Memories from The Olympic Auditorium & racial injustice in old Texas

                      LOOSE LEAFS FROM THE RINGSIDE NOTEBOOK

By J Michael Kenyon

I get a kick peering into microfilm readers and looking up old stories. The
other day, I'm going through the New York Herald-Tribune, circa early 1939,
about the time Freddy Apostoli was getting ready to fight Billy Conn for the
first time.

Out of San Francisco, Apostoli was claiming the world middleweight title at
the time, the result of a 15-round decision over Glen Lee in the Garden on
April Fool's Day, 1938. That fight drew over 15,000 customers, but a return
to the Garden in November as Apostoli sought to avenge an earlier loss
against Young Corbett barely drew 6,000.

So, here were Apostoli and his new manager, Larry White, back in the Big
Apple, and getting ready for a nontitle go with Billy Conn out of Pittsburgh. 
Trying to pump up some interest in the fight, one of the Tribune writers I 
can't remember for sure, but it might have been either Stanley Woodward or
Caswell Adams -- was trying to pass Apostoli off as "the best white fighter
in the world."

Conn, training at the old Pioneer Gym and getting ready to make his New York
debut, must have smiled if he saw that line. He had beaten four former
champs Teddy Yarosz, Babe Risko, Vince Dundee and Solly Krieger and wasn't
very much past his 21st birthday. He'd also beaten Young Corbett III, before 
the latter upset Apostoli.

At any rate, Conn would win a ten-round nod from Apostoli before a fair
gathering of 11,000 at MSG on that January 6, 1939. "It was a great fight,"
wrote Caswell Adams in the Herald-Trib. Both judges and the referee gave it
to Conn, the heavier by seven pounds, but Adams saw Apostoli winning six of 
the ten rounds.

They came back a month later, same venue, but with a rafter-shaking audience
of 18,000-plus on hand, to make it official. And Conn did, snaring a 15-round 
decision in the rematch, also a nontitle affair. This time, Adams didn't
disagree.

Apostoli would eventually surrender his title claim to Ceferino Garcia, also
in the Garden, late in 1939. MSG was certainly no haven for the five-foot-
seven-inch scrapper. Oh, he knocked out an over-the-hill Freddie Steele
there and won two decisions from Lee there in 1938, and even stopped Young 
Corbett in their rematch. But when the big money was coming into view, he 
dropped the two dukes to Conn, the title to Garcia and, in 1940, split a pair 
of matches with Melio Bettina, getting stopped for his trouble in the second 
go, on Ground Hog's Day, and the Garden never saw him again.

He had a couple of tussles in Brooklyn, easy knockouts over local talent,
early on in 1942 but, after he spent four years in the Navy, the rest of his
career was spent back around his native Bay Area, where he finally gave up
the gloves in 1948 after losing a tend-rounder to Earl Turner in Oakland at age
34. His last fight of any serious consequence with a ten-round decision loss
to Tony Zale out in Seattle, toward the end of 1940.

Maybe not the best white fighter, maybe not always the greatest crowdpleaser, 
but Freddy Apostoli had his moments, no doubt about it. There just weren't
too many of them under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.


                      SPIRIT OF OLYMPIC LIVES ON IN L.A.

(San Diego Union-Tribune, March 11, 1994)

By Nick Canepa

LOS ANGELES -- Before there was a Forum and Magic and Showtime to attract
Tinseltown twinklers, there was the Olympic Auditorium. A place for boxing
is all it was, but big-screen novas and supernovas frequented the joint,
adding a touch of class to the dingy, steamy mausoleum built for blood
sport.

The Olympic felt like the fight game, not Caesars Palace, a place that
perspired and bled on its own. It was the set for "Rocky" and, better yet,
"Requiem for a Heavyweight," because a) it was close to Hollywood and b) it
looked like a boxing club was supposed to look. Down below, dressing rooms
were tiny, with low ceilings. Compressing. There was a feel here, a texture.

Built in 1924, dedicated by Jack Dempsey, it has sat squat on the corner of
18th and Grand in central L.A. ever since, surviving the eras of Raymond
Chandler and the Black Dahlia and, of course, earthquakes. I imagine the
neighborhood was much better then than now -- let's just say it isn't Toluca
Lake but the arena must have been a showplace in its heyday.

Originally, the Olympic seated 15,300, believed to be the largest structure
ever built in this country expressly for boxing. But time took its toll. In
1987, it closed its doors to athletic events, but it had been going downhill
rapidly since the late promoter, Aileen Eaton, retired in '80.

Jack Needleman, the real estate baron he has close to 60 Los Angeles
properties, people say owned the joint and the thinking when it closed
was that Jack would turn it into another of his parking lots. But he
didn't.

With Needleman's sons, Dennis and Steve, leading the way, a move was made to
redo the Olympic. It was cleaned and pressed. Old seating was removed
and 5,000 new seats were put in, bringing maximum attendance down to the
7,500 range. Now, with its shiny new coat of paint and the tattoo of Oscar 
De La Hoya on its 18th Street side, it is making a comeback.

Now known as the Grand Olympic Auditorium, it stepped out once more Saturday
night for a fight card featuring East L.A.'s popular De La Hoya and promoted
by Bob Arum, who plans 24 boxing cards here this year and believes this may
become the centerpiece for boxing in America.

The new Olympic may look much like the old one from the outside, but not so
inside. There are colorful new seats and the atmosphere is more '90s
Technicolor than '30s black and white. It may not be the ashtray it once
was, but it is a boxing club. It is a place to watch fights.

"Two or three years ago, we began contemplating bringing the building back,"
says Dennis Needleman. "We worked with the city. You know, it never really
was closed, just as a public venue. It was still in use as a sound studio.

"We put in new seats, all new plumbing and electricity, redid the bathrooms.
This is the only one of its kind still in existence, the only one designed
for boxing."

Real boxers fought here, all right. The list is impressive. Sugar Ray
Robinson, Archie Moore, Sonny Liston, Emile Griffith, Carmen Basilio, Joe
Frazier, Gene Fullmer, Henry Armstrong, Carlos Ortiz, Floyd Patterson . . .
we could go on, but you get the picture. New York had Madison Square Garden,
the West Coast had the Olympic.

People often get confused by the Olympic's legend, thinking Muhammad Ali
fought here. He didn't. Robinson didn't fight Fullmer in the Olympic,
either, but in the L.A. Sports Arena.

There were some great fights in the place, though. Some wild fights. I'm
talking with Jim Healy, whose daily talk show on KMPC is the best thing on
radio, and Healy broadcast most of the fights from the Olympic during the
1970s. Jim has some fond memories of the place, and some scary ones.

One night, after an unpopular decision, Healy wondered if he'd escape with
his life. "I'm sitting ringside," he recalls. "The camera is in the balcony 
and I'm looking up to do my wrapup and I see whiskey bottles coming at me. 
One bottle crashes against my monitor, splintering the screen. That could 
have been my head.

"So, in a trembly voice, I say, `Good night, from the Olympic.' It had to be
the most frightened voice you've ever heard. I handed my mike to the
producer and ran up the aisle."

But Jim also remembers it as a place to watch fights. "It was boxing, and
the crowds always were into it," he says. "Gamblers came down just for the
action and they all had choice seats. Aileen Eaton, a hard but brilliant
woman, knew them all by name.

"She was the Olympic. She would write interviews for me. She would write the
questions and answers. Just think of the fighters having to memorize those
answers."

Well, those days are gone, but the Olympic should do OK. Needleman admits
that L.A.'s large Hispanic market is a big factor in the reopening of the
building, and there is parking for 3,500 cars in the immediate area.

"There's security throughout and it's well-lit," Needleman says.

Not secure or well-lit enough for one Mr. Healy. I ask him why he wasn't
there on opening night.

"I used to get paid to risk my life," he says. "They aren't paying me now."

It isn't that bad. What the heck, it's boxing.


                    KNOCKING OUT RACIAL INJUSTICE HIS LIFE

(Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Tuesday, June 10, 1997)

By Jay Jorden, Associated Press

DALLAS - When I.H. ``Sporty'' Harvey became the first
black boxer to legally oppose a white fighter in Texas more
than four decades ago, he had already battled for years in
courtrooms just for the right to be there.

The pioneering pugilist will be buried in San Antonio this
week, 42 years after winning a Texas appeals court fight that
paved the way for his 10-round main event against Buddy
Turman.

Harvey lost the bout, but later told his wife that he fought
bravely and that his legacy would be breaking the state's
racial barrier.

``He was wonderful. He did a lot for his race,'' his widow,
Hazel Lee Harvey, said Monday. ``We have kids who used
to write about their father. My kids wrote that he knocked
out Jim Crow in Texas.''

But Harvey, who sparred with such boxing luminaries as
Joe Frazier and Sonny Liston during his career, was
disappointed that he didn't beat Turman at the Dallas
Sportatorium on Feb. 24, 1955.

Harvey went down for the count when Turman threw a
hefty punch to his chin, said Jim Woodruff, a sports writer
who covered the fight for the Dallas Times Herald.

``He said afterward, `The only thing I know is that I did
my best, I thought I put up a good fight,''' said Hazel Lee
Harvey, 65. ``He was mostly proud that he broke the color
line in Texas. But he was an easygoing, peacemaking guy.''
Harvey, 71, died last Thursday in Los Angeles, where he
had lived for 40 years. Relatives said he had heart disease
and had worn a pacemaker for several weeks.

Funeral services are set for Thursday at Bethel United
Methodist Church in San Antonio, with burial to follow at
Meadowlawn Cemetery, said a sister, Lottie M. Wimbish.
Born in Hallettsville, Texas, on July 21, 1925, Harvey was
already boxing as a teen-ager, appearing in bouts at Fort
Sam Houston in San Antonio with black opponents and
traveling south of the border to face Mexicans in the ring.

But there was greater money and prestige in interracial
bouts, which were prohibited by Texas law at that time.
San Antonio lawyer Maury Maverick Jr., who represented
Harvey in his legal fight, said the athlete became a symbol of
constitutional liberty in boxing and heralded successes by a
generation of black athletes.

After Maverick tried unsuccessfully to enlist the Texas
Legislature's help, he and Harvey sued the state
commissioner of labor statistics for permission to fight a
white boxer and to block enforcement of the law prohibiting
interracial bouts. He lost at the trial court level but won on
appeal in October 1954.

``One of the dramatic moments in the trial was when I
asked him, `In Laredo, Texas, you could not fight a white
person, but you could walk across the bridge and fight a
Hispanic or white person in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico?'''
Maverick, 76, said.

Other survivors include brothers Charles B. Harvey and
Clyde Harvey, both of San Antonio; sisters Leone Harvey
and Elaine Harvey, both of San Antonio; sons Lymont
Harvey of Los Angeles, Harold Gene Harvey of Houston,
and Billy Harvey of San Antonio; and a daughter, Yvonne
Harvey of Los Angeles; and five grandchildren.


                        OFF THE CUFF WITH MIKE TYSON 

(Boston Globe, Sunday, January 10, 1999)

By Ron Borges


Promoters of Mike Tyson's return to the ring next Saturday against Francois
Botha reportedly are pumping an estimated $25 million into advertisements.
After Tyson's diatribe last week, they may need every penny of it. About 25
minutes into a teleconference with the media, Tyson went into a scathing
indictment of society for how it constantly misrepresents who he is and how
he acts.

After being asked ''Do you still feel a kinship with Sonny Liston?,'' Tyson
responded, ''A guy like me, my credibility is shot. A guy like Mitch Green,
who is a known crack, heroin, stardust, starburst, name the drug, angel
dust, everything [addict], he could say I did something to him. In the court of
law, which we should respect, the Supreme Court of law would say, `I believe
Mitch Green.' He's beaten people up, robbed gas stations, murdered people almost,
offended people, and he's still walking the streets. He robbed a gas station, 
beat the gas attendant up and started pumping the gas. The cops arrested 
him because he was on heroin, angel dust, or whatever. He went to jail for a
couple of days, a couple of weeks. He's on the street right now. If the
sleaziest tramp in the history of the world says that Mike Tyson raped her,
then society would believe her. My credibility is shot. People like to see
Mike Tyson [messed] up. I feel a great affinity with [Liston]. I'm a man. I
stand on my own two feet. I don't depend on anybody. I don't say this guy is
my best friend and he's rich and powerful, this guy is my man and he's the
Mafia. Be a man and stand on your own two feet. Stop sucking up to people
who you think are the right guys to be associated with. Don't be politically
correct. Be correct within your own two feet.''

Huh? Tyson was earlier asked what he expected Botha to do. His reply was
about as frank as a fighter can be. ''I expect for him to go down, be out 
cold,'' said Tyson, which is one of the reasons he gets paid $30 million and 
remains America's most fascinating sports personality even in his decline.