The 1930s and early 1940s were salad days for the Los Angeles Tennis Club on Clinton Street.
Bing Crosby played there. So did Errol Flynn, Gilbert Roland and others from what was the movie industry. Some of the elite of Los Angeles business also gathered there when L.A. still was a gangling, growing city.
Just about everyone who played good tennis in the city in those days found their way there, regulars and occasional visitors. If you really liked the game, it was the place to be.
Josephine Cruickshank was one of the L.A. Tennis Club's best during that era.
It was no wonder Flynn, as swashbuckling away from the set as he was on film, latched onto Cruickshank as his mixed doubles partner for the Motion Picture tournament in 1937.
Flynn wasn't bad himself, but Cruickshank was in a different league. In fact, she outclassed most who played there in those days, as high as that level was.
"She was one of the best women to play tennis there around that time, if not the best of all," said Jack Tidball of Van Nuys, another top player of the time.
Cruickshank is 85 now. She says she hasn't played tennis "in a long time," but still enjoys watching it on television and when she visits the club. Her apartment is only a few blocks away.
Cruickshank was ranked as high as fifth in the nation in women's open singles in 1930 and 1932, and was among the top 10 from 1929-33. She won the U.S. Tennis Assn. girls' 18 national doubles championship in 1927 with Midge Gladman and was the Southern California women's singles champion in 1933. Then, in 1934, she represented the United States on the Wightman Cup team, playing doubles with Carolin Babcock.
Her rich competitive career, long before anyone even thought about a pro tennis tour, will be recognized again, 60 years after its heyday, with her induction into the Orange County Sports Hall of Fame next Sunday.
Cruickshank grew up in Orange County, where her father was president of a bank in Santa Ana before he sold it and later retired. The family lived in Tustin, and Cruickshank attended Santa Ana High before she went to the University of California, then settled in Los Angeles.
Her longtime friends at the L.A. Tennis Club have been happy to hear of her new honor; the club was always a big part of her life. Never married, she was a secretary throughout her working career.
"She still loves to go there and visit her friends," said Martha Molina, who assists Cruickshank and lives in the apartment with her. "Ms. Cruickshank still does quite a bit of traveling, too, and enjoys herself very much."
Her niece, Lida Mainieri, who lives in Tempe, Ariz., said Cruickshank had a mild stroke several years ago, then hip replacement surgery after a fall about three years ago. "After that, she needed someone to stay with her and help her, and Martha's been doing that seven days a week, 24 hours a day. My aunt is the last of her family," she said.
Her friends remember how involved she has been with the junior program at the club.
"That's the thing I'll always remember most about her," said Pat Yeomans of Los Angeles, who won the U.S. girls' 18 singles title in 1935. "She played with me regularly that year, as well as in 1936 and 1937 when I was in college.
"From about 1953 on through the '70s, she would volunteer her services to work with all the juniors in the club on Saturday mornings. She did a wonderful job of encouraging all our young players."
Peggy Kerr, another longtime club member, says she appreciates the friendliness Cruickshank showed through the years as much as her tennis ability. "She was always nice to everyone she would meet, and that's why she has so many friends in tennis," she said.
Joe Bixler, president of the Southern California Tennis Assn. for 10 years after he retired from his job with a national sporting goods company, has known Cruickshank for more than half a century.
"We joined the tennis club at about the same time when we both were in our 20s, although I'm a year older," Bixler said. "As soon as I saw her play the first time, there was no doubt in my mind how good she was. We had some interclub matches in those days, and Josie was always the class of the girls we played. . . . That's why 'Old White Horse' grabbed her for his mixed doubles partner. That's what we called Errol Flynn. I don't remember now why we called him that. I guess he'd ridden a white horse in one of his movies, but it stuck around the club."
Bixler said Cruickshank didn't mingle much with the movie crowd, except for the occasional match with a celebrity, even though she worked for one of the studios for a while.
"Josie was just a hell of a tennis player," Bixler said. "She wasn't flashy, just really solid. She didn't miss. You had to really beat her if you were going to win. And she was competitive. She also loved to play bridge and backgammon, and she was very competitive in that too."
Bixler also remembers how Cruickshank worked to get children interested in the game.