Grave Spotlight

In a way, cemeteries are like libraries. They contain the final resting places of thousands of people, each with their own separate and unique story. Some of these people are famous, and their stories are well known. Most are not, but that doesn't make their life any less interesting or their stories any less worthy of being told and remembered.

Periodically, we'll spotlight a different Los Angeles-area grave. Every person has a story, and we will use this space to tell their story, through their final resting place.

After your tour of the virtual cemetery, don't forget to visit the official store (or the brand new downtown location) on your way out and pick up a souvenir or two. Thanks!

May Godfrey Sutton Bundy

(Sept. 25, 1887 - Oct. 4, 1975)

Dec. 6, 2010 -- May Sutton was the first American to win a Wimbledon singles title, but that wasn't the only thing she did that shocked the stuffy British tennis crowd in 1905. During the finals, May wore a skirt that showed her ankles, and she actually rolled up her sleeves and bared her elbows!

May Sutton had one of the longest tennis careers of all time, playing -- and winning -- for more than 75 years.

At the turn of the century, May and her sisters Violet, Ethel and Florence totally dominated the Southern California tennis scene. Before the 1899 Southern California championship tournament, one sportswriter made the easy prediction that one of the sisters would take home the women's trophy since, he wrote, "no player has beaten a Sutton except a Sutton."

May Sutton was born in Plymouth, England, the seventh child of Adolphus De Gruchy Sutton, a retired British navy captain and yachting enthusiast, and Adelina Esther Godfrey Sutton. When May was 6, the family moved to Southern California, settling in Pasadena on a 10-acre orange grove near the corner of Mountain Street and Hill Avenue. With the help of their English neighbors, the Sutton children built a tennis court on the property, hauling clay from a nearby canyon and pressing it smooth with a steamroller.

On this homemade court, May learned tennis, and by playing against her older siblings, she learned to be tough and competitive -- traits which she never lost. Throughout her life, whether playing a backyard game against an older sister, a promotional match at a small tennis club and even well into her 80s when she was matched up against opponents half her age, May went all out. The short and stocky May also learned that speed and power wouldn't be her most valuable tools on the court, so she focused on making accurate shots, wearing down her opponent, and never giving up.

By the end of the 1800s, nearly every tennis tournament played in Southern California featured at least one -- usually all four -- of the Sutton sisters. And one of them usually came home with the first-place trophy. May won her first open tennis tournament when she was 12, defeating her sister Ethel in the finals. In August 1900, a month before her 14th birthday, May defeated Violet, 6-4, 6-1, for the Southern California women’s championship, held in Santa Monica. According to a newspaper report of the final match, "It is safe to say that Miss May Sutton could defeat one-half the men who have played this year, or any other year, for that matter."

The following year, May defended her Southern California title by beating Florence in the finals, 6-3, 6-3. In 1902, May again defeated Violet in the finals, 6-1, 6-1.

"May's strength as a tennis player lies principally in her unrelenting persistancy," said Florence. "She never lets anybody beat her and discourages her opponent by always getting the ball back, no matter where you put it."

"Of course, I play to win," said May. "That is the only way one can improve and draw the other party out to their best game."

"I just play," she said, "but I do think that one half of ability to play tennis is confidence bordering on recklessness, and the other half is accuracy. Speed has far less to do with the game than accuracy in placing, for it is in the latter that the higher-class game is won or lost."

May was also opposed to playing the game close to the net, particularly after a serve, prefering instead to stay back and wear down her opponent with accurately placed shots. "A few good strokes will meet all emergencies of the game," she said, "and make one just as hard to beat as if he had fancy pick-ups and foxy cuts."

In 1904, 18-year-old May -- still a student at Pasadena High School -- won the women's singles title at the U.S. Championships, defeating the defending champion, 28-year-old Bessie Moore, 6-1, 6-2, and becoming the youngest woman champion in the history of the tournament. (She held the record for 75 years, until 16-year-old Tracy Austin won the title in 1979.) May also teamed with Miriam Hall to win the women's doubles title, and almost made it a clean sweep when she advanced to the finals in the mixed doubles category.

The following year, May won the woman's singles title at Wimbledon, defeating England's two-time defending champion, Kate Douglas Chambers, 6-3, 6-4, and becoming America's first Wimbledon champion.

May met Chambers again in the Wimbledon finals in 1906, with Chambers winning, 6-3, 9-7 (although May won the women's doubles title that year). They met for the third straight year in the Wimbledon finals in 1907, and this time May took back the title, 6-1, 6-4.

In 1908, May reigned over a different type of court when she became the first sports celebrity to be named queen of Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses.

In 1912, May -- who was once quoted as saying, "I would not marry a man who could not beat me in tennis" -- married Thomas Clark Bundy, the 1910 national doubles champion. After her marriage, she semi-retired to raise her four children. But she never stopped playing tennis. In 1921, at the age of 35, she made a comeback and was ranked No. 4 in the U.S. In 1925, she was a women's doubles finalist at the U.S. Championships. And in 1929, at the age of 42, she returned to Wimbledon for the first time since 1907 and reached the quarterfinals. She also taught tennis from the 1930s through the 1960s, and continued playing well into her 80s.

While May was playing tennis and taking care of the family, her husband was investing in real estate. Bundy developed land that included 2,000 acres of Sherman Oaks and the La Brea-Wilshire portion of the Westside of Los Angeles. In 1920, Bundy paid $1,000 for 5.5 acres near Melrose Avenue and Vine Street to build the Los Angeles Tennis Club, which became a favorite stop for film stars. At the club, May played against stars including Marlene Dietrich, Jean Harlow, Joan Bennett, Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable.

May and Bundy separated in the late 1920s, but didn't officially divorce until 1940, and neither of them remarried.

In 1938, May Bundy was named one of the nation's most influential feminists. In the 1950s, she became the first woman inducted into the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association's Hall of Fame. In 1956, she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

In 1975, at the age of 87, May Sutton played her final tennis match. And, of course, she won. She died a few months later on Oct. 4, 1975, and is buried at Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery in Santa Monica, Calif. Her grave marker features two tennis rackets, with the inscription, "All Ways a Champion."

Previous Grave Spotlights

Back to main page