(September, 2018) During the 2018 US Open, Tennis Panorama New had to chance to speak with Julie Heldman, author of the new book: Driven: A Daughter’s Odyssey. Heldman is a former professional tennis player who won 25 titles on tour. She reached a career high ranking of No. 5 in the world in 1969. She is one of the “Original Nine.” She is the daughter of the late Gladys Heldman who was the founder and publisher of World Tennis Magazine, who also helped to form the precursor of the WTA tour, the Virginia Slims Tour.
Her memoir talks about her life journey – her struggles, her career in tennis, broadcasting, law, and business, as well as being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Ms. Heldman spoke to Karen Pestaina of Tennis Panorama News about her new book.
TPN: When did you first think about writing the book?
Julie Heldman: It was like something was in my gut and had to get done. I became ill in the year 2000 and working an I had to quit. The illness was a mental breakdown and I was hardly able to do anything. I’d done a lot of writing for years but for law, business and journalism.
But I decided that the one thing I thought I could do was to take a class in fiction writing. I took a short story class, and starting in that class, some of the chapters in the book came out. It became clear, I was not a fiction writer. I had to write what I could, which was my life, and it kept grabbing me.
I was unable to finish the book, to really go after it full time until I became more well and that happened 14 years later after I started. And by the year 2015, I had enough strength to go after the book full time.
TPN: For people who are dealing with the illnesses that you have had, what do you want them to get out of the book?
JH: I think it’s important that everybody bring to the surface that there are all kinds of illnesses – physical, mental, and they are just there. And there has clearly always been a stigma about mental illness and I think there is as least some have had that feeling of stigma. But when I realized that this just is what it is and that anybody.
Now with modern medicine and modern care can be helped. No, it’s not true that everybody is going to get fixed. It’s sometimes very, very difficult. But there is a way and there is a path that everybody can begin to look at it and say, I can tell people, it’s okay.
TPN: What are your thoughts today about the women’s tennis tour itself?
JH: Glitzy. Lots of money. Very different from our era when we were playing on a wing and a prayer. This is what everybody wanted to have happen, and you get what you wanted. Is this okay for everybody. Playing in front of stadiums of 22,000 people was completely out of the question. We did have Forest Hills, we did have Wimbledon, we did have Roland Garros, but they were far less evolved in that era. I think that the game is both more complicated and less complicated in that everybody can do a lot of different things, and everybody knows what everybody else is doing. Their statistics, their technique – all of that didn’t exist in our era and it’s both better and maybe not as fun, and individualistic, I think as what it used to be.
TPN: What were your thoughts on last year’s movie, “Battle of the Sexes?” What did you think about it?
JH: I thought it was a fun, fictionalized, version of something where the reality and the truth was far more complicated, far more fascinating. That’s what I think.
I think that Emma Stone did a terrific job and so did Steve Carell. My mother (Gladys Heldman) was, to anybody who knew her was a powerful, brilliant dynamo who made so many changes to the tennis world and she was not portrayed as that, but I think that was an error. But otherwise, at least it was getting the tennis stuff out there, and in my book, I take a look at a lot of the events in the movie and show what really did happen.
TPN: Speaking of your Mom (who founded World Tennis Magazine), what do you think of the state of tennis journalism today?
JH: There’s so many different kinds of journalists now. It’s absolutely all over the board, in terms that there are some absolutely great ones, and some people who barely know what to do with it. One of my favorite things in the era of when I was growing up, there was a terrific writer Allison Danzig, who wrote for the New York Times and he took a day off during Forest Hills, because it was not yet the “Open,” it was the Nationals. And somebody else was writing for him, who clearly did not know anything, and the person wrote about some man who was a big server and said: “he broke his own serve to win the match.” That was a rare thing because, people were almost all exclusively men. Most of them (tennis writers) were men and many of them traveled the tour and certain ones, the quality of their writing was just extraordinary. There was Bud Collins who was fun and lively. There were individuals of all kinds. But now, if I understand correctly, everybody is freelance, or you have this job or that. The whole world of newspapers, everything has changed due to internet and there is some really good stuff out there. But it’s not always easy to find your way around.