Francis Xavier Shields

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Francis Xavier Shields

Also Known As: "Frank"
Birthplace: New York, NY, USA
Death: Died in New York,NY
Immediate Family:

Son of Alexander John Shields, Jr. and Alice A. Shields
Husband of Katherine Mortimer
Ex-husband of Rebecca Tenney Agnew and Donna Marina Torlonia, dei Principi di Civitella-Cesi
Father of Francis Alexander Shields, Jr.

Managed by: Geoffrey David Trowbridge
Last Updated:

About Francis Xavier Shields

Francis Xavier ("Frank") Shields (November 18, 1909, in New York City - August 19, 1975, in New York City) was an outstanding amateur American tennis player of the 1920s and 1930s.

Tennis career

Between 1928 and 1945 he was ranked eight times in the U.S. Top Ten, reaching Number 1 in 1933, and Number 2 in 1930.

Davis Cup

He competed for the Davis Cup in 1931, 1932, and 1934, winning 19 of 25 matches. He was left off the team for his erratic playing in 1933. Shields was the non-playing captain in 1951, when the team won four matches.

Shields had his issues both with interactions with other players, and with alcohol. In the late 1930s, Shields was known for making fun of the US tennis star Bryan Grant, the smallest American to win an international championship, saying "the little shaver" was hiding behind the net. Once a drunk Shields held Grant upside down, outside a hotel window.

In 1951 he was at the center of a controversy that resulted in Dick Savitt, reigning US singles champion, quitting competitive tennis at the age of 25 after Shields snubbed him by failing to let Savitt play for the U.S. Davis Cup team. Savitt had played and won his three early 1951 Cup matches, winning 9 of 10 sets, en route to leading the American team into the championship round against Australia.[6] Shields did not permit Savitt to compete against the Aussies whom, only months earlier, Savitt had dominated at Wimbledon and in Australia. Savitt had trounced Australia’s top seed Ken McGregor in three straight sets to win at Wimbledon and won the Australian Singles championship, becoming the first non-Aussie to win that title in 13 years. Ted Schroeder, who had lost every one of his Davis Cup matches the year before and was in semi-retirement, was chosen instead. Without Savitt playing singles, the United States lost the 1951 Davis Cup to Australia.

The controversy spilled over into the next year, at the annual meeting of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association when the national rankings were discussed. In its tentative rankings the U.S.L.T.A. put Savitt at number 3. As it was reported, "the loudest talker was Frank Shields, non-playing captain of the losing U.S. Davis Cup team. Shields had ignored Savitt in the Davis Cup matches, had put his confidence in aging (30) Ted Schroeder ... who turned out to be the goat of the series. Shields was intent on keeping Savitt ranked ... at No. 3. Cried Shields: 'Never once in the past three months has Savitt looked like a champion. Not only that, but he was not the most cooperative player in the world while we were in Australia, and his sounding off brought discredit to the game. He was not a credit either as a player or a representative of America.' Shields's outburst brought a tart answer from Don McNeill, onetime (1940) national champion. Amid resounding applause from the assembled delegates, McNeill pointed out that players are ranked on their tennis ability, and personal prejudice should have nothing to do with ranking. The ranking committee, ignoring Shields's remarks, proceeded to raise Savitt from No. 3 to 2. After the heated session, one of the longest (five hours) in U.S.L.T.A. history, President Russell B. Kingman tried to restore a touch of dignity to tennis. Choosing his words with due care, Kingman called Shields's outburst 'most unseemly.'


His first wife was Rebecca Tenney (1910–2005). They were married in 1932 and divorced in 1940, on the grounds of his "habitual intemperance and cruelty." In 1947, she married lawyer Donald Agnew.

His second wife, whom he married in 1940 and later divorced, was Marina Torlonia di Civitella-Cesi, a daughter of Marino Torlonia, 4th prince of Civitella-Cesi and the American heiress Mary Elsie Moore (1888–1941), and a sister of Alessandro Torlonia, 5th Prince di Civitella-Cesi, the husband of the Spanish Infanta Beatriz de Borbón. Shields had two children by Marina Torlonia: son Frank Xavier Alexander, Jr. (the father of actress-model Brooke Shields), and daughter Cristiana Marina Shields. After their divorce, Marina Shields married Edward Slater.

His third wife, whom he married in 1949, and also later divorced, was Katharine Mortimer, a daughter of financier Stanley Grafton Mortimer, Sr., and the former wife of Oliver Cadwell Biddle. By his third marriage he had three children, Katharine Shields, William Xavier Orin Hunt Shields, and Alston Shields. He also had a stepdaughter, Christine Mortimer Biddle.

Later life

In his later years he was frequently drunk, at which times he became destructive and bullying with his strength. After two heart attacks and a stroke, he died at 65 of a third heart attack, in a Manhattan taxi. He was the grandfather of Brooke Shields, Morgan Christina Shields, and Holton Joseph Shields.

Acting career

Shields appeared in the following films:

Murder in the Fleet – 1935 as "Lieutenant Arnold"

I Live My Life – 1935 as "outer office secretary"
Come and Get It – 1936 – as "Tony Schwerke"
[The Affairs of Cappy Ricks – 1937 – as "Waldo Bottomley, Jr."
Hoosier Schoolboy – 1937 – as "Jack Matthews. Jr."
Dead End – 1937 – as "well-dressed man"
The Goldwyn Follies – 1938 – as "assistant director"

International Tennis Hall of Fame

Shields was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island in 1964.

Career highlights

Cincinnati Singles Champion, 1930
US Open Singles finalist, 1930
US Open Mixed doubles finalist, 1930
Wimbledon Singles finalist, 1931
US Open Doubles finalist, 1933
United States Davis Cup team member 1931–32, 1934
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Francis Xavier Shields's Timeline

November 18, 1909
New York, NY, USA
May 16, 1941
Age 31
New York, NY, USA
August 19, 1975
Age 65
New York,NY