Heldman, Gladys (1922—)

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Heldman, Gladys (1922—)

American sports magazine editor who was a major force behind women's tennis. Born Gladys Medalie on May 13, 1922, in New York City; daughter of George Z. and Carrie (Waplan) Medalie; graduated from Stanford, B.A., 1942; University of California at Berkeley, M.A., 1943; married Julius D. Heldman (a tennis player), on June 15, 1942; children: Carrie Medalie Heldman; Julie Medalie Heldman (b. 1945).

Gladys Heldman began playing tennis after her second child, tennis-player Julie Heldman , was born. As an amateur tennis player from 1945 to 1954, Gladys ranked #2 in the southwest and #1 in Texas. She also played doubles with Althea Gibson from 1953 to 1954 and won a berth on the Wimbledon team. Her tennis career ended on a Wimbledon backcourt in the first round; Heldman did not take a single set. "It's all right, I still love you," shouted her tennis-player husband from a bleacher seat. "Only not as much."

Fortunately for world tennis, and especially women's tennis, Heldman stayed with the game but in a different capacity. In 1953, she launched, published, and began to edit World Tennis magazine; by the mid-1960s, World Tennis would have a circulation of 43,000 and would be the most successful tennis magazine in the world. With Pancho Gonzales, she also wrote The Book of Tennis. Heldman underwrote the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association's 1959 National Indoor championship when the USLTA considered its cancellation because of continued losses. That year, she put the event into the profit column. It was also Heldman who paid to recruit foreign talent for the U.S. Open at Forest Hills.

In 1970, though tennis was becoming more and more popular, the disparity of prize money between the men and women players was widening. The reason was simple; men ran, owned, and promoted the tournaments, and they had very convincing arguments woven into a strangulated syllogism: (1) men's games were longer; (2) men could beat women; (3) therefore, few people would come to watch women play. "If we women were seemingly powerless in the first years of open tennis," wrote Billie Jean King , "we were blessed with an important ally in Gladys Medalie Heldman, a forward-thinking woman who had always believed that women could work and have careers if they wanted them." Heldman made it a habit of documenting the inequities in her magazine. For example, when the prize money for the women's singles event was less than the prize money for the men's doubles winner in the 1970 Australian Open, Heldman raised cain.

Then, in 1971, Jack Kramer began promoting a tournament and was offering prize money on a ratio of 12 to 1 in favor of the men. Heldman approached Kramer and begged him to change the ratio but was unsuccessful. She decided that the only way for women to be treated decently at a tournament was to hold their own. It would be held in Houston … as an alternative to Kramer's. Though the USLTA was up in arms and threatened women who chose Houston with suspension, the women held firm. Meanwhile, Gladys Heldman was speaking with her friend Joe Cullman of Philip Morris for sponsorship money. A sympathetic Cullman offered her prize money and the use of the name Virginia Slims; Heldman personally added about $100,000. Nine players signed one-dollar contracts with Heldman and began their September 1970 tour (Valerie Ziegenfuss , Billie Jean King, Nancy Richey, Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Kristy Pigeon, Judy Dalton, Kerry Melville , and Julie Heldman). The tour quickly grew with the addition of Françoise Durr, Ann Jones , and Betty Stove from the Netherlands.

"From her forum, Gladys made enemies," wrote King, "hundreds of them. She edited every word in her magazine, and every month she and her staff blasted the governing officials of tennis for their archaic and self-serving rules. The male hierarchy disliked her intensely; they wanted tennis to stay the same, and Gladys represented change."