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The Goddess and the American Girl: The Story of Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills

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Better known and more admired in the 1920s and '30s than any politician, movie star, or royal family member, Suzanne Lenglen, lionized by Frenchmen as "The Goddess," and Helen Wills, called "Queen Helen" or simply "The American Girl," revolutionized tennis with their power and grace and beauty, and in the process virtually invented the concept of celebrity athlete. This superb dual biography--the first of either player to appear in English--follows their careers from the time they first set foot on a tennis ...
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1st Ed. (U.S.), Fine/Fine Clean, tight & bright. NO ink names, bookplates, DJ tears etc. Price unclipped. ISBN 0195043634

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Overview


Better known and more admired in the 1920s and '30s than any politician, movie star, or royal family member, Suzanne Lenglen, lionized by Frenchmen as "The Goddess," and Helen Wills, called "Queen Helen" or simply "The American Girl," revolutionized tennis with their power and grace and beauty, and in the process virtually invented the concept of celebrity athlete. This superb dual biography--the first of either player to appear in English--follows their careers from the time they first set foot on a tennis court through their ascent and descent on the international circuit.
Suzanne Lenglen was introduced to the game at age eleven by her father, an overzealous French businessman who is credited with adapting tennis to women's play. "Papa" Lenglen trained his daughter rigorously and throughout her career was her mentor and coach, providing sips of cognac at key moments and watching her every move with a stern parental eye. Lenglen, known by her trademark white ermine cape and diamond-studded headband, became the first non-English-speaking woman to win the Wimbledon singles championship--a title she held six times between 1919 and 1925. But to her fellow Frenchmen she was more than a great athlete: she was a symbol of resurgent French pride after the costly bloodshed of World War I, a national hero on the level of Joan of Arc.
Helen Wills beat Lenglen's Wimbledon record although she lost the only match in which they came face to face. In 1938, Wills set a record of eight Wimbledon wins--unparalleled until Martina Navratilova tied it last year. Wills dominated women's tennis as few athletes in any sport have done, winning every singles match she entered from 1926 to 1933. Like Lenglen, Wills was introduced to tennis by her father and played a "man's game." But there the similarities end. Whereas Lenglen was homely and prone to nervous fits, Wills was a great American beauty whose coolness on the court earned her the name "Little Miss Poker face." She was America's heartthrob, a "California girl" whose health and good looks defined the American "New Woman."
Engelmann brilliantly brings to life not only the women, their families, and friends, but the whole international sports world of the era. Filled with anecdotes about tennis clubs and the famous of the day--including Charlie Chaplin, Joseph Kennedy, and Bill Tilden--it is at once sports history, social history, and entertaining biography.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Between the two world wars, women's tennis changed radically: from a genteel, almost delicate, game it became much more akin to the sport as played by men. The two women most responsible for this revolution were the French player Suzanne Lenglen and the American Helen Wills, whose stories are combined in this ambitious study. By far the more interesting of the two was the complex Gaul, high-strung, with only a thin veneer of self-confidence, a contestant heavily dependent on the approval of her domineering father. In contrast, Wills enjoyed the sport precisely because it was a game and found it great fun. The single clash between the two, on the Riviera in 1926, was noteworthy, and Engelmann makes it highly dramatic. The book, however, is so overlong that it is apt to put off all but the most ardent tennis buffs. Photos not seen by PW. (May)
Library Journal
Two great athletes whose personalities clashed are the subjects of this absorbing and lengthy dual biography. They both reached the pinnacle of the tennis world in the 1920s and 1930s. Lenglen was aggressive, tempestuous, and played with flair. Wills earned the sobriquet ``Little Poker Face'' for her imperious and cool court manner. The great matches they played against each other and various top stars are described in almost numbing detail. Although there is not much personal data, both women were pioneer feminists in a male-dominated sports world. Despite being wordy and overly detailed, a good choice for most public libraries.Samuel Simons, Memorial Hall Lib., Andover, Mass.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195043631
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 5/12/1988
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.69 (d)

Meet the Author

About the Author:
Larry Engelmann, an historian and free-lance writer, is the author of Intemperance: The Lost War Against Liquor.

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