Richard Norris Williams Jr

Mar 20, 2000
In looking through the old crate again over the weekend, I saw this and plucked it out. It's a profile, somewhat critical but also prophetic, of rising tennis star Richard Norris Williams who, along with team mate and fellow Titanic survivor Karl Behr, helped win the Davis Cup in 1914. This was written just before that victory:


VANITY FAIR, August 1914, p 33 cont'd p 70


A Glimpse of the Young Harvard
Sophomore Upon Whom Much Will
Depend in the Davis Cup Matches

By J. Parmly Paret

(an accompanying photo of Williams has the caption "all smiles, no matter what happens")

Perhaps the most interesting figure in American lawn tennis is Richard Norris Williams, 2nd, of Philadelphia. This youth of 23, a sophomore at Harvard, has set the best students of the game to guessing, and they do not find a ready answer to the puzzles he has raised.

The best masters in Europe had a hand in teaching young Williams the game, and they found him an apt pupil from the start. He began very young and almost as soon as he was big enough to swing a racket he took up tournament play in the Swiss and Riviera handicaps with promising results. When he was barely 21, he started for America with his father to enter Harvard. They selected the ill-fated Titanic for passage, and his father was lost in the disaster. Young Williams himself was saved only after a bitter experience in which he clung for six hours to the wreckage in the icy waters before he was picked up by one of the Carpathia's boat.

Williams sprang into prominence at once on the American tennis courts. From the very beginning he was a formidable adversary for the best. His American debut came at a time when the Eastern section of the country was denuded of champions and there was plenty of room at the top. The great Larned had just retired and the upper rungs were occupied almost entirely by Californians.

A friendly rivalry was had at once between Williams and McLoughlin, the then Champion, and although the Californian won almost every time, Williams played him close and seemed to hold all the others safe. At the end of the 1912 season, he was officially rated as the second best player in the country and was again so rated last year after playing McLoughlin a close four-set match in the finals at Newport for the championship.

So, last year, when the American team was selected to meet the Australians, he was unanimously chosen to play beside McLoughlin in the singles and he acquitted himself well, winning both of his matches against Doust and Rice. Later in the season, he was sent to England with the team that won the Davis Cup, duplicating the champion's record by beating Dixon and losing to Parke.

His play is in many ways the most interesting of all our players, not because he shows the greatest speed, for he doesn't; not because he is the headiest player, for he isn't; not because his service, or his smashing, or his volleying, or his forehand or backhand strokes are best, for they are not, but simply because he plays all strokes well and plays them in such good form and with such apparent reserve that one gets the impression that he has never reached his limit or played himself out. I doubt if he has ever shown his best and I look for far greater skill in the future. He has the groundwork of good form, the youth and enthusiasm, and the opportunity, to carry out his ambition. With experience his fame should climb to higher levels and I predict for him, before his tennis days are over, a niche in the hall of fame of lawn tennis players, beside H.L. Doherty, Norman Brookes, A.F. Wilding, W. A. Larned, Maurice McLoughlin, and a few others.

Williams' service is of the American type, though it does not show as much break or as much length and speed as McLoughlin's; his ground strokes are all made with a free body-swing and a good follow-through, and his overhead play is sound at all times, though not so severe as the champion's.

In fact the most noticeable failing of the young Harvard star is his lack of the fighting aggressiveness or the bull-dog tenacity that make McLoughlin such a consistent winner. The champion is at all times and everlastingly forcing the attack; he allows no breathing spell and his face shows the intense absorption in big matches that allows room for only one idea, a virulent attack until the match is over.

Williams on the other hand, has a winning smile that draws him many friends. Whether winning or losing, he smiles, and his friends often wish that he took matters more seriously when they see a hard match going against him. But his lawn tennis is still a pastime with Williams; he refuses to make a business of it and the dilettante English ideas he picked up abroad seem odd to some American lovers of the game who take match play very seriously.

When Williams met Rice, the Australian, in the International matches at the West Side courts a year ago last spring, the Harvard lad's play gave his friends heartburn in the first two sets. Rice, out of date in all his methods, outclassed by McLoughlin in the first day,took the first sets from Williams through the American's errors; Williams never turned a hair as game after game was lost but came back smiling for the third set, playing right through the match without varying his tactics and finally won out. He seemed satisfied that his regular game must win and kept at it until it did win...


Unfortunately the magazine I have is ripped after page 63 so I cannot copy down the rest of this piece!

Jason D. Tiller

Aug 20, 2000
Niagara Falls, Ontario
Hi Randy,

That is an very interesting article. Thank you for posting it.

It's great to see that you're still here!

Best regards,


Mike Herbold

Dec 13, 1999
You devil. Just when I think I've identified every passenger who ever came to California, you slip in another one. Now I've got to start studying California tennis matches in the 19-teens to see when and where Williams might have played here. Thanks for sharing that interesting article.
Dec 12, 1999

If you're into Titanic passengers and crew as visitors to California, as well as residents and such, you should be aware that Isidor Strauss was a frequent visitor, and went on vacations in the San Francisco area. By the way, there's some new pictures of 840 Powell Street on the San Francisco Titanica website.
Mar 20, 2000
Mike H,

I've finally found the picture of Williams that went with the above article.

It will go in with a bunch of other photos of Titanic Folks which will go into a box - which was once a package, which was once an envelope! - that I promised to send to our great Phil H about 6 MONTHS ago!

And Phil H

Btw, I haven't forgot about the film & newsreel tapes which I promise to send on as soon as I can. Not that you should be in any hurry to add more work to all that you do already!


Similar threads

Similar threads