The Jack Curley I knew (ED. NOTE -- Thanks to the kind auspices of sports researcher John Grasso of Guilford, N.Y., readers of the BAWLI Papers will now be sharing some of the fascinating articles which used to grace the pages of Ring Magazine in the publication's 1930s and '40s heyday. The following is a story which mates up two giants of their respective professionals, New York columnist Frank Graham and longtime sports promoter Jack Curley, written upon Curley's death in 1937.) (Ring Magazine, October, 1937) By Frank Graham It is going to be a long while before I will be able to pass the door of an office building on Broadway just north of Forty-second Street without feeling that I ought to turn in and say hello to my friend, Jack Curley. Jack had left that building and made his pitch in the more elaborate surroundings of Rockefeller Center a little while before he died but I never got up there to see him and I will always think of him sitting in his office high above Broadway and Forty-second Street, leaning back in his desk chair and telling me stories out of the glamorous and almost unbelievable experiences he had had all over this country and in many other parts of the world. "I could tell you a story a day for a thousand days on end," he said to me once. He was being conservative. He could have told me a story a day for many more days than that. And each would have been a good story. For Jack had been places and seen things and known people -- more places and more things and more people than it is given to most of us to be or see or know. And he had the gift of putting words together. He was a promoter by profession but a newspaperman by instinct. Most successful promoters know a good story when it bobs up. Jack not only knew it but could tell it -- or, if the opportunity arose, could sit down and write it. I think that of all the things he ever did in a crowed lifetime, that of which he was proudest was an exclusive interview with Eugene V. Debs, at that time the head of the Socialist party in this country. That was in the long ago and Socialists were supposed to be very radical and dangerous persons and every once in a while the Government would put the heat on Debs and he would have to take himself out of circulation for a time. Now, somewhere and in some fashion, Jack had met him and Debs had liked Jack -- as who didn't. And once when Debs was in hiding and newspapermen all over Chicago were combing the town for him, Jack got a tip that Debs was at an obscure North Side hotel and would be glad to talk to him. The interview that resulted from that meeting was slapped across the front page of the Inter-Ocean, on the staff of which Jack was but a humble toiler at the time, and Jack's rewards for the scoop were a bonus from his paper and the envy of every other newspaperman in the town. When I first met Jack he was reviving wrestling in New York. It was a difficult job, for it had been dormant for a long time and nobody had any faith in it. But Jack moved in, got things started and, the first thing anybody knew, the mat game was thriving. A series of tournaments just about the time the World War was drawing to a close set the stage for the greatest wrestling show that New York ever has known: The Joe Stecher-Earl Caddock match in the old Garden. That one had the genuine Curley touch -- bands, massed flags, uniforms, floodlights -- and the best people in town in the ringside seats. That match, cleanly and honestly waged and splendidly promoted, established Jack in New York. It brought recognition of the fact that wrestling, so long in ill repute, was in decent and capable hands. The few years that followed were among the brightest in Jack's career as a promoter. They were marked by big crowds, big money and good sport. So long as Jack had a virtual monopoly on wrestling hereabouts, the game flourished. It was when small time rivals began to chisel in that the troubled years came. One reason why Jack always held the esteem of the newspapermen was that he dealt fairly and truthfully with them. When they went to him with a question, he gave them the answer, fully and frankly. When he gave them a story, they never had to check up on it to make sure it was true. Many of the stories were dramatic, astonishing. But they were no fabrications. He had roamed so widely, lived to excitingly, that even the dullest recital of his experiences would have made rich and colorful reading. For instance, I defy anybody to mar or make uninteresting his recital of the events leading up to the meeting of Jack Johnson and Jess Willard in the ring at Havana. I have written the story several times (I wrote it for The Ring some seven or eight years ago) and have told it many times. It is a story of foresight and ingenuity and tenacity in which the fight itself, as important as it was, was a mere anti-climax. In passing, I might say that Jack always agrued, and plausibly, that the fight was on the level, no matter what Johnson has said to the contrary. The match was made on the premise that Johnson, having lived the life of Riley for so long, would fold up as a result of his own exertion if he were pitted against a strong young fellow capable of keeping him moving for more than twenty rounds. "Johnson still is good enough to beat any man in the world over a span of twenty rounds," Jack told Lawrence Weber, his financial backer for the fight, "but if he is compelled to go beyond the twentieth, every round will bring him closer to defeat, even if the other fellow can't hurt him. Willard is big, strong and can take the best punch Johnson can throw at him. If I can make this match, I'll have Willard in shape to fight all day if necessary." That's why the fight was set for forty-five rounds, or practically to a finish. Willard wdas in superb condition and Curley always maintained that while Johnson could have got up in the twenty-sixth round, he was so exhausted that it would have been folly for him to have done so, since he must have fallen down again within another round or so. I defy anybody, too, to make dull reading of Jack's story of the Dr. Roller-Stanislaus Zbyszko wrestling match in Vienna, part of which concerned a midnight dash by Curley from Vienna to Cracow in a third-class railway carriage (and in evening clothes) to almost kidnap Zbyszko and take him back to Vienna for the match. Or the story of the time Curley himself, then young and full of vigor, agreed to fight an aging pugilist who wanted to get money to pay for his daughter's first communion dress -- and was soundly beaten because the old pugilist couldn't pull a punch -- not even against a fellow who was doing him a favor. These and countless other stories, told to me in that little office high above Broadway, delighted me and, I am sure, delighted countless thousands to whom I passed them on in print -- not because I wrote them but because Jack told them so well. All I did was to put down on paper the words that he linked together in the felling of the tales. To many newspapermen, not only in New York but all over the country, Jack was more than a source of interesting stories. He was a friend and a good companion and we miss him terribly . . . I look the other way when I pass the doorway of that office building on Broadway, just above Forty-second Street. Jack Curley was one of the great men of sports. And the chances are he would have been a greater man if he had not been so big of heart. So that, almost always when he launched an enterprise, he would take somebody in with him and share the profits with him. And too many times the other fellow proved unworthy of him and either checked the progress of the enterprise or brought about its failure. Those things that Jack promoted alone, or with the aid of a bankroll man who was content to remain in the background and leave the details of the promotion to Curley, were masterpieces . . . The Johnson-Willard fight in Havana . . . the tour of the Vatican Choir . . . the tour by Rudolph Valentino . . . the renaissance of wrestling in this town twenty years or so ago, after the sport had been dormant here for many years and others who had tried to revive it had been looked upon with suspicion as to either their motives or their sanity. He had many friends . . . and deserved them. Real friends who asked nothing of him but his friendship. Friends who rejoiced at his successes, felt badly over his failures and grieve because of his death. Jack's life was a story of boyhood adventure come true. He ran away from his home in San Francisco at the age of 16 to go to Chicago when the world's fair of 1892 was in progress. There he had a good time, prospered reasonably, thought that life would always be like that. Then the fair closed. In its wake it left a horde of drifters. Work was scarce. Jack's savings soon vanished. He reached a point where he actually was starving. "But I couldn't stop people on the street and ask them for money," he said once when he was talking of this phase of his life. "I slept in hallways and went without food for a couple of days. One night I walked into a grocery. I thought maybe if I told the grocer I was hungry he would me something to eat, but when he asked me what I wanted, I lost my nerve. I asked him if he knew of a family by the name of -- oh, I don't remember, now, what name I used, but it was an entirely fictitious family -- living in that neighborhood, and he said no, he didn't, and I thanked him and walked out. "I am sure that if I had told him I was hungry he would have fed me. But I just couldn't ask him . . . I never have refused a beggar on the streets, because I always think of that night. Maybe many of them are fakers . . . but maybe some of them are even more desperate than I was . . . and have gone through the same struggle I did before they could ask anyone for help." Jack finally found a job washing dishes in a cheap restaurant. It meant three meals a day and a room over the kitchen in which he could sleep. Things became better after a while. He got a job as an office boy on the Chicago Inter-Ocean. And began a long climb to fame. >From Chicago he drifted to St. Louis, where he became manager of Frankie Noel, Ed Lally and Gus Fredericks. Then he hopscotched around the Middle West as the impresario of "Dutch" Neal and Billy Layton. He got acquainted with Billy Stift, Tommy Ryan, "Australian Tim" Murphy and became their trainer and manager. He drifted back to Chicago and ran the Illinois Athletic Club with Paddy Carroll as matchmaker and gymnasium manager, handling all the late Manager Bang's fighters, such as Johnny Reagan, Tommy Sullivan and Kid Carter. Then he fell in with Al Herford, who in a most friendly manner paid him well for helping the great Joe Gans in his training and in various other ways. By this time he had quite a stable of fighters in Chicago, such fine boys as Tommy Cody, Harry Forbes, the "Twin" Sullivans, Jimmy and George Gardiner and many others. When boxing was shut down in Chicago he took up wrestling, promoting some big matches. Among those he managed and staged were the John Rooney-"Farmer" Burns, Dan McLeod-Burns, George Hackenschmidt-Frank Gotch and numerous others. Curley promoted the Jim Flynn-Jack Johnson match, which took place at Las Vegas, N.M., and arranged the Jess Willard-Jack Johnson fight at Havana. As one of the promoters of the Johnson-Willard fight, he got nothing much more out of it than trips to London and Havana, a collection of new friends and additional photographs in his office. But his name went down in the history of Fistiana as the promoter of the event -- Jack Curley, the man who brought back the heavyweight championship to the white race. He knew -- well, just about everybody, everywhere he went. He told one story in this connection of an incident that gave him a terrific bang. "I was sailing for Europe with some friends of mine," he said, "and I met a number of people, down to see others who were sailing, and who greeted me before the ship sailed. My friends remarked about the number of people who came up to speak to me and, after the ship sailed, there were many among the other passengers who knew me. We went to London first and then to Paris and then to Berlin. In each of these cities I had many acquaintances, and constantly was running into them, and my friends remarked that I must know everybody. "One day we were motoring out of Berlin and were in a farming district when we lost our way. There was a fellow picking cherries in a tree by the roadside, and I pulled up under the tree and called up to him in German, asking him if he could direct us. He parted the branches and looked down, and when he saw me he exclaimed: "'Well, I'm a son-of-agun, if it ain't Jack Curley!' "My friends howled with surprise. Of course I was as much surprised as any one. The fellow in the tree was a fighter from around Chicago who was home on a visit to his folks." Curley's friends were always bobbing up in strange places, or strange circumstances. In the days leading up to the Johnson-Willard fight in havana there was strong opposition to it expressed in this country by the reform element, especially as Jack unwittingly had scheduled it for Eastern Sunday. Sunday was a big sports day in Havana and was the logical day on which to hold the fight, but Jack didn't realize until the uproar started here that the Sunday he had selected was Easter Sunday. Among those few who were unfriendly toward him in Havana was a representative of the American State Department and as this man had considerable influence in Havana, he was a source of worry to Jack. Moreover, the outcry against holding the fight on Easter supplied Jack's foe with additional ammunition, and although Jack hurriedly set the fight back as soon as he heard of the protest, the gentleman in the State Department refused to be appeased and seemed bent on dirving the fight out of Cuba, despite the friendly attitude of the Cuban government. In the crisis Jack suddenly thought of a man who once had been his guest as a wrestling match and whom eh subsequently managed on a lecture tour. So, he sent a cable to this man, the difficulty speedily was ironed out, and the fight went on without further objection. Jack's friend was William Jennings Bryan, at that time Secretary of State. A few years ago, when he celebrated his fortieth year as a sports promoter, I sat in his office and for almost three hours he kept me interested in "the good old days." "I could stand here several more hours," he said, "and recite stories that would give you thrill after thrill. I could give you reminiscences of the days when 'fights were fights and he-men ruled the roost.' "I could stand here for hours and recount wild experiences that we of the old school were forced through by the minions of the law when we tried to carry out our program of sport. I could keep you open-mouthed as I recounted many of the thrilling chases from county to county by the eagle-eyed sheriffs who were ever ready to take a pop at us when we pitched tent to stage a mill. And how those same wild-eyed guardians of the law, after the ring was pitched and the stakes were driven, became our best ringside customers. "My career has been a hectic one, but I would not care to trade what I've been through. The famous Doyle-Flint fight, the Lavigne-Myers battle, the Maher-Fitzsimmons, Ryan-Murphy, Ryan-smith, Corbett-Fitzsimmons contests were among the thrillers in which I took some prominent part. "Delving into the past, I slected Bob Fitzsimmons and Peter Maher as the hardest hitters of modern fistiana; Jim Corbett, the cleverest fighter of all time; Jimmy Barry, the greatest champion, pound-for-poundy; John L. Sullivan, the champion of champions, the most popular fighter that ever lived and the man who popularized fisticuffs in America; George Hackenschmidt, the greatest wrestler of all times; and Tommy Ryan, without doubt, the greatest fighter of his weight the sport has ever seen," concluded genial Jack Curley. Jack's fortune usually was to meet the great figures of the world informally. He met the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria while jogging through the grounds of the Archduke's palace in Vienna, which he had mistaken for a public park . . . When Warren Harding was President of the United States, Jack sat with him on the stairs in a private apartment in the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington and answered the President's eager questions about the great fighters he had known . . . Once when Georges Carpentier was his house guest in Great Neck, Georges brought a young chap home with him in the early hours of the morning after a party . . . And when Jack, as a gesture of hospitality, took their breakfast up to them the next morning, he discovered that Georges' friend was the Prince of Wales, now Duke of Windsor. These men enjoyed Jack's company as thoroughly as did any of the newspapermen and sporting figures in this town . . . and in many towns around the world. For he was a good companion. (ED. NOTE -- Although the above article touches briefly on Curley's early days, it does not mention his time in Alaska -- was there an aspiring promoter who did not leap into the Gold Rush days with fervor? -- and early, turn-of-the-century experiences as a heavyweight fighter in the logging camps of Western Washington . . . nor, for that matter, his experiences promoting the likes of Sullivan vs. old nemesis Jake Kilrain in exhibitions at the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle, as well as wrestling matches at the same venue involving Dr. Roller and Bob Managoff Sr. (then billed as the Terrible Turk). It does, however, give us -- via the fights he was involved with -- some idea of the places and times in which Curley's travels can be charted. George Kid Lavigne and Eddie Meyers (Myers) fought in Dana, Ill, in 1893; the first of the Tommy Ryan-Whispering Billy Smith bouts was at Minneapolis in July, 1894; the second of three Peter Maher-Bob Fitzsimmons goes took place in February, 1896, outside Langtry, Tex., and Corbett-Fitzsimmons transpired at Carson City in 1897. Ryan and Tim Murphy fought at Kansas City in February, 1902, and not long after Ryan was in with Billy Smith and Billy Stift at the same locale. Later in the year, Ryan tested Kid Carter in a title bout at Fort Erie, Ontario. In other words, from his native San Francisco to Chicago to various travels around the Heartlands, back out to the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, then back to the Midwest, and back again to the Northwest -- those were the trails made by Jack Curley before he came into prominence as a result of the Willard-Johnson fight of 1915 in Havana.