Sugar Ray Robinson: In the Pink

By Clarence George on June 14, 2016
Sugar Ray Robinson: In the Pink
At the garage the foreman said, "This color? For a car? You want this color on a car?"

My father told me it was salmon, quickly thrusting into my hands a copy of Playboy when I asked why he didn’t get a car that color…

“Well, you may go to college. You may go to school. You may have a pink Cadillac. But don’t you be nobody’s fool.”—Elvis Presley’s Baby, Let’s Play House

I like pink, and to hell with the stigma, and have long admired Sugar Ray Robinson’s pink Cadillac. It’s not why we love him, with apologies to Bruce Springsteen and his “I love you for your pink Cadillac,” but it sure doesn’t hurt.

My father told me it was salmon, quickly thrusting into my hands a copy of Playboy when I asked why he didn’t get a car that color. Sugar Ray insisted it was flamingo. It was actually fuchsia.

What happened was this. Sugar Ray and Walter Winchell were at Hialeah at some point in 1950 when the sweetest of sweet scientists spotted the racetrack’s iconic flamingos.

“Walter,” Robinson said, “how do you think that pink would look on a car?”

“You’re crazy,” said Winchell.

Robinson disagreed, claiming it would be “beautiful.”

“Watch the horses,” Winchell snarled.

But Robinson couldn’t stop thinking pink.

Shortly thereafter, on a trip to Hartford for a boxing shindig, Robinson spotted Hall of Fame manager and promoter Lou Viscusi sporting a pink tie. More or less demanding the flamingo neckwear, Viscusi pointed out that it was actually fuchsia. “Man, I don’t care what color you say it is, but I got to have it.” Not overly fond of the tie (“My wife made me wear it”), Viscusi gladly handed it over.

The next day, Robinson visited Larry Mandras, his Caddy dealer in the Bronx. “What’s that thing?” Mandras asked, seeing the splash of pink in Robinson’s hand. Sugar Ray wondered if his recently purchased white Eldorado convertible could be painted the color of the tie. Assuring the dealer that a call to Bellevue was unnecessary, the two men headed over to a Cadillac garage on 56th and 11th in Manhattan. “This color?” said foreman Ernie Brian. “For a car? You want this color on a car?”

However skeptical, Brian came through, much to Sugar Ray’s pleasure. Not even the $300 charge (at least $3,000 in today’s money) dampened Sugar Ray’s delight.

“The most famous car in the world,” he called it. And it was. Sure, other celebrities had pink cars, but later. Leaving aside Lady Penelope’s FAB 1, Elvis Presley, for instance, had a Cadillac Fleetwood Series 60 painted in a shade of pink exclusive to him, “Elvis Rose,” but that wasn’t until 1955. And Jayne Mansfield had a coral Lincoln Premiere, but that was in 1957. Besides, she was unmistakably girl and had nothing that wasn’t pink (“A woman should be pink and cuddly for a man”). And another thing, a Lincoln ain’t a Caddy.

He also called it the “Hope Diamond of Harlem,” this car with “soul” that was admired and downright loved by everybody. “Hope” was indeed the operative word, for “if skinny little Walker Smith could come off the streets to own a car like that, maybe they could too.”

Robinson fought 19 times in 1950 (dem were the days), winning all, 12 by stoppage, taking on such toughies as Al Mobley, stopping him by sixth-round TKO at Miami’s Coliseum Arena that February 13 in Mobley’s first loss by stoppage; Little Tiger Wade, knocking him out in the third at Savannah’s Municipal Auditorium that February 22 in what turned out to be Wade’s last fight; George Costner, who paid for his impertinence in taking the name “Sugar” by getting kayoed at 2:49 of the first at Philly’s Convention Hall that March 22; Robert Villemain, twice, winning the vacant Pennsylvania world middleweight title by unanimous decision at Philly’s Municipal Stadium that June 5 and stopping him by ninth-round TKO at the Palais des Sports in Paris that December 22 in the only stoppage of Villemain’s career; Charley Fusari, winning on points in what proved to be the last defense of his welterweight crown at Jersey City’s Roosevelt Stadium that August 9; Jose Basora, knocking him out a mere 55 seconds into the fight at Scranton Stadium that August 25; Joe Rindone, stopping him by sixth-round TKO at Boston Garden that October 16; and Bobo Olson, knocking him out in the 12th at Philly’s Convention Hall that October 26 in the first knockout of Olson’s career. But the highlight of his year was surely taking possession of that salmon/flamingo/fuchsia Cadillac.

Long gone, I don’t know where. And I certainly don’t know what happened to the tie. But I got the tiniest taste back in March when I accompanied fellow boxing scribes Robert Mladinich and Peter Wood to the New Harlem Besame Restaurant, where Sugar Ray’s eatery used to be, where the pink Caddy used to be parked, to see Laurence Holder’s one-man play, Sugar Ray. After the performance, I was returning from a brief flirtation with our waitress (I wanted more passion fruit juice, and, no, that’s not a euphemism) when Reginald L. Wilson, the actor who portrayed Robinson, rather rudely interrupted one of Pete’s interesting anecdotes to demand where I got my red and green wingtips. Now, two-tone shoes, and that includes red and green ones, do not a pink Cadillac make. I nevertheless find it poetic that they were spotted and admired in the place the pink Caddy, all white-walled and with black top and black leather seats, once called home.

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  1. Clarence George 08:31am, 06/16/2016

    Glad you liked it, Peter.

    I remember that photo, which made my legs look unusually long.

    Can’t imagine I’d ever have pink in shoes, though I wouldn’t say no to a pink car—with a white interior.

    By the way, I recently saw SRR portraying a mob thug in a two-part “Mission Impossible.”  He did a good job.  I was particularly impressed by how youthful he looked, despite being in his late 40s.

  2. peter 07:11am, 06/16/2016

    I love the tie-in, (pun intended), with Robinson’s pink car and Lou Viscusi pink tie. These interesting and well-written boxing anecdotes are what make special. BTW, I have a photograph of Clarence George’s aforementioned two-tone, green & red shoes—or green & scarlet, or green & cherry, or green & crimson. But not green & pink.

  3. Clarence George 01:43pm, 06/15/2016

    Always wonderful hearing from you, Walter.

    Love your anecdote, which for some reason reminds me of a white Pontiac my father had.  I think it was a ‘62, though I’m not sure.  I cried like a baby when he sold it.  In fairness to myself, I wasn’t far from actually being a baby.

    I’m still kicking myself for suggesting Sardi’s for our most recent dinner—way too many turistas.  The other night, I went to Keens.  Terribly expensive, but so good.  In addition to the excellent food, they serve the best Bull Shots I’ve ever had.  Our waitress got me the recipe from the barman.  Much appreciated, though I don’t at all approve of waitresses in steakhouses.  Fortunately, she’s one of only a small number.

  4. Walter Wojtowicz 01:17pm, 06/15/2016

    Clarence, my friend, glorious contribution.  This reminds me of my first car, a white semi-salmon looking 1979 Ford Fairmont station wagon.  My Dad had sold it without my knowledge to a local pizza delivery guy for $75.  Something about it being too dangerous to drive… Of course, I and two other co-conspirators stole it back. Maybe it was 1987.. not sure.  We stole the car drove it all night and drank ourselves into oblivion.  And, in a show absolute idiocy pushed it into the Marquette Park lagoon.  It took a month but I paid the pizza guy back.  More amazingly, 19 fights.. Just amazing.  And, be sure next time we step out for a Manhattan feast I will be wearing shoes..!

  5. Clarence George 12:27pm, 06/14/2016

    Delighted you liked it, Irish.

    Boxing was still very much a job in 1950.  Most of today’s boxers (at least among the celebrities) are fops, dilettantes, prima donnas, and metrosexuals.  All right, tougher than your average metrosexual, but still.

    Couldn’t dance if my life depended on it, me auld warrior, but you remind me that I went to see the Off-Broadway musical “Cagney” a couple of months ago.  The guy who portrayed the legendary movie tough guy, Robert Creighton, was outstanding.  And he did indeed wear two-tone tap shoes.

  6. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 11:30am, 06/14/2016

    Clarence George-Simply great contribution to here! Nineteen fights in one year….like one every two and a half weeks! We all know a guy who already has two world titles after seven fights (of course he has hundreds of amateur fights on his resume). It takes a real man to wear two tone red and green wing tips! Do you have tap cleats on those babies”? I’m betting you can tap out a mean Buck and Wing!

  7. Clarence George 05:34am, 06/14/2016

    So glad you liked it, Mr. Danton.

    Legs is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Queens, as is his wife, who herself got hit a couple of years after her husband.  One of his main squeezes was Kiki Roberts.  While nowhere near as hot as Dona Drake (Louis Amberg’s moll), she was nevertheless a shameless strumpet in need of the most vigorous disciplinary measures.

    All the best,

    Ben Welden

  8. Ray Danton 03:55am, 06/14/2016

    I enjoyed the way you geographically intertwined the pink (or fuschia) Cadillac and your two-one shoes into this wonderful story. Another notable who was very fond of two-tone wing tips was Jack “Legs” Diamond, the dapper racketeer who was known for “dating” scores of strumpets, bootlegging, and dancing. Having read much about him, his passion for shoes rivaled his expertise in conducting illicit activities.

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