Whitechapel Windmill: Jack Kid Berg

By Norman Marcus on June 30, 2014
Whitechapel Windmill: Jack Kid Berg
Jack twice fought Cuban sensation Kid Chocolate, who loved to party and paid the price.

He arrived here when he was just eighteen years old. He fought seventy-six times in the US, winning sixty-four bouts…

Judah Bergman aka Jack Kid Berg or the Whitechapel Windmill, was born in Odessa, Russia in 1909. The son of an Orthodox rabbi, Berg grew up poor in London’s East End. He fought on the streets as many young men did in those days, just to stay alive. He burst upon the fight trade in the 1920s. Later he would fight in the ring with a Star of David on his trunks. Jack was not religious but it did help bring the Jews of London out to see him. Berg did not disappoint them. He started fighting at fourteen years of age, in his old neighborhood. His home base was a club called Premier Land, on Back Church Lane right there in Whitechapel, London. Jack fought his first thirty-seven bouts there, winning thirty-three, losing three and drawing twice. He quickly moved on to America and big time boxing.

Berg fought his nemesis Tony Canzoneri on January 17, 1930 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was a SD10 for Jack. James P. Dawson of the New York Times reported the fight this way: “Fighting one of the most important struggles of his career, Berg rose to the occasion by giving Canzoneri one of the worst beatings he has ever experienced and winning the decision to the complete satisfaction of the crowd which jammed the Garden. However, the official verdict was not unanimous. Referee Mike Hylas voted for Canzoneri, while Judges Patrick and Le Cron made Berg the victor.”

Berg was the junior welterweight champion of the world from 1930 to 1931. He knocked out Mushy Callahan at the Royal Albert Hall in London on February 18, 1930. Joe Jacobs was the promoter of the match. Jacobs also managed heavyweight Max Schmeling. Callahan was Jewish but fought under an Irish name. His real name was Vincent Morris Scheer. It was common to assume a popular ethnic identity in those days, if those fans would support you. It gave the fighter a readymade fan base. Mushy liked the masquerade so much, that he later converted to Catholicism for real. His eldest son followed after his father and became a Jesuit priest. 

When Berg fought Callahan for the junior welterweight title, all hell broke loose. Sparring partner Moe Moses recalled the action. “Berg tore in with both hands working. He never gave Callahan a chance to ‘find his feet.’ Berg’s fists don’t stop even in a clinch. He is doing something all the time. He gave Mushy a real thrashing and the American retired at the end of the tenth round. When Berg’s bandages were off we saw that his right hand was swollen to twice its normal size. Berg just laughed it off. How he fought with such a bad injury I don’t know.”

It’s interesting to note that Jack fought and made most of his cash in America. He arrived here when he was just eighteen years old. It was far from where he grew up in the United Kingdom. But the money was much better! He fought seventy-six times in the US, winning sixty-four bouts.

Luckily he was taken under the wing of the great New York trainer, Ray Arcel. Ray trained many contenders and champions during the 1930s and ‘40s. He saw great talent in this young man. Jack had two managers during his boxing career, Harry Levine and Sol Gold.

Jack twice fought the great Cuban sensation Kid Chocolate. Their first fight was on August 7, 1930 at the Polo Grounds in Brooklyn, New York. The fight went the 10-round distance. The judges split with the referee giving it to Berg. Two years later, on July 18, 1932 at the Madison Square Garden Bowl, Long Island City, Queens, the judges split again. Referee Johnny McAvoy gave it to Berg on a SD15. Jack got $66,000 for that bout. This money set the Kid up for life. It was learned years later that Chocolate was suffering from syphilis at the time. The disease was playing havoc with his physical and mental condition. Chocolate loved to party and paid the price.

Jack later lost his title to the same Tony Canzoneri on April 24, 1931 in Chicago. It was a KO3 for the American. The Associated Press wrote, Canzoneri “won the first two rounds easily and battered Berg to defeat in the third round without being in the slightest danger himself.” Berg also lost a 15-round decision for the lightweight and junior welterweight championship of the world, again to Tony Canzoneri, at the Polo Grounds on September 10, 1931.

The Associated Press reported that “The bout was originally scheduled to be staged in London, England, where the championship would have changed hands when Berg went to the floor from a foul blow in the eighth round. As it was under NYSAC rules, a fighter could not win or lose on a foul, although 18,000 fans shouted protests. Referee Patsy Haley counted over Berg as if he had been sent to the canvas by a legitimate blow.” Jack did get up however, and finish the bout.

Sparring partner Moe Moss wrote about his training camp experiences with Jack.

“I found at once that Kid Berg has two different personalities. In private life he was a born joker…a real pal. In training and in the ring…he never smiles, hardly ever says a word, and is the typical strong silent man… He takes his gym and road work very seriously. He doesn’t stop at the end of a couple of miles. He runs the seven, eight or ten miles which his trainer has planned, no half measures. When he had finished his training each day… he was full of spirits and ideas as to how to make camp life go with a swing.”

Jack officially retired from the ring in 1939 with a win over a future junior welterweight champion Tippy Larkin. World War II was approaching, so Berg decided to return home and join the RAF (Royal Air Force).

After the war he followed the path of other famous fighters. He was a stuntman in the movies. With his new connections, he opened a posh restaurant in London, which was highly successful. He also became a boxing announcer, covering bouts on the radio.

Berg’s final record was 157-26-9 with 61 KOs. He holds the distinction as the longest living British boxing champion. He died at the age of 81 in 1991.

Sources: “Sparring with Kid Berg”(1934) by Moe Moss Stepney, New York Times, April 24, 1991; Obituaries, New York Times Sports, January 17, 1930; James P. Dawson, Associated Press, “Canzoneri,” September 10, 1931.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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  1. JOHN HARDING 06:39am, 03/27/2018

    Why not read the full story of his life in The Whitechapel Whirlwind, the new edition of the original book, The Whitechapel Windmill by myself, John Harding along with Kid Berg himself. To be published by Pitch Publishing in October.

  2. Tony 11:22pm, 08/19/2014

    Excellent article. Jack was my uncle (my father’s brother) and was actually born in Whitechapel England on June 28th 1909.  I have the Kid Berg collection of memorabilia and heard all his stories first hand.

  3. Howard Fredrics 03:09pm, 07/05/2014

    Excellent article, Norman.  One small correction.  Jack continued to fight professionally past 1939, with his last fight being in 1945, a victory against Johnny MacDonald.

  4. Bob 04:29am, 07/01/2014

    Fantastic article. Great reading it and loved the episode of “This is Your Life.”  Great way to start a day.

  5. Mike Silver 07:56pm, 06/30/2014

    Thanks for this wonderful story on “The Whitechapel Windmill”. The way he fought those extra miles of roadwork certainly came in handy.

  6. beaujack 06:35am, 06/30/2014

    Great piece Norman on Jackie Kid Berg, he of unlimited stamina.
    Every time I watch the “This Is Your Life” segment where his oldtime trainer Ray Arcel appears in the studio and the surprised Kid Berg
    utters the words"I love you”, I shed a tear!. Good stuff!

  7. peter 05:44am, 06/30/2014

    Norman. thank you for yet another classic Boxing.com story! The accompanying documentary, “Jack ‘Kid’ Berg - “This is your Life” is excellent—and touching—particularly at the end when Berg meets his old trainer,  Ray Arcel. Excellent stuff.

  8. Mohummad Humza Elahi 05:22am, 06/30/2014

    Great piece, Norman.  The East End has a long and storied tradition in boxing, one that continues today at York Hall, a tiny venue that packs out with locals for small shows.  Still on my bucket list of things to do, I’m ashamed to say!

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