Tony Galento: The Quest

By Clarence George on October 9, 2013
Tony Galento: The Quest
Of all the girls in all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, naturally he wants yours.

Given the quality of this gem, why would I need another, and inevitably lesser, Galento autograph? That’s an easy one—I’m greedy…

“Who is this guy, Queensberry? I don’t see anything wrong in sticking your thumb into a guy’s eye. Just a little.”—Tony Galento

I’ve had it more than 20 years, framed and hanging on a wall sandy pink, and it remains one of my most prized possessions. An International News photo from June 24, 1940, of Tony Galento, 1930s heavyweight contender and dirty fighter nonpareil, and Joe Louis, Heavyweight Champion of the World. Galento, a baby grand with that bowling-ball head of his, wearing what appears to be a black wifebeater; Louis, tall, slender, nattily dressed in a checked sports coat. The champ holds Tony’s taped right fist in both hands. His touch is gentle, but sure. He looks at the hand, a jeweler appraising a diamond. Tony, he too looks at his hand. But he doesn’t study it. He’s never studied anything in his life, least of all his own fist. He knows what it is…and what it does.

There’s a slug attached to the photo, brown and faded the way time is brown and faded. The purple characters are all in caps:

“K.O. Artist O.K.‘s Galento

“Summit, N.J…Heavyweight champion Joe Louis, right, takes a look at Tony Galento’s powerful right hand at Galento’s Summit, N.J., training camp where the New Jersey barkeeper, whom Louis once flattened, is getting ready for his bout with former heavyweight champ Max Baer, of California. Louis said Galento looked ‘very strong.’ The winner of the Baer-Galento bout, which will be held at Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, N.J., July 2, may get a crack at Louis’ crown.”

“Two Ton” Tony had lost to Louis at Yankee Stadium on June 28, 1939, stopped by fourth-round TKO, though he’d left-hooked “The Brown Bomber” to the canvas in the third. Is that why Joe is looking at Tony’s right hand? Would the left have conjured too unpleasant a memory?

There was to be no second “crack at Louis’ crown,” not with Max Baer retiring Galento in the seventh. Baer, who’d been kayoed by Louis in 1935, didn’t get a second bite at the championship apple either. He instead stopped Pat Comiskey in September 1940 and, in his last fight, in April 1941, was stopped in turn by Lou Nova. Louis faced Al McCoy in December 1940, retiring him in the fifth. 

In what would prove to be his last significant fight, Tony took on Max’s brother, Buddy, on April 8, 1941, at the Uline Arena in D.C., where Tony, claiming to have broken his left hand, was stopped by seventh-round TKO.

Worth noting, because Tony writes on the other side of the slug: “first round I broke my left hand in the Bare [sic] fight.”

The photo itself is boldly inscribed in black ink: “To My Friend Joe [Louis?] Best Wishes Tony Galento.”

Given the quality of this gem, why would I need another, and inevitably lesser, Galento autograph? That’s an easy one—I’m greedy.

Just such a signed photo—“To My Pal Vince Best Wishes Tony Galento”—came up at auction recently. Galento in a short-sleeve shirt, pleated pants too high at the waist, looking at the camera, left hand nestled on the shoulder of one Vince Handley, the right shaking Handley’s hand. Well, not so much shaking it…looks more like the guy in The Bank Dick. You know, the bank director who was always offering W.C. Fields his “hearty handclasp,” fingertips barely and briefly touching the palm.

I wanted it. Somebody else did too. Don’t you hate when that happens? It’s like when you want a girl and some other guy wants the same girl. Why can’t he want a different girl? But no…of all the girls in all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, he wants yours.

This guy and I start bidding. He’s on automatic bid. Whatever I do, the system trumps it. I go up to $28.75, but that verkakte automated bidding comes back with $29.75. Who am I, Bill Gates?

But…hark! A message straight from the grave at St. John’s Catholic Cemetery in Orange, New Jersey, where the little that diabetes and the consequent amputations left of him was buried shortly after his death from a heart attack at age 69 on July 22, 1979: You stick a thumb in a guy’s eye. Just a little. Everything in proportion. You know the old saying, “No foul, no win.”

I mean, Galento never even heard of the Marquis of Queensberry. I’ve heard of him, okay, but…I never met him.

So what do I do? I bring in a ringer, that’s what I do. I go to the Love of My Life, and plight my troth; anyway, I tell her of my plight. She knows her way around a greenback. She also has the finest gams I’ve ever seen on anyone, and that includes pin-ups that I study for boxing-research purposes.

Unfortunately, there was what’s known as “failure to communicate.” My eye-thumbing scheme was for her to be the high bidder, but she claims (and with no little heat, let me tell you) that that was my role, and that she would reimburse me.

I press the “Yes dear” button whenever a woman talks to me, with an occasional “Oh, extremely becoming; that eye shadow really suits you,” assuming as I do that the topic almost invariably involves face paint, perky hats, feather boas, or whatever it is these delightful but mystifying creatures find so endlessly fascinating. That’s clearly what happened in this instance, and I’m now a Galento short.

The item, by the way, sold for $37. Mine is worth several times that. So there. 

On the plus side of the ledger, my hotsy-totsy got us tickets for the Gennady Golovkin-Curtis Stevens fight on November 2 at the Garden. So though I didn’t get my sundae, at least there’s the whipped cream.

As for the cherry on top…why, the gams, of course.

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Joe Louis -vs- Tony "Two Ton" Galento 1939 (16mm Film Transfer)



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  1. Clarence George 07:20am, 10/11/2013

    Thanks so much, Mike.

  2. Mike Casey 07:02am, 10/11/2013

    Lovely article, Clarence - thoroughly enjoyed this one!

  3. peter 06:34pm, 10/10/2013

    “UV glass”—good tip. Thanks. Regarding Lorenzo Pack, he was a sad figure walking up and down Broadway. I always got the impression that whether or not his Galento-thumbing story was true or not, he got a lot of mileage telling it. If I recall correctly, my father said one of his eyes looked askew.

  4. Clarence George 12:30pm, 10/10/2013

    I remember your Lorenzo Pack story, Peter, which I found very interesting.  His name meant nothing to me, and I always like hearing about “new” boxers. 

    Is his claim true?  It could be, sure, though he fought for several years after Galento supposedly ruined his eyesight.

    The sun was envious of your treasure.  A word of advice:  Always use UV glass.

  5. peter 11:05am, 10/10/2013

    Autographs? My priceless Barney Ross autograph, which has been proudly hanging on my wall for 40 years, has completely vanished due to sun exposure. The black wooden frame is still intact, as is the white paper beneath the glass. But the sun stole my Barney Ross autograph.

  6. peter 10:59am, 10/10/2013

    Lorenzo Pack, a heavyweight who lost to Galento, always hung around Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant on Broadway. He always claimed Galento damaged his eyesight and ruined his career by thumbing him.

  7. Mike Silver 08:17am, 10/10/2013

    Yes, the Basque woodchopper was one of the iron men. Only the most perfect punch that Joe Louis probably ever threw landed him on the mat for the first and only time. And he got up!

  8. Clarence George 03:30am, 10/10/2013

    Tyson-Galento—good one, Mike.  As for Godoy, he was indeed tough as teak.

    Another worthy opponent for Tony:  Paulino Uzcudun.  Talk about tough!

  9. Clarence George 07:33pm, 10/09/2013

    I think you should run with it, Irish.

    By the way, how is it possible that you’re not reminded of Kaye Ballard?

  10. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:26pm, 10/09/2013

    Clarence George-How about an article about Toots that has Frank Gifford boinkin’ Johnny Carson’s wife somewhere in the storyline with a crestfallen Johnny crying on Rocky Graziano’s shoulder at Toot’s bar somewhere in there too. Would that be enough of a boxing connection?

  11. Clarence George 05:41pm, 10/09/2013

    Too right, FFC!

  12. Clarence George 05:39pm, 10/09/2013

    All dream matches, and a win some, lose some for Galento.  Beating Stander, but losing to Frazier, for example.

  13. The Fight Film Collector 05:31pm, 10/09/2013

    You gentleman are describing Galento vs et al as matches of purely skill and strength.  Be sure to include the following factors in your detailed analysis; thumbing, low blows, back hands, elbows, tackles, head locks and body slams.  And that’s just during the refs instructions.

  14. El Bastardo Magnifico 04:48pm, 10/09/2013

    Bonavena vs The Ton- now that would have been something yes. Eric how do you see The Ton vs Quarry going??

  15. Eric 04:17pm, 10/09/2013

    @Magnifico,
    Stander was being compared to Galento before his title match with Frazier, Stander was pretty tough, and was fond of beer and brawling, but other than that, the comparison is quite unfair to Galento. What about Oscar Bonavena vs. Galento? Give or take an inch Galento’s dimensions are quite comparable to David Tua, don’t know if Tony G cold take the Tuaman’s power though, Tua was lethal in his prime. Back to Marciano, Galento would probably be the strongest man Rocky ever faced in the ring, I doubt very much, Rocky would bull Galento around like he did Don Cockell. I see Galento scoring a flash knockdown on Rocky just as he did Louis, and Marciano pounding a bloody Galento into submission after 5-6 rounds. Despite the weight disparity, Marciano’s suffocating, relentless style would allow him to beat Galento, but not without getting tagged by the much heavier man.

  16. EL BASTARDO MAGNIFICO 02:59pm, 10/09/2013

    C.G. all kinds of dream match ups here- The Ton vs Chuvalo, The Ton vs Joe Frazier and for that matter The Ton vs Ron Stander, The Ton vs Jerry Quarry

  17. Clarence George 02:28pm, 10/09/2013

    Quite right, Irish.

    There’s an excellent documentary on him, which I heartily recommend.

  18. Clarence George 02:25pm, 10/09/2013

    He did indeed train on spaghetti and beer, I assure you, FFC.  But even if he didn’t…legend trumps truth, as was made clear in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

  19. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 02:17pm, 10/09/2013

    Clarence George-As a Jew coming up in an ethnic neighborhood in Philadelphia where Jewish families were few in number….early on Toots learned to be pretty darn handy with his fists. As the story goes he was getting bullied/beat up and his Mom was the one who told him to get back out there and fight and that’s just what he did…..reports were that he had a hellacious left hook.

  20. The Fight Film Collector 02:15pm, 10/09/2013

    Clarence, you’re the authority on Mr. G.  Just goes to show how far a man can go on carbs and calories.

  21. Clarence George 02:05pm, 10/09/2013

    Hard as it is to believe, FFC, I don’t think there’s much, if any, exaggeration regarding Galento’s, um, dietary regimen.  I think he did indeed “train” primarily on spaghetti and meatballs, and that other “major food group.”

  22. Clarence George 01:58pm, 10/09/2013

    I agree, Eric.  It would have been a fantastic brawl, in which Rocky probably would have been badly hurt.  But he was so superior to Tony, and I think his Suzie Q would have done to him what it did to Jersey Joe Walcott.  I’ll tell you this, though, in a genuine dockyard brawl, I’d bet on Galento against Marciano…against just about anyone.

  23. The Fight Film Collector 01:49pm, 10/09/2013

    I’m willing to bet there’s some myth making regarding Galento’s diet.  Though beer is one of the five major food groups.

  24. Eric 01:40pm, 10/09/2013

    Never really thought about a Galento-Marciano bout, but it certainly looks good on paper. Definitely two of the toughest paisanos to ever lace on the mitts. One thing for certain, there would be plenty of claret spilled in that one. Probably couldn’t find two more opposite fighters outside of the ring, but Marciano and Galento were both sluggers who didn’t mind the sight of blood. Have to go with the Brockton Blockbuster, as tough as Tony was, I just think the Rock’s workrate would wear him down.

  25. Clarence George 01:16pm, 10/09/2013

    The epitome of rude health, eh, Eric?  Yes, like Ruth.  And Eubie Blake.  He smoked like a chimney, but lived to be almost 100.  But Blake, like Ruth, didn’t have to worry about getting hit by anyone.

    Galento’s personal physician thought he was literally impervious to pain, though I put it down to immense toughness.  And he was enormously strong.  I’ve heard, but haven’t been able to confirm, that a past-it Galento and a young George Foreman once tested each other by hitting the heavy bag, and that most observers thought Tony hit harder.  Almost certainly an apocryphal, if delightful, anecdote, but I’m storing it away like a squirrel with a particularly toothsome nut.

     

  26. Eric 12:53pm, 10/09/2013

    I still marvel at how Galento could live that lifestyle and be able to box with world class heavyweights. Galento’s diet of spags, hot dogs, and suds would be comparable to another tubby slugger named Babe Ruth, but Ruth just had to slug a baseball and not physical specimens who could flatten you like Max and Buddy Baer.

  27. Clarence George 12:28pm, 10/09/2013

    I’ve long wanted to write about Toots Shor, but there’s an insufficient boxing connection.

    Sugar Ray Leonard said, and I always found this amusing:  “I was, like, wow.  I mean, coming from Jackie Gleason, that didn’t sound too promising.”

  28. El Bastardo Magnifico 11:25am, 10/09/2013

    Gleason as you most certainly know was a huge fight fan and often hung out at Toots- he know doubt was having some self amusement to see what the Rock’s reaction would be. My fav Gleason line was when he was sitting ringside with Ray Leonard- might be wrong but I think it was the last Duran vs Esteban fight at Caesars and Sugar Ray Leonard said he would someday soon be fighting Duran- Gleason in response- “Don’t do it son. He will hurt you!!!!”- or something close to that- Adios - the limo awaits to the airport Viva Vegas.

  29. Clarence George 10:30am, 10/09/2013

    Thanks very much, FFC. 

    Yes, I did notice that.  Funny that Gleason asked the question, though—he surely knew that the two men never fought; indeed, that Galento was retired at the time of Marciano’s pro debut.  Well, only for three years, so I guess it could have been.  Too bad it wasn’t.

  30. Clarence George 10:21am, 10/09/2013

    Absolutely!  Two of the toughest heavies of all time.

  31. The Fight Film Collector 10:21am, 10/09/2013

    Bravo Clarence!  You’ll note in the Marciano-Gleason video when Jackie asks, “Did you ever fight him?”  Marciano quickly answers, “No Jackie,” but with a demeanor and body language that says “HELL NO!”

  32. El Bastardo Magnifico 10:16am, 10/09/2013

    I think a scrap with our very own George Chuvalo would have been something as well.

  33. Clarence George 10:13am, 10/09/2013

    Thanks very much, Magnificent Illegitimate One.

    You’re right about the video—http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kq9MNX0nZQw—one of FFC’s characteristically outstanding jobs, as is the one accompanying this piece.

    You neglected to mention Galento stopping Arthur De Kuh in the fourth despite (because of?) consuming some 50 hot dogs just prior to the bout.  Ah, but that was when the sport was rougher and far more colorful.  And was there ever anyone rougher and more colorful than Two Ton Tony?  But full points for mentioning his fight with Blassie—The Hollywood Fashion Plate’s one and only professional bout, in which he was kayoed in the second.  As for his three fights in one night…didn’t he drink beer between bouts?  Or was it between rounds?

    God knows what would have happened if Galento had met Dr. Windowpane (or whatever his moniker is).  One thing is sure—WK has never fought, and will never fight, anyone remotely like him.

    Marciano vs. Galento—a fight made in back-alley heaven.  A win for the Rock, but…he’d have known he’d been in a fight.

  34. El Bastardo Magnifico 08:59am, 10/09/2013

    What can you say about a guy that once fought a 550 pound Russian Bear. Clarence is it true that he put one south of the Rio Grande on the bear. PS what says ya about Galento fighting the Iron Fisted lean too too- My thoughts 1) He would have not put up with the shit Povetkin put up 2) He would have had some choice words for the ref 3) He would then have, giving consideration to his prior Bear scrap experience, no doubt straightened the big fella up from his sore lean too on the back problem with a little in kind south of The Rio Grande work- did I get that all in here…We are also talking about a guy that once rassled an Octopi, boxed a Kangaroo, fought three guys in one night ( that is in the ring of course- God only knows what his back alley record was) wanted to sign to scrap a Gorilla and knocked out rassler Classy Freddy Glassie and stretched Jackie Gleason in an alley- I do believe and Bruce George you will know no doubt- I think there is a video running around with Rocky Marciano interviewing Jackie Gleason about that k.o. HOW SWEET IT IS- NICE WRITE UP and Hey now, hey now, what a fight that would have been Galento vs Marciano- The Rock had a haul with fattened up former Middle- Light Heavy Don Cockell….

  35. Clarence George 08:45am, 10/09/2013

    Thanks very much indeed, Norm.

  36. Norm Marcus 08:33am, 10/09/2013

    Another nice piece on times gone by. Good work as usual Clarence.

  37. Clarence George 08:08am, 10/09/2013

    Ha!  Well, Ted, can’t say I hold with “Groovy” and the other newfangled lingo.

  38. Ted 07:52am, 10/09/2013

    GAMS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That dates you

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