Hi, howya, come in, lemme show ya something. From a tan glueless envelope, ½ square, the kind used for storing stamps, coins, and various other miniature collectibles, he removes a speck of hard white paint no larger than a fennel seed: I peeled this off of "Guernica," you know the Picasso painting, the big one? Museum of Modern Art, New York, they had it for a while. I waited till the guard was turned away, then I went up and — that? The gold record? 'S for some old, some junk I wrote in another life, dunno why it's still hang — lookit this. Robert Rauschenberg, y'know his assemb, those construction things? It's from that great one with . the stuffed goat and the tire, nobody guards art-things like that, not well, a clump of goathair, I just pulled it off. An' lookit this art-thing...
MEANING: look LOOK [I wanna be in your pants... live in your pants... eat, drink, sleep, suck and fuck in your pants; meanwhile] lookit this art-thing. It's how I start them off — gals who were born to love me — an hors d'oeuvre before the main showandtell, one that never fails to show th'm what a uniquely intriguing sonofagun I am, after which they're mine. After the boxing.
... a Marisol, one of those huge doll-things she did with the, this was ribbon on one of her doll-things. End art. Begin boxing. Benny "Kid" Paret, first man ever to step in a ring champion and leave dead, actually it was a week later but he really — see these holes? — even the poster has stigmata. It was nailed to a wall outside the Garden, the old Garden when it was at 49th and 8th, you been to New York? West Side. Midtown. Sixty-two, March 24, March is a big death month, I was in high school. I even have his blood on a program somewhere. With nervous, hasty effort he dislodges boxes, crates from an overstuffed closet: the "stash."
Here. I was all the way up, the rafters, when the stretcher guys, they carried him out and I ran down, on the press table, some reporter left it, right under Benny's corner. Just this one dried spot, but it's kind of a perfect little circle [gimme gimme good LOVIN'], the splash marks are like sunrays or something. And here [baby], Ring Magazine [BABY!], August '49, Jake LaMotta wins the middleweight, you saw Raging Bull? "Title Regained by U.S.," that's as far as, Jake wasn't too popular with, he's not even on the cover.
From a box within a box, from which all Mike Tyson-related items have been banished (bad for the showtell: he beats women), a whole array of dandy little cutesos, the kind women love, are then drawn. Thumb-sized gloves, complete with padding and laces, from the nineteen twenties. Buttons. Abe Attell. Featherweight champ, later he was bag-man for what's his, fixed the 1919 World Series. Thmi Mauriello. Knocked out by Joe Louis, one round, I wonder if it's from before or after. Boxing cards from 1910, IV2" x 3", edges slightly worn but images unmarked, bright, chroma far higher than in inks in similar use today. Honey Mellody. Welterweight they spelled him wrong, should be two L's [take my log, take it!], a real pretty card. Pale green arena backdrop with spotlights fuzzy/furry like a Monet cathedral. Knockout Brown. He was cross-eyed, says bantamweight here but he was bigger, a lightweight, never a champ, doesn't he look saintly? Young Nitchie. Never heard of him. Cards from the early fifties.
Eugene Hairston. A marginal contender, middleweight, "Drives a special make of car for deaf mutes," nice to know [are you wet yet?]. Matchbook, stirrer, and promotional sugar cube from Jack Dempsey's (1619 Broadway, CO 5-7875). Wrapper from a d-Con roach trap with the image of Muhammad Ali making a fist. My all-time culture hero, last of the fighter-saints...
This part always gets them.
...like before TV all fighters were holy, they without reservation put their brains and their looks on the line, and their eyes, both kindsa looks. But All was so supreme, so beyond physical vulnerability, that he had to, in order to complete his boxing cycle and enter the pantheon, y'know, his way, he had to end up more brutalized than Louis or Sam Langford or — he had to, after his reflexes started going in his mid thirties, after the third Frazier fight [I love you!], he had to risk going brain-dead like any clubfight bum played by Maxie Rosenbloom. 'Cause he didn't need the money, he wasn't broke, or any additional boxing-historical accomplishments, all that was left was to go punchy himself and I think it was willful, on a more than deathwish level — especially the Holmes fight — an extremely spiritual (boxing qua boxing) type of... And if that doesn't work I go with my capsule history of the heavyweight division.
Of which there are two versions — long and short. Usually I do the short. John L. Sullivan, "The Great John L.," was the last of a long line of bareknuckle champs. The Queensberry rules came in — gloves, three-minute rounds, ten count — and after winning that title he pretty much ignored it, fought a little without gloves, including a 75-rounder there 're actually photos of, but mostly he just drank and didn't train and in 1892 he lost, with gloves, to Jim Corbett, "Gentleman Jim," Erroll Flynn played him, William Frawley was his manager. It's hard to know beyond the myth if he in fact was any good, a prototype maybe of a more mobile sort of boxer (as opposed to just a puncher) than the times were used to, anyway in his second defense he got beat by an overgrown middleweight, not even overgrown, in the 160's, Bob Fitzsimmons, who knocked him out with a solar plexus punch. And I check her plexus (and want it) and her belly and her knees and her feet and I'm swaying as I'm talking and my talk momentum and my sexurge momentum are just going going and the sex adrenalin and the talk adrenalin and the wine adrenalin conspire and compel me to CONTINUE.
Jim Jeffries. Marvin Hart. Tommy Burns. Jack Johnson. Jess Willard. Jack Dempsey. Gene Tunney. Max Schmeling. Jack Sharkey. Primo Camera. Max Baer. And for some reason, I don't know why, I occasionally get stalled or stuck at Jimmy Braddock. That Irish fighter. Unemployed longshoreman. North Bergen, New Jersey. And while I'm stalled I let her get a word in edgewise. How's work? Seen any movies? (Fine. Great.) I resume. I finish.
And if that fails there's always my jazz show & tell.
FISTS OF PULP — What I don't show 'em, hardly ever, is books. Books are too unshowy, even most covers. Books are private. I might gesture at my 17 volumes of The Ring Record Book, their pure bulk 'n' sweep across an entire bookshelf, but I'm not gonna grab one, scan alphabetically and show 'em — prove to 'em — "See — Jack Johnson did fight Battling Siki in Montreal, no, Quebec City, 1923, though it's listed as just an 'exhibition' " — stuff like that's too arcane for courtship, too arcane for anything but arcanery. Most of all, books (qua books) are slow. Slow on the inhale, slow in real-time buzz. They're not real-time documents — real-time "text" — like mags, programs, cards, and such. What they're documents of is what all books are documents of: contextual disjuncture, publishers' folly.
In English alone, going all the way back to the first bound volume of Pierce Egan's Boxiana (1813), there have seemingly been thousands of boxing books, some number, let's say, between four thousand and ten, hardcover and/or soft, running the gamut from major publisher to vanity press. I would bet it's at least three thousand, okay, 2500. I own, and have read, about a hundred. As long as you're here, I might as well tell you 'bout all of them, or most of them, or some of them, starting with three of them: the v. best. Head and shoulders, arms and navel above the rest, let's get this over with, are Peter Heller's In This Corner...!, A.J. Liebling's The Sweet Science, and The Fireside Book of Boxing (ed. by W.C. Heinz).
These are great books, pretty much equally great — I would hafta flip coins to come up with a preferential sequence. Okay, Liebling. Here's a guy who could actually write (food, war, "social history”), write his way out of select wet paper bags (no mean feat), and what we've got of him here is like 18 boxing pieces written for The New Yorker from '51 to '55, almost great years for boxing (Marciano, Robinson, Louis's twilight) but even if not he'd've covered them great. More than most know-its you'll run across, this is one such who can really explain fights: fights and the laws of physics, fights and the forces of history, fights and random chance — but his true forte is fighters. Doesn't matter if he's profiling a heavyweight contender or some dipshit lightweight from Rhode Island — the outcome is always conspicuously interesting, and not in a Capote-covers-Brando ("Look ma, I'm making art of trash!") sort of way... never for a sec do you get the feeling he's slumming.
'S possible these are the best things I've seen that could pass for conventional journalism, and Liebling doesn't waste his time (or yours) shunting the "I" to another room like so many tightassed conventional in search of "objectivity," His fat presence is in fact a crucial part of the show: "I went to Syracuse, frankly, because I hoped Graham might have learned enough about Vejar to have a plan for taking the youthful bounce out of him; emotionally, I long ago moved over to the middle-aged side of the field, and I root for mature judgment when pitted against the outrageous fortunes of chronology." It might even still be in print.
The Fireside Book isn't, howev, too bad. This fatfat smallprint collection from '61 contains a heap of goodstuff, fine amazing shit like Jack London's racist account of the Johnson-Jeffries fight ("And the carefree Negro smiled and smiled"); Nellie Bly's discussion of sweaters with John L. Sullivan; a '39 Liebling profile of one of Louis's sparring partners; the single greatest boxing piece of all time, Dan Parker's dadaistic (per se) "I Went to See Tony Galento"; references to boxing in three of Plato's dialogues; John Lardner's homage to Doc Kearns's rape of Shelby, Montana, before, during, and after the Dempsey-Tommy Gibbons fight; A1 Laney's tear-your-heart-out weeper about the blind Sam Langford; "Fifty Grand," one of Hemingway's hokier stories (this guy intends to throw a fight on which he's bet against himself, only his opponent has the same idea, ha, so they end up trading low blows — back when refs still fell for such biz and disqualified people — and whichever guy ultimately hits the other one harder in the balls, harder enough to make him admit to having been fouled, loses, i.e., wins — gee how macho)] transcriptions of rounds 1 and 13 of Don Dunphy's blow-by-blow of the first Marciano-Walcott fight. A lot of selections, especially the "high booty" items, seem directly copped from William Cox's 1935 anthology, Boxing in Art and Literature, but in many cases Heinz has opted for less abridged versions (Plato; George Borrow's Lavengro) and/or snappier translations (the boxing scene from Hugo's The Man Who Laughs) — bully for him.
And ditto for Peter Heller — double ditto. (Triple.) Eighteen years after publication, his out-of-print masterwork remains the towering achievement of boxing oral history. Subtitled Forty World Champions Tell Their Stories, it reads like boxing's own show and tell, a barely edited (thankgod) 400-page rant in real rant form and time — run-on sentences! hold that syntax! dig th' prolixity! — I only wish all the ums, uhs, y'knows had been left intact. Says ex-middleweight kingpin Joey Giardello, f'r inst, speaking of Ray Robinson: "When Dick Tiger said he was going to fight the winner, then he would fight me. He fought me because Tiger was going to fight the winner for the title. That's the only reason he would fight me. But when he was champion he'd never fight me. When it got to the point where he wanted another shot at the title, then he decided he'll fight me" — which reads as slow, real, and stoopid as dialogue from Raging Bull. Speaking of which, LaMotta's in here, sounding a damn sight realer and aliver than he does as narrator of Raging Bull the book (one's own voice — none of this "as told to" crap — '11 do it), delivering the equivalent of his shitty, embarrassing standup act from the post-jail, Fat Jake part of the film ...'s really nice.
And it isn't just the ostensibly likable ex-pugs who come off sounding/smelling groovy: the Archie Moores, the Willie Peps, the Dempseys. Even fighters I've never especially liked, guys I wouldn't otherwise give two shits in hell for as icons or recollected real-time ephemeras — Don Jordan, dickhead Gene Fullmer, Jack Sharkey - manage to transcend their wretchedness-as-dealt simply by being bulk-verbal: each a massive who, finally, to go with its corresponding massive what. For me, that is, don't know 'bout you, this book works in fact like a floating ad hominem: boxers qua boxer... all saints, all verbal... all their saintwords play. Or am I just a sap for bulk sainthood? Dunno. (Steal a copy from the library.)
THE BEAT GOES ON — Compared to the whore genre of all whore genres, the rock book — write one, plagiarize one, or scribble the goddam captions for one, you're a rockwriter (one wd.), automatic and forever — it's rare for a boxing book alone to confer on its author the badge/nametag/credential of boxing writer. Rare? Well, right now I can't think of any. The best: you've gotta know the turf, pound a beat, have a boxing-based reporterly gig, which doesn't mean you by any stretch of etc. mus' be good — it merely means you've been forcibly wed to the ebb & flow of the beast for however many years on at least a regional level. On the other hand, since pounding out periodic copy takes time - is their fulltime job — few credentialed beaters ever find the time, even in a lifetime, not to mention the stamina, to specifically pump out bound copy that ain't just thinly veiled (fleshed out) compilation. Of the following quintet of beatbooks — two by ordinaries, two by swells, one by an opportunist asshole — only two, far as can be guessed, were totally writ as books... and maybe not even.
Ordinary #1. Ralph Wiley's Serenity. An assortment of midsize pieces from Sports Illustrated and the Oakland Tribune serve as fodder for an extended take on the theme of peace-o-mind among athletes, in particular boxers. A red herring if ever there was one: fistic serenity, it turns out, equals brain damage (how sad, gulp, how troo). Some grievous factual errors (Thomas Hearns kayoed Duran in the second round, not the first; Ezzard Charles was once heavyweight champion, never lightheavy; Spinks took Ali's title in the former's 8th pro fight, not his 14th) make for winceful reading, but at least the author is historically kind to the too oft underrated Larry Holmes.
John Schulian, Writers' Fighters and Other Sweet Scientists. A fight writer since the mid 70s for four different dallies, this guy is generally weak on major figures, and very wrong about some (calling Ray Leonard, the most stylistically derivative dipshit of the last forty years, "as original as anyone who ever laced on boxing gloves"), but he's one funny, compassionate bloke when it comes to marginal riffraff and sleaze (heavyweight stumblebum Ron Stander; Baltimore promoter Ali Hanover). Columnist-glib, occasionally he gets off a good one: "You think something is the end of the world, and thirty years later it's a story to be told at homecoming."
A notch up or thirty is Mcllvanney on Boxing, an almost (at times) Lieblingesque heap o' stuff from the '60s to the '80s by a bearable Brit, Hugh Mcllvanney, not to be confused with Hugh McElhenny. His boxing-historical eye is usually on the dime (an un-self-revised, ongoingly "correct" appreciation of Ali's career — highly uncommon for someone who was actually there covering it from its near-inception), though his unit focus is sometimes suspect (too generous to the Great White Dope, Gerry Cooney, whose "spirit [versus Holmes] never faltered," whose heart "was too brave to have any truck with his hopeless predicament in that thirteenth round"). In any event, good prose, not unreadable, "hard to put down." Does a good job on the Lupe Pintor-Johnny Owen fight, which I too was at, the second (and still counting) deathfight of my own live-attendance career.
Barney Nagler's James Norris and the Decline of Boxing is a damngood, verygood, possibly even greatgood secret history of boxing from the mid '30s to the late '50s, early '60s. On a factual level alone, there's a shitload of fine meat here — Goebbels's role in the negotiations for a Schmeling-Braddock fight that never came off; the accounting scam by which Joe Louis was screwed out of millions by the International Boxing Club; Cus D'Amato's diligence as bag man for the International Boxing Guild; the exact words (from wiretap transcriptions) used in passion by the pus and scum that specifically controlled boxing from such year to such year. What's more, real events have real life, their players have size, shape and clout — they really step out and play. "Underworld" muh-fuh Frankie Carbo is described as resembling "nothing so much as a Madagascan aye-aye whose nocturnal habits he surpassed with a determination bordering on a total abhorrence of daylight." Promoter Mike Jacobs, conventionally tabbed "the colorful Mike Jacobs" or "crafty Mike Jacobs," appears here as "a ruthless and arrogant dictator, perhaps the most ruthless and arrogant the business of sports promotion has known" — 35 years before Don King. (And he isn't even as nasty or scummy as the titular hub of the book.)
A frigging master at cataloguing and telegraphing fixes and dives, at tablesetting an omnipresent atmosphere of fixes and dives, Nagler is the only writer [of all those I've read] capable of generating doubt about the authenticity of any and all ring "results," even those whose authenticity has always been taken for granted; he's also capable of making those surface aspects of boxing over which there can and will never be empirical doubt seem secondary to other, more significant, boxing "themes." When pressing such buttons he vividly reminds us that the "primary text" of boxing (the steady gestalt of fights-as-fought plus hype plus coverage) is already a gross distortion of you-name-it, that "boxing history" at its most functional is never any more (any less) than a grand conglomeration of such distortions. For eschatological resonance alone, this bk. is superior to any gangster film that has yet been shot, or any gangster novel with the exception of Nick Tosches' Cut Numbers. I should probably add it to my top three.
That The Ring – Ring magazine — "The Bible of Boxing" — is mentioned in it only once prob'ly says much about the mag's ultimate value as text, as textualizer, as cipher (i.e., virtually none). With that in mind, 50 Years at Ringside, a '58 memoir by its imperious founder and shaper, Nat Fleischer, is perhaps best approached as the fatuous yowling of ringside journalism's one true Ozymandias, now dust (his worms dust too). "I have been on intimate terms with every heavyweight champion since James J. Corbett," boasts he — goody gumdrops — yet he scarcely was more than a lifetime shill (on a par with Ted Koppel or Leonard Feather), a shill (for preferred manipulators) as opposed to groupie (for mere fighters) — he always had an ax in someone's fire. Great moments in conflict of interest: the time he got Garden matchmaker Tom McArdle to do The Ring's monthly ratings — "[He] seemed an obvious choice because he had to be fully informed concerning boxers in all classes all over the world" — this from the guy who essentially invented top-ten rankings — nice to see 'twas never too diff from the weaslehump heatdream of the WBC and WBA.
Fleischer's own all-time top tens, meanwhile, are a tad heavy, pardon th' pun, on antediluvian types (Owen Moran as #3 lightweight, Tammy Ryan as #2 middleweight, Mysterious Billy Smith as #2 welter), and his pick for all-time "best knockout puncher," bodypoking Bob Fitzsimmons, may well lead one to ask, Like uh WHUH?? "I do not believe in the past," explains Nat, "but I do believe that the romance of the prize ring rests almost entirely in the years gone by [which I, ahem, remain the only livingbreathing chronicler of so kiss my tush]." More armed-forces than thou well before spanking Ali by rescinding "recognition" of his claim to the title, he lets us know in passing he spared "no expense... to see that the men [in uniform] received what they cherished most in reading matter - boxing news" ... let's piss on his grave.
THE OUTSIDE DOPE - Okay. Then there's these people who ain't boxing writers, who verymuch ain't boxing writers, who wouldn't be boxing writers if you gave 'em 80 years to play with and a swimming pool, but who, being writers, being book writers, insist at some point on trying their hand at a "major" boxing book. Hey, it's a free etcetera.
Heading the list, natch, is George Plimpton, the outsider's outsider, who hasn't known or cared dick about most of what he's written about, so why — indeed — not boxing? His ‘77 Shadow Box, a "participatory" whoozis in the tradition of Paper Lion, wherein he pretended to play football — here he pretends to box Archie Moore — is a tough read from the getgo, unless, that is, you can live with expressions like "a pair of underwear shorts" and lines like "I had been introduced to him by Ernest Hemingway, who always spoke of him with the highest regard." Indeed.
Not too much better is The Fight, a facile treatise on Ali vs. George Foreman, the original "rope a dope" fight, by the emperor's new clothes of American letters, Norman Mailer. With even less irony than is normally his wont, he piles macho cliché upon macho cliche, saying little about boxing that he couldn't (and wouldn't) say with equal inflection about fucking or war, but there is this one okay sequence where he actually describes every significant punch of the fight — how it looks, what it does, what it means — he must've replayed it on an early VCR. A piece of fluff on the order of his Marilyn book, minus the photos.
The guy who wrote Missing, Thomas Hauser, has this other one, The Black Lights, which isn't half bad. A paean to boxing-writ-large occasioned by three months spent with junior welterweight champion Billy Costello in '84, it's got possibly the most consistently nongratuitous boxing quotes — from interviews, newstext, press releases, etc. — I've seen throughout a single volume. Details Gerry Cooney's swinishness with more verve and veracity than most writers of the time. A little gosh-oh-gee in spots, but what the hey.
Take a copy of Joyce Carol Oates's On Boxing, its excellent paper, fine typeface and photos; hold firmly. With a felt-tip marker, some dark opaque color, black, blue, or green, inscribe on the cover: THIS BOOK STINKS. On the title page: KEEP IT. Dogshit book! Worst "serious" work I have read on the subject, like there've gotta be some silly little bios you could find that might be worse, but this one aims high — and misses by the radius of Jupiter. Even when she lucks upon the "truth" — and never is it more than truism — Oates's prose is so goddam dreary it's excruciating. Drearier than some quack M.D. whizzing out a ban-boxing number for Reader's Digest -and she "loves" boxing. As dreary as death.
Amateur boxwriting; amateur boxing. Buttercups and Strong Boys. William Plummer, author of The Holy Goof: A Life of Neal Cassady, spends a year, two years, I forget, with a bunch of kids and their trainers preparing for the New York Golden Gloves. One of these finger-snappers who use journalism as a means of meeting some rilly inneresting characters, he namedrops Thales and tells you early '30s bantamweight Panama A1 Brown defended his crown "twenty-odd times without a setback" — the number is ten. (One of his characters must've told him that.)
TWO JAKES, SIX ROOKIES — Best thing about Raging Bull the book is the pics — not in the movie-edition paperback, only the 70 hardcover — of Jake LaMotta and his second missus, Jake and the kids, fat Jake with his kids (one fat) and the missus on Miami-upholstered furniture, fat Jake with a cigar, Jake with Joe Louis, etc. Look at these pics and you know where Scorsese got his film - they're the screaming generatrix of it — after which he could prob'ly've got by without reading the thing, they supply that much meat. He did, though, and luckily ignored its cornball causality (Jake thinks he once killed this guy he was hired to lean on, punishment lurking 'round every bend though he'd merely knocked him senseless — that's why he's so driven). He also takes Jake's father's parental sadism and transposes it to Jake's brother, who otherwise is mostly a composite of the brother and co-author Peter Savage - little crucial adjustments like that. Which is not to say the book itself's no good — it's okey doke.
Raging Bull II, meantime, is a strange mutha, one of the few books you'll see where the principal name, the draw, is down in the with section — it's by Chris Anderson & Sharon McGehee. Jake only appears in lst-person strut in chapters 1, 2, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 23, and each reappearance feels like "Heeeere's Jakey!" Reads in places like a sequel to the Jim Norris book, especially Jake's evasive testimony on the Billy Fox dive (followed by a fantasy of him fucking Mrs. Carbo on the plane back from testifying). Four Mrs. LaMottas after number two are mentioned, and three are pictured.
Somebody Up There Likes Me, by Rocky Graziano with Rowland Barber, is a mid-'50s classic, on a par with Peyton Place and Gidget, "uplifting" enough to make junior high reading lists. Real nice chapts. on his deserting the army. Its belated sequel, the '81 Somebody Down Here Likes Me Too, has the Rock's earthly pusbuddy Ron Reagan on the cover, and it gets dumber from there. Co-author Ralph Corsel's overzeal in making Rocky sound "natural" reads like a Joel Chandler Harris (Lord Buckley) dialect joke, but its scatterbrained meander is at times almost appealing, and the "me and Frank and Dean" paesan bullshit does, in the end, read as if truly spoke by a frigging innocent.
Written within a couple years of Rocky Marciano's death in a '69 plane crash, Bill Libby's Rocky: The Story of a Champion has the look and flavor of a quicky. So boring, apparently, was this Rock's central life, however, that Rocky Marciano: Biography of a First Son, a multi-year labor of love by Everett M. Skehan ("with the family assistance of Louis, Peter, and Mary Anne Marciano"), supplies us with little more in the way of pertinent hoohah, fattening up mainly on the specifics of his retirement, his eating habits, his cheapskatishness and possible adulteries. Both authors share the dogma that while R.M. may or may not've been the greatest heavyweight of all time — which he fucksure wasn't — at the very least he was the most devastating heavyweight puncher - which he wasn't either. What he was was a tough, clumsy white champ, following three consecutive black champs, who got fat during one of the thinnest periods in heavyweight history.
Boxing has had other prominent Rockies than Graziano and Marciano — Rocky Kansas ('20s lightweight), Rocky Castellani ('50s middleweight), Rocky Randall ('50s lightweight), Rocky Kalingo ('50s/'60s welterweight) — and it's to all these jokers, all possible these's, that Bay Area neo-beat Gary Blackman dedicates his ‘76 collection, Rocky Poems, released a good six months before Rocky the film — no opportunist, he! Fun stuff.
If you had to pinpoint the point where boxing as we know it went WRONG — in the way it's wrong today — a good e-z first guess would be the first Rocky film. Not only is it the crummiest boxing film ever, with the possible exceptions of the Rocky sequels and the remake of The Champ, but this gross distortion of life, of everything pugilistically whole and holy, combined (fuggit) with the rise and reign of Mr. Made-for-TV himself, Sugar Ray Leonard, has gone a long, terminal way towards making even the surface of boxing a major Living Lie. In The Official Rocky Scrapbook, major culprit Sly Stallone says he based Rocky Balboa on Chuck Wepner ("The Bayonne Bleeder"!), a bum w/out a single redeeming feature, w/out in fact too many features... which is all, I guess, we really needed t' know.
CELLULOID SOCK - Thanks to TV, Sly et al, A equals not-A, first principle of American sports hype since time im., no longer requires the elaborate sleight of hand it used to, anything can be sold as its opposite, easy, but bums, basically, is still bums, at least bums qua bums is — a message Fat City, that most naturalistic of box films (tied w/ Raging Bull for best box film, period), spares no show and tell in showtelling you. Vivid bum stuff in Stockton. Leonard Gardner wrote it, keeping most scuzz intact from Fat City his novel, which has this one additional scene, though, where the younger of the two main bums, Ernie, gets dumped from a ride by these two broads he thought he could fuck hitching home from a bloody fight in Utah. Nice ending.
Nice ending too to The Harder They Fall, Budd Schulberg's roman a clef on the career of Primo Camera, far better'n that of his screenplay for the film, Humphrey Bogart's last, which is basically alright until it gets goody-goody. Original ending is much, y'know, stronger: no "clean up boxing" treatise by the sportswriter; the beaten fighter he's helped exploit regards him as the same shit as the rest, which he is; split from his wife, he slips sullen pork to she-who-sleeps-only-with-losers.
Another mostly okay flic is The Set-Up, lifted loosely from a late-'20s novel-in-verse by Joseph Moncure March. Biggest diff is the poem's protagonist is black (thus unplayable by Robert Ryan), an homage to Tiger Flowers, who had by the time of publication won and recently lost the middleweight title, the first black to do so, and was soon to die during fight-related eye surgery: "Pansy had the stuff, but his skin was brown; And he never got a chance at the middleweight crown."
Not so OK is the Bird of boxing, The Great White Hope, a bland see-Spot-run version of Howard Sackler's see-Spot-run play, an attempt in wds., set, and blocking to capture the full flaming essence of Jack Johnson ("Jefferson"), a one-man force of nature, "larger than life," certainly larger than this play.
Pete Hamid's cheesy Flesh and Blood, filmed as a TV miniseries, has only one thing going for it: an acceptance of the fact that to be successful anymore, a white heavyweight must be a motherfucker, which Bobby Fallon, son of Kate, explicitly, literally is.
King Creole, Elvis's fourth movie, is Harold Robbins's A Stone for Danny Fisher with singing instead of boxing, moved to New Orleans from New York. Both are warmed-over shit.
64 WORDS ABOUT 32 BIOS & AUTOS -
Muhammad Ali with Richard Durham, The Greatest: My Own Story. Not great.
Gerald Astor, " ...And a Credit to His Race": The Hard Life and Times of Joseph Louis Barrow, a.ka. Joe Louis. Broads, cocaine.
Don Atyeo and Felix Dennis, The Holy Warrior: Muhammad Ali. Nice pics.
Phil Berger, Blood Season: Tyson and the World of Boxing. Not awful.
Victor Bockris and Andrew Wylie. Ali: Fighter — Poet — Prophet. Affectionate fluff.
Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, The Sixteenth Round. From Rahway.
Jack Dempsey, as told to Bob Considine and Bill Slocum, Dempsey: By the Man Himself. The usual.
Jack Dempsey with Barbara Piattelli Dempsey, Dempsey. More of.
Nat Fleischer, Leonard the Magnificent. Not Ray.
Nat Fleischer, Jack McAuliffe: The Napoleon of the Prize Ring. Early lightweight.
Nat Fleischer, Max Baer: Glamour Boy of the Ring. Lousy binding.
Alan Goldstein, A Fistful of Sugar: The Sugar Ray Leonard Story. Lame twaddle.
Peter Heller, Bad Intentions: The Mike Tyson Story. Great quote*
Abe "The Newsboy" Hollandersky, The Life Story of Abe the Newsboy. Self-serving pap.
Robert Jakoubek, Joe Louis: Heavyweight Champion. Nice cover.
Jack Johnson, Jack Johnson Is a Dandy. Ace autobio.
Henry Korn, Muhammad Ali Retrospective. Nice try.
Barney Nagler, Brown Bomber: The Pilgrimage of Joe Louis. Vegas, paranoia.
Jack Newcombe, Floyd Patterson: Heavyweight King. Shallow hype.
Randy Roberts, Jack Dempsey: The Manassa Mauler. Had hemorrhoids.
Randy Roberts, Papa Jack: Jack Johnson and the Era of White Hopes. Occasionally interesting.
Bert Rosenthal, Sugar Ray Leonard: The Baby-Faced Boxer. No kidding.
Jack Rummel, Muhammad Ali: Heavyweight Champion. Tawdry cover.
Budd Schulberg, Loser and Still Champion: Muhammad Ali. Post-Frazier I.
Fraser Scott, Weigh-In. Pissed-off hasbeen.
Wilfrid Sheed, Muhammad Ali. Gr-r-reat pics.
Champ Thomas, Sean O'Grady: Living Legend. Shameless drivel.
José Torres, ... Sting Like a Bee: The Muhammad Ali Story. Actually OK.
José Torres, Fire and Fear: The Inside Story of Mike Tyson. Good gratuitous.
Gene Tunney, Arms for Living. Hubba hubba.
Tony Van den Bergh, The Jack Johnson Story. Often inaccurate.
A.S. "Doc" Young, Sonny Liston: The Champ Nobody Wanted. I wanted.
*Joe Bruno says, of Tyson's reform-school days: "I believe he sucked a prick once in a while."
PERIPHERAL POLIO - Heck, I'm tired of reviewin' boxing bks., it feels like a 90-round fight. But we can't stop now, got some peripherals to suss out... let's hit it!
—I Only Talk Winning. Angelo Dundee, former trainer of Ali, Leonard, and half the known universe, also talks at length about his workaholism and penis, but has great trouble talkin' losing: claims Basilio beat Fullmer, 8/28/59, "and was once again a champion" - 'stead of slapped silly, TKO'ed by Gene in 14.
—Don Dunphy at Ringside. Arguably the best of the radio blow-by-blow announcers, back when boxing broadcasts were the epitome of McLuhanoid "hot," Dunphy was only so-so on TV (though better, easily, than anyone today). A pleasant, if somewhat sidewalk-of-New-Yorky, memoir complete with transcripts of his work on select rounds of Louis-Conn I and (what a weird choice) Joe Frazier-Jimmy Ellis.
—Only the Ring Was Square. Barney Nagler gets another twocents in, this time by proxy — former Mad. Sq. Garden matchmaker Teddy Brenner tells him all, or some — on the ongoing theme of who, behind the scenes, was a shitfuck, and when. At last: the final lowdown on the fixing (through judge Artie Schwartz, who voted 9-6, Gavilan) of the Kid Gavilan-Billy Graham welterweight title fight.
—Empire of Deceit, by Dean Allison & Bruce B. Henderson, is the prosecution side (Allison worked as prosecutor) of the Harold Smith/Wells Fargo embezzlement case. Doesn't really understand boxing as context for such mischief (e.g., that its robber barons have often stage-directed equivalent major biz), but intrinsically readable as generic "true crime" pulp.
—Garden of Innocents, an account of the televising of Ali-Frazier I by its closed-circuit producers, Art Fisher & Neal Marshall, with Charles Einstein, is the most boring and pointless book ever done with Ali as even marginal focus. Stuff like how the on-screen clock got put in sync with the Garden ringside clock and who THEY!, Neal and Art, had coffee with after the fight.
— I Never Played the Game. Boxing's third worst announcer (behind only Sugar Ray Leonard and, for one fight, tennis commentator Bud Collins), as well as one of its more vocal bloodlusters (at the Foreman-Lyle fight: "He knocked him down! He knocked him down!"), Howard Cosell tenders his firm and final bye-bye to this cruel and brutal sport.
YOU COULD LOOK IT UP - Record books're all great; none aren't. Even skimpy yellowed de facto trade sheets like a '32 Everlast Boxing Record or a '58 Boxing News Annual are at least groovy as precious objects, precious less for how they look and smell (or what they're "worth") than for what they unavoidably are: boxing text at its most mundane (qua cosmic). Aside from the usual uses — memorizing complete careers of world champions and claimants; verifying successions to titles — they're great for perusing bigtime failure, like all you do is flip pages and eyeball for guys with more L's than W's. In the '82 edition of The Ring Record Book, for ex, you've got Omaha heavyweight James Hearn, who as of June '81 had got himself kayoed 14 times in 20 fights (total record: 3 wins, 16 losses, and a draw). Same book, Serge Sinelnikov, French middleweight: only 2 wins (in his first and most recent outings) in 21. A promising start? N.J. lightweight Iggy Villanueva's 0-7-0 (3 KO's against) is still a far cry from Italian junior welter Giuseppe Agate's 17-66-6 overall, 6-63-5 in his last 74.
Losers, by appearing in such naked print, may in turn get more work (winners need someone to win against) and lose some more, thus enhancing their earning power. Which makes you wonder: maybe they lie about their losses. Until recently, even (especially?) The Ring Record Book, Nat Fleischer's one enduring gift to etcet., did not require documentation of results. In '75, three years after his death (slimeball son-in-law Nat Loubet was by then editor), there was this real amazing listing for an African fighter named Muhammed Wee Wee, 8-0-0, with 74 wins over '20s Brit Joe Beckett, '30s Frenchman Pierre Charles, '40s Brit Tommy Farr, and '50s Brit Dick Richardson — an enviable record!
The most (only?) seemingly reputable records guy right now, Dick Mastro, puts out a quasi-monthly called Official Boxing Record, but that's in mag form, not book.
OVERVIEW ROUNDUP — Maybe I've been too hard on Nat Fleischer. After all, he was one of the few prewar white writers to actually deal, non-pejoratively, with the whole immense black underbelly of boxing. Even today, his Black Dynamite, a 5-volume "Story of the Negro in Boxing" begun in '38 and finished in '47, remains the highwater opus on the subject. Although condescending in tone, and often little more than a series of glosses on the lives and careers of known quantities like Harry Wills and Kid Chocolate, it is just as often the sole lasting registry of long-forgot sonsofguns like Black Hill and Sambo Sutton. Good stuff, okay, I'll admit it.
Fleischer also had a hand in A Pictorial History of Boxing, him and Sam Andre wrote it, compiled the photos. It's been updated a couple times since he died. Some new photos added, others deleted, but it's still an O.K. visual feast.
Dedicated to Nat, "boxing's greatest ambassador," is The Fight Game, a silly father/son ("The old days were better"/"Not so") collaboration, mostly about Brits, by James and Frank Butler. Speaking of Brits, Gilbert Odd's Encyclopedia of Boxing has it all over American John D. McCallum's Encyclopedia of World Boxing Champions. Well maybe not all over, just more entries (junior divisions, Euro and British champs), color pics. More Brits: Peter Arnold's All-Time Greats of Boxing has no It. heavies between Carpentier and Michael Spinks, and requests fair play for "victim of propaganda" Max Schmeling; captions in Angus G. Garber III's Boxing Legends identify Tony Janiro as Tony Zale, and Rocky Marciano as Graziano; The Great Heavyweights, by the Chuck Wepner of British boxing, Henry Cooper (both bled like sieves, both knocked down Muhammad Ali but were in turn knocked out), has a nice photo of the author being fouled to the groin by Italian contender Piero Tbmasoni.
Back in the U.S. of A., Chuck Burroughs' Come Out Fighting: True Fight Tales for Fight Fans reads true and fighty enough, only most of the fights seem to've taken place in Peoria. "Peoria went wild!" ... wish I'd been there.
NO FILM AT 11 - The best unfilmed boxing novel I've read is The Sailor and The Fox by this Bermudan, Brian Burland. Pretty good depiction of boxing-as-pain. Worst is The Knockout Artist, not one of Harry Crews's better works, sort of half kinkykinkykinky and half Boy Scouts/U.S.A., proffering boxing as wholesome get-down compared to some of the kink. I ain't read W.C. Heinz's The Professional, which Bruce Bebb tells me's the best, "but kind of Hemingwayish." Got a copy but haven't read Shaw's 1886 boxing novel, Cashel Byron's Profession - the type's too small. Forty-two pages is all I could handle of The Devil's Stocking, Nelson Algren's roman a clef about Ruben Carter - Emile Griffith is "Emil Griffin," Joey Giardello is "Joey Gardello" — okay, I get it. The Detective Wore Silk Drawers, a Sgt. Cribb mystery by Peter Lovesey, has late bare-knuckle boxing as its mise en scene. Great ring scene in Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest: some fighter gets shot during a fight. Paul Cain's Fast One.... Stories by Charles Bukowski.... Allusion to John L. Sullivan in Absalom, Absalom!...
STILL ONE PLACE TO GO - "How to" books are where Nat Fleischer really shines. Lemme just quote from his Training for Boxers: "Bad blood will result in skin eruption, in the appearance of boils. As soon as these show themselves, take a laxative." Same book: "The power which drives the muscles on as the power of steam drives an engine, is produced by the nerves." From How to Box: "The good boxer will find that a clear, good head, one that will enable the brain to function almost automatically, is a tremendous asset." Hmm, okay, here's one, from How to Second and How to Manage a Boxer: "Blood is thicker than water. It's thicker than crude rubber in a fighter's corner. It's no place for a family tree." Okay, dig this, from Scientific Blocking and Hitting: "Of course, we have often seen a lad connect with the punch soporific after he had been whipped by his opponent, but why take the chances of being eventually sent to the booby-hatch, when you can avoid all that by learning how to box scientifically" — thanx, I believe I will!