It was the summer of 1967 and I was working as Assistant Tennis Pro at Scioto Country Club in Upper Arlington, Ohio. I played tennis for Ohio State in those days and John Hendrix was the coach at OSU. He was also the Head Pro at Scioto CC, so he hired me for the summer. I mostly played tennis with elderly women who needed company and who needed someone to make them laugh on the court while hitting tennis balls. I also ran tennis clinics for kids, strung tennis racquets, and I got to play quite a bit of tennis when I wasn't teaching. Not a bad gig all-in-all.
One of the members of the club was a developer who was ready to have a Grand Opening of his housing development. He and Coach cooked up the idea of having a tennis exhibition at the development as part of a gala opening, and Bob "Harry" Harrison and I were given the assignment. Harry also played for OSU, so we were old friends. But the exciting part of the event was the planned appearance of a celebrity that the developer had hired, or bribed, or coerced in some way to show up and mingle for a while with prospective buyers of his houses while watching our tennis exhibition match.
The celebrity was Anna Maria Alberghetti, a woman who is well-known to those of my generation. Alberghetti started her career as an opera singer and a child prodigy at the age of 6, performed at Carnegie Hall at 13, and then starred in about a dozen movies in the 1950s and 60s. She won a Tony Award for her Broadway performance in Carnival in 1962. I specifically had remembered her in Cinderfella in 1960, where she co-starred with Jerry Lewis. And she was on the cover of Life magazine twice. Wow!
So Harry and I were to play a singles match in front of the famous Anna Maria and that was it--no other matches but ours, no other distractions for the movie star. She could focus on our talent and our Ohio personalities, she would enjoy herself thoroughly, she would raise our praises in Rome when she returned to her homeland, and she would giggle and tease and horse around with us after the match. In short, she would have an afternoon so entertaining that she would never forget it, nor would she ever forget us.
Anna Maria showed up in a limousine, exactly befitting a famous person. She was surrounded with 4 or 5 men who wore sunglasses; I assumed they were body guards. Anna Maria also wore large sunglasses and a large, wide-brimmed hat. Her arrival was anticipated by the crowd with great excitement; Harry and I giggled like 3rd graders before the match. The only problem was that she arrived AFTER we had finished our match. She got there in time to see two tired, sweaty, and smelly wannabes gawking at the black entourage, and I mean black. The limousine was black. All the bodyguards were dressed in black. They reminded me of a scene from The Sopranos. Everyone wore dark sunglasses. And Anna Maria never said a word the entire 30 minutes that she was there; I mean she never uttered a sound-not in Italian, not in English, not a moan, not a sigh, nothing. She signed autographs, while the ends of her mouth were turned up ever so slightly in what could be defined as a smile.
It then occurred to me that maybe the guys in black were sent there by the tennis coach from Purdue, the only team in the Big Ten Conference that we could beat in those days, to whack Harry and me. This whole thing was just a setup to eliminate one-third of OSU's team.
By sundown I realized that the entire episode was just another of life's disappointments. We had a lot of those in Ohio. Anna Maria came and she went. She saw nothing, said nothing, sang nothing and, I am sure, remembered nothing.
But I'm much older and more sophisticated now. I think that next spring I will go to Rome; I love Italy after all. I will call Anna Maria and have her meet me for coffee at the Piazza Navona. She can bring along those other hot Italian movie stars of yesteryear--Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren. I'm sure they all know each other. And Anna Maria and I can relive old times, and reminisce about Columbus, Ohio, and we will throw our heads back in gleeful laughter, and Gina and Sophia will wish they had been there with us. Ohhhhhhhhh hum.