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Bill Tilden Trials: 1947 & 1949

An Unlikely Champion, Out Of The Closet, Tilden Arrested

Defendant: William Tatem Tilden 11
Crime Charged: Contributing to the delinquency of a minor
Chief Defense Lawyer: Richard Maddox
Chief Prosecutor: William Ritzi
Judge: A. A. Scott
Place: Los Angeles, California
Dates of Trials: January 16, 1947; February 10, 1949
Verdicts: Guilty
Sentences: One year in jail each time

SIGNIFICANCE: Bill Tilden was one of the greatest tennis player who ever lived. He consorted with movie stars and kings. But toward the end of his career, he was arrested for having sex with a 14-year-old boy. The conviction destroyed him. Apart from the tragedy of a man who climbed the heights and dropped to the depths, both by his own efforts, the case illustrates the folly of not listening to one's lawyer.

It was 1920 at Wimbledon, and the world championship tennis matches were under way. The U.S. team's hopes for a world championship vanished when Little Bill Johnston, a 5′8″ giant killer, was eliminated. That left Big Bill Tilden to meet the champion, Gerald Patterson of Australia. The University of Pennsylvania tennis team had rejected Tilden while he was a student there. He had improved since then, but he was 27, almost over-the-hill for a player in those days. The year before, Johnston had beaten him in straight sets.

In the Tilden-Patterson match, the Aussie started strong. He won the first set 6-2. The players changed sides and Tilden noticed a friend, actress Peggy Wood. He nodded slightly to signal that all was well, then he swept the next three sets. Tilden liked to give the crowd a good show. He had been playing with Patterson as a cat plays with a mouse. The Manchester Guardian's tennis correspondent wrote that, "the Philadelphian made rather an exhibition of his opponent."

After winning the world championship, Tilden utterly dominated amateur tennis until he turned professional in 1931. In 1950, American sportswriters voted him the most outstanding athlete in the first half of the century. He won over the likes of Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Red Grange, Bobby Jones, and Johnny Weismuller. He received more than twice as many votes as his nearest rival.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953