Jim Jacobs: The Champion Film Collector

By Mike Casey on April 21, 2013
Jim Jacobs: The Champion Film Collector
Jim told reporter Murray Olderman: “I always adored prize fights, one-on-one situations."

“I’m more smitten if a guy says he wants to see Mickey Walker in his prime rather than Sugar Ray Leonard. I admire old fighters…”

It was an unprecedented treat for boxing fans across the world. Long before Mike Tyson was even a twinkle in their eye, two rabid boxing enthusiasts named Bill Cayton and Jim Jacobs brought the fight fans of 1965 a treasure trove of old fight films that had never before been seen by a large audience.

The resourceful duo had teamed up in 1960 and now the two men were in their element. Cayton, who had earlier formed Big Fights Incorporated, was producing the Greatest Fights of the Century and Knockout programs on TV, while Jacobs was indulging in his great passion of raiding the vaults and winkling out long forgotten gems. Jim did remarkably well. Many of the fights unearthed had been long forgotten, while the existence of many others wasn’t even known.

Jacobs was a remarkably talented all rounder in life. “He was good at everything,” somebody once said. Awarded the Purple Heart for his war service in Korea, Jim went on to become the U.S. singles handball champion and a legend of the sport. He was virtually ambidextrous as a player and his incredible natural talent won the praise of many.

Cus D’Amato believed that Jim’s aura as a champion was matched only by Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson. Pitcher Jim Bouton said that Jacobs would have been the last of the .400 hitters if he had picked baseball over handball.

Many moons ago, writer Stan Isaacs recounted a story that Jacobs had told him. It concerned a meeting with a hustler. Recalled Jacobs: “Wherever I go, I always carry my handball bag with me. I’ve gone all over the world to dig up rare fight films, and I’ve played handball in Hong Kong, Europe, Australia, wherever. On this day I had some free time in the afternoon and I went over to the ‘Y’ in Toronto. There was a fellow, a redhead, about 26, working out on the four-wall court.

“I asked him if he would like to play a game. I don’t recall his exact words now, but he said something like, ‘Sure, but I always find the game more interesting if I put a little money on it.’ I told him that I didn’t bet because frankly, I was very good (Jacobs was the national singles champion at the time) and because I found that I got all the enjoyment I needed without having to bet on the game.

“He said that he was good, too, but that a small bet made things more interesting for him. Well, I told him if that was the way he felt, okay, that I would play him for two dollars. I told him I would not lose, and he said that was all right. So we played.

“I have always found it’s most interesting for me to play a non-tournament match at the level of my opponent. I will peg my game to his and usually manage to keep it fairly close. I did that and I beat him, 21-19.

“He wasn’t convinced I really was better than him. He thought he had got some bad breaks. He suggested we play again for double or nothing. I said fine, that I would spot him anything he wanted. He said two points would be fair. So we played and I beat him again by a close margin.

“He said he would like to play a third time, double or nothing for eight dollars and this time I could name whatever spot I thought was fair. I said okay, I would spot him 19 points. So we played and I beat him, 21-19. He was a nice guy. Instead of taking the eight dollars, I let him buy me lunch.

“He said, ‘You know, you are good enough to be a tournament player. The only thing wrong is that you don’t have the correct weight distribution. You play with your weight on your front leg; you should put your weight on your rear leg. If you work on that, you could be a top-notch player.’”

The story didn’t end there, as Jacobs explained: “A few months later the national championships were held in the St. Louis YMHA where I had won a previous title. There is a six-foot high picture of me in the lobby. When I walked in, this redhead was looking at my picture. When he saw me, he said, ‘I see you took my advice.’”

Collection

Jim Jacobs’ vast, private collection of old boxing films was the other great love of his life that ran in tandem with his passion for handball. Cayton also had a formidable film and tape library of his own, which he would eventually sell to the Walt Disney Company. The wonders of YouTube mean that we can take these pleasures for granted now, but when Jacobs and Cayton rolled out their big lineup for the Greatest Fights of the Century series, boxing fans were beside themselves with excitement. Heaven had come to earth!

Jacobs was the associate producer of the series, as well as writer and narrator. Under the direction of Cayton, Jim did an excellent job of in-depth analysis and fleshing out the backgrounds to these famous old battles.

Here were the major fights, which, thanks to the sterling work of Jacobs and Cayton, finally saw the light in 1965:

Heavyweights: Johnson vs. Burns, 1908; Johnson vs. Ketchel, 1909; Johnson vs. Jeffries, 1910; Dempsey vs. Willard, 1919; Dempsey vs. Firpo, 1923; Dempsey vs. Tunney, 1927; Baer vs. Schmeling, 1933; Baer vs. Carnera, 1934; Louis vs. Schmeling, 1936 and 1938; Patterson vs. Johansson, 1960.

Light Heavyweights: Carpentier vs. Siki, 1922; Berlenbach vs. Delaney, 1926; Loughran vs. Walker, 1929; Loughran vs. Braddock, 1929; Conn vs. Bettina, 1939.

Middleweights: Gibbons vs. McFarland, 1915; Walker vs. Milligan, 1927; Steele vs. Dundee, 1935; Steele vs. Lesnevich, 1936; Graziano vs. Zale, 1948; Zale vs. Cerdan, 1948; Robinson vs. LaMotta, 1951.

Welterweights: Ted (Kid) Lewis vs. Johnny Basham, 1920; McLarnin vs. Mandell, 1930; McLarnin vs. Petrolle, 1931; Garcia vs. Ross, 1935; Ross vs. Armstrong, 1938.

Lightweights: Nelson vs. Wolgast, 1910; Nelson vs. Moran, 1910; Leonard vs. Tendler, 1922; Canzoneri vs. Petrolle, 1932; Ross vs. Petrolle, 1933; Armstrong vs. Ambers, 1939; Williams vs. Bolanos, 1938.

Featherweights: Chocolate vs. Battalino, 1930; Chocolate vs. LaBarba, 1932; Pep vs. Saddler, 1950.

From far away here in the UK, I yearned to pay a visit to Jim’s top room floor on East 40th Street, just a short jab away from Fifth Avenue, the home of his Aladdin’s Cave where he would run his films for boxers and boxing buffs.

Jacobs proudly boasted: “I defy you to find a fighter who has been prominent in America who has not been up here. Eventually they all watch films in my little screening room.”

So what would it cost someone to watch one of the 500 films he kept there? (By the early eighties, he owned more than 16,000 in all). Zero, that’s how much. Explained Jacobs: “One of my idiosyncrasies is that if a person is genuinely interested in seeing an old fighter, he can. I’m more smitten if a guy says he wants to see Mickey Walker in his prime rather than Sugar Ray Leonard. I admire old fighters.”

Adored

Back in 1981, Jim told reporter Murray Olderman: “I always adored prize fights, one-on-one situations. But films were difficult to come by. Remember, Congress had passed a law prohibiting interstate commerce of fight films after Jack Johnson beat Jim Jeffries in 1910. That fight film had been shown all over the United States and there were race riots. So Congress banned transportation of fight films from one state to another from 1910 to 1940.

“For example, when Jack Dempsey fought Jess Willard (1919), it was a violation to show the film in New York. So fight films were sent all over the world because they couldn’t be exploited in this country. When Joe Louis fought Jim Braddock in Chicago (1937), the film couldn’t be shown in Illinois. Most people can’t believe this. The law was repealed in 1940.

“In my travels I visited all the museums to make deals, to get these fight films back to the U.S.”

Jim Jacobs died all too early from leukemia at the age of 58 in 1988. Bill Cayton died in 2003 at the age of 85. They left behind a rich and wonderful legacy that will continue to be enjoyed by boxing fans throughout the world.

Mike Casey is a Boxing.com writer and Founder & Editor of ALL TIME BOXING at https://sites.google.com/site/alltimeboxingrankings. He is a freelance journalist and boxing historian and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO).

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

1908-12-26 Jack Johnson vs Tommy Burns (ROUNDS 1,5,8,11,14)



Jack Johnson Vs. James J Jeffries (July 4th, 1910)



Jack Dempsey and Jess Willard- The Worst Beating in Boxing History - W/ Commentary



Jack Dempsey vs Luis Angel Firpo (Sept 1923)



Max Baer vs Primo Carnera



Georges Carpentier vs Battling Siki - Full fight



Tommy Loughran vs. Micky Walker



Freddie Steele - Gus Lesnevich



Henry Armstrong vs Barney Ross(highlights)



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  1. Mike Casey 07:40am, 04/30/2013

    Mr Bouton, the article was about Jim Jacobs the film collector and handball player, as the title clearly implies. The Jacobs/Cayton/Tyson saga has undergone extensive scrutiny from a great many other scribes over the years, including myself.

  2. M. Bouton 07:23pm, 04/29/2013

    It’s nice to see Jacobs receive some recognition for his contributions to sport, film and pop culture.
    I regret to say, though, that I found myself disappointed in the article.
    True, I’m biased.
    Like the writers of several comments here, I have a personal connection to Jacobs and know things, like of his equally impressive comic book collection—or that he would take cruises, in part, to take handball lessons from the ship’s handball pro as a goof.
    Information like that can only be gleaned by arranging to interview a lot of people… and I can understand that this article wasn’t intended—- or budgeted for that process, it’s intentionally focused on film and boxing.
    I get that.

    But here’s what is in plain view—and goes unmentioned:
    The Jacobs/Cayton/Tyson case.

    That’s a biggie.

    The single most important event—one which sealed both Tyson’s fate—and, arguably, marked a deep split between governing bodies in boxing—was Jimmy’s death. 

    What trajectory would Tyson’s life and career had if Jimmy hadn’t died so young—or if he had stayed with Cayton?

    That story, or just a one sentence reference to it as, say,“chaos in the boxing world,” was needed—and wasn’t there.

  3. Mike Casey 12:30am, 04/27/2013

    Charley, thanks so much for your recollections. All these fine men deserve our thanks for their interest and their perseverance.

  4. cnorkusjr 08:25pm, 04/26/2013

    One other name worth mentioning here for this fine article is Chicago’s Tony Fosco, retired Chicago Police Det, and huge fight film collector who recently passed away. Over the years my father collected 7 of his televised fights from Jim Jacobs as explained below. After a multitude of family showings and Veterans affairs groups, they became shotty and torn. Tony offered to restore the films and re-record the fights onto the latest medium, VHS tapes for no charge.He also found the negative to my fathers fight vs Joey Rowan from St Nicks located in the UK. Collectively we both bought the negative and he printed the fight out on DVD’s for my family. Many thanks to Tony- R.I.P .brother,Wonderful wonderful person and huge collector. I wonder if Steve Lott purchased his collection as well..? Shout out to Kurt Noltimeir in Minn. for his present day fine collection as well. Thank You Kurt.

  5. cnorkusjr 08:16pm, 04/26/2013

    Jim Jacobs was a helluva nice guy and family friend. In or about 1970, my father, former heavywt contender in 1950’s who had 14 televised fights, brought me (at 14 years of age) to Jim Jacobs office by appt near the present Madison Sq Garden. We entered the skyscraper and proceeded to an upper floor where a windowless hallway and single steel door existed. We knocked and Jim Jacobs answered. We entered the door and as far as the eye can see where racks and racks of film canisters containing fight films. (This was way before digitized media and celluloid was the order of the day). He had upon my father’s request made pristine copies of my fathers fights vs. Danny Nardico. Jim had my father sign a release (which he did with all fighters) saying no-compensation for showing films-basically home use only. He did this for no-charge and for many many fighters so they can have family see the boxer’s history on film.Jacobs was a true hero to many fighters and their families.

  6. Mike Casey 06:42am, 04/26/2013

    Yes, Ted, he was an incredible talent, but a nice guy with it as you say.

  7. Ted 04:14am, 04/26/2013

    Jim Jacobs was all about being a decent person. Everyone loved him. And what a handball player!!!!!!!!

  8. Michael Hegan 03:29pm, 04/23/2013

    and then there was the destruction of Jess Willard by Jack Dempsey.

    Dempsey was managed by ‘Doc’ Kearns….and he was quite a scoundrel…...There is still the rumours of the treatment of the wrappings on Jack Dempsey’s hands….prior to the gloves being put on…

    The damage done to Jess Willard…broken eye sockets…cheek bones….jaw and knocked out teeth…not to mention the broken ribs and collapsed lung….

    Dempsey and the ‘boys’ had bet the roll on a first round knock out…and Dempsey was in a big hurry to get outta there….he had to be called back…

    The beating continued for another two rounds…

    Those days ....things like that happened…..just like today….those things happen

  9. Mike Casey 10:44am, 04/23/2013

    Michael, I agree. The break-up of that ‘A’ team was the undoing of Tyson. A great shame.

  10. Michael Hegan 10:06am, 04/23/2013

    one of the ..‘wudda…cudda…shudda…might have beens of Boxing History, is ...
    IF Jimmy Jacobs and Bill Cayton had been able to continue to manage and promote Mike Tyson….Don King would never have darkened Tyson’s door.

    Instead..Jimmy Jacobs left us too early…Bill Cayton was the numbers guy…whereas Jimmy Jacobs was the one who had Tyson’s ear and trust….

    Once the team of Jacobs and Cayton were no longer…Tyson was loose….no guidance…nobody to trust…and came the back slappers and Doink ing…the rest is history

  11. Mike Casey 01:57am, 04/23/2013

    Very true, Mike. Jim was an all round ace.

  12. Mike Silver 04:00pm, 04/22/2013

    Nice to see Jacobs has not been forgotten, and recognition for his great contribution to this sport continues. He was a genuinely nice guy and completely unselfish in wanting to share his treasures with other boxing people. He was also amazingly accurate in predicting the winners of contemporary matches. A genuine boxing expert who really studied the old films and didn’t just sell them.

  13. Mike Casey 02:02pm, 04/22/2013

    FightFilm, you’re so right - and yes, Steve Lott and a few others deserve every credit too. I stay in touch with Steve, who’s a really good guy.

  14. The Fight Film Collector 01:50pm, 04/22/2013

    My hat’s off and with a bow to you Mike for writing this profile.  It’s important to note that Cayton and Jacobs, and associates including Steve Lott, went about their detective work at their own expense, before boxing films had any sustaining value.  It’s a myth that a motherload of boxing films existed just for the taking.  In fact, during much of the last century fight films were often discarded after a short time.  Even up through the 1960s, television networks would erase over fights to save money because video tape was so expensive. Very little early 20th Century original boxing footage exists today.  Most of what Cayton and Jacobs were able to acquire, and the sources for what we see on ESPN Classic and Youtube, are old theatrical prints and newsreels, including poor quality pirated copies, some of them many generations from the original footage.  But that’s what remains, and that Cayton and Jacobs built this library at all is an amazing achievement.

  15. Mike Casey 12:45pm, 04/22/2013

    Thanks, Danny. Yes, NYIrish, we can be thankful to Cayton and Jimmy Jacobs for their painstaking research and hard work in making all this happen.

  16. Danny Trevino 11:34am, 04/22/2013

    Awesome story. Thanks

  17. NYIrish 11:11am, 04/22/2013

    Those two gentlemen gave the boxing world a gift that keeps on giving.
    Great historical article, as usual, Mike.

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