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Springs Toledo’s “The Ringside Belle,” Part 1

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Mae West Weakens Legs 

Mae West burst onto the Hollywood screen like it was hers the whole time. She was fashionably late— Night After Night (1932) was half-over when she appeared outside a speakeasy surrounded by leering men. Audiences heard her before they saw her; they heard Brooklyn, with a purring lilt all her own: “Aww why don’t you boys be good and go home to ya wives.”

Behind her a peek-hole opened, then a voice. “Who is it?”

“It’s the fairy godmother ya mug!”

West received fourth billing for her film debut but was happy to work alongside George Raft, an old Gotham beau. Raft, an ex-fighter with underworld ties, starred as an ex-fighter with underworld ties. It was he who insisted that she join the cast. “Mae,” he said, “stole everything but the cameras.”

The moment she walked into the club, the white-bread background music switched to raunchy jazz—the music of Harlem. And she didn’t walk in so much as bump-and-grind past the doorman for the benefit of him and the rest of what was, but had yet to be recognized as, the weaker sex. “Don’t let those guys in,” she said with a toss of her head. “They’ll wreck the joint.”

West wrote her own lines and they sizzled like a New York sirloin. Sometimes they sizzled like forbidden love. Spotting someone in the distance, she put the brakes on her strut and a hand on her hip.

“Hey ga-rilla!” she called out. “C’mere—”

Foreplay
Mae West sprang from the loins of a cigar-chomping, bareknuckle brawler from Brooklyn called “Battlin’ Jack.” In her autobiography, she described her father as something of a free spirit with a penchant for “banging physical action” (not unlike how many described her). “My earliest memory,” she told a reporter, “was of dad coming home from making a couple of bucks —with a battered physog— and of mother flying around the kitchen with towels, hot water, and funny-smelling lotions.” Battlin’ Jack taught her how to box and before he knew it his daughter had, pardon me, fully developed. When asked whether his being a prizefighter influenced her career, she said, “Yes. It made me. You see, dad was always shadow boxing in front of the mirror at home. He wanted to be a crowd pleaser. Well, I got to using that mirror myself… I wanted to be a crowd pleaser too.”

When his prizefighting days were behind him, Battlin’ Jack drifted into other rackets. Biographers usually say he became a private detective, but it would be more apt to call him what he was—a leg-breaker in the New York underworld. West recalled his reputation for cruelty and how frequently those he confronted ended up in the hospital. “All his fighting was done doing other people’s fighting for them,” she hinted. At once attracted to and repelled by violence, her taste in men never went far from the familiar. Her second boyfriend was a young boxer with the same penchant for solving social disputes with a punch on the sniffer as her father. When a rival made a pass at her during a date, a gang fight ensued, and Battlin’ Jack appeared, escorted her out of harm’s way, and dove into the melee. “I watched it from a porch,” she said, “politely—not cheering.”

She was still close to the action after she became a Hollywood star. On Friday nights, she was found ringside at Olympic Stadium, sitting politely, not cheering. She was at Madison Square Garden when a teenage Sugar Ray Robinson won the Golden Gloves just before turning professional. She saw Henry Armstrong fighting as an amateur bantamweight in San Francisco. He saw her too. “She was there with her manager in all that beautiful white like she used to wear, stunning as ever,” he recalled. “She was sitting right in my corner.”

Gossip columnists said she was close enough to the action to touch it, and often did.

Her bedroom eyes were looking for “a guy with a nice build,” one of those guys said. “He didn’t have to be too handsome. And this is something very few people know—what excited her was a fellow with a busted nose or a cauliflower ear. She liked to fondle it, nuzzle it, kiss it.”

Mae West has been linked with more fighters than Al Haymon.

“Gentleman Jim” Corbett once left his overcoat and derby hat in her dressing room. She gave Jack Dempsey a lesson or two in the fine art of embracing like you mean it. When she quipped “C’m up an’ see me sometime” in 1933, a Hall of Fame ensemble thought she was talking to them. Jack Johnson came up to see her, she said, “several times.” Max Baer was reportedly invited to her bedroom and, well, afterward, went to the window and waved. He admitted that it was a signal to a friend that he had won their bet. West laughed. The parade continued. Jim Braddock took one look at Cinderella pure-as-New York-snow and moved faster than he ever did in the ring. (She recalled a conversation with him about, pardon me, “uppercuts and grips.”) In his autobiography, Joe Louis told a curious story about “a real good-looking white woman with blonde hair” who bought him a brand new Buick he was admiring in a showroom in Detroit and who would buy him one every Christmas between 1935 and 1940. The generous “lady” was never named, though he let on that she was a movie star with whom he had several one-night stands.

With neither altars nor apple-eyed apron-clingers slowing her momentum, success came early and through unexpected channels. A child-prodigy, ragtime singer, and queen of vaudeville, she was playing the Chicago circuit in 1917 when the first waves of African-American migrants arrived up from the South. They brought jazz and the blues with them and West became a fan enthralled. It was at a café in the South Side that she first saw the shimmy-shawobble. “They got out to the dance floor, and stood in one spot with hardly any movement of the feet,” she recalled, “and just shook their shoulders, torsos, breasts and pelvises.” West introduced the risqué dance to white audiences and had her first swig of infamy.

Much of what she saw and experienced found its way into the plays and novels she wrote. Her first play was called “SEX.” It went to stage in April 1926. She went to jail over it in April 1927, serving ten days at Roosevelt Island for obscenity (minus one or two days for good behavior) and charming the warden into letting her wear silk panties instead of state-rationed burlap. She didn’t learn her lesson. In 1930, she published a steamy novel called Babe Gordon that flaunted her preference for prizefighters and shined a spotlight on taboo topics such as black/white love affairs and nymphomania. “Babe was the type that thrived on men,” West wrote like one who knows. “She needed them. She enjoyed them and she had to have them.”

In the early Thirties, she and her black chauffer were spied climbing out of a limousine and walking arm-in-arm across Central Avenue in Los Angeles. They went to an after-hours joint near the Dunbar Hotel where they were seen all tangled up at a table. A gumshoe took notes. Around the same time pulp writer Raymond Chandler was writing “Nevada Gas,” which featured a rich and “sex-hungry looker” who got a new chauffeur every three months. Chandler was then living on Hartzell Street, a half-hour from West’s Ravenswood apartment on Rossmore Avenue.

The Hollywood social scene knew the score but kept it on the hush; after all, they all had secrets.

—West had more than most.

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF FEATHERWEIGHT LEGEND CHALKY WRIGHT IS REVEALED IN “THE RINGSIDE BELLE” …PART 2.

CHECK BACK IN A FEW DAYS!


Springs Toledo is the author of The Gods of War: Boxing Essays (Tora, 2014, $25).He can be reached at scalinatella@hotmail.com

 

 

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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