What’s in a Name?

By Clarence George on May 10, 2013
What’s in a Name?
"He was a pretty tough guy," Louis said of Burman, "and took a good punch on the head."

Sending a boy off to school with the name Clarence calls for a remarkably blunted awareness of children’s limitless capacity for cruelty…

Juliet Capulet: “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Clarence George: “Take a hike, sister.”

Sending a boy off to school (in New York City of all places) with the name Clarence calls for a remarkably blunted awareness of children’s limitless capacity for insensitivity and downright cruelty. Fortunately for me, I was the biggest boy in class and my father had taught me the basics of the manly art of self-defense. Besides, it could have been worse—my first name could have been Dick and my last name Hertz.

But while occasionally…inconvenienced, I was never embarrassed and certainly not ashamed. No shortage of notables named Clarence: Darrow, Day, Mathias, Clemons, Thomas, the Cross-Eyed Lion, and…all right, so there’s a shortage.

Any boxers named Clarence, prithee? Pretty prithee with a cherry on top? Yes indeed. Heavyweights Henry and Hill, light heavy Wilkinson, and featherweight Adams, to mention but a few. But I’ve always had a particularly soft spot for heavyweight Clarence Burman, as I do for all of Joe Louis’ so-called bums.

“Red” (78-22-2, 33 KOs) fought from 1930 to 1942 and was on The Ring‘s list of top 10 contenders from 1938 to 1940. A glorious era in the history of the Sweet Science, and Burman took on many of its hard boys: Steve Dudas (twice), Corn Griffin, John Henry Lewis, Johnny Risko, Tommy Farr (twice), Tony Musto, Melio Bettina, Joey Maxim, Tami Mauriello, and “The Brown Bomber” himself, who stopped him by fifth-round KO in 1941.

The fight was immortalized by artist Robert S. Pious in his rather unimaginatively titled Joe Louis vs. Clarence Red Burman, as well as by the San Francisco Chronicle:

“In the fifth round, his defense collapsed and Red ended the evening draped tastefully over the bottom-most rope on the south side of the ring, as cold as a living man can be… He fell slowly, in sections, till his spine hit the lowest rope. Then his head slid through to the apron of the ring, and he swayed there gently like a man in a hammock.”

Burman’s reaction to his bout with Louis must surely have been Johnny Cash’s “I tell ya, I’ve fought tougher men, but I really can’t remember when.”

“Well, I knocked him down,” said the contender. He sure did—sent the champ through the ropes in the third. “That was the only man I’ve faced lately, except Tony Galento, who really tried to fight,” said Louis of Burman. “He was a pretty tough guy, and took a good punch on the head.”

Known for his graciousness, Red said in later years: “Without Joe giving me a chance at the title, the world never would have heard of me. I’m indebted to him, and in my nightly prayers I never forgot to include his name.”

Another reason I’m warmly inclined toward Burman is because of his childhood experiences with his delightful playmates:

“I was a schoolboy in 1928 when Al Smith, the first Catholic to run for president, was campaigning against Herbert Hoover. It was a bitter election with a lot of religious bias. I came from an Irish-Catholic family that talked about Smith all the time, and kids in those days pretty much reflected what they heard their parents say at the dinner table.

“Coming home from school, some of the non-Catholic kids would taunt me about Al Smith. Arguments would start, frequently turning into punches being thrown. I won so many of those street battles that people said I should become a boxer.”

Just like me! Though in my case they said I should become a boxing writer.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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  1. Clarence George 05:08am, 07/25/2014

    James:  I’m planning on some pilgrimages in the fall.  I’d appreciate knowing the location of your father’s grave.  Thank you.

  2. Clarence George 08:46am, 07/19/2014

    You’re Red’s son?  Please share reminiscences, by all means.

  3. james burman 01:37pm, 06/25/2014

    burman is red burman birth last name i am his son-boxer

  4. Clarence George 04:44am, 05/14/2013

    I’m delighted you liked it, Bob, and of course agree—guys like Burman deserve a lot more than obscurity.

    I’m a big fan of Louis’ “bums” (as well as of Louis himself), and enjoy writing about them.  In fact, my first article for Boxing.com was on one of the dirtiest fights in the history of the Sweet Science, that between Louis opponents Tony Galento and Lou Nova.

  5. Bob 03:48am, 05/14/2013

    The stories behind all of Joe Louis’ “Opponents of the Month” are fascinating. Thanks for sharing this one, and keep them coming if you have more.  Guys like Red Burman should not be relegated to anonymity.

  6. Clarence George 04:11am, 05/11/2013

    Thanks, Peter, so glad you enjoyed it.

  7. peter 04:02am, 05/11/2013

    I enjoyed your personal slant offered here, and the colorful research on Burman. Interesting quotes here. Thanks.

  8. Clarence George 01:49am, 05/11/2013

    Irish:  “Bones” was terrific.  Is he remembered much?  I get the impression not.

    Holloway was indeed an outstanding actor, and shines brightly in a movie that I think leaves much to be desired.  I did some research, and discovered that Peter Ustinov won the Oscar that year for a film I know of, but haven’t seen—“Topkapi.”

    I always enjoy your tangents, so I’ll follow suit:  About 20 years ago, I saw Rex Harrison on Broadway in a Maugham play that also featured Stewart Granger and Glynis Johns.  Harrison had the hardest time keeping his dentures in his mouth!  And that was him, not the character he was portraying.

  9. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 10:24pm, 05/10/2013

    Clarence George-Clarence “Bones” Adams was a masterful boxer/puncher the night he beat Nestor Garza for the title as well as the night he should have gotten the nod over Paulie Ayala in their first fight. Which reminds me….Stanley Hollaway should have gotten the Oscar in ‘65 for Best Supporting Actor in a role he was born to play.

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