Boxing Fans Unite! Aristotle…Einstein…And You! (Part 3 of 7)

By Peter Weston Wood on March 2, 2018
Boxing Fans Unite! Aristotle…Einstein…And You! (Part 3 of 7)
John Huston directed "Fat City," about an aging, washed-up alcoholic boxer in Stockton.

“When I was growing up, Norman Mailer’s boxing writing gave me the license to follow the sport: he made boxing an intellectually acceptable vice…”

The older I get the more ambivalent I am about the good sport of boxing. Is boxing, in fact, good? Too many of my young boxing friends are now old men slurring their words, penniless, or dead.

Is boxing even a sport? One plays a sport—but you don’t play boxing. The opposite of “playing” is “fighting.” George Chuvalo, the former heavyweight contender, once said, “You don’t take boxing gloves to a picnic.”

What is interesting to me—and confusing—is that many great men and women, human-rights activists, humanitarians, and people who have enriched and enhanced our world were, ironically, die-hard boxing fans: Aristotle, Thomas Alva Edison, and Sir Winston Churchill, to name a few.

Ronald K. Fried, the author of Corner Men, wrote, “When I was growing up, Norman Mailer’s boxing writing gave me the license to follow the sport: he made boxing an intellectually acceptable vice.”

Our fistic exploration into this “intellectually acceptable vice” continues as I uncover 20 more peaceful, intelligent, and enlightened luminaries who loved sitting ringside to watch the violent beauty of two fighters ripping each other apart.

Here we go…


39—DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS—Actor …Fairbanks was a fight nut! He and Jack Dempsey made a film together entitled All Good Marines, which also starred Charlie Chaplin and former heavyweight champion James J. Corbett. Fairbanks and Dempsey also sparred in an exhibition for the Red Cross. Of their boxing engagement Fairbanks told his actor/son that hitting Dempsey “was like hitting a tree trunk.” (The Boxing Filmography by Fredrick V. Romano)

40—REDD FOX—Comedian & Actor…The late Redd Foxx was a big boxing fan and he made sure boxing was represented several times on his hit TV show, Sanford and Son.

Are you ready for a quick Sanford and Son quiz?

(Answers are below)

1. What former heavyweight champion was a guest star on “Sanford and Son” in 1975?
2. Fred Sanford had a boxing nickname in his younger days. What was it?
3. Grady (Whitman Mayo) had a signature-boxing-move in his younger days. What was it called?
4. Fred was half-owner of a prizefighter in a 1975 episode. What was the boxer’s name?
5. Fred flees a predicted earthquake and goes to Las Vegas. What former heavyweight champ had a cameo appearance in the episode?
6. In real life, Redd Foxx managed a professional boxer. What was his name?

1. George Foreman
2. Fast Freddie with the Floy Floy
3. The Grady Glide
4. Junior Joe Louis
5. Joe Louis
6. Fred Houpe (He also used the ring name “Young Sanford”);_ylt=A0LEVwtk4HBa1rYA7pBpCWVH;_ylu=X3oDMTB0N2Noc21lBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNwaXZz?q=redd%20foxx%20boxing&s_it=searchtabs&v_t=loki-keyword

41—HAM FISHER—Cartoonist…Fisher was the creator of the iconic Joe Palooka. His comic strip debuted in 1930 and soon became a national success. The strip coined the word “palooka” as a boxer who lacks grace or ability, although the character Joe Palooka was the heavyweight champion.

In his hometown of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Fisher devised the character in 1921 after he met a boxer, Petey Latzo, outside a poolroom. As Fisher explained in an article in Collier’s:

“Here, made to order, was the comic strip character I had been looking for—a big, good-natured prizefighter who didn’t like to fight; a defender of little guys; a gentle knight. I ran back to the office, drew a set of strips and rushed to the newspaper syndicates.”

A dozen low-budget film and TV adaptations of Joe Palooka appeared from the 1930s into the 1950s. “A number of notable boxing champions of the day were given cameo appearances…Joe Louis, Henry Armstrong, Ceferino Garcia and Manuel Ortiz are all afforded a few frames of film before Joe Palooka takes center ring…Lou Nova, Jack Roper, Freddy Steele, and Jimmy McLarnin.”

And, of course, there was Joe Palooka merchandise: Joe Palooka comic books, a Joe Palooka board game, a Joe Palooka wristwatch, Joe Palooka boxing gloves and baseball gloves, a “bop bag,” a free-standing punching bag with Joe’s face printed on the plastic outer covering, a Joe Palooka lunchbox, and a 1946 Wheaties cereal box cut-out Joe Palooka mask.

In 1980, a mountain in Pennsylvania was named for Ham Fischer’s iconic character—The Joe Palooka Mountain.
(The Boxing Filmography, Frederick V. Romano)

42—JAMES FRANCO—Actor…Franco trained with pro heavyweight Macka Foley and has publically talked glowingly about boxing as a perfect metaphor for life.

43—DR. R. TERRY FURST—Associate College Professor at John Jay College/CUNY…Furst is not your typical college professor. How many college professors do you know who were talented enough to get in the ring with Emile Griffith, the Boxing Hall of Fame great? Furst and Griffith met three times in the amateurs. Furst lost all three times, but the words “college professor” and “boxer” don’t normally fit in the same sentence. Furst says, “I underestimated Griffith the first time we fought, but the last two bouts were close decisions that could have gone either way.” Today Professor Furst teaches at John Jay University. His research activity:
● history of baseball
● professional boxers
● sports spectators
● HIV transmission
● illicit drug dealers

44—FARRAH FAWCETT—Actress…Foxy Farrah was utterly smitten with the handsome young Canadian heavyweight—Willie de’Wit. Leading up to the 1984 Olympics, a benefit in Calgary starring Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O’Neal raised $70,000 to finance Willie de’Wit’s training expenses, importing professional sparring partners from the United States.

45—LARRY FINE—Comedian…Yes! Larry, of The Three Stooges! Poor Larry probably took more slaps, punches, eye-pokes, and stomach punches than any comedian in history. He started boxing in his teens, fighting—and winning—one professional bout. His father, opposed to Larry’s fighting in public, put an end to his brief career as a boxer.


46—PAUL GALLICO—Novelist and Sports Writer…Gallico was a Columbia University esthete who gravitated to sports. His father was an Italian concert pianist and composer. Gallico, achieved acclaim in the 1920s as a sportswriter and editor of the New York Daily News. Gallico’s career was launched by foolishly stepping into the ring with champion Jack Dempsey. The results were spectacular; Gallico was knocked out within two minutes. But he had his story—“My Fight with Jack Dempsey.” The link to his sensational article is below.

Furthermore, many of Gallico’s 51 books were adapted for motion pictures, including his novel The Poseidon Adventure and Pride of the Yankees.

He became one of the highest-paid sportswriters in America. He founded the Golden Gloves amateur boxing competition. A true humanitarian.,%202.11G%20The%20Cask%20of%20Amontillado/My%20Fight%20with%20Jack%20Dempsey.pdf

47—BILL GALLO—Cartoonist…Gallo, another Columbia University esthete, and later a graduate of the School of Visual Arts, under the GI Bill of Rights was another die-hard boxing fan. In 1960, Gallo was transferred to the Sports Department of the newspaper, where he began sketching sports cartoons. Gallo, a serious fight nut, was one of seven silent managers of the Argentinean heavyweight contender, Oscar Bonavena, along with Leroy Neiman and Dr. Marvin Goldberg. A wonderful clip of Gallo’s reminiscences of Muhammad Ali is below.

48—LEON GAST—Film Documentarian…A native of Jersey City, New Jersey, Gast studied dramatic arts at Columbia University, and in that same period worked on the television series High Adventure. Gast is also known for his still photography which has appeared in such magazines as Vogue, Esquire, and Harper’s Bazaar. He is best known for his 1996 award-winning documentary, When We Were Kings, a thought-provoking and entertaining mix of politics, sports, music, and culture as captured on the eve of one of sports’ most memorable events—the Ali-Foreman bout in Kinshasa.” (The Boxing Filmography, Frederick V. Romano)

49—BRYANT GUMBEL—Sportscaster…Gumbel delivered a heart-felt eulogy during Muhammad Ali’s memorial service. “Has any man ever scripted a greater arc to his life?” Gumbel asked. “He led battles on behalf of his race, in support of his generation, in defense of his generation and ultimately in spite of his disease.”

The veteran journalist said he was struck by the news that Ali had been rushed to the hospital because Gumbel felt so strongly that the world still needed him.

“The world needs a champion who always worked to bridge the economic and social divides that threatened a nation he truly loved,” Gumbel said. “We need the strength, the hope, the compassion and the conviction that he always brought but this time our champion is down and he won’t get up.”

50—ZSA ZSA GABOR—Actress…Zsa Zsa, an enthusiastic boxing aficionado, sparred—or flirted—with Rocky Marciano during his Main Event TV show which featured the second bout between Sugar Ray Robinson and Carmen Basilio.


51—ERNEST HEMINGWAY—Author…“My writing is nothing—my boxing is everything,” Hemingway once told writer Josephine Herbst. Good thing he didn’t quit his day job. In reality, Hemingway had delusions of competence. He often boasted to interviewers that he was “a good semi-professional boxer.” He was nowhere near so.

In 1948, Hemingway, then forty-nine, challenged Brooklyn Dodger relief pitcher Hugh Casey, a guest at Hemingway’s Havana retreat, to get in the ring with him. In his living room, Casey, without any boxing experience whatsoever, dropped Hemingway, who crashed into a glass-topped table on his way to horizontal.

But Hemingway was passionate about the sport, and even had a boxing ring built in the backyard of his Key West home, right next to the pool, so he could spar with guests—hopefully not as tough as Hugh Casey.

52—JOHN HUSTON—Film director…Huston, an amateur boxer, directed the award-winning film, Fat City, about an aging, washed-up alcoholic boxer in Stockton, California. It starred Stacy Keach, a young Jeff Bridges, and Susan Tyrrell. Welterweight champ, Curtis Cokes, made a memorable cameo appearance.

Roger Ebert asserted Fat City was one of Huston’s best films.

53—BOB HOPE—Comedian, Vaudevillian, Actor, Singer, Dancer, Author, & Prizefighter…Hope’s remarkable career spanned nearly 80 years…Performing as part of a charity show for the US Air Force at Madison Square Garden, the comedian challenged boxing legend Jack Dempsey to a bout. Hope won via knockout mere seconds into the fight. It was obviously not a very serious or real affair. Sitting ringside was General Eisenhower, a big fight fan. (Yes, Bob Hope was listed earlier, in installment # 2, under his ring name, “Packy East.” That is because this American icon deserves two mentions.) Bob Hope’s ring record: 

54—SHEMP HOWARD—Comedian…Yes! Shemp, another one of The Three Stooges! Shemp, although constantly in fear of many things, loved going to boxing matches. Perhaps this pastime was a catharsis for this fear-plagued man. Shemp had actually done some boxing during the war, which might have contributed to his craggy, pock-marked, weather-beaten face. Shemp was “just a big old ‘fraidy cat,” said his wife. Everyone has a particular fear or phobia (many of us have more than just one); Shemp, a man who made America laugh, was “afraid of his own shadow,” according to his friends. Listed here is a litany of his fears:

● He lived in constant fear of cars, never driving or getting a driver’s license. According to Moe, this fear was rooted in an auto accident Shemp experienced when he was a youth. (In his films, when Shemp had to fake driving a car, he was towed by prop men in a simulated car but was still scared, nervously holding the steering wheel until the scene mercifully ended.)
● Shemp also refused to fly in airplanes, travelling only by train.
● He was terrified of strange dogs and would carry a big stick with him, just in case a strange dog approached him.
● He refused to swim or go in any body of water larger than a bathtub. Shemp always carried a pair of rubber overshoes in his pocket, lest he be caught in the rain.
● It also became fairly common that, before Shemp appeared live on stage, he would throw up to relieve himself.
● And Shemp was a chronic bed-wetter. He had actually served in World War I, but his stint was truncated due to his bed-wetting.

On November 22, 1955, Shemp attended a prizefight. In the car on his way home, he lit up a cigar and was telling a joke when he suddenly fell over on his companion and passed away peacefully.


55—HYPE IGOE—-Cartoonist & Writer…“Hype, ‘Herbert Anthony Aloysius Igoe’ is probably the best informed writer on boxing that ever lived, and a swell cartoonist,” wrote Damon Runyon. Igoe also has the most bizarre and mispronounced name in the sports profession. He has been called everything from Hip Igoe to Hhpy Ego.


56—AL JOLSON—Singer & Actor…In his early LA days,  the young boxer Hammerin’ Hank Armstrong had to shine shoes at 7th and San Julian to keep the wolf from the door, but gradually he rose through the boxing ranks and attracted the attention of Al Jolson. The movie star bought his contract for $10,000 and with co-manager Eddie Meade thought about how to move their charge.

“Joe Louis was getting all the big gates, so Jolson and Meade came up with a plan to get me more notoriety,” Armstrong told Richard Hoffer of the Los Angeles Times in 1981.

“Jolson never knew much about boxing, but I figured he knew fame. Him and his Hollywood ideas. They said, ‘Win three titles and you’ll be almost as famous as Joe Louis.’ I said, ‘Was that all?’ Jolson said, ‘No, you’ve got to do it in six months.’ They didn’t want much.”

Al Jolson once put the gloves on with Dempsey and, being an aggressive fool, made the bad decision to get cute and throw a punch that had some stream in it. After he woke up, he was forever afterward proud of the scar on his chin, bearing it as a badge of honor.

57—BILLY JOEL—Singer & Composer…This melodic musician from Long Island kicked butt in the ring as an amateur. As a musician, he also kicked butt. He has composed thirty-three Top Forty hits. That’s an awful lot—about twice as many as Springsteen, The Eagles, and Fleetwood Mac combined.…111033.118863.0.120503.….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..0.7.909…0i13k1j0i13i30k1.0.rCtJaKFWRCY#imgrc=d3rLs9ACGsN3CM:


58—PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY—Politician…President Kennedy was the house-guest of former heavyweight champion, Gene Tunney. They hung out together at Tunney’s humble pied e terre in Maine.

59—ROGER KAHN—Writer…Kahn, a big boxing fan, is the author of the award-winning bestseller The Boys of Summer. Kahn is the author of sixteen books whose subjects range from baseball, to boxing, to political activism, and was one of the first sportswriters to write honestly about race relations in baseball. He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

I hope you have enjoyed reading the third instalment of this series and took time to view some of the short video clips.
Our fistic exploration continues next week as we delve even further into this “intellectually acceptable vice,” when I uncover 20 more peaceful, intelligent, and enlightened luminaries who share your interest in boxing. Stay tuned for Boxing Fans Unite! Aristotle…Einstein…And You! Part 4!

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. Ollie Downtown Brown 07:41pm, 03/02/2018

    Apparently Huston’s amateur boxing background didn’t do much good in his unscheduled bare-knuckle bout with Errol Flynn. Reports say that Huston was floored several times and took a battering.

  2. caprice A. 01:10pm, 03/02/2018

    It is very painful for me to watch.

    I do not enjoy pain. Of any kind.

    Obviously, people who like to watch boxing have a strange relationship with pain.

    Thank you for thinking of me.


  3. gordon marino 07:10pm, 03/01/2018

    I won’t miss it my friend. The clips are amazing except for the fact that they are distracting me from preparing to Nietzsche tomorrow… Ah but Nietzsche would have understood.

    Looking forward to Wilder Ortiz this wkend.

  4. peter 07:05pm, 03/01/2018

    Gordon—Thank you for your kind words. We are getting to the “Ms” in Part 4.Don’t miss it!

  5. gordon marino 06:56pm, 03/01/2018

    This is a treasure! Thanks, Peter!

  6. Al W 06:01pm, 03/01/2018

    Thanks, Peter.  A very entertaining edition.  Poor Shemp!  Though Larry took more than his share of abuse, he always looked like he could take it.  Shemp, on the other hand, always looked like he was in pain.  I guess the pain was more psychological than physical.  At the same time—and I guess it was the Howard genes—Shemp was certainly the best of the Curly replacements. Looking forward to Part 4.

  7. peter 04:54pm, 03/01/2018

    Bob—You think? To me, it looks more like a young Conrad Tooker.

  8. Bob 04:37pm, 03/01/2018

    In the photo accompanying the article, Stacy Keach, who is taking a punch from John Huston, looks a bit like a young Peter Wood.

  9. Bob 04:34pm, 03/01/2018

    What a great batch of subjects here. Shemp Howard’s footwork is incredible and he looks like he was a tremendous athlete. Love the Redd Foxx quiz and all of the accompanying video clips and tidbits on the subjects, especially Zsa Zsa and Dr. Furst. The author knows how to put out enough grist to satisfy you, but make you eager for more. Great installment - can’t wait for the next one.

  10. Ollie Downtown Brown 04:32pm, 03/01/2018

    Damn, how many boxing films was Al Silvani involved in?  I’m trying to remember if Farrah Fawcett was still hawt in the early to mid 80’s? Yeah, she had to be, that isn’t that far removed from her prime. Hell, I think Raquel Welch has got to be the sexiest 70 something in the world, and Marie Osmond, that girl, still smokin’. Wonder what Raquel thought about boxing?

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