Book Review: Madame Bey’s: Home to Boxing Legends

By Clarence George on February 17, 2017
Book Review: Madame Bey’s: Home to Boxing Legends
Madame Bey had her favorites, including her "two big boys," Tunney and Max Schmeling.

The question isn’t so much who trained at Madame Bey’s in Chatham Township, New Jersey, from 1923 to 1942, but who didn’t…

“I am swamped with remembrances on Mother’s Day.”—Madame Bey

I’ve always been interested in boxing’s peripheral characters, who are no less interesting for being peripheral; if anything, more so.

Madame Bey, who “stood tall with the giants of the sport,” certainly fits the bill, as recounted in Gene Pantalone’s impressively researched and written Madame Bey’s: Home to Boxing Legends.

For those exclusively, or even primarily, interested in boxing history, the author devotes perhaps more space than necessary to the lady’s particulars. The biographical information and material is interesting and well presented (a frequent and favored guest at the White House, she was standing just a “few feet” from President McKinley when he was shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz in Buffalo, New York, on September 6, 1901, the president dying eight days later), but the boxing fan may well find himself hurriedly, if inadvisedly, flipping through the pages to get at the meat — the boxers.

And what boxers. The question isn’t so much who trained at Madame Bey’s in Chatham Township, New Jersey, from 1923 to 1942, but who didn’t. Mickey Walker, he was there, as was Gene Tunney; Max Schmeling; Tony Canzoneri; Primo Carnera; Jack Dempsey; Bob Olin; Arturo Godoy; Lou Ambers; Max and Buddy Baer; Tommy Farr; Henry Armstrong; John Henry Lewis; Joe Louis…you get the idea. In fact, Pantalone includes a welcome section — “Notables During Madame Bey Era” — an alphabetical list of all the names, from Georgie Abrams to Teddy Yarosz (not excluding managers, trainers, cutmen, and sportswriters), who were at Madame Bey’s, each accompanied by a much-appreciated biographical blurb. All told, the camp hosted 78 Hall of Famers and 12 world heavyweight champs.

“An unwritten hierarchical structure existed,” writes Pantalone. “The best boxers, champions, former champions, contenders, and Bey’s favorites lived and slept at the farmhouse. At meal times, the resident champion garnered the head of the table with the better boxers sitting closest to him. They had conversations at the table with a range that had no limit. World heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott described the relationship that existed. ‘It always seemed like a family. Like a bunch of brothers sitting at the table. We were brothers in the same profession.’”

And where there are brothers, there must surely be a mother. “It makes no difference whether men are kings or tramps, princes or pugilists,” Pantalone quotes Madame Bey. “I have learned a few rules, and they apply to all men. Feed them well, give them comfortable quarters, and then leave them alone,” adding, “You see, they are just like children, and they sometimes have to be made to eat everything on their plates so that they will get a balanced meal.” Freddie Steele, for instance — “my little prince,” as she called him, but better known to most as the “Tacoma Assassin” — didn’t get a second helping of potatoes until he finished his string beans.

Hard to believe that she had a clean-your-plate problem (what with dinners boasting “thick steaks or chops”) with boxing’s Falstaffian bad boy, “Two Ton” Tony Galento. A character who could give Max and Moritz a run for their money, Tony once rather indelicately referred to the establishment of the indulgent, albeit aristocratic, Madame Bey as “out where that brunette tells you what to do.” As Pantalone puts it, “Two people could not be more different. They were opposites in both the way they approached boxing and life. They did not get along, but Madame Bey would not discuss it with the press.”

Conversely, she had her favorites, including her “two big boys,” Tunney and Schmeling. The former was her “polished emerald.” For Madame Bey, he was “That dear Gene! That marvelous, handsome, intelligent Gene Tunney — ah, there is a man for you!” The latter, who had no money when he first came to the camp, was told to “Stay,” by Madame. “Stay as long as you wish. Some day you will be a champion, and you will remember me then.” But favorite or not, “Every blow they take,” she said, “I take with them.”

Pantalone makes clear that most of the brood got along well with each other (though there were exceptions — Schmeling and Paulino Uzcudun’s relationship, for instance, “was not one of admiration”) and with their much-loved mother hen, who “gave them a home.” More, he provides a wealth of detailed information on the boxers, their training, and their fights, as well as their entourages. Most impressive, boxing’s Golden Age, in all its grit and color, is brought to vivid life in a book that is a delight for readers and essential for researchers.

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  1. Moon Man 06:42am, 02/23/2017

    Clarence… No doubt I could very well see how someone could forget, “The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington.” What a piece of crapola. I always associate tree movies together, probably because they were the first R-rated movies that I saw on the big screen. The other two were, “Slapshot,” which I enjoyed, and “Looking For Mr. Goodbar,” which should join Happy Hooker in the trash heap. Shout out to Ms. Hollander. Forgive me for calling you Xavier, I wasn’t implying you were a feller, just have trouble with dem foreign names. I always loved the name, Anastasia, until it literally became a stripper stage name. Damn strippers, first they take Gigi, then Anastasia.

  2. Clarence George 07:25pm, 02/22/2017

    Joey Heatherton is among my Top 10.  I’d forgotten that she portrayed Xaviera Hollander, as did Martine Beswick.  A link to a photo of Joey is below, per your request.

    By the way, I wonder if Agatha Christie knew of Madame Bey.  Mrs. Hubbard in “Hickory Dickory Dock” reminds me of her.  A poorly received novel, but I’ve always liked it.

    http://i.imgur.com/lvcfcPS.jpg

  3. Moon Man 03:03pm, 02/22/2017

    Clarence…Well done. Speaking of beauties, and since Xavier Hollander has been brought up, how about one of the boy’s favorites, Joey Heatherton. You know damn well, Xavier never looked that good, even on her best days. BAD casting job for that movie. Have a great evening, Mr. George. About to go dine on some bland tuna salad.

  4. Clarence George 01:30pm, 02/22/2017

    Well said, Moon Man.  It only remains for me to provide this unapologetically irrelevant photo of Susan Denberg:

    https://thecampofthesaints.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/susan-denberg-1966-08-006.jpg

  5. Moon Man 01:02pm, 02/22/2017

    Clarence… I do believe I remember that well, Mr. George. I FIRMLY BELIEVE in a civil debate myself. That is how WE LEARN. The truth fears no investigation.

  6. Clarence George 12:40pm, 02/22/2017

    My post wasn’t meant to upbraid, Moon Man—not you or anyone else.  After all, I’m not a nanny.  If people want to use the comments section of my articles to discuss what can be broadly considered politics, so be it.  I was merely hinting that the discourse be kept reasonably civil (which doesn’t mean it can’t be vigorous).  I won’t necessarily participate.  In fact, I probably won’t.  But neither will I object.  That is, unless it becomes sewery.  More than a year ago, profoundly pathological references were made to people’s mothers giving themselves to paratroopers.  That was on a colleague’s article.  It’s never happened on one of mine.  And it never will.

  7. Moon Man 10:07am, 02/22/2017

    Clarence…I ABSOLUTELY meant nothing by the book review. Maybe I worded it wrong or what have you, but I certainly didn’t mean to insult anyone. Believe me, if I wish to insult someone, it wouldn’t be printable. Out of nowhere, I get told to “F O.” haha. That isn’t the first time, and certainly won’t be the last time, but we are adults and I certainly can handle it. MY sole purpose was to give this book some PROPS. Apologize for the disruption to your article and this man’s EXCELLENT BOOK. Mucho respect for you, sir. I will debate anyone in a civil discussion and try my best not to bring it to personal insults. I feel when you have to resort to insults, you have LOST the debate.

  8. Clarence George 09:45am, 02/22/2017

    Yes, well, I’m used to commentary on my articles quickly becoming somewhat tangential, if not downright irrelevant.  I don’t mind, especially if hot starlets wind up the topic.  But there’s no need for ugliness, lads.  I was recently screeched at by some creepazoid who objected to my admiration for “Old Hickory.”  I just walked away.  I learned a long time ago to never argue with either stupid or psychotic.  Or to do really much of anything that might interfere with my nap time.

  9. Moon Man 08:57am, 02/22/2017

    Someone take a look at my book review and find out what this old codgers problem is??? I don’t hate ya, Pops at all. I have had a great time talkin to you. You sound disturbed though. Maybe you woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I still say you are jealous of Mean Gene’s excellent book. Your lame arse even got upset when I compared Olympic weightlifting as a superior sport to Powerlifting?? What the hell was that all about??

  10. Kid 08:51am, 02/22/2017

    Sorry Clarence for the sidetrack but this a—hole has been allowed to spew his hate and racism once too often

  11. Kid 08:48am, 02/22/2017

    Oh you hate me::

    Please join the club. They have weekly meeting at

    The corner of F—k you street

    and

    Kiss my ass BLVD

  12. Moon Man 08:45am, 02/22/2017

    Kid…Self relflection, Pops. Jealous that someone else wrote a good book. I’ve noticed that you have a problem with others receiving compliments and that you always want to be the center of attention. Believe me, I meant no disrespect, but also believe this, you wouldn’t scare me in the least, face to face. haha. Lighten up, snowflake. No racism here, was just giving a book review and you got butt hurt because it wasn’t someone kissin’ your arse. F*ck off to you, snowflake.

  13. Moon Man 08:40am, 02/22/2017

    “So what?” I would answer that question in detail but it would cause my response to be deleted. Sorry, I can’t reply.

  14. Kid 08:39am, 02/22/2017

    F O, Moon man It’s easy to do racism behind a key board. Not so much face to face,

  15. Moon Man 08:36am, 02/22/2017

    And not many Turks have blonde hair, blue eyes and are fair skin. hehe. Reminds of me of the “Sicilian scene” in the movie, “True Romance,” with Christopher Walken.

  16. Kid 08:33am, 02/22/2017

    So what?

  17. Moon Man 08:31am, 02/22/2017

    Yes, but nowadays, not all Europeans are.

  18. Kid 08:29am, 02/22/2017

    News flash: Turkish Muslim are Caucasians

  19. Moon Man 07:44am, 02/22/2017

    Looks like Madame’s husband was a fair skinned, blonde haired, blue eyed, Turkish Muslim. I’m guessing his ancestors were European caucasians and captured as slaves back in the day. Just skimmed through the sample of this book on Amazon. GREAT READ, especially for anyone who might be a bit of a history buff as well. It is amazing how many people out there have never even heard of the Armenian Genocide. Beautifully written book, and at over 500 pages, pretty beefy for a “sports” book. Mean Gene, great effort. Anyone who might be on the fence about purchasing this book, go over to Amazon and read the sample. I give 5 stars *****.

  20. Clarence George 10:25pm, 02/21/2017

    Every pope post-Pius XII leaves a great deal to be desired.  Benedict XVI is arguably an exception; Francis most definitely is not.

  21. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 05:56pm, 02/21/2017

    ATTORNEY: All your responses must be oral, OK? What school did you attend? WITNESS: Oral. (From Charles Sevillas , Disorder in the Court) These are our fellows and Pope Francis says that if we don’t love them we will burn in Hell for all eternity.

  22. Clarence George 03:00pm, 02/20/2017

    Well done, Lucas, in reminding us (including me) of the sexy, however disgracefully forgotten, Barbara Steele.  I remember her from “Black Sunday.”  Somewhat similar to Martine Beswick, I think.

  23. Lucas McCain 02:05pm, 02/20/2017

    I was more of a Barbara Steele fan (Queen of B-horror movies, but who also appeared in a Fellini film!)

  24. Clarence George 07:25am, 02/20/2017

    None of those estimable ladies do much for me, Irish, and that includes Mae West.  While one has to take Hollywood rumors with any number of grains of salt, Marjorie Main was apparently a lesbian, often paired with Spring Byington, who almost certainly was.  I much prefer the aforementioned Yvette Vickers, who had about the most delectable legs and feet I’ve ever seen.  Another breathtaking hottie—Karen Steele.

    Yes, few attorneys live up to the Perry Mason ideal.

    Ha!  Have you been rereading Xaviera Hollander?  Nah, Madame Bey was very much a mother figure.  By the way, I saw the Hollander bawd on a train about 20 years ago.  She looked godawful and was surrounded by an entourage of phonies, weirdos, and losers.

  25. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:48am, 02/20/2017

    Clarence George-Maybe it was the corsets but Just thinking about Mae West, Margaret and Marjorie is a turn on for some people! Which reminds me….Attorney: She had three children, right? Witness: Yes. Attorney: How many were boys? Witness: None. Attorney: Were there any girls? Witness: Your Honor, I need a different attorney. Can I get a new attorney? (From actual court recording in Charles Sevilla’s , “Disorder in the Court”.) I wonder if there was a pecking order when it came to slipping into Madame Beys boudoir at night at the farm house?

  26. Clarence George 08:20pm, 02/19/2017

    Well, closer to them than, say, Yvette Vickers.

  27. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:33pm, 02/19/2017

    I’m betting she was a shapely girl like Margaret Dumont or Marjorie Main.

  28. Clarence George 10:40am, 02/19/2017

    Like flies they’re dropping!  Koloff’s the one who dethroned the great Bruno Sammartino, though I always get him mixed up with Nikolai Volkoff (who’s still with us).

    Thank you kindly, Mr. Slattery, though all praise to Gene Pantalone.

    Best,

    Parley Baer

  29. William X. Slattery 08:02am, 02/19/2017

    I have long known of Madame Bey, but was not aware that her facility was used by so many boxers at various stages of their careers. Leave it to the inimitable Mr. George to bring her to our collective attention. Thank you for this fine book review, but more importantly for making us aware of the fistic lore of the lovely Madame. She sounds like quite a character.

  30. Moon Man 06:45am, 02/19/2017

    Looks like “The Russian Bear” has left the building as well.  RIP Ivan Koloff.

  31. Clarence George 12:50pm, 02/18/2017

    Mysterio still wrestles, though he’s no longer with the WWE.

    Quite right, Moon Man, and deservedly so.

    There are indeed, Gene, including one of Ambers futilely trying to flatten out Galento’s ample tummy with a rolling pin!

  32. Gene Pantalone 12:21pm, 02/18/2017

    For those interested, there are many photos of the old-time boxers at Madame Bey’s Camp in the photo section at www.facebook.com/madamebey

  33. Moon Man 11:27am, 02/18/2017

    Clarence…Tanks for the link. A Whole Lotta Love being shown out there in cyberspace for “The Animal.”

  34. Kid 10:44am, 02/18/2017

    Thez was my favorite. My dad and I watched him many times at the Marigold Gardens in Chicago. Also, Billy Graham and Argentina Rocca. Loved it when they used the Boston Crab for a three counter.


    BTW, Watching that masked Mexican wrestler die in the ring a few years back was frightening. Quite an acrobat he was, though.

  35. Clarence George 10:20am, 02/18/2017

    Pro wrestling—American promotional know-how at its most brilliant.  Dr. Sigmund Ziff?  Really?  And does the Animal actually say, “How now, brown cow”?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAr-bvzizlA

  36. Moon Man 09:22am, 02/18/2017

    People underestimate the conditioning, skill and athleticism of wrestlers. Check out former Olympian, Buddy Lee’s rope skills on YT. This guy puts even guys like Duran and Floyd Mayweather Jr to shame when it comes to skipping rope. These guys have to be some of the best conditioned athletes on the planet.

  37. Lucas McCain 09:01am, 02/18/2017

    Thesz did a lot of “kayfabe” (fake) wrestling, but everyone knew he was also the real thing and were afraid to cross him.  Guys like him were promoters’ policemen, who could break legs if they anyone got out of line.  He also had a sense of pride about himself.  He hated non-expert wrestlers and simply refused to lose to them.  (Though I loved Antonino Rocca as a kid in the 50s, I learned later he was on Thesz’s list of dopes)

  38. Moon Man 08:47am, 02/18/2017

    Lucas McCain…I’ve heard of both books. I remember seeing an old reprinted Sports Illustrated article about a possible Rocky Marciano-Lou Thesz, boxing vs. wrestling matchup. Long before Ali-Inoki. haha. Some of the writers were picking Thesz, so they were ahead of their time. Thesz, like Karl Gotch, was legit, and we’ve all seen how much success that wrestlers had in MMA. Marciano was uncharacteristically a little brash, stating he would batter the much larger Thesz easily. Knowing what we’ve learned, I might have to favor Thesz if this match would have been on the level. Of course if Marciano landed the Suzie Q, that could have been all for Thesz. I would recommend, “Superstar Billy Graham:Tangled Ropes,” but it might not be for people who didn’t dig the Superstar.

  39. Clarence George 08:30am, 02/18/2017

    Not familiar with either, I’m afraid.

  40. Lucas McCain 08:21am, 02/18/2017

    Question to wrestling-shoot fans.  Have your read Jonathan Snowden’s (no relation to Edward I assume) book on Shooter’s?  Or Lou Thesz’s autobiography “Hooker”?  They look good but I’m so far behind in my reading (and my shelves are groaning) that I’m putting off ordering them.

  41. Clarence George 06:45am, 02/18/2017

    I did know that, Moon Man, though I’m not familiar with any specifics. 

    Pro wrestling is merciless.  Seth Rollins, for instance, did terrible damage to his knee, but foolishly returned to the ring.  He recently reinjured it in a set-to with Samoa Joe and is talking about returning yet again.  Crazy.  But one of the many things I like about it is how American it is.  Very P.T. Barnum.  That said, there’s an excellent noir film—“Night and the City,” starring Richard Widmark—which deals with London’s tough and gritty wrestling underworld.

  42. Moon Man 05:40am, 02/18/2017

    Clarence…Did you know that Carnera and Galento actually wrestled each other? Wow. Just now found out about George “The Animal” Steele. RIP George Steele. It would be hard as hell, no pun intended, to be a “decent and God fearing man” in the world of pro rasslin’.  I love watching those “shoot” interviews with the old 80’s & 90’s wrestlers on YT. What a ruthless profession. Petty backstabbing, sex scandals, murder, drugs, etc. Just as bad as Washington. No wonder a lot of those guys & gals turn to drugs & alcohol.

  43. Clarence George 09:20pm, 02/17/2017

    Many pages, Peter, but a rewarding read.  A long wait for that Galento bio, I’m afraid.  What a great deal of work that would be, and few would read it.  I suspect Monninger got his published (and that was 10 or 11 years ago) mainly because the core of it concerned the fat man’s bout with Louis.

    You’re right about Steele, Kid.  I was saddened when I heard about his death earlier today.  “The Animal” was not just one of the most colorful characters to ever step into a pro wrestling ring, but a true icon.  Seems like yesterday that my brother and I would enjoy watching his turnbuckle-chewing activities late at night on a black-and-white set.  “Time just gets away from us,” as they say.  He was perfectly cast, by the way, as Tor Johnson in “Ed Wood.”  I went to that movie by myself after several futile attempts to get my then-fiancée to accompany me.  We broke up the following month.

  44. Kid 07:29pm, 02/17/2017

    Clarence, I assume you are in some mourning over George Steele who truly was a decent and God-fearing person. He will be missed.

  45. Kid 07:06pm, 02/17/2017

    BTW, I am not much on Boxing movies, but the one on Vinny Paz was pretty darn good. “Bleed for This.”

  46. peter 05:45pm, 02/17/2017

    Sounds good! I will certainly make room on my bookshelf for it.  That’s all I need—one more boxing book! I’m waiting for Clarence George to write his definite biography of “Two Ton” Tony Galento. How long must I wait?

  47. Clarence George 06:40am, 02/17/2017

    Thanks, Moon Man, glad you liked it.  And I think you’ll like the book.

    TR’s one of my favorite presidents.  Andrew Jackson’s another.

  48. Moon Man 06:18am, 02/17/2017

    According to John Schrank, it was Teddy Roosevelt that shot McKinley. Mckinley told him so, or at least Schrank thought McKinley told him. hehe. After being shot in the chest by Schrank, Terrible Ted gave an hour long speech to the crowd. Tough bastard indeed. They don’t make’em like that anymore. This sounds like an interesting read, will head over to Amazon and drop down some paper. Great article once again!!

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