Will the Real Chu Chu Malave Please Stand Up?

By Peter Weston Wood on August 12, 2015
Will the Real Chu Chu Malave Please Stand Up?
His transformation from serious boxer to flamboyant sports celebrity took its toll.

“Professional boxing is a no-win situation. The boxer leaves the ring a partial man. All the wealth and fame will not bring back what has been lost…”

Chu Chu Malave, the former fighter, is hunched over a keyboard. He disregards the cracks in the dirty plaster walls, the cockroaches, the filth. He ignores the homeless people clinking bottles outside his window at the bottle depot. 

Chu Chu sits at a desk in his tiny rented room of the St. Frances Hotel, punching out his painfully honest autobiography — The Longhaired Boxer.

He’s writing his life story — “the way it used to be.” It’s an excruciating reflection of his tempestuous life as a pro boxer. “Professional boxing is a no-win situation. The boxer leaves the ring a partial man. All the wealth and fame will not bring back what has been lost, a healthy brain.”

As a fighter, Chu Chu sought that wealth and fame. He got a bit of the fame but missed the wealth. He writes, “Sadly, poverty, loneliness, and depression are what the boxer is left with after giving up so much of himself.”

So he writes his story, laying himself bare. “I’m meeting my demons head-on.”

Chu Chu is now homeless.

A high school dropout from the Bronx, Chu Chu, in his fifties, enrolled in California State University and gained a Bachelor’s Degree in English. Now he sits at his computer spilling out, word by word, his intense boxing journey, and the heartbreaking foray into the world of acting afterwards. 

He asks himself: What series of mistakes have led me to this low point in my life?

Page by page he plugs along, exposing his strengths and weaknesses for the world to see.

“Even more devastating, as well as fascinating, is the realization that we are partners of our own demise,” he writes.

Why, after retiring from the ring 39 years ago, does Chu Chu now find himself sitting alone in a tiny low-rent hotel on 5533 Hollywood Boulevard, in Los Angeles, writing his autobiography? 

I think I know. He has always had this book burning inside him — he just didn’t know it till now.

Or, perhaps, he simply needs the money that a published book might bring.

Or, perhaps, because, now at 60 years old, Chu Chu is finally ready to confront, and rid himself of the poison that’s been eating at him for all these years.

Someone once said, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” In The Longhaired Boxer, Chu Chu reveals his secrets.

One painful secret is Ramona. Ramona is a promiscuous woman “who had not done us right.” She is an adulterer who a young Chu Chu would hear moaning with lust behind her bedroom door as she serviced “a series of men.”

Ramona is Chu Chu’s mother.

Another of Chu Chu’s dark secrets is Cano. Cano is a brain-addled heroin addict, a schizophrenic boxer who grew up with Chu Chu and who fought alongside him during their glorious amateur days.

Cano is Chu Chu’s brother.

Chu Chu’s most baffling and poignant secret is Edwin, a cute, blue-eyed, white-skinned boy. Edwin is a young Puerto Rican ruffian from the Bronx “…who was ashamed to be Puerto Rican” and who “crossed over to white America, shedding the vestiges of his Hispanic roots, wanting nothing to do with being Hispanic.” 

Edwin is Chu Chu.

So Chu Chu/Edwin sits and writes, trying to make sense of his life. He sits inside The St. Frances Hotel — the same fleabag hotel where Martin Luther King’s assassin, James Earl Ray, spent his spare time taking dancing lessons, attending bartending school, and obtaining a $200 nose job from a local plastic surgeon.

The young, blue-eyed, white-skinned Chu Chu Malave and his three siblings grew up in the New York City projects. At home, parental support was lacking and the Child Protective Services needed to come to their aid. The four Malave children were placed in the Mt. Loretto orphanage in Staten Island.

It was then, at this tender and impressionable age, that boxing crawled inside the two Malave brothers — Chu Chu and Cano — and saved them from the streets. 

Cano was a natural puncher, but Chu Chu was a better boxer who matured into a heavily-decorated amateur winning two New York Golden Gloves championships, two Spanish Golden Gloves championships, the highly-touted Gene Tunney Award, and was selected the A.A.U. Boxer of the Year.

In 1968 Chu Chu and Cano, (now called “Vince”), both lightweights, became the first-ever NYC Golden Gloves Co-Champions in Madison Square Garden. 

But it was Chu Chu, with his tantalizing talent and eloquent style who delighted die-hard fight fans with his speedy fists and spunky attitude. Not Vince.

Chu Chu devotes 138 pages, one third of his autobiography, to his amateur years training at The Gramercy Gym at East 14th Street in lower Manhattan, and at the PAL gym in the 114th Precinct. This was in the 1960s, when amateur boxing was still sensational back-page fodder for the Daily News, before the wussification of headgear.

After eight years fighting as an amateur, amassing a 56-6 record with 25 knockouts, Chu Chu turned pro. “My foundation was rock-solid, strong, and I was ready to take it to the next level.”

Chu Chu fought his first pro fight in 1970. With Vern DePaul, his trusted amateur manager by his side, Chu Chu quickly climbed the pro ranks in the super-lightweight division.

Fame, inside and outside the boxing ring, came early for Chu Chu. His quick fists, trademark long hair, and hippie clothing, attracted a new breed of boxing fan in New York City. It was an eclectic mix of artists and high society aficionados, which included Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol and Elia Kazan.

Chu Chu was a refreshing oddity, “a novelty act” — a handsome boxer who appeared in the society columns of Vogue, Oui magazine articles, and Esquire advertisements.

“A feature article in Women’s Wear Daily proclaimed me as one of the sexiest athletes of the ‘70s along with Joe Namath, Mark Spitz, and a small list of others.”

The Boricua sitting up in the nosebleed section along with the privileged elite at ringside cheered together for this young bohemian boxer who kept winning his fights at Sunnyside Garden, The Felt Forum, and Madison Square Garden.

Harold Weston, Irish Pat Murphy and Percy Hayles all lost to this new rock-star-hippie-tough guy who fought with panache and flair.

And there were wild victory parties held at Chu Chu’s chic East Village apartment on Second Avenue and Avenue B. Drugs and booze were free flowing, but Chu Chu never indulged.

“My world had grown incrementally richer and livelier. It had offered me so much more…sophistication, some money, art, social significance, and the feeling of belonging to something much bigger than my humble beginnings. It made me feel I mattered to those who knew me. I was no longer an introvert, but outgoing and confident.”

He was not perceived by the privileged jet-setters to be just a poor kid from the projects.

Or maybe he was.

Nevertheless, Chu Chu writes, “I wasn’t looking back. I crossed over to white America…But I never really connected with any of them. I was a loner. An outsider.”

Chu Chu severed all family ties, “seeing them as too entrenched in the Hispanic culture. I was going through a classic case of identity crisis. I was brainwashed since childhood into believing that anything having to do with white America was better.”

Chu Chu began socializing with the theater crowd, appearing in a few stage productions, and breaking into television, while his older brother, Vince, began sinking deeper into despair and hanging out “with street thugs getting stoned,” a life which soon led him to heroin addiction and AIDS.

But Chu Chu’s journey was upward. “My mission was to elevate my mind, and my soul was being enriched by knowledge…A boxer who could engage in intelligent discussions was unusual in its day. Even my mannerisms changed to emulate whites that impressed me. I wanted to be like them.”

But after two years fighting in the pro ranks, Chu Chu was becoming more and more confused and ambivalent about the rough and tumble sport he once loved. His commitment to boxing began to wane. “The difference between involvement and commitment is a ham and egg sandwich — the chicken is involved, the pig is committed,” said Gerry Cooney, the once fearsome heavyweight contender.

Chu Chu was becoming more chicken than pig — less committed.

All of the glitz and celebrity coming his way was intoxicating.  But reading between the lines, the reader senses that Chu Chu was maintaining only a sporadic contentment with himself. He seems more happyish than happy.

His transformation from serious boxer to flamboyant sports celebrity and actor took its toll. 

In June, 1973 Chu Chu suffered a devastating knockout at the hands of Portland Oregon’s Ray Lampkin, a talented super lightweight with a 20-1-1 record. 

Three months after his loss, the matchmaker for Madison Square Garden, Teddy Brenner, put Chu Chu in the ring with ex-champion Ken Buchanan, after Buchanan’s rematch with Roberto Duran fell through.

Chu Chu, for the first time in his life, was an “opponent” — a stepping stone for Buchanan, the former World Lightweight champion from Scotland.

“My purse was a measly $10,000, plus $500 for closed-circuit TV, the most I ever made as a pro.”

Chu Chu writes, “A win against Ken Buchanan would bring about the Roberto Duran-Chu Chu Malave match in the Garden. Although it’d be monumental and big money to be made, I’d turn it down…My plans were to go to Hollywood and pursue acting. No one knew this, not even Vern.”

On fight night, Kenny Buchanan manhandled Chu Chu, winning a seventh round TKO.  “The fans knew it was the end at the precise moment I did,” writes Chu Chu. “So did the pretty ladies at ringside who covered their eyes so as not to see me take another hard blow.”

It was Chu Chu’s last pro fight.

In 1974, after three years fighting as a pro, logging an impressive 20-5-2 ring record, Chu Chu walked away from prizefighting and headed for Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting.

Acting was good work, and it was not at the expense of hurting himself or others. 

But he was entering into another world where his achievements in boxing had no relevance.

He appeared in Pinero’s Short Eyes, worked with Al Pacino in the smash hit Dog Day Afternoon, co-stared with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal in The Main Event, and nailed down a one-year stint in New York for a starring role in the NBC soap For Richer, for Poorer.

During For Richer, for Poorer “I lived high on the hog the whole time in New York, in my loft on East 13th Street, and I partied at Studio 54 regularly. I was making good money and my fame transitioned to being a soap opera star, an actor. People stopped me on the street for autographs…Once again, I was enjoying fame and it nourished the need in me to feel loved and validated.”

But reading between the lines of his heartfelt autobiography, Chu Chu Malave, despite his success, seems adrift and divorced from himself. He seems to be the happiest unhappy person in New York.

“A twenty-five year career as thespian amid the occasional triumphs and disappointments had not ultimately produced the results I had hoped for.”

He is now homeless.

“I’m hungry. Every day I’m hungry. I’m receiving ninety-two dollars a week from unemployment.” He makes barely enough money to pay for his room in the St. Francis Hotel. “I’m eating tuna sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

“The name Chu Chu Malave,” he laments, “has become an albatross since my retirement from the ring and expulsion from acting. I’ve come to hate the name and I switch to the shorter version of my birth name, Edwin to Ed. with a period (.) as a way of maintaining some semblance of my uniqueness.”

Chu Chu is someone he used to know.

                                                                    * * *

I remember that spectacular night back in 1969 when Chu Chu was young…I was sitting in a sold-out Madison Square Garden when he and his brother Vince stood victorious in the ring. Under the bright ring lights, both boys were smiling from ear to ear after being proclaimed New York City Golden Gloves Co-Champions. They were happy — not happyish.

A year later, in The Felt Forum, I remember the smile on young Chu Chu’s face after defeating a slick Ricky Thomas in a six-round bout. It was a happy smile — not happyish.

I clearly remember my train ride going uptown after that fight. It was a chilly April evening and Chu Chu was riding in the same car. I regret being too young and shy that night to approach him to congratulate him on his victory. He was wearing the coolest cloth, multi-colored, motorcycle jacket I’d ever seen. Standing beside him, rocking back and forth with the motion of the car, was an adoring girlfriend. The purple mouse beneath his eye, a gift from Ricky Thomas that night, did not diminish the happy smile on his face.

Chu Chu was not happyish that night. He was happy.

Chu Chu Malave…Edwin Malave…Ed. Malave — whoever you decide to be — Hispanic…White…ex-boxer…ex-actor…college graduate…writer — hang in there.  You’ve written an excellent book. The Longhaired Boxer is a poignant autobiography which screams to be put to film. 

And, hey, Chu Chu/Edwin/Ed. — Congratulations on beating Ricky Thomas that night in The Felt Forum.

Better late than never.

Peter Wood 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 books: Confessions of a Fighter, and A Clenched Fist—The Making of a Golden Gloves Champion, published by Ringside Books.

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Chu Chu Malave Boxing 1971

Chu Chu Malave vs Percy Hayles 10 Rds. -- Ken Buchanan (First 5 Rds.)

Chu Chu Malave vs. Willie Daniels (10 Rds) Scranton, Penn. (1972)

Chu Chu Malave vs Ken Buchanan. (Rds. 5, 6, 7) Felt Forum Main Event. (1973) NYC

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  1. Ed. Malave 06:05am, 12/05/2017

    For those who commented on Pete Wood’s wonderful story on Chu Chu Malave, I would like to clarify that when I first started writing The Longhaired Boxer (1995), I was homeless, staying in a hotel. I have since gotten out of there living productive life for which writing has brought deeper meaning to my life. READ THE BOOK! and you will learn how I reinvented my life to be more than what some expected. THE LONGHAIRED BOXER by Ed. Malave aka Chu Chu…

  2. JJ 12:29pm, 06/06/2017

    What an amazing life and story.  Ed. (Chu Chu), I remember you as an actor on so many of my favorite shows.  Be proud of all you accomplished.  You started out with the deck stacked against you, but you accomplished great things.  I’m sorry for your struggles and hardships… don’t ever quit.  You have the warrior spirit.  I remember you in Dog Day Afternoon tackling Al Pacino.

  3. Frank Rosa 01:26pm, 01/13/2017

    Knew Chu Chu from the orphanage Mount Loerrto in Staten Island,we all use to talk and bragged about him as someone who made it, We are still very proud of him, Chu if you read this you might remember Jimmy Rosa and Mitch Rosa from the Mountt, Much Love

  4. Alan W. 07:17pm, 08/24/2015

    This reminds me of the line in Death of a Salesman.  Biff says about Willy: “The man never knew who he was.”  I suppose the same can be said about a lot of us.  I feel for Chu Chu, but at least he’s trying, and doggedly, to figure it out, despite all the pain inherent in the journey.  I wish him well; the guy’s got guts.  Very well told, Peter.

  5. Jane 11:51am, 08/22/2015

    A fascinating story. I assume he is a good writer from the parts quoted and certainly think the book is worth reading. I’m not sure why he is homeless. With the talents he has and the experiences he had acting, etc., what happened to him? It seems he wasn’t a drinker or druggie, so I guess he squandered his money on partying. Obviously his boxing injuries didn’t compromise his writing abilities. I like the way you worked his writing into it. I hope the book will make big sales and get him back on his feet.

  6. NYIrish 07:36pm, 08/18/2015

    Knew Chu Chu and Vern DePaul back in the day of the 14th St Gym and the PAL. I’ve got a few stories but send for his book. I just did. Hope they are doing well.

  7. J Russell Peltz 10:53am, 08/15/2015

    I was there at the Garden that night when he and Vincent were declared co-champs rather than have two brothers fight each other in the finals.  I also remember him from his early fights and, if I recall, he fought Harold Weston in a 9-round fight since one guy wanted 10 rounds and the other guy wanted 8.  In the summer of 1971, I met him for the only time at Camp Drum in upstate New York when we both were there with our separate US Army Reserve Units for the annual two-week summer camps drills.  Let’s hope he makes it back!

  8. Mike Silver 06:35pm, 08/13/2015

    Fabulous article Pete. As a boxer the very talented Chu Chu was a victim of his times. What kind of knucklehead promoter puts a popular New York Hispanic fighter with 26 fights against a 50 bout former champion still in his prime? Instead of continuing to build up and develop Chu Chu Teddy Brenner “the world’s greatest matchmaker” (sic ) gets him knocked off, something the overrated Brenner did far too often to so many other promising boxers in the 1960s and 1970s.

  9. Lois Powers 03:56pm, 08/13/2015

    Wow. Great review of a great book. Ed.,  I’m so thrilled that you finished college, wrote this book, and raised 3 wonderful girls.

  10. Bob 02:32pm, 08/13/2015

    What a wonderful article. I’m glad that Malave was able to share his thoughts, insights, triumphs and tumult, and that Peter Wood was able to so deftly not only review the book, but also relate his own experiences as they related to Malave.. I especially liked the happy vs. happyish analogy and Wood’s description of seeing Malave in the subway after one of his fights. I also would likely have been to shy to say hello, and regretted it later.  I am looking forward to reading the book and hope that Chu Chu can somehow come to internal peace with his past and present. He is clearly an intelligent and insightful man, and his boxing is just one of many things that make him an exceptionally intriguing character.

  11. Bill Angresano 11:56am, 08/13/2015

        Tough article Peter ! Very sad to hear. Remember him well!! And of course that fight in the then Felt Forum where I sat ringside wincing watching him contest with Ken Buchanan. George Chuvalo was a co-commentator with beautifully articulate insight, and I wondered where Malave would go from there…

  12. Eric 11:31am, 08/12/2015

    Great article, and a great quote by Gentleman Gerry Cooney to boot.

  13. nicolas 11:28am, 08/12/2015

    Irish Frankie. Yes there was no rematch for Duran with Buchanan, but it was not all that competitive, though Duran does Buchanan props as perhaps the best light weight he ever fought. I don’t think however the rematch would have been any different. All one can say really is that the foul just did not allow Bucahnana to lose the title by Unanimous decision.

  14. marvin moskowitz 09:56am, 08/12/2015

    I saw Malave fight Buchanan.. it was at the felt forum..Malave was tough but Buchanan was just too much for him..

  15. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:12am, 08/12/2015

    Peter Wood-Thanks for the very interesting and thought provoking article. Hoping and praying his book will be a great success….in the meantime he deeds to apply for Medicaid and get an EBT card ASAP…unemployment doesn’t cut it. Tuna sands three times a day?! He needs to stock up on Top Ramen and buy his veggies a the 99 Cents store.Twenty five years an actor and not even a tiny pension? Did he have a SAG card? Thank God he still has a good brain. Viewing the video above of Ken Buchanan taking him apart reminds me that Duran beat Ken on a foul and never gave him e rematch.

  16. Mike Casey 07:01am, 08/12/2015

    I remember Chu Chu well, Peter. Who could ever forget him? A very interesting and fascinating insight.

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