In January 1961, when amateur events dominated the top tier of competitive tennis, including the tournament now known as the US Open, United Press sportswriter Oscar Fraley concluded that “the amateur tennis fathers eventually could wind up in command of the professionals for the good of the game.”
The scenario was realized starting in 1968. That year, the U.S. Nationals tournament was renamed the US Open, as the event became open to amateur and professional players alike. But for Fraley — born on this day in 1914 — another racket activity had already sealed his legacy.
In early 1956, based in Midtown Manhattan at United Press’ headquarters in the Daily News building on East 42nd Street, 41-year-old Fraley was 14 years into writing the wire service’s daily syndicated Sports Parade column. Over scotch at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel ten blocks uptown, Fraley met a man from an out-of-state printing business nine years Fraley’s senior.
Fraley learned that his drinking mate was Eliot Ness, the forgotten leader of the United States Treasury Department unit that took down racketeering boss Al Capone in the early 1930s. Many drinks later, Fraley agreed to write a book about crime fighting escapades of Ness’ unit during Prohibition.
The Untouchables, which Fraley wrote with Ness in three weeks between Fraley’s sportswriting duties, sold more than a million copies, launched a popular television series starring Robert Stack as Ness and a hit movie with Kevin Costner in the Ness role, all after Ness’ death in 1957 and before Fraley’s in 1994.
In sports, Fraley is best known for Sports Parade, having penned the column for more than 20 years starting in 1942. He regularly cranked out some 300 columns per year with syndication in more than 400 newspapers, including after United Press became United Press International (UPI) in 1958.
New York Sports Tours has a particular interest in Fraley’s tennis work. Among the items in the company’s sports artifacts collection is Fraley’s sterling-silver 1942 Lawn Tennis Writers Association of America (LTWAA) membership lapel pin. Etched with Fraley’s name and earned the year Fraley joined United Press in New York after work for the wire service in Philadelphia, the badge was manufactured by Manhattan’s Robert Stoll Inc.
Fraley served as the LTWAA president in 1944 and 1945. Among the more than 20 sports books he wrote is 1954’s How to Play Championship Tennis.
Late New York sports historian Bill Shannon, whose work led to the creation of New York Sports Tours, once wrote of Fraley, “He was a hard-drinking reporter typical of the period and reportedly dictated columns more than once while inebriated sufficiently so as to be unable to type them himself. Fraley’s columns were crisp and literate, occasionally controversial, but always easy to read.”
For his column, Fraley reported many times from the U.S. Nationals at the West Side Tennis Club in the Forest Hills section of Queens. His Sports Parade subjects during the tournament were diverse, from New York City’s Althea Gibson, the first black player to win the tournament (“She will not be a popular champion, simply because of her ‘I am the queen’ attitude”) and four-time U.S. Nationals champion Maria Bueno of Brazil (“she moves like a cat and hits the ball like a man”) to Danish tennis player-jazz artist Torben Ulrich (“the most entertaining item to hit tennis since Gussie Moran’s lace panties”) and U.S. Davis Cup captains (“not what a man knows, but who he knows… a series of ‘towel boys'”).
The son of an Irish saloon singer, Fraley positioned himself as an everyman, sometimes with the moniker Fearless Fraley. In a column he filed from Forest Hills in 1956, he applauded the moves that “opened up the clubhouses to the professionals and helped a stuffed-shirt sport become accepted by us of the masses.”
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