In 1973, the world of tennis found drama on the courts when 55-year-old longstanding champion Bobby Riggs challenged rising 29-year-old star Billie Jean King to a $100,000 match dubbed "The Battle of the Sexes." Billie Jean forced Bobby to put his money where his mouth was when she defeated the tennis legend — causing a media frenzy and establishing a legacy for women in the sport. On Sept. 22, 2017, the movie "Battle of the Sexes" — starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell — arrives in theaters to commemorate this historic match. In honor of the film's release, Wonderwall.com dug through the archives to learn more about the real-life inspirations behind this historic moment in tennis. Keep reading to see the full line-up of athletes involved and find out which actors were chosen to play them on-screen…
Oscar-winning actress Emma Stone plays tennis star Billie Jean King in "Battle of the Sexes."
In 1961, Billie Jean King (seen here at the Wimbledon Championships in 1973) became a national news sensation when she and tennis partner Karen Hantze Susman won the Wimbledon women's doubles title, making them the youngest players to do so. By 1967, Billie Jean was the top athlete in women's tennis, a role she used as a platform to speak out against inequality, especially between men's and women's athletic prizes. In 1970, with the help of publishing maven Gladys Heldman, Billie Jean and eight other female tennis professionals formed and competed on the Virginia Slims Tour, giving them the opportunity to earn larger cash prizes than were usually offered to women in the league and changing the way female players would be compensated. What she's perhaps most famous for, however, is her match against tennis legend Bobby Riggs in 1973, dubbed "The Battle of the Sexes," which saw her defeat her competitor and take home a hefty $100,000 prize. That same year, Billie Jean formed the Women's Tennis Association. Not only has she spent her life advocating for equality, but in 1981, she became the first openly gay prominent female athlete.
Academy Award-nominated actor and comedian Steve Carell takes on the role of tennis star and notorious prankster Bobby Riggs in "Battle of the Sexes."
Bobby Riggs was a Los Angeles native who emerged as one of the top amateur-turned-professional tennis players in the world after annihilating the competition in 1939 Wimbledon matches for singles, doubles and mixed doubles. Ranking at No. 1 in the world, Bobby went on to win the mixed doubles title again in 1940 and the singles title in '41 before spending three years in the U.S. Navy. He made his triumphant return to tennis in 1946 when he emerged as the victor in the U.S. Pro Championships for two years in a row and again in 1949. Bobby, who was known for his pranks both on the court and off, is most famously remembered for challenging any female tennis player to defeat him in what was playfully coined "The Battle of the Sexes." In 1973, he won against tennis star Margaret Court. That was followed by a match against tennis star Billie Jean King that same year (seen here), though that time, Bobby was defeated. Bobby died on Oct. 25, 1995, at the age of 77.
SAG Award-winning British stage and film actress Andrea Riseborough (left) plays Billie Jean King's secret lesbian lover Marilyn Barnett in "Battle of the Sexes."
In 1972, former hairstylist Marilyn Barnett (center, seen outside a California courtroom in 1981) met tennis star Billie Jean King and began a passionate, secretive, seven-year love affair with the married athlete. Working as Billie Jean's assistant, secretary, cook and more, Marilyn helped keep their romance quiet due in large part to the taboo surrounding homosexuality, as well as to protect Billie Jean's status as a happily married woman. In 1981, a year after the relationship ended, Marilyn sued Billie Jean for part ownership of her Malibu home as well as half of her earnings during their time together. While Billie Jean initially denied the affair, she later confirmed it was true, but clarified that she loved her husband, former tennis player Larry King, "deeply." Marilyn lost her lawsuit against Billie Jean in 1981.
Actor Austin Stowell (right) takes on the role of tennis star Billie Jean King's husband, Larry King, in "Battle of the Sexes."
No, he's not that Larry King (the suspender-wearing host of "Larry King Live" fame), but he is an important figure in the story of Billie Jean King's life and tennis career. As a former tennis player, Larry (left, with his former wife) understood the sport and the demands it made on his wife more than most. As her steadfast supporter, business partner and ally, he worked with Billie Jean to form World Team Tennis — a mixed-gender tennis league allowing professional players the opportunity to compete for equal prize money. In 1981, Larry stood by Billie Jean amid accusations she'd embarked on an illicit, seven-year lesbian love affair with assistant Marilyn Barnett, telling the press his wife was always "forthright" and someone he "loves dearly." The couple divorced in 1987 but remain close friends.
Comedian and Emmy Award-winning actress Sarah Silverman (left) takes on the role of Gladys Heldman, a publisher and outspoken supporter of women in tennis, in "Battle of the Sexes."
On the International Tennis Hall of Fame page for Gladys Heldman, it quotes tennis star Billie Jean King as saying "Without Gladys Heldman, there wouldn't be women's professional tennis." Indeed, Gladys, a one-time professional tennis player who competed at Wimbledon and in the U.S. National Championships, who later became a publisher and founder of World Tennis magazine, played a pivotal role in changing the way women were viewed in the sport. It was Gladys who rallied nine female players together and donated $5,000 of her own money to support the women (including Billie Jean, Rosie Casals and Valerie Ziegenfuss) to start a women's-only series, dubbed the Virginia Slims Tour (in part due to Gladys's friend, Joe Cullman — the CEO of cigarette company Philip Morris — signing on as the sponsor), empowering the ladies to negotiate their own contracts and earn more money than previously offered to women in the sport. With Gladys's help, Billie Jean went on to form the the World Tennis Association, which opened even more doors for female tennis professionals.
Tony Award-winning actor Alan Cumming (right) plays fashion designer Ted Tinling in "Battle of the Sexes."
Cuthbert Collingwood "Ted" Tinling (also known as Teddy) was a master of ceremonies at Wimbledon, a noted sports historian, liaison, referee and, most popularly, a revolutionary fashion designer who brought style and beauty to women's tennis. The 6-foot-7 behemoth of a man was famously banned from Wimbledon in 1949 for designing the lacy tennis panties worn by tennis player Gertrude "Gussy" Moran that officials deemed too racy for the court. In 1970, Ted was invited to design the outfits for the Virginia Slims series — a tennis tour featuring nine professional female players — where he personally oversaw the design of more than 1,000 outfits, including the one tennis star Billie Jean King (seen here with Ted in 1980) would wear during the famous "Battle of the Sexes" match against Bobby Riggs in 1973. Eventually, Wimbledon lifted Ted's ban and in 1986, he was elected into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. In May 1990, Ted passed away in his sleep, one month before Wimbledon was set to honor him for his contributions to the sport.
Actress Mickey Sumner (left) takes on the role of American tennis player Valerie Ziegenfuss in "Battle of the Sexes."
Young tennis star Valerie Ziegenfuss (left, with fellow tennis star Wendy Overton in 1972) started her career in the sport as an amateur who later turned pro. Due to her and her friends' (including Billie Jean King and Rosie Casals) frustration with the lack of prize money available to female players, the group turned their backs on the U.S. Tennis Association in 1970, which spurred publisher Gladys Heldman to front the group $5,000 to form the Virginia Slim series — a circuit tour that allowed the women (and future female players) a chance to command higher prize amounts. Prior to the series, Valerie won the bronze medal in tennis doubles at the 1968 Olympics, where she partnered with Jane "Peaches" Bartkowicz.
Acting veteran Bill Pullman stars as tennis legend Jack Kramer in the movie "Battle of the Sexes."
Jack Kramer (seen here in 1980) was once called "the most influential man in tennis." Not only was he a powerful player in his own right, winning the men's singles title in both 1946 and 1947 (followed by the Wimbledon singles title the same year), among other championships, but his entrepreneurial skills led to a change in how players were compensated. During a time when it was normal to play tennis as an amateur to make money under the table for matches, Jack turned pro (defeating young tennis star Bobby Riggs) and, along with the help of a tennis promoter, put pressure on the tennis federations, eventually leading to the formation of the U.S. Open in 1968, which guaranteed all players would earn prize money. Jack's innovation didn't end there. He was responsible for the development of the men's Grand Prix, which, after two decades, became the Masters championship. In 1972, Jack founded the Association of Tennis Professionals (which, at the time, only included men). In 2009 at the age of 88, Jack passed away, leaving behind a lasting legacy.
Actress Martha MacIsaac (left), best known for her supporting roles in "Superbad" and "Family Guy," plays young tennis star Jane "Peaches" Bartkowicz in "Battle of the Sexes.
The youngest player to ever win Junior Wimbledon was a 15-year-old up-and-coming tennis star named Jane "Peaches" Bartkowicz (seen here in 1970). At 18, Peaches was the fourth-ranked tennis player in the U.S. and by 1970, she was a member of the nine original female tennis players chosen to take part in the U.S. Women's Invitation tournament. It was that same year that Peaches, subbing for injured player Nancy Richey, played doubles with tennis pro Billie Jean King against Great Britain and helped win the match, leading the American team to take home the coveted Wightman Cup. The following year, Peaches quit the sport due to the intense pressure she felt and her yearning to become a wife and mother.
Daytime Emmy Award-winning actress Natalie Morales (left) plays tennis rebel Rosie Casals in "Battle of the Sexes."
Known as the rebel in women's tennis, Rosie Casals (nicknamed "Rosebud") was a self-taught tennis star whose talent was a force to be admired. Friends with young Billie Jean King, Rosie was chosen to play alongside Billie Jean in the coveted Virginia Slim series in 1970 — a tour of nine professional women tennis players that helped usher in a new era for the sport. Rosie became one of the top 10 tennis players in the world and later encouraged her friend and tennis partner Billie Jean to compete against Bobby Riggs in the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes" match.
Australian actress Jessica McNamee (left), best known for her supporting role in "The Vow," plays tennis pro Margaret Court in "Battle of the Sexes."
Just four months prior to Bobby Riggs challenging and losing to Billie Jean King in the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match, he played and defeated Australian tennis star Margaret Court. For 15 years, Margaret made history by winning 24 major singles titles, 21 mixed doubles titles and 19 doubles titles, ending her reign in 1975 as the world's No. 1-ranked player before officially retiring from the sport in 1977. Over the course of her tennis career, Margaret had an astounding record of 1,180 wins (which included matches against Billie Jean and tennis's bad girl, Rosie Casals) and a mere 107 losses. Later in Margaret's life, she became an ordained minister and spoke out against same-sex marriage, also alleging women's tennis is "full of lesbians."