Magazine article The New Yorker

Love All

Magazine article The New Yorker

Love All

Article excerpt

Love All

On September 20, 1973, the former tennis champ Bobby Riggs rode by rickshaw into the Houston Astrodome, wearing a yellow Sugar Daddy jacket. Across the court, Billie Jean King was carried on, Cleopatra style, by a bevy of bare-chested hunks. Riggs was fifty-five; King was twenty-nine. At the net, King handed Riggs a squirming piglet--code for male chauvinist pig. In the stands were more than thirty thousand spectators, the largest crowd ever at an American tennis match.

Hyped as the "Battle of the Sexes," the hundred-thousand-dollar winner-take-all showdown began as a publicity stunt, but it soon became a referendum on women's lib. Four months earlier, Riggs--past his prime and said to be saddled with gambling debts--had walloped Margaret Court, then the No. 1 women's-tennis player, after boasting that no woman could beat him. King reluctantly took up the challenge, while Riggs brayed that women belonged "in the bedroom and the kitchen." On the big day, King beat him, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, as some ninety million people watched.

Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris were teen-agers at the time, but neither tuned in. They are now married film directors, best known for "Little Miss Sunshine." Their new movie, "Battle of the Sexes," out this month, stars Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs. The film is well timed. John McEnroe, now fifty-eight, recently said that Serena Williams would rank "like 700 in the world" if she played on the men's circuit. (Williams responded, "Respect me and my privacy as I'm trying to have a baby. Good day sir.") And there's the inevitable post-election thrill of watching a qualified woman cream a male braggadocio.

"It is wish fulfillment," Faris said the other day, sitting with Dayton in the living room of their house, in the Pacific Palisades. Their Boston terriers, Louie (two years old, rambunctious) and Daisy (twelve, blind), alternately growled and licked at each other on the shag carpet. "Speaking of 'battle of the sexes'!" Faris said, before Dayton ushered the dogs outside.

The couple joined the project after Danny Boyle, who developed it, was pulled away to do "T2 Trainspotting." "We were particularly intrigued by Billie Jean's private life, and how at this moment, when the world was watching, she was having her first lesbian relationship," Dayton said.

"And, at the same time, she was fighting for equal pay for women," Faris said. The film sidesteps a long-circulating theory that Riggs threw the match in order to pay off debts to the Mob. …

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