Nev Campbell: Yours for Oldtime Boxing

By Clarence George on November 5, 2016
Nev Campbell: Yours for Oldtime Boxing
He appears to have made a bit of a name for himself as a writer of fiction and non-fiction.

There’s a dearth of information on this welterweight of yore. An online search brings up Neve Campbell far more than her Nev counterpart…

“No horse-shoes allowed in gloves under six-ounces.”—Nev Campbell

Although I look far more often than buy, I enjoy checking out auctions that specialize in boxing memorabilia, particularly when I find something quirky. I recently came across, for instance, a signed photo of heavyweight Charles Krikorian, who was hired to fight a circus bear, “but when that thing got rough I did too, and it cost me my job,” said the tough New Jersey Boxing Hall of Famer. After putting the bear down in their second bout, the animal’s handlers were none too pleased to discover that Krikorian had broken three of its ribs. “That’s when they let me go,” he said, adding, “After I softened up the bear, Tony Galento got the job.”

And did you know that there was a boxer actually named Al Capone? More than one, truth be told. But the boyo I’m referring to was a never-stopped welterweight (12-2-1, 4 KOs) who fought out of Paterson, New Jersey, from 1930 to 1933. He eventually opened the Atlas Gym, where guys like Hall of Famer Midget Wolgast trained, but not before losing to Hall of Famer Lou Duva’s brother, Carl. Based on a photo that came up for bid, the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Famer didn’t bear much resemblance to his more infamous namesake, but the name alone must surely have gotten him the best tables at the hottest nightclubs. More importantly, the leggiest chorus girls. Hey, maybe even Doris Eaton Travis, who died on May 11, 2010, at the age of 106, the last of the Ziegfeld Girls.

But the most interesting item I’ve come across recently is a letter dated 59 years ago today, November 5, 1957, from Nev Campbell to boxing historian Johnny Hauck (brother of Hall of Famer Leo Houck), Prince Henry, an Allentown lightweight who once lost to never-stopped Joe Shugrue, “and all of my friends at the Oldtime Boxers’ Dinner.”

The utterly unknown Nev was a welterweight who fought out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, from 1901 to 1913 (though out of the ring from ‘06 to ‘09, as well as ‘12, but claiming to have fought till ‘15). Leaving aside his 11 newspaper bouts (4-4-3), he wound up with an official record of seven wins, all by knockout, and four losses, three by knockout.

In his letter (“I am writing this with red ink — my very life blood — because that’s what I got in my eye!”), Nev, who would turn 75 on January 23, 1958, offered to take on “any of the following boxers I fought between the years 1901 and 1915 in Lancaster or Philadelphia: Billy Kolb, Kid Beebe, Todo Moran, Jimmy Devine, Willie Lucas, Shorty Groff, Sammy Parks, Joe Smith, Frankie Bradley, Tommy Buck, Fighting Bob Givler, and a host of others whose names have faded with the dim past and I no longer remember.”

He ain’t the only one. Except for Jimmy Devine, who won 28 of 29 official fights by knockout, losing nine of 12 the same way (he had 104 newspaper bouts, 39-35-30), and who stopped Nev by third-round TKO at the Richmond A.C. in Philly on September 2, 1905, and Frank Bradley — one of the few men to beat bantamweight champ and Hall of Famer Johnny Coulon and who sorta avenged a kayo loss to Coulon conqueror and Hall of Famer Kid Williams with a draw (both newspaper decisions), but whom Nev beat at the Lancaster A.C. on May 24, 1910 (also a newspaper decision) — I never even heard of, never mind remember, any of these tough lads, many of whom appear to have been as hard-hitting as they were glass-jawed. Not quite true, as I also know of Kid Beebe (who fought a total of 303 times from 1900 to 1922, getting stopped only twice), but can find no record of his bout with Nev. Nor is there a record of a fight with Joe Smith, a lightweight out of Philly. The same is true of Fighting Bob Givler. Nev did indeed fight someone named Fighting Bob, but apparently not Givler.

As an appetizing aside, Bradley (a Philly bantamweight whose real name was Bloch — he was Jewish, not Irish) opened Frankie Bradley’s at the corner of Juniper and Chancellor in 1933. According to local writer Bob Skiba, the restaurant attracted such neighborhood celebrities as Jose Ferrer, Lucille Ball, Tony Randall, Robert Preston, and “the ultra-campy” Charles Nelson Reilly. “Frankie Bradley’s has been called Philadelphia’s Sardi’s; the walls were covered with pictures of stars who dined there,” writes Skiba, and “was known for its hearty chicken, lamb, seafood, and garlic-laced planked steak, all accompanied by ethnic Jewish touches like matzoh balls, kreplach, and chicken soup.”

Bradley died in 1976, the restaurant closing for good 10 years later. But in its day, it must surely have been competition for Hall of Famer Lew Tendler’s place, on the northeast corner of Broad and Locust, “where everyone wore a suit, from the mugs to the opera patrons,” writes boxing scribe Gabe Oppenheim, “and any interaction, any bumping of shoulders, might alter forever the trajectory of a person’s life.”

Back to Nev, who had some stipulations in issuing his challenge. He insisted, for instance, on Walter Schlichter as referee, who’d reffed from 1893 to 1910, and was the subject of Thomas Eakins’ 1898 painting, Taking the Count, which commemorated the bout between Charlie McKeever and Wilmington Jack Daly at the Arena A.C. in Philly that April 29, McKeever winning by newspaper decision. A safe stipulation, given that “Slick,” who co-founded the Philadelphia Giants Negro League baseball team in 1902, died in 1944. There was also his insistence that the bouts take place at Maennerchor Hall in Lancaster. “Since the Hall has burned down — rebuild it or I won’t fight.”

According to the letterhead, Nev appears to have made a bit of a name for himself as a writer of fiction and non-fiction. He contributed articles and stories to a wide variety of publications, including The Veteran Boxer, published by the Veteran Boxers Association of Philadelphia (in ‘57, the year of the letter, Packey O’Gatty was one of the assistant editors), as well as (unexpectedly) something called Every Woman. Also, his 1933 short story, “Parkbench Philosophers,” won an unspecified prize. Last but not least, he apparently excelled in rendering “Your Horoscope in Song Words and Music.”

Otherwise, there’s a dearth of information on this welterweight of yore. An online search brings up Neve Campbell far more than her Nev counterpart. In hindsight, I spent an inordinate amount of time giving close, if irrelevant, study to her photos. I did find out, however, that Neve and fellow Canadian actress Rachel McAdams had a Female Celebrity Boxing Association-sponsored bout in which Neve sported a “cerulean-blue bikini, tight black battle braid, and tan sheepskin UGG [ugh] boxing boots,” while Rachel was “in maple-leaf motif sports bra, solid red aerobic trunks with white maple leaf at the hip, and white aerobic runners and socks…both vixens.”

A tale of two termagants for another day.

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  1. Clarence George 10:50am, 11/05/2016

    My prediction, Eric, is that Hillary, more favored by the Electoral College, will win.  I also think, however, that her very serious legal problems will ultimately destroy her and her presidency.  As for the Westies—a very unimpressive lot.  Unlike their Italian counterparts, they were too stupid, brutal, and violent too thrive.  Or even survive.  Not at all surprising that they didn’t.

    I think it’s at least possible, Irish, that Nev’s stance is less indicative of the way he held himself in the ring and more a reflection of what the studio photographer wanted.

  2. Eric 10:15am, 11/05/2016

    Clarence…Sorry about not answering your question on Featherstone. Not sure about what happened to Mickey. I remember reading in the book how the poor feller got a bad circumcision job from his army “buddies” while in Vietnam as part of a vicious prank gone wrong. Have to read the book again to find out if Featherstone was battling any demons before his stint in the war, but he was definitely a ticking time bomb afterwards. What kind of yahoos would try to circumsise a guy who was passed out from a litte too much celebration??

  3. Eric 09:27am, 11/05/2016

    Irish…Which reminds me. Peter Fuller, the owner of a Kentucky Derby winner and a friend of Rocky Marciano was a amateur boxer and collegiate wrestler. Fuller, would later have a charity boxing match with Ali back in the 70’s. Read an article in Sports Illustrated that said that Fuller boxed like a wrestler and wrestled like a boxer. And wasn’t light heavy champ Paul Berlenbach (not sure about the last name spelling) an outstanding Olympic level wrestler as well?

  4. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:13am, 11/05/2016

    Pharrell, who is the spitting image of Chief Two Moons on the flip side of the iconic Buffalo nickle says it’s OK for Bill’s wife to lie because we all lie. Yea, but we all don’t sell out our country you Goddamned cretin.

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:02am, 11/05/2016

    Clarence George-Which reminds me…my post about Mrs Clinton scissoring with Huma got scissored. Not to hurt anymore feelings than necessary here on, but the photo of Nev that accompanies this one of a kind article kinda’ shows that they didn’t quite have the hang of it at that point in boxing history….his stance is more indicative of a high school wrestler than a prize fighter.

  6. Eric 08:36am, 11/05/2016

    Clarence…Right now, Hillary’s poll numbers are falling faster than Bill Clinton’s pants in an Arkansas trailer park. Look out for major voter fraud, but I’m praying that witch won’t be “selected” as our POTUS.

  7. Clarence George 07:30am, 11/05/2016

    As you may know, Eric, Hickock and Smith were recently exhumed, in a quest for DNA, because police think them responsible for the exceptionally brutal murder of a Florida family about a month after the Clutter slaying.  Although the tests were inconclusive, police remain convinced of their guilt.

    In reference to the Bryant book (which I haven’t read), you may also have heard that the late Edward Heath, former British Prime Minister, and other bigwigs are suspected of having raped several underage boys.  The allegations are currently under investigation.  If true, it would make what happened with Profumo downright savory in comparison.  There also recent reports of a former U.S. President (and his wife!) often visiting an underage “sex island,” but I ain’t touching that one.

  8. Eric 06:38am, 11/05/2016

    Clarence… Tanks for the link. If you are into True Crime, you might want to give the book, “Brothers In Blood,” by Clark Howard a try. It is about a group of petty criminals who escape from a Maryland prison, and slaughter a family in a small rural town in Georgia during a cross country crime spree. It happened in 1973, it is eerily similar to the killings in the book, “In Cold Blood.” I have ties to Baltimore and that part of Georgia and remember the crime well, even though I was only about 12 when it happened. Speaking of politics, right now reading, “The Franklin Scandal” by Nick Bryant. Quite depressing but not shocking in the least. Once again, the book perked my interest because of having lived in the Omaha area back in the late 80’s.

  9. Clarence George 06:20am, 11/05/2016

    I remember Reilly best from “The Ghost & Mrs. Muir” and from a very quirky and funny episode of “The X-Files.”  I wonder if he and Rip Taylor ever performed together.  Now *that* would have been entertainment.  I’m interested in the Westies because I live so close to Hell’s Kitchen, which is very different from Coonan and Featherstone’s day.  By the way, why is Featherstone still in the Witness Protection Program?  I can’t believe anyone would bother with him anymore.

    I think you’ll be interested in this article, Eric, given that it concerns both boxing and Trump:

  10. Eric 05:48am, 11/05/2016

    “the ultra campy” Charles Nelson Reilly. He was that and more. teehee. BTW, read, “The Westies” back in the day. Remember a movie that came out about the same time titled, “State Of Grace,” with Sean Penn, about the Irish mob. It looks like they “borrowed” a few things from “The Westies.” Couldn’t help but think that the Ed Harris character was based on Jimmy Coonan and the unhinged character that Gary Oldman portrayed had been loosely based on Mickey Featherstone. Good book and a good movie.

  11. Clarence George 05:15am, 11/05/2016

    Very kind, Mr. Solari, and delighted you liked it.  I never do PPV, and certainly wouldn’t make an exception for Pacquiao, in whom I lost interest years ago.  I, too, would like to read that short story, as well as know what Nev submitted to “Every Woman.”  Appreciate the book recommendation, which does indeed sound interesting.  I’m just finishing up T.J. English’s “The Westies.”  It’s held my interest, though longer than it needs to be.


    Gerald S. O’Loughlin

  12. Rudy Solari 04:30am, 11/05/2016

    Deightful, quirky, unique and original read. Much more interesting than the PPV nonsense tonight featuring the fighting Congressman. Also interested in the 1933 park bench philosophers. Probably not much different from those of today. Check out a contemporary book by Michael Domino called “Park Avenue to Park Bench.” It’s about a former exec who hits the skids, but still sees himself as a big shot. Nice work, Mr. George. You are the genuine article.

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