suck on a sugar lump

One of the greatest female tennis players of all time was  Suzanne Lenglen.

No matter where she went or what she did, controversy, scandal, gossip and rumor buzzed about Lenglen’s bandeaued head like a swarm of benevolent bees. This delightful, outrageous and quintessentially French woman was the unrivaled queen of tennis from 1919 to 1926.

She was continually doing in broad daylight what most people only dreamed of in the dark of night. She drank, she danced, she smoked, she swore, she wore her skirts short and her arms bare and she had lovers—lots of them.

Regardless of the climate, she appeared for tennis clad in fur, or fur-trimmed coats with large collars that framed her pale, powdered face and dark red lips. Beneath the silk dress she wore silk stockings rolled just above the knee, and who knew what else.

In 1919, with post war Europe at peace, Lenglen was 20 years old and ready. She played the defending Wimbledon champion, 40 year old Chambers, in three sets. Chambers, the proper Edwardian in her ankle-length tennis costume, and Lenglen, the child-woman at the dawn of an era, short-skirted, brazenly bare-armed, consuming cognac-soaked sugar lumps tossed to her from the grandstand by her father.

For company Suzanne had her mother, a personal maid, Helene, an Irish masseur named William T. O’Brien and Ann Kinsolving, 19, a cub reporter for the Baltimore News. Her interviews were frequently conducted over breakfast in her hotel suite, where her costume ranged from black silk pajamas to a white satin negligee. At breakfast, late in the morning, her bed became the center of a sort of royal levee where she was massaged by O’Brien in front of everybody.

Carefully excluded from photographs but often included in Suzanne’s excursions around San Diego was a tall, tanned and very rich California playboy, one Baldwin M. Baldwin, known as the Sheik. When she returned to Europe she took the already married Sheik back with her for four years.

The one event in her life that she could not stage-manage was her death, of pernicious anemia. On June 29 she was given a transfusion and on July 4 she was dead. Floral displays from tennis clubs filled three automobiles in the procession to the cemetery in suburban Sain-Ouen. Suzanne was buried in the family plot, alongside her beloved Papa.

Published in: on March 6, 2010 at 7:27 am  Comments (38)  
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38 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I miss the characters that used to inhabit the tennis elite – I fear there is too much money involved nowadays …….. *wears grumpy old man scowl*

    • Show us your scowl daddyp!

  2. I’ve always found cognac helps me on the court, in the court, courting in general.

    I can’t understand why we don’t have hard drinking hard smoking athletes except for that long jump guy (or was it the pole vault I forget). It’s all so serious, they’ve even stopped train drivers from drinking on the job – crazy I know!

    Takes the fun out of life really.

    Still we’ve got the Gimcrack!

    The King

  3. ah yes willy, the gimcrack’s always here for you!

  4. She was continually doing in broad daylight what most people only dreamed of in the dark of night.

    I can’t understand why night tennis was so scandalous??

    • I think she was playing without a net……

  5. for some reason, i’m very hungry for sugar lumps! thanks for the video link – i really need to watch “Conchords”.

    • Ask the boy to buy you the dvd for mother’s day

      • Yeah! Their song about their sugar lumps is hilarious!

  6. The donkey is not a tennis fan… but here in France lot of public sport building are called “Suzanne Lenglen”

    • Whereabouts in France do you live Tagazou? I’m going to Dordogne in June

      • I’m from Montpellier close to medittérannée!

  7. I love Flight of the Conchords…..the best thing to come out of NZ since….ummm….ummm….you!

  8. Sugar lumps! Great video… the dick in a sling reference is pretty funny.
    Like you, I love Flight of the Conchords

  9. That video cracked me up! What a great way to start the morning!

  10. Don’t think I’ve played tennis since senior year of high school. Then again I wasn’t that good at it to begin with so I doubt my skills have diminished over that time, though I probably would have played better with cognac-soaked sugar lumps. Or at least I would have cussed a lot less.

  11. What a woman and that first photo is superb 🙂

    • She was so graceful, she looks like a ballerina in a lot of her photos

  12. I’ve read about her before, and I love everything she stood for. And what do we have now? The Williams sisters who are good or Kournikova who is pretty….and not much else. Even the men’s side is tame now that McEnroe is long gone.

  13. We could have done with more cognac-soaked sugar lumps at school.

    • Ha! Probably a helluva lot better than Ritalin too

  14. cognac soaked sugar lumps sounds like just the medicine i need lol speaking of cognac what’s with the guy on the left in his underwear, he looks like my nerdy chiropractor, i hate to see a real character die a bad death.. i want them all to be like dorothy parker, quietly in their sleep at age 102 or whatever lol despite how many times they tried to commit suicide…

  15. “Razors pain you;
    Rivers are damp;
    Acids stain you;
    And drugs cause cramp.
    Guns aren’t lawful;
    Nooses give;
    Gas smells awful;
    You might as well live.”

    by Dorothy Parker

    • Have read her book reviews too? The one she did for Isadora Duncan is fabulous…

  16. Dorothy Parker wrote Resume for Lenglen? Hmmm, the things you learn at the Gimcrack, tales of cognac and furs. A fascinating era, Paris in the 20s.

    • I thought she wrote Resume about herself

  17. Thanks for that, I know her too

  18. cognac-soaked sugar lumps sound so good!
    even the baldwin brothers would look good
    after a few dozen of those sugar lumps.

  19. Apart fae this delightful insight into the world of female tennis, and not forgetting that wonderful 70’s poster of a young lady flashing her arse, I have never given tennis much thought.

    Until now… remarkably well told.

  20. My grandmother was a serious tennis player at that time. But not as good as Lenglen and a colder person. It’s a shame we can’t choose our ancestors.

  21. I’ll have to try a cognac soaked sugar lump when I get my next batch of insulin in.

    This one’s an interesting character. I might use the public massage thing sometime. Might make for an interesting situation to provide the different takes on it from various people observing the event.

  22. That picture of Bret and Jemaine… I mean, it’s just….I need to be alone.

    • Hands off Jemaine Ginny – he’s mine!

  23. Another life less ordianry. Thanks fro such interesting posts nursemyra

  24. She sounds like a role model for our age. And an early admirer of any Baldwin is good enough for me. Alex and a sugar lump. Got to be good.

  25. Ah, the 20s. Hot jazz, hot women.

    Speaking of which, myra, I saw your message lamenting the lack of Feb. Spassfabrik. Well, this isn’t a new edition, but you may find it…satisfying.

  26. Wow I really like this chick. They ought to make a movie on her.

  27. I’ll suck on your lumps, sugar. C’mere.

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