Rose in Bloom: Slapsie Maxie

By Norman Marcus on June 22, 2013
Rose in Bloom: Slapsie Maxie
Max Everitt Rosenbloom, aka Slapsie Maxie, always the funny guy, always with a punch line.

Baer had kept his famous good looks throughout his ring career. Slapsie on the other hand looked like his face had been run over by a truck…

“Open up? This guy might nail me. You want me to get conclusion of the brain?”—Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom

Max Everitt Rosenbloom was not the sharpest knife in his mother’s drawer. He grew up in the small town of Leonard’s Bridge, Connecticut. Maxie’s father was a Jewish shoemaker from Germany. The boy was always in trouble in school and had to drop out in the fifth grade because of pneumonia. “I didn’t have it,” said Maxie. “I just couldn’t spell it.” His parents didn’t know what to do with him. He spent some time in reform school. Max tried his hand at amateur boxing and lost more bouts than he won. Rosenbloom wound up working odd jobs. He was a laborer, doorman, and cabdriver, anything he could do to make a buck.

His boxing career finally took off when he hooked up with a manager named Frank Bachman. Frank managed to channel all that misdirected energy into the ring. With Frank’s help, Maxie turned pro in 1923 as a welterweight. His trainers during his career were Ray Arcel and Whitey Bimstein.  As he grew, he moved up in the weight divisions. He developed into a top light heavyweight at 5’11” tall, 170 lbs., with a wingspan of 71”. Years later, Maxie ventured into the heavyweight division. He beat some tough guys there too, like contenders Lou Nova and King Levinsky. Still, Max felt more comfortable fighting as a light heavy.

Rosenbloom was given the alias Slapsie Maxie by Damon Runyon. Max had a tendency to slap his opponents with his open gloves. He did it so often that the New York State Athletic Commission finally made it illegal for any boxer to hit with an open glove, all because of Rosenbloom. Max became a ranked contender in the next few years.

In 1929 Maxie fought a benefit with other Jewish fighters at Madison Square Garden to raise money for a Jewish homeland in British Palestine.

He got a shot at the undisputed light heavyweight title at Bison Stadium in Buffalo, New York, on June 25, 1930. The title had been vacant since Tommy Loughran had moved up to campaign as a heavyweight. Rosenbloom’s opponent that night was Jimmy Slattery.

Rosenbloom was no heavy hitter. He was a stick and move kind of fighter who won most of his fights by decision. Max worked the angles and was hard to hit with a power punch. Slattery on the other hand was just that, a power puncher, who had won forty-nine fights by KO. Jimmy found Max hard to hit too. This fight ended in a controversial SD15 win for Rosenbloom. The Boxing Record described the split decision after the fight: “Rosenbloom was recognized as the NBA Light Heavyweight World Champion. Slattery was recognized as the NYSAC Light Heavyweight Champion. The verdict for Rosenbloom was unpopular with the 15,000 fans. The United Press scored it Rosenbloom 8 rounds and Slattery 4, with 3 even. Referee Patsey Haley, after being almost knocked out by one of Rosenbloom’s wild swings, gave his decision to Slattery. He was overruled, however, by the two judges, both of whom voted for Rosenbloom.” (According to NYSAC rules at the time, if the two judges agreed on a winner, the referee’s vote was not counted.)

Slapsie Maxie fought Lou Scozza on July 14, 1932, at Bison Stadium in Buffalo, New York for the NYSAC light heavyweight title. The referee was Gunboat Smith. The New York Times reported the action this way: “Maxie piled on the points in the first half of the battle, cuffing and slapping when Scozza attempted to bring the fight to close quarters. Scozza concentrated on a body attack but Maxie’s long left was too much for him. Rosenbloom scored a knockdown in the seventh, and Scozza dropped Rosenbloom for ‘8’ in round 14. From the 11th round on Maxie was in trouble and the crowd of 10,000 stood and roared for the local boy to score a knockout. Maxie weathered the flurry of blows however.” It was a MD15 win for Rosenbloom. He was finally recognized as the undisputed Light Heavyweight Champion of the World.

From 1930 to 1934, Maxie fought 106 times. Only six of those bouts were title defenses. On November 16, 1934, Rosenbloom lost the title to Bob Olin at New York’s Madison Square Garden by decision after 15 rounds. Two judges, Harold Barnes and Charley Lynch gave it to Olin, 9-5-1 and 8-6-1. The referee Arthur Donovan voted 8-5-2 for Rosenbloom but was not called upon to register his vote (NYSAC Rules). 

In 1935 Rosenbloom postponed a fight with Jack Fox because it interfered with the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Max retired from the square ring in 1939. When World War II started, he tried to enlist in the army but was rejected because of a broken eardrum.

But all was not lost. His smashed nose and cauliflower ear made him a sure bet in Hollywood as a character actor. He made dozens of films in Tinsel Town. Maxie usually played a cab driver or an ex-pug from Brooklyn. He starred with some of the biggest names in movies at the time. Tough guys like James Cagney, George Raft and Anthony Quinn loved to pal around with him. He even taught actress Carole Lombard (Mrs. Clark Gable) how to box so, she said, “I can stick it to Clark when he deserves it.”

In the late 1940s he opened a nightclub in Los Angeles called Slapsy Maxie’s. Gangster kingpin Mickey Cohen was a big fan and steady customer. Rosenbloom performed there as part of a comedy team with his old friend Max Baer. Baer was another funny guy who had been the heavyweight champion of in 1934-1935. The two men also made a dozen comedy shorts together for Columbia Pictures. Rosenbloom wrote an autobiography at this time called “Fifty Years at Ringside.” It covered all the inside dope that fans loved to read about boxers. Later “Playhouse 90” on CBS Television starred Maxie as himself in Rod Serling’s live teleplay, “Requiem for a Heavyweight.” It was another look at the seamy side of boxing. During the 1960s Max snagged a role on Broadway, in the musical revival of Guys and Dolls. You can probably catch Maxie tonight somewhere on cable. I remember him in a lot of war movies. Always dying on a Pacific Island, surrounded by the Japanese Navy. Or was that William Bendix? Anyway, Rosenbloom worked steadily as an actor and entertainer. 

Although they worked together, Maxie was always jealous of his comedy partner Max Baer. Baer had kept his famous good looks throughout his ring career. Slapsie on the other hand looked like his face had been run over by a truck. The reason for this was different than you might think. Rosenbloom suffered from Paget’s disease. The cause of the disease is still unknown, but doctors think it may come from a viral infection or damaged genes. The symptoms are abnormal bone breakdown of the arms, legs and spine, but most often of the skull. This causes the re-growth of bizarre new bone formations, which can result in enlarged head and skull deformities. A person’s face can wind up looking quite strange from this disease.

There are some claims that Rosenbloom had brain damage from all his years in the ring. Max’s lumpy face, however, was from the Paget’s, not repeated shots to the head. His slurred speech and goofy actions were exaggerated for his comedy routine. So was Rosenbloom really punch drunk? Sportswriter John Hall of the L.A. Times thought not. “Nobody ever hit Maxie. He slapped and slipped and danced. But he looked as if he’d been hit.” Rosenbloom left boxing with a record of 207-39-26 with 19 KOs.

He died of Paget’s disease in Pasadena, California at the age of sixty-nine. Max Everitt Rosenbloom, always the funny guy, always with a punch line.

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  1. Jim Crue 06:03pm, 06/23/2013

    Sorry Norman i posted my comment about Broner and Paulie here by mistake.
    Wonderful story about Slapsie Maxie.

  2. Jim Crue 04:57pm, 06/23/2013

    With respect to all you guys, I find this argument a waste of time
    Paulie is not very good—- Broner could not put any hurt on a guy who is not very good. That means Broner is not very good either.
    for you old timers… if Broner was any good he would have done to Paulie what Kid Gavilan did to Chuck Davey.
    Why is it the fight has 2 participants and 4 nitwits at ringside, one of whom I could even understand, thats Bernard, and 2 more in the rafters analyzing the fight. Are they there to convince us it’s a really great affair. Boxing gets more like WEE all time.
    The HW fight was not to my eye on the up and up. Someone paid the guy who lost a load of dough not to fight. I don’t think Mitchell was in on it. Mitchell has no chin but is a tough guy.

  3. Clarence George 09:59am, 06/22/2013

    Ha!  Impressive, but that loss to Bill Johnson…tsk-tsk.

  4. Mike Casey 09:52am, 06/22/2013

    You jest, my friend, but here’s how long I’ve been around:
    http://boxrec.com/list_bouts.php?human_id=557694&cat=boxer

  5. Clarence George 09:49am, 06/22/2013

    Your grandfather…oh, please.  You forget, Mike, that I have photographic evidence that you yourself were ringside at the Maxie Rosenbloom-Jack McVey bout that took place in…

    1929!

  6. Mike Casey 09:34am, 06/22/2013

    A sadly underrated champion whose record is exemplary. I rate Maxie very highly among the great light heavies. He would have outsmarted a lot of the more ‘glamorous’ champions. My grandfather saw Rosenbloom box in London.

  7. Clarence George 09:16am, 06/22/2013

    Very nice, Norm.  I, too, am a fan of Rosenbloom, and am proud to have written about him here and there myself.  Coincidentally, I saw him recently, on an episode of “The Munsters.”

    By the way, Clarence Burman is another boxer who died of Paget’s disease.

    “Or was that William Bendix?”  Or Lloyd Nolan?  Ha!

  8. peter 08:58am, 06/22/2013

    Thank you for this interesting article on Rosenbloom. The accompanying clips are wonderful period pieces. (Go to the clip below to hear the song “Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom” which is a tribute to Rosenbloom and to all boxers.)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDv-yVDcpbs

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