Note: This is a post I wrote in 2006 for the 1947project.
Jan. 17, 1947: William (Big Bill) Tilden, 54-year-old internationally known tennis star, yesterday was sentenced to serve nine months in the County Jail with a road gang recommendation by Juvenile Judge A.A. Scott for contributing to the delinquency of a 14-year-old boy.
Judge Scott excoriated Tilden for his actions, declaring: “You have been the idol of youngsters all over the world. It has been a great shock to sports fans to read about your troubles.
“I am going to make this an object lesson, no only to other persons tempted to do similar things, but also to parents who are too busy to concern themselves in determining what type of persons their youngsters are associating with,” Judge Scott commented.
Sports writers ranked him among the big four of the 1920s, with Babe Ruth, Bobby Jones and Jack Dempsey. William Tatem Tilden II was arrested early Nov. 24, 1946, in his automobile by Beverly Hills police and charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Tilden, who lived at 2424 Wilshire Blvd., surrendered on a morals charge and pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a junior high student.
He was released Aug. 31, 1947, after serving 7½ months and told The Times that although he hoped to resume playing tennis, the decision “remains with the American public.”
The Times, perhaps even more than most papers of the era, was especially squeamish about some sex crimes so there aren’t any details about Tilden’s arrest, although the Sept. 1, 1947, story pointedly notes that he was a 54-year-old bachelor.
Less than two years later, Tilden was back before Judge Scott. In 1949, The Times reported that 16-year-old grocery clerk Michael Schachel was hitchhiking to a union hiring hall in Santa Monica when Tilden picked him up and “made inappropriate advances.” This time, Scott refused to set bail on one of the charges, keeping Tilden in jail until his preliminary hearing.
Tilden wrote a letter to Scott saying that he was a victim of mistaken identity and at the time of the alleged incident he was teaching a tennis lesson at the home of Charlie Chaplin. But Scott was unmoved and sentenced Tilden to a year at the Los Angeles County road camp.
One of Tilden’s proteges, Arthur Anderson, a 19-year-old USC student, found his body, fully dressed, lying on the bed of his apartment at 2025 N. Argyle. He was 60. Tilden’s long obituary, which jumped twice, made no mention of his legal troubles. It said: “[Ellsworth] Vines and Tilden staged probably the greatest match ever played in Los Angeles. Vines won in 3 hours, 45 minutes at the Olympic Auditorium.”
Less than 100 people attended his funeral at the Hollywood chapel of Pierce Bros. mortuary. He was cremated and his ashes were returned to Germantown, Pa.
Quote of the day: “I always felt he was the greatest I ever played against. If he had been as young as those he played he could have beaten anyone. If he had to go I think he would have preferred playing right up to the end as he did.”
Ellsworth Vines, on Bill Tilden