Dick Gilbert: Once-Stopped but Never Shy

By Clarence George on July 12, 2017
Dick Gilbert: Once-Stopped but Never Shy
Dick Gilbert won Colorado's heavyweight title by outpointing Denver Jack Geyer in 1914.

His most notable opponent was the great Jack Dempsey, against whom he fought on October 16, 1916, at the Salt Lake Theater in Salt Lake City, Utah…

“Many women were present in the audience, and seemingly got as much enjoyment out of the bouts as their escorts.”—The Salt Lake Tribune

Today we celebrate the 128th birthday of Dick Gilbert.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky, on July 12, 1889, the heavyweight fought out of Denver, Colorado, from 1907 to 1916 (though out of the ring in ‘08), winding up with an official record of 16 wins, nine by knockout, 21 losses, one by knockout, five draws, and five no contests. There were also 13 newspaper decisions (1-10-2). His sole kayo loss came in his very first fight, Johnny O’Keefe retiring him in the fourth at the Empire Theatre in Denver on September 13, 1907.

“Fighting” Dick (also known, somewhat less awkwardly, as “Kid” Gilbert) fought many of the toughies of his day, including Battling Levinsky, who outpointed him four times, all in 1912 and all in Jacksonville, Florida; Leo Houck, who won by newspaper decision at the Lancaster A.C. in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on March 27, 1913; George Chip, who won by newspaper decision at the Coliseum in New Castle, Pennsylvania, that May 14; Mike Schreck, who was outpointed in Cincinnati, Ohio, that July 14, stopped by 14th-round TKO at Elmwood Arena in Elmwood Place, Ohio, that August 19, and knocked out in the first in Reading, Pennsylvania, that November 20; nightstick-tough Gus Christie, who won by newspaper decision at Hippodrome Park in Cincinnati that September 15; Jack Dillon, the “Hoosier Bearcat,” who won by newspaper decision in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on March 17, 1914, and on points at the Colorado A.C. in Denver that November 24; Kid George, against whom Gilbert drew in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on January 28, 1915; Gunboat Smith, who won by newspaper decision at the National A.C. in Denver that May 10 (the venue’s inaugural bout); Vic Hansen, the “Oil City Bearcat,” who won on points at the Academy A.C. in Kansas City, Missouri, on January 24, 1916; Billy Miske, “The St. Paul Thunderbolt,” who won on points at the National A.C. that February 29 in a “thorough trimming,” according to Chicago’s Day Book of that March 1. “Miske was the superior in every round, far outboxing his opponent” (the bizarrely neglected Miske, “slick as a whistle and swift as a breeze,” was “one of the greatest boxers of his weight in the history of the ring,” as Jack “Doc” Kearns observed); and “Caveman” Bob Moha, all 5’5” of him (though Gilbert himself was only 5’7½”), who won by newspaper decision in Hot Springs that March 22.

“The Pride of the Mountains” won Colorado’s heavyweight title by outpointing Denver Jack Geyer (who in the 1930s was a bodyguard for Tom Mix) at the Colorado A.C. on May 5, 1914.

He last won on March 27, 1916, outpointing Hungarian-born Jack Herrick in Memphis, Tennessee, and last fought that November 29, losing on points, and for the second time in six days, to Joe Bonds at the National A.C.

Gilbert’s most notable opponent was the great Jack Dempsey, against whom he fought that October 16 at the Salt Lake Theater in Salt Lake City, Utah, losing on points.

He gave a good account of himself. His “best was at infighting,” reported The Salt Lake Tribune. “Anticipating that Dempsey’s innards would not stand a merry tattoo,” he “landed quite a few in the stomach.” By the seventh round, however, “Dempsey showed his superiority and soon had the Louisville [Lexington] terror floundering about the ring, which floundering continued until the end [the 10th].” The legendary heavyweight “never backed up and at the end was the fresher of the two. Referee Hardy Downing’s decision met with the approval of everybody present.” (Downing was also the promoter.)

(Not one fight at famed Madison Square Garden, it’s true, but the Garden really didn’t become the Mecca until its third incarnation, from 1925 to 1968, when it was located on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets.)

Dick appeared in movies from 1922 to 1951, including Hal Roach’s/Laurel and Hardy’s Any Old Port! (1932). For 50 bucks (around $825 today), Ollie volunteers Stan to go four rounds with the formidable Mugsy Long (portrayed by the superb Walter Long), so tough that he’s oblivious to billiard balls bounced off his head. Dick, sporting a nifty checked newsy cap, plays Mugsy’s unscrupulous cornerman, loading the boxer’s right glove with an abundant amount of clanking metal. The plan backfires, of course.

According to daughter Virginia (who died age 91 on September 5, 2016), “My Dad continued working at Hal Roach’s home until about 1942 when he was able to get a better job in the defense industry. The glory days of Hal Roach were winding down. When Hal stepped down and gave up the studio to his son, it was the end.” (Senior sold the production company to Junior in 1955. Young Hal wasn’t up to the task, unfortunately, and the studio closed in 1961.)

A young Virginia also worked for Hal Roach, appearing, for instance, in the Our Gang short, Spanky (1932), along with, among others, Stymie, Wheezer, and Spanky himself. “I loved the days when I was called to work at the studio,” she reminisced two months before her death. “I remember the best thing was the smell of the studio. I expect it was the smell of cut lumber. Also we got a box lunch, so exciting to see what was in the box. The worst day was the day I got picked to be a blackface [in Spanky]. The black was put on my face early in the day. Making movies was so much hurry up and wait. I managed to rub my eye a couple of times and the makeup girl had to fix my blackface. When we were part of the mob we were paid $3. That day I believe I got $5 [today about $50 and $85, respectively].”

Dick Gilbert died of heart failure in Goldfield, Nevada, on May 6, 1960, age 70.

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  1. Clarence George 01:50am, 07/19/2017

    Thanks very much, Mr. Lansing, glad you liked it.


    Otto Waldis

  2. Robert Lansing 07:11pm, 07/18/2017

    Nice job, Mr. George, Another dandy. Always glad to see another George classic, although I missed this one until now. Thanks for the “learning” and the guffaws.

  3. Clarence George 02:15pm, 07/15/2017

    Wonderful post, Nicolas, thank you.  Yes, Gilbert plays Mugsy’s second.  I have to rewatch “The Lady from Shanghai,” as the only thing I remember is Everett Sloane’s bravura performance.  My guess is that most young people today never even heard of Laurel and Hardy, never mind have any appreciation for them.  Comedy today is intended to appeal to the taste of a particularly addlepated and dirty-minded 12-year-old boy.  If I remember correctly, someone here did write about Scrap Iron, whose real name was George Raft Johnson.  His mother must have been a fan.

    Stan and Ollie are among the best, KB.  Up there with Abbott and Costello, the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, and other indisputable geniuses.

  4. Kid Blast 11:53am, 07/15/2017

    Laurel and Hardy are the highest of high camp humor. Anyone who doesn’t laugh at them is on his or her death bed.

  5. nicolas 11:47am, 07/15/2017

    Great article Clarence. Loved the video. I guess Gilbert is the guy in the corner. The scene also reminds me of a scene in the bar at the beginning of Lady From Shanghai, were The guy explains that a tough guy is the guy with the edge (the loaded glove). Also sad to say, I talked to some adult some 20 years or so ago, and she said that todays kinds didn’t find Laurel and Hardy funny. What is that all about. I guess the old look to it. Hopefully, as adults, they might begin to appreciate it.

    Also Mr. Gilbert reminds me of the fighter I heard about, Scrap Iron Johnson, in that he to had a losing record, but would be interesting to right about. I guess back then there were many more Scrap Iron Johnson’s, who died last year at the age of 77. An acquaintance of mine once told me that Johnson came into the ring, and everyone was shouting for him, “Scrap Iron”. He had a puzzled look on his face.

  6. Clarence George 06:55am, 07/12/2017

    By the way, I recently read that Anthony Joshua “studies obscure heavyweight boxers from the past.”  We got your obscure heavyweight boxers from the past right here, AJ.  Right here.

  7. Clarence George 06:50am, 07/12/2017

    What a boxing match should be, KB, but so rarely is.

    Laurel and Hardy were nothing short of genius.

  8. Kid Blast 06:48am, 07/12/2017

    That Laurel & Hardy video is so funny I am laughing out loud.

  9. Clarence George 06:45am, 07/12/2017

    Thanks very much indeed, Peter.  Despite being inducted into the Hall in 2010, Miske is known only to hardcore boxing fans.  Utterly inexplicable.

    Thankee kindly, Irish.  Completely agree.  Love what Virginia says about the cut lumber, as that’s what I always imagined the “Our Gang” sets smelled of.

  10. Kid Blast 06:43am, 07/12/2017


  11. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:12am, 07/12/2017

    Clarence George-Wow! The last paragraph and Virginia’s remembrance of her days at the Hal Roach Studios is pure gold.

  12. peter 06:10am, 07/12/2017

    Excellent research! ... “slick as a whistle and swift as a breeze,”  I love it!

  13. Clarence George 06:00am, 07/12/2017

    For Laurel vs. Long?

  14. Kid Blast 05:46am, 07/12/2017

    Yes. I was at ringside

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