My uncle Pancho was the first tennis player in our family. He had loved tennis as a kid and after he was discharged from the Air Force he played a center court match in the quarter finals in the Pacific Coast Championship played at the Los Angeles Tennis Club. He had decided he would decide to keep on playing as a career or not with how he did.
Losing in the Quarters made him decide to go to work for a living, but he played tennis most of his entire life.
Around age 10 my uncle Pancho started allowing me to tag along with him and my cousin Bobbie to watch them play tennis on Sundays. Pancho had loved tennis since he was a little kid and tennis had been kind to him during WWII. Because of tennis he was stationed in Hawaii during the war and his primary mission was playing tennis with the high ranking officers. One time he was allowed to fly home in a B-17 and I was there when he landed to greet him with the rest of our family. I think his plane landed at Long Beach.
After the war he married my aunt Elfrida and her son Bobbie was my new cousin.
When I started going with Pancho he was a member of a tennis club called “The Olympic Tennis Club” (no connection with the Olympics) located at the tennis courts next to the Coliseum in Exposition Park, (Expo), close to downtown Los Angeles. The University of Southern California is located on the northern side of Exposition Park as is the Los Angeles Museum.
Expo had eight tennis courts numbered one to eight with courts 7 and 8 reserved for club members in the A class of tennis player. Back then tennis players were grouped by ability A, B and C.
There were two tennis shops at the entrance to Expo on South Hoover that need to be mentioned.
Less than one block north of Santa Barbara Blvd, (now Martin Luther King Blvd), on the west side of Hoover was Arzy’s Tennis Shop. Arzy’s was a hangout for a lot of the high ranking world class tennis players of the time. I remember meeting Pancho Gonzales, Bobbie Riggs, Jack Kramer, Gussy Moran and many others at Arzy’s. This was around 1947.
The back room at Arzy’s was used for a lot of card playing and gambling.
Directly across the street was another tennis shop and small restaurant owned by the worlds horseshoe throwing champion named Fernando Isais. Fernando would string racquets and sell sports equipment and he was in competition with Arzy, but it was a friendly competition. Fernando was also a really good tennis player, but he wasn’t in the clique of players who hung out at Arzy’s.
Figure 21 Fernando (Right) and Ted another World Champion when Fernando lost
Behind his shop Fernando had a Horseshoe Pitching Pit and he would constantly be back there pitching. He was the world champion in all the years I knew him.
I remember his wife as a kind, beautiful Mexican woman named Hope who always treated me with loving kindness. She would make me the best hamburger’s in the world and always take the time to encourage my tennis. She would comp me a hamburger when I was short of money, but I would always pay her back. She never wanted to take the money but I made sure she did. What a wonderful woman she was.
Figure 22 Hope Isais
Expo and these two tennis shops are what started my love for tennis as I would walk around watching uncle Pancho teaching Bobbie how to play. Bobbie was one year younger than I was and had been learning for a few years when Pancho started taking me with them on the Sunday’s I was invited. I didn’t get invited every Sunday, but that was about to change.
At the tennis courts there was a pecking order any tennis player, or one starting out in tennis, would have to adhere to. Court One was for beginners and the better you got you could then move to Court Two, then Three and so on. A non-club member could not play on courts seven or eight at any time.
One day I asked Pancho if I could borrow a racquet and he gave me one. With the racquet and a few balls, I proceeded to Court One and started my career in tennis.
As I got better I would hit with Arzy, Pancho Gonzales and other famous players and pick up training tips from any who would take the time to teach me. I was allowed the privilege because I was Pancho Delgado’s nephew. I think uncle Pancho even hit with me a few times, but never like the training he gave Bobbie. I used to feel sorry for Bobbie because Pancho was intent on making Bobbie a world class tennis player. While Pancho was brutal in his training, it was well intended.
My step dad, Tony didn’t like my playing tennis because he thought it was a fairy sport. If I was going to play, on Sunday, I had to get up before he did a sneak out of the house. The Manchester bus and transfer to the Figueroa bus for about eight miles north. I didn’t need to be invited by uncle Pancho any longer.
It was during that time I learned I could sell papers at the Coliseum on Saturdays or Sundays and get a free pass to football games, midget auto racing and other events without being a full time paperboy. All I had to do was show up at the main entrance and sell a certain amount of newspapers until halftime. (I just remembered where I got the money I hid from my mom)
Figure 23 Entrance to Los Angeles Coliseum
As I improved in my quest to beat Bobbie I would take the bus up Figueroa to Expo and sold papers when I needed some money or wanted to play tennis. Eventually I was good enough to hit with Bobbie, but he would always kick my ass. At least for the first couple of years.
By the time I entered Bret Harte Junior High School I was a member of the Olympic Tennis club and ranked on the men’s team “C” tennis ladder. Not bad for only playing about a year and being eleven years old.
While in Bret Harte, one of the gym coaches decided to have a tennis tournament. It started when I was in the seventh grade and he would have one once a year. I guess he thought it would help get some interest in tennis and quite a few kids started learning, but they were way below my “C” class tennis.
The school didn’t have a tennis court so us kids would get to go to Manchester Playground where there were four tennis courts and have our gym class there. As I remember everyone had some fun even though it was tennis to them.
You must remember, at the time, tennis was not at all as popular as it is today and a good tennis player in South Central L.A. was more of an aberration. At any rate if the trophy is still in the hallway trophy cabinet, you will see my name on it three years in a row.
I eventually started beating Bobbie as often as he beat me and we became doubles partners in a few of the 15 and under and 18 and under classes in tennis tournaments in Southern California. One I remember was a tournament in Ojai, CA.
We entered that tennis tournament in the fifteen and under category. We weren’t ranked or seeded, but we got to the finals. Because we had never been ranked the center court stands were pretty much empty as we started the match playing against the number one seed. As time went on the people noticed that we were holding our own and the seats started to fill.
The match went five sets and I blew an overhead that would have given us the win. The overhead miss was on match point and the number one ranked duo went on to beat us, but the crowd was standing and clapping for us even though we lost.
The loss was not in vain because one of the spectators was either the S or W of S&W Fine Foods and he was so impressed he invited Bobbie and me to his mansion for some tennis. I don’t remember if we went immediately after the tournament, but I believe we may have.
His mansion was close to Santa Barbara with a swimming pool and a tennis court. I remember playing an exhibition match against Bobbie, I can’t remember who won, but our host and his crowd loved watching us. That led to an invitation to play at Ginger Rogers’s home somewhere around Beverly Hills.
Today I love watching the Ginger Rogers of the 1930’s, but when we went to her home it was around 1951 or 1952. All I remember was seeing an old lady with lots of white powder on her face and bright red lipstick on her mouth. To me she was really old and ugly. She was very nice and sat there, with maybe two or three guests and watched us play for about an hour.
It was during this time when Pancho would sometime take me to the Los Angeles Tennis Club, the LATC. Imagine that, a Mexican was an honorary member of the most exclusive tennis club on the West Coast, and Jews were not allowed. The richest moguls in Hollywood were not allowed to join this most prestigious tennis club located next to Beverly Hills. I remember wondering why.
Little did I know that America has pimples and warts that it had to overcome just like any young kid. I use “kid” because even if America was about 175 years old in the 1950’s, we were still a young nation and we had made some mistakes. We usually self-correct and the time since then has proven that is true, America does self-correct.
A huge problem we have today is there are those who take the actions of the past, like Columbus, and then judge them using a prism of today’s values and knowledge. They blame America for all the things that were considered just fine in the past. These America haters will never have the ability to make decisions for a future.
I’m not sure or don’t know if the LATC has changed their NO-JEWS policy, I can only hope and assume they have.
Many non-Jewish movie stars were members and they liked playing with good players so I played with the likes of Charlton Heston, Vera Ellen and others.
Figure 25 Center Court, LATC
West of the Mississippi tennis was controlled by one man; his name was Perry T Jones. Mr. Jones insisted that all tennis players wear white on white on white. No other color could be worn in any tennis tournament.
Tennis players would have never gotten away with all the grunting and showmanship that exists today.
In 1952 I started going to Fremont High School. I was an immediate varsity tennis player on the Fremont team. The first day I showed up for sixth period gym, (the designated varsity sports gym period), I walked up to Mr. Mercer, who also was the basketball coach.
As I looked up to him I introduced myself like, “Mr. Mercer sir, I’m Charlie Diaz.” He had been told he was getting a real tennis player and he kind of gave me a double take. All five feet one inch of me. He was so taken back he really didn’t know what to say or do. After he collected his thoughts he introduced me to the rest of the guys trying out for the team, and I sat down.
The tennis team consisted of a lot of kids who couldn’t play baseball, football, basketball or any other kind of ball, but there were about twenty of them. I think the actual team consisted of about six to eight players. With my size, Mr. Mercer was a bit confused as to what to do with me so he decided I had to start at the bottom of the roster and work my way up. I could challenge three slots above me and I spent the first couple of weeks doing away with the 17th ranked kid, the 14th ranked kid the 11th ranked kid etc. until I got to challenge last year’s number one guy.
I can’t remember his name but he was a pretty good tennis player and it took me more than once to beat him. After all he was a senior at 18 and I was 14 and a half. Again, younger because I had skipped the A5 in grammar school. I eventually beat him and became number one on the varsity team.
There was a kid on the team named Marv Jacobson and he was the sports page editor for the school newspaper, “The Pathfinder.” Marv was key to what happened to me next at Fremont.
In my first interscholastic match we played, Southgate High, I played their number one ranked guy who was six foot three. I took no time in eliminating him 6-0 6-0 and Marv had a field day. For the first time in the history of the Pathfinder a tennis player made the headline on the sports page. I’ll never forget it, “Charlie Giant Killer Diaz defeats Southgate.”
Freshman in the 1952 Fremontian
He called me “Giant Killer” and my school life immediately changed for the better. All the football jocks, baseball big shots and basketball players were quick to accept me in their circle because as athletes they were impressed with a ranked tennis player. Ranked as a Los Angeles City B class level was a big thing and I had earned their respect. As a result, I was welcome to associate with these big bulky guys and accepted as one of their own.
Unknown to me there were certain girls who were called “season chicks.” A season chick was typically the girl who would go after the Football Captain, the best baseball player etc. For one, Jean, decided to go after the Giant Killer. She was a year and a half grade above me in the A11, but that didn’t bother her. She was also about six inches taller, but she didn’t mind that either. And she had great boobs.
Besides being hot, she was also popular with other girls and another first happened in that first six months at Fremont. Girls were showing up to watch tennis practice. So much so that some of the football players would come out and I would run them all over the court. They would leave hardly able to walk off the court.
While I was the youngest tennis player to receive a varsity stripe it was the end of my tennis at Fremont. During the summer of 1952 I turned 15 and my uncle Pancho gave me a job as an apprentice produce clerk. My mom needed me to replace Tony and work was number one on the money making list and had top priority. That pretty much ended my tennis career until I joined the Air Force.
The rest of my life I would play and keep in shape and I had become a much better player. So much so I finally beat my uncle Pancho. In all fairness he was much older, but he was still considered a class “A” player.
In 1966, when I worked for Hughes Tool Company I did meet a man who loved tennis. He was a kick in the butt and a great man, his name was Joe Bogdanovich.
Joe Bogdanovich, was the President of Star-Kist Tuna. I can’t remember how I met Joe and he was a wealthy and strangely funny character. While he loved tennis he couldn’t come close to beating me.
He would bet me to play with him, but the bet was dependent on how hard I played to beat him. He wanted me to beat him 6-0, 6-0 or the bet would go down if he thought I was letting up.
He was giving me an incentive to play harder.
I must have played Joe once a week for about six months and after each match he would invite me for lunch or a drink. I think he may have given me my first limousine ride in his private limo.
Around 1969 I had moved to a very up-scale condo complex in Culver City. The area was called Fox Hills and the condo complex was The Meadows. I would have huge parties and at times I would invite my family including my uncle Pancho. He started inviting me to play at the LATC again and we became closer.
Around 1970, one night my uncle Pancho invited me over to his house for dinner.
The night he invited me to dinner he also invited a very famous tennis player who was about fifteen years older than I. But she was a knockout. She had, in her earlier years, shocked the royalty of England during the 1949 Wimbledon Tennis Tournament by wearing lace tennis panties.
Her name was Gussy Moran.
Time Magazine Jun. 14, 1976
Gussy Moran was just another pretty girl on the tennis circuit, but her fame has outlasted that of several great players because in 1949 she stepped onto Wimbledon’s rich green court wearing frilly lace panties under her skirt. Virtually every newspaper in the western world picked up and ran a picture of Gussy’s behind.
She liberated women on the court from severe, shapeless white uniforms. Now in the midst of a boom that continues to swell each year, the tennis industry is a billion-dollar business, double the figure for 1973. There are now 21 million tennis players over the age of 15 thwacking away in the U.S., and 40% of them are women. Says Alex Schuster, president of Head Ski and Sports Wear, one of the largest manufacturers of tennis outfits: “In the last three years’ tennis has accelerated like no other sport. It has come out of the tennis club and onto the public courts.”
When I walked in, Gussy was already there and I think I was wearing a three-piece suit. I can’t remember what she was wearing, but I really liked the way she looked. While I had no idea why I was there I was delightfully surprised as the evening progressed.
When Pancho explained who she was I started to think maybe they wanted me as a doubles partner. He actually did want us to play doubles and I wholeheartedly agreed. Pancho’s wife was also a tennis player.
Gussy and I couldn’t keep our eyes off each other and half way through dinner she just announced that she and I were leaving. She said, “Come on Chuck, let’s go have a drink and get to know each other.
With that we got up and left.
Figure 50 Gussy 1949
Figure 51 Gussy 1970
Figure 52 Me 1970
Figure 53 My Aunt (Left) Me and Gussy 1970
One morning we were in bed talking and I asked her a question. I don’t remember what the question was but she started screaming at me. To this day I have no idea what happened, but she started telling me I was an FBI or CIA agent out to get her and all sorts of weird stuff.
She left that morning and I never saw her again. The fling had lasted about three or four months.
She did keep in touch with my aunt Myriam and uncle Pancho over the years and I was sorry to read she died in January 2013. I do have a letter from her somewhere, I’ll have to find it and read it again.
Reading the obits from around the world one can tell that Gussy Moran had an influence on the world she lived in and she had become very famous even though she never won a major. Years ago I wrote to Bud Collins, now deceased, a famous tennis sportscaster for a lot of years, and the USLTA asking why they had never placed Gussy in the tennis hall of fame and they never answered me. Maybe I’ll try again.
Getting back to her obits, they all had the same story line about Gussy dying penniless and with a bunch of cats living in some tiny apartment. She allowed someone close to her the opportunity to help her. Now I remember what her letter was about, I had asked my aunt to ask Gussy if I could help with some financial help.
By this time, I was about sixty and she had to be seventy-five. I wasn’t trying to pull anything cute, I genuinely wanted to help. I have always had enormous respect for her. She was Gussy Moran.
Her letter was a most beautifully written letter, but in the end it was a no.
She didn’t have to die penniless. I feel it’s OK to speak of something she told me while we were lovers.
She told me that she had depended on the money she was to receive from sale of her family home for her retirement. The house was located in Santa Monica on prime property facing the ocean. It was/is an old Victorian home built in the early 1900’s and the ground was to be worth a ton of money. She was planning to sell it to some developer.
Low and behold some historical busy bodies got involved and had the property declared a historical site and Gussy lost out on a big pay day. It really messed her up from a financial perspective and mentally she had real problems talking about it.
When she was still alive, my uncle and aunt would hear from her about once a year. They told me she always asked, “How’s the kid?”
In 2005 I stopped playing tennis because my knees couldn’t keep up with how I play. I am not the kind of guy who can dink the ball back and forth for an hour.
Prior to that I would pay the local pros to play me for whatever they charged by the hour and give them a bonus if they could beat me better than 6-2, 6-2.
It gave them an incentive.