Portrait Of Our Ladies
Published April 08, 2012 12:00
CHARLESTON, SC, USA - For just the second time since they took their historic stand against the establishment in 1970, all nine members of the Original 9 - the godmothers of women's tennis - came together in Charleston on Friday night. While a couple of reunions had taken place over the past four decades, not since 1986 had they all been in the same room.
One by one, the women filed into a suite at plush Charleston Place, squeals of delight heralding each new arrival: Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Judy Dalton, Julie Heldman, Kerry Melville Reid, Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey, Valerie Ziegenfuss. While most had been able to attend a party at a nearby plantation on Thursday night, their ringleader, Billie Jean King, had just flown in from an engagement in Boston and was last to make her entrance.
Still feisty and fabulous, the women chatted as they channeled the good old days by signing autographs on Virginia Slims Circuit posters and other paraphernalia. "It's so wonderful that we are all still here, and able to celebrate what we achieved together," said Casals as she moved towards a sofa placed for a very special function - recreation of the iconic Original 9 dollar bill photo taken at the Houston Racquet Club on September 23, 1970.
The camera set at the same angle, each legendary player was handed a dollar bill, assigned to the same position as 40 years ago, and directed to make the same pose. Dalton, now 74 but affectionately known as Old Fruit back in the day, decided it was wise not to attempt the crouching pose of the original shot; she chose to sit demurely next to fellow Aussie Melville Reid instead.
Poignantly, Julie Heldman sat in the place occupied by her late mother, Gladys Heldman, in the original portrait. Gladys was, of course, the powerhouse businesswoman who pulled the notorious Virginia Slims Invitational together - a moment that is considered the birth of women's professional tennis, paving the way for the formation of the WTA in 1973.
With the eight other women, Julie had signed the one dollar contract with her mother, an act that was hugely symbolic but also protected them from litigation by the tennis authorities. However, Julie was injured at Houston, and while she played a one point 'match' with King to show solidarity, she was at her parent's house nearby when the classic photo call took place.
Among the nine, Dalton is the only woman still in possession of her original dollar bill, which is framed and takes pride of place on a wall at her farmhouse outside Melbourne. Julie Heldman laughed: "I think Gladys may have asked for them back!"
Later that evening, the Original 9 were celebrated at a spectacular gala dinner attended by fellow greats Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Virginia Wade, Martina Hingis, Tracy Austin, Pam Shriver and Venus Williams.
The Original 9 were brought together as part of 40th anniversary celebrations of the Family Circle Cup, which offered prize money of $100,000 for its first women's event. Only the Virginia Slims Championships held a few months earlier had been as rich, and no men's event offered more. Casals defeated Richey in the final for the biggest pay cheque in the history of the sport to that point: $30,000.