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George Kimball Remembers Budd Schulberg: A TSS Classic

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On this day in boxing history, Aug. 5, 2009, the great screenwriter, novelist, and essayist Budd Schulberg passed away at age 95. His passing inspired this tribute from his friend George Kimball, the longtime boxing writer for the Boston Herald who was then retired as a full-time newspaperman and writing extensively for this web site.

NEW YORK — I could tell from the choking sound on the other end of the line that the news wasn’t going to be good.  It took him awhile, and when he finally got it out, the best his son could manage was “He’s gone…”

Budd Schulberg was 95 years old and had been in ill health for several months, so it was hardly unexpected, but the unsettling moment arrived late Wednesday afternoon when Benn phoned to tell me his father had passed away an hour earlier. Budd was a giant in our field, and a giant in many others as well. He was the only man ever to have both won an Oscar and been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, but he was also my dear friend of many years, and I miss him already.

*  *  *

Budd Schulberg was 15 years old in 1929 when he sailed to England with his father, the Hollywood mogul B.P. Schulberg.  On that crossing the Schulbergs made the acquaintance of a fellow passenger on the Ile de France, a Georgia boxer named William Lawrence Stribling, who boxed under the nomme de guerre Young Stribling.

Upon learning that both Schulbergs were enthusiastic boxing fans, Stribling promised them a pair of ringside tickets for his upcoming bout at the Royal Albert Hall, where he was to fight an ungainly Italian giant named Primo Carnera.

If watching his father drop what he described as “a casually reckless wager” of 1,000 pounds when Carnera won by disqualification wasn’t enough to inspire a healthy skepticism in the younger Schulberg, the result of the return match certainly did. In what appeared to have been a pre-arranged scenario, Carnera and Stribling  met again in Paris three weeks later, and this time Carnera returned the favor by getting himself disqualified in the seventh round.  The episode made an indelible impression on Schulberg, who years later would base his cautionary boxing novel “The Harder They Fall” on the illusory rise and inglorious fall of Carnera, the heavyweight champion known as “The Ambling Alp.”

Now, think about this.

Eighty years later, this time by more modern contrivance, Budd returned to London again. This past February he flew over for the premier of “On the Waterfront,” a stage adaptation of his Academy Award-winning 1954 screenplay, at the Theatre Royal in Haymarket. Perhaps determined to reprise all facets of that 1929 rite of passage, he and his wife Betsy went from London to Paris, where they spent a week in the city that had hosted Stribling-Carnera II. They returned to London, where they attended yet another performance of On the Waterfront.

Afterward Budd repaired to a nearby pub with the cast of the London production, and spent the night celebrating with the cast. When he became ill on the flight back to New York the next day the initial assumption was that the partying was to blame, but what it really was was the onset of old age. This was particularly unsettling for Budd, because he was a month shy of his 95th birthday, and he had never before felt — or seemed — particularly old. Not to himself, not to any of us.

Benn Schulberg and I were at Madison Square Garden that night, at the Cotto-Jennings fight, when he got the phone call telling him that his dad had been taken off the plane at Kennedy Airport in a stretcher and rushed to the emergency room at Jamaica Hospital. Somewhere over the Atlantic his blood pressure had dropped alarmingly, and he barely had a pulse.

Budd improved enough over the next few days to be moved to Mt. Sinai in New York, where he could be under the care of his cardiologist, and eventually he was allowed to be home, but he remained in a weakened state. He had been in congestive heart failure for some time, and he had a chronic lung condition, the result of having sucked down some toxic fumes in a home kitchen fire several decades earlier, and then a couple of months ago he was well enough to undergo what was supposed to be routine surgery to repair a hernia. That’s when they found the cancer in his belly

There were several phone calls over the next few weeks while Budd and Betsy deliberated the various options, and since I’d had to make similar choices in the past, they consulted me on the matter. I’m not sure how helpful I was, other than to recommend an insistence on getting a full recitation of the potential benefits and consequences from whichever specialist had their ear at the moment, but in the end Budd opted for treatment. In June he came straight from a chemo appointment to attend the Boxing Writers dinner (where he received a standing ovation), and then just a few weeks ago he attended a staged reading of On the Waterfront in Hoboken. The event, by the New Artists Theatre, featured some cast members of “The Sopranos,” on the turf Schulberg’s play had immortalized, and the aura of corruption of the 50’s era had just been revived when the FBI took town a bunch of New Jersey mayors (and rabbis) a few days earlier.

“He probably shouldn’t have, but at the last minute he told me he wanted to go,” reported Benn. “He was in pretty bad shape, and I think everyone could tell that.”

“I certainly could,” said Lou di Bella, who was also in attendance that night. “I knew then that it was probably the last time I’d see him.”

*   *   *

I find myself thinking about the better times, and they weren’t so very long ago at that.  Budd and Betsy had dinner with us at our place here in New York several times over the past few years, and when it finally became apparent that climbing the stairs of an old brownstone built before the age of elevators was a burden, we met for dinner in more nonogenarian-friendly locales. A year ago March we’d attended his 94th birthday party at an Upper West Side restaurant, along with his family and a few friends, including the artist LeRoy Neiman and the actress Patricia Neal, who’d starred in the film of Budd’s “A Face in the Crowd” half a century earlier.

Even though he could doubtless feel it closing in on him over those last few years he refused to make the normal concessions to age. A couple of years ago when we were in Vegas for the Mayweather-De La Hoya fight there was a late lunch with myself, Budd and Benn, and Michael Katz. We had to find a place with a television set so we could monitor the progress of the Kentucky Derby bets we’d placed at the sports book earlier in the day. During football season, especially come playoff time, and for a big fight we’d decided not to attend in person, we’d often gather at Benn’s apartment, order up obscene quantities of food and beer, and then try to stick one another with the tab through an intricate series of wagers, usually devised by Budd.

I’m 65, and at these gatherings I was often the second-youngest person in attendance. Budd didn’t hang out with many people his own age, mainly because people his own age were mostly dead. But any father will tell you he’d rather have no better friend than his own son, and Benn, who didn’t even come along until Budd was 67, was unquestionably Budd’s best friend, his constant companion at ringside.

* *  *

I’d read Budd in my youth, long before I met him, beginning, as most do, with “What Makes Sammy Run,” without even understanding at the time the bedrock of personal experience underlying that book, or that its publication would, as his father had warned him it might, severely retard what had been a promising Hollywood career. It didn’t kill it altogether, of course. Budd was assigned to co-write a script with another member of the newly-fallen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and while that project turned into a disaster, it did provide the basis for another splendid book based on the experience, “The Disenchanted.”

He straddled the worlds of literature and pugilism throughout his life, but unlike some of his more boastful contemporaries he was not a dilettante when it came to either. He sparred regularly with Mushy Callahan well beyond middle age. The night of the Frazier-Ali fight of the century Budd started to the arena in Muhammad Ali’s limousine, and then when the traffic got heavy, got out and walked to Madison Square Garden with Ali. A year before Jose Torres died, Budd and Betsy flew to Puerto Rico and spent several days with Jose and Ramona at their home in Ponce. Art Aragon was the best man at his wedding. And when push came to shove, he put on the gloves with both Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer and kicked both of their asses, though not, as some would now claim, on the same night.

*   *    *

Budd and I had sat together at another Boxing Writers Dinner at least a quarter century earlier. I remember being pretty full of myself, because I’d just come back from a fight in Vegas where I’d had a pretty good week at the tables as well. I’d not only won what seemed to me a ton of money but had spent enough time at the tables that Gene Kilroy had gotten the casino to comp my room — after they’d already issued me a receipt that would satisfy the bean counters at the newspaper.

As I was remarking on the delicious irony of it all, Budd punctured my reverie long enough to ask “Let me ask you this, George. Could you have afforded to lose $5,000?”

He knew I had two small children, and that of course I couldn’t. He then proceeded to tell me the cautionary tale of his own father, whose gambling Jones put his family at the brink of bankruptcy a couple of times. That night told me the story that would later appear in Moving Pictures, the biography of his early days in Hollywood, of the floating poker game that convened at the Schulberg manse just before young Budd was sent to his room to do his homework. When he came downstairs for breakfast eight hours later, his father was still at the table, where he was writing out a check for $20,000 to Chico Marx.

He was afflicted with a lifelong stammer that seemed to grow worse when he became excited or impatient, which wasn’t often. It has occurred to me more than once over the years that this probably evolved into an asset to his writing and his unerring ear for dialogue, because most conversations were so essentially one-sided that he became a very good listener.

*   *   *

In World War II he served in the OSS, and in the war’s aftermath was part of the prosecution team at the Nuremburg Trials, where his job was assembling photographic and film evidence for use against the Nazis on trial for war crimes.

He had been a Communist Party member in the late1930s, but had long since repudiated his ties after he had seen firsthand the evils of Stalinism. Although unlike many former CP members he retained a leftist stance on social and political issues throughout his life, he was tarred by his agreement to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. Many of his colleagues who refused were blacklisted, and lives were ruined. Budd was branded a pariah in some circles, but in his own mind his politics hadn’t wavered.

The episode did make him fair game on another front, particularly when On The Waterfront, directed by another former party member-turned-friendly witness, Elia Kazan, emerged in 1954. Kazan had earlier worked on another waterfront-themed project called “The Hook” with the playwright Arthur Miller. The biographer Jeffrey Meyers would later claim that “Miller had refused to turn the gangsters into communists, as the Columbia Pictures mogul Harry Cohn and the Hollywood union bosses wanted him to. The film was later written that way by Budd Schulberg (another self-serving friendly witness’) as On The Waterfront.”

As preposterous as the allegation seems — there are no more any bad-guy communists in On the Waterfront than there were in “A View from the Bridge,” the play Miller eventually wrote from “The Hook.” Moreover, Budd had purchased the rights to a New York Sun series about the Jersey docks as early as 1947, years before Miller’s brief flirtation with Kazan.

“When I was working on ‘On the Waterfront,’ I didn’t know about Arthur Miller,” Budd told an English newspaper in London back in February. “They were absolutely two separate, if overlapping, projects.”

brando

Budd said at the time he resented the accusation “because it made me seem like I was trying to imitate Arthur Miller and walk in his footsteps. I didn’t like it.”

Miller died without the two men ever discussing the subject. This summer I was invited to read at a literary festival, the Listowel Writers Week in Ireland. Another of the invitees was the novelist and director Rebecca Miller, who in addition to being Daniel Day-Lewis’ wife is also Arthur Miller’s daughter. One morning at our hotel there I read her the offending passage from Meyers’ book.

“That’s absurd,” she said. “I’m sure my father never believed that. A View from the Bridge and On the Waterfont were always going to be two separate plays. One had nothing to do with the other.”

I know I told Benn about that conversation when I returned from Europe. But now it occurs to me that I never got a chance to tell Budd, who would have, I suspect, found it comforting.

*  *  *

Over the past few weeks Pete Hamill and I had spoken often of going out to Westhampton to visit Budd, but between our travel schedules and his medical issues the timing never seemed right. Benn was with him last weekend and reported that even then he was plainly struggling to breathe, in considerable discomfort. He seemed to sense that it was time to go, and as it turned out it was their final goodbye. When Benn got the news that his father had been taken to the hospital in Riverhead Wednesday afternoon he jumped straight into his car. By the time he got there Budd was already dead.

“But,” said his son as he choked back the tears, “he had a pretty good run, didn’t he?”

Yes, he did.

EDITOR’S NOTE: George Kimball died on July 6, 2011, after a six-year battle with esophageal cancer. In the last years of his life he was highly productive, authoring the widely acclaimed “Four Kings: Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran, and the Last Great Era of Boxing,” and two boxing anthologies in collaboration with John Schulian.

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“One Night in Miami”: Film Review by Thomas Hauser

Thomas Hauser

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On February 25, 1964, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. defeated Charles “Sonny” Liston in Miami Beach over the course of six remarkable rounds to claim the heavyweight championship of the world. Late that night, the new champion found himself in a room at Hampton House (a black hotel in segregated Miami) with Malcolm X, several other followers of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, and football great Jim Brown. Soul singer Sam Cooke (a friend of Clay’s) had been at the fight, but there’s no historical record of his being in the hotel room with the others at that time.

One Night in Miami is built around imagining what transpired in that room amongst Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke. Directed by Regina King from a screenplay by Kemp Powers, it’s available on Amazon Prime.

The film fits into the genre known as historical fiction. Dramatic license was taken. Viewers should understand that, at times, it’s allegorical rather than an accurate factual recounting. The larger question is whether the film is impressionistically honest. The answer is “yes.”

One Night in Miami begins with the 1963 fight between Clay and Henry Cooper in London. It then segues to Cooke being treated rudely by an all-white audience at the Copacabana, followed by Jim Brown (the greatest running back in National Football League history) being reminded by a patronizing southern gentleman that he’s just a “n—–.” Next, we see Malcolm as the Nation of Islam’s most charismatic spokesman, after which the scene shifts to Liston-Clay I.

Thirty-four minutes into the film, the drama moves to Hampton House.

Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke were prominent in different ways. Each was young, black, and famous. But Malcolm was a social and religious figure of considerable intellect while the other three were known as entertainers.

The dialogue between the four men is light at first and then turns serious.

Malcolm is played by Kingsley Ben-Adir. On what should have been one of the greatest nights of his life, his world is slipping away. His deadly rupture with Elijah Muhammad is almost complete. Soon, Clay will abandon him. Ben-Adir comes across as a bit weaker and more tentative than one might expect, although Malcolm’s intellect is evident in his performance.

It’s hard to imagine anyone playing Cassius Clay well except the young Muhammad Ali. But Eli Goree bears a resemblance to Clay and is pretty good in the role.

Jim Brown was an intimidating physical presence. Aldis Hodge lacks this physicality but his performance is solid.

Leslie Odom Jr, who plays Sam Cooke, has star quality. He’s the only one of the four major actors who has the charisma and presence of the man he’s portraying. But as a result, Cooke has a stronger on-screen persona than Malcolm. That’s a problem as tensions between the two men boil over.

Toward the end of the film, Malcolm reveals that he intends to leave the Nation of Islam because of differences with Elijah Muhammad and will found a new organization.

“Who’s gonna be in this new organization?” Clay asks.

“I think lots of people will follow me over,” Malcolm answers. “Especially if you come with me.”

Clay, of course, didn’t follow Malcolm. He sided with Elijah Muhammad. One year later, he and Jim Brown were the only participants from the hotel room gathering as portrayed in the film who were still alive. Sam Cooke was shot to death in a California motel on December 11, 1964. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem.

One Night in Miami cautions us that our icons are flesh and blood human beings with strengths and flaws. In its best moments, the film is a powerful reminder that the issues of self-respect, black empowerment, and racial equality are timeless.

Pictured left to right: Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown), Kingsley Ben-Adir (Malcolm X) Leslie Odom Jr (Sam Cooke) Eli Goree (Cassius Clay)

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Staredown: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Crossover star Holly Holm Adds New Dimensions to Claressa Shields

Kelsey McCarson

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She laughs about it now, but back then it wasn’t all that funny.

Boxing champion Holly Holm was competing in her first professional MMA fight, and all her years of training inside the ropes as a world champion boxer had just taken over her entire body.

Holm had kicked her opponent down to the ground, so she did what any well-schooled boxer would do. She pivoted away from her fallen prey and headed over to the neutral corner.

All of that was wrong.

“What are you doing?” her coach yelled from cageside. “Finish her!”

It was Holm’s first big mistake in moving over from boxing to MMA, but she was lucky that night. It turned out that Holm’s opponent was finished whether she had run over there or not, so it was a lesson she could learn without much consequence.

But the instruction of that moment stands true today, so it’s just one of the many things Holm has shared with 25-year-old boxing champion Claressa Shields as the two-time Olympic gold medalist attempts to follow in her footsteps.

“I was thinking yeah, that will definitely happen to me!” Shields said.

After Shields signed a three-year promotional deal in December with the Professional Fighters League (PFL), the first thing Shields needed to do was look for the right gym.

Shields found that place at Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, one of the most famous MMA gyms in the country, and the one most recognized among the masses as the home gym of former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holm and pound-for-pound king Jon Jones.

Holm remains the only fighter (male or female) to have won legit world championships in both boxing and MMA, and Shields said Holm welcomed her to Jackson Wink with open arms.

“She’s been super great and very nice to me. We both come from the same background…and she actually turned out to be a world champion [in MMA], actually turned out to be really good,” Shields said.

But Holm’s funny story about her first MMA fight is something that points to just how large a hill Shields has decided to climb.

Whereas pop culture has just recently started to realize the power of habits through the work of writers such as Charles Duhigg and James Clear, it’s something professional fighters have known for a long time now.

“Oh, you’re going to have a habit of this because you used to box.”

That’s something Holm tells Shields almost every time they work together, and there are just so many examples.

In fact, just watching the 25-year-old boxing champion trying to learn to do all these new things in a different way is exhausting.

That Shields practically lives inside the gym for weeks at a time so she can train four or five times a day for all the kinds of things she never had to worry about before as a professional boxer is a testament to her seriousness and her courage.

But perhaps the most amazing part of the entire story is that Shields still plans on boxing.

While Holm won world championships in both sports, she achieved those things separately. Meanwhile, Shields said she wants to do the same thing Holm did but at the same time.

So, while I’m standing there with her inside an MMA cage in New Mexico, Shields is plotting fights in both sports. On one hand, she’s talking to me about a title unification bout in boxing against Marie-Eve Dicaire. On the other, she’s talking about future superfights in MMA against the likes of UFC champ Amanda Nunes.

“I’m trying to separate the two,” Shields said specifically about her training that day but she might as well have been talking about her whole life right about now.

It’s arguably the most amazing storyline right now in combat sports.

Shields started boxing when she was just 11 years old. She earned her first gold medal at the Olympics at 17 and her second four years later.

Today, Shields is a three-division world champion, and she says she’s not nearly finished adding to her growing number of boxing belts.

But all those years and all those successes have built so many habits. Ducking and slipping is great for boxing, but both become considerable detriments to defense when you suddenly have to worry about things like knees and kicks.

And what about wrestling and jiu-jitsu?

But all that stuff together is exactly what makes Shields’ epic decision to dare to be great at both sports at the same time so amazing in the first place.

Look, Shields might never accomplish the same amazing feat Holm did when she shocked Ronda Rousey in 2015 for the UFC women’s bantamweight championship.

But she’s aiming to eclipse that incredible mark anyway, and with Holm and many others offering Shields ideas about what she needs to think about as she climbs up the steepest hill she can find, she’ll definitely have her best chance at doing it.

Kelsey McCarson covers combat sports for Bleacher Report and Heavy.

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part One

Ted Sares

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Britain’s Martin Murray has fought the very best and has now closed out a heartbreaking if not admirable and old school career.

Others are just beginning to hit their stride and suddenly the possibilities are mouthwatering.

The buzz is back on. The heat is coming. No excuses. No badly injured shoulders. No running. This is macho explosive. This is the best fighting the best like it used to be done. Cherry picking is not allowed.

Back in the day, warriors like Ernie Durando, Kid Gavilan, Joey Giardello, Tony DeMarco, Bobby Dykes, Paul Pender, Joey Maxim, Holly Mims, Bobo Olson, and way too many others to list here would fight other top-notch boxers. It was the norm; not the exception. Tony DeMarco beat Kid Gavilan in 1956 and then fought Gaspar Ortega three times in a row in a relatively short period of time.

In the process of compiling a 95-25-1 record, Ezzard Charles engaged in an eye-popping 27 fights against men who would go on to be enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame and/or the World Boxing Hall of Fame.

The List

Rocky Marciano (twice) – IBHF/WBHF

Joe Louis – IBHF/WBHF

Jersey Joe Walcott (four times) IBHF/WBHF

Archie Moore (thrice) IBHF/WBHF

Joey Maxim (five times) IBHF/WBHF

Jimmy Bivins (five times) IBHF/WBHF

Charley Burley (twice) IBHF/WBHF

Harold Johnson IBHF/WBHF

Lloyd Marshall (thrice) WBHF

Gus Lesnevich WBHF

In addition, Charles had three fights with Rex Layne, two with Ken Overlin, two with Elmer Ray, and one with Bob Satterfield

“Some day, maybe, the public is going to abandon comparisons with Joe Louis and accept Ezzard Charles for what he was—the best fist fighter of his particular time”  –Red Smith

Beau Jack, Aldo Minelli, Yama Bahama, Johnny Cesario, Fighting Harada, Eder “Golden Bantam” Jofre, Vicente Saldivar, Jose “El Huitlacoche” Medal, and then later Juan LaPorte and Livingstone “The Pit Bull” Bramble did not know what easy opponents meant. They were willing to fight anyone anywhere and were seldom stopped.

Vito Antuofermo, Ralph Dupas, Willie Pastrano, Curtis Parker, Bennie Briscoe, Kassim Ouma, Emanuel Augustus, Scott LeDoux, Ben Tackie, Ray Oliveira, Renaldo Snipes, Freddie Pendleton, John Scully, Charles Murray, Ted Muller, Anthony Ivory, and Alfredo “Freddy” Cuevas were also representative of those who would fight anyone anywhere. Picking made-to-order opponents was not what they were about.

Ali, Norton, Young, Quarry, fought one another. So did Duran, Leonard, Hagler, and Hearns. Across the pond, Watson, Benn, and Eubank did the same. Frazier, Holyfield, Mugabi, Tszyu, Cotto, and Chacon never ever backed away, nor did Mexican notables Castillo, Marquez (JMM), Morales and Barrera.

No one will accuse Floyd “Money” Mayweather of not fighting the best but they might point out that Floyd sometimes used long time intervals between bouts to his advantage. “Money” was not a particularly active fighter. The phrase “cherry picking” gained traction during this time.

Still, Andre Ward cleaned out an entire division. Cotto fought Pacquiao and Canelo, De La Hoya met Pacquiao, Klitschko faced Fury and then Joshua. Fury — after beating Klitschko — fought Wilder twice. Chisora will fight anyone they put in front of him. Heck, GGG fought 24 brutal rounds with Canelo and if that wasn’t the best fighting the best, what was?

“…great fights lead to other great fights.”—Max Kellerman

To be continued……

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Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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