Suzanne Lenglen

Suzanne_LenglenThe French called her La Divine, or The Goddess. Suzanne Lenglen dominated women’s tennis from 1919 to 1926, the year she turned professional. As well known for her fashion sense as her game, in December she came to Los Angeles with her former rival, Mary K. Browne, who had also just turned pro, to play an exhibition at the Olympic Auditorium.

Suzanne Lenglen learned tennis from her father, and began playing in tournaments in her native France when she was thirteen. In February 1926, she met American tennis star Helen Wills for their first and only match at Nice, France and won. In June she won the French Championship over Mary K. Browne, a Los Angeles area native with an excellent record for wins herself.

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La Lenglen and Mary Browne in 1926

Later in the year both Mary and Suzanne turned professional, and agreed to appear together in a series of paid exhibition matches across Northern California, on a tour organized by promoter Charles C. (“C.C.”) Pyles, who also handled football player Red Grange. Jean Patou designed Suzanne’s outfits.

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Suzanne’s short-sleeved, calf-baring tennis dresses shocked when she first wore them on the courts of Wimbledon. By 1926 they were much-copied, along with her trademark bandeau.

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10-29-1926

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With all of Los Angeles it seemed keen to get a look at the glamorous Suzanne, the two champions faced each other across the net on the evening of December 28. Film stars, including Harold Lloyd, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and Marion Davies, enjoyed special courtside box seats. Some 7000 other fans were “shoehorned” into the Olympic Auditorium, which normally hosted boxing events. Suzanne dominated as usual, beating Mary 6-0, 6-1.

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Movie goddess meets tennis goddess: screen actress Marion Davies presents Suzanne Lenglen with an autographed photo while Suzanne signs a tennis ball for Marion. December 1926. LAPL.

The tour continued until February 1927, Suzanne winning all 38 of the matches with Mary. She later opened a tennis school in Paris where she died in 1938. Mary Browne remained in the Santa Monica area and turned increasingly to golfing. She died in 1971.

 

 

 

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