Jack Palance: A Backseat to Baksi

By Clarence George on August 6, 2014
Jack Palance: A Backseat to Baksi
Baksi defeated Jack Brazzo in White Plains, NY. Brazzo is better known as Jack Palance.

Legend has it that Palance won 15 fights, 12 by knockout, beating club fighters throughout Pennsylvania before losing to Joe Baksi…

“I’m amazed people read this crap about us – about me most of all.”—Jack Palance

Rugged heavyweight contender Joe Baksi, a product of Pennsylvania’s coal mines, died 37 years ago to the day, on August 6, 1977. He was 55.

Baksi fought from 1940 to 1951, returning for two more bouts in 1954. When all was said and done, he could boast a record of 61 wins, 30 by knockout, nine losses, and three draws. He was stopped only once, by Ezzard Charles, who won via 11th-round TKO at the Garden on December 10, 1948. Baksi told referee Ruby Goldstein that he couldn’t see, and asked that the fight be stopped.

While the coal miner’s son beat toughies like Gus Dorazio and Johnny Shkor, it was his unexpected win over Tami Mauriello on February 25, 1944, that made his name. He went on to beat Lee Savold, Buddy Knox, Lou Nova, Freddie Schott, and Freddie Mills. Following his defeat of Bruce Woodcock, Baksi had good reason to expect a shot at Joe Louis’ title. The ill-conceived decision to first take on Swedish champ Olle Tandberg dropped that expectation into the river with any number of cinder blocks tied to its ankles. Should Baksi have won? Yeah, he should have. Did he? No, he didn’t. In a massive upset, Baksi lost by majority decision in Stockholm’s Rasunda Stadium on July 6, 1947. Even the Swede was stunned—“I didn’t believe I had won the fight,” he said.

The title opportunity went instead to Jersey Joe Walcott, who lost to Louis by split decision on December 5, 1947—one of the champ’s less enthusiastically received wins.

After his loss to Charles, Baksi won all of his remaining fights, save for his last, which he lost to Bob Baker on May 24, 1954. But his shot at the crown had come and gone.

It was in his 10th fight, on December 17, 1940, that Baksi outpointed Jack Brazzo at the Westchester County Center in White Plains, New York. Brazzo is better known as Jack Palance.

Legend has it that Palance won 15 fights, 12 by knockout, beating club fighters left, right, and center throughout the coal-mining towns of his native Pennsylvania before losing to Baksi. The official record, however, lists his fight with Baksi—and only his fight with Baksi.

Palance, recognizing that “You must be nuts to get your head beat in for $200. The theater seemed a lot more appealing,” went on to give a whole host of memorable performances, most notably as Jack Wilson (“He was fast, fast on the draw”), Alan Ladd’s nemesis in the classic Western, Shane.

So that’s all right then.

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Joe Baksi In Czechoslovakia (1947)

Shane 1953 Jack Palance - And where do you think you're going?

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  1. Clarence George 02:15am, 07/12/2017

    Too kind, Norm, thank you.

    On those rare occasions I read my older work, I sometimes react with an “Ugh.”  Either the article needs revision or, frankly, just plain junking.  But I like this piece on Baksi (though perhaps it needs to be fleshed out a bit).

    Was always a big fan of both Palance and Bronson.  I wonder if young people today (who don’t seem aware of much prior to last Tuesday) know who they were.  Bronson, I guess, but probably not Palance.

    Another actor who played toughies died recently, the little-remembered Joe Robinson.  Elsa Martinelli also just left us.  RIP, of course, but she was one of the worst actresses to ever come down the pike.  I remember, with a shudder, her godawful performance in one of my most hated movies, “Hatari!”  Skip Homeier is another one who died recently.  A top-notch character actor, he was particularly memorable in “The Gunfighter,” one of the genuinely great Westerns.

  2. Norm Marcus 09:13pm, 07/11/2017

    Clarence: Both Jack Palance and Charles Buchinsky were from western Pa. Both were coal miners, working around Johnstown, Pa.. They chose acting over the coal mine.  Can’t blame them! Buchinsky later changed his last name to Bronson. Palance changed his whole name from Volodymyr Palahniuk to Jack Palance.
    Both these tough guys became type cast in Hollywood. Bronson was the tough good guy and Palance was usually a bad character or often a psychopath in his films. In reality they were both nice men that lived a full life. I miss them both on the silver screen.
    Clarence, sorry I missed this story when it first came out. You did a good job as always!

  3. Clarence George 05:26am, 01/27/2015

    Sean Connery is another genuine tough guy, what with laying out mob thug Johnny Stompanato.  I met him once.  He’s supposed to be 6’2”, but appeared shorter.  That could be age, I guess.

  4. Roger Dane 08:02pm, 01/08/2015

    William Smith “may” not have wanted to be a “big” star. 300
    movies,  excellent education, many accomplishments. He gave
    an interview and said the fight between him and Rod Taylor
    was or became real. Smith got three broken ribs, Taylor a broken
    nose. Smith said Rod Taylor was “an excellent fighter” and
    mentioned that he did put Brown down. Smith said that Taylor and actor Richard Harris used to tear it up. Some of those guys were honestly
    tough guys.

  5. Clarence George 01:03pm, 08/11/2014

    Baksi was dead set on kissing the little Czech girl with the flowers, wasn’t he, Nicolas?  A little girl who must now be in her 70s.  Good Lord!

    The boxer would surely one day know who his 10th opponent wound up being.  He must have dined out once or twice on that one.  Anyway, gotten a free drink or two.

    I think he did all right financially, winding up as an ironworker. 

    During his last fight, his manager had a heart attack and later died in the dressing room.  Now we know where Stallone got the idea from.

  6. nicolas 12:31pm, 08/11/2014

    We forgot about poor Joe Baksi. With his trip in this youtube video, it seemed that maybe he could have been a star actor. Lots of ironies here. Was he aware that he had defeated a boxer who would later be named Jack Palance. If he did, would he say to himself, I sure wish I could have lost to this guy and gone onto the life that this guy had. Palance would live to 87, and Baksi only to 55, though he was I don’t think poor, but not because of his ring earnings.

  7. Clarence George 01:45am, 08/11/2014

    Well done, Mike.  Yes, Woody Strode must indeed be included.  An impressive-looking man (the physique, the bone structure of the face and head, and he always seemed to be glistening), and one who knew how to act.  I remember particularly strong performances in “Pork Chop Hill” and “Sergeant Rutledge.”

  8. Mike Silver 07:24pm, 08/10/2014

    Would like to enter the name of Woodrow “Woody” Strode (the Nubian giant who fought Kirk Douglas in Spartacus amongst other macho roles) into the mix. This ex-pro footballer just might have taken every one of the aforementioned mano-a mano—yes even the mythic William Smith. Now that is a “Fight of the Century”!

  9. Clarence George 10:04am, 08/09/2014

    Good for you, Nicolas.  I wasn’t familiar with the Conrad-Crawford relationship, and did a little research.  A checkered history, and no mistake, including Crawford seeking a strong-arm man to beat up the actor.  Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for Conrad, Crawford mistook a retired cop for a mob thug, and wound up facing charges.  Might make a good article, but I just had a doughnut filled with coffee cream, and I’m too snoozy to even think about it.

  10. nicolas 09:14am, 08/09/2014

    Kind of remember Frankie Crawford the featherweight fighter having some issue with Conrad. Don’t know if he threatened his life or what happened.

  11. Clarence George 12:48pm, 08/08/2014

    Gold star next to your name, Eric, for bringing up Robert Conrad.  “The Wild Wild West” was one of my favorite shows, especially those episodes with Michael Dunn as Miguelito Loveless.  Coincidentally, it’s my current Netflix disc.  I found a later show, “Black Sheep Squadron,” unwatchable.  Hey, remember those Eveready commercials?  But I disagree with you about Kirk Douglas—I thought he did very well in “Champion.”

  12. Eric 10:21am, 08/08/2014

    Can’t believe I forgot about Robert Conrad of “Wild, Wild West” fame. Conrad wasn’t a large man like Mitchum, Palance, or Smith, but I heard Conrad was a decent boxer. I’m guessing Conrad was probably about 5’6”-5’8” but the guy was in shape and kept in shape by training like a fighter. I even heard I thought about trying his hand at a pro career.

    @nicolas….Point well taken. Bronson was in fact in his 50’s when he made the movie, “Hard Times” way back in ‘75. The guy was ripped and had a body a 25 year old would envy. Of course, Smith like Bronson, was a fitness fanatic, and always looked younger than his actual age. Bronson looked pretty credible throwing punches. However, Bronson was a heavy smoker and during the fight scenes, Charlie would have to take some extra breathers. Carl Weathers and Bronson were believable as fighters, Stallone, Deniro, Mr. T, Kirk Douglas, and many other actors, not so much.

  13. nicolas 02:15am, 08/08/2014

    ERIC: regarding William Smith being long in the tooth. Not really, when you consider that Charles Bronson only really became something of a star in 1968, at least in Europe, he was about 47 then.  First the film Farewell Friend, a film he did with Alain Delon, and really stole from Delon. Go to Youtube, and you can watch that film. After that Once Upon A Time In The West, and Rider On The Rain, films which established him at that time the number one star in the world, if not in the United States. His stardom in the US, and very brief I would say was when he was 54, and in the movie Death Wish.

  14. Clarence George 01:33pm, 08/07/2014

    An older guy who comes across as tough is Jeff Kober, who was particularly shudder-inducing in “The Walking Dead.”

  15. Eric 01:25pm, 08/07/2014

    Smith was born in ‘33 so by the ‘80’s he was probably a little long in the tooth to be realistically taking the mantle from Charlie or Clint. Of course, Clint and Bronson were even older, and Eastwood was still playing a bad arse as recently as “Gran Torino.”  Of course nowadays, Smith would be too young to play in Stallone’s “Expendables.” Maybe it was Smith’s muscular physique and his height of 6’2” that limited his roles. Hollywood is full of 5-foot-something ego maniacs who don’t wish to star in movies with taller actors, or probably someone built like Smith. Have to say that Bronson couldn’t be replaced even by Eastwood. Never be another Charlie. Instead of Charlie and Clint, we now have posers like Stallone and his cast of senior citizens.

  16. nicolas 12:15pm, 08/07/2014

    yes, William Smith was in countless movies and TV shows, however he never had that breakout movie that really made him a star. Can you name me any film where someone said I’m going out to see the latest William Smith movie? Thinking about him now, he really should have been the successor to Charles Bronson back in the 80’s.

  17. Eric 11:55am, 08/07/2014

    Nicolas….William Smith played in countless movies and televison programs. He even made an appearance on the Batman television series in the 60’s. Incidently, some guy named Jerry Quarry had a bit role in one episode of Batman back then. I remember Smith in countless movies, one with the aforementioned, Fred Williamson, titled, “Boss N*gger.” It was one of those blaxploitation movies from the mid-‘70’s. There is no way in hell a movie would be allowed with a title like that in 2014. Instead of the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon, they should come up with the 6 degrees of William Smith. Smith also played on Hawaii Five-O back in the day. Pretty fascinating guy.

  18. Clarence George 10:09am, 08/07/2014

    Borgnine was also with Brown in “The Dirty Dozen.”  By the way, I think Brown was an embarrassingly bad actor.

  19. nicolas 09:58am, 08/07/2014

    As for William Smith. He should have really become a big star, but never made it. Perhaps the villain roles he played hurt him. He did show real star potential as a good guy in INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS. Also I always felt that Clint Eastwood did try to help his career in ANY WAY WHICH YOU CAN.

  20. nicolas 09:51am, 08/07/2014

    I have never heard the story that Rod Taylor and Jim Brown had a fight. I do know that some who worked with Brown did not like him very much. Ernest Borgnine did two films with Brown, ICE STATION ZEBRA, and the SPLIT. Borgnine got injured with Brown twice, in a fight scene with Brown, and apparently some scene that Brown wanted to do over again which made I think Borgnine twist his ankle. The director of the second one told Brown something like, on the last day of shooting, you’re the last person on earth I would ever want to do a film with. Raquel Welch didn’t like Brown as well. Brown in his autobiography did not like Tom Jones, Sylvester Stallone, John Wayne. He did like Charles Bronson, John Casavettes, and Lee Marvin, but defended Michelle Marvin, because he said she helped him during his real bad alcoholism time, and felt that she got a bad rap.

  21. nicolas 09:41am, 08/07/2014

    My two cents here on Jack Palance. First, I remember seeing the Dracula film he did, it was for television. I have always felt that Christopher Lee was very overrated as Dracula, perhaps because the stories really did not give him all that much to do. His lines I think got fewer and fewer as each film was made. Lugosi’s Dracula has become somewhat of a stereotype. Jack Palance I think was really the first Dracula that sort of gave him a sympathy, and a romantic angle. It was later on done the same way by Louis Jordan and Frank Langela. There performances I think really let you know why they women were so attracted to the character of Dracula, but Palance was the first. As for SHANE: I like the film very much, even though my favorite Western is ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, which I have as one of the seven greatest films ever made I had heard that when Palance was the understudy to Marlon Brando on the Play version of STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, supposedly He and Brando were doing some boxing in the back, and Brando was holding a bag, and Palance missed and broke Brando’s nose, and got to take over from Brando. Makes you wonder if true, if the bag story is correct, and Palance got into a fight with Brando.

  22. Eric 09:27am, 08/07/2014

    Brown wasn’t the greatest actor in the world, but he certainly was better than Joe Namath. Brown was also better than Fred Williamson. Fred Dryer was pretty decent the televison series, “Hunter” from the ‘80’s. Namath was the pits in the aforementioned, “CC and Company,” movie was so bad that it is actually enjoyable to watch. Of course you also get to look at the gorgeous Ann-Margaret which never hurts either. Hard to think of any ex-athlete who could even remotely act and that includes Chuck Norris, most were terrible. Ray Mancini, Ken Norton, Alex Karras, Lyle Alzado, Joe Lewis, etc., etc., just terrible actors.

  23. Clarence George 09:09am, 08/07/2014

    I saw Jim Brown in the unintentionally funny movie, “Black Gunn.”

  24. Eric 09:06am, 08/07/2014

    There is even a rumor that Taylor actually had a fight with Jim Brown, while the two were filming the movie, “Dark of the Sun.” According to some, whether the fight happened or not, Taylor was convinced he could actually knockout the legendary Jim Brown.

  25. Clarence George 09:02am, 08/07/2014

    Irish:  I like the fight scene between Alan Ladd and Ben Johnson in “Shane”—more realistic than most, if I remember correctly.

  26. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:49am, 08/07/2014

    Clarence George-Ladd couldn’t get Hefflin to submit so he had to use his pistol butt…..no fair! Love it in the fight scenes when they’d pop someone and they’d go flying clear across the room, land on a table and backflip through the Goddamned wall…..obligatory action where some clumsy bastards go crashing through the balcony railing…..either solo or in pairs…..beautiful! The best was when they would speed up the camera in Cowboy Bob Steele’s fight scenes and he’d become a Tasmanian Devil!.....yikes!.....he’s down! he’s up! he’s down again! no, he’s up again!

  27. Clarence George 08:47am, 08/07/2014

    Taylor had a savage fight with Peter Carsten in “Dark of the Sun.”

  28. Eric 08:31am, 08/07/2014

    Actor Rod Taylor reportedly did some boxing when he was younger. Taylor and William Smith had a memorable fight scene in the movie, “Darker Than Amber.” But when it comes to Hollywood tough guys, Chuck Norris is everyone’s daddy.

  29. Clarence George 06:36pm, 08/06/2014

    One of my favorite scenes, Eric, is when you first see Palance.  He rides into town slowly, kinda slumped in his saddle.  It’s effective; something menacing about it.  But it was unintended.  He was supposed to come in at a gallop, but (rather like Ernest Borgnine) Palance couldn’t ride if his life depended on it, so…

  30. Eric 03:02pm, 08/06/2014

    I never really liked the movie, “Shane” I guess it was a little before my time and a bit too tamed compared to Eastwood, who was my generation’s Western star. Looks like Eastwood might have borrowed a little bit of “Shane” when he made the movie, “Pale Rider.” Pretty similar in a lot of ways IMO.

  31. Clarence George 01:08pm, 08/06/2014

    Eric:  I have to check out Palance as Dracula.  Maybe Netflix.  I particularly remember Smith’s powerful, and chilling, performance in “Rich Man, Poor Man.”  Not mentioned enough in these discussions is Stuart Whitman, who boxed very successfully while in the military.

  32. Clarence George 12:57pm, 08/06/2014

    Another thing I remember very well about Palance, Frank, was when he hosted “Ripley’s Believe it or Not!” back in the ‘80s.  He went out of his way, to entertaining effect, to exaggerate his voice’s sinister sibilance.

    Thanks very much indeed, Beaujack.  Was delighted by your first-hand account, as always.  Baker was a very tough customer.  He beat, among others, George Chuvalo…in Toronto!  And I completely agree on the resemblance between Baksi and Palooka.  In fact, nobody looks more like the stereotypical boxer than Baksi.

  33. Eric 12:54pm, 08/06/2014

    I’m sure nearly everyone would pick either Lugosi or Lee as the perfect Prince of Darkness, but I just visualize Palance when I think of the Count Dracula. As far as I know, Palance only played Dracula once, but I just feel his was made for the role even more so than the legendary Lugosi. Underrated actor and all around bad arse, William Smith, would beat both Palance and Mitchum in a bar fight. Smith wasn’t bad in the ring either. Smith actually captured an Air Force light heavy title while serving. Smith also holds a black belt in kung fu and kenpo karate. Smith was also a 2 time arm wrestling champion. Smith wasn’t all brawn, he spoke German, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, and French fluently. A lot of the guys who beat up Smith in REEL life like Eastwood, Nolte, and Joe Namath, wouldn’t have lasted more than a couple of minutes with Big Bill in REAL life. Love the B-movie, CC and Company starring Joe Namath and Ann-Margaret, Smith played the leader of a biker gang and was his usual bad arse self.

  34. beaujack 11:39am, 08/06/2014

    I enjoyed your article very much Clarence on Joe Baksi…I saw Baksi several times at MSG against playboy Lee Oma, Tami Mauriello , Lee Savold and in his last bout against Bob Baker at Eastern Parkway Arena..Saw him many times train at Stillman"s Gym…If I was a casting director those days, I would have Joe Baksi in the role of Joe Palooka…

  35. FrankinDallas 10:25am, 08/06/2014

    Palance was the original Mountain Rivera on TV but
    the movie part went to Anthony Quinn.

    His real name was Vladimir Palahniuk and was of Ukrainian descent.
    I bet he could take on the Russian separatists in Donesk all by

  36. Clarence George 08:57am, 08/06/2014

    Never saw Palance as Dracula, Eric, so I give the gold to Lugosi and the silver to Lee.  Not sure about the bronze.  Frank Langella?  Nah.  I didn’t care for his interpretation, and thought his performance very overrated.

    Palance vs. Mitchum—in a bar brawl, Mitchum; in the ring, Palance.  And here’s another coincidence for you—today is Mitchum’s birthday.

  37. Eric 08:21am, 08/06/2014

    I think Jack Palance made the best Dracula. I know most would choose Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee, but Palance had the perfect face, mannerisms, and voice to play the “Prince of Darkness.  Looks like Baski beat our old friend, Bernie Reynolds, as well as Jack Brazzo aka Palance. Palance vs. Mitchum?

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