Lew Jenkins: Trouble and Strife

By Clarence George on September 24, 2015
Lew Jenkins: Trouble and Strife
He was always fighting, 26 bouts in 1938 alone, of which he won 19, 14 by KO or TKO.

The Hall of Famer would have done even better if not for his drinking, carousing, and motorcycle crashing…

“Sugar and spice and everything nice that’s what little girls are made of.”—nursery rhyme

Anyway…spice.

Lightweight Lew Jenkins looked like the guy who gets sand kicked in his face, but was in fact one of the hardest punchers in the history of the sport. He fought out of Sweetwater, Texas, from 1935 to 1950, with time off in the Coast Guard during World War II, winding up with a record of 119 bouts, winning 73, 51 by knockout, losing 41, 12 by knockout, and drawing five. Following his loss to Beau Jack, who won by fifth-round TKO at the Uline Arena in DC on April 14, 1950, the “Sweetwater Swatter” retired from the ring and enlisted in the Army, gallantly serving during the Korean War.

In addition to Jack, Jenkins fought some of the best names of his era, including Lew Feldman, who lost by split decision at the Sportatorium in Dallas on April 8, 1938, but won by majority decision at the same venue on November 17 that year; Wesley Ramey, who outpointed him at the Sportatorium on April 28 and December 16, 1938; the never-stopped Willie Joyce, who drew against him at White City Arena in Chicago on January 20, 1939, but won by split decision at the same arena on February 17 and 24 that year; Pete Lello, who won by seventh-round KO at White City on March 24, 1939, but lost by second-round KO at Madison Square Garden on November 22, 1940; iron-chinned Quentin Breese, who was outpointed at the Queensboro Arena in Long Island City, Queens, on July 18 and August 15, 1939; Mike Belloise, who lost by seventh-round TKO at the New York Coliseum in the Bronx on November 21, 1939, getting carried out on a stretcher; Billy Marquart, who lost at the Garden by third-round KO on December 15, 1939, in a “thriller”; Tippy Larkin, who lost by first-round KO at the Garden on March 8, 1940; Henry Armstrong, who won by sixth-round TKO at the Polo Grounds in New York on July 17, 1940, and by eighth-round TKO at the Auditorium in Portland, Oregon, on December 4, 1942; Bob Montgomery, who lost by unanimous decision at Shibe Park in Philly on September 16, 1940, but won by unanimous decision at the Garden on May 16, 1941; Fritzie Zivic, who drew against him at the Garden on December 20, 1940, but beat him by 10th-round TKO at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh on May 25, 1942; Freddie Cochrane, who outpointed him at the Garden on October 6, 1941, Jenkins fighting with “three broken vertebrae in his neck,” writes Bert Sugar in Boxing’s Greatest Fighters, “a souvenir of a motorcycle wreck in New Jersey at 90 miles an hour”; Sammy Angott, who won by unanimous decision at the Garden on December 19, 1941; Marty Servo, who won by unanimous decision at the Arena in Philly on February 17, 1942; Al Tribuani, who outpointed him at Wilmington Park, Wilmington, Delaware, on September 22, 1942; Percy Bassett, who won by unanimous decision at the Arena in Philly on February 28, 1949; and Carmen Basilio, who won by majority decision at the State Fair Coliseum in Syracuse on March 6, 1950.

Hell, he was always fighting, 26 bouts in 1938 alone, of which he won 19, 14 by KO or TKO.

Jenkins became Lightweight Champion of the World by stopping Lou Ambers via third-round TKO at the Garden on May 10, 1940, a title he lost to Angott in December 1941. Lew stopped Lou in their rematch of February 28, 1941, also at the Garden, by seventh-round TKO.

The Hall of Famer would have done even better if not for his drinking, carousing, and motorcycle crashing. But he wouldn’t have done nearly as well without the guidance of his long-suffering wife, the lovely and feisty Katie Jenkins (whose maiden name also happened to be Jenkins).

A five-foot, 100-pound pin-up, Katie had driven midget racing cars, which apparently prepared her for the likes of Lou Stillman. “Katie created quite a stir when she and her husband appeared at the famed Stillman’s Gym and asked for a locker,” write James B. Roberts and Alexander G. Skutt in The Boxing Register. “Lou Stillman replied that women were not allowed in the gym, but under a withering barrage of salty language from Katie, he gave in.” Massively impressive, given that Stillman wouldn’t even accommodate Gene Tunney’s quite reasonable request that a window be cracked open just a tad.

She was as formidable as she was auburn-haired. “Once, up at Grossinger’s,” reports Bob Considine in a newspaper article of June 22, 1944, “when Lew was training for Armstrong, we got to talking about the scars on his sunken-eyed, starved-sparrow face. He was listing them. ‘Pete Lello gimme this one…Don Eddy gimme these two.’ We asked who gave him his sort of circular scar around one eye—something like a big monocle. ‘Katie done that,’ he said, with a quiet note of pride and love in his voice. ‘We were having a few beers at some dump one night, standing at the bar, and one word led to another. I said something that burned her up so she took a beer bottle, broke it over the edge of the bar and stuck me in the eye.’ He thought a moment, and you could see that it was a kindly thought. ‘Wotta girl,’ he sighed happily.”

Considine further reports that Katie was a “red-hot ringsider,” recalling her once crying out at the Garden, “Foul him, sweetie, like he done you!” Jenkins, who planned on giving her a baseball bat for their fifth (or wood) wedding anniversary, “was afraid to, and afraid not to.”

In a newspaper article of July 5, 1944, Sam Davis lets the redoubtable Mrs. Jenkins speak for herself: “Lew was a timid sort of guy when I first hooked up with him. That soon vanished.” I suppose the “I saw to that” went without saying.

Following the inevitable divorce, Katie managed New York lightweights Carmine Fatta, who once floored Jenkins while sparring, and Harold Valan. Refused a license by the New York State Athletic Commission, Katie noted that “Women are doing everything else. I’ll make a champ out of Fatta if they’ll only let me get in his corner. I want to develop fighters the way people cultivate gardens and grow flowers,” only needing “a boy who can hit like Lew,” added Davis.

There’s a photo of Fatta sitting on his stool, Katie whispering something in his ear. That look on Fatta’s face…it reminds me of the final scene of The Quiet Man, where Maureen O’Hara whispers to John Wayne…what? Something so unladylike that she swore never to reveal it. She’s 95 now and has kept her promise all these decades. But if you’re like me, low-minded, you wanna know. Just like you wanna know what Katie said to Carmine to put that grin on his face.

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  1. SweetSwatter 10:24pm, 03/02/2017

    I would love to meet the sister that my father never had. Seriously if someone has info on a daughter of Lew Jenkins I would love to know some details. The fact that I am his grandson and my father was an only child is the interesting part, especially the comments about him raising her and her joining the military. News to me and the rest of the family

    Sincerely confused,

    Lew Jenkins Grandson

  2. Dino T 12:19pm, 09/10/2016

    My late uncle, Al Tribuani, battled Lew back in 1941 and always reminded me how tough he was.  My uncle knocked him down several times during the bout and could not finish him off as it went the distance.  Jenkins would not quit…that is what makes a great champion and garnered the respect of his opponents.  As for punching power, compared to Bob Satterfield (Golden Gloves), Henry Armstrong, Carmen Notch, Al “Bummy” Davis, etc. that my Uncle Al fought, he gave the nod to Davis (probably because he battled him twice), but Lew was right in the mix. Like my uncle, Lew was a combat veteran in WW II and served in Korea as well.

  3. Dan Carroll 01:32pm, 07/16/2016

    Lew Jenkins was a Great boxer and very good friend of My Father.They both liked to box and travel all over the U.S.A. Lew had obtained My Father’s contract , back in the late thirties and managed some of His fights .You see’ boxers back then ’ only understood each other. Back in them days you had to be tough ’ period’ to stay in the game!  Fight the Mob’ Carnivals’ and in the Ring..and then the War ......Lew Jenkins did all of that ...  Son of Eddie Carroll/Danny Doran…

  4. SweetSwatter 09:30pm, 10/26/2015

    Not sure where the daughter info came from. I’m all most positive Katie and Lew didn’t have any children. If they did, its a mystery to the rest of the family.

  5. Clarence George 08:43am, 09/26/2015

    Thanks very much, Beaujack, for the kind words.  And, as always, great post and reminiscence.

    I, too, think Ambers is rather neglected today, despite being in the Hall.  Man, he was tough, stopped only twice in more than a hundred bouts…both times by Jenkins.

    Davis vs. Jenkins would have been a helluva fight and not an easy one to call.  But as Bummy was much bigger and hard to stop (only Fritzie Zivic, Henry Armstrong, and Rocky Graziano managed it), as well as a pretty hard hitter, I gotta give him the edge.

  6. beaujack 07:59am, 09/26/2015

    Clarence, what a great article on the long neglected Lew Jenkins. Considered by many as the hardest punching lightweight since Aurelio Herrera…Man he could “hit”.I never saw him fight but my dad a cab driver
    , picked up Lew Jenkins and Al Weill at the old MSG in 1941, after Ambers was ko’d by Lew Jenkins in his last fight ever. Many years later my dad called me at home and told me, he was at the pier in Bklyn, Ny playing cards with his cronies, and Lou Ambers was amongst the card players. My dad told me to ride over to the pier and see Ambers and “keep my mouth shut”. I did as advised, and saw this elderly man playing cards with the other men. You would never think that this older card player was the great
    underrated Lou Ambers who had wars with the tornadic Henry Amstrong.
    I always wondered about a fantasy fight I envisioned between Lew Jenkins
    and my neighborhood idol, the left hooking Al Bummy Davis ? TIMBER.
    Thanks for your great article…

  7. peter 07:00pm, 09/25/2015

    @ peter—I think I had it wrong—the “fiercely beautiful wife, (or girlfriend)”  I referred to is Will Rosinsky’s wife, or girlfriend—not Muriqi’s…Oops!

  8. peter 02:30pm, 09/25/2015

    Another fascinating female at ringside who is worthy of a human-interest story is the fiercely beautiful wife, (or girlfriend), of cruiserweight Elvir"The Kosovo Kid” Muriqui. The decibel level of that woman—her shrill screaming—rips flesh and bursts eardrums. She puts Emile Griffith’s voluble mother to shame.

  9. Clarence George 01:45pm, 09/25/2015

    Well done, OS and NYI.  The March 1965 issue of “Boxing Illustrated Wrestling News” does indeed contain an article on our Katie, entitled “Katie Jenkins:  Glamour in the Prize Ring.”  I remember picking up the magazine on occasion, though I read “Ring” far more frequently.

    http://static.boxrec.com/7/78/BIMag.6503.jpg

  10. oldschool 01:44pm, 09/25/2015

    Irish, you are correct. Stanley Weston left The Ring magazine in the early 1950s and started publishing Boxing & Wrestling, competing with The Ring. When Boxing & Wrestling folded, Weston started publishing Boxing Illustrated/Wrestling News in 1958 and published it until 1964. He also published Boxing & Wrestling, Boxing Illustrated, Boxing International, World Boxing, Boxing, The Boxing Almanac, Big Book of Boxing, KO, Pro Wrestling Illustrated, The Wrestler, Inside Wrestling and Sports Review Wrestling.

  11. NYIrish 01:17pm, 09/25/2015

    Old School I think you are right. I think it was called Boxing Illustrated and Wrestling News. Boxing was in bigger letters and there was only one or two wrestling stories an issue. It was on cheaper paper than The Ring. They were the only boxing mags in the 60s that I saw growing up in NYC.
    I believe I saw that article around 65 or 66.

  12. Clarence George 11:53am, 09/25/2015

    You may be right, Mr. Slattery, though I don’t approve of women in the armed forces.  I’m sure you don’t either, not the Richard X. Slattery I know.

    Katie reminds me (as well as Irish, I suspect) of Lupe Velez, although perhaps somewhat less volcanic.  Did you know her?  I suppose not, as she was considerably older.

    Best,

    Albert Salmi

  13. Clarence George 11:37am, 09/25/2015

    Pleasure, Jim, thank you.

  14. Richard X. Slattery 09:11am, 09/25/2015

    My guess is the Jenkins’ daughter joined the armed forces to get away from her crazy family. Katie sounds colorful - from a distance.

  15. Jim Crue 07:50am, 09/25/2015

    Another gem..thanks Clarence

  16. Clarence George 07:00am, 09/25/2015

    Thank you, OS.  And what an impressive fount of information you are!

    Gratifying that this article is generating such top-notch comments.

  17. oldschool 05:51am, 09/25/2015

    Clarence, another outstanding piece of nostalgia. The Jenkins article by Bromberg may have been in the old Boxing & Wrestling magazine. Nat Berg wrote an article about Katie Jenkins that appeared in Boxing illustrated (March 1965). Articles about Jenkins did appear in the June 1969 issue of Boxing Illustrated; November 1968 (The Ring); October 1974 (The Ring).

  18. Clarence George 05:37am, 09/25/2015

    Glad you liked it, Peter, and thanks for the 411 on Lew’s (and Katie’s?) daughter, of whom I didn’t know.

    Thanks for the info, NYI.  I’m not familiar with that particular article, but, yeah, I don’t think Bromberg was much amused by Jenkins’ antics.

  19. NYIrish 04:37am, 09/25/2015

    I remember reading an article when I was a kid in Boxing Illustrated. It started out “Lew Jenkins hit opponents hard and hit the bottle hard. This made him a champ and a drunk.” I think it was by Lester Bromberg. Couldn’t document in quick net search that Bromberg wrote for Boxing Illustrated but I wouldn’t bet against it, Anyway that’s a strong opening.

  20. peter 04:32am, 09/25/2015

    Thanks for another excellent story, Clarence. Hard-punching Lew Jenkins was always a favorite of mine. I forgot about Katie Jenkins—a colorful character. I remember being impressed with Jenkins’s fatherly pride of having raised—a mist all of his debauchery—a successful daughter who entered the armed service.

  21. Clarence George 04:07am, 09/25/2015

    Thanks very much, Irish.  Yeah, losses don’t necessarily mean that much.  Of Zivic’s 65, for example, he was only stopped four times.  And the surprisingly neglected Willie Joyce (who beat such luminaries as Henry Armstrong and Ike Williams, as well as Jenkins) was never stopped, despite losing 21.

  22. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 03:54am, 09/25/2015

    Clarence George-Great research and a splendid article. These guys weren’t afraid to lose….Lew lost 41 and Fritzie Zivic 65….more than a hundred losses between them.

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