forgottennewsmakers

Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

MAY SUTTON BUNDY (1887 – 1975) First American to Win Wimbledon

In Female Athletes, Feminists, People from England, Sports, women on October 14, 2013 at 10:42 AM

When May Sutton was born in Plymouth, England she was already above average, weighing in at fifteen pounds. Her father,

May Sutton Bundy

May Sutton Bundy

Adolphus DeGrouchy Sutton, was a retired British navy captain, and he named his daughter, the youngest of seven, May, after his own yacht.

When Bundy was six, the Suttons transplanted themselves to Pasadena, California where they had a ten-acre orange grove. Bundy and her siblings, with the help of their neighbors, built their own tennis court by hauling clay from a local canyon. The court had a little slope, which required running uphill to make some shots.

It wasn’t common at that time to take tennis lessons, so the Sutton children learned to play on their own in England. Bundy used her older sister’s warped wood racquet for tennis, cricket and croquet. The Sutton sisters dressed in typical tennis attire, which included a pair of bloomers, two petticoats, a long undershirt, a white shirt, long white silk stockings, and a floppy hat.

A WINNING FORMULA         Bundy won her first tournament when she was twelve, beating her older sister Ethel. A year later she won the Pacific Southwest title for the first time against a 22 year old, and then went on to win it eight more times.

Because of Bundy’s size, what she lacked in speed and power she more than made up for with her strong forehand, accuracy and relentlessness.  As her sister Florence described her, “May’s strength as a tennis player lies principally in her unrelenting persistency. She never lets anybody beat her and discourages her opponent by always getting the ball back, no matter where you put it.”1

In 1904, at 17 years old, Bundy proved that her previous wins were more than just luck. She won the United States women’s title as the youngest women’s champion to date. The prize was a gold watch with a chain covered in topaz stones. Bundy held that record as long as she was alive, until Tracy Austin beat it in 1979 at 16 years and nine months old. The subsequent years add many more titles to her resume.

BEATING THE BRITISH        The year after her record-setting win in America, Bundy crossed the pond to play in Wimbledon, the first American to compete in the historic tournament.  She wore the requisite white skirt with stockings and hard-soled shoes topped by a long-sleeved white blouse. For the occasion she had a large bow in her hair. She was not a dainty lady, weighing a muscular 160 pounds.

May Sutton playing at Wimbledon

May Sutton playing at Wimbledon

If the British had any resentment over an American participating in the      tournament, she did nothing but make matters worse. First, her skirt was short enough to expose her ankles. Second, she shocked all in attendance by rolling up her sleeves to her elbows during play. Third, she had the unmitigated gall to win the women’s championship, beating England’s beloved Dorothea Chambers. One newspaper reported that Bundy’s win was so upsetting that the future King George V cried in the royal box. The following year Bundy lost to Chambers, but in 1907, Bundy regained the championship title.

In 1908, Bundy was recognized for her talent and appreciated for her victories in England in a singular way. She was selected to be the Queen of the Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena, and she was the first sports celebrity to receive that honor. She carried a pink parasol as she rode along the parade route, accompanied by her sister Florence as one of the princesses.

A LOVE MATCH        Bundy often said she would not marry a man who could not beat her in tennis. Thomas Clark Bundy, a multiple national doubles and singles champion, proved to be suitable, and Bundy was 25 when they married. Mr. Bundy’s focus had shifted from sports to real estate, and he was responsible for developing 2000 acres in the San Fernando Valley and La Brea – Wilshire area. Bundy Drive is named after him.

The Bundys had four children, but being a wife and mother didn’t distract Bundy from tennis. A few months after the birth of her second child, she won a Long Beach charity event after being down one set against a much younger opponent who was the national champion. Later that year, Bundy won the Southern California title for the eighth time.

In 1920, Thomas Bundy paid $1,000 for five and a half acres to develop the Los Angeles Tennis Club. Bundy taught lessons at the club and often played against celebrities such as Marlene Dietrich, Jean Harlow, Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable. The Bundys also had a private tennis court at their home in Santa Monica, California, the first court ever to be painted green.

Bundy turned pro in 1930 at age 42. Eight years later she was named one of America’s most influential feminists along with actress Norma Shearer and pilot Amelia Earhart. While her professional life was thriving, there was chaos in her private life. After a long separation, the Bundys divorced in 1940.

AGE IS JUST A NUMBER        Bundy never stopped playing tennis. In 1968 she played doubles with her daughter, Dorothy Cheney, who was the first American woman to win the Australian Championships. Bundy was 80 years old, and her daughter was 51. Both ladies wore stylish white, floppy hats on the court.

In what was dubbed as the “Age vs. Youth” tournament in 1973, Bundy faced opponents who were about half her age, and she dominated them to be called the “most durable athlete of the century.” Two years later, at age 88, Bundy played, and won, her last match, a few months before her death.

In describing her own success, she said, “Of course I play to win. That is the only way one can improve and draw the other party out to their best game. … I think that one half of ability to play tennis is confidence bordering on recklessness, and the other half is accuracy. Speed has far less to do with the game than accuracy in placing, for it is in the latter that the higher-class game is won or lost. A few good strokes will meet all emergencies of the game and make one just as hard to beat as if he had fancy pick-ups and foxy cuts.”1   Bundy was given the ultimate recognition for her achievement by being inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association Hall of Fame.

QUESTION: What are your best qualities that help you succeed?

© 2013 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

 SOURCES:

1 http://www.cemeteryguide.com/gotw-sutton.html

http://articles.latimes.com/1999/mar/28/local/me-21844

http://www.tennisforum.com/showthread.php?t=123825

http://www.tennisforum.com/showthread.php?t=430341

http://www.tennisfame.com/hall-of-famers/may-sutton-bundy

 http://www.wimbledon.com/en_GB/scores/draws/archive/players/c6e623f7-9edf-4070-bc6f-9ed41d355a74/index.html

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=l91QAAAAIBAJ&sjid=SF8DAAAAIBAJ&dq=may%20sutton%20tennis&pg=7261%2C5660408

 

Photo credits:

http://www.cemeteryguide.com/gotw-sutton.html

 

 

Advertisements

MOE BERG (1902 – 1972) Baseball Player & Spy

In Cold War, Espionage, Sports on September 15, 2011 at 12:22 PM

Moe Berg

Moe Berg became famous for what he did, but it was his charisma and storytelling that endeared him to his friends.  Below the surface he was very private, however, and the mystery that surrounded him facilitated a career change from being a public figure as a major league baseball player to the anonymity of being a spy.

Bernard Berg was lured to the land of opportunity around the turn of the 20th century.  He ran a laundry, and while he ironed shirts taught himself to read English, French and German in addition to the Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian he already knew.  He took night classes at the New York College of Pharmacy and moved his family to Newark, New Jersey to open his own pharmacy.  Bernard and Rose had three children.  Sam became a doctor, and Ethel was a lovely lady.  Morris (Moe) had his father’s intelligence and curiosity, but not his ambition.  For all his fame, his career choices made him a big disappointment to his dad.

When Moe was three and a half he insisted on going to school like his older siblings. He was an excellent student, and the only negative comment he received on an early report card said that he sang off key.  Berg’s hobby was baseball, and he played street ball with the neighbor kids until he could be on a real team in high school.

Berg was voted the “Brightest Boy” in the class at Barringer High School, a private school where he was virtually the only Jew.  He didn’t experience much anti-Semitism, but when Berg was recruited to play third base on the Roseville Methodist Episcopal Church team, he used the pseudonym Runt Wolfe and found it easy to pretend being somebody else.

After two semesters at NYU, Berg was accepted to Princeton where he played short stop.  His arm and quick agility made up for being a mediocre hitter.  He inherited his father’s facility for languages and studied Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian, German and Sanskrit, graduating magna cum laude.  Off the diamond he tutored his teammates, and to confuse their opponents Berg and the second baseman yelled strategy in Latin.

TURNING A HOBBY INTO A CAREER          After graduation, Berg was offered a teaching post at Princeton but opted to play for the Brooklyn Robins (later the Dodgers).  He got a $5,000 signing bonus for joining the team.  After the first season he studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, taking history, linguistics and literature classes in French and Italian.

One reason Berg was able to accomplish so much was that he was basically a loner.  He socialized but maintained an aura of mystery by not sharing personal information with friends.  He hated accountability and disappeared frequently so that friends and colleagues rarely knew where he was.

When he returned from Paris, Berg was traded to the Minneapolis Millers, an American Association team, and then the Reading Keystones in Pennsylvania.  He had already established a double identity for himself, and after the 1925 season he started planning for his post-baseball life by enrolling in Columbia Law School.  He was traded to the Chicago White Sox and skipped spring training so he could finish classes.  That did not endear him to the coaches, but when Berg’s professor discovered that he was the Berg who played baseball at Princeton, he arranged classes so Berg’s schedule could accommodate both his job and his studies.

Good thing, because during the 1927 season Berg pulled his team out of a dire situation.  Within two weeks, the White Sox lost three catchers to injury.  Even though he hadn’t played behind the plate since the sandlot days, Berg volunteered for the position.  In his first game as the starting catcher, the White Sox beat the Yankees, and Babe Ruth was hitless.  He played catcher for the rest of his career.

A REAL SINGULAR SENSATION          In his whole academic career, Berg failed only one course, evidence.  That prevented him from graduating from law school with his class.  He was able to retake the course, and received his degree in February 1930.  He passed the New York bar that spring and headed right off to spring training.

Moe Berg Baseball Card

In early April, Berg injured his knee but was back in the lineup in May, although he only played 20 games all season.  In the fall he joined the Wall Street law firm of Satterlee and Canfield, a job that justified his education and appeased his father but wasn’t as fun.  He only worked during the off season and lasted there just a few years.  In 1931 Berg was picked up the by Cleveland Indians, but bronchial pneumonia kept him in the dugout most of the season.  The Indians released him in January 1932, and he went to spring training for the Washington Senators.

Being “the brainiest guy in baseball” opened up the opportunity for him to be a guest panelist on the radio quiz show “Information Please.”  That seeming contradiction in his personality was only one of the quirks that distinguished Berg.  He was eccentric about his wardrobe and always dressed in a black suit and tie.  Every morning he took the first of three daily baths, picked up newspapers from several major cities plus some in French, Spanish and Italian, and read as many as he could during breakfast at a local diner.  He was adamant about reading every paper he bought regardless of how out of date, and piles of them covered every flat surface in his apartment or hotel room.  Until he had read it, a newspaper was “alive,” and no one else was allowed to touch it.  Once he read it, it became “dead,” and he would dispose of it.  If anyone, for any reason, touched one if the “alive” journals, Berg considered it dead and refused to read it. 

A NEW EXPERIENCE          In 1932 and 1934 Berg was a part of delegations that went to Japan to coach college teams there.  He was so captivated with the Japanese lifestyle that he slept on a tatami mat and traded his dark suit for a kimono, and he learned enough Japanese to be conversant.

During his second trip, Berg did something that opened up another career option later.  He didn’t show up for the final exhibition game, claiming afterward to have been sick.  Instead he donned his kimono, bought flowers and went to the hospital to visit the daughter of the US ambassador who had just given birth.  Speaking Japanese, he got her room number, walked past her fifth-floor room, threw the flowers in the trash and took the elevator up to the seventh floor where he climbed some stairs to the bell tower.  He reached into his kimono, pulled out a movie camera and documented military installations, shipyards, and industrial complexes around Tokyo.

While he was gone, Berg was released from Cleveland, but the Boston Red Sox added him to their roster.  He spent more time in the bullpen telling stories of his travels than behind the plate.  He spent a few more seasons in a Red Sox jersey, but his days as a player were numbered.  In 1940, the Sox put him on the coaching staff for $7,500 a year.

GOOD ENOUGH FOR GOVERNMENT WORK          Becoming a coach was essentially being put out to pasture, and Berg was ready for something more challenging.  As World War II escalated, the thrill of getting the clandestine footage in Tokyo nudged him toward more international opportunities.  In January 1942, he retired from baseball and accepted an assignment from the Office of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA) to go to Latin America and monitor the overall health and fitness in the region for $22.22 a day.

His trip was delayed, but Berg was able to keep busy.  William Donovan, head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), agreed to let Berg deliver an address directly to the Japanese people via short wave radio.  Speaking in Japanese, Berg reminded them of the mutual friendship they had shared with America, especially through the common love of baseball.  He encouraged them to denounce the political leadership that was leading them into committing national suicide.

Berg also took advantage of the postponement to find an audience for the film he shot in Tokyo.  He screened it for key members of the intelligence community.  The reaction to the footage was mixed, and the radio address had no real impact on the war, but both efforts proved Berg could handle clandestine work.

When he finally went to Latin America, his primary mission became to improve life for the US servicemen stationed there, something he thought was important.  But he wanted more, so he made contacts, poked around and got some intelligence on the Nazis in Brazil.  Washington liked his effort and tapped Berg for the OSS.  While he waited for that appointment to come through, he was distracted by the first woman who was more than just arm candy.

Estella Huni was a tall brunette who played and taught piano.  Like Berg, she was a voracious reader and spoke Italian, German and French.  She introduced Berg to music, and he taught her about baseball.  They lived together in New York, something respectable people didn’t do, and Berg’s father was so disapproving that he refused to meet his son’s girlfriend.

In early 1943 Berg officially joined the OSS for $3,800 a year.  He learned all the skills a spy would need at training camp and passed his final by entering a heavily guarded American defense plant and stealing classified information.  On May 4, 1944, Berg headed for Europe with $2000 in travel allowance, a .45 pistol and his black suits.  His assignment was to find out which German and Italian scientists were working on an atomic bomb, and his primary person of interest was German scientist Werner Heisenberg, considered to be the greatest theoretical physicist in the world.

GOING UNDERCOVER          Berg went wherever he wanted to go whenever he wanted and didn’t respond to orders to keep in touch with the OSS office.  He maintained his established daily routine and translated any documents he acquired into English.  He made contacts, and Paul Scherrer, the head of the physics department at a university in Zurich, Switzerland, led Berg to Heisenberg.  Scherrer and Heisenberg were friends and colleagues before the war.  Scherrer invited Heisenberg to Switzerland to give a lecture at the university, and attending would be Berg’s riskiest assignment.

Berg had studied physics, and he was briefed on what to listen for during the lecture.  If he heard anything that indicated the Germans were on the verge of using an atomic bomb, Berg was ordered to kill Heisenberg on the spot.

Doing something like this was the reason Berg joined the OSS.  On December 18, 1944, forty-two year old Berg dressed as a university student.  In his pockets he had two things he hoped he wouldn’t have to use: a pistol to kill Heisenberg if necessary, and a potassium cyanide capsule to kill himself.  He sat in the front row, and as he scanned the room, he realized that there were Nazi soldiers posted in various locations to keep an eye on Heisenberg.  Berg took notes as Heisenberg expounded on theoretical physics, the content and language a little over Berg’s head.

Berg didn’t hear anything in the lecture that warranted him to take action.  In talking with Scherrer afterward they agreed that Heisenberg was a German who was anti-Nazi.  Berg’s approach shifted, and he wanted to bring Heisenberg to America to work.  Scherrer thought that was a good idea and invited Berg to attend a dinner in Heisenberg’s honor where the scientist inadvertently confirmed the Allies wishful thinking.  When someone baited him with the comment that he really had to admit the Germans were losing the war, Heisenberg admitted that was true.  It was through Berg that the United States became confident that the Germans were not close to being able to detonate an atomic bomb.

The Heisenberg assignment was the highlight of Berg’s espionage career.  After the war there wasn’t much for him to do.  Berg resigned from the OSS in 1945 and became bored and restless.  He was nominated for the Medal of Freedom, but he respectfully rejected the award, although he never explained why.  It was hard to find something as interesting as being paid to roam the globe on secret missions for his country.  

During the Cold War he was sent to Europe on a couple of assignments for the CIA to find out how far along the Soviet Union was to having atomic weapons.  He got through a Russian checkpoint into Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) by holding up a paper with a big red star on it.  It was a piece of stationery from the Texaco oil company.  He loved being back in the field, but he refused to be accountable for his time or keep records of his expenses.  Berg hated bureaucracy, and that attitude wasn’t very compatible with government work.  In 1954 his contract expired and his security clearance was revoked.

Berg ran into financial trouble when a company he had invested in went bankrupt.  Adding in some unpaid personal taxes, the IRS claimed he owed over $12,000.  Not willing to be beholden to anyone and with no income, Berg ignored the notice, refused to make payments and even refused to declare bankruptcy.  Finally he made an offer to pay $1,500, and because Berg was a national hero, the IRS accepted.  He had to borrow the money from a friend.

LIVING LIFE ON HIS TERMS          During the latter part of his life, Berg depended completely on friends.  He never married, and technically he lived with his brother and then his sister in Newark, but he was really a vagabond staying with friends wherever he happened to land.  He carried his toothbrush and a list of phone numbers, and made friends with train conductors so he could ride for free.  People loved having him around, and he was a very entertaining raconteur.  He took advantage of their hospitality and often stayed for weeks.  He spent hours reading, and it was not unusual to see him at the ballpark watching a game.

Berg was not without his own problems.  In 1963 he started dressing very sloppily, and due to a large umbilical hernia, he no longer looked or acted like an athlete.  He refused to have it treated until four years later when he met a pediatric surgeon at a World Series game and came to trust him enough to do the surgery.  He also suffered from sundowner’s syndrome where he got disoriented when he woke up in the middle of the night and fell trying to find his way.

In May 1972 Berg was staying at his sister’s house when he fell out of bed at night and hit the night stand.  After four days he finally consented to go to the hospital and was diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurism.  On May 29 he asked the nurse, “How are the Mets doing today?” and then died before he could hear the answer.

QUESTION:  What contradictions do you have in your personality that make you seem like two different people?  How does that impact your life?

©2011 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

Dawidoff, Nicholas, The Catcher Was a Spy; The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg.  New York: Pantheon Books, 1994.

Kaufman, Louis; Fitzgerald, Barbara; Sewell, Tom, Moe Berg, Athlete, Scholar, Spy.  Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1974.

http://www.moeberg.com/

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/MBerg.html

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/bergmo01.shtml

JOHN MONTAGUE (1903 – 1972) Fugitive Golfer

In Biography, California History, Golf, History, Hollywood, Sports on November 30, 2010 at 6:44 PM

John Montague (photo credit: Bettmann/Corbis)

When John Montague arrived in Hollywood he brought his golf clubs and some secrets.  His personal strength and the way he played golf were so incredible that he made friends easily, and nobody cared where he came from or why he was there. 

Montague was born LaVerne Moore in Syracuse, New York to a blue collar family.  He distinguished himself early on from his older brother and younger sisters as an energetic kid with a quick mind.  He spent hours developing his body by using the beams in the attic as his jungle gym.  What he did to develop strength and stamina might seem like torture.  After lifting weights, Montague strapped weights to his wrists and ankles and stood motionless in the dark for an hour.

A natural athlete, Montague excelled at baseball, football, basketball, skiing, pool and golf.  For all his impressive talent on local teams as a kid, it was golf that made him famous.  When he was seven years old, he found a golf ball in the street and fashioned a club out of a discarded elbow from a gas pipe and a broom handle.  He whacked that ball directly into the plate glass window of the cigar store across the street.  

 DEVELOPING A SKILL SET                   His dad’s reaction was to pay for the window and buy Montague a set of clubs.  His brother, Harold, became his first instructor, and as a teenager he developed a powerful drive and some tricks.  One crowd pleaser was to bury three golf balls on top of each other in a sand trap and ask which one he should hit.  Every time he sent the designated ball flying, leaving the other two resting in the sand. 

About 1934 Montague brought his talent, pranks and bag of custom, oversized golf clubs to Hollywood and fell in with the celebrity crowd at Lakeside golf course.  At five foot ten inches tall and 220 pounds, he became the club champion at age 30.  Everything about Montague was bigger, stronger and wilder than anyone had seen before. 

Montague lived with Oliver Hardy for a while, and every time his 300 pound friend walked into the grill room at Lakeside, Montague would singlehandedly pick him up and hoist him onto the bar.  He stuffed character actor George Bancroft upside down in a locker and shut the door. 

But it was his golfing that gave him the most notoriety.  After winning a round against Bing Crosby, Montague proposed a bet to appease his complaining partner.  They would play one more hole, 366 yards par 4, with Crosby using his clubs and Montague using a baseball bat, a shovel and a rake.  Crosby hit a drive about 250 yards, then got to the middle of the green but missed the putt for a birdie by two feet.  Montague tossed his ball into the air and hit it into a greenside sand trap.  With one swipe of the shovel he got onto the middle of the green about 30 feet from the pin.  Then he got down on the ground and used the rake as a pool cue to sink his ball in three.

Montague loved the attention he got, but he let everyone else do the bragging about his exploits.  He refused to talk about himself or disclose his background.  He only admitted to being an amateur golfer and claimed to have some mining interests in the Nevada desert.  Even though he was often encouraged to join the pro tour, he would reply that he played golf for other reasons.  He refused to play in tournaments or to have his picture taken. 

Sportswriter Grantland Rice played a few rounds with Montague and wrote an article that brought him into the public eye.  Time magazine published an article about him in 1937, and they hired a freelance photographer to hide in the bushes and get photos.  Montague was barely recognizable, but they were published anyway.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?                                  In August 1930, a few years before Montague surfaced in California, Hana’s restaurant in the Adirondack Mountains of New York was robbed by four men wearing masks and wielding revolvers.  The dining room was connected to an apartment where the Hana family lived.  One gunman forced Hana and his wife to the floor while another one went into the residence and bound and gagged the children.  Another robber found the grandfather, Matt Cobb, and when he tried to defend himself, he was hit on the head with the butt of a gun.  Elizabeth Hana was forced to empty the safe, and after another brawl with Cobb, knocking him unconscious, the thieves escaped with about $750.

The cops were staked out looking for bootleggers making a run, so when a speeding car shot by, the chase was on.  Two of the thieves were in a Ford, and the passenger turned off the headlights causing the driver to go into a ditch, killing himself.  The cops arrested the passenger.  The other two accomplices were in a Pontiac that was stopped by State Police a little later.  The passenger, who identified himself as Lawrence Ryan, talked the pair out of the situation.  Two days later the driver turned himself in.  After finding a set of golf clubs, letters, a driver’s license and draft notice in the trunk of the Pontiac, the police were convinced that Lawrence Ryan was really LaVerne Moore of Syracuse. 

Five days later the police went to Moore’s house and talked to his mother.  She said her son had left the day after the robbery and had no idea where he was.  In fact, no one did; Moore had just disappeared. 

YOU CAN RUN BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE   When New York State Police inspector John Cosart saw the article about Montague in Time he was excited.  He had been working on the Hana case for seven years, waiting for the fourth robber to surface, and the similarities between Moore and Montague’s athletic prowess could not be coincidental.  He asked the Los Angeles Police Department for help, and John Montague was arrested and charged with armed robbery.  In jail he admitted that his real name was LaVerne Moore from Syracuse, New York.  He was released on $10,000 bail and signed the papers “John Montague,” giving “LaVerne Moore” as an alias.

Since he was no longer on the lam, Montague posed for photographs and answered reporters’ questions. He didn’t reveal anything personal; he just said he had made a mistake when he was a kid and had been trying to make good.  Montague’s celebrity friends were shocked to learn he was a fugitive and expressed their support.

Being wanted was not totally new to Montague.  Back in 1927 he was arrested for impersonating a police officer to a grocery store owner who sold alcohol during Prohibition.  He was trying to extort payments from the shopkeeper to keep mum about the liquor sales.  He agreed to plead guilty to a reduced charge and got off with paying a fine.

On August 21, 1937, Montague was extradited to New York.  When he arrived at Union Station in Los Angeles for the three-day trip, he had porters carrying 20 bags with his wardrobe, and there were a hundred people cheering him as he boarded the train. 

When he arrived in New York, Montague spent his 34th birthday in jail while the judge decided on bail.  The next day he was released on a $25,000 bond.  Montague hadn’t communicated with his mom in the seven years he was away, and he had told reporters that when he was released he would go directly to her house.  When the time came, however, he went to a cocktail party instead. 

HAVING HIS DAY IN COURT               People from all over the country were following the trial of the decade.  Additional phone lines had to be installed to accommodate the influx of reporters.  Montague stayed at the Deer’s Head Inn where he rented 17 rooms for himself, his lawyers and out of town friends.  Photos of Montague signing autographs for teenage girls outside the courtroom were published in papers nationwide. 

Witnesses for the prosecution included members of the Hana family, police officers, and Roger Norton, one of the convicted robbers.  The personal items found in the trunk of the Pontiac were entered as evidence.  Mrs. Hana and one daughter incriminated Montague saying they heard one of the robbers call another by the name of “Verne.” 

In his defense, Montague’s lawyer called four character witnesses and then his mom, who gave him an alibi.  She said her son was home sleeping in his bed on the night of the robbery and also the next night.  His two sisters corroborated their mother’s testimony, and a friend testified that he hit balls at the driving range with the defendant the night of the crime.  William Carlton, another one of the convicted accomplices in the robbery testified that Montague wasn’t the fourth partner and explained that his stuff was in the trunk of the car because they had taken a trip together and were planning another one.  And then, to everyone’s surprise, Montague took the stand on his own behalf, recounting the last seven years of his life.

After five hours of deliberation, the jury came back with a verdict of not guilty.  The crowd cheered when it was read.  The judge disagreed with the verdict and told the jury that he was disappointed they didn’t convict Montague.  Nevertheless, Montague’s celebrity status and expensive lawyer paid off, and he was a free man.

TRYING TO GET HIS LIFE BACK      On November 14, 1937 Montague was to play his first public exhibition match in a foursome with Babe Ruth and Babe Didrikson.  Unfortunately, it was not a fun match to play.  So many spectators showed up that Montague waited 15 minutes for the crowd to move back far enough so he could take his second shot on the first hole.  By the ninth hole, the players were ready to quit.  They all got their balls on the green and walked away without putting.  

A week later Montague, 34 years old, was back in Hollywood, overweight from too much partying.  He legally changed his name to John Montague and started playing competitively, but his game was not the same.  His friends tried to defend his reputation, but his high scores spoke louder.  He finally got Wilson Sporting Goods as a sponsor for a tour of exhibition games in Hawaii, the Philippines and Japan, but they dropped him when he returned to the States.

Montague secretly married the widow Esther Plunkett who had two kids.  This was one positive thing in his life, especially since she helped out with financial support, but his professional endeavors never lived up to their expectations.  He entered the U.S. Open but then didn’t make the cut.  He joined an investment opportunity with Johnny Weissmuller, John Wayne and Fred MacMurray but then sued them when it went bad. 

Montague’s life spiraled downhill after his wife died in 1947.  Within two years he was arrested for drunk driving and had a heart attack.  In 1963 he fell off a ladder and was in the hospital for seven weeks.  He had dozens of ideas to make money, but none of them ever panned out.  In May, 1972 Montague had another heart attack and died.  His body lay unclaimed in the mortuary for a week.  Finally a friend identified Montague and planned a funeral service that only 29 people attended.   

QUESTION:  Have you ever gotten away with something you knew you should have been punished for?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

Montville, Leigh, The Mysterious Montague. New York: Doubleday, 2008.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,882762-1,00.html

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,758136,00.html

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/montague-the-magnificent.html