The Shocking Truth About Malcolm “Flash” Gordon

By Peter Weston Wood on March 20, 2019
The Shocking Truth About Malcolm “Flash” Gordon
His newsletter quickly became the most sought-after boxing reading material. (Sean Nam)

“How does one of boxing’s most important journalists—an artist, a guerrilla warrior, and an important muckraker—become a recluse for 30 years?”

Eliot Scher, an avid train enthusiast, is the proud owner of an impressive model train collection. His basement is a treasure trove of Pullmans, sleepers, locomotives, trestles, and train yards. Chugging trains rumble through miniature cityscapes and small villages; trains weave through pastoral countrysides; through dark tunnels, and over still blue water. His basement is everything trains.

But there are three valuable art pieces hanging on his wall which he treasures above all else. “The artist who created these amazing pen-and-ink pieces is the Michelangelo of train-art,” he says.

The artist he refers to is the legendary, almost mythic, boxing scribe—Malcolm “Flash” Gordon.

Malcolm “Flash” Gordon, a small gnome-like man who sported a long wild ponytail, surfaced in the late 1960s selling his underground boxing newsletter, “Tonight’s Boxing Program.” Flash could be found hawking it outside Madison Square Garden on fight nights, usually on the corner of 8th and 33rd Street, next to the then-named Felt Forum—without a legal permit.

His newsletter quickly became the most sought-after boxing reading material because it told the harsh truth. Flash Gordon was an intrepid muckraker unafraid to expose the dark murky secrets of professional boxing. In 1977, he reported on the fixed ABC TV United States tournament promoted by Don King (who he referred to as “Dung King”) and Ring Magazine. His coup helped to uncover this scandal, yet garnered Flash little credit and no money. Flash also was the sole strident voice reporting extensively on the Harold Smith’s MAPS promotions that embezzled $21.5 million from Wells Fargo Bank—the largest such bank theft in U.S. history.

Johnny Bos, one of Flash’s staff-writers said, “Fight fans were so ravenous for Flash’s newsletter, they would rush outside the Felt Forum on fight nights just to buy it, then leave without attending the rest of the show.”

Today, Flash Gordon’s pen-and-ink artwork, commands the same respect and veneration as “Tonight’s Boxing Program” did then.

Eliot Scher says, “My father worked for the transit authority, hence my interest in trains. When I was seven years old, my father would flash his railroad pass and the conductor would allow me to hop up into his train.” Scher points to a 3 x 4 foot glass-encased, art piece hanging on the wall. “Flash actually drew this exact engine I once hopped into as a seven-year-old boy in Sunnyside!”

When Scher spotted this art piece at a train show, he hopped again—and quickly bought it. 

Years later, Scher began to fully appreciate the detail and sophistication of Flash Gordon’s art. “I did some research, found his phone number, and called him up.”

“You’re lucky I answered,” said Flash. “Normally I don’t answer my phone.”

“I told Flash I had one of his pieces and thought it was the best railroad-art I’d ever seen, and I’d like to meet him and have him sign it.”

“‘No, I don’t do that,’ Flash said.

“I told him I’d be happy to buy him lunch, just be kind enough to sign his wonderful artwork.

“‘Naw, my art is no good,’ he said.

“Flash deflected any praise that I tried to heap upon him. He would have none of it. During our phone conversation, he was polite, but he always downgraded himself. I don’t know why. Maybe it was insecurity, or life had been cruel to him, or he was crazy.

“Flash explained how he dropped out of art school many years ago—I think it might have been Juilliard. That’s when he was still doing his train-art. But he said he couldn’t make any money with it. So, what I have here on my wall might be the last artwork he ever created.

“I never met Flash—couldn’t get to first base with him. He said he was living in an apartment, collecting magazines. I tried to meet him several times, but was never successful. He was resolute.”

Scher suspects Flash’s pen-and-ink illustrations are extremely valuable. “I know railroad-art, and I know his stuff is beyond rare. If you see any of his art anywhere else, it’s a miracle.

“In railroad-art, you will never, ever, see anything as detailed as this.”

Flash’s “Tonight’s Boxing Program” is equally as detailed. He detailed every fighter on every New York City fight card, with photos he took himself in all the New York City boxing gyms, and many in New Jersey. He would describe each fighter’s style—even the four-rounders.

In the fall of 1969, he ventured outside New York to Philadelphia when Russell Peltz began promoting fights at the legendary Blue Horizon. 

Scher continues kvelling about Flash’s art. “Let me show you Flash’s level of artistic detail. “This art piece is the Sunnyside train yard—but it’s much more than that.” He points and grins. “Look up into that open tenement window—what do you see?” I see the open window, then looking closer, I see a naked woman with her breasts hanging out.

“And look here.” He points to a tiny rat crouched in the bottom right corner. Sketched in the tiny rat’s fur is the Penn Central’s logo. “Look at the detail—every blade of grass, every brick, every rock, every window!”

Scher continues to emote with vigor. “No one can do train-art like this unless they know trains, or they are a savant. Flash Gordon is the Michelangelo of railroad-art. His stuff is the epitome of artistic success and achievement. Never will you see the minutia—the tiniest of things—it goes beyond amazing.

“In 1979, I thought I owned Flash’s only piece of art, but I freaked out when I found three more on eBay.” Scher hopped a third time. “I don’t recall what I paid for them, but it was significantly less than what they were worth.

“I still discover hidden nuggets. His compulsive detail is absolutely maniacal! I don’t think I could capture with my camera what Flash Gordon captured with his pen.”

According to Don Majeski, Flash Gordon was compulsive by nature. He said Flash printed his handmade, mimeographed boxing programs in his tiny apartment on a printing press he had bought with his Bar Mitzvah money.

In early 1980, Flash totally derailed. He had already lost his artistic steam years ago, and now he seemed to have given up his interest in boxing. 

Battling the many injustices he saw in boxing took its toll. He seemed to have become frustrated and tired, and his writing became increasingly paranoiac, pessimistic, and dark. He stopped printing his “Tonight’s Fight Program.”

For the next 30 years Flash became a recluse.

Don Majeski asks, “How does one of boxing’s most important journalists—an artist, a guerrilla warrior, and an important muckraker—become a recluse for 30 years?” 

Mike Silver, a noted writer and boxing historian who befriended Flash, wrote him letters after he disappeared, but Flash never replied.

Silver offers a possible reason. “Flash slipped into obscurity because he probably said to himself, ‘That’s it. There’s nothing else I can do for the sport of boxing. I quit.’”

But no one knows for sure.

Silver says, “I remember driving Flash home one night after a fight. He told me he was proud that he never made a profit from boxing. To Flash, it was all about the love of the sport. He was passionate about the boxers. Flash was pure. Flash told me he was once offered a boxing position, it might have been with ABC, but he turned it down because he wanted to remain independent.”

One day, Henry Hascup, the president of the New Jersey Boxing Hall Of Fame, received an email from Majeski saying he paid Flash a visit at his residence—41-29 46th Street, Sunnyside, Queens.

Flash’s apartment—2R—which bore his name was padlocked. The porter who worked on the floor informed Majeski that the apartment was vacant. 

On or about October 25, 2015, after people noticed a strong odor outside Flash’s apartment, he was found dead in his apartment.

Flash didn’t have any known relatives and was reportedly buried in an unmarked grave at Port Richmond Cemetery on Staten Island. It took about a month to remove a huge amount of items from his apartment.

The “Michelangelo of Railroad Art”—the “Intrepid Boxing Muckraker”—was 66 years old.

                                                                  * * *

Malcolm “Flash” Gordon is boxing’s unsung hero. He should not be lying in an unmarked grave in Staten Island. He should be standing proudly in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York.

“WHAT?” explodes Mike Silver. “The International Boxing Hall of Fame? Flash stood for the truth! Malcolm ‘Flash’ Gordon standing beside the person who he referred to as ‘Dung King’ and the corrupt Jose Sulaiman would be the worst insult to a guy like Flash! He’d be spinning in his grave!”


Peter Wood is the author of The Boy Who Hit Back, available on Amazon Books, or on his website: peterwwood.com. He is a 1971 NYC Golden Gloves Middleweight Finalist in Madison Square Garden; a Middleweight Alternate for The Maccabean Games in Tel Aviv, Israel, and author of two previous books: Confessions of a Fighter, and A Clenched Fist—The Making of a Golden Gloves Champion. He is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

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  1. Bob 02:37am, 03/25/2019

    Flash’s art work is incredible. At first glance they look like vintage photographs. What a talent fellow.

  2. Lucas McCain 02:40pm, 03/23/2019

    For those who share my curiosity in the art, this link includes one Gordon image and several detail enlargements

    https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/10705904_361-2-penn-central-sunnyside-train-yard-1973-poster

  3. Jerry 12:00pm, 03/22/2019

    Really enjoyed your story on Flash. I too subscribed to his Tonight’s Boxing Program and I have to say in my early days of writing for Ring, B.I. and a few other publications. Flash a couple of times came to my defense when some phony guy was posing as Jimmy Bivins and another guy ripped off one of my stories. Flash also gave me a couple nice plugs. I never met him, never exchanged mail with him, never talked on the phone but I felt a certain kinship with him. Flash like Johnny Bos and Elliott Harvith were mavericks during their time. Flash was certainly one of a kind and he is missed.

  4. Bruce 11:20am, 03/22/2019

    First, I want to thank Peter Wood for making my day with a fine piece of fresh reporting about an icon to many who love boxing.  For many years, I purchased every boxing magazine on the market, but Tonight’s Boxing Program was always read immediately upon delivery.  Today, I can leave Ring Magazine unopened on my dresser for weeks before scanning it.  I will share a Flash story with you:
    1) I was attending a post-fight party in Detroit after a Kronk show about 35 years ago.  In attendance was veteran boxing publicist Ben $$$ Greene, who worked periodically publicizing Emanuel Steward’s boxers.  Flash relentlessly blasted Greene in Tonight’s Boxing Programs, writing him off as nothing more than an alcoholic paid-off shill.  I asked Greene how he handled Flash’s attacks.  Greene told me that he pissed him off to the extent that he was going to have someone rough Flash up when he spotted him at the fights.  However, when he spotted Flash and saw that he physically resembled Woody Allen, he told me “I didn’t have the heart to go through with it.”
    2)  Finally, I understand Mike Silver’s sentiment about Flash and the IBHOF.  After all, it is true that current inductees include fight fixers, shady promoters and sanctioning body clowns.  However, I would still vote for Gordon’s induction if he were nominated.  I consider Flash, and boxing matchmaker Jackie Leonard (who testified against Carbo, Palermo, etc) as worthy of induction.

  5. c.h. 06:25am, 03/22/2019

    For being such a recluse Flash had some great contacts. I remember Flash detailing much inside information about the Luftansa (sp) heist before the press released the same information. Flash was even an associate of Stacks Edwards, who he at times travelled with to the fights in Philly. Stacks, of course, was part of “the team” that Jimmy Burke assembled for the job. I used to talk to Flash outside the Felt Forum and the Blue + Spectrum, and he had a temper if you questioned him about something he wrote but his integrity for cleaning up the sport he loved he wore on his sleeve.

  6. J Russell Peltz 04:11pm, 03/21/2019

    Flash sold programs at all of my fights from 1969 until sometime in the mid-to-late 1970s.  I have them all and am proud to have known him.  I always paid for my program even though he tried to give them to me for free, then he’d want to buy a ticket and I refused to take his money.  We’d argue for awhile but we had a great relationship until he disappeared.  One night at The Spectrum the security people wanted to lock him up for selling programs outside without a license and when they asked me I told them to leave him alone—which they did.

  7. Pete 09:16am, 03/21/2019

    Congratulations, Mr. Wood. Paint us another.

  8. peter 08:07am, 03/21/2019

    Bob—I thank you for your kind words. Always appreciated. Regarding Flash, I agree with your assessment on him. Perhaps, for him, there was safety in loneliness.

  9. peter 08:01am, 03/21/2019

    Ted—Thank-thank-thank you! Your gracious comment was, essentially, wonderful. Music to mine ears!

  10. Ted Sares 06:00am, 03/21/2019

    Chet Baker once said, if I could play like Wynton Marsalis, I wouldn’t, but I say If I could write like Peter, I would.

  11. Bob 05:10pm, 03/20/2019

    Magnificent piece. Brought back a flood of memories. Who knew that Flash Gordon was such a talented artist. It’s a shame he thought so little of his work.So many things to love in this story. The maestro turns out another masterpiece.

  12. Ted Sares 03:11pm, 03/20/2019

    Wow, Peter. Thank you for this. A marvelous if not poignant work. Thank you.

  13. John 01:03pm, 03/20/2019

    Flash was a Serpico type icon in a long forgotten pugilistic era!

  14. marvin moskowitz 12:51pm, 03/20/2019

    I spoke to Flash a few times when I would buy his programs at all the fights when I was a kid.. He started being a recluse when he spilled the beans on Don King when the feds actually had King up against the ropes after Kin’gs failed crooked United States Boxing Tournament..

  15. Lucas McCain 12:44pm, 03/20/2019

    Peter Wood writing about Flash Gordon.  Heaven in the afternoon!  I only wish there were a couple of photos of the train art described.  Some figures inspire intense loyalty and incomprehension at the same time—Fight fans on Flash Gordon, rock fans on Lester Bangs—where do these strange creatures come from?  And can we please have some more?

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