MONDO EXTRAS

When Billie Beat Bobby

by Heathen April 25, 2001
When Billie Beat Bobby

A commercial! Wow. Has anyone noticed that there are other black actors, and indeed black families, besides the Wayans brothers? Because, you know, some of them might actually not suck on a sitcom, unlike the aforementioned.

On Mother's Day in 1973, Margaret Court faces off against Bobby in San Diego. The promoter blathers about how, with an audience in London, Australia, Japan, Mexico, and Canada, "more people will see this than died in World War II," so why don't we just take this snazzy implication the logical step further and flat-out state that this match is more important. Sure, we could all be Nazi fascists, but we'd still lie awake at night and wonder if a woman could take a set off an aging portly hustler. A limo pulls up and Margaret steps out timidly, dressed in lime-green and toting her husband and baby, because she knows her damn role. A tacky mariachi band -- and really, is there any other kind? -- croons a Spanish song about "Margarita…flower of the fields," and Margaret looks appropriately stunned and sick. The subtitles translating the song are enormous, a total throwback to seventies-style technology. You know some ABC intern worked unpaid nights just to craft the perfect antiquated font, all so we could dream our way back to simpler times, when Dennis Rodman was just a glint in some mad scientist's eye and Dick Clark was a spry 63 years old. Margaret and her husband look bothered and ease their way toward the tennis court.

In a giant leap forward for the women's movement, Margaret wins…the toss, and Johnny Carson gleefully tosses out the "tails" jokes and proceeds to write "Bobby watched Margaret get heads" into his monologue. This coin toss earns her the chance to select the brand of tennis ball used for the match, and given that she exudes the kind of American patriotism that only an Australian can, she's given the three ball options atop a dish cloth printed to match the US flag. Margaret reaches for one ball. "That's a mistake, sweetheart, that one's too heavy for your type of game," Bobby slurs helpfully. She looks blankly at him, stopping short of saying, "I'm married, asshole, so I know from balls." The crowd is silent. "Margaret," Bobby smarms, "I just want you to play your best, and this ball isn't it." She can't speak, she's so annoyed and distracted. "You're carrying the banner for women all over the world, but you can't let that get to you," Bobby offers, soothingly. He continues his blustery posturing, trying to psych out Margaret, who has apparently never encountered a "chauvinist" before and doesn't know how to flip the bird at one. The screen splits: Margaret edges into a golf cart and speeds away, and on the left side, Bobby flaps his gums. "If I can't play for a lot of money, I'll play for a little money," he grins. "And if I can't play for a little money, I'll stay in bed." The crowd laughs appreciatively, egging him on, and laughs again when Bobby predicts he'll join the women's tour. Little do they know he'll do so, successfully, under the pseudonym "Martina Navratilova."

Billie Jean is in Tokyo at this time, flying back to the US and panicking because the match will have ended by the time they land in Hawaii. Her doubles partner, a woman called Rosie Casales who is also a tennis player and may well have been Billie Jean's first foray (of many) into lesbianism, corrects her on the time difference and exposits that they'll be able to see the third set in Honolulu. She signs autographs for some Japanese lasses, one of whom shouts in subtitles, "Margaret Court will kill Riggs!" Stupid, naïve girls. Didn't you read the movie title? "Women rule!" shouts the other girl.

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When Billie Beat Bobby

by Heathen April 25, 2001
When Billie Beat Bobby Billie wins Wimbledon the next day. At the Players' Ball, Bobby approaches Larry and asks him to lean on his wife to play a "boy vs. girl" match against Bobby. Larry waves off Bobby, so he wanders off to find another target -- Chrissie Evert. "I want to promote 'Beauty vs. The Beast," he says eagerly, but Chrissie's father says no. He suspects it's one of Bobby's hustles, and asks him to stay away from his daughter. "We've had our time," he says. Bobby stares at him, then whispers, "I love the game. I can't help it." Aw. He's a tragic hero. Except without the hero part, and the tragic part, and indeed the "Aw" part. "King vs. The United States Lawn Tennis Association," the caption reads. Uppity officials tell Billie Jean that they can justify the pay discrepancies -- and she points out that it's a $15,000 discrepancy, so she's eager to hear their logic. "Men play more sets," one man offers. "And the ladies are the ones drawing the crowds," Billie Jean counters. She gamely and politely says that the female players will stop showing up to tournaments if the pay isn't level with the men. Beaming, she bites into a roll. In his Las Vegas "hideout," Bobby is evangelizing the superiority of men, but he's doing it in a too-tight electric-blue track suit that's really undermining his argument. If he reopened Twenty Excuses, he could see that "I'm wearing a Pregnancy Empathy Belly" is listed at number fifteen, and would really do a lot to excuse the small mountain community that's taken up residence underneath his pulled-taut jacket. "Women don't deserve [their fair share] because they couldn't win more than one or two games a set against men! Even an old, tired 55-year-old guy like me!" he shouts, spittle bombs flying. As he announces that he's written Billie Jean to formally challenge her, we see Larry massaging Billie's muscles while reading the missive aloud. "Bobby!" she groans. "Leave me alone!" In Vegas, Bobby proclaims that there's money in it for Billie Jean, but if she won't bite, then he'll take his offer to the next player on his list. Larry plays devil's advocate, suggesting it might not be a bad move to accept Bobby's dare. "If he wins, he'll keep with the chauvinist thing forever and ever and ever," she groans. "Keep me away from this guy. I have more important things to do!" So naturally, Margaret Court trots into the locker room later on and says she's agreed to a match against Bobby, largely because she gets $35,000 to do it, plus more if she wins. Billie Jean sighs. "It's not going to be a one-day deal," Billie points out. "It'll go on and on." Margaret thinks it's just a spot of fun, a light-hearted romp on-court that can't hurt anyone. "I can handle it," she says, defensively. Billie Jean watches her leave, shaking her head. "She doesn't have a clue," BJ sighs.

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