RED SMITH AND SHIRLEY POVICH ON THE FIGHT SCENES OF 1946 & MORE


WILLIE PEP WEARS GLOVES WELL (New York Herald Tribune, June 9, 1946) By Red Smith Saying that Willie Pep has mastered the manly art of self defense is like calling Lizzie Borden a practical joker. Hartford's incredibly prudent puncher has reduced violence to such an exact science that watching him beat up an opponent is like seeing Eisenstein conquer geometry. There is nothing Willie can't do wearing boxing gloves, and that includes engraving the Declaration of Independence on the head of a pin while carrying three watermelons. In action he is as exciting as a hydraulic pump, as recklessly impetuous as Whistler's mother. He fires the imagination like boiled turnips. Chances are Willie set some kind of record in the Garden Friday night when he put Sal Bartolo and 9,881 spectators to sleep simultaneously. He was seeking to combine the featherweight championship of this world and all affiliated worlds. Already recognized as champion of Eddie Eagan's world, he relieved Bartolo of the title in Abe Greene's world. There is now nobody left for him to fight, which proves that even the blackest clouds are lined with silver. For eight rounds the crowd was lifted to transports of ennui as Pep handled Bartolo like a man carrying a bowl of goldfish in the subway rush. It was not fear that inspired Willie's extraordinary caution; certainly Bartolo did nothing to command such awed respect. Perhaps Willie was merely pacing himself for the 15-round distance. After Bartolo suffered a nosebleed in the ninth round, he altered his tactics. At length, Willie struck Sal twice upon the chops, Sal fell down, and Willie went away. No doubt he will be back. SAL BARTOLO'S JAW IS BROKEN (Associated Press, Saturday, June 9, 1946) POMPTON LAKES, N.J. -- Sal Bartolo, twelfth-round knockout victim of Willie Pep in the featherweight title bout at Madison Square Garden Friday night, sustained five small fractures in his left jaw. The breaks were confirmed yesterday when Doctors William V. Healy and Vincent Nardiello treated the challenger at St. Clare's Hospital. He will be wired four to five weeks, and will be on a liquid diet. (ED. NOTE -- It was the considered opinion of these physicians that Bartolo's fight career would be ended by this injury, at age 28. They were almost right. Bartolo did not fight again until January, 1949, and then only twice, within a span of nine days, winning both fights. The win over Bartolo was the 100th in Pep's career, against only one loss. He would hold the featherweight crown until being stopped by Sandy Saddler in the first of their extraordinary series of fights, in late 1948.) JACK JOHNSON DIES IN DRIVING ACCIDENT (Associated Press, Monday, June 10, 1946) RALEIGH, N.C. -- Jack Johnson, former heavyweight champion of the world, died at St. Agnes' Hospital here of injuries suffered in an automobile accident near Franklinton early this afternoon. He was 68. Police Chief F.W. Carter of Franklinton said Johnson apparently lost control of the big automobile he was driving, causing it to crash into a light pole and overturn. A companion, Fred L. Scott, also a Negro, was slightly injured. The boxing career of Jack Johnson, first Negro heavyweight champion of the world, lasted 29 years. He fought in 109 major fights and exhibitions -- two of which made puglistic history. The first of these was the successful defense of his title against Jim Jeffries at Reno, Nev., July 4, 1910, the original "Battle of the Century"; the second was the much disputed bout at Havana, Cuba, April 16, 1915, when he lost to Jess Willard. Many experts classify "Li'l Artha" as one of the greatest fighters in the history of the ring, one of its cleverest boxers. But his prowess was destined to be eclipsed by the law. Riches went to his head, he spent lavishly and wound up his years dismally traveling from place to place, picking up a living where he could. What little popularity he had disappeared years before. His career began in 1899 and ended in 1928. He won 69 of his 80 decision bouts. In 29 fights and exhibitions, there was no decision or draws. Johnson was coming along fast when he won the heavyweight title from Tommy Burns of Canada, Dec. 26, 1908. The fight was held at Rushcutter's Bay, just outside Sydney, Australia. Burns was the favorite but the big Negro gave him a sound beating and was declared the winner on a technical knockout in the fourteenth round, after police raided the fight. During 1909, Johnson defended his title five times. The sporting world clamored for a "white hope." Finally, Jim Jeffries, five years out of the ring, yielded to pressure and signed to fight him at Reno. Tex Rickard promoted the fight and made his first bid for fame as one of the sport's greatest promoters. Jeffries worked himself down from 260 to 230 pounds for the fight and probably ruined his health in the process. Johnson, a fine physical specimen of 210 pounds at his peak, toyed with the burly former champion. He taunted him continuously, hit him at will with murderous punches and finally knocked him out in the fifteenth round. The victory was not popular in many sections of the country and there were racial disputes. Five years later, Willard won the crown at Havana and created a controversy that raged for years. Willard, after absorbing terrific punishment for most of the fight, won by a knockout in the 26th round. The pictures clearly showed the Negro shielding his eyes from the tropical Cuban sun with a gloved hand as referee Jack Curley counted him out. The ring world resounded to cries of a "fixed fight." It was known that Jack had received $30,000, while Jess got nothing. Later, Johnson confessed he had "thrown" the fight and, still later, repudiated the "confession." (ED. NOTE -- When it came to the death of former heavyweight boxing king Jack Johnson, the Associated Press strayed somewhat from its normally objective reportage. One of the more fascinating characters in American sports history was treated with little respect, much as had been the case during his long life in the spotlight.) SHIRLEY POVICH: COVERING LOUIS-CONN (Washington Post, June 1 thru 20, 1946) Excerpts from daily columns.... (Sunday, June 2 -- "Joe Louis' four sparring partners are paid $50 a round and average $400 a week for the six weeks they will be in his training camp, plus a $100 ringside seat to the fight." (The original four spar mates were heavyweights George Fitch, Al Hoosman and Perk Daniels, plus lightheavy Jimmy Bell of Washington, D.C., who attempted to simulate the style of the similarly weighted Billy Conn.) . . . "Tickets for the Conn-Louis fight are being reserved for former flyweight champion Pete Herman, now owner of a New Orleans night club and who has 'seen' every heavyweight title fight in the last 15 years. Herman is sightless" . . . "Promoter Mike Jacobs' contract with the radio sponsors of his weekly fights nets him $7,000 for every fight that goes on the air" . . . (Sunday, June 9) -- "Louis says it wasn't Schmeling, who knocked him out, or Braddock, Galento or Buddy Baer, who knocked him down, who was the hardest puncher he has been in there with. Max Baer hit him harder than anybody else, says the champion" . . . "Louis is undecided whether the hardest punch he ever threw was the one that knocked out Paolino Uzcudun or the one that knocked out Lou Nova. 'Better let those two compare notes,' he says" . . . (Sunday, June 16) -- "A day after he visited Joe Louis' camp and picked Louis to stiffen Billy Conn inside of five rounds, Mickey Walker arrived at Conn's camp and announced he had changed his mind. He was now picking Conn to win" . . . "One of Louis' handlers, reading Walker's latest prediction, commented, 'They ought to award that Walker the double cross, with four clusters.'" . . . (In a follow-up to the recent death of Jack Johnson, Povich dug up an old quote from the ex-champion which served to underline that no "fix" had been in for the Willard fight. After all, Johnson "used to say," the fight went 26 rounds and "that's carrying a fix too far, don't you think?" . . . (Tuesday, June 18, the day before the fight) -- "This is strictly between you and me because I do not want to stick my neck out in public and pick Billy Conn to beat Joe Louis at Yankee Stadium tomorrow evening. But, entre nous, I think that is what will happen and so does Conn." LOUIS STOPS CONN IN EIGHTH ROUND (Washington Post, Thursday, June 20, 1946) By Shirley Povich YANKEE STADIUM, New York City, June 19 -- Joe Louis, in the manner of a man brusquely impatient with his trifling, suddenly whipped three curel punches to the head and chin of Billy Conn in the eighth round tonight, dumped the challenger into a battered heap and retained his heavyweight title by a clean knockout. Into the unhearing ears of Conn, who rolled to the flat of his back, Referee Eddie Joseph tooled the full count of 10, with the fight ending at two minutes and 19 seconds of the eighth . . .
GENTLE BEN 'KILLED' ROCKY MARCIANO? (Phoenix New Times, May 28, 1998) By Dewey Webb "TV shows don't kill people . . . but final episodes sure do!" That's the shocking claim from experts who insist that legendary entertainer Frank Sinatra's fatal heart attack was actually a result of the Final Episode Curse -- a bizarre jinx that strikes a death blow whenever a television series ends! For 82 years, the fast-living, hard-drinking Chairman of the Board did it his way -- and not even a whopping laundry list of health woes could force him to throw in the towel. But in the end, the scooby-dooby superstar was simply no match for the final installment of "Seinfeld," the much-hyped ratings-grabber that aired just hours before the singer's May 14 death. Incredible as it sounds, insiders insist Ol' Blue Eyes is just the latest celebrity to be struck dead by the strange TV hex! Although television industry insiders claim they've long known about the killer curse, the "Seinfeld"/Sinatra death link is the first time anyone has publicly acknowledged the dreaded whammy. "It sounds crazy, I know, but it's a scientific fact," says a top episodologist who's been tracking the curse for years. "Since the dawn of television, people have been dying whenever a final episode from any series has aired. But it took Sinatra's death to open people's eyes. If you don't believe me, check the obits." To test the unbelievable theory, New Times' research team painstakingly cross-referenced the dates of several dozen randomly selected celebrity deaths against last-episode air dates listed in a TV almanac. Amazingly, the astonishing results far exceed statistical coincidence and will force even the most hardened skeptic to accept the reality of the horrific hex. Consider this sampling of the overwhelming evidence: . The ill-fated "The Mary Tyler Moore Hour" leaves the air on June 10, 1979 -- the very next day, Western superstar John Wayne dies! . "Gentle Ben" leaves the air on August 31, 1969; that same day, the "final episode" curse KO's heavyweight boxing champ Rocky Marciano in a tragic plane crash! . The geriatric gumshoes on "The Snoop Sisters" solve their last case on August 20, 1974. Buford Pusser, the no-nonsense sheriff whose exploits inspired the movie "Walking Tall," dies the following day! . "That Girl," the perky Marlo Thomas sitcom, signs off on September 10, 1971; within 24 hours, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev is dead! . Although officials blame a drug OD for the September 18, 1970, death of guitarist Jimi Hendrix, some believe the musician was really a victim of a "final episode" double whammy. Series enders of both "Here Come the Brides" and "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" air the same day he dies! Actors, sports figures, world leaders: Top curse experts agree that no one -- not even couch potatoes -- is safe from the video voodoo that's turning every TV cancellation notice into a potential death certificate. "Frankie never had a chance against the last 'Seinfeld,'" concludes one longtime curse observer. "Still, I think Ol' Blue Eyes would have wanted it this way. A day earlier and he would have been done in by the 'Ellen' finale. She wasn't his kind of broad. Now, THAT would have killed him." DISASTERPIECE THEATRE Hell hath no fury like a final episode aired! So say top cursologists who've compiled this mind-boggling list of calamity, murder, even suicide -- all directly traceable to the last segments of various television series! . Just one day after longtime panelist Dorothy Kilgallen makes her last appearance on "What's My Line?" (the chin-challenged columnist suddenly dies within hours of taping the show), a massive power outage plunges the Eastern seaboard into darkness! At least three deaths are attributed to the November 8, 1965, blackout. . Perhaps despondent because ABC airs the last network episode of "Batman" that day, noted Washington, D.C., newspaper reporter Damon Runyon Jr. leaps to his death from a bridge on April 14, 1968! . One of the most notorious clunkers in TV history, "My Mother the Car," permanently conks out on September 6, 1966. Eerily, South African prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd is stabbed to death by an assassin during a session of Parliament! . School's out forever for Tootie, Natalie, Mrs. Garrett and the rest of "The Facts of Life" gang on September 10, 1988. But death and destruction take no recess in Port-au-Prince, Haiti -- where weeks of violence culminate in a blood-drenched donnybrook that kills 17 and injures more than 70 other rioters. Yet for all its destructive power, the curse thankfully misses its mark on rare occasions. Such was the case when CBS broadcast the last original episode of "I Love Lucy" on May 7, 1957. Earlier that very day, a school nurse at Phoenix's Papago School sent home 275 students suffering from swollen glands! "It was touch and go for a while, but Lucy pulled through for those kids," says one longtime jinxologist familiar with the case. "They cheated death, that's for sure. I guess you could say that was the day the hex went on hiatus." DEATH JINX PAYBACK! Did a "final episode" death-curse payback from beyond the grave cost Frank Sinatra his greatest screen role? That's the question that still haunts curse researchers more than 40 years after the hotheaded star stormed off the set of "Carousel" -- only to be replaced in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical by singer Gordon McRae. "Frankie wanted that part so bad he could taste it," says one show-biz insider. "Sure, the role of Billy Bigelow couldn't have been more different from the off-screen happy-go-lucky Frank. In the movie, the character's a philandering cad who roughs up women and consorts with criminals. But Ol' Blue Eyes wanted to show off his dramatic range." Officially, Sinatra walked off the picture because the studio was experimenting with a new wide-screen process that necessitated shooting every scene twice; when producers refused to double his salary, he quit. (Ironically, however, soon after Sinatra's departure, technicians developed a process making the extra photography unnecessary.) But according to curse experts, the real reason Sinatra never starred in "Carousel" stems from "The Frank Sinatra Show," a CBS TV variety show the singer headlined in the early Fifties. Following the show's final installment on April 1, 1952, the curse took the life of Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár -- author of "Liliom," the very play on which "Carousel" was based! "With that curse working against him, there's no way Frank was ever going to play the merry-go-round operator in 'Carousel,'" says the insider. "What goes around, comes around!" "FRANKIE NEVER HAD A CHANCE AGAINST THE LAST 'SEINFELD'!"