Father, Fighter, and Play

By Robert Ecksel on November 21, 2011
Father, Fighter, and Play
"I’ve been hit with a shot, and if I stay down, who’s going to say anything?" (Chris Cassidy)

Cassidy’s gift at describing the emotions he felt watching his father fight is the same gift he brings to his playwriting…

“Irish” Bobby Cassidy was a tough-as-nails contender from New York who fought from 1963 to 1980. A southpaw who was world-rated in the junior middleweight, middleweight, light heavyweight and cruiserweight divisions, in 1975 he was ranked number one in the world as a light heavyweight by the WBC.

During his whirlwind 17-year career, Cassidy fought over 500 rounds, took over 400 stitches, and traveled as far afield as South Africa. He also fought on the undercard of the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier rematch at Madison Square Garden in Jan. 1974.

Cassidy went on to compile a record of 59-16-3 (with one no contest and 27 KOs). He fought Luis Manuel Rodriguez, Alessandro Mazzinghi, Rodrigo Valdez, Don Fullmer, Jimmy Dupree, Tom Bethea, and Christy Elliott. Cassidy was never champion, but he was no slouch.

After his boxing career ended, Cassidy trained fighters and worked with two world champions, WBC light heavyweight champion Donny Lalonde and WBO middleweight champion Lonnie Bradley. He also trained Ugandan contender Godfrey Nyakana.

That should be, or might be, the end of the story, except that his eldest son, Bobby Cassidy Jr., who covers boxing for Newsday, has written a play about his father called “Kid Shamrock.”

Having seen a run-through of the current production, I can attest to the quality of Cassidy’s writing. Yet he’s taken the at times touching, at times chilling story of a fighter (Kid Shamrock/Bobby Cassidy Sr.) and added to that tale a conceit that deserves attention. Although there are several seasoned actors in the cast, many of the actors, and its director Michael Bentt, come from the ring and not from the stage.

I spoke with Cassidy at the SVA Theater in downtown Manhattan about the play, what compelled him to write it, and what it was like growing up the son of a prizefighter.

“My father was a pro before I was born,” said Cassidy. “He turned pro in March of ’63. I was born in August of ’64. So he already had a number of fights under his belt. But I feel really lucky to have had the childhood I had. There were a lot of ups and downs and things like that, but I was really fortunate. My childhood was in a lot of ways really amazing, in the sense that when your dad is a professional fighter, he’s the toughest dad on the block, there’s no question about it.

“As a son that’s hard to live up to, because you think you have to be that way. But from a very early age he was like, ‘No, don’t be like me. Be who you are. Be yourself.’ So that was good. But the excitement of seeing him fight and you walk into the deli and there are posters of his fights—I was really fortunate to grow up around that. And because he was a fighter and didn’t necessarily have a 9 to 5, he was at every Little League game, every basketball practice, every school function you could imagine. When it came time to fight, it was serious stuff, but he was really there.”

I found what Cassidy was saying quite interesting. My father was a combat veteran, but it was a different kind of combat, one fought with guns and bayonets and not fists. There was glory, if one was lucky enough to survive, but there was no glamour. But glory and glamour, however great, are not in and of themselves enough to create art. There needs to be dramatic tension, a narrative arc, something to fuel the pilgrim’s progress from the dark side to the light, or vice-versa.

“My father had nothing,” continued Cassidy. “His mother was a drunk. He didn’t meet his real father until he was 20. His stepfather beat the crap out of him and his brother all the time. He was a very angry guy, and violence was the only thing my father had going for him.  When my father was a teenager, he turned the tables on him. My father was about to be attacked, so he picked up a garbage can and hit him over the head with it. I think he went from prey to predator at that moment. That action unleashed his anger, and he became a master street fighter. And that gave him the only real identity he ever had.”

““It was a strange family dichotomy,” added Cassidy Sr. “My mother and stepfather were always drunk. They would each watch their own favorite TV shows in different rooms of the house, then come out and do battle during commercials. At some point the children would always get beaten. My mother actually liked to see me get beaten more, not because she disliked me more but because I could take it. Boxing was the only thing that ever gave me any confidence. All of my confidence was beaten out of me. When I started street fighting, I realized there was something I could do well.”

Cassidy Jr. went on: “Going to watch him fight was extremely tense. I started going to his fights when I was 11. It was a great experience. There was one fight I remember, when he fought Christy Elliot in 1977. My father was like 36, so he was approaching the end of his career. Christy Elliot was just a brash, cocky guy. He comes out the first round and knocks my father down, hits him with a bomb. I’m like, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen this before.’ I remember being close to tears and finding my mom and going to sit with her. This in the play—the fight in the play is actually a composite of several fights. My dad tells this story often. He says, ‘A knockdown? I’ve been hit with a shot, I’m down, and if I stay here, who’s going to say anything? I fought for a long time. I did my part. I was a contender. Who’s gonna criticize me if I stay here, if I don’t get up?’ That’s what he’s thinking. It’s amazing how quickly that goes through your head. And then out of the corner of his eye he sees Elliot walking around the ring with his hands raised and he says, ‘Wait a second. Who the hell does he think he is? This ain’t over.’ In the time it takes to count to 10 that went through his mind. He got up. They start fighting again. And looking back at the tape I can see that my father’s really wobbly. So he steadied himself and just stood there. Elliot comes over like he’s going to finish the job. He starts throwing punches. My father’s just trying to survive. All of a sudden—boom! He hit Elliot with a left and he goes down. Suddenly it was a whole different night. And people started going, ‘Bob-by, Bob-by, Bob-by…’ As a kid you’re sitting there and you go from one extreme to the other. It was a really exciting childhood.”

Cassidy’s gift at describing the emotions he felt watching his father fight is the same gift he brings to his playwriting.

“My father was a bouncer for a little while,” he said, “and I just got this idea. I was feeling kind of bad that here he was and now he’s just working as a bouncer. What a turnaround in your life. And I started thinking, What if a guy comes up to you in a bar and says, ‘Don’t I know you?’ And, really, he was a proud man. He didn’t want to be recognized as a bouncer—and that’s how the play really starts: ‘Don’t I know you?’ and he says, ‘No, you don’t know me.’ And they finally get into telling the whole story of his life.”

“Kid Shamrock” was first produced in 2007, and had a second run in Feb. of this year. The third run of “Kid Shamrock” returns with 10 performances at the TADA Theater from Friday, Nov. 25, to Sunday, Dec. 4.

The executive producer is David A. Schuster, and the director is former WBO heavyweight champion Michael Bentt (who was in Michael Mann’s Ali and played opposite Johnny Depp in Public Enemies).

The cast includes Bobby Cassidy Sr., former middleweight contender John Duddy as the younger Kid Shamrock, former cruiserweight and heavyweight contender Seamus McDonough as the older Kid Shamrock, former welterweight champion and 1964 Olympic gold medalist Mark Breland as trainer Jimmy Glenn, former junior middleweight contender Mark McPherson as the cutman, renowned referee Wayne Kelly as the referee, and Peter Wood as the reporter.

Additional cast members include Vinnie Vella (The Sopranos, Casino), Patrick Joseph Connolly (The Sopranos and Gardener of Eden directed by Kevin Connolly and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio), Nick Roman, and Shannon Lower as Barbara Cassidy, “Irish” Bobby Cassidy’s former wife.

For more information email Kidshamrockplay@gmail.com or call Gary Morgan at 646-772-8704.

The TADA Theater is located at 15 West 28th Street in New York City, and the phone number is 212-252-1619.

See you there.

“Kid Shamrock” is on Facebook at facebook.com/KidShamrock and Twitter @KidShamrockplay.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Rodrigo Valdez | Bobby Cassidy 1/3

Rodrigo Valdez | Bobby Cassidy 2/3

Rodrigo Valdez | Bobby Cassidy 3/3

Bobby Cassidy | Tom Bethea 1/2

Bobby Cassidy | Tom Bethea 2/2

Bobby Cassidy | Don Fullmer 1/2

Bobby Cassidy | Don Fullmer 2/2

Jorge Victor Ahumada | Bobby Cassidy 1/2

Jorge Victor Ahumada | Bobby Cassidy 2/2

Bobby Cassidy vs. Ramon Ranquello (W10) PART 1

Bobby Cassidy vs. Ramon Ranquello (W10) PART 2

BOBBY CASSIDY, Counterpuncher (excerpt)

Fotograma - "Bobby Cassidy" de Bruno de Almeida

Irish Bobby Cassidy

Irish Bobby Cassidy

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  1. Don from Prov 08:52am, 11/23/2011

    This is a very well written and interesting article: Though I’m not going to get into NY to see the play I do hope it shows up somewhere local in lovely Providence because this piece really caught my attention.  Good stuff.  Thanks.

  2. the thresher 06:59am, 11/22/2011

    Bentt has done some really good work.

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