Mushy Callahan: “Trainer to the Stars”

By Norman Marcus on April 29, 2012
Mushy Callahan: “Trainer to the Stars”
Mushy worked on the remake of the film “Kid Galahad” with Elvis Presley in the early '60s

You have to hand it to Mushy Callahan. He parlayed a mediocre career into a championship ride up on the silver screen…

Vincent Morris Scheer was born in New York City on November 3, 1904. Moving to California as a toddler he had his first pro fight in 1924 when he was twenty years old. He was know as the “Fighting Newsboy” because he continued to work a paper route until he started making some decent money in the ring. Vince’s parents were Orthodox Jews but their young son decided to fight as an Irishman. So he changed his ring name to Callahan. Taking the new identity a step further, he actually converted to Catholicism. Mushy must have been a true believer, for he lived the rest of his life as a Catholic. His oldest son eventually became a Jesuit priest.

He fought Pinky Mitchell for the then obscure Junior Welterweight title on September 21, 1926 and won by decision. He defended his title successfully three times. The first time was on March 14, 1927 against Andy DiVoldi in Madison Square Garden. He knocked the challenger out in two rounds. Mushy then took on Spug Myers on May 31, 1927 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The Associated Press reported the fight this way: “Callahan by dint of a quantity of blows rather than quality, retained the in between & semi-official junior welterweight title last night against the rugged rushes of Spug Myers. The fight took place at the Cubs baseball park…” Only ten thousand people showed up for the fight so the expected $60,000 gate was just $35,000. Two years later in his last successful title defense, he again fought and outpointed Spug Myers on April 23, 1929 in ten rounds at Olympic Stadium in Los Angeles. He also fought several non-title bouts against journeymen boxers during those years.

On July 24, 1929 he fought Jack “Kid” Berg in a non-title bout at Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, New York. Berg beat him in a ten-round decision. He finally defended his title against the same Jack Berg seven months later.

Now the promoter for this fight was Joe Jacobs. He also managed Max Schmeling at this time and later would manage Jimmy Braddock, “The Cinderella Man.” Author Peter Heller reported Jacobs as saying, “How would you like to fight Berg? How about fighting him for the title?” Mushy said, “They cheat you all the time. He said I’d get $10,000. I never got $10,000. When I got paid off I only got $5,000. I didn’t know he was going to be my manager… he was a crook. I told him that too. They all cheat you.”

Berg was known as the “White Chapel Windmill” who grew up in the East End of London. He was known to associate with known criminals and gamblers. The fight took place at the Royal Albert Hall, London on February 18, 1930. Berg head butted Mushy in the eye early in the fight. The eye began to puff up and close. By the 10th round Callahan was completely blind in his right eye. He looked around to protest to the referee. Mushy suddenly recognized the referee as Berg’s manager! Mushy now knew the fight was fixed! He told his guy to stop the fight. Jack Berg was given the TKO in the 10th round to become the new Junior Welterweight Champion. At the time, Great Britain didn’t recognize any “junior” titles but the New York State Boxing Commission did and recognized Berg as the new champ in 1931. Callahan came back to the States and swore off boxing. He enlisted in the army at the age of twenty-four. After he got out of the service he opened a haberdashery store in L.A.

He tried a comeback in 1933. Mushy beat Todd Morgan, another former Junior Welterweight Champion. He strung together about a dozen fights and won most of them. When he was KO’d in the second round of his fight with Sal Sorio, an unknown club fighter, he quit the game for good.

His record was 59 wins (19 KOs), 13 loses, 4 draws, and 1 ND.

Jack Warner was a fight fan and knew that Mushy needed a job. He wound up being physical trainer at Jack’s Burbank studio. Mushy taught the “pretty boy” actors how to fight on the big screen at Warner Bros. The studio had a full gym set up on the lot so their actors could stay in shape. If they were in a “fight picture,” Mushy was called in to coach them to make it look real. It was like teaching someone how to dance, all practice and timing.

Callahan was the “go-to guy” in Hollywood when you needed a fight scene done. He trained and instructed Errol Flynn on the set of “Gentleman Jim” in the early ‘40s. You remember that film, the life of Heavyweight Champion Jim Corbett. Now Errol was 4F in the Draft because he had an enlarged heart, sometimes called an “athlete’s heart.” If pressed, Flynn might pass out or die on the spot. So Mushy had to go easy on the actor, who was a very nice guy but hadn’t a clue what to do in the ring.

Mushy started to build a good reputation with the other studios too. Whenever they needed orchestrated violence they called on him.

He worked on the movie “Champion” in 1948 for United Artists. The star was a young actor just making a name for himself in Tinseltown, Kirk Douglas. Kirk knew nothing about boxing but was a fast learner. The picture was a super hit that year and Douglas became a superstar.

Columbia Studios called Callahan in 1953 to advise the actors in a film called “From Here to Eternity.” The film was loaded with stars and won eight Academy Awards that year. Mushy had a lot of work to do to get these soft actors to look like tough guys. This was Frank Sinatra’s comeback film. Frank was easy to work with because he had around a dozen fights in his brief ring career. Montgomery Clift on the other hand was a novice and had to be shown everything from scratch. Clift’s character was supposed to be a soldier, who didn’t want to box in an army tournament. There were a lot of moves, fake blood and goo involved but Mushy pulled it off. Sinatra won an Academy Award for “Best Supporting Actor” in this film. (Frank’s godfather Vito Corleone must have been very proud!)

Callahan continued to work for some of the biggest studios in town. In 1956 MGM hired him to train Paul Newman to box like Rocky Graziano in the film “Somebody Up There Likes Me.” Newman needed a lot of coaching from Mushy to pull it off.  The story traced Rocky’s life from reform school to his victory over Tony Zale to become the Middleweight Champion of the World. Zale was originally cast to play himself, but when Newman got rough during rehearsals, Zale knocked him out and was fired. Zale was replaced by Tony Zale lookalike Courtland Shepard for the final fight scene.

Mushy next worked on the remake of the film “Kid Galahad” with Elvis Presley in the early ‘60’s. “The King” was already a black belt in karate but knew little about boxing. Elvis was polite and soft-spoken and followed directions nicely. Callahan taught him the basics, choreographed his punches and footwork. As extra insurance to protect that handsome Presley face, the gloves used were specially designed by Callahan. The front third of the gloves were empty inside, like a bag of potato chips. When someone hit Elvis in the face, the punch felt like a slap in a pillow fight.

Callahan was called in to work with James Earl Jones during the Broadway run of the “The Great White Hope,” a play based on the career of Jack Johnson.  Jones was then ready when they made the story into a movie, months later.

Mushy ran the fitness program at Warner Brothers for fifteen years. He cut his own deal with Jack Warner and freelanced at other studios when he got the opportunity.

He also found time to be a boxing referee. He officiated at several championship fights, such as the Ray Robinson/Bobo Olson fight and also Archie Moore/Tony Anthony.

You have to hand it to Mushy Callahan. He parlayed a mediocre career into a championship ride up on the silver screen. Callahan died in California on June 14, 1986. Mushy was eighty-one years old.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Gentleman Jim Trailer

Alexis Smith, Errol Flynn ~ Gentleman Jim (1942) - Part 1.

John L. Sullivan Congratulates Gentleman Jim

Champion (1949) Kirk Douglas

Champion (1949) with Kirk Douglas

From Here to Eternity - Trailer [1953] [26th Oscar Best Picture]

Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) - Theatrical Trailer - © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.



Elvis Presley in rolul lui Kid Galahad-boxing

The Great White Hope (1970)

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  1. peter 06:39pm, 12/09/2014

    Thank you for this excellent article. Back in the late ‘70s I was in Los Angeles. It was a nice day and I stopped at an outdoor mall to do some sight-seeing. The old, dented, light-blue Cadillac parked next to me sported a rusty license plate that read “Mushy”.  I knew it had to be him. I hung around for a few minutes, and there he was, walking up the sidewalk. I immediately knew, because of his advanced age and flat nose it was Mushy. We spent a good amount to time talking. It was a joy. With great pride he mentioned his son, the priest, and pulled out his wallet to show me his son’s credentials, and proof of his Jewish heritage. He also talked about his own work in film and pulled out a few old photos documenting his accomplishments.  He proved to be a real gentleman. Thanks you for bringing back that dirt parking lot in Los Angeles.

  2. norm Marcus 01:45pm, 04/30/2012

    Thresher: We really are the best Boxing site online. We don’t just talk boxing, we all tell a story in our own special way. Always something new here to read and think about.

  3. Norm Marcus 01:39pm, 04/30/2012

    Irish Frankie: That’s what makes it funny, mixing fact with fiction. You just have to get used to my sarcasm. Carlo Gambino was never funny but Brando with his mouth full of cotton is very funny.  You’ll get used to my humor!

  4. the thresher 07:18am, 04/30/2012

    Norman, that’s the kind of article that sets apart from the rest.

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo (aka) Gimpel 06:04am, 04/30/2012

    Norman Marcus-Bye the bye… Vito was the Godfather in reel life….in real life Carlo Gambino was the Padrino.

  6. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo (aka) Gimpel 05:51am, 04/30/2012

    Norman Marcus-I agree with KELLYIRISH….Moishe Callahan…..all right….in my opinion Monty Clift was believable as the reluctant fighter in From Here to Eternity!

  7. KellyIrish 04:58am, 04/30/2012

    Great story Mr. Marcus. I really enjoy these small forgotten tidbits of the 20th Century. Mushy reminds me of Captain Dale Dye who does a lot of Hollywood consulting and instructing on all military related movies (Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan to name a few). What a great way to make a living. Mushy had a cushy gig.

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