Rod Taylor was a top-notch tennis player, and he displayed his talent
with the racquet both on-screen and off.
Already an accomplished athlete in his youth -- swimming, rowing and
boxing were among his sporting endeavors -- Rod had plenty of opportunity to
polish his tennis game when he moved to Beverly Hills in the early 1960s.
He became a regular on the courts of his friends and neighbors around
Hollywood, Bel Air and Beverly Hills. "There are quite a few buddies to play tennis with," Rod said
in the April 1964 edition of Rod-Lore fan newsletter. He named among his
tennis pals "Bob Stack, Kirk Douglas, Ginger Rogers,
Rhonda Fleming, David Janssen and Dean Martin."
In a 1961 TV Times interview (Australia), Rod said, "I often play tennis
with Mel Ferrer, on Dean Martin's court. ... I also play on Kirk Douglas'
court and Ginger Rogers'" He said Mel Ferrer and Audrey Hepburn were
neighbors and friends.
Another tennis cohort was a former Yugoslav champion, Ika Panajotovic, who
had reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1958 and was on his country's
Davis Cup team for 11 years. Panajotovic later had a career in Hollywood,
including co-producing Rod's 1974 movie, "Partizani."
Tennis was featured in several of Rod's TV appearances, and summaries are served up below:
CBS Sports Spectacular (1964)
In a segment called "Professional Tennis at Dean Martin's," Rod teamed with
tennis champ Pancho Segura to play doubles with Dean Martin and pro Pancho Gonzalez. (Dean's
won.) There's a video clip
on YouTube of the actresses who played during the episode, but I'm still on
the hunt for the men's match. Read
Screen capture from "CBS Sports Spectacular"
Bus Stop (1961)
"Bus Stop" was a star-studded anthology series directed by Robert Altman,
and its episodes were
acclaimed either for quality or controversy. Rod's episode, "Portrait of a Hero,"
leans toward "steamy," if descriptions are accurate. Alas, the show is among
the "Bus Stop" episodes still among the missing. In the episode, Rod plays a tennis bum who passes
through town and woos lots of women. For the tennis scenes, the producers
had a pro standing by to double for Rod. But Rod was such an expert player, the pro wasn't
needed! Read more >>
Rod in a promotional still for "Bus Stop"
Australian Stars in the States (1980)
This Australian TV special features Aussie tennis champ John Newcombe interviewing Rod
and other expatriate celebrities. The show starts with Rod and Newk volleying on the court at the former estate
of Ginger Rogers (see video clip below). At the time of the show, the estate was owned by the son
of tennis champion Fred Perry and the court was cement. Rod reminisces about
having played there in the
1960s, when it was a clay court ("en tout cas" -- a version of red clay with
a coarser top layer to improve drainage). Read more >>
Video: Rod volleys with John Newcombe
Falcon Crest (1989)
In the night-time soap's ninth season, Rod's character, Frank Agretti, suddenly has
a background in tennis that never had been mentioned during his previous two
seasons. In the season opener, he recalls "the circuit in those days ... I knew them all: Rosewall, Frankie Sedgman, Trabert, Lou Hoad. On any given day Lou was about
the best." (Hoad was an Australian World No. 1 tennis player. Sedgman and Ken
Rosewall were Aussies too. Tony Trabert was American. All were of Rod's generation.)
During a later episode, Frank is watching tennis on TV -- a recording of an
old match. His girlfriend/nemesis, Genele, asks him if it's Wimbledon, and
he tells her it's
a recording of one of his matches from the "Queen's Cup" senior championships.
Genele is also seen looking at the
photograph of tennis champ Frank Agretti, below.
Read more >>
A screen capture from "Falcon Crest"
US Against the World (1977)
Rod competed in this Battle of the Network
Stars-like show in 1977, and he probably participated in the tennis
competitions. Alas, I have not yet been able to find a recording of this
show for confirmation.
Read more >>
Rod commented in a 1972 interview that a couple of hours of
tennis is good for what ails you after a night of too much imbibing. "Sure it
kills you, but it's the only way to get the booze out of you."
QUITE A RACKET
In Hollywood, the tennis court became a place to make
contacts, throw parties and raise funds for charity.
And there were plenty of courts. A 1971 Sports Illustrated article,
Hollywood tennis does socko biz, noted that there were more than 200
privately owned courts in the Hollywood-Beverly Hills area. And that's not to
mention the star-studded courts at the the local clubs or the Beverly Hills
Rod certainly had a lot of options to practice his