Bearding the Baer

By Clarence George on May 5, 2013
Bearding the Baer
“His wife coulda hated me,” Max Baer told me. “Maybe she shoulda. But she didn't.”

You remember what I said? “I define fear as standing across the ring from Joe Louis and knowing he wants to go home early…”

Happy days are here again
The skies above are clear again
So let’s sing a song of cheer again
Happy days are here again has published rapper R.A. The Rugged Man’s interview with 1970s heavyweight Ken Norton. As the former “champ” is no more interesting in a Q&A session than he was in the ring, I decided to follow the time-travel procedure detailed by Jack Finney in Time and Again in order to ask similar questions of 1930s Heavyweight Champion of the World Max Baer.

What a grand opportunity to sport my fedora! Speaking of which, the former champ was wearing a pale gray suit, white shirt, black tie with a red-rose design, burgundy socks with yellow clocks, and black-and-white shoes when I found him between gigs at Maxie Rosenbloom’s comedy club, Slapsy Maxie’s, on Wilshire Boulevard on Monday, April 30, 1951, the day Iran nationalized its oil industry. But I didn’t ask the champ about that.

Baer (66-13, 51 KOs) fought from 1929 to 1941. He won the heavyweight title by stopping Primo Carnera via 11th-round TKO on June 14, 1934, but lost the crown less than a year later, on June 13, 1935, by unanimous decision to James Braddock.

C.G.: I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the opportunity, Champ. A nobody writer from New York taking up your time, and you gotta be back on stage in about 15.
M.B.: S’all right. Got nothing else to do. See any dames out front? I didn’t see any dames out front. Too early. There’ll be more at the next show. They come out when the guys with the money come out. That’s at the next show. Who you say you write for again?
C.G.: Um…the Saturday Evening Post?
M.B.: Is that right? You like Jack’s?
C.G.: [Mind racing. Knucklebones? Can’t be. Is he offering me a drink? Jack Daniel’s? I hate bourbon. Does he want to play poker? Jacks or Better? Sweet Mother of God, what am I doing here? Bluff and bluster. Take the bull by the tail and face it.] Of course!
M.B.: What’s the son of a bitch charging for a T-bone these days?
C.G.: [Dempsey’s] Um…$3.95?
M.B.: Bullshit.
C.G.: Maybe I’m wrong. I was last there with, um, Jayne Mansfield. [Damn it! Was she even out of high school in ‘51?] Wasn’t paying a whole lotta attention to prices, if you know what I mean.
M.B.: Who’s she?
C.G.: One of them starlets. Going places.
M.B.: Oh yeah?
C.G.: Anyway, Champ…if you’re ready? How do you compare your era, the ‘30s, to others?
M.B.: Can’t do it. Did Dempsey fight Louis? He didn’t fight Louis. If you don’t fight Louis, what do you know? You don’t know. You know that Jack reffed a couple my fights? He fucked up the count when I kayoed Heeney. Hey, you gotta clean up the language. And when I fought Loughran and when I went 20 rounds with Uzcudun. Say, I also went 20 against King Levinsky—aggressive guy. [Especially as a salesman. The former fish peddler wound up selling ties near the 5th Street Gym in the 1960s, and became known for his I-don’t-take-no-for-an-answer sales approach.] Jack promoted the Schmeling bout. That was Fight of the Year, and that was a lot of dough for Jack.
C.G.: You were saying about Louis?
M.B.: I busted my hands against Braddock, and they were still busted when I went up against Louis. He was the first to knock me down and out. Maybe he didn’t like Yankee Stadium, or the Bronx. All I know is he kayoed me in the fourth. You remember what I said? “I define fear as standing across the ring from Joe Louis and knowing he wants to go home early.”
C.G.: Was Louis your toughest?
M.B.: They were all tough. Ernie Schaaf, Johnny Risko, Tommy Farr…none of them wore a dress. Tony Galento. Fat boy, but you had to take him serious. Lou Nova. He beat me, and that was that, my last fight. Ten years ago.
C.G.: Nova stopped you twice, right?
M.B.: Yeah, and Louis that one time. Him and Louis.
C.G.: You mentioned Schaaf…anything you want to say about Frankie Campbell?
M.B.: He’s dead, and I’m sorry he’s dead. But it’s boxing, and that’s where you gotta expect things like that. [It got quiet between us and I could hear the girls getting ready in the dressing room next door.] It happens, but it shouldn’t happen. You get that? I used to kill cows with a sledgehammer. One blow. One lousy, stinking blow. [The champ turned his head to the sound of the girls, like they were telling him something.] When Frankie died, I turned on the waterworks, and I never thought I’d find the tap. His wife coulda hated me. Maybe she shoulda. But she didn’t. [I couldn’t come up with a reason to tell the champ what he knew better than anybody knows anything—Campbell’s brain had been “knocked completely loose from his skull.”]
C.G.: It…it got you a reputation as a killer. That and what happened to Schaaf.
M.B.: What happened to Ernie had nothing to do with me. Frankie was an accident. Boxing rings are like mountains—you get accidents.
C.G.: Um…you’re in show business, and have been for about 20 years. Your first movie was The Prizefighter and the Lady, is that right?
M.B.: Yeah, with Myrna Loy.
C.G.: Anything happen there?
M.B.: Where?
C.G.: Between you and Miss Loy. A little offscreen romance maybe.
M.B.: What the hell kinda question is that? What are you, some kinda nut?
C.G.: Okay, let’s skip that. How do you rate yourself among heavyweight champs? Compared to, say, Dempsey and Louis.
M.B.: Hey, I was champ too, wasn’t I? That says it.
C.G.: Sure, that’s right. Thoughts on the current gang of heavies?
M.B.: I like the champ, Charles. Why not? Walcott, Marciano, Clarence Henry, and LaStarza, who put up a good fight against Rocky. Say, what do you know about the Frenchie, Sys?
C.G.: Uh, a Belgie. Not much, except he’s among the top 10…I think.
M.B.: Nazi?
C.G.: Sys? I don’t know. [I later discovered that, fairly or not, Karel Sys had been convicted in 1946 of collaboration with the Nazis. He served a year in prison, and was denied a Belgian boxing license till 1951.]
M.B.: He kayoed Lagay a few days ago.
C.G.: [Who? I checked when I got back—Alfredo Lagay, an Argentine.] I think Sys is going up against Archie Moore in a couple of months. [God, let me be right. I was—Sys and Moore fought to a draw on June 23, 1951.]
M.B.: Moore kayoed Herman Harris couple days ago in Flint. [Who on God’s green earth is Herman Harris? Found out later that “Big Train” won 23 and lost 24.] Charlie Silberstein told me. Know Charlie?
C.G.: Boxer?
M.B.: Charlie? Hell no. Guy works at Barney’s.
C.G.: I’ll look him up.
M.B.: I’ll tell you who I also like: Brion. He played a helluva tattoo on Norkus last year. Say, that was in New York. See it?
C.G.: Um, no, but I think it was at St. Nick’s.
M.B.: Maybe that’s right.
C.G.: I know you gotta provide the entertainment, but anything you wanna add?
M.B.: Make sure the fans know I haven’t forgotten ‘em. I was fun, wasn’t I? I remember when I took the championship from Primo. I knocked him down, what, 10 times? We fell down a lot, like a couple of kids playing in the mud, and I said, “Last one up’s a sissy!”
C.G.: They haven’t forgotten you, not even after all these years.
M.B.: Hey, hasn’t been that many.
C.G.: No, Champ, not that many.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Max Baer vs Primo Carnera

Max Baer vs. James J. Braddock

Max Baer vs Tom Heeney (January 16, 1931) -XIII-

MAX BAER | Rare Training Footage 1934 (16mm Transfer)

Max Baer vs Joe Louis (September 24, 1935) -XIII-

Max Baer -vs- Tony Galento | All Rounds w/Postfight (16mm Transfer)

Max Baer vs Lou Nova, I

Max Baer Documentary (Rare)

The Prizefighter and the Lady Jack Dempsey Classic Movie Trailer

"Happy Days are here again!" - Harry Hudson's Melody Men (1930)

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  1. Michael Hegan 03:59pm, 05/07/2013

    Here’s the thing…we know what we’ve been told…
    Videos have helped a lot…...but what about the folks who have fought ...and not been given their due…...say


  2. Michael Hegan 03:57pm, 05/07/2013

    max was gifted with a ........bronze god ‘fighting ’ figure ....he was six feet plus…and was extremely tight and trim…
    For some reason…who can say…...Jack Dempsey loved the guy….

    Jack Dempsey was still keeping himself in shape…and a round with Max Baer….for promotion reasons..of course

    Max took the old lion ...a little too lightly….and Jack nailed him ...right in the side of the head….....(Dempsey was thirty yrs older)

    Max Baer’s biography covers this moment…....” I shook off the daffodils…and began to put some hurt on this guy ...”...(who nearly clocked me)
    When Max went into the Joe Louis match….his hands ....both of them ...were not working….breakage and sprains….and needed surgery… .

    Dempsey ....with his power and influence….got Baer some ‘shots’ into his hands…..
    Max needed to get his hands ready….but the schedule screwed him

  3. Clarence George 10:55am, 05/07/2013

    Irish:  Keens Steakhouse is where you’ll find the mutton chop.  My favorite Italian is Isle of Capri and my favorite Chinese is Lychee House (I think there are two, but the one I know is on East 55th).  I don’t know that I have a favorite deli, but I occasionally go to Carnegie.  Their pastrami is very good (though I find the corned beef so-so), but it’s become a complete tourist trap.

  4. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 10:41am, 05/07/2013

    Clarence George-Forgot where you dined on the superb mutton chops… memory is shorter than my schwanz….also wondering what your recommendation is for the best Deli, Chinese, and Italian in NYC.

  5. Clarence George 05:02pm, 05/06/2013

    I always liked W.C. Fields’ myself, if for no other reason than mine is somewhat similar.

  6. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 03:30pm, 05/06/2013

    Clarence George-Here’s what I’m thinking….Dempsey should never have had the rhinoplasty done! It was like he neutered his face!  George C. Scott…. now there was a real man’s nose for you.

  7. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:42am, 05/06/2013

    Clarence George-I see….. says the blind man!

  8. Clarence George 09:24am, 05/06/2013

    Ha!  Not that kind of beard, Irish…as in bearding the lion in his den.  Anyway, glad you liked it.

  9. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:18am, 05/06/2013

    Clarence George-This article is pure fun!..still I’m wondering…he boinked Harlow, Garbo and Mae West….why would he need a “beard”? .... is there another country to be heard from?

  10. Clarence George 04:07am, 05/06/2013

    Yes, an unfortunate resemblance, especially as they were of the same era.  Luckily for Sys, Albert Pierrepoint dispatched Heath in ‘46.  Otherwise, he might have been constantly picked up by Interpol.

    My own theory (to be taken with a grain of Marmite) is that the Argentines gave Sys a boxing license precisely because they thought he was a Nazi.  Though they may well have been wrong.

  11. Mike Casey 03:54am, 05/06/2013

    Yes, it’s strange, Clarence. I can’t seem to find a solid handle on the Nazi collaborator thing. He relocated to Argentina in ‘49, where many rogues fled, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. He fought some quality opposition in his 143-fight career. He’s one of those guys who seems to show up on everybody else’s record! If he was innocent, he didn’t deserve to look like Neville Heath into the bargain.

  12. Clarence George 03:42am, 05/06/2013

    Glad you liked it, Mike.

    I should have researched more before undertaking the trip; I was too smug about my knowledge of the early ‘50s, and the champ gave me some warm moments.  Never occurred to me he’d bring up the name Karel Sys.

    Was Sys really a collaborator?  I wonder, given that he received a medal from the Belgian government a few years before his death.  By the way, doesn’t he bear a strong resemblance to English serial killer Neville Heath?

  13. Mike Casey 03:05am, 05/06/2013

    Ah, Clarence, you lucky thing, you - you beat me to the Maxie interview! Wouldn’t it have been fun to talk to this wonderful guy? It brought a smile to my face. So did the punishment of Karel Sys. Can you imagine the shocking disappointment of being denied a Belgian boxing license?

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