American tennis player Gertrude “Gussie” Moran died at her Los Angeles home on Jan. 16, some 64 years after shocking the world with her daring on-court style.
Moran was, at her peak, the fourth best American female tennis player. In the pre-Open era, she won two hard court championships and was a darling of sportswriters, all of whom LIFE noted were enchanted by her “lively green eyes, face and figure of a movie starlet, and is the most attractive raw material they have had to write about for some time.” She earned the nickname “Gorgeous Gussie” for her Hollywood looks, which nearly overshadowed her talent, but were nothing compared to her on court fashions.
She caused an international stir at Wimbledon in 1949 when she competed in a short skirt and lace-trimmed underwear for all to see. The straitlaced public was accustomed to seeing women play in modest, long shorts or loose-fitting skirts. Moran, who often designed her own tennis clothes for her mother to sew, hiked up her dress to a underwear-baring, Williams sister height for the first time in female tennis history, and things were never the same for her or the game. Her popularity led to dozens of worldwide magazine covers, and her name was given to a racehorse, an aircraft, and a sauce.
“Gussie was the Anna Kournikova of her time,” tennis legend Jack Kramer told the Los Angeles Times in 2002, which first reported her death. “Gussie was a beautiful woman with a beautiful body. If Gussie had played in the era of television, no telling what would have happened. Because, besides everything else, Gussie could play.”
Moran was comfortable with the legacy she left for revealing and flashily-dressed competitors like Kournikova, Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters. “What’s wrong with having a good time with your clothes and your body?” she said in 2002. “I was not very comfortable doing so. Maybe it would be different now.”