Bill Poland: Hebrew Heavyweight

By Clarence George on November 17, 2015
Bill Poland: Hebrew Heavyweight
They don't make Jewish heavyweights like they used to. They don't make them at all.

Once upon a time, there were guys like Abe Feldman, Abe Simon, Art Lasky, Bob Pastor, Max and Buddy Baer (well, maybe), and…Bill Poland.

“A true credit to boxing.”—The New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame on Bill Poland

They don’t make Jewish heavyweights like they used to. In fact, they don’t make them at all.

But once upon a time, there were guys like Abe Feldman, Abe Simon, Art Lasky, Bob Pastor, Max and Buddy Baer (well, maybe), and…Bill Poland.

Born in New York City on October 14, 1917, Poland fought out of the Bronx from 1937 to 1947 (though he was absent from the ring in ‘44 and ‘45), winding up with a very respectable record of 39 wins, 29 by knockout, eight losses, four by knockout, and three draws. He was managed by the notorious Billy Duffy, who was arrested on the rather unexpected charge of vagrancy at the time of his boy’s bout with Danny Hassett, a decent fighter who had absolutely nothing in his fists. The bout took place at Madison Square Garden on May 3, 1940, Poland winning on points.

Poland fought some toughies, including Henry Cooper (in a bout reffed by Tony Galento, of all people), losing on points at New Haven’s Arena on March 9, 1939. There was also the magnificently monikered “Peabody Paralyzer,” Harry Bobo. Poland knocked him out in the eighth at Baltimore’s Municipal Stadium on June 26, 1941, but the Paralyzer paid him back that September 15, knocking him out in the sixth at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh (the bout reffed by Al Grayber). In between the Bobo bouts, Poland knocked out Eddie Blunt in the fourth at DC’s Griffith Stadium that August 27 in a fight that had been optimistically scheduled for 25 rounds. He drew against Joe Baksi at the New York Coliseum in the Bronx on July 7, 1942, and, as part of the “Bomber for MacArthur” fight card, got knocked out by Lee Savold in the ninth at Scott Stadium in Toledo that July 21 (reffed by Jimmy Braddock). On September 9, 1946, he knocked out combat veteran Marty Clark in the third at the Queensboro Arena in Long Island City, Queens. He lost his last two fights, knocked out by Al Hoosman in the fourth at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago on January 8, 1947, and by Kid Riviera in the fifth at St. Louis’ Kiel Auditorium that March 12. He last won on December 17, 1946, outpointing Johnny White at the Park Arena in the Bronx.

Although the Whitey Bimstein-trained fighter never got a shot at Joe Louis, he did face impressive, however forgotten, Joe O’Gatty. Tough as a steel-toed boot, “Fireplug” usually lost, but that didn’t stop him from taking on any and every tough guy available. O’Gatty “was easy to manage,” said boxing promoter and manager Willie “The Beard” Gilzenberg. “He told me many times to pick the opponents and he’d fight them.” And fight them he did, guys like Lou Nova, Eddie Blunt, Henry Cooper, Wild Bill Boyd, Clarence Burman, Melio Bettina, Gunnar Barlund, Harry Bobo, Leroy Haynes, Buddy Walker, Tony Shucco, Herbie Katz, Joe Muscato, Frankie Hammer, Lem Franklin, Tommy Gomez, and, yes, Bill Poland, who outpointed him at the Baltimore Arena on February 13, 1941.

In 1953, Poland appeared in a boxing movie, Champ for a Day, starring Alex Nicol and Audrey Totter. Fellow heavyweight Pat Valentino appears as a sparring partner, albeit in an uncredited role. Boxing fans will remember Audrey as Julie, the wife of Bill “Stoker” Thompson (Robert Ryan) in The Set-Up. Equally memorable was her performance as Madge Gorland in The Postman Always Rings Twice. When Frank Chambers (John Garfield) offers to help with her broken-down car (is that what they called it in the ‘40s?), Madge leaves the vehicle, saying, “I’m going to wait standing up. It’s a hot day and that’s a leather seat. And I’ve got on a thin skirt.” Rowrr! Well, as Audrey herself noted, “The bad girls were so much fun to play.”

According to the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame, which inducted Poland on November 20, 1992 (despite his never having fought there), the former fighter was involved in the nightclub business in the Garden State before moving to Las Vegas in 1973, where he was employed by the Riviera Hotel (which closed only a few months ago).

I once came across a photo of Poland posing with Tony Galento. I’m not sure of the date (though I’m guessing around 1965), but Bill looks pretty good. “Two Ton,” however, in a dark, checked sport coat, skinny tie, with the narrow end longer than the broad, and cigar in his left hand, resembles nothing so much as a barroom bouncer past his prime, though still plenty tough enough to handle any number of snot-nosed frat brats. The godawful rug he insisted on wearing in later years (“Now I’m more beautiful than Clay!”) is mercifully absent. Though only a few years younger than his brother-in-gloves, Poland outlived him by many a year, dying on February 4, 2005, age 87.

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  1. Clarence George 02:16am, 11/24/2015

    You may well be right, Mike.  After all, Rudd was a sorta genius.  Another character worthy of an article.  I didn’t know that about Superstar.  A similar boxing career to “Classy” Freddie Blassie.  He had one fight, Galento knocking him out in the second.

  2. Mike Silver 10:15pm, 11/23/2015

    CG, I’ve heard that story before but the subject was Max Baer—so I have a feeling that Rudd made it up, like a good PR guy is supposed to do. There were actually several fighters who used the name “King Solomon” but Emilio was the most well known. BTW, speaking of “Superstar” Billy Graham (real name Wayne Coleman): Before he became a pro wrestling star he decided to become a pro boxer for one bout. I actually saw him fight in the Garden in a 4 rounder on October 21, 1966. “Superstar” came out swinging but was stopped in 32 seconds of the first round. The main event was Johnny Persol vs. Amos Lincoln.

  3. Clarence George 02:08pm, 11/23/2015

    Mike:  Are you familiar with the story Irving Rudd used to tell?  There was a boxer by the name of Emilio “King” Solomon.  He wasn’t Jewish, but wore a Star of David on his trunks as a gimmick.  Some people fell for it.  Over Yom Kippur, a reporter was shocked to see him training.

    “King, what are you doing?”
    “Getting ready for Jack Sharkey.”
    “But what about Yom Kippur?”
    “I’ll fight him next.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3R5gHF0vzew

  4. Clarence George 03:10am, 11/22/2015

    No need for any embarrassment, Mike, as I never heard of Dr. Jerry Graham either!  (“Superstar” Billy Graham, yes.)  George “The Animal” Steele was always one of my favorites, what with his chewing turnbuckles and that green tongue.  He was perfectly cast as Tor Johnson in “Ed Wood.”

  5. Mike Silver 12:03am, 11/22/2015

    CG, it is I who should hang my head in shame. It was not Buddy Rogers who ripped up Chief Big Heart’s headdress, it was Dr. Jerry Graham, who was also a great put down artist. The Chief may have been a bit before your time, but he was definitely the role model for Jay Strongbow. These wrestlers were quite intelligent, many college grads. I think George “The Animal” Steele had a PHD but was very good at playing a demented psychopath.

  6. Clarence George 03:17am, 11/20/2015

    I hang my head in shame, Mike, but I don’t at all know the name Chief Big Heart (though I remember Chief Jay Strongbow very well).  One thing I liked about Rogers were his condescending put-downs, sort of like Don Rickles.  The Rock (whom I never liked) once came up with a beaut, telling an audience, “You are all unintelligent pieces of trailer-park trash.”  Or when Rowdy Roddy Piper referred to the ever-annoying Ric Flair as “the Slim Whitman of pro wrestling.”  He also compared him to Mae West and Euell Gibbons, the latter in reference to his “Nature Boy” moniker. “Do you run around the forest like Euell Gibbons, eating bark or something?”

  7. Mike Silver 11:31pm, 11/19/2015

    CG, I didn’t mean to imply I was a Buddy Rogers fan. He was too obnoxious, but a helluva showman. Still remember when, during a ringside interview, he reached over and ripped up Chief Big Heart’s beautiful headdress.

  8. Clarence George 06:57pm, 11/18/2015

    Another great anecdote, Mike.  Me, I was always a Bruno Sammartino man.  Never cared for wrestlers who strut.  Ric Flair, who patterned himself on Rogers, still does it.  Looks like an old man trying to hold off going to the bathroom.

  9. Mike Silver 02:57pm, 11/18/2015

    Thank you Clarence. Can’t wait to see who you will write about next! Here’s a bit of trivia: In 1958 or 1959 Tony fought a mixed match with his New Jersey neighbor “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers in Connecticut.  I was a wrestling fan then (what kid wasn’t?) and the following week Buddy told Ray Morgan, the announcer, that he had defeated Galento. “Two Ton” was almost 50 at the time. Don’t know if the script called for a rematch.

  10. Clarence George 09:47am, 11/18/2015

    An analysis worthy of thought, Mike, and good point about Godoy, another neglected boxer.

  11. Mike Silver 09:40am, 11/18/2015

    Bonavena vs. Galento? You are right Peter, I lean toward Galento by decision over Bonavena. It’s a very tough fight between two Mack Trucks who could punch but Galento, in his awkward way, was the smarter more experienced boxer, could take it (Louis was the first to drop him after 104 fights!) and was a terrific puncher. Galento also fought out of a bend which would have troubled Bonavena. But I’ll tell you who would have beaten both without question (in fact he outpointed Galento twice)—Arturo Godoy.

  12. Clarence George 09:20am, 11/18/2015

    Very glad you liked it, Mike.  So, you give the edge to Galento?  You may indeed be right, but I’m more with Eric on this one.  Of course, a referee tolerant of Tony’s rather loose interpretation of the rules of engagement could make all the difference.

  13. Mike Casey 08:50am, 11/18/2015

    Certainly wouldn’t bet my rent money on the outcome, Eric. Yes, Oscar was unlucky in the first Frazier fight. Always intrigues me to watch that one and see how much more upright Frazier was in those days.

  14. Eric 08:34am, 11/18/2015

    Bonavena stood up to a prime Frazier’s shots and was always in condition. IMO Oscar was robbed in first fight with Frazier.  I have become a fan and admirer of Galento but I can’t see him beating Oscar. Oscar wasn’t prone to cuts as well. I think Oscar takes this one in the ring.

  15. Mike Casey 08:26am, 11/18/2015

    Fascinating article, Clarence, and nice to see that Bill lived to a good age. Galento v Bonavena? That would be some scrap. Bonavena got a decision over George Chuvalo but apparently didn’t deserve it. Tony, I think, was more of a go-getter than Oscar and that might have been the important difference. Either way, I suspect there would have been blood!

  16. Clarence George 04:43am, 11/18/2015

    Ha!  Well, if it’s any consolation to him, I generally agree that Old School beats New School.  By the way, I’m open to being persuaded that Galento beats Bonavena.

  17. peter 04:03am, 11/18/2015

    A 1970s Bonavena beats a 1940s Galento? I don’t think our boxing maven, Mike Silver, would agree!

  18. Clarence George 03:31am, 11/18/2015

    Thanks very much, Mike, and I love the anecdote, which I’m presumptuous enough to urge you to turn into an article.  By the way, Tito Puente is another great name I haven’t heard in eons.  I had no idea Cooper was Jewish.  You just can’t go by names.  Think of mobster Hymie Weiss, who was Catholic.  And my father used to do business with a man named Goldfinger, who told anyone and everyone within earshot, “Don’t let the name fool you—I’m not Jewish.”  But, then, neither was his fictional counterpart.  What I did know about Cooper is that he was extremely tough.  A bit like O’Gatty, whom he beat, he took on everyone. He twice fought Mauriello, for instance, getting stopped both times.  In fact, he lost far more often than not.  Still, a very impressive boychik.  No idea what happened to him, but he must be long dead.

  19. Mike Silver 10:38pm, 11/17/2015

    Another gem Clarence! In 1966 I walked into a bar/restaurant on Northern Blvd. in Queens where Tito Puente was appearing with his band. Standing by the bar were two tough looking middle aged hombres who I surmised were the bouncers. I immediately recognized Tammy Mauriello. He was very friendly. After a bit of conversation he pointed to the tall handsome bouncer standing nearby and said, “Do you know who this is”? I had no idea. He then introduced me to Bill Poland, who tells me he fought heavyweight back when.  Wow! Found out later he was Jewish. BTW, the Henry Cooper you mention in the article—also Jewish.

  20. Clarence George 09:08am, 11/17/2015

    Me neither, Eric.  He died on the 14th, and I found out about it last night while watching “WWE Monday Night Raw.”

    Thanks, Peter.  Yeah, the Grand Concourse is anything but grand today.  Actually, I think Bonavena would probably beat Galento in a boxing match (not that he’d find it easy or pleasant, mind you), but lose in a street fight or barroom brawl.

  21. peter 08:29am, 11/17/2015

    Ah! Yet another colorful Clarence George article which escorts the reader through a variety of disparate doors full of intrigue and surprise. The Jewish names mentioned—Gilzenberg, Braverman, Poland, Bimstein—once trod upon the pavement of The Grand Concourse in the Bronx. The Grand Concourse, of course, isn’t so grand anymore…Clarence, I think your Tony Galento is my Oscar Bonavena. I would ask you who would win a fight between them, but I fear you might not be objective enough to answer correctly. (Oscar would win.)

  22. Eric 08:24am, 11/17/2015

    Nick Bockwinkel? Now that is a name I haven’t heard in decades. RIP Mr. Bockwinkel.

  23. Clarence George 07:43am, 11/17/2015

    Another excellent post, Mr. Resnick.  I know only too well what it’s like to be “vilified for not being politically correct.”  I remember once when a young lady said to me, “I find that remark offensive,” to which I rather impoliticly replied, “I don’t give a damn what you find.”  After all, all I did was disagree with her.  Eek!  Gasp!  While I respect a good fighter who can’t punch (Maxie Rosenbloom, for instance), I have a weak spot for heavy hitters.  True of most of us, I’m sure.

  24. Maish Resnick 06:27am, 11/17/2015

    I don’t know if Al Braverman managed Bill Poland or just worked his corner a few times, but he spoke of him in a very glowing way. If Big Al was still alive, he would be your biggest fan, Mr. George. He loved talking about the old days, especially the heavyweights that few people remember. He attached an ethnic designation to everyone, but not in a divisive way although today he would be vilified for not being politically correct. I would share some of his descriptions here, but don’t want to offend the sensibilities of some readers. They were very funny and were not said with any malice. But boy, if you could punch, it didn’t matter if you were a “dumb as a stump ....,” he glowed when talking about them.

  25. Clarence George 05:40am, 11/17/2015

    So glad you liked it, Irish.  Yeah, Audrey had a great deal of hard-boiled sex appeal.  She’d light your candle, sure…and then snuff it out!  She lived to be a very old lady and only died a couple of years ago.

  26. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 05:28am, 11/17/2015

    Clarence George-Superb in every way this article. Audrey Totter!....now you’re talkin’....always had a yen for her…whether she was playing a doll or a gun moll she could light my candle!

  27. Clarence George 05:20am, 11/17/2015

    What an excellent post, Mr. Resnick.  Al Braverman is not a name I’ve heard in awhile.  And I didn’t know he managed Poland, though I did know that Bill Bossio was one of his boys (trained by Angelo Dundee).  Poland was indeed a heavy hitter, as was McNeeley, though I think the former’s opposition much more impressive.  My guess is that all those arenas are gone, though some lasted longer than others.  The International Amphitheatre in Chicago, for instance, only closed its doors about 15 years ago.  Gilzenberg was a fascinating character, amply worthy of an article.  A huge name in wrestling, even bigger than in boxing.  In fact, he eventually took over Galento’s contract, at the time the fat man was transitioning from boxing to wrestling.  Speaking of wrestling, sad to report that Nick Bockwinkel died just a few days ago.  RIP.

    Best wishes,

    Abraham Sofaer

  28. Maish Resnick 04:09am, 11/17/2015

    I remember the late Al Braverman talking about Bill Poland, one of the many “Jew heavyweights, back when there some,” that he managed. The colorful Braverman was also Jewish and used Jewish analogies in lots of thing he said. When describing where he lived in the North Bronx, for example, he would say, on a certain Avenue. “I’ve been there so long, all the Jews used to live there.”  What I recall most about Braverman recounting Poland was him saying he could “punch.” When Braverman said such a thing, he accentuated the word punch and a glean came over his face like a proud papa. He said the same about Peter McNeeley, when explaining why he made that fight for Mike Tyson upon Tyson’s release from prison. The rugged Braverman’s eyes would moisten when talking about many of the now defunct arenas where Poland plied his trade, as well as when he spoke with reverence about promoter Willie Gilzenberg, whom he mentioned in only reverential ways.

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