Time hailed her as "an apple-cheeked San Diego Prodigy." Life described her as an "exuberant California bobby-soxer." The year was 1951, and sixteen-year-old Maureen "Little Mo" Connolly had just won her first U.S. Women's singles tennis championship. For the next three years, before a horseback riding accident ended her career, this bobby-soxer would dominate women's tennis.
A short, somewhat stocky teenager, with a rather long face and slightly prominent nose, and with blonde hair pulled back and usually held with a ribbon, she almost always had a ready smile and was remarkably poised for her age. San Diego Union sportswriter Nelson Fisher dubbed Maureen "Little Mo," because her firepower suggested the destructive big guns of the U.S.S. Missouri, the battleship known as "Big Mo."
The red brick bungalow in the 3900 block of Idaho Street where Maureen was born on September 17, 1934, still stands. Maureen's father, Martin Connolly, a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, served as athletic officer at the San Diego Naval Training Station. Connolly had been a boxer and played baseball, football, and hockey, but not tennis. He and Maureen's mother divorced when Maureen was four. Later, Maureen's mother became a divorcee again after a brief second marriage. from Maureen's point of view, this was just as well, perhaps, since she didn't get along well with her stepfather — one reason being that he didn't approve of her spending so much time playing tennis.
Around the corner from Maureen's house was the University Heights playground — now the North Park Recreation Center. Here, a nine-year-old Maureen one day happened to see two of San Diego's best players, Arnold Saul and Gene Garrett, working out on the court. Fascinated by the skill with which they served and volleyed, she decided then and there that she too would be a tennis player.
San Diego tennis legend Wilbur Folsom ran a tennis shop adjacent to the University Heights courts and gave tennis lessons. Shortly after graduating from San Diego High School in 1927, he was run down by a speeding automobile. In the accident, he lost a leg. Despite the loss, Folsom remained a good player, able to cover the court with considerable agility. He was also indefatigable, teaching tennis from early morning until dark every day except Sunday. Although Maureen would become his most famous pupil, over the years he had many students who became fine players. After some years at University Heights, he became the pro at the Balboa Tennis Club. He retired from tennis teaching in 1967.
Maureen shagged balls for Folsom in return for lessons. At ten and a half years old, she entered her first tournament, losing in the final match of the thirteen-and-under division at the La Jolla Recreation Center. Soon after, though, she defeated the girl who had beaten her and won the Harper Ink tournament, the most important junior tournament in the San Diego area. Awarded a complimentary membership at the Balboa Tennis Club, she got to practice against several good older boy players, one of whom was Ben Press. Ben, who grew up across the street from Maureen, became one of the best players ever produced in San Diego; currently, he's the professional at the Hotel del Coronado.
When Maureen played at the Balboa Tennis Club it was located at the north end of what is now the San Diego Zoo parking lot. The club originally had six courts, which were built in 1923 with private funds and the cooperation of the City recreation Department. During World War II, the army covered the club area with barracks but kept two courts for its own use. After the war, the city provided funds to repair the courts and backstops, and one of the barracks was converted into a clubhouse. In 1966 the club moved across the canyon to its present twenty-five-court Morley Field location, with the clubhouse transported at zoo expense. The clubhouse contains various mementos of Maureen, including a painting of her astride her horse Colonel Merryboy, donated by San Diego Union and Tribune publisher James S. Copley. Also dedicated to her memory is the club's sunken stadium court, which was constructed in 1969 and has seating for approximately 4000.
Wilbur Folsom taught Maureen the rudiments - how to serve, how to hit forehand and backhand drivers, and how to execute proper footwork. But it was Eleanor "Teach" Tennant, "the greatest tennis teacher in the world," Maureen called her, who instilled in Maureen a driving obsession to win. Tennant, who became famous as the coach not only of Maureen but also of two other national champions, Bobby Riggs and Alice Marble, was born in San Francisco in 1895 and learned to play tennis at Golden Gate Park, the cradle of such great Pacific Coast players as Maurice McLoughlin and William S Johnston, both national champions. Migrating to Los Angeles in her late teens, Tennant became hostess and tennis coach at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Personable and witty, she became a favorite of movie stars Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Norma Talmadge, and Marion Davies, whom she taught on the courts of their estates, In 1920, she persuaded the U.S. Lawn tennis Association to let her play in women's amateur tournaments in the East, including the National Women's championships - not an easy thing to do, since the association had strict rules against restoring amateur status to anyone who had taken money for teaching tennis. In her best performance of the season, she pushed defending champion Molla Mallory to a close three-set match in the national championships, and she was ranked number three nationally for the year.
Needing to support herself, Tennant returned to California and to teaching. In 1931, she began coaching Alice Marble, then a promising junior player from San Francisco, who was runner-up in the National Girls' Championship that year. At the time, Tennant was teaching tennis at the Bishop's School in La Jolla, and Alice moved there to live with her. By 1933 Alice had become a rising young star in women's tennis, but she suffered a setback when she collapsed with sunstroke and dehydration after being required to play the semifinals and finals of both singles and doubles on the final day of a tournament at East Hampton, Massachusetts. It took three years, during most of which time she was cared for by Eleanor Tennant, for Alice to recover from what was diagnosed as tuberculosis. But Alice made a stunning comeback, winning national singles titles in 1936, 1938, 1939, and 1940. At Wimbledon in 1939 she accomplished the "hat trick," winning both singles and doubles and the mixed doubles with Bobby Riggs.
After Alice turned professional in 1941, she and Tennant grew apart, Alice wanted to be more independent than her coach would agree to (Tennant had a very dominating personality), and Tennant felt that the very real sacrifices she had made for Alice were not sufficiently appreciated. History would more or less repeat itself in the Tennant-Connolly relationship a few years later.
Maureen was twelve when she began taking lessons from Eleanor Tennant. At the time, Tennant, a striking woman in her early fifties with white hair and an olive complexion, was the professional at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club. After watching Maureen win the fifteen-and-under girls' division of the Pacific Southwest Championships at the Los Angeles Tennis Club, Tennant arranged for Maureen to come to Beverly Hills on weekends for practice sessions.
Maureen had started out left-handed, but Folsom and Tennant trained her to play right-handed, since there had never been a left-handed women's champion. Tennant also tried to turn Maureen into a serve-and-volley player like Alice Marble, but she soon realized that Maureen's talent lay in hitting hard, flat shots from the baseline. Maureen also exhibited the intense concentration of such later champions as Chris Evert and Steffi Graf. "Fire engines," Tennant once said of Maureen, "could roar by and earthquakes could split the street, and Maureen would still hit the ball." In her autobiography, Maureen wrote that Tennant taught her to hate her opponents: "This was no passing dislike, but a blazing, virulent, powerful and consuming hate. I believed I could not win without hatred and win I must because I was afraid to lose."
In 1949, when Maureen was 14, she traveled to Philadelphia, where she won the 18-and-under National Girls' Championship played on grass — a surface on which she had never played before. She repeated her victory in 1950 but passed up the tournament, for which she was still eligible, in 1951. Instead, after graduating in June from Cathedral High School, Maureen went east, with Nelson Fisher's wife Sophie as her chaperone, this time to play only in women's tournaments. Two years earlier, Eleanor Tennant had made the prediction that Maureen would be the American champion before she was 17. It would be fulfilled in September, when Maureen won the first of her three national championships on the stadium court of the West Side Tennis Club at Forest Hills, Long Island, Nelson Fisher flew back to cover Maureen's progress in the tournament, and in reporting her victory, he made a particular point of the fact that the great Helen Wills, whose game Maureen's closely resembled, had been a year older than Maureen when she won the fist of her seven national championships in 1923.
Accompanied by her mother and Eleanor Tennant, Maureen made her first trip to Wimbledon in 1952. Playing in several English events prior to Wimbledon, she developed a sore shoulder, and a conflict with Tennant ensued about the nature and seriousness of the injury. Citing the advice of one doctor who believed Maureen might be risking permanent injury if she played, Tennant insisted Maureen withdraw her entry. Another doctor, however, had diagnosed the injury as a mild attack of fibrositis. Maureen, who did not think her injury was severe, told Tennant she was going to play no matter what the outcome. After winning her first match, she called a press conference without Tennant's knowledge to announce that "Miss Tennant no longer represents my views" and that she intended to play on through Wimbledon.
Perry Jones, secretary of the Southern California tennis Association, was also making his first visit to Wimbledon. Having been instrumental in arranging Maureen's trip abroad, he naturally felt concern for her welfare. After prolonged discussion with Maureen, he persuaded her to consent to examination by a third doctor, to be chosen in conjunction with the Wimbledon Committee and with the stipulation that Maureen agree to whatever he advised. The third doctor's diagnosis agreed with that of the second, who considered the injury to be minor. With heat therapy, she could continue to play.
In the third round, Maureen narrowly escaped defeat. How she was able to pull out the match after being within two points of losing to Susan Partridge, a very steady English player, she described in her autobiography, Forehand Drive:
- For me, looking back on a brief span of star-rising, star-crossed tennis years, there is one dramatic moment, when I knew this was my year, this was my hour, this was my time to become a champion. There could be no waiting. It was not the stuff of which headlines are made but my heart knows a total stranger propelled me to the world championships at the age of seventeen.
- At 30-all, suddenly piercing the tense silence, a young voice rang out clear and bold: "Give 'em hell, Mo!" I stood stunned, pause, looked and saw a U.S. Air Force boy. His face was a flash of youth, shining and glowing with friendliness. I did not know his name. I had never met him. But truly, in that second, I was lifted to the heights by a stranger. I smiled and said: "Thank you," in a fervent whisper.
- Truth can be stranger than fiction. If it seems incredible to believe one ringing cry of encouragement can turn the tide of a hopeless match, I say only it happened.
After her close call, Maureen won a series of straight-set victories, including a final-round victory over another Southern Californian and three-time Wimbledon titleholder, Louise Brough. At the Wimbledon Ball following her victory, Maureen wore a blue chiffon gown created by English designer Ted Tinling, who also made Maureen's tennis dresses. In the customary champion's speech, Maureen made no mention of Tennant, nor did she acknowledge her presence during the course of the evening. When Maureen won her second American championship later in the summer, she did rely briefly on Tennant for coaching support, but after that the split between the two became permanent.
San Diegans were immensely proud of their young sports heroine, and during the summer of 1952, the chamber of commerce established "A Maureen Connolly Appreciation Fund" and contributions were solicited to buy Maureen a riding horse, "a token of appreciation for what she has done for the town, for the way she has made it a big name in world athletics." A final count of contributors came to 564, who gave a total of $1534.
There was a precedent for so honoring Maureen. In 1924, when Helen Wills returned to her home in Berkeley , California after winning Olympic and American championships, she was honored with a "Helen Wills Day" and presented with a Buick automobile. The San Diego organizers of the tribute to Maureen had planned to give her an automobile, but she asked for a horse instead. As a little girl, she had prevailed upon her mother to give her riding lessons and had never lost her love for horses. As amateurs, Wills and Connolly were not supposed to accept testimonial gifts, but in both cases the donors got the approval of the national tennis association.
Thursday, September 9, 1952, the day Maureen arrived home after winning for the second time at Forest Hills, was proclaimed "Maureen Connolly Day." At the airport Maureen was greeted by her mother and newspaper publisher James Copley - in the off-season Maureen worked for the Union, first as a copy girl and later as a columnist and feature writer. In the afternoon Maureen took part in a parade up Broadway. Fifteen thousand spectators watched bands and uniformed drill teams. Ticker tape floated down from office buildings.
At a reception that evening at the Balboa Park Club, attended by 700 persons, Maureen was presented with her horse and a gift scroll with the contributors' names. Actually, the horse was a stand-in, a committee of noted horsemen having approved several horses from which Maureen would be able to choose. Her choice was a handsome golden palomino walking horse named Colonel Merryboy. She was also given sufficient money for the animal's upkeep for two years, and W.H. Black, a La Jolla member of the committee, supplied a $150 saddle.
No one could have been more gratified by Maureen's 1952 tennis achievements than Perry Jones. In 1923 Jones began an almost fifty-year-long connection with the Southern California Tennis Association, first as head of junior player development, then, beginning in 1929, as secretary, and finally, from 1954 until his death in 1970, as president. A bachelor, Jones was surrogate father to generations of promising Southern California boy and girl tennis players. He administered the Tennis Patrons, which raised funds used to discover, train, and give financial support to young players like Maureen. Leaving nothing to chance, Jones would plan a player's tournament schedules and figure out the expenses that would be incurred down to the smallest detail, buy travel tickets, write to tournaments to request accommodations, and issue to his players meticulous instructions concerning proper conduct, both on and off the court.
Maureen quickly became one of Jones's favorites. When she was only thirteen, he sent her, with several older juniors, on her first tour. Playing in Salt Lake City, Denver, and several Pacific Northwest cities, she won the fifteen- and eighteen-year old divisions in all the tournaments.
Jones was a stickler for neatness, cleanness, and proper tennis attire. Even after shorts became common, he insisted that junior boy players wear long trousers in a important match. On one occasion, Jones told Groucho Marx that Groucho's son Arthur, who had upset Jack Kramer in an interscholastic tournament at Ojai, couldn't play any more finals wearing shorts as he had at Ojai. Jones said that Arthur should go to a tailor and order three pairs of long white gabardine trousers at seventeen dollars a pair. His only motive, said Jones, was that he wanted "my boys" to look their best, to which Groucho replied, "if he's your boy, you pay for the pants." James finally persuaded Groucho to pay for two pairs and personally supervised while the tailor took Arthur's measurements.
Unquestionably, Jones was opinionated and autocratic. For many years Jones kept black players out of Southern California tournaments, though this happened all over the country. If you didn't belong to a U.S. Lawn Tennis Association member club - and blacks didn't - a tournament could refuse your entry. "Tennis is a social game," Jones was quoted as saying. "Suppose one of them comes in and marries one of our nice young girls. I wouldn't want to be responsible for that." In time, however, Jones yielded to the inevitable and allowed blacks to play in the Southern California Sectional and other tournaments.
Jones was also particularly jealous of his authority. Ben Press tells of one occasion when he and Maureen accepted an invitation to play an exhibition at a club in Tucson but neglected to get Jones's permission. Jones heard about it and told them they could not go and added that another couple would be sent instead.
Jones's influence was ubiquitous and incalculable. One of his most notable achievements was building up the Pacific Southwest Championships played at the Los Angeles Tennis Club into perhaps the best tournament in the country except for the National Championships. People who knew him well felt ambivalently toward him. One such is Pat Henry Yeomans, the national girls' champion in 1927 and for many years prominent and influential in the affairs of the Southern California Tennis Association. Of Jones, she says, "He was good to a lot of players, but only those who would do him favors. He was unfair and impossibly rude to many others. Sometimes he was a snob and a cheapskate. How can you love someone and hate what he does at the same time?"
As long as Eleanor Tennant was Maureen's coach, Perry Jones had not been able to exert as much influence over her development as he would have liked. With Tennant out of the way, he lost no time in finding, in his opinion, a much more suitable coach and chaperone for Maureen. She was Nell Hopman, the wife of Harry Hopman, the Australian Davis Cup captain, and herself and international player. During her 1953 tour, which began with her winning the Australian championship, Maureen said she learned a lot about the social graces from Nell Hopman, as well as how better to keep her temper under control. Most importantly, she learned "to cast off hate and fear" when she played. In Australia Maureen began to follow the rigorous training regimen imposed by Harry Hopman on his Davis Cup players. Hopman's coaching, said Maureen, "lifted my game to its highest peak."
While she was in Australia in December of 1952, Maureen, who was a devout Catholic, wrote a letter to the Bishop of San Diego, Charles F. Buddy, with whom she had earlier begun a correspondence. The bishop, whom Maureen called one of her "three best friends," had written to her praising her "outstanding Catholicity" and said he would like to see her enroll in journalism course in the recently established San Diego College for Women (which later became a part of the University of San Diego). It would benefit her, he believed, if she wanted to be a really good reporter, and the college would be glad to give her a $600 scholarship. The bishop had hoped that she would be able to enroll in September, but when Maureen's Australian tour made this impossible, the bishop wrote again to "Dear Little Mo" to say that she could enroll in February of 1953. Maureen replied that she was indeed interested and grateful for the scholarship offer.
She returned from Australia in time to enroll and described her experience as a student in a San Diego Union column for March 1953. Addressed to "Dear San Diegans," she says she is taking courses in journalism and speech at the "beautiful San Diego college for Women." It being three years since she graduated from "dear old Cathedral High," reading and studying didn't come easy, but she thought it worthwhile "to help fill in 'til time comes to take off for Europe again." She concludes: "yes, college days are wonderful, but you'll have to excuse me now, folks, because the journalism exam is coming up soon and wouldn't it be terrible if I flunked! Sincerely, L'IL MO."
After Australia, Maureen went on in 1953 to become the first woman to win a Grand Slam, tennis's four major championships - the Australian, French, and U.S. opens and Wimbledon - in the same calendar year. (Only two other women have done so to date, Margaret Court in 1970 and Steffi Graf in 1988, and only two men, Don Budge in 1938 and Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969.)
Actually, during this Grand Slam year there were two continuing distractions that might have been expected to keep Maureen from playing well. One was her horse, Colonel Merryboy, for whom she was homesick. Nell Hopman complained that Maureen was continually talking about him. The other was the fact that she was in love with a young navy man in San Diego named Norman Brinker and wanted to get back to him. Among Maureen's contributions to the Union was a column based on an interview with Norman, an Olympic equestrian team member, with whom she had become acquainted through their mutual interest in horses. Not long after her triumphant homecoming, she announced her engagement to Norman.
After winning the Wimbledon title in 1954 for the third time, Maureen returned to San Diego on July 19. The next day, accompanied by two girlfriends, she took Colonel Merryboy out for some exercise. Riding their horses along Friars Road, the girls encountered a Pre-Mix Concrete Company truck coming toward them. Frightened, Colonel Merryboy shied, and Maureen's right leg was jammed between the horse and the truck. A nurse, Kathryn Walker, happened to drive by just after the accident and applied a tourniquet, fashioned out of a diaper, to Maureen's injured leg. Mrs. Walker described the leg as ripped open to the bone from ankle to calf. Taken to Mercy Hospital, Maureen was in surgery for two hours, after which the leg was put in a cast. According to Dr. Bruce Kimball, the surgeon, the fibula or small bone below the knee was fractured and several muscles in the leg were torn but not severed. Maureen would not be able to play tennis for a month, but he did not believe the injury would permanently disable her.
Maureen spent several weeks in laborious rehabilitation and therapy, but by the beginning of September she was back on the tennis court. In workouts with Ben Press, she found she could not put strenuous pressure on her right leg without pain and that after only a few games, she had to stop and rest. Eventually, she had to acknowledge that the quickness and stamina that had made her a champion were gone. She could still play exhibitions, which she often did with Press, and hold clinics, but she was no longer capable of playing through a week-long tournament. Reluctantly, she gave up her plan to defend her Wimbledon and Forest Hills titles in 1955 and then turn professional. After she announced her retirement, she said, "I thought it would be a little foolish after having worked as hard as I had to go out and lose to the people I had been beating before. The whole game is based on movement. I simply couldn't move well anymore. I've always felt it very sad when a person who has been a champion does, not know when to stop."
Maureen's engagement to Norman Brinker had been punctuated by lovers' quarrels before she went abroad in 1954, but these were resolved after her return, and the two were married on June 11, 1955. Maureen wore a Ted Tinling bridal gown.
She and Norman honeymooned at Warner Hot Springs and then left for Wimbledon, which Maureen covered for the London Daily Mail. The paper also paid their expenses for a tour of the French Riviera, Rome, Naples, Switzerland, and Paris and bought them return passage on the Queen Mary.
Back in San Diego, Maureen and Norman settled down in a small rented house in Mission Valley. Norman, now out of the navy, returned to college at San Diego State, and Maureen joined her old friend and practice partner, Ben Press, as a teaching professional at the town and County Club and at the Balboa Tennis Club. There was a demand for more lessons from Maureen than she could take care of, and Press told her she should work with only the more promising young players and that he would teach all the rest.
Unlike some other amateur tennis champions, Maureen profited very little financially from her tennis skills before she became a teaching professional. "I believe in all sincerity," she said, "that I was the closest thing to simon-pure player in modern tennis history." A leading player might get as much as $1000 in appearance money under the table to play in a tournament, and Maureen acknowledged that she had twice asked for and received $400, once in Latin American country and once in the U.S. For the rest, her itinerary and expense money were arranged for by the Southern California Tennis Association, the latter being augmented by her newspaper writing. From the time she was sixteen, Ted Tinling "designed my tennis outfits, street clothes, and ball gowns," in effect providing her with a free wardrobe. In return, Maureen modeled dresses for Tinling's annual pre-Wimbledon style show. The third and final year she did this, she was reprimanded by cable from the United States Lawn Tennis Association.
After her accident, Maureen filed suit for damages - reluctantly, she said - against the Pre-Mix Concrete Company and the driver of its truck that had injured her. Her attorneys were Melvin Belli and John D. Butler. Belli, then in his forties and already a successful personal-injury lawyer, had agreed to take the case at the behest of Nelson and Sophie Fisher, having known Sophie when she was a student at the University of California at Berkeley. Butler was a former mayor of San Diego and a sports hero who, as a guard, became the first San Diego State football player to receive All-American honors.
When the trial began on October 17, 1955, Belli, in his opening statement, said that he would show that Maureen could have earned $100,000 in each of her first two years as a touring professional and that he would ask an additional $65,000 in damages because "the driver acted in a wanton manner." He would also rely on expert medical testimony that would show that the main artery in Maureen's right leg had been permanently impaired.
Jack Kramer, the tennis tour promoter, who testified as to Maureen's potential earnings, said that she had asked him for $75,000 for a tour when she turned professional. Kramer said he had in mind a guarantee of $25,000 against twenty-five percent of the gate. He estimated that she could make around $35,000 touring the United States and another $30,000 in other countries, plus a considerable sum for endorsements. Under cross-examination, Kramer said he had earned $140,000 in the first fifteen months after he turned professional in late 1947, and he said he would still like to sign Maureen if she could play since she would undoubtedly be a great attraction. Besides Kramer, Belli called on Tom Harmon, the former football star and at the time a sports commentator, and on Nelson Fisher. Harmon said he believed Maureen could have made $75,000 in 1955, and Fisher testified that he had been approached back in 1952 by a football promoter named Ross H. O'Leno, who said he would pay Maureen $100,000 to make a tour. Fisher said he had advised her not to consider turning professional at that time.
In medical testimony, Dr. Paul Shea, a specialist in physical therapy, testified he had played doubles against Maureen and that she had to stop after two sets because of her leg. She was also restricted in her footwork. "I doubt," he said, "if she could ever again take the wear and tear of tournament tennis." Dr. Thomas O'Connell, a surgeon, testified that one of the three main arteries in Maureen's leg had been destroyed by the accident and that if the circulation should become impaired in another artery, she might possibly have to have the foot amputated. This was disputed by a defense expert, Dr. Francis E. West, an orthopedic specialist, who said he saw no evidence of circulatory impairment in the right foot, although he did concede it was reasonable to believe that her agility and endurance had been adversely affected.
Belli and Butler called on Deputy City Attorney John Rhoades to testify that there was no city ordinance prohibiting horseback riding on Friars Road, and on the owner of the stable where Maureen kept Colonel Merryboy, who described the horse as gentle and well mannered. After showing the jury movies of Maureen in action at Wimbledon and Forest Hills, they rested their case.
The principal defense witness was the truck driver, Albert LeRoy Stevens, twenty-seven, of Escondido. He testified that his truck was noisy because of the revolving cement drum, which could not be turned off from inside, and that he had tried to proceed cautiously after he saw the girls and to keep the truck as far away as possible from them. Ironically, he was more concerned, he said, about the girl who was riding on the south side of the road's shoulder, Miriam Constance Stieber of Coronado, than about Maureen and other friend, Mary Linda Thornton of Chevy Chase, Maryland, who were riding tandem on the north side. After passing Stieber safely, he said that he looked in his rear-view mirror and saw Maureen's riderless horse.
Kathryn Walker, the nurse who put the tourniquet on Maureen's leg, said in a deposition that she heard Maureen say, "I guess it's my own fault," to which Stevens had replied, "No, it's my fault." Earlier in the trial, the defense attorney, Leland C. Nielsen, had introduced clippings from the Union quoting Maureen as saying, "I'm not interested in turning professional," and "I was a perfectionist in tennis. I could no longer do the shots. My heart went out of the game after the accident." In reply, Maureen testified that being an amateur she had always denied as a matter of policy that she planned a pro career. What she meant by this was that no amateur player in his right mind would think of admitting to any plans he might have to turn pro eventually, since to do so could very well result in being banned from further amateur play. She would have turned pro, she said, had she been able to play in and win the national championship again in 1954. Nielsen, however, in his closing statement, insisted that she had never announced her intention of turning pro, and he further maintained that she was responsible for her injury.
After deliberating for six hours, the jury of seven men and five women voted nine to three to award Maureen $95,000, nine votes being necessary for a judgement in a civil court suit. The verdict was reversed, however, on appeal, on the grounds that the judge had erred in his instructions to the jury and that the damage award was "speculative and excessive." Denied a rehearing by the district court, attorney Butler took the appeal to the California State Supreme Court, which upheld the original verdict. Early in 1958, Maureen received a check for $110,734, representing $95,000 plus seven percent interest for the period the case was on appeal. Based on a thirty-percent contingency fee, Belli and Butler got approximately $30,000; the balance, except for some expenses, went to Maureen and was tax free.
The sum was the highest personal-injury award up to that time in San Diego and, in a day when such suits were far less common than now, made Maureen unpopular with some of her fellow San Diegans. "Many people," she said, "could not understand why I should have won an award in court. I had not been crippled. I wore no crutches, carried no cane, and on the surface, at least, I appeared quite normal. 'What was she doing on a horse?' was the comment of some. Yet only the year before, the people of San Diego had given me a horse. Such is irony, and such is the fleeting warmth of popularity."
Not long after the personal-injury case was settled, Maureen and Norman moved to Arizona and eventually to Dallas. There, when Nelson and Sophie Fisher visited them in 1964, ten years after her final tennis triumphs and tragic accident, they found the two well, happy and prospering, living in a handsome colonial-type house on three acres, with a swimming pool and a seven-stall barn stabling a string of polo ponies.
Maureen was leading an active life, taking care of her husband (who was now an executive with a restaurant chain) and her two daughters, Cindy, seven, and Brenda, five; teaching tennis; and taking courses at Southern Methodist University. During the summers, she traveled to various cities to conduct tennis clinics for the Wilson Sporting Goods Company, and for several years she went to Wimbledon and Australia to write newspaper commentary. To promote junior tennis development in Texas, she established the Maureen Connolly Brinker foundation and took part in clinics and exhibitions to support it.
This active life came to an end prematurely. Maureen died on June 21, 1969, after an almost three-year struggle with stomach cancer. Only thirty-four, she said in an interview shortly before her death, "What more could I want? Everything I've had I got through tennis. It gave me a terribly exciting life. I met so many people in exalted positions. It opened so many doors, and it's still opening them. I've had a wonderful life. If I should leave it tomorrow, I've had the experience of twenty people." "She was," says Ben Press fervently, "a super person."