Ninety million people tuned in to the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Forty years on, we only get one-seventh of that number for the Wimbledon Championships. Not that the eyebrow-raising figures were unexpected - after all, it was a battle of the sexes. A woman went up against a man in an athletic competition, a feat that until this day is still largely unheard of.
This spectacle was destined to be made into a Hollywood film, and Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton recently did just that with Battle of the Sexes. It stars Emma Stone as the then 29-year-old King, and Steve Carell as the then 55-year-old Riggs. Reviews of the show have been nothing short of excellent, and some have even said that it’s Stone’s best performance yet.
But as with any film that tries to depict real-life history, there are some differences. Intrigued? Here’s what some of them are. Just be sure to catch the movie before reading on so there are no spoilers.
Fact: Jack Kramer offered women just a fraction of the prize money in his Tennis Tournament
In fact, Kramer (Bill Pullman) offered them just 15 percent, and as you can imagine, it was not something the strong-headed King was going to shake hands on. When he refused to budge on the pay gap, she rallied together some of the female players and left.
Fact: Riggs said that women belong in the kitchen and bedroom
Riggs was a chauvinist and proud of it. During a press conference, he proclaimed that women wouldn’t be able to beat him because they lack “emotional stability”. He also backed up Kramer’s chauvinism by alleging that women only play 25 percent as well as men, so they should get 25 percent the pay.
Fact: King had an affair
King and Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) met in a hair salon in 1972, and they soon engaged in a romantic relationship though King already had a husband. Barnett left her job to become King’s “secretary, confidante, cook” so that the latter could concentrate on being a tennis star. Given that it was the ‘70s and King was a public figure, their affair was kept hush-hush, but it surfaced into the open in 1981 when Barnett sued King for lifetime support after their split.
Fact: Riggs popped more than 100 vitamins a day
Riggs told 60 Minutes that in the weeks leading up to the match, he was taking about 135 pills a day. Of course, no one can say for sure if he did exactly that—but he did claim to do it.
Fact: Riggs beat Margaret Court
King initially declined the match with Riggs, but after he beat Court, she decided she had to accept his challenge in order to change the perception that women were inferior in the sport.
Fact: King gave Riggs a piglet
Riggs gave King a giant Sugar Daddy lollipop before the match, and she returned the favour by giving him a squealing baby pig. It was an unquestionable response to Riggs’ male chauvinist pig image.
Fiction: Riggs threw the match
There were many allegations that Riggs bet against himself, and then threw the match, so that he could use the money to pay off debts. However, after hearing these claims, King told ABC News that he was “trying his guys out every point”.
Fiction: King and Riggs were close
They weren’t exactly pals—at least not before the legendary tennis match took place. King barely knew Riggs, and it wasn’t until after the match that they grew close. In fact, they spoke to each other just before Riggs passed away in 1995.
"He was one of my heroes. I stayed in touch with Bobby. The night before he passed away, I talked to him. ... I told him I loved him and he told me he loved me, and I think he was proud of himself,” King told ABC News.