Abie Bain: Requiem for a Middleweight

By Clarence George on January 21, 2017
Abie Bain: Requiem for a Middleweight
On October 22, 1930, Bain fought "Slapsie Maxie" Rosenbloom at Madison Square Garden.

Abie Bain must be considered among the most durable and toughest Jews to ever fight out of the Garden State…

“Do you know why I talk so funny? Because I’ve been hit a million times.”—Mountain Rivera in Requiem for a Heavyweight

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on August 10, 1906, middleweight Abie Bain fought out of Newark, New Jersey, from 1923 to 1936. With an official record of 48 wins, 24 by knockout, 27 losses, 12 by knockout, and five draws, as well as 31 newspaper bouts (18-10-3), Bain must be considered among the most durable and toughest Jews to ever fight out of the Garden State.

He three times fought the “Pride of Harlem,” Jack McVey, winning by disqualification at Newark’s Laurel Garden on July 12, 1926, losing on points in Newark on December 17, 1928, and drawing against him at Laurel Garden on February 24, 1930, and four times fought iron-chinned Vince Dundee, drawing against him at the Velodrome in Newark on August 19 and September 16, 1929, and losing to him on points at Newark’s Dreamland Park on August 27, 1930, and June 15, 1932.

Other worthy opponents include Phil Kaplan, who knocked Bain out in the fifth at the Arena in Philly on February 27, 1928; Hermann Herse, kayoed in the third at Laurel Garden on January 21, 1929; Phil Krug, who won on points at the same venue that November 4; Pal Silvers, outpointed at Madison Square Garden on March 28, 1930; durable Rene De Vos (206 bouts over 17 years), outpointed at the Velodrome that September 29; Al Ettore, who won on points at the New Broadway A.C. in Philly on February 18, 1932; Freddie Fiducia, outpointing him in Newark that August 9; Roy Lazer, who won on points in Paterson, New Jersey, that November 3; Jack Kilbourne, who won by unanimous decision at the Auditorium in Wilmington, Delaware, that November 24; brutish Frank Zamoris, who won on points at Laurel Garden on April 1, 1935; and Al McCoy, who won by second-round KO at the Forum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, that October 24 (at stake, the Montreal Athletic Commission world light heavyweight title).

Bain was scheduled to face middleweight champ Teddy Yarosz at the Public Hall in Cleveland, Ohio, that March 25, but after the champ pulled out with an injured foot, no-nonsense Carmen Barth took his place, “pummeling” Bain before knocking him out in the first.

Demonstrating a massive lack of judgment, if no end of guts, Bain heeded the nothing-short-of-crazy advice of his manager to take on “Two Ton” Tony Galento, who weighed 234 to Bain’s 163. “Tony’s a bum, he can’t hurt us,” said the manager. Us? Maybe Galento couldn’t hurt the manager, I don’t know, but he did indeed hurt Bain, stopping him by fourth-round TKO at Dreamland Park on September 30, 1931. According to the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame, “Abie wound up in a hospital for seven weeks after Tony accidentally hit him on the leg and gave him a blood clot.” Accidentally.

“It was a vicious, free-punching fight until Galento battered and weakened Bain with body punches,” writes Joseph G. Donovan in Galento the Great. “Bain finally sunk to the canvas, exhausted, in the fourth round. It ruined the career of a promising boy.”

Bain engaged in 23 bouts following the Galento debacle, losing 14, six by KO or TKO.

He participated in the NBA light heavyweight elimination tournament (“Maxie Rosenbloom was recognized as [NBA] champion until he permitted the six-month time limit to lapse without defending his title,” reported the Chicago Tribune of November 5, 1931. “The NBA promptly declared his throne vacant”), outpointing Harry Fuller at Chicago Stadium three months after the Two Ton thrashing, on December 18, 1931, only to get stopped by Dave Maier via first-round TKO at the same venue on January 15, 1932. But the Jewish jolter did indeed fight for a world championship, taking on Maxie Rosenbloom in the first defense of his NYSAC light heavyweight title (which he’d won by beating Jimmy Slattery via split decision at Bison Stadium in Buffalo, New York, on June 25, 1930), “Slapsie Maxie” winning by 11th-round TKO at the Garden that October 22.

In Patrimony, a memoir of his dying father, Philip Roth asks Papa Herman if he knew “that Slapsie Maxie fought another Jew for the light heavyweight title. He fought a guy named Abie Bain.” Mercifully uncontaminated by political correctness, Roth the Elder launched into a memorable tirade: “Sure. Abie Bain. He was a nut from Jersey here — Newark, Hillside, around these parts. And he was a bum. They were all bums. You know how it was: These kids grew up, they had a tough life, the slums, no money, and they always had an adversary. The Christian religion was an adversary. They fought two battles. They fought because they were fighters, and they fought because they were Jews. They’d put two guys in the ring, an Italian and a Jew, an Irishman and a Jew, and they fought like they meant it, they fought to hurt. There was always a certain amount of hatred in it. Trying to show who was superior.”

(Neither father nor son mention that Rosenbloom lost his title to Bob Olin, who won by unanimous decision at the Garden on November 16, 1934, the last time two Jews fought for a world title. Understandable, perhaps, given that the fight was so dull. Sportswriter Dan Parker’s wicked parody of Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin’s hit song, “Love in Bloom” — think Jack Benny — pretty much says it all: “Can it be the cheese that fills the breeze with rare and deadly perfume? Oh, no, it isn’t the cheese, it’s Rosenbloom.”)

Stephen H. Norwood — in his article, “‘American Jewish Muscle’: Forging a New Masculinity in the Streets and in the Ring, 1890-1940” — appears to agree with Herman Roth, writing that Jews’ “prowess in the ring helped undermine hoary stereotypes of Jewish males’ physical incapacity, cowardice, and effeminacy that dated almost from the beginning of the Second Diaspora.” Furthermore, “American Jews’ success in boxing, a sport in which they were heavily represented, came to symbolize working- and lower-middle-class Jews’ determination to challenge antisemitism and, in the 1930s, Nazism.”

In fairness, there are those who question if Jews “fought because they were Jews,” taking on “adversarial” Christianity. For instance, while Warren Grover, in Nazis in Newark, doesn’t dispute that men like Bain “did not retreat from their Jewish identity, Jewish boxers fought because they loved it, hoped to become champions, and needed to make money. They didn’t fight to prove Jewish masculinity or to defend their heritage, despite the romantic notion of the Jewish boxer as a fighter against anti-Semitism.”

That said, Bain belonged to the Minutemen, a group founded by “legitimate businessman” (and Jean Harlow sugar daddy) Longy Zwillman, led by lightweight Nat Arno, and made up of Jewish boxers who sought to discourage Nazi shenanigans in Newark “with iron pipes, baseball bats, rubber truncheons, and their fists.” As mob hit man Harold “Kayo” Konigsberg, who died age 89 on November 23, 2014, in a Florida nursing home after making his fellow residents’ lives miserable, put it, Longy “used to send us in to disrupt these guys — and I mean disrupt them. We were instructed never to hit them in the head, sometimes they got hit in the head.” Did Kayo actually participate in these “disruptions”? Maybe, but he was only a kid at the time. Abie, who was no kid, was experienced in such activities, having been one of the many Jewish fighters (the Third Ward Gang) who protected Zwillman’s Prohibition-era business interests. As Arnie Bernstein rather colorfully puts it in Swastika Nation: Fritz Kuhn and the Rise and Fall of the German-American Bund, “You don’t want to buy Zwillman’s booze? Bam! You haven’t paid Zwillman protection fees? Bam! You don’t do whatever Zwillman wants? Bam! Bam! Bam!” One of the chief “bammers” was boxer Puddy Hinkes, who “took both pride and pleasure in cracking heads” and who once demonstrated his displeasure with an anti-Jewish boxing fan by putting a lit cigar out in his eye.

Third Ward muscle was well paid (protecting a bootleg shipment got you at least $450 in today’s money). In addition, “Zwillman also supplied them with corned beef or pastrami sandwiches from a nearby Prince Street delicatessen.” Maybe Kaplan’s or Zwillman partner Joseph Reinfeld’s joint. According to Newark historian Nat Bodian, a CB or a pistol went for a dime. That’s not much, even by today’s standards — maybe a buck and a quarter.

Following a draw against Rudy Mendez at Eastside Arena in Los Angeles, California, on November 16, 1936, Bain quit the ring to become a technical advisor on such boxing films as Kid Galahad (the original, 1937, version, which is a big favorite of Buster Douglas). He should be best remembered, however, for the key role he played in bringing Anthony Quinn’s Mountain Rivera to life in the movie version of Rod Serling’s Requiem for a Heavyweight.

In an article for Turner Classic Movies, Felicia Feaster writes that “Quinn initially struggled with how to play Mountain” until Abie, who was one of the film’s fight coordinators, spoke to him “in a soft wheeze.”

“He was eerily soft-spoken; there was power to his voice, but also pain and uncertainty and tenderness,” said Quinn. “This was just what I was looking for.”

“Quinn actually lived with my father for months and studied him,” says daughter Riselle Bain, who caught the acting bug from her father. Billed as Babette Bain (her middle name), she appeared as a young Miriam in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.

Director Ralph Nelson “only caved in to Quinn’s husky delivery after much prodding from producer David Susskind,” writes Feaster. Jackie Gleason (Maish Rennick) is another one who didn’t much care for Quinn. “I pushed Gleason’s buttons at every turn,” said Quinn. “The slightest thing would set him off.”

Inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame on October 17, 1976, Abie retired from films in 1984 and moved to Florida, dying in Ormond Beach at age 86 on April 9, 1993.

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  1. Clarence George 03:05am, 01/27/2017

    Not just intimidating, Mr. Brand, but the “scariest.”  He seemed to be hewn from granite.  But, despite having served time at San Quentin, he was actually a decent and intelligent man.  By the way, I’ll never forget Anthony Perkins slapping you in “The Tin Star.”  Kinda hard to believe.

    All the best,

    John George (Mr. Uncredited himself)

  2. Neville Brand 02:21am, 01/27/2017

    The sight of Leo Gordon sent shivers down my spine. I believe director Don Siegel said he was the most intimidating actor he ever worked with. Night of the Grizzly is a sadly forgotten masterpiece,

  3. Clarence George 06:45pm, 01/25/2017

    If you’re referring to the article, Mr. Jennings—thank you.

  4. William Jennings 06:22pm, 01/25/2017

    Excellent !

  5. Clarence George 03:45pm, 01/25/2017

    Love that movie.  Anyway, Arness’ brother, Peter Graves, was “only” 6’4”.

  6. Lucas McCain 03:24pm, 01/25/2017

    When Arness comes through the door t the end of The Thing he looks at least 6’7”!

  7. Clarence George 01:55pm, 01/25/2017

    The utterly forgotten Clint Walker, who was immense, is still with us—he’ll turn 90 this year.  He and Leo Gordon were in one of my favorite movies—“The Night of the Grizzly.”

  8. Moon-man 10:08am, 01/25/2017

    Seems that most sources list Anthony Quinn at 6’2”. Now ya got me checking out celebrity heights. haha. Clint Walker listed at 6’6” and that guy was “big” as well. James Arness, good ole Marshall Dillion, hits 6’7”. Don’t know how legit those measurements are, but Arness surely towered over everyone on “Gunsmoke.”

  9. Clarence George 09:50am, 01/25/2017

    Interestingly, Quinn’s first wife was Katherine DeMille, the adopted daughter of Cecil B.  A very good actor, though I always found “Zorba the Greek” unwatchable.  I saw him once, maybe 20 years ago, crossing the street on Madison somewhere in the 60s.  I was struck by how big he was.

  10. Moon-man 09:48am, 01/25/2017

    Oops. Seems that Quinn’s dad was of Irish & Mexican ancestory. Lesson learned. Always check more than one source.

  11. Moon-man 09:25am, 01/25/2017

    This article got me curious about Anthony Quinn. Never knew he had an Irish father. Great actor. “Requiem For A Heavyweight” has to be one of the top boxing films of all time.

  12. Clarence George 05:30pm, 01/24/2017

    Thanks very much indeed, Messrs. McCain and Schildkraut, for the kind words.

    How much I enjoyed your performance, Mr. S., in the wonderful “The Shop Around the Corner,” somewhat marred by the abysmal performance of the tragic Margaret Sullavan.  Great performance, as well, in “The Twilight Zone” episode, “Deaths-Head Revisited.”


    Paul Newlan (see me next in the “Thriller” episode, “The Cheaters,” airing Tuesday, December 27, 1960)

  13. Joseph Schildkraut 03:17pm, 01/24/2017

    Thanks for the enlightening and entertaining piece on the inimitable Mr. Bain. I was particularly enthralled by Anthony Quinn’s description of Mr. Bain’s voice. “He was eerily soft-spoken; there was power to his voice, but also pain and uncertainty and tenderness.”  Wow! Great piece, Mr. George, as usual.

  14. Lucas McCain 03:16pm, 01/24/2017

    Great column: graphic and gritty, information with a dramatic touch.  I read Ring magazine for decades growing up (if I ever did) and they always had tons of old timer articles, but mostly about the stars of yesteryear.  Pace the two Nats, Fleischer and Loubet, this is a textured boxing world

  15. Clarence George 02:05pm, 01/24/2017

    Thanks, Ezra, for letting me know of this wonderful coincidence, especially as I didn’t discover a whole lot about Abie’s family.

  16. Ezra Salkin 01:06pm, 01/24/2017

    I discovered, incidentally, at a family reunion about 5 years ago that Abie Bain was my second cousin. As a rare millennial die-hard boxing fan, this was quite the discovery. I definitely learned things here I didn’t know about him. Thanks, Clarence!

  17. Your Name 10:45am, 01/24/2017

    “Allen” is really, Michael Moore.

  18. Allen 03:41pm, 01/22/2017

    Eric, why are you now moon-Man?

  19. Clarence George 05:55am, 01/22/2017

    Churchill was American on his mother’s side and may have had Indian blood—Iroquois, I think.  Gotta say, though, that I find the current obsession with ancestry a bit excessive.  Ancestry.com is a real culprit here.  Those tiresome TV commercials.  The leather-clad biker chick finding out that her husband is more Eastern European than Italian.  Or the schnook who was mystifyingly brought up in German traditions, despite being of Scottish descent.  Preposterous.  It reminds me of “Murder by Death,” when Inspector Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) is talking about his adoptive father:  “He loved me very much, but he was not very observant.  One day, when I was 19, he called me to his study, realized for the first time that I was Oriental, and kicked me out of house!”

  20. Moon-man 05:26am, 01/22/2017

    Don Fernanado, Tommy Pistol, Frank Gunn, Jack Hammer, and Tommy Blade are the “working stiffs.” I think it was Cock-eyed Lou’s son that died in the plane crash with Marciano. Have to do a search and double check that one out. Marciano, RIP, my favorite fighter, probably wasn’t as squeaky clean as people tend to think. Elizabeth Warren might be the only US Senator with Native American blood. hehe. Hell, Tom Laughlin had more Indian blood than Pocohantas. Good ole, “Billy Jack” actually ran for Prez back in the day. Never knew that until recently.

  21. Clarence George 05:20am, 01/22/2017

    Those all sound like wiseguys to me, and some I recognize as such.  But I’m at a disadvantage, as I know nothing about male porn stars and only a little bit more about their female counterparts.

  22. Clarence George 05:10am, 01/22/2017

    Anyone of European ancestry could be partly Jewish.  There’s even a small number of Irish Jews.  Well, not so much small as tiny.  Still.  And the opposite is equally true.  Kirk Douglas, for instance, is a Russian Jew, but I’m sure there’s some Viking in him.  Anyway, I’ll go out on a limb (actually, not much of a limb) and express my conviction that Abie Bain was a full-blooded member of Newark’s once-thriving Jewish community.

  23. Moon-man 05:04am, 01/22/2017

    Mobster or Male Porn Star?  Hoods or Workin’ Stiffs?
    Don Fernando
    Johnny Sausage
    Tommy Pistol
    Joe Bananas
    Billy Fingers
    Mickey Mouth
    Joey Silvera
    Matty the Horse
    Frank Gunn    
    Jimmy Dumps
    Whitey Bulger
    Cock-eyed Lou
    Jack Hammer
    Tommy Blade

  24. Moon-man 04:40am, 01/22/2017

    Two Presidents that are rumored to have Jewish ancestory other than FDR are Lincoln & Dwight David Eisenhower. Lincoln,  I pretty much doubt, but if I were a betting man, I would say that Ike has Jewish blood in their somewhere.

  25. Clarence George 08:00pm, 01/21/2017

    I agree, Kid, that boxing (unlike football) is economically vulnerable. 

    Get back at Jewish boxers?  Oh, to them.  That’s different.  Yes, I’ve always enjoyed writing about them.  And if there’s a connection with their gangster counterparts, all the better.  Sometimes they were one and the same.  Puddy Hinkes, whom I mention in the article, was quite the character.  In his later years, his compadres got him this phony job that paid 10 grand a year, for which he didn’t do much more than nap.  When a prosecutor pointed out that he did little for his salary, Hinkes said, “Mr. Prosecutor, for $10,000 a year, what would you do?”

  26. Kid 06:14pm, 01/21/2017

    CG, I’ll give you what I think are two very plausible scenarios and then drop the subject. First, if someone is fatally injured by an opponent who tested positive for PEDS, that could set off shock waves and possible the earthquake.

    Secondly, if the new minimum insurance requirements now in effect in NY begin to be adopted by other state commissions, that could end things really fast. It’s already made a serious crack in NYS.

    That all said, let’s get back to Jewish boxers.

  27. Clarence George 05:30pm, 01/21/2017

    I don’t think boxing will be banned for safety reasons, Kid, if only because of equal protection under the law.  The argument would be if you ban boxing, you have to ban football.  No way that will happen now or in the foreseeable future.  That might change, however, given the growing number of parents who aren’t allowing their sons to suit up.

    Thanks very much, Irish.

    Could the President have Jewish blood?  Not on his mother’s side, as she was Scottish.  His paternal ancestry, however, is German, so it’s possible.  No evidence for it, though.  Some rumors that FDR was partly Jewish.  Based on what we know of his ancestry, I think that’s extremely unlikely.

  28. Moon-man 05:05pm, 01/21/2017

    Word is that Donald Trump Jr. is being considered for the role of Patrick Bateman in a remake of the movie, “American Psycho.” hehe. Only kidding.

  29. Kid 03:52pm, 01/21/2017

    Irish, so is Michael Bloomberg and Carl Ichan. Not so sure about Bernie Madoff!

    I suspect Bloomberg might have made a pretty good alternative to Trump.

  30. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 03:24pm, 01/21/2017

    Clarence George-Another fine contribution to Boxing.com. here! There’s different kinds of tough…..Lloyd Blankfein is a tough little bastard. Which reminds me….looks like DJT is the only Gentile in his family and I’m starting to wonder about him!

  31. Kid 03:20pm, 01/21/2017

    Size and speed will continue to make football extremely dangerous. I agree on Bare Knuckle’s but that won’t happen. The chances for boxing to be banned are light years greater than for football. IMO.

  32. Clarence George 01:50pm, 01/21/2017

    My own belief, Moon-man, is that guys should be allowed to play football, box, or wrestle as long as they know the risks and as long as reasonable efforts are made to modify those risks.

    Hmmm, didn’t know that about Bobick.

    As for my afternoon…there’s an “Odd Couple” episode where the boys seek to unwind at a monastery.  When asked how he spent his time, the so-called social director says, “I just lay on my cot all day with eyes closed.”  The wonderful Richard Stahl was in that one.

    My theory, Kid, is that boxing-caused dementia would be tremendously reduced if we returned to bare-knuckle bouts.  Football, however, is far more intractable.  With the behemoths playing today, a helmet (no matter how technologically advanced) can only do so much.  A far cry from the days of Red Grange, who wore a thin leather helmet that was more decorative than anything else.

  33. Kid 01:00pm, 01/21/2017

    Arghh try this link!!


  34. Kid 12:57pm, 01/21/2017

    Here is my two cents on the topic of Football/boxing. What is going on out there is horrific


  35. Moon-man 10:34am, 01/21/2017

    Clarence…No doubt that football and boxing aren’t healthy for the body, but had it not been for football, Gastineau would have probably never been able to live that type of lifestyle. Pity the poor feller that loses a limb or his life while sweating in some factory for scraps. Poor Duane Bobick had both of his arms crushed while doing just that. I wish Mark well, but I would wager he wouldn’t do anything different if he could do it all over again. Have a nice afternoon, off to wolf down some grub.

  36. Clarence George 09:50am, 01/21/2017

    I agree, Moon-man—football, not boxing.  They’ll never be able to completely solve the problem, regardless of what polymer they come up with.

  37. Moon-man 09:18am, 01/21/2017

    Clarence…Tanks for the info on Gastineau, hadn’t heard that. Seems that Mark is blaming his condition on football. Lord knows, it didn’t happen in boxing. Most of Mark’s “fights” were rumored to be scripted, at least the ones that he won. Tim “Doc” Anderson would actually murder one Rick “Elvis” Parker, claiming that Parker had poisoned hime before his rematch with Gastineau. Given that Anderson pretty much handled Gastineau in their initial encounter, he might have been telling the truth. Gastineau’s condition just shows us how fragile we really are as humans. Doesn’t matter how big and strong we are, our shelf life is limited.

  38. Clarence George 08:45am, 01/21/2017

    Glad you liked it, Moon-man. 

    Although not completely neglected by Hollywood, Jewish gangsters have never gotten the attention they deserve.  Anyway, nothing compared to the Italians.  Could it be the cuisine?  I don’t know about you, but I can’t watch a mobster movie without getting hungry, even something like Lee J. Cobb telling Tami Mauriello to “Stop breathing that clam sauce on me” in “On the Waterfront.”  Gefilte fish doesn’t have the same effect on me.  Quite the contrary, in fact.  Anyway, permit me to recommend Rich Cohen’s “Tough Jews.”  By the way, I recently watched “The Valachi Papers” (first time in years)—my God, is that awful.

    Did you hear that Mark Gastineau has been diagnosed with dementia?  Jeez.  I mean, the guy’s what, 60?

    Thanks very much, Beaujack, for the kind words and the marvelous anecdote.

    In the accompanying photo, you may be interested to know, we have Abie Bain, on the left, vs. Maxie Rosenbloom.  Maxie, however skilled, was very fan-unfriendly.  Didn’t they used to say that the arena hot dog vendors wrapped them to go?

  39. beaujack 08:03am, 01/21/2017

    Excellent article Clarence on Abie Bain who had the cujones to tackle the much, much heavier Sir Tony Galento. Many years ago I a young fella ,along with some pals were at a resort in the Catskills and we got into a crap game with a tough looking guy in his forties. Well this guy cleaned us out of what little dough we young fellows had. It turned out that this guy was Bob Olin former LH champion you mention who won the light heavy title from “Love in Bloom” Maxie Rosenbloom on a disputed decision. Small world it is, so they say…

  40. Moon-man 08:01am, 01/21/2017

    Another interesting article. Always like to read about other ethnicities being a part of the criminal underworld. If one were to believe Hollywood, the only mobsters were Eye-talians sitting around eating spags and drinking vino. Guys like Meyer Lansky were the whales of the criminal underworld while someone like Gotti was a goldfish at best. Reading a book about former 30-game winner, Denny McClain at the moment. Seems like McClain got involved with some character named Sy Sher, a former accountant of Meyer Lansky, and would wind up doing time for racketeering, conspiracy, loan sharking, extortion and cocaine possession. Mr. Sy would become a government snitch to have his freedom negotiated. Nothing like honor among thieves.

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