Boxing Fans Unite! Aristotle…Einstein…And You! (Part 2 of 7)

By Peter Weston Wood on February 2, 2018
Boxing Fans Unite! Aristotle…Einstein…And You! (Part 2 of 7)
His relationship with boxing has led to more than a few songs on the topic. (Ken Regan)

Why are so many gifted artists, talented entertainers, and brilliant scholars attracted to such a primal-scream sport?

Boxing is a primal-scream sport—so why are so many gifted artists, talented entertainers, and brilliant scholars attracted to such a violent entertainment?

Wyatt Cooper, an American author and screenwriter, has an idea: “I suspect that many creative people, intellectuals, moralists, philosophers, clergymen, live with the secret fear that the shape of their lives, the form of their striving toward expression, is all based on compensating for their physical cowardice, the feeling that if only they’d proved themselves on the football team, or even by a willingness to fight in the schoolyard, it would be worth more than all the prizes that they might have won elsewhere.”

Cooper’s judgment of “physical cowardice” is severe, but perhaps there is a grain of truth?

Why are so many gifted artists, talented entertainers, and brilliant scholars attracted to boxing? Jack Newfield, the prominent Village Voice journalist, has a simpler explanation: “Boxing has been an inspiration to writers and artists of the caliber of Norman Mailer, Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway, Joyce Carol Oates, Gerald Early, A.J. Liebling, Jack London, Pete Hamill, James Elroy, Budd Schulberg, Nick Tosches, Leonard Gardner, W.C. Heinz, Gay Talese, Ted Hoagland and David Remnick.”

Physical cowardice or inspiration? Or both? You decide.

In this second installment of this series, I alphabetically list fifteen more celebrities who share your appreciation for the strange, or magnificent, men and women who lace on a pair of gloves to entertain us.

These fifteen luminaries include writers, painters, musicians, actors, and a famous scientist.

Let’s see if any of these names surprise you.


25—SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE—Scottish Author…Doyle was a writer who voices here a deep understanding and appreciation for the sport of boxing. In his 1896 boxing novel, Rodney Stone, he wrote: “No man who looked at the motley (boxing) crowd could deny that for good or evil the love of the ring was confined to no class, but was a national peculiarity, deeply seated in the English nature, and a common heritage of the young aristocrat…and the rough coasters (men) sitting six deep in the pony-cart…the rude good-fellowship, the craving to see the fight…may be set down as vulgar and trivial…but to me, it is the very bones upon which much that is most solid and virile in this ancient race was molded…”

26—BOB DYLAN—Musician/Poet…Dylan’s relationship with boxing has led to more than a few songs on the topic. To name a few, “Hurricane,” dedicated to Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, “Who Killed Davey Moore?” and “I Shall Be Free,” which is about Muhammad Ali… Bob Dylan owns the complex that includes the 18th Street Coffee House in Santa Monica. It has or had a boxing gym in the back. Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini trained Bob Dylan there. In Ray’s word’s “Bob has his own private gym. Best gym I’ve ever been in. On the wall there are pictures of Joe Louis, Ali, Frazier, Muddy Waters, and the Rolling Stones—the heavyweights of boxing and music. First time I was over there we were sparring and just to keep him honest I would tap him with a left or right.”

27—MILES DAVIS—Jazz Musician…was a devoted boxing lover …He roomed for two years with Stan Levey, a professional prizefighter who converted to drummer. Levey introduced Miles to training, taking him to Stillman’s Gym… Miles Davis once recorded a tribute to Roberto Duran…Miles said he sparred a few rounds with Duran. (Boxing Insider) (Attached is a photo of Davies hitting the speedbag at Gleason’s Gym when it was located in the Bronx.)

28—RAY DAVIES—Musician and Lead Singer of The Kinks…Ray Davies recorded the smash hits: “You Really Got Me,” “All Day and All of the Night,” and “Lola.” But he was also smashed a few faces in the face while fighting in the ring as an amateur boxer. “I did quite well in the school boxing championships, until I came up against the Schools Champion of Great Britain. I hit him three times and hurt my hands. He knocked me out in the first round.” (Liner notes/Kinda Kinks)…In 2004, Davies received the CBE from Queen Elizabeth II for “Services to Music.”

29—TONY DANZA—Actor & Former Professional Boxer….Tony Danza is best known for starring on the TV series Taxi and Who’s the Boss?, for which he was nominated for an Emmy Award and four Golden Globe Awards. In 1998, Danza won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Male Performer in a New Television Series for his work on the 1997 sitcom The Tony Danza Show (not to be confused with his 2004–2006 daytime variety talk show of the same name)…. Not bad for a professional boxer! His ring record was 9–3 (9 knockouts, 7 in the first round), with all but one of his fights, wins and losses, ending in a knockout.

30—JIMMY DURANTE—Singer & Comedian…Durante, a big-time fight buff, with a big-time schnoz, is featured on Rocky Marciano’s Main Event TV show. Durante’s favorite prizefighter is Bob Satterfield. Before watching the Bob Satterfield-Rex Lane fight, they speak about the thunderous-punching Satterfield. “Satterfield! He’s my favorite!” exclaims Durante. “I thought he’d a been a champeen! Boy, could he really hit! And ya know, I knew him well. Ya know his favorite number, his favorite song was?…(Durante sits at the piano and starts singing for Marciano.)…And every time I saw him before a fight, I’d have to play this song for him. And every time I played it he’d win!...I guess I didn’t play it for him before the Rex Layne fight.” “Yeah,” said Rocky, “he got knocked out.”

31—SAMMY DAVIS JR.—Singer/Dancer/Actor…”Mr. Show Business” verbalizes his appreciation for the similarities between show biz entertainers and sports figures on Rocky Marciano’s Main Event TV show. He then stands up and comically demonstrates his own boxing style; then imitates Henry Armstrong’s style, and finally mimics Jersey Joe Walcott’s boxing style.

32—WILLIE deWIT—Judge & Former Professional Boxer… deWit represented Canada at the 1984 Summer Olympics and won a silver medal in the heavyweight division. His professional record was 21 Wins (14 knockouts, 7 decisions), 1 Loss (1 knockout), 1 Draw. He retired, went to law school, and became a successful criminal defense lawyer. In 2017, deWit was appointed Justice to the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, in Calgary. The inside story of deWit’s glory days in the ring, written by Michael Beaudin, is entitled “Willie de’ Wit: The Lord of the Ring.” Pick it up-it’s a good read!

33—JOE DIMAGGIO—Hall of Fame Baseball Player…The Yankee Clipper was a huge boxing fan. Joltin’ Joe attended many important fights and co-hosted Rocky Marciano’s Main Event TV show, commentating on the Percy Bassett vs. Lulu Perez June 6, 1954 bout.

34—WILLEM DAFOE—Film Actor…Dafoe was praised for his depiction of a concentration-camp fighter in the 1989 film, Triumph of the Spirit, a fact-based story about a former Greek Olympic boxer who was taken as a prisoner during World War II and placed in the Auschwitz prison camp. There he was permitted to survive as long as he fought for the amusement of his captors. His father and brother were also held as insurance that he would continue to fight. After preparing months for his role in the ring, Dafoe noted, “The boxing, since it engages you physically, and there was a genuine transformation, was a real pleasure.”


35—PACKY EAST—Professional Boxer & Future Comedian…”Packy East” was the ring name for Bob Hope! So now you know how Bob got that curved nose! Hope chose his ring name “Packy East” after the popular boxer Packy McFarland. “Packy’s” best ring result was making it to the finals of the Ohio novice championship in 1919. Hope participated in a few staged bouts later in life with various celebrities. Hope celebrated his long, illustrious career performing United Service Organizations (USO) shows to entertain active duty American military personnel—he made 57 tours for the USO between 1941 and 1991.

36—THOMAS EAKINS—Painter…Eakins’s was a fine artist who held a lifelong fascination with athleticism and human endurance.

Eakins’s studio became a place for prizefighters to spar; according to Eakins’s protégé, the sculptor Samuel Murray, (who in 1899 sculpted a bronze statue of boxer, Billy Smith.) One of the fighters who hung out at Eakins’s studio was Ellwood McCloskey. He would round up fellow fighters who had promised to pose for Eakins.

When they didn’t show up, McCloskey would yell, “Hey, you son of a bitch, haven’t you got a date to pose for Mr. Eakins? Come on now, or I’ll punch your goddamn head off.”

“Turkey Point” Billy Smith, a featherweight who competed in over 100 bouts over the course of ten years and fought two featherweight champions, was the protagonist for the famous painting Salutat, as well as for Between Rounds.

Eakins’s iconic painting, Taking the Count depicts a fallen fighter struggling to recover from a punishing blow, as all eyes in the crowd focus on the referee counting off the seconds that could end the match. The actual fight took place in Philadelphia on Friday, April 29, 1898, between Charley McKeever (standing) and Jack Daly, and was refereed by H. Walter Schlichter.

These three major canvases are in the following museums: Taking the Count (1898—Yale University Art Gallery), Salutat (1898—Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass.), and Between Rounds (1899—Philadelphia Museum of Art). Although since ancient times painters and sculptors have celebrated their periods’ equivalent of the pugilist, Eakins’ boxing paintings are completely original in their conception.

37—PIERCE EGAN—Writer…Egan established himself as England’s leading reporter of sporting events, which at the time meant mainly prize-fights and horse-races.

It was Egan who first described boxing as “the sweet science.”

The Georgian craze for bare-knuckle fighting was shared by both laborers and royalty.

Boxing’s brutality was celebrated as a manifestation of British hyper-masculinity which transcended social class and even color: some of the most famous boxers were Jewish, like the East-Ender, ‘The Hebrew’ (Daniel Mendoza), or the South Carolinian ‘Black Ajax’ (Tom Molineaux). The “Fancy” (boxing fraternity), wrote Egan, was a community in which all social hierarchies were temporarily abolished: “a union of all ranks, from the brilliant of the highest class in the circle of Corinthians, down to the Dusty Bob gradation on society, and even a shade or two below that.”

38—ALBERT EINSTEIN—Theoretical Physicist…”In Hollywood, Chaplin attended the opening of City Lights accompanied by Albert Einstein. “Oh, he seemed to enjoy it very much,” Chaplin said, explaining Einstein’s reaction to a film containing a famous boxing scene. “He roared like a boy.” (The Boxing Filmography by Frederick V. Romano)

There’s no additional information as to whether Einstein actually enjoyed the sport of boxing, or if he ever attended an actual fight card.  Maybe he even hated boxing and doesn’t belong on this list. But you know what, if that’s the case—sue me.

39—THOMAS ALVA EDISON—American Inventor…Edison was fascinated by boxing and the brave men and women—yes, women!—who fought in the ring. (Fun fact: Edison also filmed cats boxing.) Thanks to Edison, we can trace boxing back to its roots by the archival footage taken by Edison in the 1880s. Edison captured James “Gentlemen Jim” Corbett sparring Peter Courtney in 6 one-minute rounds at Thomas Edison’s Black Maria studio, in New Jersey. A small piece of this film is the oldest surviving footage of the contest. Edison also filmed women boxers. In his short clip, The Gordon Sisters, Bessie and Minnie, slug it out before the camera. Edison’s film of two feisty cats is worth a look—watch the clip below!”

I hope the reader has gotten a kick out of this list, and the accompanying videos. I’m sure I have inadvertently omitted some names, so please write in and those names will be added at the end—in a special “Bonus” installment.

The next installment will list fifteen more boxing fans—the names will absolutely astound you.

The list includes famous actors, a talented film director, a respected cartoonist, an esteemed college professor, and, of course, two major sexpot screen actresses.

Stay tuned!

Boxing Fans Unite! Aristotle…Einstein…And You! (Part 1 of 7)
Boxing Fans Unite! Aristotle…Einstein…And You! (Part 2 of 7)
Boxing Fans Unite! Aristotle…Einstein…And You! (Part 3 of 7)
Boxing Fans Unite! Aristotle…Einstein…And You! (Part 4 of 7)
Boxing Fans Unite! Aristotle…Einstein…And You! (Part 5 of 7)
Boxing Fans Unite! Aristotle…Einstein…And You! (Part 6 of 7)

Peter Wood is a 1971 NYC Golden Gloves Middleweight Finalist in Madison Square Garden; a Middleweight Alternate for The Maccabean Games in Tel Aviv, Israel, and author of two books: Confessions of a Fighter, and A Clenched Fist—The Making of a Golden Gloves Champion, published by Ringside Books. He is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and can be reached at his webpage:

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  1. peter 10:11am, 02/04/2018

    Kid Blast—I remember that article. I commented on the video—that skinny old man who nervously punched the heavy bag with short, staccato punches.I wish I knew his story.

  2. skip weinstock 07:32am, 02/04/2018

    Pete Wood once again amazes his readers and fans with his extensive knowledge of the art of fisticuffs.  A very entertaining, informative, and scholarly expose.  Well done Mr. Wood!

  3. Buck Wild 07:26am, 02/04/2018

    @peter: I still have the Sports Illustrated that did a feature story on Bobby Halpern. The spread was several pages long and featured a few photos of Halpern as well. In the article they were talking about matching Halpern up with an upcoming heavyweight named, Gerry Cooney. Pretty much followed the Halpern story until he was kayoed by Guy Casale. I was aware of the shooting as well. Back in the late 70’s, a 44 year old fighter was a rare sight indeed, especially one coming off a 17 year stretch in prison. It gained Halpern a feature story in Sports Illustrated and a small bit of national exposure outside of the New York area.

  4. peter 04:05pm, 02/03/2018

    C.H.—Okay, I’m going with it—It’s Whitman up there looking down at the action in the ring. Now we have to find out who the gentleman in the top hat is sitting ringside. In a few more installments of this series, when “T” rolls around, I have a fascinating boxing tidbit about H. D. Thoreau.

  5. C.H. 03:19pm, 02/03/2018

    Peter, we used both Eakins’ paintings “Between Rounds” and “Taking The Count” in our book “Philadelphia’s Boxing Heritage - 1876 to 1976.” A number of Philadelphians have long been intrigued with “Between Rounds” and the rumor about the “illuminated” figure in the balcony being Whitman. The argument being why is this certain attendee the only one in the balcony that stands out? And that could definitely be a hat that the figure is holding. Perhaps Eakins had all of these scenarios in mind to be discussed by future onlookers…chuck

  6. peter 01:11pm, 02/03/2018

    Wild Buck—After the shooting, Bobby would still hang out at The Cage Boxing Gym on Ferris Avenue, in White Plains. He was a sad site. Here is an excellent short video about him.

  7. Buck Wild 12:25pm, 02/03/2018

    Bobby Halpern? Haven’t heard that name in a coon’s age. Willie deWitt? Big disappointment as a pro. I still remember watching Bert Cooper separate Willie Boy from his senses on network television back in 1987. At the time, Cooper was coming up from cruiserweight and I believe that deWitt was actually favored in this televised Saturday afternoon fight.

  8. peter 10:56am, 02/03/2018

    Pete The Sneak—Thank you for your kind words. And I applaud your adventurous girlfriend/wife for attending a MSG prizefight. I’m glad Danza won that evening. I went to a show up in White Plains to see Bobby Halpern’s comeback, and Danza was on the undercard. Both Danza and Halpern won that night.

  9. peter 10:40am, 02/03/2018

    Chuck—What a great painting! I don’t think I looked at it in detail before. The cauliflower ear on one of the corner men, the banners, the crowd, and “Walt Whitman”. Whitman might be a stretch. If he were painted with his signature hat, I might be more apt to believe it—unless that’s a hat the figure is clutching on the railing.

  10. Pete The Sneak 10:24am, 02/03/2018

    Peter, an absolute wonderful read. Thank you! It especially brought back a wonderful memory when you mentioned Tony Danza. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) who does not like boxing one iota stunned me when she comes to me and says can we get tickets to an upcoming fight at NYC MSG. I was like, huh? You want to see boxing? Of course, as it turned out, it was a fight card that included Tony Danza, who had already found fame in Taxi (and so damn cute, according to my girlfriend), but still fought on occasions. Not sure how she found this out, but we did get to see him fight (and win) that night, so yeah today I think it’s pretty cool we got to see that. My wife never saw another fight again until a young Oscar De La Hoya came on the scene. Hmmm. Kind of a disturbing pattern now that I think about it. Oh well…Peace.

  11. peter 09:18am, 02/03/2018

    Chuck—Now I’m eager to take a closer look at “Between Rounds.”  Thanks for the new info and your kind words.

  12. Chuck Hasson 06:35pm, 02/02/2018

    In regards to THOMAS EAKINS’ work “Between Rounds,” in Philadelphia it has long been rumored that the (slightly illuminated) interested bearded spectator in the center of the upper balcony is the famous poet Walt Whitman. Although this has never been confirmed. Whitman died (six years) before the April 22, 1898 date that the bout depicted took place. I asked Philadelphia Inquirer writer, Frank Fitzpatrick, who wrote a series on Eakins, “was Eakins paying some sort of tribute to Whitman - even if he was not a spectator at the event ?” Or was it just a coincidence that the figure in the balcony appeared to be illuminated ? Legend has it that Whitman was a boxing fan and had attended boxing matches during his lifetime….Fitzpatrick replied “I hadn’t heard that before (wish I had though), it certainly resembles Whitman and his prominent position indicates the artist might have placed him there for a reason. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Eakins slipped Whitman into the painting. His subjects, no matter how minor, were never just random faces. He painted Whitman on many occasions and he often inserted his father and close friends into [his] paintings.”....Interesting article, and I will be enthusiastically reading the rest and seeing if Whitman makes the cut when you get to the W’s…c.h.

  13. Bob 06:27pm, 02/02/2018

    What a great series about such an eclectic bunch of boxing aficionados. Love the anecdotes about each,  especially the musicians.  It is easy to understand how the musicians can relate to the fighters. Looking forward to the next installments, as these are a pleasure to read and so full of surprises.

  14. David 03:13pm, 02/02/2018

    Because they wish they could knock someone out like a Roberto Duran or Rocky Marciano.

  15. Alan W. 01:49pm, 02/02/2018

    A great read. Particularly loved the Edison films.  Don’t forget Sammy Davis’s starring role in the musical version of Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy.  The main character, a prizefighter named Joe Wellington, was written for Sammy Davis. In the original play, written by Odets thirty years before, the character was an Italian-American named Joe Bonaparte.

  16. peter 07:18am, 02/02/2018

    Buck—Yes, Rose Perez is a HUGE boxing fan. I’m looking forward to getting to the “Ps” of this series to share her intriguing boxing story and to post a few of her interesting video clips.

  17. Buck Wild 07:09am, 02/02/2018

    Met Rosie Perez at the Boxing Hall Of Fame. She seemed to be a HUGE boxing fan. I think the actor, Robert Blake, was a huge boxing fan as well back in the day.

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