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Helen Hull Jacobs

Autograph Letter Signed - 1951

Effusive three-page Autograph Letter Signed by Helen Hull Jacobs to famed radio interviewer Mary Margaret McBride, in which she mentions her leading rival Helen Wills Moody and other famous contemporaries. Jacobs and Moody thrilled tennis fans in the 1930s with their intense rivalry on court. On her personal "US Navy Retired" gray stationery dated 29 May 1951; including envelope with McBride's notes on verso.

Helen Hull Jacobs

In full:

Dear Mary Margaret —

Thank you so much for your very sweet note of the 28th.

May I say that it is always a pleasure to broadcast with you. You have been more than kind in giving so much time to my books — and I was particularly flattered that you took the tim you did with me on our last broadcast.

I would like to suggest to you that you have Dorothy Wilding on one of your programs. She has been photographer to the English court since heaven knows when — 1926 to my knowledge — has photographed so many famous people, so wonderfully, and has so many fine stories to tell about them, that you would find her an inexhaustible subject for an interview.

She did that grand portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and considerably less prominent people like Helen Wills and me. In line with the former, and, to my mind, more important, she has done the best photographs of Aldous Huxley I have ever seen — Noel Coward, Evelyn Laye, Peggy Wood, etc. etc.

I am going to write to her and tell her that I have made this suggestion to you. Will you call her if you are interested and carry the ball together from here on. She is at present, writing a book —

Take care of yourself — if there is anything I can do for you — ever — remember that it will always be a special pleasure.

Helen (Hull Jacobs)

Dorothy Wilding's address is:
10 East 75th St
Telephone: Regent 7-0300

If you have her on your program, please let me know.

HELEN HULL JACOBS (1908-1997) was a World No. 1 American female tennis player who won ten Grand Slam titles. She was born in Globe, Arizona. Jacobs also served as a commander in the U.S. Navy intelligence during World War II, one of only five women to achieve that rank in the Navy.

Jacobs had a powerful serve and overhead smash and a sound backhand, but she never learned to hit a flat forehand, despite her friendship, and some coaching, from Bill Tilden.

Jacobs won five Grand Slam singles titles and was an eleven-time Grand Slam singles runner-up. Six of those losses were to Helen Wills Moody. Jacobs's only victory over Moody was in the final of the 1933 U.S. Championships. Moody retired from the match with a back injury while trailing 3-0 in the third set to a chorus of boos from the audience who believed that Moody quit the match merely to deny Jacobs the satisfaction of finishing out her victory. It was reported by many witnesses after the match that Moody still planned to play her doubles match later that afternoon but was advised against it because she was "injured" after all. Years later, Moody confirmed her injury, saying, "My back is kind of funny. The vertebra between the fourth and fifth disk is thin. When the disk slips around it's intolerable. It rained the whole week before that final match. I lay in bed, and that was bad because it stiffened worse. I just couldn't play any longer, but I didn't say anything because it would look like an excuse." Jacobs almost defeated Moody again when she had match point at 6-3, 3-6, 5-4 in the 1935 Wimbledon singles final but lost the match. In the 1938 Wimbledon final against Moody, Jacobs turned her ankle at 4-4 in the first set and hobbled around the court for the remainder of the match, with Moody winning the final eight games and the second set lasting a mere eight minutes. When asked after the match why she did not accept Hazel Wightman's on-court advice to quit the match after the injury, Jacobs said that continuing was the sporting thing to do so that Moody could enjoy the full taste of victory, an obvious allusion to Moody's retirement from the 1933 U.S. final. Moody said, "I was very sorry about Helen's ankle. But it couldn't be helped, could it? I thought there was nothing I could do but get it over as quickly as possible." In total, Jacobs lost 14 of the 15 career singles matches she played against Moody.

Jacobs won four Grand Slam women's doubles titles and one in mixed doubles. She was the runner-up at six Grand Slam women's doubles tournaments and one Grand Slam mixed doubles tournament. She won the singles and women's doubles titles at the Italian Championships in 1934.

According to Wallis Myers and John Olliff of The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, Jacobs was ranked in the world top ten from 1928 through 1939 (no rankings issued from 1940 through 1945), reaching a career high of World No. 1 in those rankings in 1936. With the exceptions of 1930 and 1938, Jacobs was included in the year-end top ten rankings by the United States Tennis Association from 1927 through 1941. She was the top ranked U.S. player from 1932 through 1935.

Jacobs was a member of the U.S. Wightman Cup team from 1927 through 1937 and again in 1939. Her lifetime record was 19-11.

In 1933, Jacobs became the first woman to break with tradition by wearing man-tailored shorts at Wimbledon.

While she was still playing tennis, Jacobs became a writer. Her first books were Modern Tennis (1933) and Improve Your Tennis (1936). She also wrote fictional works, such as Storm Against the Wind (1944). Her autobiography Beyond the Game appeared in 1936.

Jacobs was named Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1933. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1962.

Long known to have been lesbian, her lifelong companion was Virginia Gurnee. Jacobs died of heart failure in East Hampton, New York on June 2, 1997.


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