Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Bobby Jones, and Bill Tilden were the legendary quartet of the “Golden Age of Sports” in the 1920s. They transformed their respective athletic disciplines and captured the imagination of a nation. The indisputable force behind the emergence of professional tennis as a popular and lucrative sport, Tilden’s on-court accomplishments are nothing short of staggering. The first American‑born player to win Wimbledon and a seven‑time winner of the U.S. singles championship, he was the number 1 ranked player for ten straight years.
A tall, flamboyant player with a striking appearance, Tilden didn’t just play; he performed with a singular style that separated him from other top athletes. Tilden was a showman off the court as well. He appeared in numerous comedies and dramas on both stage and screen and was a Renaissance man who wrote more than two dozen fiction and nonfiction books, including several successful tennis instructions books.
But Tilden had a secret—one he didn’t fully understand himself. After he left competitive tennis in the late 1940s, he faced a lurid fall from grace when he was arrested after an incident involving an underage boy in his car. Tilden served seven months in prison and later attempted to explain his questionable behavior to the public, only to be ostracized from the tennis circuit. Despite his glorious career in tennis, his final years were much constrained and lived amid considerable public shunning.
Tilden’s athletic accomplishments remain, as he is arguably the best American player ever. American Colossus is a thorough account of his life, bringing a much-needed look back at one of the world’s greatest athletes and a person whose story is as relevant as ever.
About the Author
Allen M. Hornblum is a former criminal justice administrator and college professor. He is the author of several books, including The Invisible Harry Gold: The Man Who Gave the Soviets the Atom Bomb and Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison. John Newcombe is a former tennis great from Australia who won twenty-six Grand Slam championships, including singles titles in three Wimbledons, two U. S. Opens, and two Australian Opens.
"Even today, Tilden's case remains sensitive enough for his native Philadelphia to reject recent calls for a commemorative plaque. He has paid a high price for his late fall from grace, which prevents him from being acclaimed as a sporting legend on a par with Suzanne Lenglen and Rod Laver. . . . However you judge his colourful and complex story, Tilden remains the closest antecedent we have to Federer's miraculous longevity."—Simon Briggs, Telegraph
“Bill Tilden not only won tennis championships and unceasingly promoted the game, he also wrote books, performed in stage plays, loved classical music, and played bridge at a championship level. Catered to by European, Asian, and Hollywood royalty, Tilden was very much a Renaissance man, and his contributions are worthy of recognition and study.”—Manolo Santana, former Wimbledon tennis champion
“My family had no money for coaching so I learned tennis from Bill Tilden’s book and the backboard. In reading it more recently I have realized how brilliantly he described the modern game: he said the great baseline would beat the great serve-volleyer, the continental grip is a bad one for the forehand, and that one should hit topspin whenever an opponent comes to the net. He also suggested getting control of the point with groundstrokes and thus preparing the way to finish with a net attack.”—Allen Fox, former NCAA singles champion and college coach
“As a fellow Philadelphian, I grew up with Big Bill Tilden as the tennis player I dreamed of being one day. I never saw him play in his prime, but I heard everyone saying he was the best player in the world. Whether or not that is true will always be a matter of opinion, but he certainly led the way in making tennis the great sport it is today.”—Vic Seixas, oldest living Wimbledon champion