Boxing in Glorious Black and White

By Clarence George on December 29, 2014
Boxing in Glorious Black and White
Coming up at auction is a real pip. Gus Lesnevich standing over a floored Tami Mauriello.

Boxing is black and white, what with wide-lapelled suits and fedoras with the brim snapped down, tamped-down Luckies and burnished Zippos…

“If everything isn’t black and white, I say, ‘Why the hell not?’”—John Wayne

I enjoy collecting vintage press photos of boxers, preferably in action in the ring, but sometimes studio portraits. It’s a relatively inexpensive hobby, and I get a bit of a kick competing at auction. Often, however, there is no competition, like when my initial bid for a doozy of a Turkey Thompson went unchallenged. Thompson was a hard-hitting heavyweight who fought from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. Not much remembered by anyone. Not much known by anyone. Maybe that’s why nobody wanted him. Maybe that’s why I wanted him. My most recent acquisition was of tough 1930s-1940s heavy Nathan Mann. Nobody bid against me there either.

Coming up at auction is a real pip. Gus Lesnevich standing over a floored Tami Mauriello. Adding frosting to the cake, it’s signed by Gus himself. On the back is an AP slug, waffle-brown with age:

“Light-heavyweight champion Gus Lesnevich of Cliffside, N.J., stands over Tami Mauriello of the Bronx, N.Y., after he floored the heavyweight during fourth round of their scheduled ten-round fight in Madison Square Garden, New York City, Oct. 31. Lesnevich won the fight when referee Ruby Goldstein stopped the bout in seventh round to save Mauriello from further beating.”

Gus won 60, 23 by knockout, lost 14, five by knockout, and drew five, fighting from 1934 to 1949. Well, not quite. After a loss by decision to Jimmy Bivins in ‘42, he joined the Coast Guard, returning to the ring in ‘46, stopping Joe Kahut in the first. He’d won the NBA light heavyweight championship on May 22, 1941, decisioning Anton Christoforidis at the Garden, and the vacant NYSAC title in his next fight, on August 26, beating Mauriello by split decision, also at MSG, which got him recognized as undisputed Light Heavyweight Champion of the World. Gus lost the title on July 26, 1948, at White City Stadium in London, outpointed by Freddie Mills.

Lesnevich fought and beat Mauriello a total of four times, twice in ‘41 and twice in ‘47. He only stopped him once, though, on October 31, 1947, and that’s where the photo comes in.

The photo, it’s black and white. Of course it is. It has to be. It’s supposed to be. Boxing is black and white, what with wide-lapelled suits and fedoras with the brim snapped down, tamped-down Luckies and burnished Zippos. No place for those things in a color world. Maybe that’s why boxing is on the ropes. Maybe it’s all the fault of color film. Sure, there some great color photos of pugilists at work. But it’s all too, well, colorful. Pink gloves and glittery, cellophane-like trunks of teal trimmed in gold. It’s glitzy, yeah, but I don’t want glitz.

I want grit.

And it’s not just boxing, let me tell ya. I mean, can you picture Bogie as Sam Spade smacking Peter Lorre, the gardenia-scented Joel Cairo of The Maltese Falcon, with a “When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it” in color?

I didn’t think so.

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When You're Slapped, You'll Take It & Like It - The Maltese Falcon (3/10) Movie CLIP (1941) HD

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  1. Eric 03:46pm, 12/30/2014

    Clarence… Sure do. Also remember Fats & Lieutenant Brubaker. Remember “Brubaker” in Serpico? And how can you forget the huge role that Fats had in Rocky III. “Baretta” was a great show, no doubt. And dats the name of dat tune.

  2. Clarence George 02:51pm, 12/30/2014

    Remember his friend Billy?  Hard to believe that was Tom Ewell of “The Seven Year Itch.”  And speaking of long lifespans, though Ewell died at 85…he was outlived by his mother!

  3. Eric 02:41pm, 12/30/2014

    Clarence…Never cared for Starsky & Hutch either. And the pimp on Baretta, “Rooster,” was much better than “Huggy Bear.” The car on Starsky & Hutch was better than Tony’s “gray ghost,” but that was it. Baretta’s meaty biceps really filled out those sweat shirts. I used to want a cockatoo like “Fred.” My sister had a couple and after seeing the mess they made, that got rid of that idea. Given those birds long lifespans, I wonder if “Fred” is still hanging around.

  4. Clarence George 02:20pm, 12/30/2014

    I’ll take that as a recommendation, Chuck—I never even heard of “The Fallen Sparrow.”  One of the noirest movies I’ve ever seen is “The Seventh Victim,” all about Satanists in New York City.  But the quintessential noir film must surely be “Detour.”  My favorite noir actors, at least among the gangster types, are Bogart, Cagney, and Robinson.  Too much empty talk about “The Godfather” being the first gangster movie.  Really?  What about “The Public Enemy” and “Little Caesar”?  Those films made, respectively, Cagney and Robinson stars, and helped make Hollywood the powerhouse it became in the 1930s.  Bogie came a bit later with “The Petrified Forest.”  There’s also the lesser-known but excellent “Scarface,” with one of our greatest actors, Paul Muni.

    I share your admiration for “Baretta,” Eric (can’t say the same for “Starsky & Hutch,” which I thought unwatchable).  For some reason, I was fascinated by Blake’s short-sleeve sweatshirts.  That’s all I wanted to wear, but they were damn hard to find.  He’s in another little-known but terrific film (with Robert Redford and Katharine Ross), “Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here.”

  5. Eric 11:51am, 12/30/2014

    Clarence…Never saw Blake portray John List, but I’m sure he did a good job as always. Underrated actor, but bat sh*t crazy, and not just recently, the guy has always had a screw loose. Loved Blake in, “The Little Rascals” shows, and “Baretta,” was my show back in the day, never missed an episode. I also like a little known movie from the ‘70’s, “Electra Glide In Blue,” where Blake is John Wintergreen, a motorcycle cop in some western state like Arizona or Nevada. Last time I saw Blake, he was being interviewed in his small apartment, and the guy had written all kinds of things on his walls, seemed like the guy has a lot of hate in his heart.

  6. ch. 11:47am, 12/30/2014

    Clarence, my favorite black + white “noire” actors were Mitchum, Garfield and Bogart. Wasn’t always sure of what was going on in “The Fallen Sparrow” but that film always grabs my attention. Walter Slezak and Garfield were really spooky in that one.

  7. Clarence George 11:13am, 12/30/2014

    The Curtis movie is excellent, despite the groundless implication that the Strangler was psychotic.  There’s reason to think, by the way, that not all the murders were committed by DeSalvo.  I once lived near Gainsborough Street, which was kinda eerie.  Did you ever see Blake in the TV movie about John List?  I thought he did quite a good job.

  8. Eric 09:49am, 12/30/2014

    Have never seen, “The Strangler,” have to look into it. Somewhat liked, “The Boston Strangler” with Tony Curtis. I usually love any movie about true crime, loved the original, “In Cold Blood,” another great B&W film. Robert Blake & the other guy were perfect in their roles. I remember seeing a Dick Butkus interview where Butkus was giving a thumbs up review for, “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte.” Butkus was describing how he got a charge seeing the decapitated head rolling down the stairs. Strange guy, that Butkus, maniac on the football field.

  9. Clarence George 09:15am, 12/30/2014

    Eric:  Isn’t Victor Buono great?  I remember him in “The Strangler.”  Worth seeing, but rarely shown.

    Joan Crawford was supposed to be in “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” but couldn’t abide working with Bette Davis again (following “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”), and was replaced by Olivia de Havilland, who’s rapidly coming up on 100!


  10. Eric 08:14am, 12/30/2014

    beaujack…The best thing about TCM is NO COMMERCIALS. I was trying to watch Dirty Harry the other night on some channel and I just couldn’t handle having to sit through all the commercials. Those old black & white films were definitely the best. I keep hoping TCM will play, “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte” or “The Fugitive Kind,” love those two flicks. TCM is one of the few channels worth watching. No small wonder that televison, like newspapers, is dying.

  11. Clarence George 09:37pm, 12/29/2014

    Thanks very much, Beaujack.

    Tami’s one of my absolute favorite fighters, and the photo you mention accompanied the article I wrote on him last year.  Speaking of which, one of his photos graces my collection.  Now that I think of it, I believe that’s another one where I was the sole bidder.  By the way, our own Robert Mladinich wrote a fantastic piece on “The Bronx Barkeep,” which I heartily recommend.

    I love the old black-and-white movies from the ‘30s and ‘40s, and “Falcon” is among the best.  Oddly enough, I’m not a huge fan of the book.

  12. beaujack 08:52pm, 12/29/2014

    Another great article Clarence recalling black and white movies, and two fighters I saw a number of times. Tami Mauriello of the Bronx who fought many, many main events in the old MSG, against the likes of Joe Baksi,
    Lee Oma, Gus Lesnevich of course…Tami was NEVER in a dull fight and never retreated as he was all heart and one leg was shorter than the other, making it difficult to back peddle. Years ago in the 1940s, there was a popular photo of young Frank Sinatra riding on the back of his goomba, Tami Mauriello…I love watching old black and white classic films on TCM…Those films had great plots and no car crashes and special effects like today…cheers…

  13. Clarence George 07:56am, 12/29/2014

    Eric:  I wrote an article a couple of years ago (for another boxing website) on Freddie Mills as Jack the Stripper.  I don’t think he was; in any event, there’s really no evidence against him.  A somewhat likelier suspect is Harold Jones.  As a child himself, he murdered two little girls.  That was in the ‘20s, and he wasn’t released from prison till the early ‘40s.  He lived for another 30 years, so he certainly could have been the Stripper.  But, again, there’s really no evidence.  If I remember right, Hitchcock’s “Frenzy” was based on the Stripper murders.

  14. Clarence George 07:45am, 12/29/2014

    A quote to remember, Irish.

    It’s a great movie, isn’t it?  In fact, one of a handful I consider perfect.

  15. Eric 07:45am, 12/29/2014

    Lesnevich does sport some solid underpinnings. Georges Carpentier was another boxer who had a solid ground floor, and David Tua had thighs that would look comfortable on a NFL fullback or Eric Heiden. Was the troubled Freddie Mills the real Jack The Stripper?

  16. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:54am, 12/29/2014

    Clarence George-“Writing is 1% inspiration, and 99% elimination.” (Louise Brooks)....a lesson well learned when you were dating her. I loved it when Bogie slapped the taste out of Elisha Cook Jr.‘s mouth too!

  17. Clarence George 06:10am, 12/29/2014

    Your wife is a woman after my own heart, Pete.  I’ve been watching “March of the Wooden Soldiers” every Thanksgiving morning since but a lad, and am grossly offended by the colorized version.  I believe the same thing is done with “Miracle on 34th Street.”  Apparently, the powers-that-be don’t think kids today will watch a black-and-white film.  They’re probably right, which is yet another sign that our civilization is coming to an end.

    Yes, like a lot of short, stocky guys, Gus had these tree-trunk legs.

    The auction’s in a few days.  Fingers crossed!

  18. Pete The Sneak 05:45am, 12/29/2014

    I hear you CG…My wife was up in arms on Thanksgiving morning when she turned on ‘March Of The Wooden Soldiers’ and saw that they were giving it in color. “Something about those Bogey men” she said, that are scarier in Black & White.”...Oh well, at least they haven’t messed with the original Honeymooners episodes, which are coming up on New Years eve. Good luck getting that photo of Gus…Boy, he sure did have some powerul looking, Manny Pacquiao type legs on him there, didn’t he?...Peace.

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