POMPTON LAKES TRIBUTE FOR LOUIS (Bergen Record, Friday, February 12, 1999) By Justo Bautista He was a dirt-poor sharecropper's son from Alabama whose job resume included cotton-picking, delivering ice, and factory work. No one paid much attention to the big, silent man -- until he took up boxing. Then the whole world noticed Joe Louis Barrow. In Pompton Lakes, there was special interest. Louis -- he dropped the Barrow family name after he began fighting in 1934 -- trained at Doc Bier's "health farm" on Perrin Avenue. The modest-size borough was his home-away-from-home during boxing's heyday from 1935 through 1950. The memories of that Damon Runyonesque era will come rushing back on May 29 when Pompton Lakes dedicates Joe Louis Memorial Park on Perrin Avenue. The gala will include the unveiling of a 7-ton statue of Louis in boxing stance, etched from black Vermont stone by sculptor Tony Sgobba of Paterson. Those around at the time recall thrilling encounters with a 6-foot, 200-pound heavyweight champ whose irresistible fists conquered nearly all comers. And they remember a friendly guy, who helped pay for the town's first ambulance and a police radio tower. He shook youngsters' hands and patted their heads. He waved to townsfolk on his morning runs, and visited their homes. When Joe Louis was in town, every day seemed like a holiday. "His heart was in Pompton Lakes," said Lou Duva, the Boxing Hall of Fame manager-trainer-promoter from Totowa, a friend of Louis' in good times and bad. For years, residents have wanted to "give something to the man for what he did," said Police Chief Albert Ekkers, chairman of the Joe Louis Park Committee. "We tried five, eight years ago. We didn't have the money." Then, last year, Ekkers ran into Tommy Clifton, a former Totowa police chief who knew Duva and asked him to help. Duva called in some favors, enlisting boxers and luminaries. Lennox Lewis, for example, contributed $1,000. "Joe put Pompton Lakes on the map," Duva said. "What this guy meant to Pompt on Lakes -- they had one of the greatest athletes, just like Jim Thorpe." The dedication will be on Elks Club No. 1895 property on Perrin Avenue, the old site of Doc Bier's camp. The group hopes to raise $30,000 to $40,000 for the statue and landscaping. So far, it has collected about $18,000. Duva was an amateur fighter from Paterson in the late 1930s. Mornings, he earned money by caddying at the Preakness Hills Country Club in Wayne. Afternoons, he hitchhiked to Doc Bier's camp to catch the action. The Louis camp seem to be the center of New York high life. Big-time sportswriters and other journalists -- Damon Runyon, Jimmy Cannon, Al Buck, Bill Corum -- arrived in Cadillacs and camped out. Boxers mixed with celebrities -- singer Lena Horne was a familiar face -- and four-door convertibles and chauffeured limos jockeyed for parking space. But Louis always kept an eye out for the little folk as well. "The joint used to be jammed on weekends," said Duva, now 76. "Joe was personable. Joe would always talk to the kids, always talk to people out there. He'd go around while he was being bandaged up and talk to people." Louis, born in Alabama, had moved to Detroit with his family. There, he quit school, worked in a Ford plant, and learned to box at a city recreation center, winning a Golden Gloves light heavyweight title in 1934. Louis' handlers discovered Dr. Joseph Bier's camp in 1935 as he trained for his New York debut against strongman Primo Carnera. The camp was already an established retreat for such boxers as Benny Leonard and Tony Canzoneri. Carnera was big -- 6-foot-6, 260 pounds -- but he was no boxer. Louis knocked him out in six rounds before 62,000 at Yankee Stadium on June 25, 1935. The Joe Louis era had begun. He won his first 23 bouts, 19 by knockout. But in 1936, he lost to Nazi Germany's Max Schmeling, giving Reichsfuhrer Adolf Hitler cause to gloat. It left Louis, then training in Lakewood, depressed and looking for a rematch. He won the heavyweight title in June 1937 from James J. Braddock. And when he met Schmeling again in June 1938, an angry Louis -- based again in Pompton Lakes -- knocked him out in one round. All America cheered. But Louis also grew in stature in another way. In a time when racism was the norm, sportswriters described Louis as "brown bomber" and "tan-skinned terror," comparing his brute style to a jungle animal and intimating he was lazy when he wasn't training. Then came World War II. Louis enlisted in the Army, fought 96 exhibitions for the troops, and boosted home-front morale, too, predicting, "We will win because we're on God's side." The writers began to see Louis as more than a man with big fists; in his own way, he was breaking down segregation's door. "A credit to his race -- the human race," Jimmy Cannon wrote. To his fans in Pompton Lakes, especially the youngsters, it didn't matter what the sportswriters said. Joe Louis was their hero. "I remember Joe coming past our house every morning, doing his roadwork, and he would stop and talk to my kids," said Helen Heath, 88. Her house on Colfax Avenue was three blocks from Louis' camp. "He was one of the finest gentlemen you'd ever want to meet." Louis jogged by in stocking cap, work boots, corduroy slacks, and a short "Ike" jacket, trailed by a sleek, swept-back coupe carrying trainer Manny Seamon and bodyguards. "It was shiny as can be," said Helen's son, Tommy. "He loved all the kids," said Tommy Heath, now 59. "He had bodyguards at camp -- but even so, he would just go over and shake kids' hands. There was no such thing as race. He was the champ, and that was it. It wasn't black and white. Everybody was just friends." Sometimes, Louis would do more than talk. If he ran by and found the Heath kids were late for school, he'd throw pebbles at their windows to wake them up. On weekdays, the Heaths -- Jack, Tommy, Raymond, and Helen -- and their pals played baseball near the camp, using cardboard for bases. Louis once went to Erickson's sporting goods store and bought bats and balls for them. But on weekends, the lot was taken over by cars whose drivers had come to watch Louis. "I'm telling you, this was a good guy," said Jack "Red" Heath, now 62. A May 1945 picture shows Louis embracing Helen, Jack in knickers, and a shaggy-haired Tom Heath. Louis signed it, "To Red." "This is my friend from down the street," Louis would tell his entourage whenever he saw one of the Heath kids in camp. "Which one are you?" "The camp had a fence all the way around," Tommy Heath said. "You were supposed to pay to get into an exhibition. We used to sneak under the fence." The sneaking went both ways: Louis and sparring partner Al Hoosman often escaped the camp and headed for the Heath house and some of Helen Heath's crumb cake. "It was a secret recipe," Tommy Heath said. When Louis fought, Pompton Lakes was glued to its radios. "Me and my brother would sit on the edge of the hassock, biting our fingernails," Tommy Heath said. "It was the only time we were allowed to stay up late." Louis would defend his title 25 times, scoring 22 knockouts. He retired in 1949 after an unprecedented 12-year reign. But two years later, at age 36 and deep in debt, he tried a comeback in 1950 and lost a bloody 15-round decision to Ezzard Charles, 29 and in his prime. Even more wrenching was his last bout, on Oct. 26, 1951, with Rocky Marciano. The two men were friends. But Louis needed the money: Although he had won more than $4 million in his fights, he owed the IRS more than $1 million. "Joe was a high-liver," Duva said. "He gambled a lot." Louis also was a soft touch for pals, and failed at several marriages as well as investments. The Madison Square Garden event was a sad spectacle. Louis, slow and overweight, was no match for Marciano, who won the bloody bout in eight rounds. "Rocky didn't want to fight him," Duva said. "I was in the dressing room after the fight. Rocky cried like a baby. He didn't want to fight him. He had to fight him. Joe begged him to fight him. He needed money so bad. "Rocky was mad at himself because he carried him for the first eight rounds," Duva said. "He [Marciano] was determined not to embarrass him, until he finally had to knock him out, and, uh, he cried like a baby." Afterward, Duva himself made sure Louis had work, as the host at fights or doing commentary. But Louis would suffer a stroke that affected his speech and mobility, and he was hospitalized in 1970 for what was called an emotional disorder. At the time, he was a greeter at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. The champ's decline saddened his fans. "When I got out of the service in 1959 and I heard he was a greeter, it gave me a sick feeling," Tommy Heath said. But Louis was said to have loved the casino job, and visitors and celebrities treated him royally. Meanwhile, the public was outraged by the IRS' chase of Louis, now more beloved than ever. "I didn't like what the government did to him," Duva said. "Liens and every goddamn thing. He was shut down from making a living." Adding insult to injury, Louis was denied the world-class recognition he deserved, Duva said, citing the "color problem," the lack of TV, and the fact that Louis was not flamboyant like, say, a Muhammad Ali. Louis projected a serious, sullen image in his publicity photos. But those close to him knew a playful side. In February 1965 at Miami Beach, the old war horses, Louis and Marciano, did commentary for the Cassius Clay-Sonny Liston fight. A stunned Liston was overwhelmed in six rounds by Clay, an 8-1 underdog. After the fight, Duva, Louis, and Marciano headed to the parking lot. Marciano suddenly started running and shadowboxing. "Hey Rock, you going wacky or something?" Louis asked. "What's the matter with you?" "Let me tell you," Marciano said. "When I seen that young kid [Clay] up there running, fighting the way he fought, and he stops Sonny Liston, and they say he's going to get a million dollars. Man, I'm going to make a comeback." Louis perked up. "Wait a minute," he blurted, running and shadowboxing too. "Let me start running. I'll make a comeback, too!" But he didn't keep the good health to sustain that joke for long. On April 11, 1981, Louis attended the Larry Holmes-Trevor Berbick fight in Las Vegas. "He looked like a mummy," recalled Henry Hascup, president of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame. Louis died the next day. He was 66. The champ, who had last returned to Pompton Lakes in the 1960s for Joe Louis Day, was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Duva predicts a flood of memories at the park on May 29. "You'll see: There will be people jumping on the bandwagon. The day you have the dedication, you will have a lot of people saying -- a lot of guys 60, 70 years old -- 'I remember Joe. He used to come into my store. He used to do this, that . . .' "This was a good guy," Duva said of Louis. "And like I said, today he would be the master. He would be the leader. He would be, in so many ways, not only for the sport of boxing, but handling situations and projects for the interest of the human race. You haven't got that today with sports figures." Contributions to the Joe Louis Memorial Park may be made to the North Jersey Police Radio Association, c/o Police Chief Al Ekkers, 25 Lenox Ave., Pompton Lakes, N.J. 07442. Tax-deductible checks should be made payable to the NJPRA. NEW YORK RING JUDGE INDICTED (Associated Press, July 2, 1958) NEW YORK -- Bert Grant, a veteran New York boxing judge, Wednesday was indicated and arrested on charges of conspiracy and bribery in connection with five main event television fights. Grant, 51, pleaded innocent at his arraignment in General Sessions Court. District Attorney Frank S. Hogan charged Grant, of Brooklyn, had conspired with Herman "Hymie the Mink" Wallman, a widely known fight manager and furrier, to commit bribery in five bouts involving Wallman's fighters. Grant allegedly received a total of $400. Wallman's pugilists won all five fights, four of them by unanimous decision. The winning fighters were heavyweight Alex Miteff of Argentina (twice), middleweight Moses Ward of Detroit, featherweight Ike Chestnut of New York, and lightweight Orlando Zulueta of Cuba. In the indictment, Hogan accused Grant of received $300 in payoffs from Wallman for four fights in which he officiated and $100 for a fight in which he did not work. In the latter bout, Miteff won a split decision over Cuba's Nino Valdes in a close, spirited scrap that provoked a roaring rhubarb. The alleged conspiracy occurred between Sept. 20, 1954 and April 7, 1958, and involved bouts in New York's Madison Square Garden and St. Nicholas Arena, according to the indictment. Hogan said Wallman was named in the indictment as a co-conspirator but not as a defendant with Grant. Hogan said Wallman was granted immunity for testifying before a New York grand jury which is investigating professional boxing. The district attorney said Grant refused to waive immunity a month ago before the grand jury and therefore was not permitted to testify. The indictment alleged that Grant accepted bribes to favor Wallman's fighters. It contained one count of conspiracy and 10 bribery counts. Conviction on conspiracy, a misdemeanor, is punishable by a prison term of one to three years. Conviction of a felony is punishable by terms of from one to ten years for each count. According to Hogan, the fights involved were: Ward and Billy Kilgore of Miami at the Garden, Oct. 4, 1954. Grant was accused of soliciting and agreeing to accept a bribe, and of receiving a $100 payoff after the bout. Chestnut and Gil Cadilli of Los Angeles, at the Garden, March 15, 1957. Grant allegedly received a $100 payoff. Miteff and Willie Besmanoff at St. Nicholas, June 10, 1957. Grant allegedly received $50. Zulueta and Frankie Iopolito of New York, at St. Nicholas, Aug. 12, 1957. Grant allegedly received $50. Miteff and Valdes at the Garden, Feb. 21, 1958. "In connection with this fight (Miteff-Valdes)," Hogan said, "Grant is accused of agreeing to accept a $100 bribe to influence his decision, if, as he expected, he should be designated one of the judges. But he was not so designated. Miteff won the fight on a split decision, and after the fight, Grant was paid off by Wallman on the basis of their agreement." Hogan said that on the morning of this fight, Valdes' manager, Bobby Gleason, complained to the state athletic commission that the bout was "in the bag" for Miteff. After the fight, Hogan said, hearings were held by the commission but "nothing happened." In the dressing room after the fight, both Valdes and Gleason screamed "robbery." MONOPOLY CHARGES JEOPARDIZE TV BOXING (Associated Press, November 14, 1958) WASHINGTON -- The International Boxing Club told the Supreme Court Thursday it was socked so hard by an antimonopoly decree that even its twice-a-week nationally televised fight series is in jeopardy. Kenneth C. Royall, IBC attorney, said Federal Judge Sylvester J. Ryan in New York hit the club, Madison Square Garden and their officers with punitive, oppressive and unnecessary penalties, after finding they had violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. Using a question by Justice Felix Frankfurter, Royall said it might now be possible for the courts to decide whether customers of New York's Garden are to see "boxing or Billy Graham" on any given night. Philip Elman, Justice Department lawyer, defended Ryan's judgment. He said it was intended to restore conditions as they were before James D. Norris and Arthur M. Wirtz constructed their boxing empire in 1949. Another purpose, he said, was to encourage independent promoters to compete with Norris and Wirtz, who control the International Boxing Clubs of New York and Chicago as well as the Garden and Chicago Stadium. Ryan last year ruled that Norris, Wirtz and their companies monopolized championship fights from 1949 to 1953. The judge ordered the clubs to dissolve and directed Norris and Wirtz to sell their stock in the Garden and resign as officers. He prohibited them from signing exclusive contracts with fighters or arenas. He also confined them personally and the Garden to promotion of two title bouts each for the next five year. Elman said the lower court concluded the hookup of Norris, Wirtz and the Garden was the "basic evil" and had to be broken up. He agreed with Royall that nothing in the decree would prevent the formation of new IBCs but said these would be bound by the same restrictions. Royall, a former secretary of the Army, denied the IBC setup had included "a single boxer, promoter, or any other stadium or television or radio or motion picture company." He asked the high court to absolve the defendants of monopoly charges or, at least, to soften the decree. Royall said the present terms "effectively interfere with and render most difficult the presentation" of the Wednesday and Friday night TV fight shows. These are made up mostly of non-title bouts. Royall said they are threatened by outlawing normal and recognized contract procedures. If the court finds any activity objectionable, Royall said, it would serve all purposes merely to ban exclusive contracts with boxers and stadiums and to limit championship promotions. "You will hurt them," he said, "but you will permit them to continue and pemrit them to cover the country with the boxing shows that we believe are good."