Born on September 28, 1913, in Beckwith (now Beckwourth), California, Alice Marble was a women's tennis champion who overcame rape and tuberculosis to win 12 U.S. Opens and five Wimbledon titles. She acted as a spy in Switzerland for U.S. Army Intelligence during World War II, and was nearly killed on the mission. Marble later coached Billie Jean King. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1964, and died in Palm Springs, California, in 1990.
Born in Beckwith (now Beckwourth), California, on September 28, 1913, Alice Marble was one of the leading female tennis players of the 1930s and '40s. She spent her early years in a small town in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Around the age of 5, Marble moved to San Francisco with her family.
Beginning at an early age, Marble proved to be a stellar athlete. At Polytechnic High School, she played seven different sports. Marble's first passion was baseball, but she eventually focused her energies on tennis. Her promising career on the courts was almost cut short, however. After being diagnosed with pleurisy, Marble spent much of 1934 and 1935 recuperating in a sanitarium.
Top Tennis Star
After recovering from her illness, Alice Marble soon became a top-ranked tennis player. She won the women's singles title at the U.S. National Championships four times—in 1936, 1938, 1939 and 1940. In 1939, Marble took the top prize at Wimbledon in the women's singles competition. She was known for her aggressive style of play on the court.
Marble also thrived in doubles competitions. Partnered with Sarah Palfrey Fabyan, she won the U.S. National Championship in women's doubles from 1937 to 1940. Marble successfully played mixed doubles with a number of other partners, including Bobby Riggs, as well. In 1940, she decided to turn professional. Tennis fans turned out in droves to see her play during her first exhibition tour, which earned her roughly $100,000, according to the Los Angeles Times.
During World War II, Marble married Joe Crowley. Their union proved to be short-lived, however: Her husband was killed in combat. Around this same time, Marble acted as a spy for the U.S. government. She served in a mission in Switzerland, and the details of her activities there were revealed in her 1991 memoir, Courting Danger.
Later Years and Legacy
Throughout rest of her life, Marble remained a strong supporter of tennis. She also encouraged racial diversity in the game, calling for African-American player Althea Gibson to be allowed to compete. In 1964, she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Marble spent her later years in Palm Springs, California, where she died on December 13, 1990, at the age of 77.
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