Gussie Moran: Tennis player who shocked Wimbledon with her controversial clothing

 

Gertrude "Gussie" Moran was a fine tennis player who reached No 4 in the United States rankings and played in a Wimbledon doubles final, but she will be forever remembered for a much more trivial reason. Moran's appearance at Wimbledon in 1949 wearing a short skirt that revealed a pair of frilly lace knickers shocked the staid world of tennis but delighted photographers and gossip columnists. For the rest of her life the Californian (who preferred to spell her name as "Gussy") was usually referred to as "Gorgeous Gussie", which was the moniker that the British press gave her.

Moran was arguably the first woman to bring glamour, sex and fashion into tennis. She appeared on magazine covers, had a racehorse and an aircraft named after her, was dated by millionaires and went into cinema and broadcasting.In later years, however, she led a less glamorous life. Moran, who died at 89 after a lengthy spell in hospital with colon cancer, had three failed marriages and spent her last years in poverty, refusing nearly all offers of help from friends.

An attractive woman with a fine figure, Moran had initially asked for permission to wear a coloured outfit ahead of her Wimbledon debut in 1949, but the All England Club refused to bend its all-white rules. Teddy Tinling, a flamboyant character who had become a tennis dress designer after retiring as a player, came up with a creation that would cause a far greater furore.

The convention at the time was for women to wear knee-length skirts. Tinling's design featured a shorter skirt which still looked prim and proper when Moran walked on court. As soon as she started playing, however, her lace-trimmed knickers became visible. Photographers quickly fought to secure the best position – preferably at ground level – to get their pictures, which were published around the world.

Moran lost in the first round but her fame – or notoriety in some quarters – was only just starting. The All England Club's committee was horrified by her clothing and criticised her for bringing "vulgarity and sin into tennis". The subject was even raised in Parliament.

She wore a marginally less revealing pair of shorts in her later matches in the doubles, but for the traditionalists the damage had been done. Later in life Moran said she regretted wearing the controversial outfit, saying that the fuss it caused had affected her concentration, but the episode sealed her celebrity status.

The daughter of a sound technician at Universal Studios, Moran was born and raised in Santa Monica. She started playing tennis at 11 and her ability quickly became evident in the postwar years. In 1949 she won the singles, women's doubles and mixed doubles titles at the US indoor championships and went on to make her first and uniquely memorable appearance at Wimbledon that summer.

Despite her early exit from the singles, Moran went on to reach the final of the doubles in partnership with her fellow American, Patricia Todd, before losing to Louise Brough and Margaret Osborne DuPont. It was Moran's only appearance in a Grand Slam final, though she reached the singles semi-finals at the US Open a year later, when she also made her second and last appearance at Wimbledon. This time she wore a see-through outfit that was arguably even more revealing. It was not long before Wimbledon brought in stricter rules on clothing.

In 1951 Moran turned professional, but the decision backfired. After a series of defeats she quit a tour of the US and retired from the sport the following year. For years thereafter, nevertheless, Moran remained a celebrity figure. She appeared as herself in Pat and Mike, a film starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, played tennis with Charlie Chaplin and worked in television and as a radio host. She was a popular visitor to military bases and was once on a helicopter that crashed in Vietnam.

Before long, however, life turned less glamorous. Moran launched a line of tennis clothing in the 1960s that flopped and she started to struggle financially. She had three short-lived and childless marriages – in later life she hinted that she had had abortions – and after returning to live in the family home in Santa Monica had to leave in 1986 when the property was repossessed.

Moran went to live in a small, run-down apartment in Hollywood, not far from the Los Angeles Tennis Club where she had once been the centre of attention. She had a number of humble jobs, including working in a gift shop in Los Angeles Zoo. In her latter years Moran survived on social security hand-outs and travelled around Los Angeles by bus. She became a recluse, refused to be photographed and in order to raise funds agreed to sign autographs on frilly panties which were then sold on eBay.

Moran never enjoyed being better known for her clothes and for her looks than for her tennis, but that is how she will forever be remembered. "Gussie was the Anna Kournikova of her time," the former player and tennis innovator Jack Kramer told the Los Angeles Times in 2002. "Gussie was a beautiful woman with a beautiful body. If Gussie had played in the era of television, no telling what would have happened. Because, besides everything else, Gussie could play."

Gertrude Agusta Moran, tennis player: born Santa Monica 8 September 1923; married 1956 Thomas James Corbally, 1956 (marriage annulled 1956), 1957 Edward James Hand (marriage dissolved), 1962 Frank "Bing" Simpson (marriage dissolved); died Los Angeles 16 January 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Sport
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
film
News
Keeping it friendly: Tom Cruise on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
News
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen