In mid-November Director of Photography Jerry Cooke sat at his desk in New York, pondering. For the cover of this week's issue he wanted to shoot an especially striking photograph of Sportswoman of the Year Chris Evert, who then happened to be in London. Ah, thought Cooke, wouldn't it be fun to put this thoroughly modern Chrissie in a period setting and see her as an old-fashioned girl? But what would she wear? He picked up the telephone and dialed Philadelphia.
There, Ted Tinling, who has been dressing female tennis players since the days of Gussie Moran, rummaged through his vast closets and came up with a dress he had designed for the opening of the new Wimbledon Museum. It is a replica of the costume worn by Maud Watson when she won Wimbledon in 1884. He packed the outfit and an antique racket in a suitcase, and dispatched them to Cooke.
On a gray London afternoon only two days later, several people were at work in a studio at No. 8 Herbal Hill. While Graham Finlayson, the photographer, tested the light, his assistant, a young Englishman with TEXAS RANGER written across the front of his sweater, moved props around. A hairdresser named Penny, from the Molton Brown salon, heated her curling irons and lined up hairpins. Hilary Nimmo, the studio designer, put the finishing touches to an Edwardian setting she had created with a potted palm, a bentwood loveseat and a slightly ratty Persian rug, all ranged in front of a backdrop with a vaguely tropical motif.
SI's all-purpose person in London, Lavinia Scott-Elliot, finished ironing the travel wrinkles out of the costume, which had been brought from New York by writer Sarah Pileggi that morning. Then she laid out some bread, cheese, salami and wine. Stevie Wonder was playing on the studio sound system. Everything was ready.
December 20, 1976
Enter Evert, followed by Anna Leaird, a friend from Fort Lauderdale, Pileggi and Mike Searby, a Yorkshire-man and driver of the car that transported Evert across London from her hotel in the fashionable West End to decidedly unfashionable Herbal Hill.
Scott-Elliot helped Evert into the dress and tied the bustle in place. The hairdresser curled her short blonde hair and pinned it up in back. The shooting session began.
Finlayson: "Look amused, like the whole thing is crazy."
Evert: "Are you sure they'll understand that's a bustle back there?"
Penny: "She has such a sweet nose."
Finlayson: "Turn your head slowly from left to right. Again."
Evert: "I feel like the girl in The Exorcist."
Finlayson: "Good. You have the right feeling."
Searby: "Look. She stands pincy-toed."
Searby: "It may be a Yorkshire expression."
Finlayson: "The hat is casting a shadow. Can we lighten the makeup?"
Evert (people daubing at her face): "Arrgh! Everybody's got their greasy hands on me!"
Three hours later the shooting came to an end. The only one not drained by the experience seemed to be Evert, who said, "That was really fun. I began thinking prim and proper, and my back got straighter. I was really getting into it."
All in all, not your every week SI cover.