New York City’s Last Ethnic Crosstown Rivalry—1957 thru 1960

By Sembello C. Hasson on November 18, 2014
New York City’s Last Ethnic Crosstown Rivalry—1957 thru 1960
Boxing's ethnic landscape was rapidly changing and so too were the neighborhoods.

“It’s bad enough to have these pigeons and firecrackers but, if you don’t stop throwing things the commission will stop the show…”

The players: JIMMY ARCHER, Bronx; RONNIE COHEN, New Rochelle; TONY DeCOLA, Red Hook; TONY DiBIASE, Astoria; BILL FLAMIO, Bronx; JOHNNY GORMAN, Brooklyn; FRANKIE IPPOLITO, Bronx; EDDIE JORDAN, Bedford Heights (Brooklyn); EDDIE LYNCH, West Side; AL ROCKY MILONE, Coney Island; DANNY RUSSO, East New York; GALE KERWIN, Valley Stream, L.I.; STEFAN REDL, Passaic; PETER SCHMIDT, Yorkville; ITZY WALLACH, East Side; HENRY WINCHMAN, East Side and JOEY KLEIN, East Side.

As boxing’s ethnic landscape was rapidly changing so too were the neighborhoods that these fighters came out of. This group was the last remnants of the ethnic rivalries that had been the staple for successful small club boxing in New York City since the beginning of the 20th Century.

These men boxed each other a total of 75 matches between themselves. Almost every bout was a slugfest in front of their neighborhood supporters who set off firecrackers, threw raw eggs, set loose pigeons, flung chairs and engaged in brawls between the opposing gangs. Although none of these men were top flight, world-class boxers, all were tough, rugged club-fighters with much heart and plenty of blood sacrificed in honor of neighborhood pride.

Almost all of these matches were presented at the St. Nicholas Arena, located at W. 66th St. and Broadway, under the direction of Teddy Brenner and televised over the DUMONT TV NETWORK. Previously the cards had used well known top-flight boxers who performed in front of sparse audiences but Brenner decided to stage old-fashioned club fights for the cameras using boxers with large and boisterous followings that would fill most of the seats and make for an exciting atmosphere. This formula worked well until the Dumont network folded.

The gradual decline first appeared on Feb. 7, 1955 when Chico Vejar defeated Joey Klein on a TV match from Eastern Parkway Arena in Brownsville. Little did we know Joey Klein would be the “last Lower East Side Jewish boxer” to headline a bout on network television. Due to Klein’s crowd-pleasing, slugging style this was his ninth appearance on a network show. Other ominous warning clouds for the future appeared when Eastern Parkway lost their TV contract and folded on May 16, 1955.

Also in 1955, East Side welterweights, Henry Winchman and Itzy Wallach, both called by their fans “Pride of the East Side” staged their rivalry for neighborhood bragging rights. In hindsight we now know the historical significance of the three slugfests that they waged would be the final chapter of the East Side Jewish rivalries in a storied tradition that started before the turn of the century.

When Brenner started showcasing these tough ethnic club-fighters on his shows many TV fans were thrilled by the frantic action these warriors provided. Boxing’s all-time greatest “stringer,” Freddie Eisenstadt, reported some of the action under Jersey Jones’ byline in Ring Magazine in this way: (5/13/57) “Jimmy Archer, Bronx, in his TV debut and going ten rounds for the first time, edged out a split decision over Tony DiBiase, Astoria, in a free punching, hard socking brawl packed all the way with furious action.” (3/18/57) “Stefan Redl, Passaic, survived two 2nd round knockdowns to outlast Al Rocky Milone, Coney Island, with a TKO in the eighth in a real sockfest.” (6/3/57) “...Redl engaged in a bloodbath with Frankie Ippolito. Between them the rivals smeared each other, the referee, and the ring canvas with unholy splotches of crimson.”

Then there was (8/5/57): Danny Russo of East New York against Eddie Lynch, West Side. “Amid as noisy an exhibition of hoodlumism by rowdy partisans….two spectators hit by chairs, required medical attention…the bedlam was augmented by thrown [raw] eggs, exploding firecrackers, and flying pigeons.”..at one point Johnny Addie was forced to announce to the crowd “It’s bad enough to have these pigeons and firecrackers but, if you don’t stop throwing things the commission will stop the show.” Russo was awarded a split decision.

Some other comments from Eisenstadt on the action: (2/24/58) “A return battle between Jimmy Archer and Danny Russo resulted in another win for Archer, this time by a TKO when ugly gashes around Russo’s eyes prompted the stoppage in the 7th of a hotly contested and close battle. The referee’s action and taunts by Archer cohorts infuriated Russo’s followers and a brief but hectic free for all broke out. Police rushed in to restore order.” ((3/17/58) “Down in the first and again in the second, Johnny Gorman staged an exciting uphill fight to edge out Jimmy Archer in an All-Irish St. Patrick’s night at St. Nicks.”

When Eddie Lynch fought Bill Flamio (7/21/58) their battle was described: “In about as messy an exhibition of the so called ‘manly art’ as metropolitan fans have seen in quite a spell, Flamio was a surprise winner…Exasperated by Flamio’s rushing, mauling, butting tactics, Lynch lost his temper…Lynch was warned for holding and hitting on the breaks while Flamio was penalized the eighth round for kneeing Lynch in the groin, while his Fordham fans yelled “c’mon ref, let ‘em fight.”

When Ronnie Cohen, of New Rochelle, cut up and butchered Jimmy Archer for a seven round stoppage win he was hailed for a time as the “New Jewish Sensation.” But as Mike Silver recalled (“well actually half-Jewish— this was discovered when some killjoy pointed out that he had the habit of crossing himself before the first bell”).

Not long after, these warriors took jobs as truck drivers, construction workers, longshoremen, Irish Eddie Jordan became a cop, Tony DeCola worked for “The Jewish Examiner,” Tony DiBiase earned a degree from NYU in Geology, to raise their growing families and faded from the scene. Only Stefan Redl rose to be a fringe contender, meeting top opposition. Ironically, two guys that boxed frequently on their undercards became great fighters—Joey Archer and Emile Griffith! St. Nicholas Arena closed up on May 28, 1962 after 56 years in the fight racket. The last show was headlined by Tony Fortunato of the Bronx, who edged out old favorite, Stefan Redl, with only 1,177 fans witnessing this sad passing of a proud history. Now the only neighborhood club to run regularly in New York City would be Sunnyside Gardens, “out in Queens.”

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  1. Danny McDermott 12:03pm, 11/02/2018

    Wow, great article! Jimmy Archer was my trainer and mentor. He was like the grandfather I never had. I trained with him when i was 15yrs old from 1996 to 2002 when we both “retired”. I came back in 2004 & turned pro in 05’. I credit Jimmy with who I am today. Always will love him!

  2. Tom Doyle 06:13pm, 11/07/2016

    Peter Martin - As a 12 year old I watched Tony Dibiase win a Golden Gloves tournament in 1953. I remember the newspaper vendors at the fights that night selling the N.Y. Daily News with the headline that Joseph Stalin had died. I did a search on Tony. He died June 10, 2014 in Maitland, Fl. He was well respected long after left boxing. I know you consider yourself very fortunate to have known him.

  3. Peter martin 05:06pm, 02/26/2016

    I grew up in Astoria in the 50’s and although I was much younger than the guys mentioned I remember them all.  I inew I am proud to say I knew and loved Tony DiBiase. Tony took me under his wing and when there was no school in the summer he would take me on the subway with him where he would train in the gym   I can’t recall if it was Gleasons or Stillmans.  Tony taught me a lot about boxing and life in general.  I would nag tony fr gloves and he told me ” petie next time I win I will give you my gloves “.  Tony came to my apartment the day after his fight and gave me his winning gloves blood all over them.  To this day I still have Tony dibiasi’s gloves. Not only was he a great fighter he was a great mentor ” a true prince”. I wish. Could find tony now

  4. peter 03:42pm, 12/03/2014

    Thank you for this excellent article. I remember Jimmy Archer in the late 1970s, not as a fighter, but as a horse-‘n-buggy driver in NYC. If I was lucky I would catch him sitting atop his buggy, parked in front of one of the big hotels on Broadway, waiting for a fare.  I remember his scarred and hooded eyes—the classic eyes of a prizefighter. Sometimes I would see him driving his buggy through Central Park. Nice guy.

  5. Clarence George 07:45pm, 11/19/2014

    Pleasure, Mike.

    Much of that has become touristy, Frank, including Little Italy and Arthur Avenue.

  6. Mike Silver 03:45pm, 11/19/2014

    Thanks for the post on Papaya King’s history. Another immigrant success story. Great memories of olde New York.

  7. FrankinDallas 03:43pm, 11/19/2014

    I took some Aussie business associates on a tour of the Bronx a couple years ago…Yankee Stadium, City Island, Jones Beach, Van Cortland Park, Little Italy/Arthur Ave., the building I grew up in. Didn’t have time for the Bronx Zoo or views of the Hudson in Riverdale. We also missed Lehman College where I spent 2 years in an altered state 1969-71.

  8. Clarence George 03:16pm, 11/19/2014

    I have to confess that I never cared for papaya juice (I won’t tell you what I think it tastes like), though my father swore by it.  When I go there, I have their grape drink (which tastes exactly as a grape drink should) or the banana daiquiri—usually both.  And I remember how often we picked up their fresh orange juice in a large container.  But served in a paper cone and metal holder…Mike, I haven’t seen that anywhere in at least 40 years.

    Ah, Horn & Hardart.  And Schrafft’s!  Oh thank you, McDonald’s and Starbucks! 

    A little history of Papaya King:

    http://www.papayaking.com/html/history.htm

  9. Mike Silver 02:56pm, 11/19/2014

    Indeed! The Papaya King on 86th street is one of the last ancient remnants of old New York. (We no longer have the sorely missed Horn & Hardart Automat). Don’t know what kind of drug they put in the Papaya drink but I was hooked for years. It isn’t “The Four Season’s” restaurant but occasionally you will see a movie star or show biz celebrity enjoying the “old school” hot dogs and a Papaya. Clarence, is it still served in a paper cone and metal holder?

  10. Clarence George 02:34pm, 11/19/2014

    Right you are, Mike.  I was young, but I remember that New York very well.  Genuinely cherished memories, let me tell ya.  You’re also correct that there’s some mysterious correlation going on between what happened to the city and to the Sweet Science.  There’s an article there, but it may require a better historian than I to tackle it.

    The best hot dogs in New York (and therefore in the world) today can be found at the original Papaya King on 86th and Third, there since 1932 and largely unchanged.  I don’t go as often as I’d like, but I do make it up there two or three times a year.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e5/Papaya-King.jpg

  11. Mike Silver 01:16pm, 11/19/2014

    You are right Clarence, Nedick’s was the name of the orange drink (best ever) but the place also sold great franks too—don’t know what brand though. Like today’s moribund boxing scene, New York bears very little resemblance to the great town it was in its heyday from the 1920s to the early 1960s in terms of character and personality.

  12. Eric 10:28am, 11/19/2014

    Obama’s hometown of Chicago needs some big fights. Those poor souls in Chicago are still singing the praises of the ‘85 Bears & Michael Jordan. Chicago taint what it used to be either.

  13. Eric 09:43am, 11/19/2014

    Irish…I live in a small town about as far away from NYC as you can get, some of my neighbors have names like Booger, Skeeter, and Bubba. I make sure to tell them to bring in their meth plants when we have a freeze warning. teehee. However,  I see all kinds of nimrods riding around with Obama/Biden stickers on their vehicles. It is a college town so that explains some of the support for Obama. But I see a lot of white, grey panthers riding around, sporting those Obama/Biden bumper stickers as well. The young useful idiots have been brainwashed, but what in the hell is wrong with those senior citizens?

  14. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:23am, 11/19/2014

    Emile Griffith may be in Heaven but he didn’t beat Joey Archer twice anymore than Algieri beat Provodnikov….in fact Chris should have been a TKO win for Ruslan…..which reminds me….what the fuk am I doing here?.....NEW YORK City! New York City in 1957 may have been all that…but NYC in 2014? Here’s what I’m thinkin’....thanks a fuking lot NYC for playing such a big part in putting a sociopathic/psychopathic/megalomaniac/pathological liar in the Oval Office….thank you ever so fukin’ much!

  15. Clarence George 07:13am, 11/19/2014

    No question of that, Chuck.

    Those two words do indeed hit it on the head, Mike.

  16. Mike Casey 07:09am, 11/19/2014

    Glory days!

  17. ch. 07:08am, 11/19/2014

    Clarence, Flamio and Lynch may have been “feather fisted” but I bet they were quite a handful in a back alley. As it was, both were competent and tough enough to have commendable pro careers and headline shows on network TV.

  18. Clarence George 06:52am, 11/19/2014

    Right you are, Chuck.

    I think Flamio was so aggressive and, ahem, unorthodox because he had all the hitting power of a five-year-old girl.  Lynch was, if anything, even more feather-fisted.

    By the way, doesn’t Jimmy Archer look a bit like Tony Zale?  And did you know, Chuck, that Jimmy had a role in 1975’s “Farewell, My Lovely”?  Did a fine job, too.

  19. ch. 06:24am, 11/19/2014

    The two guys battling in the photo are Jimmy Archer, the Bronx (left) and Tony DeCola, Red Hook.

  20. ch. 06:20am, 11/19/2014

    Clarence, What did the ref expect in a fight between guys from East Harlem and Hell’s Kitchen ?  In his 42 bout career Bill Flamio was known as “The Little Bronx Bull,” after his idol Jake LaMotta.
    Thank You Magoon, for your input.

  21. ch. 06:13am, 11/19/2014

    Beaujack, Mike Silver - When I was a kid I watched most of these memorable battles on the tube on Monday nights and I never forgot these guys.
    Beaujack, you’re right, most of these guys were PAL and GG champs before they turned pro and most had their careers interrupted for a while in service of Uncle Sam.

  22. Clarence George 05:13am, 11/19/2014

    Chuck Jones couldn’t stand Bob Clampett, and I assume the feeling was mutual.  At one time, by the way, Clampett bore a rather remarkable resemblance to George Reeves’ Clark Kent.

    You’re right, Magoon—the ‘40s were indeed in black-and-white…as it should be.

    Wasn’t Joey Archer from the Bronx?  I think he’s still alive (he’d be in his 70s), and I’d love to interview him (who wouldn’t?), but nobody pulls a Judge Crater like a former boxer.

    Wasn’t Shomo a welterweight?  Name rings a bell.  DiBiase was definitely a welter.  From Astoria, he was.  Pretty good, but feather-fisted.

    What heathenism is this, Mike?  One didn’t have an orange soda with a Nedick’s, but their justly famous orange drink.  We await your retraction, sir.

  23. Magoon 04:37am, 11/19/2014

    I like this kind of article, but think there should have been a more vivid depiction of New York at the time.

    I recently saw the cartoonist Bob Clampett’s home movies of the streets of New York - from 1945, I think - and they were in color! That was very strange. Weren’t the 1940’s in black and white?

  24. beaujack 09:53pm, 11/18/2014

    Great article that brought back many memory’s of the fighters mentioned. I saw many of those guys fight at various fight clubs and most everyone of those worthy names were in the golden gloves tournament, some champs, before they turned pro…Jimmy Archer older brother of Joey Archer was a real toughie in the WW Golden Gloves as well
    as Tony DiBiase…About that time there was a tremendous WW Golden
    Glove puncher named Vince Shomo who kod about everyone but never had success as a pro…Shomo was an early edition of Mark Breland…

  25. Mike Silver 09:30pm, 11/18/2014

    This terrific article should be read while munching on a Nedick’s hot dog between gulps of an orange soda. Chuck you captured the essence and last gasp of New York’s once fabulous club scene. I know that Henry Winchman is still with us, also Jimmy Archer and Eddie Jordan. Maybe others. These guys, mostly just ordinary club fighters in their day, would easily be top contenders today. Kerwin, Redl and Klein would own an alphabet belt.

  26. Clarence George 08:30pm, 11/18/2014

    New York City was once the jewel in the Sweet Science’s crown.  But that’s when you sat at a drugstore’s lunch counter and got your grape drink in a paper cone and metal holder:

    http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/5a/48/04/5a48047bd3d84fc001e84cce4d8f3383.jpg

    By the way, why was Bill Flamio penalized for kneeing Eddie Lynch in the groin?  Am I missing something?

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