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Muffins and Tennis : It's a Love Match for the Pepperdine Coach

May 05, 1988|JEFF MEYERS | Times Staff Writer

Three Hollywood screenwriters brainstorming ideas for a new TV series:

"Let's make the lead character the president of a muffin company," the first says.

"An upscale muffin company owned by his beautiful blonde wife!" the second says.

"It's hip, it's dynamic, it's now!" the first says.

The third writer frowns. "I just don't know. Does America want jokes about vanilla frosting?"

The first writer shrugs. "No problem. We'll get him out of his office. In the afternoons, he's a tennis coach at a major university."

"And a former Wimbledon quarterfinalist," No. 2 adds. "Cut down in his prime by injury."

"He's still too dull," the third writer says. "Let's also make him a psychologist who helps players with their homework."

"I love it!" the first writer says, "but what does he do on weekends?"

They sink deeply into thought until the second writer has a burst of creative energy. "I have it! He's an author and a big-game hunter who flies his own plane and rides a motorcycle and goes scuba diving. We'll call it, 'The Adventures of Allen Fox.' "

Nos. 1 and 2 congratulate each other, but the third writer has his doubts. "I'm not sure," he says. "We just may have gone too far. I mean, who's going to believe that one guy does all those things?"

Allen Fox does all those things, some of them simultaneously. "I've got a good computer up here," he says, patting his thick, dark hair. "I learn quickly."

Fox, 48, works in a small, windowless office at the Tarzana factory for Mrs. Beasley's, his wife Nancy's thriving muffin company. For a few hours in the morning, his action-packed life slows down and he performs the tasks of a president, which in this case includes testing the vanilla frosting that swirls like whitecaps in a large mixing vat.

Fox is dressed for success in his Adidas theme outfit--matching shirt, shorts, socks and sneakers. When his duties are complete at Mrs. Beasley's, he'll ride to Malibu on his Honda 450cc and make the same fashion statement at Pepperdine, where he coaches the powerful tennis team and gazes out on the green Pacific Ocean, seeing himself flying with sea gulls to Brazil or Baja.

But lately, it has been only a daydream.

"I have more skills than I have the time to use them," says Fox, who can manage only one day a month in the cockpit of his single-engine Mooney 231.

An '80s renaissance man, Fox seems to have sprung from a writer's imagination. "But everything is true," says Larry Nagler, a Los Angeles attorney and longtime pal. "He's a very unique creature, brilliant and talented. His many talents have pulled him in a lot of directions."

Nagler has known Fox since both were 13. They met when Fox, who lived in Arizona at the time, visited an uncle in New York during the summer. Nagler lived next door. One day they went to Roslyn Country Club and took up tennis together. Fox's internal computer went right to work. In 18 months, he was ranked 35th in the country in his age group. By the time he was a junior, Fox was ranked seventh and on his way to UCLA on a tennis scholarship after graduating from Beverly Hills High in 1957.

While Fox was rising through the amateur ranks, Nagler was right on his heels. They would meet at junior tournaments all over the country. Fox even persuaded Nagler to attend UCLA in 1958. During their careers as Bruins "we were bitter rivals and close friends," Nagler says. They split time as captains and top-seeded players at UCLA. They were on the junior U.S. Davis Cup team together. And they each won an NCAA singles title, Nagler in '60, Fox a year later.

"Allen was a vicious competitor who hated to lose, especially to me," Nagler says. "One year at UCLA I beat him in the singles final of the Ojai tournament. After he lost, he broke two racquets and sneered at me that he was going to throw the doubles finals. And I was his partner! He said he couldn't stand for me to win another title. Sure enough, we lost to UCLA teammates we usually thrashed."

Fox played on the senior Davis Cup teams for three years, tying in one trip with a safari to hunt wild buffalo in Kenya. In 1965, he reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, losing to Cliff Drysdale. In winning a major West Coast tournament in 1966, he beat some of the world's best players, including Roy Emerson, Fred Stolle and Tony Roche.

But even though Fox was, according to Nagler, among the "top 15 players in the world," he never had any intention of pursuing tennis as a profession. In those days, open tennis had not yet turned professional tennis into a big business. Most players were still so-called amateurs. Fox, whose family was involved in the L.A. financial world, decided he wanted to make money. So even though he had a bachelor's degree in physics and a doctorate in psychology from UCLA, he went into investment banking.

"It was a logical move for a tennis player," he says. "Tennis was a high-visibility game among the wealthy. It was very social in those days, more so than now. If you were a good player, everybody knew you."

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