participating in their tournaments, at least two businesses he was connected with went the way of the Gardnar Mulloy Cleaners or took Mulloy to the cleaners. His most promising job was as an administrative assistant to M. H. (Bud) Robineau, the president of the Frontier Refining Company in Denver. With that post, Mulloy thought he had again quit tennis, but he was met at the Denver airport by Robineau attired in full tennis kit and asking Mulloy where his racket was, because they had a match. Mulloy managed to win the U.S. Indoor senior doubles with Robineau, but then he made a mistake for which not even a skillful backhand can compensate—he fired Robineau's son-in-law.

"I feel I'm an executive." Mulloy says, "but people are hesitant to employ me because they say I play too much tennis. I feel I can have my cake and eat it, but they don't. Whether you're needed or not, you should be in the office—that's their feeling. They'll slap you on the back, tell you how often they've seen you play and how they enjoyed it—but not here, in this office."

Fortunately for Mulloy, C. E. (Dug) Duggan, the president of Comidex, seems to have a more lenient view. "We hope that business won't interfere too much with Gar's tennis efforts..." he has written. "He is expected to retain his senior title at the Nationals...this coming fall...a great feat for any businessman."

Mulloy does not think tennis is played as well today as it was when he was starting out on the circuit. "It can't be." he says. "I can still compete in world class and I'm 50. When I was a kid I used to play 10 or 15 sets a day. They don't do that anymore. They don't practice. They don't learn. They're too dependent on their parents. How do I get to the tournament? Where do I stay? When I was a kid. I hitchhiked, ate one meal a day—a poor-boy sandwich—slept in the locker room or out under a tree. I wasn't pampered. It's all made too easy for them these days.

"Several years back, I played a leading California youngster and beat him 6-2, 6-3. After the match I was asked what I thought of my opponent. I said I thought he was very good, very promising and that he might even go all the way. I was then asked what the score of our match had been. I said 2-2 [meaning 6-2, 6-2]. I then heard this woman shrieking, 'How dare you say it was 2-2? It was 2-3!" I asked who she was and I was told it was the kid's mother. 'May I reappraise my opponent?" I said. 'He'll never be any good. He has too much mother.' And he has never amounted to anything and he never will. He can't get away from his mother. He's all right when he plays at home, but when he travels...

"I've never made any money in my life," Mulloy said the other day in his faintly nasal, whining voice which, in conjunction with his good looks, brings to mind some silent screen star who failed with the advent of talkies because of the unexpected and inappropriate manner in which he delivered his lines. "You don't make a fortune playing amateur tennis, no matter what they say. Of course, I've never milked a tournament. Once, at Lugano, I even gave my money back because it rained for seven straight days. But I've been able to survive comfortably. Many of my friends have been very successful, but have they enjoyed their success? I think I'm way ahead of everyone else, and although I've made some mistakes, I've done what I've wanted to—I've led an enjoyable life. I have no regrets. What is life? Whatever it is, you only live it once, I guess.

"I figure I can keep cleaning up in senior play until 1968," he said, unwrapping a Nu-V bar. "That's when Vic Seixas turns 45."

PHOTONEAL BARRPHOTOPHOTONever one to pass up a publicity gag, Mulloy pretended to take up knitting 11 years ago.