All posts by Bobby Franklin

The Ogunquit Playhouse Is Back With “Monty Python’s Spamalot”

With Monty Python’s Spamalot

The Ogunquit Playhouse

Returns Us To The Bright Side Of Life

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Charles Shaughnessy as King Arthur and Mariand Torres as The Lady of the Lake

In the early spring of 2020 hope began to fade that the Corona Virus was going to recede, and the reality that life for all of us was going to be quite different for some time was setting in. At the time Brad Kenney, Executive Artistic Director of the Playhouse, had to make the announcement the 2020 Season would be canceled. Brad did this via video and the poor guy could not have looked more beaten down. His heart and soul is in the Ogunquit Playhouse and having to let the public know the curtain wouldn’t be going up last year was heart wrenching. It seemed sure the place would  remain dark for a long time. Some wondered if it would be able to survive.

Well, Brad may have been staggered and even floored, but the count never got to ten. He soon recovered and was back in the fight, a fight he was not going to lose. After having to refund over 50% of the ticket sale money for the up coming season Brad went to work on fundraising, and more importantly, keeping the flame burning at the playhouse. This began with video talks with Playhouse Alumni such as Sally Struthers. The mood was changing for the better. Next was the Playhouse Cabaret Series where performers from past seasons displayed their talents before small crowds outside the theatre in a cafe setting. So, even though the season was officially canceled, there were still performances taking place before a live audience. 

Left to Right) Jen Cody, Dwelvan David, Charles Shaughnessy, Mariand Torres, Josh Grisetti, and Daniel Lopez (Photo by Gary Ng)

As the 2021 Season approached it was still unknown if the COVID restrictions would allow for the theatre to reopen. Since it takes some time to put together full scale productions it was decided to build a pavilion next to the theatre where it would be easier to allow for social distancing and ventilation. 

With generous donations from the many loyal supporters of the Playhouse, and a huge gift from benefactors Carol and Noel Leary, the Leary Pavillon was erected and a four show season was planned.

Last Friday night the season kicked off with Monty Python’s Spamalot. As one of the tag-lines from Monty Python goes; “And now for something completely different”. Well, not completely different as this production lives up to the high standards the Ogunquit Playhouse has always adhered to.

The laughter that came from the audience in response to those lines shows the resilience people have and how, just like the Ogunquit Playhouse, we are not giving up.

It was an interesting choice as the first musical to play since the pandemic hit in that it opens with references to plague and deaths. Grim? Not at all, gallows humor is exactly what is needed at this time. The laughter that came from the audience in response to those lines shows the resilience people have and how, just like the Ogunquit Playhouse, we are not giving up. 

Charles Shaughnessy is excellent in leading the cast as Arthur the King who just can’t seem to command respect. Sent by God on a quest to find the Holy Grail, Arthur is accompanied by his faithful companion Patsy (Jen Cody). Along the way the King assembles members of his Knights of the Round Table, a motley crew who often take things Arthur says literally which causes more than a little Pythonish confusion.

Josh Grisetti as Sir Robin
(Photo by Gary Ng)

Dennis Galahad (Daniel A. Lopez) is not easily convinced to become a knight as he has the radical idea leaders should be chosen by the people and not by Divine Right. The Lady of the Lake (Mariand Torres) appears and wins over Dennis with Come With Me who now becomes Sir Galahad. Ms Torres while singing hilarious songs shows her talent as a genuine Broadway Belter with the Diva’s Lament and Find Your Grail/The Song That Goes Like This.

Jen Cody is outstanding as Patsy. Her performance of the show’s best known song Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life was pitch perfect, and she showed great comedic expressions when Mr. Shaughnessy sang I’m Alone. Poor Patsy who had stood by the King throughout thick and thin was a riot as she looked to the audience with “What about me looks?” as Arthur spun his tale of loneliness.

Jen Cody as Patsy
Photo Credit: Gary Ng

With many of the devices that make Monty Python so popular, such as a giant wooden rabbit, the huge hand, poking fun at the French, and riding on horseback sans horses, fans won’t be disappointed.

The big show tunes are a treat as well. You Won’t Succeed On Broadway (Josh Grisetti) is Mel Brooksian in its formula for it’s humorous take in what you need to produce a Broadway Show while His Name Is Lancelot (Nic Rouleau) is best described as Lancelot’s coming out song.

Music, laughter, beautiful sets, and the joy of the Ogunquit Playhouse is back. Life is good again.

By the finale the audience was fully back in theatre mode. Music, laughter, beautiful sets, and the joy of the Ogunquit Playhouse is back. Life is good again.

I’d like to say a few things about the Leary Pavilion. While it is different from the main theatre it is a very interesting setting for a play. It accommodates 75% of the Playhouse’s indoor capacity. The 25,000 square foot steel structured, fully covered, open air performance venue has a 96 foot wide stage, a full array of lighting, and much better acoustics than I expected. A major plus is having the seats arranged in “pods” of two for social distancing. This also ensures every audience member is guaranteed an aisle seat with plenty of leg room. For a fidgeter like me this is a positive delight. Site lines are clear and unobstructed. You doin’t have to crane your neck to look past people’s heads. Is the pavilion better than the indoor theatre? No. Is it worse? No. It is a different and very interesting experience, and it works very, very well. 

Brad Kenney deserves more than high praise for making this all happen. Don’t think twice about buying tickets for Spamalot and the rest of the season. Come out of your cocoon and step into the world of outstanding musical theatre at the Ogunquit Playhouse. It really feels good to be back looking at the bright side of life!

Monty Python’s Spamalot

Through July 10

The Ogunquit Playhouse

Ogunquit, Maine

Box Office: 207.646.5511

ogunquitplayhouse.org 

The Ogunquit Playhouse Patio Cabaret Opens June 4

Ogunquit Playhouse 

Opens The

 Playhouse Patio Cabaret

By Bobby Franklin

In addition to the four Main Stage plays being presented this season, the Ogunquit Playhouse will once again be welcoming patrons to their Playhouse Patio Cabaret. The Patio proved extremely popular last year and will be an extra treat this season as things begin to shift back to normal in Ogunquit with the opening of the Main Stage.

The opening performance will see the return of Nat Zegree to the patio. Nat, who rocked the house in Million Dollar Quartet, will be sharing his talent and musical knowledge June 4 through 6. This will be a great prelude to the opening of the first full musical in nearly two year which takes place on June 16 with Monty Python’s Spamalot.

The Playhouse Patio Cabaret will continue throughout the summer with  total of 10 events. In addition to Nat Zegree the performers along with the plays they were in are Diana Huey(Elf The Musical) June 25-27, Jeffry Denman (White Christmas) and David Lamoureux(An American in Paris)July 23-25, F. Michael Haynie (Hunchback of Notre Dame)July 30-August 1, Alysha Umphress (Smokey Joe’s Cafe) and Jeff Blumenkrantz  (Broadway’s Bright Star) 6-8, NicoleVanessa Ortiz August (Smokey Joe’s Cafe)13-15, Kyle Taylor Parker (Kinky Boots) August 20-22, Lindsay Roberts (Ragtime)September 10-12, Jonathan Mousset Alonso (JerseyBoys) and Vince Di Mura September 17-19, and Graham Scott Fleming (Kinky Boots)September 24-26. 

With seats limited to 100 per performance, tickets will run out fast. Last years series sold out within days. Cabaret performances are On Sale Now at ogunquitplayhouse.org and through the Box Office phone lines at 207.646.5511. Seating is by table, priced as $140 for a table of two, and $280 for a table of four, limited to 100 patrons per performance. Pricing includes one complimentary drink per person.

This will be a very exciting summer in Ogunquit led by the very talented performers and staff at the Ogunquit Playhouse. You don’t want to miss out.

2021 Ogunquit Playhouse 2021 Season Announced!

The Show Will Go On

In Ogunquit!

The pandemic put a serious damper on live theatre, and last year the Ogunquit Playhouse was limited to just a few cabaret style outdoor events. Things were up in the air for this year, but the show will go on. The team at the Playhouse have worked hard to come up with a way to stage productions in a safe environment. They have been as creative with providing a new setting as they are with their stage work. It looks to be an exiting year in Ogunquit. 

Bradford T. Kenney, Executive Artistic Director stated, “When it became obvious we couldn’t produce shows indoors this year, the creative wheels began turning on how we could deliver that legendary Ogunquit Playhouse magic in an entirely new way”. Rising from the grounds of the South lawn on the campus this April is The Playhouse Pavilion, a 25,000 square foot, fully covered, open air venue designed to give audiences the greatest theatrical experience in the safest of environments. Fully wired for lights and sound, the 75 foot wide stage will dazzle socially distanced audiences seated in pods of two seats with clear sight lines for all the show stopping glitz and side-splitting laughter they’ve been without for the past year.

The 2021 Season kicks off with Spamalot,  which returns in a new 90-minute, no-intermission extravaganza. From the comedic brilliance of the mighty Pythons and their hysterically inaccurate retelling of King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail, Eric Idle adapts his original Broadway script to streamline the music and laughter for a COVID-friendly environment. Spamalot will run June 16 through July 10.

Next up will be the regional premiere of Escape To Margaritaville. You’ll be dining on cheeseburgers in paradise and wasting away with this 90-minute no intermission journey through the music of the incomparable Jimmy Buffett. Kick off your flip flops for seven weeks from July 14 through August 28, as Maine’s Seacoast is transformed into a Caribbean paradise where love and laughter are the keys to growing older without growing up.

Act Three of the season will run from September 1 through October 2 with The Pavilion stage transforming into a quaint New England seacoast village for the World Premiere of Mystic Pizza, the beloved 1980s MGM romantic comedy that launched the career of Julia Roberts. Three girlfriends navigating life, love, and coming-of-age in a working class seaside pizza joint. This pizza is topped with the hits of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Bringing the curtain down on the season’s Pavilion stage spectacular will a new 90-minute, no intermission, side-splitting version of Young Frankenstein! Mel Brooks and Susan Stroman scared the pants off Broadway giving his 1974 cult classic creature new life on stage as a mind-blowing tap dancing monster of an experience. The creepy and kooky family will run from October 6 through, fittingly, Halloween!

While audience members are not being required to provide their proof of vaccination, Ogunquit Playhouse encourages all patrons and guests to get vaccinated for their own safety and the safety of those around them. They are also making it clear that everyone on campus — staff, artists, and patrons alike — adhere to current State and Federal CDC guidelines for social distancing. Masks will be required at all times, except when eating and drinking. Masks will be provided to those who arrive without one. And patron traffic flow will be managed to ensure the safest, most efficient arrival and departure from the campus.

It’s important to keep in mind that seating in The Pavilion is limited, so it would be wise to purchase tickets and subscriptions early. Playhouse Members will receive a week of pre-sales beginning April 19 at 10AM ET. With an annual Membership of $100 or more, you too can get a fast pass to the front of the line! General Public sales begin April 26 online at ogunquitplayhouse.org and by phone at 207.646.5511.

Knowing this Season will be completely different from what Playhouse audiences are used to, all patrons are encouraged to share their questions and concerns by filling out the comments form at https://bit.ly/3snypuR. While it is not possible to address each inquiry individually,  responses will be shared on the Playhouse Facebook page and in the weekly eNews.

For the latest information on the 2021 Season, please visit http://ogunquitplayhouse.org/ or email mstailey [at] ogunquitplayhouse [dot] org

Rest In Peace Marvelous Marvin Hagler

Marvelous Marvin Hagler

An All Time Great Champion And  Decent Man Is Taken From Us

By Bobby Franklin

Last Saturday night I was logging onto the internet to check my email when I saw on the newsfeed the headline “Marvin Hagler, Former Middleweight Champion, Has Died”. It couldn’t be true I thought. The story said his wife Kay had posted the news on Marvin’s Facebook Page. Knowing the unreliability of social media and how rife for rumors it is I assumed some person with a sick mind had started the rumor and things would be cleared up soon. 

Unfortunately, I was wrong. Soon, other media sources also reported the story. The Champ had died unexpectedly at, or near, his home in Bartlett, New Hampshire. The indestructible Marvelous Marvin Hagler, winner of 62 fights with 52 knock outs was gone. He was only 66 years old and appeared fit enough to still go fifteen rounds at a moments notice. It just couldn’t be.

In 1967 Marvin’s mother moved the family from Newark, NJ to Brockton, MA. Newark had been torn by riots and she wanted a better life for her children. Soon after settling in Brockton Marvin found the Petronelli’s gym and began a career in boxing that would take him to the National A.A.U. Championship and then onto to a spectacular professional career culminating in winning the World Middleweight Championship.

The road to the title was not an easy one. Hagler had a few strikes against him when it came to his quest for a title shot. He lacked connections, he was very good and he was a southpaw. Those at the top avoided him at all costs.

Another thing about Hagler; he was never satisfied. No matter how much he improved he believed he could be better and he kept working at it.

But Marvin had another quality, he was determined and unrelenting. He knew he would be champion some day and he kept working at it. Rising early mornings he would do his roadwork. After finishing running he would spend the day working his job at roofing and construction. Evenings he would be in the gym working to perfect his technique. Another thing about Hagler; he was never satisfied. No matter how much he improved he believed he could be better and he kept working at it.

Fighting for short money Marvin took on the likes of Bennie Briscoe, Willie Monroe, Bobby Watts, Eugene Cyclone Hart, Kevin Finnegan, Mike Colbert, Doug Demmings, Sugar Ray Seales, and Johnny Baldwin. He lost only two times and in both those cases he returned to decisively beat his opponent. And remember, this was all before becoming champion.

It wasn’t until his 49th bout and after six years of fighting that he finally landed a title shot. On November 30, 1979 he got his chance against Champion Vito Antuofermo. After fifteen rounds it appeared to all who had seen the fight that Marvin had won the crown. Unfortunately, two out of the three judges did not see it that way and the fight was ruled a draw allowing Vito to retain the title.

Hagler was crushed but he did not let it stop him. He went on to rack up three more wins and then challenged Alan Minter for the title in London, Minter’s home town. Alan had previously won the championship from Antuofermo. 

Marvin Lands A Right On Alan Minter

Marvin did not leave it to the judges this time. He destroyed Minter inside of three rounds. Finally, the title was his, but he was not allowed to celebrate. The British fans rioted and Hagler was lucky to get out of the ring without being injured or worse. He was denied the joy of being presented with the championship belt in the ring. 

Marvin would go on to successfully defend the title 12 times with only one challenger, Roberto Duran, going the distance with him. To say he was dominant would be an understatement. He had no soft touches in his title defenses. He took on the best and showed what a true champion was made out of. 

It was in his thirteenth defense that he agreed to fight Sugar Ray Leonard. Leonard’s career was everything Marvin’s was not when it came to getting breaks. His first pro fight was a televised main event. He made money from day one and was carefully guided to the championship, and he was a media darling. He had retired three years earlier but decided to make a comeback when he perceived Hagler was starting to show signs of slowing down a bit. 

Hagler vs Hearns

The fight was held in La Vegas, the site of the robbery in Marvin’s challenge to Antuofermo. The terms were all set in Leonard’s favor, from the location, to having a large ring, to the distance of the fight being reduced from 15 to 12 rounds. In spite of all this and with Marvin coming off wars in his two previous fights, against Hearns and Mugabi, he appeared to have won the fight. But once again two of the three judges did not see it that way and Leonard was given the decision and the title. 

Again, Marvin was crushed by this theft. The title had been stolen from him. It was believed that he would come back and fight Leonard again, but Leonard did not immediately agree to a rematch. He decided he would leave Marvin dangling. However, Hagler did something not expected and very wise; he walked away from the game. He knew he had defeated Leonard. He had accomplished everything he set out to do in boxing. He had to do it all the hard way, but Marvin knew how to work hard. He left the sport with his head high and his mind intact and a healthy bank account. Not many do.

Hagler Victorious Over Hearns

The adjustment to a life away from boxing was at first a bit rocky, but after some struggles and a divorce Marvin found his stride, He moved to Italy where he made movies. He remarried and bought a second home in the quiet town of Bartlett, New Hampshire. The intensity with which he had to live and fight for so many years was now in the past. Watching interviews with him that were done in recent years you see a content man. He had no demons haunting. He was happily married to his wife Kay for thirty years and they had a great life together. They traveled extensively making personal appearances. The fans still admired him.

Marvin was truly the last of the great throwback fighters. He was without a doubt an all time great. He could have fought in any era and been champion. While it can be argued that some of the greats of the past could have beaten him, it cannot be said for certain that any of them would have.

Kirk Douglas and Marvin Hagler

Marvin Hagler was also a throwback in another sense. He never gave up his dignity, he was always classy and decent. Hagler never let setbacks keep him down, nor did he ever embrace a victim mentality , a way of thinking that is so common today. He was able to channel his disappointments and anger into positive forces that contributed to his successes. I doubt his like will ever be seen again, and we are the lesser because of it.

Rest In Peace Champ. You were taken too soon and will be missed. 

Jack Palance: In The Ring, On The Stage

Jack Palance 

Fought Professionally 

Played In Requiem For A Heavyweight

Took On Joe Baski

By Bobby Franklin

If looks could win fights Jack Palance would have been heavyweight champion of the world. His face appeared as if it were cut out of stone and he had the persona to go with it. While well liked, he was known as someone who didn’t pull his punches, figuratively or literally. At 6’3”’ and 200 pounds, he was built lean and hard and was an imposing figure.

He was born Volodymir Ivanovich Palahniuk on February 18, 1919 in Lattimer Mines, Pennsylvania to Ukrainian immigrants. At an early age he decided he didn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps working as a coal miner. After 39 years working in the mines his father died of black lung disease. As a young man it bothered him that his mother was forced to buy groceries at the company store when the same goods could be had for cheaper in nearby establishments. 

A natural athlete, Jack earned a football scholarship to the University of North Carolina but dropped out after two years. It was then that he decided to take up boxing. He fought under the name of Jack Brazzo and reportedly won his first 15 fights with 12 coming by way of knockout. I was unable to verify this record, but it is a fact that he took on future heavyweight contender Joe Baski in 1938 losing a four round decision. It was after the Baski loss that Palance left boxing for a career in acting. He later recalled, ”…Then I thought, ‘You must be nuts to get your head beat in for $200.’ The theater seemed a lot more appealing…”.

His career was sidetracked by WWII. He was seriously injured when bailing out of a B-24 Liberator that had caught fire. He required facial surgery for wounds he received. When later asked if the plastic surgery had enhanced his looks he responded “If it is a ‘bionic face,’ why didn’t they do a better job of it?” After the war he returned home and to the coal mines. He then enrolled at Stanford University where he earned a degree in journalism. He worked for a time as a sportswriter while resuming his acting career having now changed his name to Jack Palance.

In 1956 he got to put his boxing experience to work when he starred in the Playhouse 90 production of Requiem For A Heavyweight. Most people remember the movie version that had Anthony Quinn in the leading role. With a screenplay written by Rod Serling, another former boxer, the Playhouse 90 performance was aired live on television on October 11th of that year. Co- starring Ed and Keenan Wynn along with Kim Hunter, this version is different from the big screen production.

 

The character Quinn played was named Mountain Rivera, while Palance’s was Mountain McClintock. Palance brought a more nuanced tact to the role of the over the hill boxer who now had to find his way in the world outside of the ring. His experience as a boxer certainly aided in his being able to dig more deeply into the role. The two versions show the fighter suffering from pugilistica dementia, while also struggling with his loyalty to his manager who wants him to continue boxing even after being warned by a doctor that one more fight could kill him. It’s a touching and tragic story enhanced by the grim fact it is something that happens time and again in boxing.

While aired live, the performance was saved on film and is available on Amazon and Youtube. I highly recommend it both for the outstanding acting done by Palance and the hard-hitting screenplay by Serling. While the big screen version is an excellent movie, Quinn’s Rivera tends too much to the pathetic side and sinks into caricature while Palance’s McClintock has a depth and realism that makes for a very moving performance. While Quinn’s character remains under the spell of his manager, Palance’s McClintock struggles to break away in a pursuit to regain his self-respect. Palance brings complexity to the role, for which he won an Emmy. It is interesting to watch the two versions and compare them.

Palance went on to have a legendary career in film, while never feeling at home with the Hollywood crowd. A life long vegetarian and health fanatic he stayed fit all of his life. In 1991 while accepting the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Curley in City Slickers he brought the audience to its feet when at age 73 he dropped to the floor and did one armed pushups. 

I wish more information was available about his boxing career, but there is no doubt that any of his opponents would have felt at least a brief chill when looking across the ring at Jack Palance.

While a genuine tough guy, Jack liked to spend his free time painting and writing poetry and fiction. On November 10, 2006 Jack Palance passed away at the age of 87 of natural causes. A true original, he will never be forgotten. 

Johnny Bratton vs Kid Gavilan II

No Rope A Dope In This Fight

By Bobby Franklin

Johnny Bratton and Kid Gavilan Weigh In For Their Third Fight

Recently, I received an email from my friend boxing historian Mike Silver, the author of The Arc Of Boxing. Mike included a link to a Youtube video of the second Kid Gavilan vs Johnny Bratton fight. He described the bout as one of the best he has seen and commented emphatically, “This is BOXING.” After that ringing endorsement I had to take a look for myself. Mike certainly was right. The fight was indeed entertaining as well as a textbook example of how much boxing has devolved over the years. 

Kid Gavilan and Johnny Bratton fought three times during the period from 1951 to 1953. In their first fight Gavilan won the NBA World Welterweight Championship from Bratton.  In their third fight the Kid defended the title against Johnny. Their second fight was a ten round non-title affair. 

Rare today, non-title fights were not unusual years ago. They would take place when the fighters would come in over the weight limit of the division the title holder was in. This was prearranged and the fans knew they were not going to see the champion risk his belt. It was a way for a title holder to stay busy without risking his title. It was also an opportunity for someone not rated high enough to get a chance at fighting a champ and, even in losing, be able to enhance his reputation by showing he could stay in there with the best.

The second Gavilan/Bratton fight was a bit unusual as the two had fought for the title just six months earlier. In that fight, held on May 18, 1951, Bratton fought with a broken jaw from the fifth round on but lasted the full distance while losing a decision. Just six months later on November 11, 1951 the two would meet again, this time in a non-title fight. And what a fight it was.

Bratton Lands A Left On Gavilan

You might think Bratton would have been a bit gun shy after having taken such a licking in their first encounter, but at the opening bell he came out with guns blazing. Of course, Gavilan was their to meet fire with fire, and this led to a very “entertaining” fight. It also was a display of two ring wise boxing veterans plying their craft.

For the first three rounds Johnny tried matching Gavilan’s speedy combinations. This led to some great exchanges but The Kid was getting the best of them. In the 4th round Bratton changed tactics and started looking to counterpunch. He had more success with this strategy. Gavilan was a very rhythmic fighter and Johnny was trying to break that rhythm by making moves to throw the Champ off his game. Bratton even mimicked Gavilan’s trademark bolo punch in an effort to rattle him. In the seventh round the two tried to outdo one another while digging into their bags of tricks. Gavilan used head feints and a shuffle (yes, this move was around long before Ali trademarked it), and Bratton at one point pointed to the crowd in order to distract the Kid. Neither fell for the tactics but it is fun to watch them trying to one up each other.

Gavilan Lands A Right Counter On Bratton

There a few things that really stand out in this fight. Things that you will not see today or for that matter ever again in boxing. In the entire 10 rounds the fighters only clinched two times, and neither of these was a hug fest. They also went to the ropes on just one occasion. This fight, like so many from the age of boxing when it was an art form, took place almost entirely in mid-ring. 

It was in the eighth round when Bratton was stepping back from Gavilan that he went against the ropes. He immediately responded by neutralizing a left hook the Champ was throwing by placing his right hand on the inside of Gavilan’s elbow as he stepped away from the ropes. This was one of two times that the referee intervened, and even that action by the third man was not needed as the two were breaking on their own. 

Gavilan Beats Bratton To The Punch

It is also a pleasure to watch how these two artists used their left jabs. Today, most fighters hold their hands up against their faces in what makes them look like they are wearing ear muffs. It is impossible to throw a decent jab from that position, not that any of them seem interested in throwing jabs anyway. Both Johnny and the Kid used a classic stance where the left hand is held low and out in front of them while the right hand is kept open and held high in order to parry the opponent’s punches, their chins stay tucked into the shoulder. Having the left in this position allows for the punch to travel a shorter distance while also leaving the option of turning it into a hook or an uppercut, and for the real masters, a hook off the jab. It is also a great defensive position as Bratton showed in the 8th round when he was able to disarm Gavilan by grabbing the inside of his elbow and walking him away from the ropes. The left can also be raised in a stiff arm fashion to deflect a punch. They both employed feints in an effort to get the other to lead, knowing that a fighter is most vulnerable when he is throwing a punch. 

It’s funny, but at one point the referee took a round away from Gavilan for holding and hitting. This was odd as I wasn’t able to see anything close to holding and hitting. I think the ref was feeling unneeded and wanted to justify being paid.

At the end of the ten rounds the decision was announced as a draw. If not for the referee taking away the round from Gavilan, the champ would have won the fight. 

The two would meet one more time in November of 1953, this time for the title. Gavilan won a one-sided decision over fifteen rounds. The press reported that Bratton was thoroughly beaten by the 12th round but he held on until the final bell. 

I highly recommend viewing the second fight between these two excellent fighters. You can watch it a number of times, and as with any great work of art you will notice new things each time you see it. And Mike was right, it is a very entertaining fight.   

How To Ruin A Fighter And A Life

Management Of Johnny Coiley

Is A Textbook Case

By Bobby Franklin

John Coiley

For anyone following the Boston boxing scene in the late 1960s and 1970s the name Johnny Coiley will certainly ring a bell. John was an outstanding amateur fighter who turned pro in 1969. He was a slick boxer with a decent punch who went on to win the New England Middleweight Championship.

John was never in a dull fight, using his rapier like left jab to keep his opponents at bay and also as a way to set up his solid right hand. Sixteen of his 24 wins came via stoppage. 

Fighting most often at the Boston Arena he also made stops in Taunton, MA; Portland, Maine; and the Boston Garden. His biggest win was over veteran Mike Pusateri for the New England title. The two had fought to a draw in their first encounter, and Johnny pulled out the win in their rematch. Things were looking good for the Cambridge middleweight as he had developed a loyal following of fans.

Meanwhile, in New Orleans another young prospect was making a career for himself. Tony Licata, trained by the legendary Bill Gore and managed by Lou Viscusi, was also compiling an impressive record. Licata was a smart boxer/puncher whose lightening fast combinations earned him the moniker “Machine Gun Tony.” He began his pro career a little ahead of Coiley and was facing stiffer competition than the New England Champ. 

Tony Licata

In 1971 John Coiley’s manager agreed to have his young prospect travel to New Orleans, Licata’s hometown, to face Machine Gun Tony. The wisdom of taking this fight could be questioned. While both fighters had identical records when it came to the numbers, with Licata undefeated in  24 fights with 1 ending in a draw, and Coiley with 24 fights, no losses, and one draw, their level of competition was vastly different.

Out of the opponents Coiley faced only two had winning records. By far his biggest and most impressive win was over Mike Pusateri, and that was a major victory for him. Licata had also defeated Pusateri. 

Out of Licata’s 29 opponents, only five had losing records and these were fighters he faced early in his career. By the time he was signed to fight Coiley he had wins over such solid fighters as Gene Wells, Walter Opshinsky, Danny McAloon, Luis Vinales, Dave Adkins, and a knockout victory over Lowell’s very tough Larry Carney. 

Despite this vast difference in the quality of their opposition, Johnny’s manager still agreed to the fight with Licata, and on October 27, 1971 they fought over ten rounds with Tony winning a one sided decision. John was cut under his left eye in the fight. 

Machine Gun Tony Licata And John Coiley Before Their Rematch

Soon after returning to Boston, Coiley’s manager was offered a return fight with Licata by promoter Sam Silverman.  The Coiley team immediately accepted the fight, despite the fact that Johnny was still cut under his eye. The fight would take place just six weeks after the New Orleans battle, hardly enough time for the cut to fully heal so that he could train in earnest for the fight. The wound prevented Coiley from sparring in preparation for the fight for fear it might worsen the injury. The only ring work he got was 3 rounds with a heavyweight a week before the contest. In contrast, Licata put in 70 rounds and was injury free.

John Coiley With His Manager in 1970

Why on earth would Johnny’s manager agree to the rematch so soon after their first bout and under these conditions? The answer is he shouldn’t have. This was gross mismanagement, the kind that results in bad things happening to young fighters. It is boxing malpractice. John was clearly out of his league when he fought Licata the first time. He was given a boxing lesson in New Orleans where Machine Gun Tony’s superior experience showed. There was no shame in losing to a fighter of Licata’s talent in his hometown, Coiley needed to reset and work his way up facing the type of opponents Licata did with his career. Instead, he was back in on short notice with the man who was his better.

At the time, I spoke with people who were close with Licata’s management team. They told me Tony had actually carried Coiley for the ten rounds in their first match. Their strategy was to get a rematch in Boston where they felt Licata would get more exposure and be able to advance his career. His trainer Bill Gore had trained Willie Pep and had connections in the Northeast. It was a smart move on their part abetted by the horrible decision by Coiley’s manager. 

As for the rematch, it was sad to watch. It was held at the Hynes Auditorium in Boston. Tony gave it his all this time. That, combined with the fact that Johnny was poorly trained for the fight and still injured from the first fight, led to a blowout. Tony gave Coiley a beating for seven rounds. In the eighth he dropped him with a left hook.  The knockdown was so forceful it caused a bone separation in John’s lower back. In the ninth John would once again hit the canvas. In serious trouble he would now be saved by referee Jimmy McCaron who stopped the fight.

John Coiley Squares Off With Old Rival Mike Pusateri

Coiley was shattered by the loss both physically and emotionally. He was back in the ring less than four months later stopping Danny Perez in Boston. That would be the last time his hand would be raised in victory. He had six more bouts after that, being kayoed five times with one fight ending in a draw. I saw him kayoed in Waltham, MA by Stan Johnson. It was an even more brutal beating than the one he got from Licata. This punishment took a severe toll on him that would last for the rest of his life.

Think about it, in less than four years John Coiley was knocked out five times. That’s like having been in five auto accidents resulting in brain trauma. The difference here is the fact that these injuries were not the result of accidents but of a manager who never put the health and safety of his fighter first. 

The rematch with Licata was tragic enough, and perhaps it could be chalked up to stupidity, but to continue throwing John in the ring when he was no longer able to properly defend himself was criminal. And for what, a few bucks? 

Boxing is different than other sports. Mismanagement in baseball or golf results in losing and embarrassment. In boxing it results in brain injuries and even death. Put a baseball player in over his head and he will look bad and then be sent back to the minor leagues. In boxing fighters get thrown in again for another beating. 

There is no excuse for what was done to a handsome and intelligent twenty-one year old middleweight from Cambridge, MA in 1971. Unfortunately, since it is boxing this scene has been and will continue to be repeated over and over again. 

Eugene Criqui
French WWI War Hero
Won World Title After Having Jaw Shattered By Sniper’s Bullet

 

By Bobby Franklin

Eugene Criqui

Eugene Criqui was born in the Belleville neighborhood of Paris, France on August 15, 1893. Belleville was a working class village that was later used as the backdrop for a number of motion pictures, including the Oscar winning short The Red Balloon in 1957.

Criqui worked as a pipefitter before becoming a professional boxer in 1910 at the age of 17. From 1910 until 1914, he compiled a record of 68 fights with 45 wins, 9 losses, and 14 draws. Of his wins, 14 came via knockout.

In 1914 Eugene joined the French military
and fought in WW I. While serving guard duty during the Battle of Verdun, he was shot by a German sniper. The bullet struck him in the face shattering his jaw. Criqui would spend two years in the hospital recovering from his wounds. During that time surgeons rebuilt his face using wires, plastic, and pieces of sheep’s bone to repair the damage. Given this was in the early part of the 20th Century, it was amazing what the doctors were able to accomplish. After a long and painful recovery, Criqui returned home.

His family and doctors were stunned when he told them he had decided to resume his boxing career. It seemed he must have gone a bit mad to be even considering returning to such a brutal profession after suffering serious injuries. But return he did and what a second career he had.

In his first four years of boxing he had 68 fights but scored just 14 knockouts. In his comeback after the war he had another 68 fights, but this time he scored 42 knockouts in 60 wins. Clearly, he had changed his style. I have read that prewar Eugene had been a slick boxer who was content to go the distance.

War Hero

After the war, his style turned much more aggressive, and he developed a powerful right hand. Why the change? Well, for one thing, he had grown from a flyweight to a featherweight. But I theorize he was greatly influenced by another great French champion who was also a war hero. If you watch films of Eugene Criqui in his fights after the war you can see his style is clearly patterned on that of Georges Carpentier. The way he holds his left and sets up his opponents for his lethal right hand is right out of the Carpentier playbook.

Georges Carpentier was immensely popular in the United States after the war. He was handsome and a war hero. That fact was not lost on promoters when they matched him against Jack Dempsey who had been accused of evading the draft and sitting out the war. When the two met in 1921 they drew a gate of over a million dollars.

Eugene Criqui Knocking Out Johnny Kilbane

In 1923 promoter Tom O’Rourke brought Criqui to New York to fight Johnny Kilbane for the World Featherweight Title. It could have been that O’Rourke saw some of the Carpentier magic in Criqui. The fight took place at the Polo Grounds. It would be the first time Eugene would fight in the United States, but as with Carpentier, he had a reputation as a war hero and was also known for his exciting knockout power. Because of this, the fight generated excitement, though Kilbane was installed as the betting favorite.

Criqui And Johnny Dundee Square Off

Criqui exceeded expectations when he kayoed the champion in the 6th round with a solid right hand. Now the champion, Eugene was under contractual obligation to defend the title within 60 days against Johnny Dundee. Dundee and Criqui met on July 26, 1923, just 54 days after the Kilbane fight. Dundee dropped Eugene four times on his way to winning a fifteen round decision and the title. This was one of the shortest reigns of any world champion.

It would be Eugene’s last fight in the United States. He would fight just six more bouts. Losing four, including one to Panama Al Brown in Paris. He retired in 1928, having compiled a career record of 136 bouts with 105 wins, 16 losses, and 15 draws. 59 of his wins came via knockout.

It’s a mystery why he never fought in the States again or why he had so few fights after losing the title. It has been said he quit boxing because of injuries to his hands. His jaw certainly held up well as he was only stopped on five occasions.

Eugene went on to have a career as a boxing referee in France. He was the second French boxer to win a world championship, Carpentier being the first. It is unclear why he didn’t fight more often in the United States or why he never got another title shot.

Eugene Criqui

It very well may have been because he had proven himself by coming back from his wounds and attaining the title. Criqui was a courageous soldier and a fearless boxer who overcame a lot to become a world champion. On July 7, 1977, he passed away in a nursing home in Noisy-le-Grand, France. He was 83 years old.

Not a lot has been written about this very interesting champion. In 2017 a biography of Criqui was published in France but has not been translated into English. The title of the book is Gueule De Fer, which translated means Iron Mouth. It would be interesting to know more about his life. Just the little we do know is quite inspirational.

Book Review: “The Night The Referee Hit Back”

Mike Silver Scores a Knockout 

With

The Night The Referee Hit Back:

Memorable Moments From The World Of Boxing

Review: The Night The Referee Hit Back

By Mike Silver

Forward By Teddy Atlas

Rowman & Littlefield

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Mike Silver has been deeply involved with boxing for well over half a century. He started as a kid training in the legendary Stillman’s Gym, served on the New York State Boxing Commission, and even took a crack at promoting fights. Where he has left an indelible mark is with his writing about the sport. His book The Arc Of Boxing: The Rise And Decline Of The Sweet Science is the finest book ever written on how the fine art of boxing has regressed to something that is all but unrecognizable today.

He followed that up with Stars In The Ring: Jewish Champions In The Golden Age Of Boxing: A Photographic History, a detailed look back on the history of Jewish fighters that includes the period when boxing was very much a Jewish sport.

Mike has also penned hundreds of interesting and at times controversial articles for many boxing publications and web sites (Note: Mike Silver is a frequent contributor to Boxing Over Broadway). 

In his latest book, The Night The Referee Hit Back, Mr. Silver brings us a selection of those essays along with a number of interviews with some of the last of the old school boxers. Thumbing through the pages of this volume is like getting an advance degree in boxing theory. Mike brings you back to the days of the real boxing gyms in his opening piece, Boxing In Olde New York: Unforgettable Stillman’s Gym. He not only knows the history of this iconic establishment, he was actually there when it was in full swing. You can smell the cigar smoke and hear the tattooing on the speed bags. With his pen (or keyboard) Mike paints a word picture that if it were in a frame would be a George Bellows lithograph.

Charley Goldman In Front Of Stillman’s Gym

Mike Silver is not one to shy away from controversy and he holds strong opinions. You may not always agree with him, in fact he may get your blood pressure to rise, but you cannot fault him for not putting forth very strong arguments in defense of his positions.

Among the articles that have raised a few eyebrows is The Myth Of The Thrilla In Manilla. Mike is not afraid to go against the conventional wisdom that this was an all-time great fight, and rather makes the point that if this was a fight between two guys named Smith and Jones instead of Ali and Frazier it would have been seen as what it really was; a good brawl between two shot and over the hill fighters. He makes plenty of other arguments in defense of his opinion but I will leave those for the readers to explore on their own. Agree or disagree, you will be fascinated by what he has to say.

Three essays hold significant historical importance; Don’t Blame Ruby: A Boxing Tragedy Revisited, where the author looks at the third Emile Griffith vs Benny Kid Paret fight and what the true cause of Paret’s death was. A lot more went on here than is generally believed, and Ruby Goldstein was falsely scapegoated by those who were looking for easy answers.

Reading this piece is like looking at a deposition for a trial, and I can tell you, Mike would have been a very convincing expert witness for the prosecution.

In Foul Play In Philly, Mike makes a connection between what happened the night Rocky Marciano won the title from Jersey Joe Walcott and the evening in Miami when Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston. Similar shenanigans went on in the corners of both champions  on each occasion. Was there a connection?  Reading this piece is like looking at a deposition for a trial, and I can tell you, Mike would have been a very convincing expert witness for the prosecution. 

The third historically significant article is Ali vs Shavers: The Morning After. In many ways this is a sad one to read as in it Mike lays out facts of just how many terrible head shots Ali took from Shavers that night. If Muhammad wasn’t already damaged enough to ensure he would suffer from CTE a few years later, this all but certainly sealed his fate. 

There are many more gems in this collection that include stories about people as varied as Teddy Roosevelt, Woody Allen, a kangaroo, and Marlon Brando. All make for an enjoyable journey through the sport of boxing.

Tiger Ted Lowry

As great as the essays are, Mike really shifts into high gear with his interviews of boxers of the past. Not only does this selection include great fighters, but also boxers who are deep thinkers about the profession. The five he spoke with were active in the period from the 1930s to the 1970s, a huge part of the Golden Age of Boxing. What makes these conversations even more enlightening is the fact that Mike Silver knows what questions to ask. These aren’t just simple question and answer sessions but rather more along the lines of a Brian Lamb interview in that Mike knows how to prod the fighters into opening up about their thoughts on what it took to be a skilled fighter and how they viewed some of their toughest opponents.

The fighters Mike spoke to were Archie Moore, Carlos Ortiz, Tiger Ted Lowry, Curtis Cokes, and Emile Griffith. The insights contained in these conversations are priceless. Ted Lowry talks about his controversial loss in his first fight with Rocky Marciano, his exhibition match with Joe Louis, and what it was like being a black soldier in the segregated military during World War Two.

Archie Moore describes what it was like to fight Charley Burley, “He was like a threshing machine going back and forth.” and the importance of practicing moves in front of a mirror. Moore also gives a list of the ingredients that go into being a successful fighter. When Mike asks the secret to Archie’s boxing longevity, the Old Mongoose responds, ” Well, I knew how to fight.” He has much more to say about the subject, and every word is fascinating.

Reading his discussions with Carlos Ortiz and Curtis Cokes is like sitting in on a master class on the Art Of Boxing. These men are geniuses when it comes to describing the sport they excelled in. The subtleties they talk about show just how much thought went into becoming a good boxer. A couple of examples: 

Carlos Ortiz

Carlos Ortiz on advice to a young fighter, “Boxing is to hit and not get hit. And if you go into the ring with that thought in mind you’ll be OK. But don’t go out there to impress the public by showing them how much you can take or how hard a punch you can take. That’s not the case in boxing. Boxing is I hit you, you don’t hit me, over and over again. It’s a skill that you apply.”

Curtis Cokes on footwork, “I think today’s fighters forget about footwork. I worked everyday on my footwork, turning left and right, backing up, going forward. I turned to my left to be outside of my opponent’s right hand, and then I’d swing to my right to be outside of his left jab. Learning how to box is a slow process but you try to learn something everyday.” 

These comments are much like Shakespeare’s advice to actors in Hamlet, when speaking through the Dane, in just a couple of paragraphs he gives the basics of acting. That is what is contained in Curtis and Carlos’s advice to boxers. It is pure gold, and there is much more of it in these interviews.

Griffith vs Archer

Emile Griffith’s remarks on his fights with Joey Archer will make you smile. He tells Mike it was fun, “The reason I say it was fun fighting Joey Archer is because we were like two boxers trying to outsmart each other. He’s doing something to me this round and I come back the next round and I do the same things back to him. It was like a chess game. But Joey was a very good young man.” In those few lines you see the intricacies of the art of boxing along with the respect fighters had for each other. 

Griffith’s comments on his fights with Monzon are also interesting. Most people don’t remember it, but in their second fight most people felt that Griffith deserved the decision. Emile also talks about how he couldn’t deal with the “extra step” he had to contend with when fighting Jose Napoles. There is so much more, the fights with Paret, Rodriguez, Tiger, Benvenuti and many others. 

When you read these interviews it is more than just words on a page, you feel you are sitting in on the conversations as the voices come to life. Mike’s knowledge and insight is unparalleled. He brings you back to the days of great writers such as Bob Edgren and Jimmy Cannon.

Archie Moore, Mike Silver, Sandy Saddler, Charley Burley

It is no secret that I am partial to the work of Mike Silver, but that is because he is very, very good at what he does. I am a tough critic when it comes to “boxing experts” of which there are many self-proclaimed but very few who rise above mediocrity today. Mike knows boxing, it flows through his veins. He has a keen eye and a lifetime of experience. If you want an education in the Art of Boxing, Mike Silver is the man to read. You may get riled at some of what he writes, and whether or not he changes your mind on certain aspects of the sport, he will make you think more deeply about your views. 

You will also find yourself deeply entertained by many of the essays, especially the title piece. And yes, the referee did hit back.

The Night the Referee Hit Back can be ordered from Amazon.com 
Or from the publisher: http://Rowman.com

 

At The New Garden Gym When It Was Hot We Used The O.W. (Open Window)

By Bobby Franklin

Amateur Star Don Drake And Trainer Bill Ebel By The Entrance To The Gym

Today, I was in downtown Boston for an appointment, and when I was finished with my meeting I thought I would take a walk over to Friend Street where the old New Garden Gym was located. The site of the first New Garden is now a parking lot, but the building that housed the second one is still standing at 254 Friend Street and has been converted into condos.

It was quite hot today as it has been for much of this summer. The sun was shining and the sky was beautiful, but the heat was scorching. I remember many times heading into Friend Street for a workout on such a day back in the 1970s. I didn’t have air conditioning in my car so the ride in was not the most comfortable. I used what we called 4/60 air conditioning. That’s when you roll down all the windows and go 60 miles an hour to try and stay cool. It didn’t always work that well in Boston traffic. 

The Two Windows On The Right Were Our AC.

By the time I would arrive at the gym I was not in need of a warmup as I already had a good sweat going. I would climb the three rickety flights of stairs up to the 4th floor where the tiny gym was located. I don’t think many if any boxing gyms back then had air conditioning. They couldn’t afford it. I also think the old time trainers figured it would only make the fighters soft. 

When the New Garden Gym moved to its second location across the street from where it originally stood, it had to be downsized a lot in order to fit into a much smaller area. The full ring would not fit in the new space, so it was cut in half. It made for some close quarters when sparring. In fact, after having boxed in that ring for quite a few months, I was not prepared for what would happen when I had my first amateur fight. 

Jack O’Halloran Hits The Bag At The New Garden

The night I climbed into the ring in Somerset, MA and the bell rang it was the first time I was in a regulation size ring. I felt like I had walked into a ballpark. It seemed enormous, and that’s because it was at least twice the size of the New Garden ring. I also recall the surface feeling very soft under my feet, almost like walking on sand. This could have been because there was too much padding under the canvas, or more likely because the floor of the ring on Friend Street had nothing under its canvas. 

Most days when you went to the gym Al Clemente and Johnny Dunn would be there. At that time they were the two best known trainers in the Boston area. The door to the place was at about the midpoint of the rectangular shaped space. If you looked to the right when walking in you would spot Al and Johnny at the far end near two windows and a pay phone. There were actually four windows there but two were blocked by lockers.

Vinnie Curto At The New Garden

You would think such a small space that high up in a building on a sweltering summer day would be a sweat box, and while it wasn’t cool it was actually quite bearable. The reason for this was those two windows which were kept wide open. It turns out that when the old gym across the street was torn down and left as a parking lot, it left an open space over which you could see the Expressway and not far beyond that was Boston Harbor on the other side of the North End. 

In the afternoon the sun would have moved to the west which was to the back of the building, and a nice ocean breeze would usually kick up. Now, of course, that breeze would pick up a few extra ingredients on its way from the harbor to the confines of the pugilistic academy we were all training in. There would be the salt air along with the aromatic delights of authentic Italian cooking taking place in the North End, but there was also the fragrant exhaust produced from the perpetual traffic jam on the Expressway. By the time it all wafted in through the window next to Al Clemente it was quite the mixture. It then combined with the smell of cigar smoke and lineament that was ever present in the gym. 

Johnny Dunn With Ron Stander After The Frazier Fight.

Most of you who have only lived in today’s sterile environment are probably gagging at the thought of this, but in my memory it is a sweet perfume and I would give anything to be there breathing it in again. To those of us spending a hot afternoon working out on Friend Street it was as refreshing as being on the beach. 

It is said that smell is the sense that holds the strongest memories. If I could, I would bottle the scent that used to permeate the New Garden Gym back in the 1970s so whenever I wanted to remember those wonderful times in that broken down old gym I would just have to take a whiff and be back there again. I have never been in a gym since that comes close to the charm of that old place. I sure do miss it.