Bob Satterfield: Part Two

By Ted Sares on October 30, 2015
Bob Satterfield: Part Two
Tommy Harrison became Bob Satterfield because he didn’t like being Tommy Harrison.

“One of the primary things boxing is about is lying…it’s about systematically cultivating a double personality; the self in society, the self in the ring…”

“My father-in-law was a man’s man…a prideful man.”—Elaine Satterfield, Bob’s daughter-in-law

“I hate this man (Tommy Harrison).”—Elaine Satterfield

“I’m sitting here with a reporter from the Los Angeles Times and he says there’s a man who’s telling everybody he’s Bob Satterfield. He’s homeless and he has a very bad record, and he’s been molesting children and he’s using Pop’s name. Yeah. Uh Huh. Now, now. Don’t cry.”—Bob Satterfield Jr.

After winning his last fight on November 21, 1957, against Howard “Honeyboy” King, Bob Satterfield moved to Paris and studied painting. In fact, he had been an art student at the famous Chicago Art Institute with LeRoy Neiman, whose first boxing subject was none other than Satterfield. At some point, he returned to Chicago where he lived out his days on the South Side.

Much of Bob’s history during the time between his retirement and the time of his death remains unclear and perhaps that’s because nothing noteworthy happened.

Sadly, he passed away in January 1977 at the young age of fifty-three, suffering from cancer though the facts associated with his physical condition at the time of his death are somewhat unclear. There is a Robert Satterfield buried in Restvale Cemetery in Worth, Illinois, and I believe it is Bob. He was listed as a truck driver with his next of kin named Robert Satterfield Jr., who also resided on the south side of Chicago.

Junior reportedly passed away before I could have more than one telephone conversation with him, but I have talked to many others including the late Ernie Terrell, Bob’s purported daughter Iona Satterfield (his ex-wife also was named Iona) who calls me every year from Georgia, and also author, historian extraordinaire, and friend J.J. Johnston. See:

From all accounts, everyone’s description of him was that he was a man’s man who worked right up to the time of his death.

Resurrecting the Champ

“Somehow, I feel that Satterfield would have forgiven Harrison for his innocent role-playing, maybe understanding better than most of us that we all live semi-delusionary lives.”—Dick Whittington, Newbury Park

“So Champ wasn’t a champ but a fake. Still, Moehringer wrote that he ‘felt less betrayed’ when he thought the ex-boxer was a child molester…There’s no way that such a petty deception could be more wounding than the lifelong sentence carried by a child who has been carnally assaulted. Molestation is a criminal act of betrayal against humanity.”—Harmony Kahn, Burbank

“Everybody around here knows Champ was a prizefighter, but he never got his title shot.”—Frank Brown, a friend of Tommy’s in LA

The story didn’t end with the fighter’s untimely death. A film was produced called “Resurrecting the Champ,” co-starring Samuel L. Jackson and Josh Hartnett. The film was directed by Rod Lurie and was based on a series of prize winning articles written by J.R. Moehringer which originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times Magazine and were the subject of great acclaim. This link will get you to the page where the PDF copy of the article can be found here:

J.R. Moehringer

A biography of the author reveals the following: “J.R. Moehringer has an old-fashioned flair for infusing potentially hardboiled subject matter with humanity and pathos. This gift was first evident in ‘Resurrecting the Champ,’ an article which originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times Magazine. The article detailed Moehringer’s attempts to track down former boxing champ “Battlin’” Bob Satterfield. However, percolating just beneath the surface of this “where-are-they-now” sports story was an issue much closer to Moehringer’s heart: the gnawing need to locate the father that abandoned him as a boy. 4

The resulting story not only became a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, but it also gained the attention and accolades of everyone from Chris Jones of Esquire to Katie Couric of The Today Show. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1998 and received the Pulitzer for newspaper feature writing in 2000.

Reduced to its essence, the real story is that Moehringer met a homeless man who pretended to be Satterfield. When Moehringer researched him he realized that the man was a fraud and had an unsavory criminal past. To his great credit, Moehringer included that information in the article (as well as Tommy’s horrific record of child molestations) before it was published—unlike in the movie. (Moehringer has also written the critically acclaimed book entitled “The Tender Bar,” which won numerous awards.)

After J.R. finished visiting with Bob’s son and daughter-in-law in Chicago and confirmed once and for all by reviewing a scrapbook that the champ was not who he claimed to be, he wrote, “I’d walked up clean steps to talk to clean people and made them feel dirty.”

I have read Moehringer’s prize-winning articles. His writing is most compelling, and the contents are accurate. He tells a great story, but he tells it from the perspective of one who has never tasted leather or from one who has never made the less-than-seamless transition from street fighter to gym fighter.

J.R. is welcome to come into boxing’s safe place and do his research, but for God’s sake, don’t risk sullying the name of one of our hero’s. Bob’s glory days are one thing; Tommy Harrison’s so-called demons are quite something else. Make certain the imposter’s extremely dirty linen is compartmentalized and clearly delineated in the subsequent movie, or someone is liable to misinterpret it. As one critic said, “It was a textbook case of a newspaper doing its job right, and if either Moehringer or the L.A. Times signed off on this movie hoax, shame on them.”

The Movie

“‘Resurrecting’ delivers a heckuva story marred by some credibility problems but lands the majority of its punches via subtly powerful performances and a moving undercard of paternal connection.”—Kevin Crust, LA Times Staff Writer

In the film (which came out in August 2007), Hartnett plays a young reporter who meets a homeless man in LA claiming to be Bob Satterfield. The fighter, with whom he develops a close relationship, proves not to be the former “champ” but one Tommy Harrison instead. The journalist and the reluctant subject, albeit an imposter, then proceed to form a father-son bond while the scribe gets his “heartfelt” story, or so it would appear.

Harrison was born in Kingston Jamaica, but grew up in Chicago. He said he had fought under the name of “Battlin” Bob Satterfield but that’s manifestly false, though in 1953 he was, in fact, ranked higher than Satterfield by Ring Magazine. Tommy, alias Deno Burns, fought out of LA at the same time as “Rapid Robert.” He was a tough fighter in his own right and had decisioned the great Jimmy Bivins in 1952 and beat Charley Norkus and Wes Bascom that same year. He also went to battle with such formidable competition as Ezzard Charles, Floyd Patterson, Dan Bucceroni and Bobo Olson. His final slate was 22-13-2 but he finished badly, losing his last five by stoppage.

In 1953, Ring Magazine’s top ten heavyweights were as follows:

Rocky Marciano: Champion
1. Nino Valdez
2. Ezzard Charles
3. Dan Bucceroni
4. Roland LaStarza
5. Earl Walls
6. Don Cockell
7. Clarence Henry
8. Tommy Harrison
9 . Bob Satterfield
10. Coley Wallace

Apparently Tommy chooses to remain on the streets, answers to the name “champ” and reportedly can be seen sweeping in front of shops occasionally being given money for his efforts—this sometimes occurring on the western end of Santa Ana Boulevard.

I am a harsh critic of the movie and its director and producers. I have viewed numerous reviews. What I saw and read made my blood boil. Satterfield was never a “champ,” nor was he ever called “the Bombardier” or “Battlin’” or “Champ.” He was known as “Rapid Robert” Satterfield.

Even worse, some clips about the film referred to Satterfield as a “down-and-out ex-boxer.” Aged by makeup and wearing a gray wig, Samuel L. Jackson plays a shuffling, and mumbling homeless, skid-row drunk rendered punchy by too many repeated blows to the head. To imply (or to risk misinterpretation) that the Chicago slugger would end up that way is reprehensible. What’s worse, once one reads the story behind the story—and that takes some research—the implications are beyond reprehensible.

Incredibly, the movie’s production notes declare “A film about truth demands authenticity,” and yet the movie is not authentic!

Director Rod Lurie should hold his head in shame for giving redemptive credibility to an imposter and for risking the public’s perception of a great warrior. If Hollywood wanted a dramatic storyline, there was much more to choose from—many compelling stories waiting to be told.

Bob Satterfield was the most exciting fighter ever to come out of Chicago. He was beloved by his family, friends, and fans and that should be his legacy. It deserves pristine accuracy and dignity.

The reporter’s original article appeared in the Los Angeles Times magazine in May 4, 1997. Robert Satterfield died from cancer in 1977 at the age of 53. Bob is dead. Let him be

As for Tommy Harrison, he became Bob Satterfield simply because he didn’t like being Tommy Harrison.

“One of the primary things boxing is about is lying…it’s about systematically cultivating a double personality; the self in society, the self in the ring.”—Joyce Carol Oates in “On Boxing.”

Bob Satterfield: Part One
Bob Satterfield: Part Two

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and holds several world and state records. He enjoys writing about boxing.

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  1. Ted Sares 02:28pm, 06/14/2016

    Thank you sir

  2. Ted sares 03:21pm, 06/13/2016

    Thank you

  3. burgos-el, antonio 03:11pm, 06/13/2016

    I am the Nephew of Bob Satterfield, I am the Son of Bernice Satterfield, my Mother, My Cousin, Bridgette Satterfield, & her sister & my Cousin, Iona Satterfield, and to baujack, my uncle & Jonny Bratton were good friends, and came by our home 6429 south Ellis to visit, & my Grand Mother, Jemima, would fix him a meal, and they would talk, what eye-remember about Johnny, was that his hands were HUMONGOUS, lol! @ baujack, Peace, oh, my uncle introduced uncle Ali (Muhammad,
    Inshallah) to his first wife, baujack my Brother.

  4. Ted Sares 06:51am, 12/02/2015

    Thank you Bridget for getting the record straight. This puts a nice coda on the two pieces.

    God Bless

  5. Bridget Satterfield Malone 01:48am, 12/02/2015

    I am the daughter of the late heavyweight boxer Bob Satterfield. I was born in Chicago. Now I live Memphis,TN. Bob Satterfield was married to his second wife Ivylene Price Satterfield in Chicago. Bob Satterfield has two grandsons name Marlon Satterfield, Marco Brent. Also has one great grandson name Machali Dapree Satterfield. 

    My daddy the boxer Bob Satterfield died June 3,1977 in Chicago from cancer.
    His only son Robert Satterfield Jr. died of a heart attack June 2010 in Chicago. His second wife Ivylene Satterfield died from colon cancer September 12, 2010 in Memphis,TN. I am getting record straight about my daddy the late heavyweight Bob Satterfield.

    From his daughter Bridget Satterfield Malone

  6. KB 07:18am, 11/11/2015

    Thank you Peter. J.R. is indeed a great writer. I wish the movie had followed his story.

  7. peter 08:33pm, 11/10/2015

    Thank you for this excellent article about an interesting fighter. I would’ve loved to see a Bob Satterfield—Floyd “Jumbo” Cummings fight…J.R. Moehringer is mentioned in this article. What a fine writer. His “Tender Bar” is a great read.

  8. bikermike 05:52pm, 11/02/2015

    ....and now….that often asked question ....WHO THE FUCK IS donald grant ??

  9. KB 05:16pm, 11/02/2015

    IT would have been close

  10. Tex Hassler 05:01pm, 11/02/2015

    I pick Satterfield to beat Harrison.

  11. Your Name 01:06pm, 11/02/2015

    Bill, the word “molester” was the lightening rod

  12. dollarbond 05:20pm, 11/01/2015

    Some of the posts in this one should be rated xxx.  By the way mr. grant, I trust you have never seen ted the Bull in person?

  13. Clarence George 05:15pm, 10/31/2015

    Ha!  Unintended, Irish, but I understand why you drew the inference.  After all, I did indeed make reference to “candy and plenty.”

  14. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 03:21pm, 10/31/2015

    Clarence George-You tricked me on Halloween! I clicked on your link because for some reason I was sure it would be a link to a Youtube video of Candy Barr!

  15. KB 11:28am, 10/31/2015

    CG, You were not even a potential spermicide when Good and Plenty’s were the game in town.

  16. Clarence George 11:09am, 10/31/2015

    Pervs?  Certainly not.  Delightful people, especially Grandpa.  I had the pleasure of meeting Al Lewis at his restaurant, where he pretty much slobbered all over my date.  I just watched the episode where Herman goes on a diet around Thanksgiving time in order to fit into his old Army uniform for a reunion.  Yes, the original “Thing” is a great movie.

    Same to you, Eric.  I was downstairs earlier, where the doormen hand candy out for the kids.  I tasted it aplenty to make sure it was up to snuff.  I’ll go down later for further tasting.  Speaking of candy and plenty, I trust everyone remembers:

  17. KB 09:10am, 10/31/2015

    Well, I still like the original “The Thing” with James Arness/

  18. Eric 09:02am, 10/31/2015

    Clarence…. Can’t beat “The Munsters” or those old school monster movies. Happy Halloween!

  19. kb 09:00am, 10/31/2015

    Are the Minsters pervs, too, CG?

  20. KB 08:59am, 10/31/2015

    Tommy had short eyes and the movie was silent about that. That is what created all the angst and I believe might have involved a law suit from the Satterfield estate but I could never corroborate that.

    The minute a short-eyes hits the shower in the Federal Hotel, he starts getting a taste of his own medicine. Don’t know and don’t want to know if Tommy got a taste, but the way he ended up is, I reckon, enough punishment for anyone. He refused to take any gratuity for the movie nor did he want a place to live which was offered to him.

    Thing is, you really have to read the Articles in the LA Times to appreciate the many stories behind the story. Fascinating stuff as you peel the onion and come up with new layers of interesting information and just how complex individuals can be.

  21. Clarence George 08:55am, 10/31/2015

    He plays a prison guard in the other one, right?  Didn’t see that either, though I’ve watched “Tremors” any number of times.

    For those interested, there’s a “Munsters” marathon on Cozi TV.

  22. KB 08:51am, 10/31/2015

    Eric, I agree, though Mos Def. (spelling) was pretty good.

  23. Eric 08:50am, 10/31/2015

    The movie, “Sleepers,” with Bacon was a decent movie but “The Woodsman” was terrible.

  24. KB 08:35am, 10/31/2015


  25. KB 08:34am, 10/31/2015

    Good advice NY. I call them Seagulls. They drop their pitiful load and then go back to the garbage dump in Kearney, NJ. But being called a hack surprised me since I’m not a member of the BWAA.

  26. NYIrish 08:24am, 10/31/2015

    Sometimes a harsh critic passes through these pages and drops a bitter turd. Silence is the best retort. Then they go away.

  27. Clarence George 08:23am, 10/31/2015

    Right.  Never saw it, though.

  28. KB 07:56am, 10/31/2015

    Actually, one starred Kevin Bacon as one and made him out to be ok-ugh

    “The Woodsman”

  29. Clarence George 07:10am, 10/31/2015

    While Hollywood did manage to make a child molester somewhat sympathetic in “The Mark,” starring Stuart Whitman, they have yet to make him heroic.  For that, we’ll have to wait for the biopic of Roman “Slime Bucket” Polanski.

  30. Eric 06:54am, 10/31/2015

    Leave it to Hollyweird to distort the truth.

  31. Clarence George 06:45am, 10/31/2015

    Among the greatest movies ever made.  Beckert was somewhat based on Peter Kürten and Fritz Haarmann.  The latter’s head (he’d been guillotined) was preserved in some hospital or university until last year, when it was incinerated.  Can’t get much more German than that.

  32. KB 06:15am, 10/31/2015

    Thanks John and Irish. Much appreciated

    And thank you Jim Crue for your nice comments

    As for Grant, mentioning Mike gives him away in a NY Second—pun intended.

  33. KB 06:12am, 10/31/2015

    CG, That’s the entire point, It was never even attempted to be made clear. And he was a repeat offender.

    “M’ was one of the first serial killer films even though it was not called that at the time because serial killers were not categorized as such. Love the movie and Lorre’s renditions. Very scary and chilling.

  34. KB 06:08am, 10/31/2015

    Thanks Big Wally, no awards sought. Just the pleasure of knowing that I got the truth out there on my favorite fighter,

  35. KB 06:06am, 10/31/2015

    Beaujack, thank you for your positive comments. Johny Bratton also is in my prime memory bank. AND THEY DID KNOW EACH OTHER QUITE WELL.

  36. Jim Crue 06:06am, 10/31/2015

    Wow Mr Grant you are a harsh critic. A hack job? a tired subject? It’s not a tired subject to those who are not familiar with Bob Satterfield.
    I don’t think Ted has ever claimed to be a professional writer. Your example is indeed a rough sentence but all in all I believe this to be an informative piece on the almost forgotten fighter from my hometown of Chicago.
    From one Chicago guy to another..Great job Ted

  37. Donald Grant 03:43am, 10/31/2015

    A real hack job. The topic’s tired. There’s no center - just a jumble held together by low-grade chewing gum. And the writing is sloppy and lazy. “Make certain the imposter’s extremely dirty linen is compartmentalized and clearly delineated in the subsequent movie, or someone is liable to misinterpret it” is a good example of the ineptitude. I never heard of either literal or metaphorical linen being “compartmentalized,” “delineated” or “misinterpreted.”

    This site was recommended to me by a Ring writer who told me to check out in particular Mike Casey. A good recommendation so far, as I like the other four lead articles. But this one was like having a bad clam after four good ones.

    I never heard of Ted Sares and have no knowledge of his work. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he had an off day.

  38. Clarence George 01:41am, 10/31/2015

    Didn’t know Harrison was a child molester.  If that had been made clear in the film, I wonder if Samuel L. Jackson could still have rendered him pitiable, emulating Peter Lorre’s success as the fictional Hans Beckert in “M.”  I doubt it.

    “Butcher Boy” Bucceroni is pretty much forgotten today, but he had a respectable record, beating Roland LaStarza, Danny Nardico, and Freddy Beshore, and was the only man to stop Dave Davey.

  39. Big Wally 11:03pm, 10/30/2015

    Put the two together and you have an award winner in my opinion

  40. John aka L.L. Cool John 10:30pm, 10/30/2015

    This is definitely your all-time best work! Thanks for sharing.

  41. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:10pm, 10/30/2015

    Ted Sares-Harrison who beat Bivins twice was KOd in one round back to back by Walls and Patterson (the beginning of the end). Maybe he wanted to be a “man’s man” like Satterfield and knew he never could be….maybe Bob whipped his ass to a frazzle in sparring….who knows? Either way he’s fortunate that he didn’t get it on with Satterfield for real in the ring. To my mind other than Ezzard Charles not exactly a murderers row that 1953 top ten contenders list above… real threats to Rocky there other than Ezzard…..though Bob and Walls both could hit.

  42. beaujack 08:29pm, 10/30/2015

    A great Part #2 on Bob Satterfield. Man he was exciting to watch and could he hit!. His story reminds me somewhat like another exciting Chicago fighter I saw those days, the great WW Johnny Bratton who after he passed away, some street character tried to pass himself as Johnny Bratton unfortunately. I would bet that Bob Satterfield and johnny Bratton
    knew each other very well…Both great crowd pleasers from Chicago in an era of great fighters…

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