American Masters | Billie Jean King
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American Masters | Billie Jean King

Watch Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 8pm on WMHT TV

For the first time, American Masters series profiles a sports figure: Billie Jean King (born Nov. 22, 1943), a determined woman who has been a major force in changing and democratizing the cultural landscape. American Masters Billie Jean King premieres Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 8pm on WMHT TV to commemorate three 40th anniversaries: the Billie Jean King v. Bobby Riggs “The Battle of the Sexes” match on Sept. 20, 1973, the founding of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) by King on June 20, and the U.S. Open becoming the first Grand Slam tournament to award equal prize money to men and women. This new documentary traces the incredible life of one of the most important female athletes of the 20th century as her 70th birthday nears.

American Masterslooks back to the 12-year-old Long Beach, California, girl who played tennis on public courts, observed disparity and, as she soared athletically, never stopped trying to remedy inequality. During her professional tennis career, King won 39 Grand Slam titles, helped form the Virginia Slims Series (pre-cursor to WTA Tour), founded the Women’s Sports Foundation and Women’s Sports magazine, and co-founded World TeamTennis (WTT). Her competitiveness on the circuit was matched by her efforts on behalf of women and the LGBT community, and her commitment to prove there is strength in diversity.

In American Masters Billie Jean King, King presents her own story with perspective from fellow tennis stars who played alongside her or were influenced by her, among them Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Ilana Kloss (King’s partner), Maria Sharapova, Serena and Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, and members of the Virginia Slims Circuit “Original 9,” including Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Julie Heldman, Nancy Richey, and Valerie Ziegenfuss. The film also features new interviews with a diverse cast of characters from King’s unparalleled life: former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, friend and fellow activist Sir Elton John, feminist icon Gloria Steinem, Bobby Riggs’ son Larry and “Battle of the Sexes” trainer Lornie Kuhle, King’s brother Randy Moffitt and ex-husband Larry King, and Valerie Jarrett, Senior Adviser to President Obama, who chose King as the first female athlete to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. King is also a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. Through these interviews and archival footage, the film illustrates the life of a woman whose journey became not just a battle for personal glory but a sociopolitical battle for equality for all.

“Billie Jean King embodies the art of sports, of humanism and of activism. For more than 50 years, her excellence and example have sparked the way for changes that enrich us all,” said Susan Lacy, creator and executive producer of American Masters. “Billie Jean’s star on our cultural landscape shines brighter and brighter, with no end in sight.”

“I am thrilled American Masters is choosing to showcase my journey as we celebrate so many historic anniversaries in my ongoing commitment to social justice and equality,” said King. “It is an honor to be the first athlete profiled in the 27-year history of American Masters and I look forward to bringing our message of equality to audiences of all ages and all backgrounds.”

“Almost from the first time she picked up a racquet, Billie Jean King has understood the power of sport as a major cultural force to shape society; and it was her insight to use the emotional energy borne on the playing field to fight for equality and social justice. Through her life she has faced triumph and adversity with equal measure, battling both on and off the court for a better world. To be entrusted with telling her story is both an honor and responsibility,” said Emmy-nominated filmmaker James Erskine, co-founder of New Black Films (The Battle of the Sexes, One Night in Turin). 

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