Marilyn Barnett – Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame
Tennis Player/Reporter, 1940-80
Isidore Newman School/New Orleans Item
Marilyn Barnett was an outstanding tennis player and a pioneering sportswriter in New Orleans. She also worked as a disc jockey on WTIX and went onto a memorable career as a publicist for many of the New Orleans hotels.
She picked up tennis as a 12-year old and quickly became a prodigy.
“It didn’t look so hard,” Barnett told Times-Picayune reporter Marty Mulé. “Someone asked me if I wanted to try to hit a ball, so I did. ZAP! It was, somehow, almost perfect.”
Her first city championship came in doubles in 1940 when she was 16 years old. In 1944, she captured the city singles title for the first time. Then in 1959, she won both the singles and doubles crowns at the city championships.
She continued playing competitively until her last tournament in 1980 at 57 years old. She won more than 70 trophies along with 13 titles and was ranked No. 10 in women’s doubles in the South at one point in her career.
The unique aspect of her tennis career is that she was hired as a sports reporter by New Orleans Item sports editor Fred Digby, also a member of the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame. She covered many of the events in which she competed in her column entitled “Drop Shots.” She also served as a golf columnist for The Item.
It’s widely accepted that she was one of the first female sports reporters.
“I don’t know if there were other women sports writers there at that time or not,” she told Times-Picayune reporter Marty Mulé. “I never, ever saw another woman reporter.”
She didn’t just cover tennis, however, even though she wasn’t allowed access to the men-only press boxes. When covering games at Tulane Stadium, she sat directly beneath the press box and she said that vantage point allowed her to better soak in all of the elements of the games.
Barnett secured interviews with the likes of New York Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio, Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher, the jockey Eddie Arcaro and the former heavyweight boxing world champion Primo Carnera.
She also worked as a classical-music disc jockey on WTIX-AM, hosting a show called “Waxing Eloquent” and later a show named “Afternoon Symphony.”
In 1960, she went onto her career as a publicist for many different New Orleans hotels, becoming a friend to many famous celebrities in that role.
She passed away on January 17, 2021 at the age of 97.
READ MORE: “Marilyn Barnett, tennis player, sports reporter and confidante to the stars, dies at 97” from the Times-Picayune, Jan. 17, 2021
Marilyn Barnett works the phones. (Photo from the Barnett family).