Alice Marble: The No. 1 World Tennis Champion and Nazi-Fighting Spy


DC comic book editor Alice Marble was an 18-time Grand Slam tennis champion and Nazi-fighting spy who almost died trying to defeat fascism.

The No. 1-ranked tennis star dominated the game in the 1930s, winning her first US singles championship at the age of 23. After she miscarried and learned of her husband’s death days later - his plane was shot down over Germany in WWII - Marble turned to espionage.

“I felt I had nothing left to lose but my life, and at that time I didn’t care about living,” Marble wrote In her autobiography, Courting Danger (1991). “A few months later on a dark mountain road, I found that I did care. When my life was in danger I did what I've always done: I fought. My mother didn't raise a quitter.”

Marble said her mission was to seduce a former lover, a Swiss banker with access to Nazi financial data. But is her sensational story a tale of derring-do or the first draft of a thrilling screenplay? Courting Danger was read mainly as fact when it was published in 1991, although attempts to confirm Marble’s story have at times led to dead ends.

Alice Marble: America's No. 1 World Tennis Champion and Nazi-Fighting Spy
Alice Marble caused a stir in the ‘30s by playing in shorts, rather than a tennis skirt

Alice Marble: America's No. 1 World Tennis Champion and Nazi-Fighting Spy

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DC comic book editor Alice Marble was an 18-time Grand Slam tennis champion and Nazi-fighting spy who almost died trying to defeat fascism.

The No. 1-ranked tennis star dominated the game in the 1930s, winning her first US singles championship at the age of 23. After she miscarried and learned of her husband’s death days later - his plane was shot down over Germany in WWII - Marble turned to espionage.

“I felt I had nothing left to lose but my life, and at that time I didn’t care about living,” Marble wrote In her autobiography, Courting Danger (1991). “A few months later on a dark mountain road, I found that I did care. When my life was in danger I did what I've always done: I fought. My mother didn't raise a quitter.”

Marble said her mission was to seduce a former lover, a Swiss banker with access to Nazi financial data. But is her sensational story a tale of derring-do or the first draft of a thrilling screenplay? Courting Danger was read mainly as fact when it was published in 1991, although attempts to confirm Marble’s story have at times led to dead ends.

Alice Marble: America's No. 1 World Tennis Champion and Nazi-Fighting Spy
Alice Marble caused a stir in the ‘30s by playing in shorts, rather than a tennis skirt

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The spying game

When Alice Marble won Wimbledon and became the world champion in 1939, Europe was on the brink of WWII. The British and French weren’t the only nations worried about the rise of Adolf Hitler. America joined the Allies in the battle to defeat the Nazis in 1941.

The US was still a novice at espionage at the time and needed to quickly assemble a spy network. Alice Marble had an advantage the US Army was keen to exploit - as a star athlete she could travel abroad for tournaments without suspicion. After all, who would suspect a slight, young tennis ace from the tiny town of Beckwourth, California?

Despite all of the accolades, Alice had been through a difficult period. She married Joe Crowley, a WWII fighter pilot who was killed in action. Only days before his death, she miscarried their child and attempted to kill herself. Marble said she was 31 years old and still recovering from the trauma in early 1945 when she was approached by an Army intelligence officer in a Manhattan restaurant.

They set up a furtive meeting the following day. A dark green car picked her up outside of Tiffany’s. They drove to a Brooklyn warehouse where Alice said she received her mission: Hans Steinmetz, a Swiss banker and at one time her lover, was suspected of laundering Nazi gold, jewels, painting, and currency. The Army wanted Alice to reconnect with her former flame and photograph his bank records. They gave her a day to think about it.

Alice Marble: America's No. 1 World Tennis Champion and Nazi-Fighting Spy
Alice Marble and US tennis legend Bobby Rigg

From DC to Switzerland

Alice Marble didn’t need the money or the excitement. She was earning $100,000 a year playing tennis - the equivalent of $2m in today’s money - and working for DC Comics as an associate editor on Wonder Woman. Her days were full. Why would she betray a man she once loved and risk her own life?

Still… She was tempted. It would allow Alice to avenge her husband’s death. ‘Game on’, she decided.

Alice Marble: America's No. 1 World Tennis Champion and Nazi-Fighting Spy

Kill or be killed

"I knew I might be killed. What I hadn't considered was that I might have to kill," Marble recalled in her memoir.

Within two weeks, Alice had mastered her .25 caliber automatic with a six-shot clip in the handle and one shell in the chamber. She had a photographic memory which made it easy to memorize blueprints, maps, and escape routes from Hans’ home outside of Geneva, Switzerland. She found safecracking more difficult to master, however.

The US suspected the Nazi documents were in a vault downstairs in the wine cellar. Alice’s job, she explained, was to disarm the alarm and any explosives, pick the lock, photograph the documents, deliver the film to a Swiss goldsmith’s shop, then head to the airport.

Alice Marble: America's No. 1 World Tennis Champion and Nazi-Fighting Spy
Geneva; The Swiss remained neutral during WWII

Alice Marble's spy mission

The reunion in Geneva was a success and Hans (Marble never did reveal his real name) soon invited Alice to be a guest at his home - more of a castle than a Swiss chalet, teeming with loyal staff.

After feigning an illness one evening, Marble said she managed to photograph documents in the vault but the novice spy left the light on in the cellar - a dead giveaway noticed almost immediately. There was only one thing to do. Alice said she made a run for it, stealing Hans’ Mercedes.

The ensuing race through the streets of Geneva and tangle with double agents reads more like an escape scene from The Bourne Identity than a real-life spy-on-spy showdown, but it comes with a twist. Alice Marble’s next memory is waking in a Swiss hospital. She’d been shot in the back while running away and left for dead.

Marble would live for another 45 years, however. 

Her mission now ended, Alice slipped quietly back into New York on an Army transport on May 7, 1945. Her arrival was overshadowed by another celebration a few months later. The war in Europe was over.

Alice Marble: America's No. 1 World Tennis Champion and Nazi-Fighting Spy
Alice Marble was an 18-time Grand Slam tennis champion 


A champion spy? 

It’s difficult to separate fact from fiction when it comes to Alice Marble’s life. Many have tried including Robert Weintraub, author of The Divine Miss Marble: A Life of Tennis, Fame and Mystery.

The Divine Miss Marble

There’s no doubting her athleticism and tennis skills, nor her commitment to opening up the elitist sport by supporting pioneering Black champion Althea Gibson, the first African American to win Wimbledon.

Alice Marble certainly wouldn’t be the first athlete to spy for their country either. Baseball great Moe Berg and many other athletes gathered intelligence when not catching fastballs or pole vaulting for the Olympics so it is certainly possible that Marble worked for the US Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA.

Weintraub wasn’t able to find records to back up her mysterious mission, however. He did locate a friend who “saw the scars on Alice’s back” but the only information about the injury came from Marble so the veracity of her story couldn’t be confirmed, leaving many to wonder… Was Alice Marble also a champion storyteller or was she a real-life Wonder Woman?

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