It’s a Small World

By Robert Mladinich on April 14, 2015
It’s a Small World
Eddie Small was described as “a classy Jewish battler” that turned in “a nifty performance.”

“It’s sad when I think of what coulda been. They say things happen for a reason. I still don’t know what the reason is…”

Onetime welterweight prospect Eddie Small from the Bronx, New York, compiled a 6-1-3 (1 KO) record during a career that lasted from 1963 to 1969. Sadly, a life-threatening injury that he incurred outside of the ring ended his days of fistic glory.

Small grew up above the old-time luncheonette that his parents owned in the North Bronx. It was called the Char-Rock Luncheonette, and it was no different than the scores of candy stores that you see in classic New York films of yesteryear like “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” which chronicled the life of Rocky Graziano.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, local boxing heroes like Bobby Halpern hung their fight posters on the wall there. 

Although Small was Jewish, he fought as an amateur out of the Mt. Carmel CYO under the watchful eye of the colorful Charley Caserta. He made it to the semifinals of the 1962 Golden Gloves tournament.

During his amateur career, which produced a 67-7 record, he was described at different times by the New York Daily News as “a crack flyweight” and “the most spectacular of 126 pounders.” He sometimes traveled on teams that included the renowned referee Joe Cortez.

Small said Cortez was “a great fighter” and is “a great person and a great referee.”

One of Small’s 1962 Golden Gloves victories landed his photo on the back page of the Daily News. By midday, that page seemed to be taped to the window of every commercial establishment in the Bronx. 

“I even made the back page of the national edition,” said Small. “It was hung up in my class at Roosevelt High School. I’ll never forget how happy and proud I was.”

When the Daily News, which sponsored the tournament, went on strike in 1963, Small turned pro at the age of 17. His manager was Bobby Gleason, who ran the fabled gym that bore his name and was then located in the Bronx.

After seven fights, Small’s record was 4-1-2, with all of his wins coming by decision. As far as he was concerned, he should have been undefeated. Complaints to Gleason about how he was being handled generated only nasty responses. There were other problems as well.

When the syndicate that was backing behemoth heavyweight James J. Beattie was interested in signing him, Small tried to opt out of his contract with Gleason. He was flatly told no. 

“Gleason had a reputation as a nasty guy,” said Small, who at his current 160 pounds still looks very fit. “I didn’t want anything to do with him, but I was stuck with him.”
 
During that time, Small was generating quite a buzz and a lot of press coverage.  In 1963, he was the subject of an ABC television show called “What Americans Want to Know,” which described his transition from a standout amateur boxer to the pro ranks.

The June 1964 issue of The RING magazine named him Prospect of the Month. After several bouts at Sunnyside Gardens in Queens, the New York Post reported that he and other New York favorites such as Lenny Mangiapane and “Irish” Bobby Cassidy were ready to “graduate” to bouts at Madison Square Garden, where Small debuted in February 1964.

Various newspapers called him “a classy Jewish battler” or wrote that he turned in “a nifty performance.”

The loss and the draw notwithstanding, it seemed like Small was going places. However the momentum he had generated came to an abrupt halt in broad daylight on August 23, 1964, while he waited on a Bronx street for his girlfriend.

They had a date to see the movie “A Shot in the Dark” with Peter Sellers. Suddenly a car pulled up and within minutes Small’s life was forever changed. 

For reasons Small still cannot fathom, a West Indian man attacked him with a steak knife. The assailant’s mother was wielding a tire iron. Small was brutally stabbed in and around his left eye.

The blade missed his eyeball by a centimeter. Although he spent several weeks in the hospital, he miraculously did not lose his sight in that eye. 

“I thought my life was over,” said Small. “I was in surgery for eight hours and needed 2,000 stitches. I’ve had a lot of plastic surgery since.”

Small still suspects that Gleason was somehow involved in the attack. Two years later he returned to the gym, but received no sympathy from his former handler.

Instead, said Small, “He told me, ‘I told you, if you don’t fight for me, you won’t fight for anybody.’”

From a legal perspective, having a hunch and proving a hunch are two entirely different things. But one thing that Small was certain of was that he wanted to continue fighting.

Although it is not on Boxrec.com, he came back in November 1968 with a victory over Jimmy Edwards in New Jersey. He has the news clippings to prove it.

He was then being trained by Victor Valle, who would later bring Gerry Cooney to a heavyweight title bout, and Small felt as if he was in good hands. But his face was busting up too easily from the scars. After two wins and a draw, he packed it in in February 1969.

“It’s sad when I think of what coulda been,” said Small. “They say things happen for a reason. I still don’t know what the reason is.”

Small joined the New York City Corrections Department in 1972. He admits that he often dreamed about meeting his assailant behind bars, but he never did.

He got in plenty of scraps at the jails in which he worked, but because of his proficiency with his fists compared them to the preliminaries he fought as a youngster. 

He retired from the corrections department as a captain in 1993, went through a divorce, remarried in the early 2000s, and moved to Las Vegas, where Small stays in astonishingly good shape by walking, squatting with weights, bowling, and hitting the heavy bag in his garage.

Should Las Vegas ever come under attack, he is more than willing to defend it as a member of the Department of Homeland Security volunteer force.

His body is lithe and muscular, his hands are quick, and his mind is sharp. There is no question that even at age 68, Small would still be a handful. 

Several years ago, Small and his wife Lois attended a Dion concert at the Sun Coast Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Back in the days when Small was fighting as an amateur, Dion and the Belmonts, who hailed from the Bronx, were tops on the charts.

In attendance was actor, director and writer Chazz Palminteri, whose play “A Bronx Tale” was made into a sensational movie starring Robert De Niro and Palminteri. Small introduced himself and told Palminteri that his father, Larry Palminteri, had referred many of his amateur bouts at the CYO. 

He also mentioned to Palminteri that he had watched “A Bronx Tale” at least 100 times.

“I guess you didn’t like it,” joked Palminteri. 

Not long after that, Small and his wife met with this writer at a Las Vegas restaurant. He and I went through each and every page of the three scrapbooks that chronicled his immeasurable dreams, all of which seemed to be on the cusp of coming to fruition before fate intervened. 

“My wife has as much interest in boxing as my dog,” joked Small. “To be remembered and to show these books to someone who remembers all these people, and loves and appreciates this stuff as much as I do, that means the world to me.”

But that was then, and this is now.

Small is currently in a fight that he describes as being tougher than anything he’s ever experienced. He is trying to free his incarcerated son, David, from what he believes is an unjust conviction. 

In April 2008, David was convicted of attempted rape, unlawful imprisonment and burglary and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

While on the surface the crimes sound heinous, many of the facts don’t support the charges. In the early morning hours of May 26, 2005, the alleged victim went screaming to her neighbor’s house in Orange County, a northern New York City suburb, that someone had broken into her home and held her captive with intentions of committing a sexual assault.

According to court testimony, she was face-to-face with a dark-skinned, possibly Hispanic man with an accent. At different times in the investigation, she described her assailant as being either 5’8” to 5’10” tall and 160 to 180 pounds or 5’10” to 6’1” tall and between 200 and 225 pounds.

The victim, a longtime neighbor of David Small, initially identified a suspect from a photo array. He was questioned by police and cleared.

The woman then picked another person from a photo array. He too was cleared. It was not until two years later that she picked David Small, despite the fact that he lived within a block of her.

As if that was not enough evidence to create reasonable doubt, what should solidify that notion is comparing the disparate descriptions the alleged victim gave to police and prosecutors to David Small, who is 5’2” tall and 140 pounds.

He is also Caucasian and has no accent other than one typically heard in the New York metropolitan area. 

David did, however, make a confession after allegedly being told by police that was the only way he was going home. After making the statement he was released, but was taken into custody two days later. 

He was tried, convicted and sentenced to the lengthy prison term despite the fact that the alleged victim had a history of bizarre behavior that included rummaging through dumpsters and living in squalor. Most importantly, the DNA found under the victim’s fingernails did not match David’s.

The New York State Appellate Court reversed the trial court on the attempted rape conviction, but the sentence was not lessened despite that being the most serious charge.

David has been in custody at the maximum security Sing Sing Correctional Facility since August 2008, and he is not eligible for release until July 2018.

He is making the best of a best situation. David has earned a bachelor’s degree in education through Hudson Link, a privately funded college program for inmates, and he is now working on a master’s degree. (www.hudsonlink.org)

“What happened to David is a travesty,” said Eddie Small. “I know most people would think of me as just another father trying to do or say anything to protect his son, no matter what he has done.”

“This is absolutely not the case,” he continued. “Documented records speak for themselves, and some common sense must also prevail. David is a good young man. He was never convicted of anything prior to this incident.

“The only real crime committed in this entire scenario is what happened to my son, how the state of affairs regarding his case was handled from beginning to end. As a father watching my son rot in jail, a victim of an unconscionable legal system, it destroys me, but the reality is, it’s my son who is being destroyed.”

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  1. Your Name 02:24pm, 04/08/2018

    I remember Eddie from the Bronx. I trained at Bobby Gleason’s gym also. I trained with Dennis Pat Brady. Bobby Gleason was always half a gangster. I can’t remember his name he was a Swedish heavyweight. He won the sub novice 1961 gloves. His nickname was Whitey. He rob the travel agency underneath Gleason’s gym, Bobby Gleason owned the travel agent. Whitey got killed this all happened in 64.

  2. Steve wechsler 02:17pm, 04/08/2018

    Lived12

  3. Jeffrey Borkon 02:53pm, 02/24/2016

    I remember Eddie Smalls from the 1960s we had a mutual friend from Yonkers Mike Bregman

  4. Charlie 06:26am, 12/14/2015
  5. Lisa 07:06am, 05/01/2015

    I personally know david small and I know he would never ever hurt anybody, especially any women. I happen to know the victim and she is a liar. she told me what the man looked like and sounded like and it wasn’t david. I told his lawyer everything she told me about this incident and he never put me on the stand. david has been sitting in jail for a crime he did not do. I believe in david’s innocence and will help him in any way I can!

  6. david bertuzzi 11:26am, 04/27/2015

    ive known eddie small since the middle 80’s. ive known his son basically the same amount of time. i watched him grow up in chester,ny for many years. He was a good kid. Okay enough small talk no pun intended but lets get to the heart of the matter. Back in 2005 when the alledged incident happened the chester post office put up a description of the alleged attacker and described him as a white male short hair app.6 ft. and app.230lbs. I looked at the alert and that was it until. At the time i was still working for the NYC Dept of Corrections at the VCBC command. That week i was working the day shift in a new admission housing area. While going through my locator cards one day i came across an inmate who fit the description of the person whose sketch was in the chester post office.This person was from camp laguardia which oddly was in chester,ny also. When i went home that night i stopped by the post office to see the sketch again to verify my thoughts and they were confirmed that it definitely could be the same person. However when i went back to work the next day the inmate in question had been transferred. At that point my thought process on the incident ceased. It wasnt till 2007 when david small was charged that i thought about the incident again. Everybody in neighborhood knew Celeste and her antics. She would walk her dog sparky and go threw all the dumpsters at the same time.Is this the actions of a normal woman.The point im trying to make is how did she change her description of her alleged attacker from 6ft 230lbs to 5ft5in 145lbs.For years in talking to eddie i always felt something was really wrong in this case.

  7. Laurena 08:32am, 04/18/2015

    Bob- not sure how I missed this a few days ago and so enjoyed the read. Thank you.

  8. nicolas 12:07pm, 04/16/2015

    Sadly Kirk Douglas could be a very unpleasant person. On the film THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER, the director and others said he was not a very nice person. this is sad, since he gave a performance in a double role that was quite good, and perhaps has not been equaled since in his career. He did not even do the sequel. He left the set without even saying good by. I wonder if he wrote about this in him biography.

  9. peter 06:04am, 04/15/2015

    Eddie Small might like to know that heavyweight James J. Beattie didn’t like his management, either, and wanted out, just like Eddie did with Gleason.  According to Beattie, his management wasn’t knowlegeable or supportive and dropped the ball numerous times, particularly when he fought James J. Woody in the Garden. Small’s story is a wonderful, yet sad, glimpse into NYC boxing. It should be anthologized with other such stories. But, somehow, Small’s story, and his son’s, don’t seem to be finished. Consequently, we will be looking forward to reading Bob Mladinich’s sequel…Three great photos of Small. He still looks in great shape. He’s an inspiration.

  10. Clarence George 03:35am, 04/15/2015

    Thank you, Bob, for the compliment and the suggestions.  I already wrote about Mitchum-Reynolds (as well as Palance-Baksi), but I didn’t know that Douglas was a hissy fitter.  I leafed through his autobiography some years ago, and was stunned by his shallowness and stupidity, though perhaps I shouldn’t have been.  But a very good actor, despite (or maybe because of) his strident ranting.  He’ll be 99 this year.  Val Kilmer is apparently the ultimate hissy fitter, and is universally loathed.  A proponent of John Candy’s “diet,” he’s scheduled to be in a movie ironically titled “Weightless.”

  11. Clarence George 03:19am, 04/15/2015

    Another thing:  Francesca was the only child of any of the Gabor sisters, and I don’t think she had any children.  Sad.  A few years ago, Zsa Zsa’s distasteful husband had the rather Mengelean idea of her becoming a mother again via an egg donor, artificial insemination, and a surrogate mother.  But reason and good taste reascended their respective thrones.

  12. Bob 03:18am, 04/15/2015

    No one covers Hollywood cat fights better than Clarence George.  Why don’t you tackle Dennis Quaid’s hissy fit, a combo of two of Tinseltown’s biggest hissy fitters, Steve McQueen and Christian Bale.  In Quaid’s tantrum he rails, “Im acting, while this dickhead….....”  Apparently the dickhead (crew member) was taking while Quaid was emoting. I always had an aversion to adults calling people dickheads. There are so many better adjectives, it sounds so childish. Imagine Quaid hissy fitting if Robert Mitchum was the “dickhead?”  Or Robert Ryan? I loathe how these stars always explode on the “little people” on the set.  That’s a great subject for you, Clarence. Hollywood hissy fitters. You can get the boxing angle from Kirk Douglas, a notorious hissy fitter, playing several boxers, or Mitchum reportedly punching out pro boxer Bernie Reynolds.

  13. Clarence George 03:07am, 04/15/2015

    Understood, Nicolas, but what I was referring to was your “It sounds like they did catch the assailant, as Mr. Small suggest he wanted to meet his assailant behind bars.”  I took it to mean that they hadn’t, and I was wondering if they did at some later date.  Bob has just posted that the assailants were never caught.  Another thing I wonder about is how Small knew that the woman was the man’s mother.  But if she was screaming “Get him, son!” that would indeed be a dead giveaway.  You raise an interesting point about Gleason, but I know surprisingly little about him.

    By the way, “A Shot in the Dark” featured lovely Elke Sommer, who’s still with us at 74.  She and glamorous Zsa Zsa Gabor loathed each other.  Zsa Zsa, who’s 98 (and perhaps older), is in pretty much a vegetative state.  Her only child, Francesca Hilton, died a few months ago at age 67.

    If I had written this article, I doubt I would have been able to resist focusing on the Sommer-Gabor feud, so it’s probably just as well that it was left in Bob’s no-nonsense hands.

  14. Bob 02:48am, 04/15/2015

    Eddie Small’s assailants were never arrested.

  15. nicolas 01:45am, 04/15/2015

    Clarence, perhaps I was not clear, but I was wondering about Eddie Small saying about Bobby Gleason.

  16. Bob 11:21am, 04/14/2015

    I believe Bobby Gleason’s given name was Robert Gagliardi, but am not certain..

  17. Clarence George 11:08am, 04/14/2015

    I see what you’re saying, Nicolas, but I read it differently.

    I assume David Small didn’t have a lawyer, who probably would have advised him not to talk to the cops.  And what a lot of people don’t know is that they can leave the police station any time they want, unless placed under arrest.

  18. nicolas 10:00am, 04/14/2015

    Also I tried to look up information about Bobby Gleason, and really could not find out anything. His name was originally Peter, and I think last name which I can’t remember sounded Italian. Are there other people who would confirm or deny Mr. Small’s assertions?

  19. nicolas 09:45am, 04/14/2015

    more shocking for me about the attack is that the assailants mother had a tire iron, the 60’s were weird, but I would have only thought that such things would happen in this day and age. It sounds like they did catch the assailant, as Mr. Small suggest he wanted to meet his assailant behind bars.

  20. Clarence George 08:29am, 04/14/2015

    Fascinating read, Bob.  Did they ever catch his assailants?  There’s something particularly horrible about random street attacks, though being imprisoned for a crime one didn’t commit is about as bad as it gets.

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