Boxing Fans Unite! Aristotle…Einstein…And You! (Part 4 of 7)

By Peter Weston Wood on March 26, 2018
Boxing Fans Unite! Aristotle…Einstein…And You! (Part 4 of 7)
Odets’ “Golden Boy,” starring Sammy Davis Jr., ran for 568 performances on Broadway.

Here are the next twenty luminaries who go against the grain and unabashedly embrace boxing—America’s most popularly despised sport…

“ is the most sophisticated, intelligent, and mature boxing website out there today. Its articles are not just about two men slugging it out. Intelligent insights abound. References to current events, politics, film, and the art world are interwoven throughout many articles. These enlightened connections make this site a treasure trove of sports writing,” says boxing writer, Mike Silver.

Robert Mladinich, a writer on this site, states, “ offers the most creative and unique slant of any other website. It doesn’t simply reprint press releases or kowtow to a company line. Instead of churning out predictable stories, real journalism is offered here.”

As a writer and reader of this site, myself, I delight in reading articles that weave in unexpected literary allusions, hint at psychological ambiguities, and surprise me with unexpected connections to film, literature, music, and the visual arts.

“I call the New Yorker for boxing fans,” declares Mladinich, nailing it down.

Okay, that’s enough of a preface.

Let’s continue our seven-part series. Here are the next twenty luminaries who go against the grain and unabashedly embrace boxing—America’s most popularly despised sport.


60—GYPSY ROSE LEE—Actress and burlesque entertainer…Gypsy Rose was a devout boxing fan? Sure was! She also viewed herself as a respectable “high-class” stripper. She co-hosted Rocky Marciano’s Main Event TV show featuring Rocky’s title bout, a 9th round stoppage of Don Cockell in San Francisco. “You and me, Rocky, have a lot in common,” she coos. “We do?” says Rocky. “Why, yes!” smiles Gypsy. “You as a fighter and me as an…entertainer, we both work with a minimum of clothing, and neither of us dance…” “That’s for sure,” laughs Rocky, nervously. Gypsy continues, “I’ve seen Tiger Flowers box and Slapsie Maxie, too. I also worked in film with Max Baer in 1931…” A real charmer, that Gypsy Rose. She had Marciano reeling on the ropes.

61—JACK LONDON—Journalist & Novelist… Jack London wrote only two stories with a boxing theme, but what stories! Jack London, the noted American author, was the writer who summed up all the collective teeth-gnashing in America by openly calling for a “great white hope” to step up and win back their race’s pride.

London wrote: “Jim Jeffries must now emerge from his Alfalfa farm and remove that golden smile from Jack Johnson’s face. Jeff, it’s up to you. The White Man must be rescued.”

62—A.J. LIEBLING—Journalist & a New Yorker Contributor… A.J. Liebling, a literary intellectual, had an abiding respect and passion for the “sweet science.” In 2002, Sports Illustrated named The Sweet Science, a collection of Liebling’s essays on boxing, the number one sports book of all time. One of his many quotes is: Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one. 

63—ROBERT LIPSYTE—Writer… Lipsyte, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in Journalism, is a humanitarian as well as a proud boxing fan. Lipsyte was among the first to accept and respect Muhammad Ali during Ali’s ban from the ring. His agreement that Ali should be allowed to be himself is echoed in the title of his 1978 book on the complicated man: Free to Be Muhammad Ali… Lipsyte won the Margaret Edwards Award from the American Library Association in 2001, citing four books published from 1967 to 1993. According to the citation, “The Contender and its sequels, The Brave and The Chief transformed the sports novel to authentic literature with their gritty depiction of the boxing world. Lipsyte’s ongoing theme is the struggle of his protagonists to seek personal victory by their continuing efforts towards a better life despite defeats.” Lipsyte once told me he was grateful for the success of The Contender. “I sent my kids through college on its royalties.”

64—RING LARDNER—Writer…Lardner, a big boxing fan, has been called “A Forgotten Genius.” Champion is a 1949 American noir boxing film based on a short story by Ring Lardner. Many people rank Champion as one of the ten-best boxing films ever made. Champion was nominated for six Oscars, and stars a young Kirk Douglas as Midge Kelly, a fairground boxer.

65—ARTHUR LOEW—Vice-President of MGM… This former head of a movie empire was a big boxing fan. “Loew met French boxer Georges Carpentier in Paris in 1929, and would spend holidays with him at Loew’s home in Glenn Cove, Long Island. Such film luminaries as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and his wife Joan Crawford, would join them.” (The Boxing Filmography, F.V. Romano


66—ZERO MOSTEL—Comic Actor…Mostel chowed down on many tasty lox and cream cheese bagels while watching Rocky Marciano train at Grossinger’s training camp. Mostel, an ardent boxing buff, co-hosted Rocky Marciano’s Main Event TV show in 1952, featuring the Rocky Graziano-Tony Janiro bout. During his segment, Mostel tells a funny story about Tony Canzoneri: “I remember Tony Canzoneri, who I loved, may he rest in peace. Tony and I loved talking about the fights. When I asked him how was he able to beat a man like the Great Kid Chocolate, he said, ‘Oh, yeah, he was tough! He had a little head, little shoulders, and a little stomach. There was nowhere to hit him!’ So I asked Tony how were you able to beat him? He said, ‘I hit him on the little head, I hit him on the little shoulders, and hit him on the little stomach.’”

67—NORMAN MAILER—Writer…Stormin’ Norman was more pugnacious with a pen than with his fists. However, this Pulitzer Prize winning writer for fiction, and for non-fiction, loved boxing and boxers. His bizarre “boxing match” with Rip Torn is not up to par with his writing, but it is worth a quick viewing. Here it is…

68—NELSON MANDELA—President of South Africa… Mandela, the South African freedom fighter, was also a fearsome heavyweight prizefighter. In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela describes his love of boxing (and why he did it): “Boxing is egalitarian. In the ring, rank, age, color, and wealth are irrelevant.”

69—VICTOR MCLAGLEN—Actor & Professional Prizefighter… A little known fact: The first person Jack Johnson fought after winning the title from Tommy Burns was Victor McLaglen. The two boxed a six-round exhibition at the Vancouver Athletic Club. According to some accounts of that bout:

“Johnson had little trouble with McLaglen, tagging him in the solar plexus within the first minute of their exhibition. Like a giant cedar having received an axeman’s final blow, McLaglen paused for a moment before slowing collapsing to his knees. He was winded but able to continue fighting, although the champion mostly toyed with him for the rest of the bout, showing agility, superior footwork, and a full repertoire of punches.” 

On Sept. 26, 1911, McLaglen also boxed a four-round exhibition with future World Heavyweight Champion Jess Willard at Springfield, MO, USA, using the name “Paul Romano.”

70—JOHN MCCAIN—U.S. Senator… Boxing fans, Senators McCain and Peter King, asked President Obama to issue a posthumous pardon for former Heavyweight Champion Jack Johnson. In a letter to Obama, McCain suggested the charges were ill-conceived and bogus. He wrote:

“Mr. Johnson served 10 months in prison on these charges brought forward clearly to keep him away from the boxing ring where he continued to defeat his white opponents.”

President Obama refused.

71—DEAN MARTIN—Singer & Comedian… This handsome dark-haired crooner was once a tough amateur boxer. Fighting under the name “Kid Crotchet,” Dean was reputedly a very good welterweight boxer. His record, according to one source, was 24 wins and 6 losses in 30 bouts…Dean was so broke in his early years, he and a friend would stage fights in their hotel room and charge people to watch. Supposedly, they would often fight until one of the combatants knocked the other one out.

72—GORDON MARINO—College professor… A professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College, Gordon Marino writes on boxing for the Wall Street Journal. He is on the board and works with boxers at the Circle of Discipline in Minneapolis, as well as at the Basement Gym in Northfield, MN. His The Quotable Kierkegaard was recently published by Princeton University Press. Most importantly, Professor Marino is also a staff writer for You can follow him on Twitter at @GordonMarino.

73—TOM MIX—Silent Film Actor…Tom Mix was the movie star, and hero, of 291 films, all but nine of which were silent movies between 1909 and 1935. Wearing his signature cowboy hat, Mix was Hollywood’s first Western star and helped define the genre as it emerged in the early days of the cinema. He enjoyed hanging around with his good friend Jack Dempsey.

74—TRACY MORGAN—Comedian…Tracy grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and dishes, in detail, about his strong connection and passion for his favorite sport in a phone interview on “Inside Boxing Live.” Check it out…


75—LIAM NEESOM—Actor… Liam Neeson was Northern Irish Amateur Senior Boxing Champion…Born in Ballymena, Northern Ireland on June 7th 1952, Liam Neeson was a highly-talented amateur fighter, after making his first ring appearance at just 11 years old. The strapping youngster would become a three-time Northern Ireland champion with many tipping him to go on to pro glory but it wasn’t to be for the Irishman.

At age 15 Neeson featured in a three-round bout with an English opponent and proceeded to take a beating. Bravely he managed to last the distance but suffered a black-out moments after leaving the ring. It convinced the teenager that his boxing days were numbered and he never laced up his gloves again.

76—PRESIDENT NIXON—Politician…President Nixon was more of a football fan than a boxing fan, but he did not turn down a politically-correct opportunity to pose with then Heavyweight Champion Joe Frazier and his family, on April 19, 1971, at The White House.

77—LEROY NEIMAN—Painter… Neiman painted literally hundreds of major figures in the worlds of the arts, politics, and sports, perhaps none more frequently than Muhammad Ali, who became a fast, life-long friend. “I’m a storyteller—only I tell my stories in a riot of color. Painters have always told stories—martyrdoms, murders, battles, saints, and sinners—and that’s still what I do.”—LeRoy Neiman, All Told


78—JOYCE CAROL OATES—Novelist…Anatole Broyard of the NYT wrote, “While many people will be surprised to learn that Joyce Carol Oates has written a book on boxing, there’s no reason they should be. Women are no less familiar than men with desire, pride, anger, aggression, selfishness and greed. Nor are they strangers to deception and cruelty. Women too can appreciate the melancholy of the fact that when two persons are passionately joined together, one must win and the other lose.” …” Oates remarks, ‘‘I don’t ‘enjoy’ boxing in the usual sense of the word . . . and I don’t think of it as a ‘sport.’ ‘’ Nor does she regard it as ‘‘a metaphor for something else’‘.  Oates has been watching boxing since she was introduced to it as a child by her grandfather. Boxing is so intimate. The boxers will bring to the fight everything that is themselves, and everything will be exposed. . . .’’

79—CLIFFORD ODETS—Actor & Playwright…Who would have guessed that the horrible sport of boxing fascinated the playwright Clifford Odets? His timeless drama, Golden Boy, tells the story of a young Italian New Yorker in the late 1930s who pursues “the American dream” of fame and fortune as a boxer, and by doing so, loses everything he holds dear…Thanks to Sammy Davis Jr., the highest paid actor in Broadway history at the time ($10,000 a week), Golden Boy ran for 568 performances at the Majestic Theatre after opening on October 20, 1964. It went on to be nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical. Later, it was adapted for film starring William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Lee J. Cobb, with cameo roles for six ex-boxers: Mushy Callahan, Al Bain, Cy Schindell, Tommy Garland, Mickey Golden, and Al Lang…Remarkably, Golden Boy had a theatrical revival 85 years later in 2012.

Well, that closes it out for today. Stay tuned for Part 5, when I list the next batch of prominent boxing enthusiasts. Surprisingly, you will discover famous poets, two U. S. presidents, a ground-breaking painter, a gorgeous pinup girl, an esteemed doctor, a heavyweight philosopher, and a famous fop—all of whom share your interest in the sweet science.

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. Alan W. 05:52pm, 04/02/2018

    I could read these—and watch the clips—forever.  Thanks for the Rocky Marciano-Zero Mostel clip.  I’d never seen that and didn’t know it existed.  Zero was a man for all seasons, a great actor and accomplished painter.  I used to see him on the street around Broadway and 28th St. in the Garment District around the time of that Main Event TV show.  My father would point him out to me.  I think Zero had his art studio in that area.  By the way, Pete, that clip is from 1961, not 1952.  Mostel was appearing in Rhinoceros on Broadway.  He won one of his three Tony awards in that play and was, indeed, compared to Chaplin as the great Rocky mentions.

  2. David 02:50pm, 03/29/2018

    Very interesting and informative. I didn’t know Nelson Mandela and Dean Martin were former boxers.

  3. peter 06:15pm, 03/28/2018

    Balaamsass—Great quotes!

  4. Balaamsass 11:19am, 03/28/2018

    “I saw George Foreman shadow boxing and his shadow won!” ( Ali)

  5. gordon marino 07:46pm, 03/27/2018

    Thanks Peter—this is fun but also really helpful history…. I always wondered about Dean Martin and a few others like Lean Nessom

  6. Balaamsass 09:14am, 03/27/2018

    “The instinct to watch others fight and kill is evidently inborn”. ( Joyce Carol Oates ).

  7. Ollie Downtown Brown 06:07am, 03/27/2018

    The Rip Torn performance was shown on this site before. I think it was writer, Clarence George, who described Mr. Torn’s one of a kind performance as very Mansonesque. Torn’s bizarre behavior and even his eyes do remind one of the late mass murderer, Charles Manson.

  8. Bob 03:00am, 03/27/2018

    Another fantastic collection of notables, some of whom were surprising.  The clips accompanying the text offered great insight, although the “fight” between Norman Mailer and Rip Torn was disturbing. As good of a writer as Mailer was, he was a pathetic soul in other aspects of his like. Liam Neeson seems to have an appreciation of boxing as a metaphor for life - full of peaks and valleys, but well worth the ride. Great installment - as usual by the inimitable Mr. Wood.

  9. Ollie Downtown Brown 12:53pm, 03/26/2018

    President Nixon was actually probably more of a baseball fan than anything else, but he seemed to like all sports. I wish Dean Martin would have kicked Frank Sinatra’s phony arse. I’m sure Sinatra will be included when we get to S. Remember Sinatra had a photo taken in his dressing room after a show with a bunch of mafioso thugs like Paul Castellano, Carlo Gambino, Jimmy Fratianno, among others, and would later state, he had no idea who those guys were.  smdh.

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