Gertrude ”Gussie” Moran, who shocked the modest midcentury tennis world when she took the court at Wimbledon with a short skirt and ruffled underwear, has died at age 89.
Moran had recently returned from a long hospital stay with colon cancer when she died on Wednesday in her small apartment in Los Angeles, said Jack Neworth, a tennis writer who befriended Moran in her final year.
As a 25-year-old seventh seed at Wimbledon in 1949, Moran made jaws drop and flashbulbs pop at the usually staid All-England Club in London when she showed up for her first match minus the knee-length skirt considered proper for women at the time.
She lost the match, but her striking fashion statement appeared on magazine covers around the world, the British press dubbing her ”Gorgeous Gussie.”
”She had no idea what she was getting into,” Neworth said. ”She definitely liked fashion and was very attractive, but she was very naive and hadn’t traveled much.”
Moran was ranked as high as fourth in the United States, would be a doubles finalist at Wimbledon and reach the singles semifinals at the U.S. Open., but would always struggle to be known for more than the skirt and the ”Gorgeous Gussie” moniker she got from the British press.
”Gussie was the Anna Kournikova of her time,” tennis great Jack Kramer said in 2002 in the Los Angeles Times. ”Gussie was a beautiful woman with a beautiful body. If Gussie had played in the era of television, no telling what would have happened. Because, besides everything else, Gussie could play.”
She always preferred to spell her nickname ”Gussy,” but reporters at Wimbledon spelled it ”Gussie” and that version stuck, at least publicly, for the rest of her life.
Gertrude Agusta Moran was born in 1923 to Harry Moran, a sound technician at Universal Studios, and his wife Emma. They lived in a house near the ocean in Santa Monica.
Moran began taking tennis lessons at 11, and later played at Santa Monica High and on traveling junior teams with future luminaries like Kramer and Louise Brough.
After retiring from tennis, she visited military bases, and was once on a helicopter that crashed in Vietnam. She did various stints on radio and television including a sports talk show for six years in New York.
Moran married three times, resulting in an annulment and two divorces, and had no children.
She returned to live in her childhood home in Santa Monica, but she could not afford to keep it and lost it in 1986. She spent her last years in a tiny, run-down apartment in Hollywood.
Moran could have called on any number of well-off friends in the tennis world for help, but she refused.
”She was quite proud,” Neworth said. ”But she wasn’t bitter.”
Moran always said she wanted red carpet in her house, loving the glamour it invoked.
Before she returned from the hospital for the last time, Neworth said, friends pitched in and had one installed. She died a week later.
Moran said she was happy that modern-day players like Kournikova, Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters were flashy and unashamed in their court fashion.
”What’s wrong with having a good time with your clothes and your body?” she said in 2002. ”I was not very comfortable doing so. Maybe it would be different now.”
Moran will be cremated, and friends plan to spread her ashes in the ocean, in view of her family home.