The tale of "Big Bill" Tilden is the compelling story of a unique sportsman with a tragic family past, who was as honest as he was defiantly flamboyant.
The first great tennis legend, Big Bill Tilden, at over 6 feet, burst into amateur tennis at the age of 27 and dominated the sport in the 1920’s, winning six straight U.S. Open singles titles, becoming the first American to win Wimbledon. He played every challenger as a performance event. Matching their skills, he turned the Tennis court into a theater, an arena – a ring. He fanatically studied the moves of a tennis ball and revolutionized play. He was feted by the rich and famous, but quietly hated by the conservative blue bloods who controlled the sport. His free-thinking personality and gay lifestyle shocked them, and caused many to plot against him. But the public loved "Big Bill", even buying the sweaters he wore in mimicry of his stardom. Fantasies of being equally great at other careers caused Bill to tangent his profession with eccentric stints as a novelist, playwright, musicologist, contract bridge champion, and actor, depleting his finances, as he risked to sponsor his own Broadway shows. Late in his life, he was forced to sell Tennis Lessons in Hollywood to earn room and board. His accomplishments, however, were darkened by a sexual encounter with a young, male lover, who proved to be underage. Despite this, he was voted Greatest Sportsman of the first half of the Twentieth Century by public acclaim. Denied the opportunity to play in Los Angeles, Bill died with his bags packed and tickets paid for – headed for a seniors’ tournament to meet many of the Tennis stars who had played with - and against - him in his career and were willing to publicly stand by him.
Tilden, the movie, is a visual poem to this conflicted and powerful character. A journey into a time and a man that even today’s Tennis establishment seems reluctant to acknowledge.