October 25, 2007

New York –  While I was on the tennis circuit from the mid-fifties to 1965, it was an open secret that there was a lot of hanky panky going on in the women’s locker rooms. Mind you, lady players were much older than they are now, but there were still some pretty young and impressionable girls competing who took “coaching” from older female players. Competitors back then chose not to know, although in late night bull sessions and poker games the subject would inevitably be joked about. Actually I bring it up because of the tennis coach who is facing jail after being convicted of having a year-long lesbian affair with the 13-year-old she was coaching. Yes, it’s a terrible breach of trust and quite disgusting, but I’d hate to think of some very grand names of tennis who have got away with similar behaviour. Clair Lyte, the coach, is obviously very stupid to boot. She should have pled guilty immediately and thrown herself on the mercy of the court. The judge very correctly had even warned her to reconsider.

Now Lyte is facing jail and the end of her career. What bothers me is the mother of the victim. As they say, what was she thinking while all this was going on? And why did she wait a year before bringing charges?

Big Bill Tilden, one of the greatest before modern technology changed the game into a power contest, did time for playing around with young boys, and I can think of at least two great women champions who have been very close to crossing the line where youngsters are concerned. I suppose the rules of the river apply: Don’t get caught.

But let’s not throw the book at Claire Lyte. Over on this side, the billionaire Jeffrey Epstein has just plea-bargained an 18-month jail sentence for using underage girls as sex objects. Billionaires have it easier than poor tennis coaches, but life ain’t fair. Epstein used his billions and his muscle to get this cozy sentence. He will have his various houses, yachts and private jets to return to after slumming for less than two years in a country club. Lyte has nothing to go back to.

And speaking of same gender sex, I’ve been reading Gore Vidal’s Point to Point Navigation. It’s not like his marvellous Palimpsest, but then Vidal is 15 years older. Jacques Barzun once said that getting old is like learning a new profession. Writers do not suffer as much as athletes do, but they certainly lose their edge. Point is still a very good read, wry and wonderfully cynical. He writes about Nureyev, who was his neighbour in Italy. “He hated it when the press depicted him as a defector from Communism. I never heard him denounce the Soviet system. On the other hand he was no enthusiast for our system.” He then quotes Rudy saying, “I get out only to dance more. Is frozen there, the great dance companies. So I left.”

This passage brought back memories. In 1963, while Rudy was living in Monte Carlo with the great Danish ballet dancer Erik Bruhn, he befriended my first wife and me. Cristina used to take ballet lessons from Maria Brazobrazovna, who lived high above Monaco in the hills and ran a dance school. She also instructed Rudy.  One night the three of us got smashed and Rudy tried something in the cab. He was very strong, but I think I may have been stronger.

There were no hard feelings, but he told me something that was confirmed by reading Gore’s book. If memory serves, while he said that both systems were rotten to the core, the reason Rudy left Russia was because in the Soviet Union he had to “do it” in taxis and he was sick of it. “Oh, is that why you tried what you just did?” I asked him.

Never mind. His new biography I hear is very good, but somehow I might give it a miss. I’m not a ballet fan, although I admire like hell the pain these poor guys and gals have to go though to reach the top. Pop stars have it easy. All they have to do is write some very bad lyrics or make some horrible noise and presto, they get laid a lot and make millions upon millions. Their success makes inherited wealth moral by comparison. And while I’m on the subject, I appreciate readers writing letters to the editor, especially when they set me right. But I do not accept it when condescension and inaccuracies appear. Hugo Vickers (Spectator letters, October 13) writes that it was the “prerequisite” of Alastair Forbes to pounce on my mistakes and that he’s assuming Forbes’s mantle.

“Prerogative” would have been a more suitable word, but then I am not responsible for Vickers’s bad English. Forbes, incidentally, bore for England and America, and wrote rubbishy letters where I was concerned but did not include the fact that I refused to see him for the last twenty years of his life. Vickers is an obvious choice for his mantle. He writes that Alexandra Schoenburg-Hartenstein is my ex-wife. Well, I assume he got that from his bible, The Almanach de Gotha, but the Gotha has it wrong. Unless that fool knows better than I do. He claims Marie Christine of Kent is a cousin of Alexandra’s. Well she’s not in any real sense. If one digs enough, everyone is connected, hence the last eight American presidents have been found to be distant cousins to the Queen. I do not wish to be bombarded with genealogical trees—it may be his bag but not mine—and as far as duelling is concerned, I am not aware that the choice of weapons includes “bouquets of pansies.”


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