Alice Marble

(Paul T. submitted this photo to FourSquare)

Several times in walks around San Francisco I’ve stopped at the Alice Marble Tennis Courts, at the top of Russian Hill, for the view from Alcatraz to the bridge.

Alice Marble was a tennis champ of the 1930s and ’40s. Wikipedia informs us:

For a brief time after retirement, she worked on the editorial advisory board of DC Comics and was credited as an associate editor on Wonder Woman. She created the “Wonder Women of History” feature for the comics, which told the stories of prominent women of history in comic form.

In her second autobiography Courting Danger (released after her death in 1990), Marble mentions that, back in the 1940s, she had married Joe Crowley around World War II, a pilot, who was killed in action over Germany. Only days before his death, she miscarried their child following a car accident. After an attempt to kill herself, she recuperated, and in early 1945, agreed to spy for U.S. intelligence. Her mission involved renewing contact with a former lover, a Swiss banker, and obtaining Nazi financial data. The operation ended when a Nazi agent shot her in the back after chasing her while she was trying to escape in a car, but she recovered. Few details of this operation have been corroborated by journalists and authors who tried to investigate this part of her life in the years from the time of her death to the present. No Swiss banker has been discovered, leading to suspicions that this man of mystery might have been a Nazi, someone who Marble may have been trying to avoid having had an association.

Marble greatly contributed to the desegregation of American tennis by writing an editorial in support of Althea Gibson for the July 1, 1950 issue of American Lawn Tennis Magazine. The article read “Miss Gibson is over a very cunningly wrought barrel, and I can only hope to loosen a few of its staves with one lone opinion. If tennis is a game for ladies and gentlemen, it’s also time we acted a little more like gentle-people and less like sanctimonious hypocrites…If Althea Gibson represents a challenge to the present crop of women players, it’s only fair that they should meet that challenge on the courts.” 

Alice Marble

Female tennis champs of that era are honored all over San Francisco. Alice Marble’s career followed that of Helen Willis Moody, painted by Diego Rivera in his mural inside the former Pacific Stock Exchange. It’s cool that California is still producing world class tennis champs.

The Alice Marble courts are surrounded by George Sterling Park:

Kevin Starr (1973) wrote:

The uncrowned King of Bohemia (so his friends called him), Sterling had been at the center of every artistic circle in the San Francisco Bay Area. Celebrated as the embodiment of the local artistic scene, though forgotten today, Sterling had in his lifetime been linked with the immortals, his name carved on the walls of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition next to the great poets of the past.

Lots of people around George Sterling’s life died of poison, including finally the man himself, who poisoned himself inside the San Francisco clubhouse of the Bohemian Club. Next time I’m up there, I’ll have to stop by the Bohemian Club and see the bronze relief by Jo Mora.

The style of poetry Sterling practiced is no longer really in fashion:

The winds of the Future wait
At the iron walls of her Gate,
And the western ocean breaks in thunder,
And the western stars go slowly under,
And her gaze is ever West
In the dream of her young unrest.
Her sea is a voice that calls,
And her star a voice above,
And her wind a voice on her walls—
My cool, grey city of love.

How did the Bohemian Club go from being a scene of outré artists to having like Richard Nixon as a member? Probably the same way Carmel went from being an out there semi-commune to being a rich person retirement place. And the same way San Francisco was a cool place to drop out in 1965, and is now unaffordable unless you’re making mid six figures programming algorithms.

A lesson from California history: wherever the outcast artists are setting up camp, you’d be wise to buy real estate, and hang onto it for a hundred years. Although maybe that kind of thinking is contrary to the Bohemian Club motto:

Weaving spiders come not here.



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