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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Summer lives on for Ogunquit Playhouse, as we re-open our immaculate grounds for a limited seating, COVID-safe, open air Playhouse Patio Cabaret featuring some of Broadway’s finest alumni vocal talents from our most popular shows including Jersey Boys, Million Dollar Quartet, Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Kinky Boots, and more! This 10-week series offers 50 patrons the opportunity to enjoy music they’ve come to know and love, in an idyllic setting, escaping the stress of today’s world, if only for an hour. Beginning August 7 and running through October 11, each week will feature four performances (Friday 7:30PM, Saturday 4:00 and 7:30PM, Sunday 1:00PM) from Broadway and veteran Playhouse performers, sharing music and memories in an intimate cabaret environment.
Opening the Playhouse Patio Cabaret August 7 through 9 is Nat Zegree (Jerry Lee Lewis in 2015 and 2016’s Million Dollar Quartet) whose energetic stylings from over, under, and behind the piano have become legendary. August 14 through 16 welcomes back Eddie Clendening (Elvis in 2017’s Heartbreak Hotel, and the original Elvis in Broadway’s Million Dollar Quartet) and his passion for classic Rockabilly music with a powerful tribute to The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. August 21 through 23 brings home fan favorite Jonathan Mousset Alonso (Frankie Valli in 2018 and 2019’s Jersey Boys) for a musical celebration of The Four Seasons and America’s greatest composers. We round out the month from August 28 through 30 with the velvet vocal stylings of Kyle Taylor Parker (Lola in 2019’s Kinky Boots, the Off-Broadway transfer of Smokey Joe’s Cafe), whose evening of pop, soul, and Broadway standards is par excellence.
The weekend of September 4 through 6 features Maine native Scott Moreau (Johnny Cash in 2015 and 2016’s Million Dollar Quartet) with an evening of music honoring the legendary Man in Black. September 11 through 13 celebrates the return of Carter Calvert (Patsy Cline in 2012’s Always… Patsy Cline and original Broadway cast of It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues), whose stories and songs are woven into a captivating and endearing evening of Patsy Cline’s music. September 18 through 20 welcomes home Kurt Jenkins (Buddy Holly in 2012 and 2013’s Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story) whose light-hearted musical revue features the best songs from the early days of Country, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Rhythm & Blues. And the month wraps up with Andy Christopher (Bob Gaudio in 2018 and 2019’s Jersey Boys) sharing his take on the music of Hank Williams, Roy Orbison, The Beatles, and more, from September 25 through 27.
Matt Magnusson (Tommy DeVito in 2018 and 2019’s Jersey Boys) ushers in the month from October 2 through 4, with a mix of music theatre-goers love, as only he can deliver it. And we close out the series October 9 through 11 with the energy and passion of Jelani Remy (2018’s Smokey Joe’s Cafe and the Off-Broadway transfer, and on Broadway as Eddie Kendricks in Ain’t Too Proud), whose shining star delivers a feast of pop and musical theatre standards as a love letter to Broadway.
With 16 tables spaced eight feet apart, all more than 14 feet from our new Playhouse Patio Cabaret stage, patrons will be able to enjoy a socially distanced evening with access to cashless concessions, frequently cleaned and handicapped accessible restrooms, and a hand washing station. Masks will be required to enter and exit the grounds, as well as while traveling between seating and other areas of the property. Masks will be made available for those who do not bring one. The Playhouse staff is going above and beyond to ensure the enjoyment and safety of all our guests and performers.
Playhouse Patio Cabaret seating goes on sale Monday, August 3 at 10:00AM both online at ogunquitplayhouse.org and through our Box Office at 207.646.5511. Seating is by table, priced as $118 for a table of two, and $236 for a table of four, limited to 50 patrons per performance. Ticket price includes one drink per person. In the case of a cancellation for inclement weather, every attempt will be made to reschedule the performance for Sunday at 4:00PM or 7:30PM that same weekend. Given the unique circumstances of this exclusive event, there will be no refunds or exchanges. For more details please visit our website or reach out to the Box Office staff via email at boxoffice [at] ogunquitplayhouse [dot] org
As always, your support of Ogunquit Playhouse during this challenging time is most greatly appreciated. If you cannot attend the Playhouse Patio Cabaret series and would like to make a donation to our Save the Playhouse campaign, please visit https://tickets.ogunquitplayhouse.org/donate/contribute.
Held A Prime Joe Louis To A Fifteen Round Split Decision
By Bobby Franklin
In 1937 Joe Louis won the World Heavyweight Championship from James J. Braddock. Over the next 12 years he defended the title 26 times, a record. Of those 26 defenses only three went the full 15 round distance, and out of the three opponents who took him to the closing bell, two were kayoed in rematches. The third, Tommy Farr, only fought Joe once.
Farr is remembered for the courageous and tough battle he put up against Joe. There have been some who have said he deserved the decision, but that is not true. In Tommy’s own account of the fight he said Louis clearly beat him. Unfortunately, Farr never got a rematch and the big payday it would have brought him. Louis was willing, and actually wanted to fight him again, but as I have written in an earlier column, the sleazy people who populate boxing sabotaged Tommy’s shot. Most notably, Joe Gould who took over his management in the United States.
In Joe’s last two title defenses he fought Jersey Joe Walcott. In their first fight Walcott took Louis the entire fifteen rounds decking the champion on the way to losing a split decision. In the rematch Louis kayoed Walcott in the 11th round and then retired after the fight.
There was one other man who managed to take Louis the fifteen round route. This man also was the only man other than Walcott to hold Joe to a split decision. While the Louis that Walcott faced was nearing the end of his career and was past his prime, the man who gave the champ such a difficult time of it did so in 1940 when Joe was at the peak of his career.
Oddly, out of the three men who took Louis the distance this man is the least remembered. His name was Arturo Godoy and he was quite the fighter.
Godoy was a seasoned veteran when he fought Louis. Hailing from Chile, Arturo had a long run and was fighting his 71st fight when he stepped in to challenge for the title. with two wins over Tony Galento as well as victories over Luis Firpo, Jack Roper, and Tommy Loughran, Godoy had a reputation for being a tough customer. He also was extremely strong and had a very unorthodox style. This combined with unending stamina made him a force to be reckoned with.
When the fight was announced it was not considered to be a difficult one for the champion. It was held at Madison Square Garden on February 9, 1940 before a crowd of 15,567 people. What that crowd got to see was a fight that wasn’t pretty to look at but turned out to be Louis’s toughest challenge up to that point.
Godoy fought from a very, very low crouch while crowding Joe and not giving him punching room. At times Arturo crouched so low that he was practically sitting on the canvas. It is no secret Louis had trouble with opponents who fought out of a crouch. Max Schmeling had kayoed hims a few years earlier fighting in that way, and Tony Galento had decked him when he threw a left hook from a crouch.
At the end of 15 rounds the scorecards were announced and the decision was split with Joe coming out on top. The referee and one judge had it in Joe’s favor 10-5 and 10-4 respectively white the other judge had Arturo on top by 5-10. United Press saw it as a draw. The crowd booed the decision, but that may have been more about the poor performance from Louis as it was from the feeling that Godoy actually won.
No matter the fairness of the decision, the fact is Godoy gave Joe a very tough night. So, why is this bout not remembered in the way the Farr fight is? Well, for one thing, Joe never fought Tommy again while he stepped right back into the ring with Arturo just four months later. Louis called the first Godoy fight “The worst fight I ever had”, and he wanted to show he was better than how he performed that February evening.
One thing about Louis, he always performed better in rematches, and the Godoy fight was no exception. Joe and trainer Jack Blackburn went to work in the gym and came up with a strategy for dealing with Godoy’s awkward style, and when the bell rang at Yankee Stadium on June 20, 1940 before a crowd of 27, 286 fans it was a different Joe Louis who came out against the challenger.
Employing a lethal right uppercut and keeping his punches very short and inside, Joe went to work busting up the game Chilean challenger. By the 8th round Godoy’s face looked like what the Associated Press called “barbecued beef”. Godoy had been dropped once near the end of the 7th round and again twice in the 8th before the referee called a halt to the carnage. Godoy tried to push past the referee and continue fighting and had to be restrained, but then went over and congratulated Louis. After the fight Joe said “That’s the worse beating I ever gave a man”.
So, to answer the question of why Arturo is not remembered in the way Tommy Farr is for his galant 15 round go against Joe Louis is because Farr never fought Joe again so, as most likely would have happened, he did not get kayoed by him. While Joe got revenge on Arturo just 4 months later and proved beyond a doubt who the superior fighter was.
Never the less, Godoy deserves to be remembered for the incredible battle he gave Joe Louis on a February night in 1940. He was the only man to take the prime Louis fifteen rounds to a split decision, and that was a monumental feat.
Arturo Godoy fought for over ten more years after the Louis fight. He ended his career in 1951 with an outstanding record of 127 fights, 91 wins (51 by KO), just 22 losses, 12 draws, and 2 no contests. He passed away in his home country of Chile in 1986 at the age of 73.
Godoy was a popular and exciting personality who lit up a room. He was well liked in the states and loved in Chile. I’m sure Joe Louis never forgot him.
Ogunquit Playhouse is expanding its educational offerings to include a new On-Line Academy with programs beginning Monday, July 27. The On-Line Academy will be part of the recently developed Ogunquit Playhouse Arts Colony – an homage to Playhouse founder Walter Hartwig, who created the education-based Manhattan Theatre Colony, that was dedicated to teaching all aspects of theatre. The Arts Colony operates with the belief that theatre is a profound tool for students to exercise their imagination, and to discover their innate skill set. The Ogunquit Playhouse education programs strive to create new opportunities for students’ success, to increase self-confidence, teach goal orientation and professional etiquette, strengthen collaborative skills, improve listening skills, and prepare students to perform at personal best standards. As students assimilate to learning and performing via an on-line platform, they in turn build confidence and develop new skills. Parents are invited to view student’s streamed performances.
For 2020, the On-Line Academy has been created to connect with students when in-person programs are on pause. The new education programs kick off Monday, July 27 and include offerings for students ages 5 through adult. Professional teaching artists from the Ogunquit Playhouse stage, Broadway, National Tours, and leading Regional Theatres lead each program, which are designed for small groups. In addition, each student will have the opportunity to sign up for sessions that include only one to three people.
Ogunquit Playhouse On-Line Academy programs enrollment begins on Thursday, July 16, and continues Monday – Friday, 10AM to 4PM. To register call 207-646-5511. There is a limited class size, and all classes are subject to cancellation if registrations do not meet a minimum of six students ages 5 to 7, and twelve students ages 16 and up. Each program incurs a $10 non-refundable registration fee. For more information email registration [at] ogunquitplayhouse [dot] org or visit: www.ogunquitplayhouse.org.
Ages 5 to 7 – Two-day on-line camps are geared to engage our younger students in various activities using theatre techniques and household items. Students will meet from 9 to 10AM on Monday and Wednesday via ZOOM. Parents or guardians are encouraged to participate with their child in these fun and innovative sessions. Drama Games: Jul 27 and 29; Build-A-Prop: Aug 3 and 5; Arts & Crafts for the Stage: Aug 10 and 12; Musical Scavenger Hunt: Aug 17 and 20. Each session is $75 per child.
Ages 8 to 12 – One-week, on-line camps include musicals written especially for on-line programming and specifically chosen and designed to be performed via ZOOM. The Broadway Experience includes programming and songs specifically chosen from some of Broadway’s most popular shows The small classes allow students individual attention and a chance to work one on one with instructors. Streaming of the final performances will be available for a small donation to parents, families and friends who wish to experience the culmination of the students’ work.Super Happy Awesome News: Jul 27 to 31; The Show Must Go On Line: Aug 3 to 7; The Broadway Experience – #1: Aug 10 to 14; The Broadway Experience – #2: Aug 17 to 21.Sessions run Monday through Friday from 9AM to Noon. Each session is $225 per student.
Ages 13 to 18 – The Broadway Experience one-week on-line camps include programming and songs specifically chosen from some of Broadway’s most popular shows and designed to be performed via ZOOM. The small classes allow students individual attention and a chance to work one on one with instructors. Streaming of the final performance will be available for a small donation to parents, families and friends who wish to experience the culmination of the students’ work. The Broadway Experience – #1: Jul 27 to 31;The Broadway Experience – #2:Aug 3 to 7; The Broadway Experience – #3:Aug 10 to 14; The Broadway Experience – #4: Aug 17 to 21.Sessions run Monday through Friday from 9AM to Noon. Each session is $225 per student.
Ages 16 and Up – Performance Workshop Tuesdays and Wednesdays meet via ZOOM twice a week for 90 minutes over 3 weeks. Each Workshop is taught by professional teaching artists and designed to be a unique and exciting learning experience intended to stretch each participant’s knowledge and talent. All levels are welcome and encouraged to take both Tuesday and Wednesday sessions if preferred. No experience is necessary to participate in these classes. Tuesday Session #1: Jul 28, Aug 4, 11. Tuesday Session #2: Aug 18, 25, Sep 1. Wednesday Session #1: Jul 29, Aug 5, 12. Wednesday Session #2: Aug 19, 26, Sep 2. Sessions run from 4 to 5:30PM. Each session is $150 per person.
Ages 16 and Up – Broadway Guest Star Workshops meet twice a week via ZOOM for 90 minutes. Each Workshop will be taught by a professional Broadway artist. This unique and exciting program is designed to stretch each participant’s knowledge and talent. No experience is necessary and all are welcome. Thursday Sessions: Jul 30, Aug 6, 13, 20. Sessions run from 11AM to 12:30PM. Each session is $75 per person.
Ogunquit Playhouse 2020 season has been cancelled due to the COVID19 pandemic. It will focus on reimagining the season to carry on its mission and fundraising efforts to ensure the financial viability of the historic non-profit theatre. Public support is crucial during this global health and economic crisis. For more information on how to contribute and to stay connected during this year, visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org
About Ogunquit Playhouse:
Ogunquit Playhouse, is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization listed on the National Historic Register. Its mission is to produce world-class performances, and new works, and preserve the historic playhouse for future generations. Follow Ogunquit Playhouse on Twitter (@OgunquitPH) and on Facebook (facebook.com/OgunquitPlayhouse) for behind-the-scenes info, photos and fun throughout the season. For more information visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org
Ogunquit Playhouse staff members welcomed and cheered the 2020 Wells and Ogunquit high school graduates as they made their way past the historic theatre in a 131 car parade on Sunday, June 7, 2020. Each June, Ogunquit Playhouse hosts the Wells High School Convocation at the theatre, where students spend a day preparing for the ceremony under the guidance of faculty and the Playhouse technical crew. Later in the day, families come to watch the students perform, sing songs and deliver messages of inspiration and hope. Traditionally, as part of the ceremony, Ogunquit Playhouse gives each student a voucher to return to the Playhouse to enjoy a show.
This year, due to the pandemic, all such activities were cancelled. But, this did not dampen the spirits of the students or the enthusiasm of the Playhouse staff! Each student received a voucher to use in the future, when the Playhouse is once again open. While the stage was not an option for celebration this year, a lively parade around the front of the theatre made up of smiling, happy and proud students brightened the day!
“Each year it is an honor to welcome all of the Wells and Ogunquit graduating students to Ogunquit Playhouse, to celebrate their great achievements and to wish them well in their future endeavors. One of our top priorities is to provide opportunities for young people to connect to the arts, and theatre in particular, to broaden their perspectives and instill an awareness that will carry with them all their lives,” stated Executive Artistic Director, Bradford Kenney. “While this year broke with tradition, we hope the wonderful memories that were made instead, will be as cherished. We look forward to the day when we can welcome these young graduates into our beloved Playhouse to enjoy a show, but for today, our heartfelt congratulations and all best wishes to the 2020 Wells and Ogunquit graduating class!”
Ogunquit Playhouse will focus on reimagining the 2020 season to carry on its mission and fundraising efforts to ensure the financial viability of the historic non-profit theatre. Public support is crucial in this time of global health and economic crisis. For more information on how to contribute and to stay connected during the coming year, visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org
(Pete Rademacher passed away on June 4th. I wrote this column for the Boston Post Gazette last year.)
Pete Rademacher had an outstanding amateur career culminating with a Gold Medal in the heavyweight division at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. Rademacher won all three of his bouts by knockout and won the final in first round for a very impressive finale to his performance.
Leading up to his Olympic victory Pete showed he was one of the best amateur boxers in the word.. He won numerous titles including the Seattle Golden Gloves, the Chicago Golden Gloves, the All-Army Championship, and the National AAU Title in Boston in 1953. He had a final amateur record of 72 wins against 7 losses.
After winning the Olympic Gold, Rademacher got it into his head that he was ready to fight for the world heavyweight championship. Rocky Marciano had just retired and Floyd Patterson and Archie Moore were signed to fight for the vacant title. This bout would take place in November of 1956, just months after Pete competed in the Olympics. He was convinced he could beat either man.
When Patterson won the title Rademacher approached Cus D’Amato, Floyd’s manager, with the idea. Cus, always looking for a soft touch for Floyd, agreed, but told Pete he had to raise $250,000.00 for Patterson’s end of the purse plus put an additional $100,000.00 into escrow in order to ensure a rematch if the unthinkable happened and Floyd lost.
Pete found two backers and they set up a company called Unlimited Enterprises a small manufacturing firm. The idea was for the fight to publicize the new company and Pete’s purse would be his salary as vice president.
The fight was set in Rademacher’s home state of Washington both because it was the only place it would draw a crowd and the commission there was the only one that would sanction such a bout. Pete has said he was a 10 to 1 favorite not to show up. Truth is, the fight was thought to be so one sided that the odds of 10 to 1 in Patterson’s favor were meaningless as no one was taking bets.
The fight took place on August 22, 1957 in Sick’s Stadium in Seattle. Former light heavyweight champion Tommy Loughran was the referee. A crowd of 16,961 showed up producing a gate of $243,030 far short of the anticipated sell out that would have brought in $400,000.00. There was no live home TV or closed circuit broadcast of the fight.
The United Press called the match “weird” and Rademacher a “sacrificial lamb”. It is not an exaggeration to say this fight was an embarrassment to boxing. The two leading contenders for the title at that time were Eddie Machen and Zora Folley, and they were both being passed over in favor of an amateur getting a shot at the title. The heavyweight championship had now sunk to perhaps its lowest point ever with this circus. What’s really crazy is that Rademacher managed to come up with the $250,000.00 to pay Patterson.
As for the fight; well, it went longer than anyone expected and Pete showed plenty of courage. He even managed to floor Patterson for a count of four in the second round. The plodding challenger landed a right hand that did the job, but it would be his one moment of glory in the bout. Later, Pete would say it was his biggest mistake as it only made the champion mad.
Patterson would score six knockdowns before sending Rademacher to the canvas for the seventh time for the full count in round six. After the fight referee Loughran said about Pete “He is the most courageous fighter I have ever seen.”
Patterson would continue ducking the top contenders after this fight facing the likes of Brian London and Roy Harris before losing the title to Ingemar Johansson. He would go on to win the title back from Ingo and then fight him a third time. After that he would take on the unranked Tom McNeely before losing the title for the final time to Sonny Liston.
Rademacher would continue fighting and in his next bout was stopped by Zora Folley. He and Folley had been opponents in the amateurs where they traded wins over each other. Pete had a final professional record of 15 wins (8 by KO), 7 losses (6 by KO), and 1 draw. His biggest wins were over George Chuvalo and Bobo Olson. He lost to such men as Brian London, Karl Mildenberger, Archie Moore, and Doug Jones. He would later become a boxing judge and referee.
Pete eventually went to work for the McNeil Corporation of Akron, Ohio. The company manufactured swimming pool products and Rademacher earned nine patents for products he invented, things such as kick-board training devices for competitive swimmers and wave-quelling lane dividers for pools. After retirement, he served as golf director for the American Cancer Society helping to raise over $1 million for cancer treatment.
The last I have been able to find out about him is he is living in a nursing home in Sandusky, Ohio.
While the fight with Patterson was something that never should have been allowed to happen, Pete Rademacher did show real courage in the bout. He was also pretty creative in how he made it all come about. He went on to do a lot of good things for worthy causes, using his fifteen minutes of fame to good advantage, so some good did come from it all.
When You Can’t Go To The Theatre, The Theatre Comes To You
A play discussion group focused on contemporary female voices and a weekly Q&A with the artists of SpeakEasy’s 30th Anniversary Season are the two new audience engagement initiatives set to debut at SpeakEasy Stage next week.
All events comprising both these initiatives are free and open to the public.
First up, beginning Wednesday, May 20 at 5PM, is a five-week half-hour series offering an insider’s guide to the five shows making up SpeakEasy’s 2020-2021 Season, which is also the company’s 30th Anniversary year.
SpeakEasy Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault and Community Programs Manager Alex Lonati will be the hosts for lively discussions with the key artists associated with each upcoming show.
The schedule of shows and artists is as follows:
Once On This Island– Wednesday, May 20, 5:00-5:30pm
Artists present: Director Pascale Florestal, Music Director David Freeman Coleman
People, Places & Things– Wednesday, May 27, 5:00-5:30pm
Artists present: Director David R. Gammons, Actress Marianna Bassham, Actor John Kuntz
Slave Play– Wednesday, June 3, 5:00-5:30pm
Artist present: Director Tiffany Nichole Greene
Bright Star– Wednesday, June 10, 5:00-5:30pm
Artists present: Director Paul Daigneault, Actress Laura Marie Duncan,
Choreographer Misha Shields, Music Director Eli Schildekraut
The Inheritance– Wednesday, June 17, 5:00-5:30pm
Artist present: Director Paul Daigneault
Those interested can join by tuning into SpeakEasy’s Facebook page for each live 30-minute Q&A session. In addition to learning more about each show, participants will also find out about the season selection process, production plans, and the artists’ inspiration, and also be able to ask questions.
Next, on Thursday, May 21, SpeakEasy Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault and Community Programs Manager Alex Lonati will kick off SpeakEasy’s Play Discussion group, which will focus on the works of four contemporary female playwrights, and which will, for at least three of the four sessions, have the writers join in the conversation.
The first installment will feature a chat with Mr. Daigneault and Ms. Lonati, who will offer tips to participants on how to read a play.
After that introduction, the group will focus on the following four plays:
Cost of Living by Martyna Majok – Thursday, May 28 from 5:30 – 6:30pm
Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee – Thursday, June 4 from 5:30 – 6:30pm
DIASPORA! by Phaedra Michelle Scott, developed through SpeakEasy’s The Boston Project Thursday, June 11 from 5:30 – 6:30
Wild Goose Dreams by Hansol Jung – Thursday, June 18 from 5:30 – 6:30pm
Martyna Majok, who won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Cost of Living; Phaedra Michelle Scott, author of DIASPORA! ; and Hansol Jung, who wrote Wild Goose Dreams, are currently scheduled to attend the discussion of their plays.
All discussions will take place on Zoom, so that everyone can see those participating and share comments.
Scripts will need to be purchased in advance, which will help support the playwrights during this time when all productions are on hold.The script for DIASPORA! will be distributed in advance for free to all participants since the play is still in development.
Each discussion will also be hosted by a veteran Boston actress, who will help facilitate the conversation as well as offer their perspective on the play from an acting standpoint.At press time, that list was still being confirmed.
Individuals may sign up for as many of these discussions as they like.
Author Len Abram Talks About His Novels, The Process Of Writing, And How He Chooses His Subjects
Interviewed By Bobby Franklin
It is my pleasure to welcome Len Abram to speak with us at Boxing Over Broadway.
With a PhD in literature, Len Abram taught at three universities, including the University of Maryland armed forces program (Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, and Bermuda).He taught Marines on Okinawa for a year and learned to SCUBA dive.
When teaching jobs went scarce, he became a technical writer for networks and financial services, with customers, such as MasterCard, NATO, Department of Defense, the Federal Reserve, Japan Airlines, and Fidelity Investments. At Fidelity, he earned a stock broker’s license and wrote articles for customers. He interviewed experts, such as Peter Lynch, Suze Orman, and Larry Kudlow.
Empty Doorways is his third novel. His first was also a crime novel, with some of the same characters, The Medallion, followed by an historical a novel set in World War I, Debris: A Novel of Love, War and the Lusitania.
He has completed – more accurate than ran — eleven Boston Marathons, the last one in 2019 in seven very long hours.
Boxing Over Broadway: Hi Len, thank you for speaking with us at Boxing Over Broadway.
Len Abram: Thanks for this opportunity.
BOB: You have written three novels — The Medallion, Debris, and your latest, Empty Doorways. While Debris is a historical novel, how would you describe The Medallion and Empty Doorways? Is Empty Doorways a sequel to The Medallion?
Len Abram: Debris, A Novel of Love, War and the Lusitania, required research: from the politics and strategies that shaped World War I, to the ship designs that made the Lusitania so fast, to the German submarine U-20 that sunk the ship, killing 1200 passengers and crew.I learned that spies on the New York docks targeted the ship for attack.I fictionalized who those spies were, how they got there, and what happened to them.
The Medallion and its sequel Empty Doorways are contemporary detective stories. Like most people, I get my information from reading newspapers or watching TV news about crimes in metropolitan Boston. I did take several courses in gun use and gun safety, how to operate and fire the Glocks my detectives carry. A .357 pistol plays a role in Empty Doorways. The bullet can go through an engine block. I learned to load and fire one.
BOB: Is Boston important in your stories because you live in the area and are familiar with it or is there something special about Boston that adds to the flavor of your books?
Len Abram: The cabbie Sasha Denisov gets many of his fares at South Station, one of two major Boston transportation centers. Not far from the station is the Boston Police headquarters at Government Center, where Detectives Schwartz and Di Natale work.
As realtors say, Location, location, location. Like lives, stories have a context. Boston appears in all three books
As realtors say, Location, location, location. Like lives, stories have a context. Boston appears in all three books. Even the historical novel Debris focuses on a distinguished Boston family of the early 1900s. The Lindseys built the chapel on Newbury Street in memory of their daughter Leslie and her husband Stewart, drowned when the ship sank. To this day, weddings are performed in the chapel.
The Medallion and Empty Doorways are set in today’s Boston, its neighborhoods, such as Mattapan, and its surrounding cities, such as Cambridge. The two books mention shared events, but can be read in or out of sequence. Major and minor characters reflect the ethnic and cultural varieties that make up the communities of the city – and add vitality and richness to life here.
From the Boston Common, when we look up Beacon Hill at the State House, we might see its golden dome as our highest ideals we climb to reach. If beyond our grasp, we continue to try.
BOB:Tell us a little about the characters that are common to both books. How did you come up with the names for them? Their personas?
Len Abram: My three major characters are taxi driver Sasha Denisov and Detectives Ben Schwartz and Al Di Natale of Boston PD Homicide.
Immigrant Sasha Denisov grew up in the Ukraine, as did my parents and cousins. They served in the Russian army like Sasha, but the cabbie was in the special forces Spetsnaz, after which he names his cab company. Sasha’s name I drew from Ivan Denisovich, the everyman character in Solzhenitsyn’s novel of the Gulag, the Soviet Union’s concentration camps. Like so many, Sasha fled his native land for a better life.
Ben Schwartz, an outstanding detective, is in his 50s, a couple of decades older than his partner Al Di Natale. Originally from New York, Schwartz is Jewish, not observant like his wife Evie, but each year he goes to a synagogue to pray for a murder victim, one of his cold cases, which he is determined to close in The Medallion.
Schwartz’s partner Al Di Natale, with the lyrical Italian name, is a former Catholic altar boy from Woburn. Di Natale is a decorated Army combat veteran, who distinguished himself as a patrolman to become a young detective. Di Natale is very handsome, an asset and a curse. His vanity may ruin his marriage.
In Empty Doorways, Schwartz and he join the rest of Boston searching for a missing 12-year-old boy from Mattapan.
BOB: Why this topic, these characters?
Len Abram: Many years ago, I taught eighth grade in an inner-city Boston school. I told one disruptive boy to stay after school as punishment. He couldn’t. He had to meet his parole officer. On parents’ night, the mother of one of my black students, tall like the missing boy in Empty Doorways, said to me, “Mr. Abram, please learn my boy,” By that she meant teach and maybe lead or influence her son. I think of all those parents and grandparents, who want the best outcome for their children – and what they are up against in some of our neighborhoods. I think I speak for them in my writing.
BOB: Tell us a little about your journey to becoming a novelist.
Len Abram:I love reading stories and I learned that I love telling stories too.I have a PhD in literature and taught for seven years, four of them in the Far East for the US armed forces education program. I ended up as a tech writer in computer networks when there were no teaching jobs.
I have always written essays and book reviews, along with my technical writing. One day I left work, which was next to South Station, and I noticed the cabs lined up for fares. I had an idea about a taxi cab driver, an immigrant from the Ukraine, who risks his life while pursuing the American Dream. I wrote a paragraph, and showed it to a friend. “Why don’t you do something with this?” he asked. That started me writing novels.
BOB: Writing is a tough job that takes a lot of discipline. How do you structure your creative time?
Len Abram: I joked to another writer when my third book was published: the victory of tenacity over talent. Some truth in that. One of the characters in Empty Doorways is given a saying or motto for his recovery from a severe injury: Never Quit.
I’ve had many setbacks and many rejections about my writing. I don’t know how much talent I have. Someone has said that talent is everywhere. Whatever success is, it takes more than talent.
When I am writing a novel, I work five days a week, three to four hours my limit. Right now, I am in between novels, and just finished a book review. That sharpens my skills while I am thinking of my next project.
BOB: Will there be a sequel or will you move to another topic?
Len Abram: Whether these two detective books begin a series – we’ll have to wait for the next novel on that score. But I am planning one.
BOB: This seems like something that could work quite well as a TV series. Any plans to adapt it into a screenplay?
Len Abram: An editor and friend is a professional screen writer. We are talking about a series based upon the cases of Detectives Schwartz and Di Natale.
BOB: In closing, why will people enjoy reading your Empty Doorways?
Len Abram: One of the characters in the novel says that if we cannot protect our kids, none of us is safe. If we cannot protect Gabriel Clay in Mattapan, how safe is any of us anywhere?
The cabbie, the teachers, the parents and grandparents, the clergy, and of course the police, like Schwartz and Di Natale, are fighting to save the kids, in effect, our future. That’s worth writing about, and maybe reading.
Thank you, Len Abram
BOB: We have included a sample chapter from Empty Doorways. Why did you choose this one?
Len Abram: This chapter can standalone. Drug dealing is central to Empty Doorways, part of an underground economy worth many billions,ruining lives, and corrupting the young. Cartels from Mexico control much of the drug trade into our country, but locals take on distribution and street corner sales. In this chapter a Mexican cartel has decided to move from wholesale to retail, that is, replacing or coercing local distributors and dealers, like those in the novel, who must decide whether to go along — or fight.
Chapter Thirty-Seven From Empty Doorways
The road was as crooked as a tree root, following an ancient Indian or game trail, Castilla guessed. Paved once and forgotten, a token of good will from a Mexican government, perhaps hoping to stall another revolution by the campesinos. Pitted and washed out, the road was threadbare to the sand floor of the desert.
The lights from the two vehicles cut tubes into the night, dark as poured asphalt. Clouds had squeezed together without a seam, leaving the stars as dim dots and the half-moon a shadowy boulder.To their left on the horizon, the stringof lights, brighter than the stars on a clear night, was Texas. Their two vehicles were on the Mexican side of a desert, at least three quarters of the year barren, with a short, fiercerainy season. The cloud cover meant that it would start soon.
The torrent lasts a few weeks, not more than a month, Castilla remembered. He had grown up in a village a hundred miles to the south. Desert flowers bloom until the sparse land looked like a meadow. With the rains came flash floods, racing through the land to find the larger rivers to which the water belonged. The floods pushed aside what was in their way, trees, coyotes, snakes, cactus, rocks, cars, people.His father and his dog Alonzo, in a pickup truck older than the one in front of them, had been swept away by such a flood.
Hector Castilla was only ten. “Life has dealt us a hard blow,” his mother said, wrapping herself in black dresses borrowed from neighbors. She handed Castilla one of his father’s favorite hats, a sweat-stained Stetson. Castilla thought that the hat was in a trunk of clothing in the cellar of his villa. The passing of the hat, he realized later, marked the end of his childhood.
The pickup in front was also a Ford, at least two decades old, the second time around for the odometer. The paint was worn to the primer. Rust had reduced the metal rocker panels to paper. Three men lay bound on the bed of the pickup. The truck belonged to one of the men, Ernesto Guerra, who was tied up in the back with his cousin Mateo and his friend Tomas. Guerra’s dog, a pit bull with a muzzle guard, lay next to him, the chain to his collar tied to a metal cleat. When Castilla’s men picked up the three, they were ready to shoot the dog if the muzzle guard came off. The dog was fearless. He growled and shot spittle through spaces in the guard. Guerra said to the dog, “Cochise, silencio.”The pit bull dropped his clipped ears and lay quiet against him.
El Nino, one of Castilla’s men, drove the pickup. He peered over the dash watching for gulleys that could break an axle. Beside him in a burlap bag were the weapons and ammunition taken from the three men, Guerra’s scuffed nickel .357 revolver and two rusty black revolvers of different calibers, belonging to the other two men, along with a fold-up knife and a barber’s razor, found in theirjeans.Also in the bag taken from them were packets of brown heroin, stenciled with the brand names of WMD and Star Wars. Also, there were bags of marijuana, and hundreds of pills, in several colors and shapes.The three men were caught selling in Castilla’s territory.
The vehicle behind the pickup, Castilla’s, was a new black Escalade, shiny as an eel. It stayed far enough behind the pickup to avoid the stones kicked up from the tires. The more powerful lights of the Escalade overshot the pickup hundreds of feet and its wide tires bridged ruts. The new shocks and springs cushioned the ride for the four men inside, the driver Manuel, his thick knuckles wrapped around steering wheel, Marimacho and Felipe, Castilla’s two other bodyguards.Hector Castilla sat in back next to Marimacho. El Nino in the pickup was also a bodyguard, the youngest in his service at 16.
Castilla liked privacy when he did his business. With drones and satellites, that was getting more difficult. Driving late at night on off-roads in the desert was about as private as he could find. Besides, he and his men had driven out here before and no one had noticed them or what they left behind.
Castilla was the only man smoking in the Cadillac, his brand, gold-tipped Dunhills.The Escalade’s air conditioner sucked the cigarette smoke into the dash and returned clean air with a fragrance enhancer.Castilla was short, even by Mexican standards, and did not like being reminded of his height.One of the great drug lords, as the press called them in their love of medieval words, had the nickname of Shorty. Not for Castilla.
His clothes and tastes didn’t suggest that they belonged to one of the wealthiest men in the Mexican state of Coahuila. This was in the economía ilegal, larger than Mexico’s legitimate economy and competitor of the government. Castilla only spent a great deal on his footwear; the boot maker from San Diego was an artist in adding three inches to Castilla’s height.
He was third in line of the Sinola cartel. Emmanuel Sinola had a big map in his home, on a private island off the Mexican east coast.Freighters and pleasure craft came offshore to pick up bales and packages to bring to the customers. Sinola had hacked out a runway on the island. He flew his jets and twin props into there. When he traveled at 500 miles an hour, Sinola could be home for supper from nearly anywhere in the country.
Castilla himself had a villa on the east coast, but not his own island. He was given his territory, like the other lieutenants, to be the chief executive officer of his own business, which grossed duffel bags of cash, with dozens of machines to count it all. Castilla just attended a meeting Sinola organized. He invited a professor at a famous business school in the United States to talk about improving their company.
A Lear jet brought the man from Hartford to the island at twice his usual fee.Castilla never went beyond the tenth grade of the missionary school, but he got a message from the lecture and his own observations:if businesses don’t expand, they contract and start to fail. Stasis, estasis, in Spanish, that is what the MBA fellow from Yale called it.
In his home, Castilla had a map of the United States. Pins showed where he sold or distributed. His area was there too, green pins for the most profitable, red and yellow for those less so, pins everywhere on the map, across the United States, except when he looked north. New York and New Jersey were saturated already with competitors. But in the place called New England, there might be room. Was life’s secret either grow or die?
“Pass them. Head to the arroyo,” said Castilla, leaning over to tap his driver’s thick shoulder.
Manuel stomped the gas pedal and moved around the lumbering pickup. In the dust behind, they saw it try to catch up. Another road veered to the right, this one just dirt, and dropped gradually into what was a valley, shallow and hidden. Organ pipe cactus towered over the tall Escalade. Manuel drove around desert willows that scratched the tires and fenders and barrel cactus shaped like bread crusts.
Castilla said stop. Manuel signaled the pickup so he wasn’t rear-ended.The kid El Nino drove well, great reflexes and fearless, but impulsive too.They pulled to a stop, shut their engines and stepped out, leaving their lights on; Castilla got out of the tall Escalade backwards holding onto the door. The bodyguards looked around, but they were quite alone.
Still, they unbuttoned their coats to access their weapons, pistols with long magazines. Manuel pulled an AK-47 out of the vehicle and shouldered it. He went back to the Escalade and returned with a machete, well-worn in its scabbard. With it, a strong man could sever a head in a few seconds.
“Get them out,” Castilla said. “Conseguirlos.”
El Nino dropped the gate on the pickup truck and dragged the men by their boots and sneakers onto the hard dirt.The dog growled and yelped inside the mask, but he had little choice but to follow his master to the ground. They dropped hard, the men and the dog on the ground, raising dust in the beams of the Escalade. The dog was glad to be out of the vehicle and was wagging its tail. It tried to lick Guerra’s face inside the bite guard.
The dog growled when El Nino pulled a 9mm from a holster. He stepped back, thumbed off the safety, and looked over at Castilla.Manuel pulled out overalls and a cap from the Escalade and slipped these over his street clothes. He pulled the machete out of its scabbard and walked to the bound men.The dog growled again.
“Get them on their feet,” said Castilla. His men were surprised. They prepared themselves for the violence and he stopped them.The acts did take resolve, an adrenalin spike, a gulp of Mezcal, a couple of pills, the snort of something white or brown, in order to shoot or butcher a person who was no danger to you. Usually with hands tied behind or worse, hands up, appealing for pity, mentioning children by name, their ages, anything to slow down or interruptwhat was about to happen, and they couldn’t stop.
If he saw his men falter, Castilla bolstered their courage.
“You are not paid for pity,” Castilla had said once or twice and was repeated among his employees enough times to be misquoted or embellished.“It’s enough I pity you. If I don’t, who will save you?”
They had heard the rest of the speech before.
“This is war. Big countries like that cesspool from the north, Americanos, bomb their enemies with billion-dollar aircraft. Collateral damage when they kill thousands of innocents. War gives them the right.
“We are at war and what about our rights?At war with the government of Mexico, which will take away our livelihoods so we can go back to what? – selling trinkets to the tourists, dirt farming, with a few cattle or pigs, rice and beans and maize until our children look ready for the vultures? Or do we break our backs picking vegetables from sunrise until dark on farms or orchards of the enemy that stole our land? “
“No, patron,” the men said.
The dog was sniffing the air hard to try to understand the place and the people.
“Now I will give you another lesson. Look, two of them have pissed in their pants, but not this one,” pointing to Ernesto Guerra. “They all think they have reached the end of their lives. Maybe they have.I run a business, with computers, satellites, networks, jets, the best in machines and I hope the best in men.Now we will see what kind of men we have here. Untie them. Also take off their shirts.”
The bodyguards stood the three men up. Manuel used the machete to cut the tape. He let them take the tapes off their mouths themselves. They rubbed their wrists and arms. Their shirts were on the ground and they were cold. Guerra stepped forward and asked for aqua, water. They had a few prison tattoos, neighborhoods, but not an organization like MS-13. They did not know that the affiliation would have meant instant death.
Felipe brought them three bottles from the Escalade. They drank. Finally, Guerra spoke.
“Patron, we should not have been selling our bags in the area. It was my mistake. Not theirs. This is my cousin. This is my friend.”
Castilla stepped out the shadow of the Escalade.
“Your tattoos says that you belong to no gang. You are not supposed to be in this area between me and Los Zetas.”
“That’s true, patron. It was my fault,” Guerra said. “We had extra bags and needed to get rid of them. Los Zetas allows us little parts of their territory, arrendamiento. It was only a few miles to yours and so we went. I won’t tell you it was the GPS, we had to make our quota…”
“We have a boss too. He don’t let us miss our quota. They beat us, especially my cousin. He is smaller.”
“What if I made you an offer? Manuel could leave your heads somewhere as a reminder to others. But that hardly shocks anymore! What a fucking world when you can see worse on YouTube.”
“First of all, I know who you are, Ernesto Guerra. I hear about you. You have crossed into my territory many times, but this time we got you. I need someone to expand my operations. We are going to push.”
“You know New York?”
“Yes, there two years in and outside of the city. Long Island.”
“A couple of hundred miles from New York, the capital of a state, the one called Massachusetts.You speak English and know your way around. We’ll get you there. First, you’ll replace local dealers, not on the street, but the ones running the business from their offices and cars.Second, we’re going to flood the drug market with lots of cheap stuff, especially heroin. We have another way to distribute, this time from the sea. The cheap price will expand our market. Later the price will rise. You don’t mind the sea, do you?”
“I can swim for an hour and the cold don’t bother me,” Guerra said.
“You will be pushing out people who don’t want to be pushed. Some of them you will put on the side of the road.” The reference to the side of the road was from the cartel wars in Mexico, a convenient place to leave the dead.
“I understand and am not afraid,” Guerra said.
“You’ll demand loyalty from the street pushers and will give them bonuses for selling our products. They will make more money because we will bring in more customers,” Castilla said. “Aimless American youth will come to us, first for fun and then for necessity. Interested?”
“Si, yes, I give my word,” said Guerra.
“You like this powerful pistol,” Castilla said, holding the scuffed .357 Smith & Wesson his men had taken off of Guerra. The frame of the gun had to be heavy and strong. Castilla held one of the bullets in his palm. “This bullet could fit a rifle.”
“Yes, patron, they don’t get up and shoot back at me with this one.”
“Let’s see your loyalty,” Castilla said, tossing Ernesto Guerra his pistol and a couple of cartridges. Manual put the front sight of his AK-47 on Guerra’s chest, finger moving from trigger guard to trigger, while Guerra loaded the pistol.
“Shoot your cousin Mateo. He’s worthless anyway.”
“Please, I can’t do that. He’s my wife’s cousin,” Guerra said.
In the recent heavyweight title fight between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder both men were, to put it mildly, quite large. Fury at 6’9” weighed in at 273 pounds while Wilder at 6’7” tipped the scales at 254 pounds. Wilder usually comes in lighter but was bulked up for this fight.
While both men are among the largest to ever hold the crown, there have been heavyweights in the past who would not be out of place in the ring with either one of them. Jess Willard at 6’6 1/2” and weighing in the vicinity of 245 pounds would be able to match eyeballs with Fury and Wilder, though Fury would have a couple of inches on him.
Willard is best known for two fights, his win over Jack Johnson when he took possession of the Heavyweight Title, and his defeat at the hands of Jack Dempsey when he lost the crown. Both fights have the shadow of controversy hanging over them that obscure Willard’s performances inthem.
When Jess met Jack Johnson for the title on April 5, 1915 at Oriental Park in Havana, Cuba he was the latest in a string of White Hopes who were sought out to take the title from Johnson. The fight was held in Cuba because at the time Johnson was a fugitive from justice and would have been arrested had he returned to the United States.
The fight was scheduled for 45 rounds and took place in the afternoon. One of the myths surrounding the fight was that the temperature was scorching by the time the combatants had entered the ring. Arly Allen, who wrote the definitive biography of Willard stated after exhaustive research that the hottest it had gotten that day was 70 degrees. Looking at footage of the fight you can see the fighters were dressed warm when they entered the ring; Willard had a heavy sweater on. The fans also looked quite comfortable.
The other myth that has been used to discredit Willard was started by Johnson years later when he claimed he threw the fight. Every boxing historian I know does not buy in to that. In fact, all you need to do is watch video of the fight and you will see in the early rounds Johnson going all out to knock out Willard. Jess survived this assaults from the champion and came on to knock out Johnson in the 26th round. While Johnson was not in the best of shape, weighing 225 pounds as compared to the 208 he weighed against Jim Jeffries five years earlier, Willard fought a very good fight showing excellent footwork for a man his size. Jess also had a powerful right hand which he used to finish off Johnson.
Much of the blame for Johnson not being in great fighting shape falls on Jack as he refused to face serious opposition after he won the title. His toughest opponent was Jeffries who had been out the ring for six years when they fought. Johnson also had been leading a wild lifestyle. Would things have been different if Jess was facing an in shape Johnson? Possibly, but the fact is Willard won the fight fair and square after standing up to the best Johnson had to offer.
In the Dempsey fight things turned out differently for Jess. The controversy in this fight centered on Jack, who many believe fought with loaded gloves. This story was started by his manager Jack Kearns years later after the two had a falling out. It has never been proven or disproven and, while most historians don’t believe Kearn’s story that he put Plaster of Paris on Dempsey’s hands before the fight, there is reason to believe Jack had his hands wrapped in bicycle tape. The bicycle tape was legal at the time. There is also a theory that Jack had a metal bar in his hand when the fight began. I have written about this in more detail before as have many other boxing experts. It is something that will never be fully resolved.
In the first round of the fight, which took place in Toledo, Ohio on July 4, 1919, Jess took a terrible beating being floored seven times and being saved from a knockout by the sound of the bell. (Actually, a whistle as the bell had broken before the fight.)
That is what most people remember of the fight. What happened in the next two rounds is interesting as Jess was not floored again. He put up a courageous stand before his corner called an end to the fight after the third round.
It has been written that Willard wanted a rematch with Dempsey but he didn’t help his chances at getting another go against the Manassa Mauler by staying inactive for the next four years. 1923 he stepped into the ring against Floyd Johnson, and while having some rough moments early in the fight came on to kayo Johnson in the 11th round. Willard looked fit and on the way back at the age of 42. He was then signed to fight Luis Firpo with the winner being promised a shot at Dempsey.
The fight took place at Boyes Thirty Acres in Jersey City, New Jersey on July 12, 1923. Firpo kayoed Jess in the 8th round putting an end to any hope of the Pottawatomie getting his return bout against Jack Dempsey.
It should also be noted that both of Willard’s comeback fights drew huge crowds and the former champ remained extremely popular. A rematch with Dempsey certainly would have been a major attraction.
So, what would have happened if Willard and Dempsey had fought again? I think it would have been a bit different than the first fight. Jess wasn’t imbued with the killer instinct. When younger, hekilled a man in the ring and that had aways haunted him. He believed, with good reason, that he was much more powerful than his opponents and had a certain fear of fatally hurting another. Because of this he often lacked aggression when fighting.
Before the Dempsey fight Jess was asked if he thought he might kill Dempsey. In fact many thought that was highly possible. When the bell rang for the first round you can see how Jess came out of his corner in a very calm manner. When the two went into a clinch Jess stepped back with his arms spread as if to say he wasn’t going to hurt the little guy. Willard was completely unprepared for the assault that was soon to take place. However, after taking that beating in the first round, he fought back hard and gave Dempsey a bit of a go of it.
In a rematch, Jess would have come out ready for battle. He most likely would have used his weight against Dempsey, not stepping back in a clinch but instead he would have roughed the champion up. Dempsey still would have won, but the fight would have gone longer and would have had more grappling.
Willard only had 28 fights in his entire career. He was a reluctant yet courageous warrior. In his two most notable fights he has not received the credit he deserved. Nobody though he would beat Johnson, yet he proved them wrong. Against Dempsey, he showed the heart of a champion and a strong fighting spirit.
Jess really didn’t have the killer instinct that is needed in such a cruel sport. He did have great athletic ability, was always in great shape, and had tremendous courage. You might want to take a look at the fights I have discussed and reconsider your opinion of Willard.