Harry Thomas: For the Good of the Game

By Clarence George on February 9, 2015
Harry Thomas: For the Good of the Game
"Here's a chance for you to make yourself a nice piece of money and you won't get hurt."

But what did Harry have to tell his daughter about the fights he supposedly threw? Not a blessed thing…

“Kid, this ain’t your night.”—On the Waterfront

Harry Thomas, a tough but forgotten heavyweight from the Sweet Science’s Golden Age, fought from 1931 to 1939, winding up with a record of 41 wins, 32 by knockout, 15 losses, three by knockout, and two draws. He took on many of the hard boys of his era, including Dynamite Jackson, Unknown Winston, whom he bested two out of three, Charlie Belanger, Jack Trammell, Roscoe Toles, Jimmy Adamick, Al McCoy, Dick Daniels, and the great Joe Louis himself, fighting for at least a version of the heavyweight title.

Harry also fought Max Schmeling at Madison Square Garden on December 13, 1937, losing by eighth-round TKO, and Tony Galento at Philly’s Convention Hall on November 14, 1938, losing by third-round TKO.

Harry threw both fights.

Or so he says.

In an article that appeared in the October 30, 1939, edition of the Chicago Tribune, Thomas told Sports Editor Arch Ward all about it:

“Those fake fights have been worrying me for a long time. I am revealing them now for the sake of younger boxers who may face the same temptations to which I succumbed. I’m glad to have the facts printed. For the good of the game they should have been made known long ago.

“I knew it was wrong to take part in a fixed fight, but it was the only way I could make any real money. I came up the hard way. I never had a dollar I could call my own until the Schmeling bout. In fact, I was in debt. I’m thru with boxing, and it will ease my conscience to have these facts disclosed.

“I never had made any money as a professional fighter. I was working for cheap purses. By the time training and incidental expenses were paid and I split my earnings with my manager I had little or nothing left. I was well along in years as fighters go. If I accepted offers to throw bouts to Schmeling and Galento I would make enough money for a nest egg. If I refused I wouldn’t get a chance to meet opponents who would attract big gates.”

Crowed Ward, “This is an exposé of one of the biggest swindles in the history of boxing.”

Thomas wound up with enough filthy lucre, according to the editor, “to buy timberland in northern Minnesota, two residences in Eagle Bend, Minn., and a 160 acre farm near that village.” What he didn’t wind up with, however, was a slew of “opponents who would attract big gates.” He had eight fights following his loss to Schmeling and only one after losing to Galento. Pretty small beer for the 1930s. True, he got a shot at Joe Louis four months after the Schmeling bout, but was that because he threw the fight? Or did his loss to the German have damn all to do with it?

According to Thomas, his manager, Nate Lewis, arranged the fix with Joe Jacobs, who managed both Schmeling and Galento.

“Here’s a chance for you to make yourself a nice piece of money and you won’t get hurt,” Jacobs reportedly told Thomas. “You got a chance to fight Max Schmeling. Now listen, Max don’t have to fight you. This is where you get some national recognition. You go out and look good for a few rounds and then lose by a knockout.”

Says Thomas about his fight with Schmeling:

“Things moved along as planned until the third round. Schmeling hit me a fairly hard right hand punch to the jaw. I could have gone down, but our agreement called for me to lose in the fourth. Before the end of the round I landed a left to the jaw that shook up Max badly. He apparently felt I was trying to double-cross him, because in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds he wouldn’t throw punches hard enough from which I could have gone down. Toward the end of the seventh he caught me with a glancing blow on the chin which wouldn’t have knocked down a young boy. However, I went to my knees to give him a sign I was ready to fall whenever he opened up. In the eighth round I whispered to him to keep throwing punches. I went down six or seven times, always coming up at the count of one or two.”

As for the payoff: “There was a big pile of bills on the desk. Nate Lewis showed me that training expenses had amounted to $1,800. Then he started counting out money to me. I didn’t want to take all my earnings in cash. I took one thousand dollar bill and three or four hundred dollar bills and put them in my pocket. I intended to stop in Chicago on my way home and I wanted some cash for Christmas.”

Thomas later claimed that he didn’t receive most of the money promised.

Obviously unfamiliar with the adage of getting fooled not once but twice, the Galento fight was more of the same, with Thomas again getting shortchanged. And not just in boodle. Though the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission grudgingly awarded him his share of the purse, they banned him for life.

Perhaps they heard that some of Galento’s punches “barely landed.” But was that because of the supposed fix? Or because this was the burly barman’s first fight since a near-fatal bout with pneumonia?

“Galento was a bit shaky on his feet,” writes Galento biographer Joseph G. Donovan in Galento the Great, “but still that flame of fighting flickered. He rushed. He punched. He missed at times because of the lack of competitive action. He was short with blows. He looked weak for two rounds, but Galento started to show his old time spirit in the third round. And once he got the range, Thomas was a mark for body and head punches. Thomas was knocked down five times and stayed down after a barrage of head blows in the third round.”

“Sure, I was a bit weak and punch shy,” said Galento, “but once I started to bang him in the head with my nightstick, you know, my left hook, he weakened.”

“A punch to the temple hurt me more than anything else,” said Thomas after the bout.

According to referee Tommie O’Keefe, “Galento’s blows were short and sharp.” And though slower than his pre-pneumonia self, he “still retained his powerful punch.”

Joe Jacobs was a schemer, sure. In order to heat up demand for a championship bout with Joe Louis, he wanted “Two Ton” to take out the fighters the “Brown Bomber” had…only quicker. It took Louis five rounds to stop Thomas; it took Galento three. Convenient? It took Louis three rounds to stop Nathan Mann; it took Galento two. Was Galento-Mann also a matter of convenience? Well, as long as there’s no paranoia, that’s the main thing.

Tell that to a hostile New York Times: “The crowd showed its disapproval in the third as Thomas went down five times, to the amazement of the onlookers, if not Galento. Newspapers were rolled up and hurled from all directions to the ring. Maybe Thomas was a target, too. Or both fighters. At any rate, as Thomas went up and down like a robot, the shower persisted and the roar of the aroused onlookers rolled across the arena.”

The evidence is all Seesaw Margery Daw, not helped any by the December 13, 1954, issue of Sports Illustrated, in which Thomas introduced a new wrinkle, claiming that Nate Lewis acted as front man for Jim Norris, president of the International Boxing Council. An easy scapegoat, given Norris’ unsavory reputation as “a fixer of prize fights.” Too easy, perhaps, and the accusation got the horselaugh from many, especially as Thomas ridiculously claimed to have been offered $65,000 (well over a million in today’s money) to throw the Schmeling fight, though he only wound up with 15 grand (about $250,000 today). He was offered, he said, a more modest but still hefty $6,000 ($100,000 today) for the Galento dive.

Thomas, who penned the article, further claimed that he’d been paid to “carry” Jimmy Adamick (a much more impressive and successful fighter than Thomas) when they fought at the Garden on February 18, 1938, the “Midland Mauler” winning by unanimous decision. He graciously conceded, however, that his bout with Joe Louis at Chicago Stadium on April 1, 1938, was “on the level,” the Bomber winning by fifth-round KO.

According to Thomas, while Joe Jacobs came up with such lines as, “You can make more money on this one fight than you could make on that farm the rest of your life. You do business with us and you’ll be taken care of,” it was Norris who gave him his marching orders; it was Norris who was explicit: “You’ll have to take a dive, lose the fight by a knockout.”

“The charge is libelous and absurd — a cheap device by a magazine desperately seeking to build circulation at the expense of boxing,” said Norris. “I did not promote the fights nor did I manage any of the fighters mentioned in the article.” Norris also observed that most of the people involved in the so-called scandal were dead, and “cannot conveniently defend themselves.” Nor inconveniently, for that matter.

Arthur Donovan, who reffed the Schmeling bout, was no more impressed than Norris, saying that if Thomas “went into the tank, he certainly did it the hard way,” needing 11 stitches.

It comes down to this: Harry Thomas was tough, sure, but good enough to pose a threat to even a pneumonia-weakened Tony Galento, let alone Max Schmeling, the first man to beat — indeed, stop — Joe Louis? Thomas’ claims — first whispered, then shouted — were held in so little regard that they utterly failed to stall either Galento or Schmeling’s careers, both of whom got cracks at Louis’ crown.

I found Harry’s granddaughter, who kindly put me in touch with her mother. I learned that her father was good friends with Joe Louis and was often invited to the champ’s home. Harry was gracious in reciprocating, but Joe was wary — Harry’s was a white neighborhood and Joe didn’t want to rock the boat.

But what did Harry have to tell his daughter about the fights he supposedly threw?

What he told the Illinois and New York State Athletic Commissions: Not a blessed thing.

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  1. Clarence George 08:17pm, 02/28/2015

    Thanks very much, Tex.  And I do indeed agree.  I just don’t see paying an enormous sum to, no disrespect, a ham-and-egger like Thomas to go into the tank against Schmeling, one of the best heavyweights of the time.

  2. Tex Hassler 07:17pm, 02/28/2015

    I am going out on a limb because I do not think Thomas threw that fight. He was never on the same level as a fighter as was Schmeling.

    Great thought provoking article Mr. George.

  3. Clarence George 03:49am, 02/24/2015

    I got a fantastic Galento from Wendy Seidman of Seidman Productions some 25 years ago.  They used to run wonderful auctions for all sorts of boxing memorabilia, but they haven’t done that in years.  I think most of their business today comes from boxing programs…if they’re still around at all.

    Dave Bergin runs an absolutely legitimate business, and has some really nice stuff at good prices.

    Yeah, LaMotta’s autograph is generally pretty inexpensive.  Which is not to say that it’s not worth having.  I have three, including a beaut over my desk.

  4. TRAVIS R0STE 12:22am, 02/24/2015

    I had a lot of good heavyweight autographs, i sold them all now. i buy and sell a little bit. i know the outfit you are talking about, they try to sell all autographs at 10-40 times their value. it’s ridiculous. for 700 dollars you too can have a jake lamotta autograph! 

    It’s true that Harry Thomas married his wife on June 22, 1938, the exact same day as Louis-Schmeling II.  Thomas must have known that date would be a special one.

  5. Clarence George 07:23am, 02/19/2015

    Right you are, Jim.  I read somewhere that he used to sit outside the shop with two Dalmatians; that he used a black marker to turn their round spots square!  Didn’t he also have a restaurant or bar?  Vague recollection.  By the way, however mediocre as a pro, he was pretty tough.  Twelve losses, but only stopped twice (by Johnny Erjavec and Buddy Knox).  His draw against Thomas was his only one.

  6. Jim Crue 06:15am, 02/19/2015

    Max Marek ended up being an antique dealer on the north side of Chicago. I would see the big sign on top of his shop when I rode the EL train to downtown Chicago.
    Sign said
    Max Marek Antiques
    The fighter who beat Joe Louis
    I should have stopped in but never did.

  7. Clarence George 04:46am, 02/19/2015

    My conscience is bothering me:  Marek did more than “quite well as an amateur.”  He not only beat Bob Pastor, but the great Joe Louis himself.  Remarkable how lackluster was his pro career.

  8. Clarence George 04:29am, 02/19/2015

    Thank you for posting, Travis.

    You know, your name rings a bell.  You’re an autograph dealer, I think, who specializes in boxers.  Which reminds me of the guy on eBay who’s been trying for years to sell an unexceptional Tony Galento autograph for something like $800, at least 10 times its worth.  Crazy.

    By the way, I thought of mentioning Thomas’ win over Marek (against whom he also drew), but the Chicago boy’s pro record was pretty unimpressive, despite doing quite well as an amateur.

  9. TRAVIS R0STE 09:34pm, 02/18/2015

    Harry’s gravestone is in the Catholic cemetery in long prairie, MN, i have a photo of it somewhere.

  10. TRAVIS R0STE 09:32pm, 02/18/2015

    I grew up in eagle bend, mn, and i researched harry thomas, collected the program to the louis fight, a couple of thomas autographs, numerous newspaper clippings, and other ephemera. no fights of his were found on film, only a short interview with wgn in 1954 concerning the fixed fight claim. he was an interesting character in the time he fought. illinois state heavyweight champion, beat max marek.

  11. Clarence George 08:57pm, 02/10/2015

    Wonderful words, Bob, that are much appreciated.

    Harry Thomas was one tough hombre.  Threw fights, lied about throwing fights…this is the Sweet Science, and choirboys need not apply.

  12. Bob 08:37pm, 02/10/2015

    Thomas was tough but he was not forgotten thanks to this wonderfully nostalgic piece. These guys deserve their place in fistic mortality and much thanks to the Clarence George for making Harry Thomas a household name in my house at least.

  13. Clarence George 08:17pm, 02/10/2015

    Glad you liked it, Peter.

  14. peter 06:23pm, 02/10/2015

    A well-told story. A fighter admitting to a dive is rare. And it makes for an interesting read. Thank you.

  15. Clarence George 09:26am, 02/10/2015

    He was great, Irish, though I always preferred Wallace Beery in that role.

  16. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:57am, 02/10/2015

    “Arrrr….Matey”  “You’ll get plenty o’ cut an’ rip when the time comes, but until I gives the signal, lay to.” (Long John Silver aka Robert Newton)

  17. Clarence George 08:37am, 02/10/2015

    Thankee, Irish.

    There pros and cons to Thomas’ claims, but I side with the cons.  He was tough and a hard puncher, but that’s about all he was.  I find it hard to believe that savvy guys would think that he’d have much of a chance against Galento, or even Adamick, never mind Schmeling.  Why pay him, and such astronomical amounts, to lose fights he was almost certainly going to lose anyway?  I’m not sure what Thomas’ motivation was to lie, assuming he was.  Mischief?  Vindictiveness?  Attention-getting?  Ego, perhaps.  Maybe he wanted people to think that he was a better fighter than he was.  Or maybe he did throw the fights.  We’ll never know…anyway, not for sure.

  18. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:15am, 02/10/2015

    Clarence George-Keep’um coming! Looks like Thomas could punch with 32 KOs in 41 wins….capable of upsetting the apple cart…..banned for life by the Pa. State Commission, the fight must have really stunk up the joint…..up and down 5 times with Tony and 7 times with Max….maybe a liar, for sure a lousy actor. The fact that he sustained a cut in the Schmeling fight doesn’t disprove shit.

  19. Clarence George 08:12am, 02/10/2015

    Thank you, KB.

  20. Kid Blast 08:08am, 02/10/2015

    Nice research

  21. Clarence George 07:52am, 02/10/2015

    Glad you liked it, Jim.  And you’re absolutely right—it’s “Club,” not “Council.”  I apologize for the mistake, though I’m stumped by how or why I made it.

  22. Jim Crue 06:18am, 02/10/2015

    thanks for another interesting article Clarence.
    For the record
    Jim Norris was president of
    The International Boxing Club

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