Saugus, Calif (“Barracks 19”): ca. 22 August 1949.
1-1/2 pp. in pencil on single sheet of ruled paper. 1 vols. 5 x 8 inches. From Prison to his “Only Family”. With accompanying envelope addressed in Tilden's hand, postmarked Aug, 22, 1949. Item #40136
A touching letter from the 56-year-old Tilden, the greatest tennis player of the first half of the twentieth century, then recently incarcerated for a second offense on charges of stemming from his homosexual encounters with young boys. Tilden writes from prison to his closest friends Marrion and her son Arthur Anderson, a young tennis player whom Tilden had adopted as his protégé and pupil. According to Frank Deford, in BIG BILL TILDEN, Tilden actually lived with the Andersons twice for an extended period, and “The Andersons truly loved him. Many times he said to Marrion, ‘You know, Arthur’s the only real son I ever had.’ And to Arthur, ‘You and your mother are the only close family I ever had.’” The Andersons never deserted Tilden, even in this, his darkest hour.
Tilden writes: “Dear Marrion and Bratto, Just to tell you how much I enjoyed the visit today … Next Friday is Bratto's birthday & since I have no hope of being with you then, please Marrion, even if the car is his present, give him $10 out of my money, with my love, and see he gets something he wants …” Tilden then turns to Arthur with tennis advice: “Now Bratto, Pal, remember all we talked about today, to play cool, intelligent mixed tennis, not to rush and to return service. This is only to let you know I am thinking of you and love you both very much & I’ll be seeing you Sunday if not before. Always & ever, Your Bill.”
According to Deford, Tilden was released on December 18, 1949, just a few days before the Associated Press poll of the half-century voted Bill Tilden “the greatest athlete in his sport by a margin larger than any other — Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Bobby Jones, Red Grange. Of them all, Tilden was voted the most dominant …”.
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