Thursday, July 6, 2017



The show jumped ahead a few months from last week; it's now September of 1973 and the historical touchstone is the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King.

From Wikipedia:
Suddenly in the national limelight following his win over [Margaret] Court, [Bobby] Riggs taunted all female tennis players, prompting [Billie Jean] King to accept a lucrative financial offer to play Riggs in a nationally televised match that the promoters dubbed the "Battle of the Sexes". The match, which had a winner-takes-all prize of $100,000, was held in the Houston, Texas Astrodome on September 20, 1973.

Riggs was given $50,000 to wear a yellow Sugar Daddy jacket during the match, which he took off after three games. Riggs also placed many bets on and invested a lot of money in the match. King entered the court in a chair carried by four bare-chested muscle men dressed in the style of ancient slaves. Riggs followed in a rickshaw drawn by a bevy of scantily clad models. Riggs presented King with a giant Sugar Daddy lollipop, and she responded by giving him a squealing piglet.

King won the match 6–4, 6–3, 6–3. In the first set, she initially fell behind four games to two. In a 2015 interview, she said that most people don't remember that she was initially behind in the first set, and it looked bad for her in the early going. She added that, at this point, she realized that she "had to win" given the importance of the match. King had learned from Court's loss and was ready for Riggs' game. Rather than playing her own usual aggressive game, she mostly stayed at the baseline, easily handling Riggs's lobs and soft shots, making Riggs cover the entire court as she ran him from side to side and beat him at his own defensive style of play. After quickly failing from the baseline, where he had intended to play, Riggs dropped his comedic affect and showed a more serious demeanor, as he was forced to change to a serve-and-volley game.

A few critics were less than impressed by King's victory. King was 26 years younger, and some experts claimed that it was more an age versus youth game. According to Jack Kramer, "I don't think Billie Jean played all that well. She hit a lot of short balls which Bobby could have taken advantage of had he been in shape. I would never take anything away from Billie Jean — because she was smart enough to prepare herself properly — but it might have been different if Riggs hadn't kept running around. It was more than one woman who took care of Bobby Riggs in Houston." Before the match, however, King had forced the American television network ABC to drop Kramer as a commentator. King said, "He doesn't believe in women's tennis. Why should he be part of this match? He doesn't believe in half of the match. I'm not playing. Either he goes – or I go."

After the match, Pancho Segura declared that Riggs was only the third best senior player, behind himself and Gardnar Mulloy, and he challenged King to another match. King refused. Despite some of the comments downplaying the loss by Riggs (or victory of King), following the match Riggs was "devastated" and isolated himself in his hotel room for four hours.

The match had an audience of an estimated 90 million worldwide (50 million in the US). The attendance in the Houston Astrodome was 30,472, as of 2012 the largest audience to see a tennis match in US history.

 "The Battle of the Sexes" also served as a symbolic representation of the ongoing battles between club-owner Goldie Herschlag and her ex-husband, comic Sid Robbins.  She may have been able to humiliate him in public by letting him perform on the main stage - but right after Richard Pryor, but he proved to be despicable by showing her his back-hand, making him a worse pig than Riggs ever could be.

Speaking of Pryor, he showed up-and-comer Adam Proteau a few tips and coaxed the younger comic to add the more disturbing aspects in his relationship with his father to his comedy act.  But agent Barton Royce gave Adam the benefit of his wisdom by advising him not to follow down the same meteoric path that Pryor was on.  

September of 1973 means that Pryor was just coming off his involvement with the production of "Blazing Saddles", which would open in February of 1974.  Being one of the pool of writers working with Mel Brooks on the film, he was probably done even earlier in the year.  Brooks supposedly wanted Pryor to take on the role of Sheriff Black Bart, but the studio nixed that because he was too "dangerous" and so Cleavon Little got the role.  Pryor had been in movies already, mostly in small roles, usually members of a team of players as in the TV movie "Carter's Army" or "Bingo Long And The Travelling All-Stars".  But he had key roles in movies like "Lady Sings The Blues" and "Uptown Saturday Night" and "Car Wash".  It would be two years after "Blazing Saddles" when Pryor really made his mark in the movies by teaming up with "Blazing Saddles" co-star Gene Wilder in "Silver Streak" which led to a series of films together.


No comments: