Roy Harris, who in 1958 fought for the Heavyweight Title, passed away on August 8th. He was 90 years old. He died peacefully at his home in Cut and Shoot, Texas surrounded by his children and large family. Mr. Harris was born in Cut and Shoot on June 29, 1933, and he lived his entire life there.
When Roy was eight years old, his bother Tobe traded a couple of wild ducks for a pair of boxing gloves. Their father gave the boys boxing lessons. This was the start of the long road that led to Roy getting a shot at the Heavyweight Championship of the World.
Roy and his brothers would spend their free time sparring in a makeshift ring. Eventually, Harris would move on to an amateur boxing career where he won four consecutive Texas State Golden Glove Championships. He then turned pro in order to earn money for college tuition.
In the professional ring, Harris reeled off 23 consecutive wins. With victories over Charley Norkus,Bob Baker, Willie Pastrano, and Willi Besmanoff, Roy was deemed worthy of a shot at champion Floyd Patterson. The fight took place on August 18, 1958 at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, California.
The gate of 21,680 fans set an attendance record at the time for the state of California. In addition to the live gate, another 200,000 people watched the fight on closed circuit television. The fight also put the town of Cut and Shoot in the spotlight as reporters descended on the challenger’s hometown.
The fight didn’t disappoint when it came to action. Though the people in Roy’s hometown were disappointed he wasn’t able to bring the title belt home, they were and remain proud of the battle he put up.
In the second round Harris landed a solid uppercut on the Champion’s chin that dropped Patterson. When Floyd got up he was hit with a left hook that he later admitted “dizzied” him.
As the fight entered the seventh round, Patterson began to hit his stride and dropped Harris. In the eight round he floored the challenger two more times, and in the twelfth round floored the very game Harris one more time.
Roy was willing to come out for the next round, but his trainer Bill Gore stopped the fight before the bell rang. It was the right thing to do. The man from Cut and Shoot had given it his all but Patterson was just too much for him.
Harris would continue fighting hoping to earn another shot at the crown. He added some impressive wins to his record including victories over Charlie Powell, Joe Bygraves, and Alejandro Lavorante. While not getting another title bout, he was matched with the number one contender. Unfortunately, that meant stepping in the ring with Sonny Liston. Liston was at his deadly prime at this point. Patterson was avoiding him and the future champ was mowing down the top contenders.
Outweighed by eighteen pounds, Harris took the fight to Sonny. He just did not have the fire power to hang in there with the ferocious Liston, and was dropped three times in the first round. The fight was stopped because of the three knockdown rule which automatically meant the bout was over.
Roy had three more fights before retiring in 1961. His professional record is 30 wins and 5 losses. Most importantly, he quit boxing with his faculties fully intact.
While his boxing career may have been over, he was just beginning his life’s work which included becoming a school teacher and then a lawyer. While in college Harris also was in the ROTC and earned the rank of Captain in the Army.
On top of his teaching, military, and law careers, Roy was also elected Montgomery County Clerk, a position he served in for twenty-eight years. He was always there for his friends and family. Anyone in need knew they could count on Cut and Shoot Roy.
On September 24, 1955 Roy married the love of his life, Gloria Jean Groce. Together they raised six children. He never completely recovered from the loss of Gloria Jean who passed away in 2008. He loved her deeply. His family has always remained close and have lived by the values Roy instilled in them.
He remained active in the community for the rest of his life. Helping neighbors, supporting family members, and even taking time to give boxing lessons at the local gym.
Also known as “The Battler From The Backwoods”, Roy Harris was the epitome of what a real man is. He was a soft spoken Southern Gentleman, handsome and physically imposing. While all business in the ring, he was a kind and gentle man when not wearing the gloves. He devoted his life to helping others, never left where he came from both physically and in the values he lived by.
Boxing fans mostly know Roy Harris by his losses to Patterson and Liston. He should also be remembered for his many victories in the ring, but mostly for the exemplary life he lived. His family and the people of Cut and Shoot, Texas will never forget his grace and goodness. He may not have won the Heavyweight Title, but the Championship he possessed was much bigger than that. Roy Harris was a true Champion and the best of role models in the way he lived his life. The world would be a better place if there were more people like him in it.
On December 20, 1963 Emile Griffith and Ruben Hurricane Carter stepped into the ring to face each other at the Civic Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Griffith was the reigning welterweight champion who wascampaigning as a middleweight seeking a title shot. Carter was ranked number two in the middleweight division. A win by either man would be a big step towards getting a shot at champion Joey Giardello.
At the time of the fight Griffith had won seven out of nine against middleweights including wins over Denny Moyer, Yama Bahama, Don Fullmer, and Holly Mims.
Carter had twenty-one fights at this point in his career with four losses and seventeen wins. He had scored 11 kayos including a one round devastation of Florentino Fernandez. In his last fight before facing Griffith he lost a very close split decision to Joey Archer.
The fight in Pittsburgh didn’t last long and the ending was quite a surprise. After Griffith had been dropped to the canvas twice in the first round referee Buck McTiernan stopped the contest and raised Carter’s hand. The stoppage was a good call as Emile was clearly unsteady and could have been seriously hurt had the fight continued.
I have watched the Griffith/Carter fight over and over again as it was a shock to see Emile Griffith taken out so fast. It has to be remembered that on top of having not been stopped previous to this match, he also went to the end of his career with only one other kayo loss. That happened in 1971 against middleweight champion Carlos Monzon. Griffith had not been off his feet in that fight, but rather was stopped when he was caught in a corner and unable to respond to Monzon’s barrage of punches. In a career consisting of 112 fights, Monzon and Carter were the only two men to defeat Griffith via a stoppage.
I have always believed the kayo by Carter was a fluke and that if the two had met a dozen times it would never happen again. So, how did Carter do it. Well, his devastating left hook was, of course, the major factor. Rubin could hit and hit hard. He was a good boxer, but did have flaws. Those flaws, such as throwing his punches a bit too wide should have enabled Emile to avoid getting tagged so seriously. Emile was a master boxer/puncher. Of course, no matter how good a fighter is, if he gets caught with a punch from the likes of a Hurricane Carter it can be lights out.
Recently, I was talking with Mike Silver boxing historian and author of The Arc Of Boxing about this fight. Mike pointed out something very interestingthat might explain how Carter was able to land the left hook that put Griffith down for his first trip to the canvas, a punch he never recovered from. I rewatched the bout after my conversation with Mike and I believe he is onto something.
Here’s what happened in the fight. Griffith weighed 151 1/2 pounds while Carter came in at 157. Griffith was above his welterweight fighting weight while Carter was around his usual poundage.
Before the fight started the referee called the two men to the center of the ring for a final few words on the rules. Among his instructions were “I insist on a clean break”. When you watch the fight remember those words.
At the bell, the men came out of their corners and the action was lively. They traded quite a bit of leather over the first minute with each giving as good as he got. In the first clinch of the fight referee McTiernan called for the men to break, and they both stepped back, obeying his instruction, before resuming boxing.
A short while later the two again were exchanging punches with Carter landing a good left hook to the midsection of Griffith. a couple of seconds later they fell into another clinch. This is where Mike Silver’s shrewd observation comes into play. As with the first clinch, the referee calls for the men to break. Griffith steps back, but Carter, instead of stepping back, immediately jumps in with the left hook that floors Griffith. It is a powerful shot landing on Emile’s chin.
Griffith hit the canvas and got onto his knees while taking a nine count. When he arose he was wobbly and was dropped again. It was at this point the referee stopped the bout. It was all over at 2:13 of the first round.
Mike Silver makes the point that the blow landed by Carter was thrown and landed on the break when, by the rules, he should have stepped back before starting to fight again. I have watched this over and over and agree with Mike. It was basically a sucker punch and illegal. Did Carter do it on purpose? I think he did. Should he have been disqualified for it. Well, that’s a tough question to answer as it happened so quickly the fans would have certainly been in an uproar as most wouldn’t have seen what took place. Also, the old adage that a fighter must protect himself at all times would have been cited. But that adage doesn’t apply to illegal blows that occur when the referee’s instructions are not obeyed.
Remember, just a few months earlier Carter had lost a close decision to the very slick boxing Joey Archer. In that fight he was not able to land a knock blow on the elusive Archer. Ruben might have gotten it into his head that he had to pounce at any opportunity to get in a power shot on a smooth boxer such as Griffith, and not leave it up to the judges as happened with Archer. He saw his chance when the fighters broke from their first clinch. The referee did not step between them as some do, but rather trusted them to break cleanly on their own. The second clinch is where Carter took advantage of this chance to play by his own rules.
The two never fought again, but I am sure if they did Emile would have been very careful coming out of the clinches. The fight was a major win for Carter and led to him getting a shot at the crown a year later. In his title challenge he lost a fifteen round unanimous decision to Joey Giardello. Ruben put up a great fight and bruised the champion but could not land the power shot to end the fight.
Take a look at the Griffith vs Carter on Youtube. You have to watch closely, but if you do I believe you will see what I’m talking about. After the clinch before the knockdown you will see Carter pounce right on Emile without having stepped back as he was supposed to do. He did not break cleanly and that is how he scored the knockout. He never stepped back, and that is how he landed the punch that won him the fight.
Clay Hits the Canvas for the First Time, Banks’ Life Ends In Tragedy
By Bobby Franklin
Cassius Clay was making quite the name for himself by the time 1962 had rolled around. He had a stellar amateur career behind him culminating in an Olympic Gold medal, and was undefeated in ten professional fights when he signed to fight Sonny Banks in Madison Square Garden on February 10 of the year.
Clay had already defeated some very respectable heavyweights, and this, coupled along with his self-promotion had drawn a lot of attention to the young man from Louisville, Kentucky. He had wins over the likes of Willi Besmanoff, Alex Miteff, LaMar Clark, and Alonzo Johnson. All were decent opponents.
Sonny Banks had a different career arc. He had not had any amateur bouts, and in his 12 fights leading up to his match with Cassius, he had won 12 and lost 2. He had been kayoed by Joe Shelton and lost a decision to Chuck Garett. He avenged the loss to Shelton with a knockout victory. His level of opposition was nowhere near the level of Clay’s, but he was known for having a solid punch. They had one common opponent, Tunney Hunsaker, whom Clay had beaten by decision in his first pro fight. Banks stopped him in two rounds. Hunsaker was the best Sonny had fought.
On fight night Clay was a five to one favorite. The bout didn’t attract a very big crowd but was on national television. It was a replacement fight for a match between Eddie Machen and Cleveland Williams, which had been postponed.
Clay was not expected to have any problem defeating Banks. He had much more experience, was faster, and was riding high at this early stage of his career. Banks was still getting his footing in the game. However, this was boxing and anything can happen in a fight. Cassius Clay was briefly tested in the early moments of the fight, and how he reacted gave some great insight into what he was made of.
In the first round of the fight, Clay came out dancing and self-assured. He was taking control early and moving on his feet a lot. Banks was following after him. At one point Cassius backed Sonny into a corner and appeared to have him trapped when suddenly, Banks unleashed a vicious left hook that caught Clay flush on the jaw. The former Olympian went down hard. I have seen this referred to as a flash knockdown, and Clay did get up fast, but make no mistake about it; he was tagged hard and appeared to have lost consciousness right after being hit.
As hard as he was hit, Clay regained his feet very fast. He was sent to a neutral corner by referee Ruby Goldstein while receiving an eight count. Another sign he was hurt was the fact that he put both hands on the ropes while in the neutral corner. Goldstein pulled his arms off the strands and sent him back into action.
Cassius recovered very quickly and was almost immediately on the attack. It was the first time he had been decked as a professional and he was not happy it happened.
Clay now stopped moving as much on his feet and focused on laser focused shots to the head. His hand speed was phenomenal, and he had precision accuracy. Banks began taking a frightful beating. This was quite a first round.
In round two, Clay came out ready to end it. He battered Banks around the ring and dropped him near the end of the round. In the third round, the attack continued, and while Clay was not able to drop Banks again, he gave him a terrible going over. It was getting so bad that the referee called the doctor in to examine Sonny between rounds. The doctor told Ruby to keep a careful eye on the fighter and not hesitate to stop the fight.
As the fourth round opened, Clay continued his relentless assault. Referee Goldstein mercifully stopped the carnage after just 26 seconds. Other than the knockdown scored by Banks, this fight was as one sided as they come. However, it did tell us quite a bit about the potential of a young Cassius Clay. It also was the beginning of another tragedy in boxing. This one involving Banks.
Clay showed he could take a really hard punch, could be on the verge of being knocked out, and come roaring back. The fact that he rose from such a serious punch so quickly showed he was made of championship material. Cassius also displayed a killer instinct.
Once he perceived Banks to be a threat, he went to work, taking him apart mercilessly. He didn’t waste any motion, a fault he had throughout his career, and made every move count. He could be a brutal puncher when he put his mind to it. He had power, but more importantly, he had accuracy.
Poor Sonny Banks would end up one of boxing’s victims after the fight. He should never have been in with Clay to begin with. Even though they had similar professional records, Sonny had nowhere near the experience. He had no amateur career behind him and had not been in with the same caliber of opposition. I believe he was called in late to the fight as the promoters were looking to fill in the spot left open when the Machen/Williams bout fell through. Because of this, Banks gained notoriety by ending up on television and also because he had decked Clay. It was the worse thing that could have happened to him.
He was definitely seriously hurt by Clay, and worse, he was now a salable commodity. He would now be elevated to a level that was beyond where he would have been had he not fought Clay and had been brought along at a normal pace for a young prospect. In his very next fight he was matched with Young Jack Johnson. Johnson was a top ten heavyweight and vastly more experience than Banks, having stopped Zora Folley and beaten Willi Besmanoff, Ezzard Charles, and Marty Marshall. He had fought 41 times when he faced Banks. Johnson kayoed Sonny in the fifth round.
After the Johnson loss, Banks went back to facing opposition more on his level and put together a number of wins over the next year and a half. He had not shown much improvement but still was a known name. In 1964 he was put in with Cleveland Williams. Williams had over 60 wins at the time with most coming via knockout. He gave Sonny a terrible beating stopping him in the 6th round.
This should have been it for Sonny Banks, but it wasn’t. Eleven months later he was put in with top prospect Leotis Martin. At this point Sonny had already taken at least three serious beatings. Boxing was not a profession he should have been pursuing, but he had a name because of the Clay fight.
It is said Sonny Banks died from injuries incurred in the Martin fight, but the circumstances leading up to his death began three years earlier in Madison Square Garden when he had his moment of glory against Cassius Clay.
Unfortunately, that notoriety cost him his life. In the Martin fight, Sonny was knocked out in the ninth round and died three days later. It is said Sonny Banks died from injuries incurred in the Martin fight, but the circumstances leading up to his death began three years earlier in Madison Square Garden when he had his moment of glory against Cassius Clay. His fame made him marketable for promoters, but he never made anything himself and was killed at the age of 24. A story not unusual in the fight game.
In celebration of the return to live theatre, owner and producer Bill Hanney is proud to present an encore of Theatre By The Sea’s massive hit production of the international sensation, Mamma Mia! which will be presented from August 18 – September 5, 2021.
“We have been overwhelmed with the support from audiences who had been anxiously awaiting the reopening of the theatre after nearly two years!” said Bill Hanney. “The July Concert Series was very well received, and we expect Mamma Mia! to be just as popular, if not more, than it was when we originally produced the Rhode Island Regional Premiere back in 2018.”
Prepare to have the time of your life…again! Sophie, a 20-year-old bride-to-be, is on the search for her father. After reading her mother’s diary, she discovers there are three potential candidates. Unbeknownst to her mother, Donna, Sophie invites each of them to her wedding, in hopes of having one of them walk her down the aisle. As the big day draws near, surprises abound with old flames and old friends. Mamma Mia! is packed with 22 ABBA hits, including “Dancing Queen,” “Super Trouper,” “Take A Chance on Me,” and “The Winner Takes It All.” This worldwide mega hit will have audiences shouting “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” more!
Directed and choreographed by Theatre By The Sea’s Producing Artistic Director, Kevin P. Hill, who directed previous TBTS productions of Mamma Mia! (2018), Smokey Joe’s Café, Sister Act, Young Frankenstein, Mary Poppins, Grease, and Hello, Dolly! (2010); with musical direction by Bob Bray, who returns to TBTS after music directing Mamma Mia! (2018) and Hello, Dolly! (2010); the cast includes Lexie Dorsett Sharp, whose touring credits include School of Rock, Young Frankenstein, The Addams Family and Elf, as Donna Sheridan; Tiffani Barbour,who appeared in Mamma Mia! (2018) at North Shore Music Theatre, as well as on the National Tour,as Rosie; and Merrill Peiffer, who has played every Dynamo in Mamma Mia! and appeared in the 2018 TBTS production, as Tanya. In the roles of Sam Carmichael and Bill Austin are David Elder and Al Bundonis, who will be reprising their roles from the 2018 production. Mr. Elder’s Broadway credits include Curtains, 42nd Street Revival, Kiss Me Kate, Titanic, the Musical, Once Upon a Mattress, Damn Yankees, Beauty and the Beast, and Guys and Dolls, and Mr. Bundonis is well-known to TBTS audience as King Arthur in Spamalot (2014), Horace Vandergelder in Hello, Dolly! (2010), and Lawrence in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (2009). In the role of Harry Bright is Jesse Sharp,whose tour credits include The Addams Family, Elf, and Grease. Sara Bartoszek and Markcus Blairwill both be making their Theatre By The Sea debuts in the roles of Sophie and Sky. The ensemble includes Jamie Askey, Morgan Blanchard, Tyler Dema, Yoni Haller, Masumi Iwai, Breia Kelley, Derek Luscutoff, Sami Murphy, Brett Pederson, Kennedy Perez, Gracie Phillips, and Jake Urban.
PLEASE NOTE: In light of the most recent CDC recommendations and for the safety of audiences, actors, and staff, masks will be required for all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, while in the theatre. Everyone is encouraged to wear their most creative mask, as prizes will be given at each performance! Theatre By The Sea thanks theatregoers for doing their part to keep everyone safe while celebrating the return of in-person performances.
Mamma Mia!will be presented from August 18–September 5, with performances scheduled for Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8:00 pm, Thursdays at 2:00 pm, Saturdays at 3:00 and Sundays at 5:00 pm, with special performance times on Sunday, August 22 at 2:00 & 7:00 pm and a special added matinee performance on Wednesday, August 25 at 2:00 pm. The theatre is located at 364 Cards Pond Road, Wakefield. Tickets are $58 – $81 (additional fees may apply). Discount rates are available for groups of 10 or more by calling (401) 782-3800 x112.Tickets are on sale at the box office Monday through Saturday from 11:00 am–5:00 pm, and performance days until curtain, online 24-hours-a-day at theatrebythesea.com and via telephone during normal box office hours by calling (401) 782-TKTS (8587).
There hasn’t been a lot of sunshine so far this summer, but at the Ogunquit Playhouse everyday is a beach day with Jimmy Buffet’s Escape To Margaritaville, the 2018 Broadway hit that has now been adapted for the stage in Ogunquit. Director Richard J. Hinds was allowed freedom with the script that gives the musical the Ogunquit Playhouse magic touch, the touch that always makes things better.
The 2018 Broadway jukebox musical built around the music of Jimmy Buffet normally would not be considered very deep. However, as we are emerging from well over a year of social distancing and, for many, isolation, a work such as this allows us to laugh, sing together, and get back to what it means to share fun and music with one another.
Spending two hours with Tully ((Jake David Smith), Rachel (Cailen Fu), Brick (Matt Wolpe), Tammy (Megan Kane), JD (John Antony), Marley (Crystal Sha’nae), Jamal (Tyler McKenzie), and the rest of this energetic and enthusiastic cast allows us to have some of the much needed Changes In Latitudes, Change In Attitudes that we have been seeking.
It might seem odd to describe this musical as touching and moving, but 2018 seems like it was decades ago and songs and lines that might have seemed a bit corny back then mean much more now. It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere sure hits the spot now.
The story that begins with Tammy and Rachel visiting a Caribbean Island in the week before Tammy’s wedding brings together all these wonderful characters who end up finding much to learn from each other and what’s important in life. Rachel at first finds it hard to relax but finally lets her hair down with Tully (Son Of A Son OfA Sailor), while Brick and Tammy connect during We Are The People Our Parents Warned Us.
The hotel/bar where Brick and Tully work and Rachel and Tammy are staying is run by Marley who has help from Jamal. Marley is quite the gossip as we learn in Coconut Telegraph. Ms Sha’nae uses a lovely patois as she sings while spreading the latest rumors.
From the opening number straight through to the close the energy of the cast was in full force . Mr. Smith when performing Margaritaville begins with a simple acoustic guitar and is then joined by John Antony, Matt Wolpe, Crystal Sha’nae, and Tyler McKenzie who were all marvelous as they build it into a terrific finale for the first act. It almost seemed a shame to have to pause for intermission.
There are two zombie dance sequences that are quite something to see. The zombies are brought on by Brick’s anxieties, and sure make for some interesting staging. You wouldn’t mind having this gang show up at one of your barbecues.
JD is a 76 year old beach bum who spends his days at the bar telling stories most of the people don’t believe. This changes during the touching He Went To Paris, where his life story is told and the non believers have their eyes opened.
Being in the outdoor pavilion has not forced the team at the Playhouse to compromise on lighting and effects. While I am sure it has been a real challenge for them, they have pulled it off marvelously. The volcano eruption sequence is evidence of that.
The staging is impressive and the sets are vividly colorful. I was quite impressed with the acoustics considering this is taking place in an outdoor pavilion. It rivaled what would be heard at the indoor venue.
The show is full of high spots. A few that were even a bit higher for me were Why Don’t We Get Drunk with JD urging the audience to fill in the blank about what to do after imbibing. Come Monday with Brick and Tammy, and of course, Cheeseburger In Paradise where Tammy and Brick bring down the house.
While the audience was clearly thrilled with the production, the cast members showed by their enthusiasm how happy they were to be back on the stage.
The orchestra, complete with steel drums, gives a solid Caribbean Island flavor to the score that makes you thirsty for a tasty margarita that is available at the bar. Situated high up on both sides of the stage it sounded great.
I must confess, that while I grew up during the heyday of Jimmy Buffet and was familiar with some of his songs, I was far from a Parrot Head. After seeing this production I will be listening much more. At this point I’m now probably more JD than Tully, but it is still fun.
The superb cast, the delightful music, the summertime energy make this a must see show.
The superb cast, the delightful music, the summertime energy make this a must see show. With Ogunquit Beach just down the street and with ocean breezes wafting through the Leary Pavillon, you couldn’t ask for a better setting for a musical featuring the music of Jimmy Buffet. Even with all of the challenges it has faced, the Ogunquit Playhouse continues to exceed expectations.
It’s time to enjoy life again, to smile and share and connect. Come and take a bite out of this Cheeseburger In Paradise in Ogunquit. You won’t be disappointed.
Boxing Paintings: The Big Three From An Artist’s Point of View
From ancient times to the present, the visual and emotional drama that is inherent in the sport of boxing has always attracted and inspired artists. Statues, friezes, vase paintings, and murals depicting boxing scenes and boxers have been discovered in ancient Crete, Greece and Rome. Many are on display in the great museums of the world. One of the earliest known images is a stone slab relief, discovered in Baghdad, which shows two boxers with taped leather hands. It is estimated to be 5000 years old.
In more recent times important American artists have produced an impressive volume of work devoted to the sport. Three of the most famous boxing paintings of the 20th century were done by American artists. They are Dempsey and Willard by James Montgomery Flagg; Dempsey and Firpo by George Bellows, and Brown Bomber by Robert Riggs. Each of these compelling masterpieces depicts a scene from an iconic heavyweight championship contest.
Three of the most famous boxing paintings of the 20th century were done by American artists.
A great painting, like a great boxing match, can be appreciated on many different levels. There are layers and nuances to each—some obvious and some not so obvious. I can analyze a fight much easier than I can analyze a painting. So, I thought it might be interesting to seek out the expert analysis of an accomplished artist and hear what he had to say about the aforementioned paintings.
One of my dear friends is renowned artist Sol Korby. Sol is an award winning painter and illustrator. After service in World War II Sol was employed by various advertising agencies, and subsequently for most of the leading book publishers including Time Inc., Dell, Ace, Fawcett and Avon. (A sampling of Sol’s amazing creations can be viewed at: SolKorbyIllustrations.com)
Sol is ageless. At 90 years plus he is still active and productive, working in his studio almost every day. He is also familiar with boxing’s colorful history. In fact, his work includes a number of boxing subjects. I was anxious to hear what he had to say about each painting.
But first a brief history of the artists and their subjects:
“Notice how Flagg put a cloud in the sky and how he silhouetted Dempsey’s head against the white cloud to emphasize Dempsey’s importance.” –Sol Korby
Dempsey and Willard (6’ x 19’): James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960), was a popular and prolific artist best known for his World War I recruiting poster of Uncle Sam pointing to the viewer (inspired by a British recruitment poster showing Lord Kitchener in a similar pose) with the caption “I Want YOU for U.S. Army”. The Dempsey and Willard mural is 6 feet high by 19 feet wide and is by far the largest of the three paintings. It depicts heavyweight champion Jess Willard and challenger Jack Dempsey in a scene from the July 4, 1919 title fight. Dempsey was 60 pounds lighter than the 6’ 6 ½” 250 pound champion. It didn’t matter. In a savage beat down Dempsey floored Willard seven times in the opening round. The game champion withstood a terrible beating until his corner finally threw in the towel before the start of the 4th round. The electrifying “Manassa Mauler” would hold the title for the next seven years and become the greatest sports superstar of the roaring twenties.
The mural was commissioned by Jack Dempsey and completed in 1944. It was prominently displayed on the wall of his popular Broadway bar and restaurant. Although invited to participate in the celebrity packed unveiling Jess Willard declined to attend. He wired Dempsey, saying, “Sorry I can’t be there. But I saw enough of you 25 years ago to last me a lifetime.”
After the restaurant closed in 1974, Dempsey and his wife Deanna donated the painting to the Smithsonian’s National Gallery of Art in Washington D. C. where it is on permanent display.
Dempsey and Firpo (51” x 63 ¼”): George Wesley Bellows (1882-1925) was one of the most renowned artists of his generation. His previous boxing paintings and prints, numbering 46 in all, had already won him considerable fame, most notably Stag at Sharkey’s. Bellows was commissioned by the New York Evening Journal to cover the heavyweight title fight between champion Jack Dempsey and Argentina’s Luis Angel Firpo on September 23, 1923 at New York’s Polo Grounds. The fight was witnessed by 90,000 fans who contributed to boxing’s second million dollar gate.
In a wild first round Firpo was dropped seven times and Dempsey twice. The painting captures the dramatic moment when Dempsey is knocked out of the ring by Firpo. As the painting shows, he landed on reporters sitting in the first press row. Controversy erupted when it was claimed Dempsey was unfairly aided by the reporters who proceeded to push him back into the ring (in the painting one reporter’s hand is seen on Dempsey’s back).
Bellows inserted himself in the painting. He is the bald fellow seated on the extreme left. The painting is owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The Brown Bomber (31” x 41”): Robert Riggs (1896-1970) was a painter, printmaker, and illustrator well known in the 1930s for his realistic images of the circus, boxing matches, hospitals and psychiatric wards. The Brown Bomber is the nickname of the great heavyweight champion Joe Louis, who held the title from 1937 to 1949 and defended it a record 25 times. The scene depicts the climactic ending to the historic championship fight between Louis and Germany’s Max Schmeling on June 22, 1938 at Yankee Stadium. Louis was seeking to avenge his knockout loss to Schmeling (the only blot on his otherwise perfect record) that had taken place two years earlier. This fight had huge political and social significance. On the eve of World War II, with Nazi Germany ascending, the world focused their attention on this fight. Louis was not just fighting for himself. To the 70,000 fans in the sold out stadium and millions more listening on radio, the fight symbolized the struggle between democracy and Nazi Germany. Joe Louis’ swift and brutal annihilation of Schmeling in the very first round made him a national hero and cemented his legendary status for all time. The painting is owned by the Taubman Museum of Art, in Roanoke, Virginia.
Of the three paintings, Dempsey and Willard is Sol Korby’s favorite: “I think most people who are interested in art would say Bellows is the best painter of the three, probably because he’s in between Flagg and Riggs. Riggs is too stylized, and Flagg is not stylized at all, and Bellows is right in the middle. Personally, I like Flagg best because his work is realistic. I do that kind of work. I like to see things the way they are in nature. When I do a painting I try to make it as close as possible to nature.
“One of the main differences between Flagg’s mural and the two paintings by Bellows and Riggs, aside from the size, is that the others have action. This painting is not really a fight picture the way you and I know a fight picture. There’s no action. There’s no blood. It’s just the two principle fighters in their typical poses. Flagg depicts the two fighters in their prime and the way they move. Willard is moving forward and he’s got one glove near his chest and the other is down near his thigh. He’s not concerned that Dempsey’s going to hit him. It shows he’s not afraid of him at all. He thinks he can beat Dempsey. It wasn’t until the first couple of punches that Willard really knew he was in for a fight now.
“On the left side of the painting you have the referee standing there. He’s not running towards them. He’s just standing there to balance out the ring post on the right side of the painting. It works as a mural because we’re talking about a painting that’s measured in feet. The other paintings are measured in inches. So you have a painting that’s 6 feet by 19 feet symbolizing their fighting styles. I think he did a fantastic job on it.
“This painting is an example of what I call a David and Goliath theme. Flagg wanted to get that big vs. little effect. You’ve got the small guy, who everybody roots for, and you’ve got the monster who everybody wants to lose. Flagg shows Dempsey at his best in that tiger crouch against this giant. He looks like he’s just about to spring up. You’ll also notice how Flagg put a cloud in the sky and how he silhouetted Dempsey’s head against the white cloud to emphasize Dempsey’s importance.
“Flagg and Dempsey knew each other very well. They traveled in the same circles. He was always in the restaurant.”
“Flagg and Dempsey knew each other very well. They traveled in the same circles. He was always in the restaurant. The end result was a very personal type of painting. Flagg put all his friends in the first row. Not only his friends, but also friends of Dempsey. He’s got different sportswriters and people they associate with, including satirist Damon Runyon, cartoonist Rube Goldberg, promoter Tex Rickard, humorist Bugs Baer and Dempsey’s trainer, Jimmy DeForrest. [note: Flagg, like Bellows, inserted himself into the painting and is seated in the first row]. That’s the intent of this picture. It’s not really a boxing picture like the others because there’s no action in it and there’s no blood and neither is being knocked down.
“Many of Flagg’s friends were in show business. Two of his best friends were comedian W.C. Fields and actor John Barrymore. He used to go out all night with them carousing and drinking and would get home very late. If they weren’t in a play or anything they had nothing else to do, so while they had a lot of time, he had work to do and, tight or not, he could knock off an entire illustration in one afternoon. That’s how fast he was.
“In his painting of Dempsey and Firpo, George Bellows did something very unique”, explains Sol. “He has Dempsey falling back and somebody in the press row with his hand on Dempsey’s back is about to push him back into the ring. Many people today are not familiar with this fight, even though they may have heard the name Jack Dempsey. Looking at the painting for the first time they might think it is Dempsey who knocked Firpo out of the ring. But the one thing that tells you Dempsey won this fight, even though you know he is knocked out of the ring, is to look at his hair. His hair is immaculate. There is not one strand out of place. The guy was knocked out of the ring and his hair didn’t move! Bellows painted it that way to show Dempsey wasn’t even hurt to begin with and, as we know, he got back into the ring and knocked out Firpo in the next round.
“Dempsey had only ten seconds to make it back into the ring before being counted out. Bellows shows the referee starting the count right away. In this way he draws attention to the controversy about whether Dempsey could have gotten back into the ring in time without the help of the people who pushed him back.
“You’ll also notice that at the top of the painting there are lights above the ring and two more lights in the far reaches of the stadium. Bellows didn’t want all that area dark. He wanted to show there was space and distance and he wanted to show where the lighting on both figures is coming from and it works very well. And he has nice little figures in the back all cheering and raising their hands and hats and all those things going on in the ringside to show that everyone is excited about what’s happening.
“Robert Riggs’ painting, The Brown Bomber, takes a little explaining, because this is a violent picture. It is the aftermath of violence. This is really an amazing picture in terms of its composition. Starting with the referee’s outstretched arms, and going clockwise past Louis’s back we see the towel flying into the ring and then the guy who threw in the towel, and then we see the heads and the shoulders of all the people sitting at ringside, which brings us right back to the referee. In other words, it makes a complete oval.
“The title is The Brown Bomber but this painting is not about Joe Louis. This painting is about Max Schmeling!”
“Just off center in the oval, on all fours, is Schmeling. He’s out, completely finished, and Louis is standing over him. If he ever attempts to get up he’s going to be smashed down again. The title is The Brown Bomber but this painting is not about Joe Louis. This painting is about Max Schmeling! The whole thing is about Max Schmeling. He’s in the oval and he’s groping to get up. His head is turned because he wants to see where Louis is and he can’t do anything about it. Look at the people at ringside. They are all looking at him. They are not looking at Louis. Nobody is looking at Louis, including the referee, who is about to stop the fight. This painting is about Max Schmeling. Joe Louis is one of the figures that complete the arc. He’s part of it, but he’s not the main figure in the painting—Schmeling is.
“This is the most violent of the three paintings. Dempsey being knocked out of the ring didn’t hurt him, didn’t bother him. But this one, Schmeling is in agony and there’s no getting away from it.
“Each of these artists had different styles. Flagg paints in a more true to life style. Bellows and Riggs are more stylized and you can see it in everything they do, especially in the heads and figures around the ring and the shapes of the fighters’ bodies. Everything is stylized. But that is the property of the artist. They feel they’re enhancing the subject. An example is Louis’ arm. Riggs paints him with more muscles than Louis ever had. But he wanted that. It shows that Louis had the strength to do what he did, to put Schmeling on all fours on the canvas. He also made Schmeling’s muscles prominent to show he wasn’t just a tomato can. He was a good fighter. He was champion at one time. Louis is not beating some club fighter—this was a champion.”
There you have it, an artist’s take on three magnificent boxing paintings. Sol asked me which one I liked best. Well, here it is almost two weeks later, and I am still trying to decide. All three are so unique and spectacular in their own way. At this point it’s a dead heat. Which one is your favorite?
Mike Silver’s newest book is The Night the Referee Hit Back: Memorable Moments from the World of Boxing. Available from Amazon.com or publisher’s website: Rowman.com
25th Anniversary of Riverdance Opens March 31 At The Wang Center
See RIVERDANCE as you’ve never seen or heard it before in the new 25th Anniversary production! For over 25 years, nothing has carried the energy, the sensuality and the spectacle of RIVERDANCE. In a powerful and stirring re-invention of this beloved favorite, renowned composer Bill Whelan brings this mesmerizing, Grammy Award®-winning soundtrack back to life, completely revitalized for the first time since those original orchestral recordings. Producer Moya Doherty and Director John McColgan have produced an amazing new 25th Anniversary production with innovative and spectacular lighting, projection, staging and costume design, and an all-new finale number which will blow audiences away
Tony-winners Jason Alexander and BD Wong to Premiere New Shows at
Ogunquit Playhouse as Part of its 2020 Season
The legendary Ogunquit Playhouse is thrilled to announce an exciting lineup of shows for its 88th season that includes the Northeast regional premiere of the hilarious dark comedy The War of the Roses, a new play based on the novel by Warren Adler and helmed by Tony Award-winner Jason Alexander, and the world premiere of the funny and heartwarming musical adaptation of Mr. Holland’s Opus, helmed by Tony Award-winner BD Wong. The season opens with the high-energy musical sensation Dirty Dancing –The Classic Story on Stage based on the smash-hit film, then continues with a stunning revival of the Tony Award-winning, all-Gershwin, tap dancing extravaganza Crazy for You, and the exhilarating Broadway hit musical based on the lives of Grammy Award-winning husband-and-wife team Gloria and Emilio Estefan, On Your Feet!. The season will stretch to the holidays once again with the return of the hit show White Christmas in collaboration with The Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
“We are honored and thrilled to be collaborating with an incredible team of industry leaders on a number of premieres as part of our 88th season in 2020,” stated Bradford Kenney, Ogunquit Playhouse Executive Artistic Director. “It’s been a great honor to be able to collaborate with Eleanor Bergstein to bring to the stage her iconic film Dirty Dancing. We have been working closely with Tony-winner BD Wong and Tony-nominee Wayne Barker over the last several years on the development of the new musical adaptation of Mr. Holland’s Opus, and we are thrilled to produce its world premiere for Playhouse audiences this year. We have also been working alongside Tony-winner Jason Alexander and the Broadway team on the development of the hilarious new play The War of the Roses, which makes one of its premieres on our stage in late summer. The cultivation of new works is now part of our mission as we produce world-class performances, tell the most compelling stories, and challenge and inspire our audiences in new ways. We are honored that these wonderful new shows will be seen alongside the entire season this year at Ogunquit Playhouse.”
Five-show season ticket subscriptions are on sale now and the only way to guarantee the best seats for the best price to these exciting shows! Three and four-show subscriptions are on sale beginning Tuesday, February 18. Prices start at only $250 for a five-show subscription and $150 for a three-show subscription. Individual tickets are on sale exclusively for Ogunquit Playhouse Members starting March 11. Individual public ticket sales begin Wednesday, March 18 with prices starting at $53. Gift certificates are also on sale online and through the Box Office. To learn more about becoming a Member, season subscriber, or to purchase tickets and gift certificates, visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or call the Box Office at 207-646-5511.
It’s time to grab your best gal pals and head to Ogunquit Playhouse for the hilarious musical comedy Menopause The Musical®, on stage September 4 through September 14. A raucous celebration of womanhood created by Jeanie Linders and inspired by a hot flash and a bottle of wine, Menopause The Musical® applauds women who are on the brink of, in the middle of, or have survived “The Change.” The show is produced by special license from GFour Productions, the producers of MENOPAUSE THE MUSICAL®, now in its 18th year, and 14th as the longest-running musical in Las Vegas history. The director of the Ogunquit Playhouse production is Tony Award®-winnerSethGreenleaf. This joyful parody of 25 re-lyricized classic hits from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s features chart-toppers including “I Heard it Through the Grapevine that You No Longer See 39,” and the disco favorite “Stayin’ Awake, Stayin’ Awake!”
Joining the cast of the Ogunquit Playhouse production are Anise Ritchie as Professional Woman,Kathy St. George as Soap Star, Melanie Souza as Earth Mother andRoberta B. Wall as Iowa Housewife. They will be joined bytelevision star Cindy Williams as Hostess.
Anise Ritchie has been with Menopause The Musical® for over 10 years starting in San Francisco and is now touring around the U.S. with the show. She has also performed in many regional theatres throughout the U.S. in such shows as A Little Night Music, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Big Fish,Smokey Joe’s Café, Showboat, andLittle Shop of Horrors. Kathy St. George appeared onBroadway in two productions of Fiddler on the Roof including the Tony Award®-winning revival. Her many Off-Broadway and regional theatre credits include I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, 9 to 5 the Musical, Peter Pan, The Divine Sister, Once, and Gypsy. Melanie Souza recently performed in the National Tour of Menopause The Musical®. She has also performed in many regional theatre productions including In the Heights, Bikinis, Mamma Mia!, Breaking Up is Hard to Do and Sister Act. Roberta B. Wall was part of the original Broadway cast of Sister Act, and Leap of Faith. HerFirst National Tours include Sister Act, and Beauty and the Beast as Mrs. Potts. Ms. Wall has been performing in Menopause The Musical® since 2003 in cities across the country as both Iowa Housewife and Earth Mother.
Joining the cast as Hostess isCindy Williams whois most recognized for her role as “Shirley Feeney” in the TV comedy series Laverne and Shirley. She landed her first television roles on Room 222, Nanny and the Professor and Love, American Style. Her many guest-starring roles include Law And Order: SVU, Seventh Heaven and 8 Simple Rules, The Odd Couple for CBS, A Dream Of Christmas for Hallmark Channel and Sam And Cat for Nickelodeon. Cindy’s stage credits include, the National Tour of Grease playing Miss Lynch, the National Tour of Deathtrap with Elliot Gould, The Female Odd Couple with Jo Anne Worley, Steel Magnolias as Ouiser Boudreaux. She made her Broadway debut in the role of Mrs. Tottendale in the award-winning musical The Drowsy Chaperone in 2007. Her many films include GAS-S-S-S with Talia Shire and Ben Vereen, Travels With My Aunt with Maggie Smith, directed by George Cukor, and The Conversation with Gene Hackman, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and American Graffiti co-starring with Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford, directed by George Lucas.
The director for the Ogunquit production of Menopause The Musical® is Seth Greenleaf. Hewon the Tony Award® for his work on the 50th anniversary production of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. A graduate of UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film and Television, his many credits include producing 9 to 5 the Musical on Broadway with Dolly Parton, co-financing the Tony Award® and Olivier Award-winning musicals The Book Of Mormon and Matilda The Musical, and directing the award-winning documentary F(L)AG Football. He currently has The Play That Goes Wrong and The Book Of Mormon running on Broadway; Tina The Musical, Bitter Wheat and SIX running in London; and Fiddler On The Roof and The Play That Goes Wrong on National Tour in the U.S. Three of his productions are currently Broadway bound: The Inheritance begins previews September 27, Tina The Musical begins previews October 12, and SIX begins previews February 13, 2020.
Individual tickets are on sale now. Preview performances start at $36 and economy seats start at $51 each. For tickets visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or call the Ogunquit Playhouse Box Office at 207-646-5511.
Pacific Overtures deals with the opening of Japan to the West and Commodore Perry’s excursion there in 1853. The Japanese had isolated themselves from the rest of the world many years earlier. They had decreed that no foreigners would ever again be allowed to step on their soil. They saw outsiders as barbarians and savages, as people who would destroy their culture and exploit their products. It has a familiar ring to it: Gunboat Diplomacy, isolationism, xenophobia, expansionism, and a fear of change are subjects touched upon.
It was first produced in 1976 at a time when the Vietnam War was very fresh in people’s memories, so it would have been natural for people to have focused on American forays into other nations at that time. Given the state of the nation today, where trade wars and isolationism are popular, and a fear of those who are different is in ascendence on both the Left and the Right of the political spectrum, it is very possible audiences will see another message in this very fine work.
I last saw Pacific Overtures in 2003 in a lavish production that was incredible. From my count, the original consisted of a cast of 36. The Lyric is working with just 11, with actors taking on multiple roles. Of course, the theatre in Copley Square is also quite small, and the orchestra is much reduced. So how does taking such a huge production and reducing it in size work out? In a word, magnificently.
Director Spiro Veloudos, working with Musical Director Jonathan Goldberg and four additional orchestra members take Sondheim’s score and work wonders with it. The music which plays off many Japanese styles includes Haiku, as well as nods to Gilbert and Sullivan, and a multinational flavor that, while showing how different nations can be, also captures the fact that all countries benefit when they cooperate with one another. Unfortunately, historically this cooperation has not always gone smoothly, and that is also brought out clearly here.
The set is simple yet gorgeous. Designed by Janie E. Howland, it has a backdrop made up of four Japanese screen panels with Hiroshige style illustrations on them. They are rotated very subtly during the play depicting different scenes as the story moves along . The floor gives the appearance of tatami mats, an item that will serve an important purpose in the negotiations between the Americans and the Japanese. Branches from a cherry blossom tree hang from above. I have read that Someone In A Tree is Stephen Sondheim’s favorite song from his own work, and seeing it performed by Brandon Milardo and Karina Wen under the branches is just lovely.
The cast is led by Lisa Yuen as the Reciter and Shogun. From the opening number The Adventures of Floating in the Middle of the Sea, Ms Yuen keeps the narrative flowing without forcing it. Her voice is clear and warm.
Carl Hsu and Sam Hamashima play Kayama and Manjiro. Kayama is a low ranking Samurai who ends up as the leading negotiator with the Americans, a job he was not exactly thrilled to be appointed to. Manjiro is a fisherman who had lived in the United States after being rescued by American sailors. He has returned to Japan to warn his leaders of the approaching Americans. He is not received well. Kayama and Manjiro form a bond when they find they can help each other through their problems.
In Poems the two exchange multiple haiku. It is fast paced and through it we see their friendship grow. I loved how Hsu and Hamashima moved about the stage while performing this number. Choreographer Micheline Wu deserves much credit for the fine work she has done.
The entire cast, playing multiple roles, did not disappoint. Gary Thomas Ngplays the Madam leading her Geisha Girls in Welcome to Kanagawa. With twirling umbrellas and flirtatious glances the number was fun and beautiful.
In Please Hello, representatives from the United States, France, Holland, Great Britain, and Russia all besiege Lord Abe (Jeff Song) with trade agreements. The play on Gilbert and Sullivan’s Modern Major General is delightful along with some French Can-Can, Dutch clog shoe dancing, and the frequent admonition from the Russian representative to “Don’t touch the coat!)
Spiro Veloudos has chosen to have the actors wear masks when playing non Japanese parts. The masks are somewhat grotesque and reminiscent of the caricatures of foreigners that have been used over the years in many countries. These caricaturization represent how the Japanese saw outsiders. It is also interesting that many of the American parts were spoken with Southern accents. It is funny, but I notice that many directors in this area do that when trying to show Americans in a negative light. I wonder if directors in the South have their actors use Boston accents to get the same effect..
Pacific Overtures may very well have Sondheim’s best score. It is certainly the one that will continue playing in your head when you leave the theater. I loved every song and will be listening to the sound track often.
One of the beautiful things about theater is it can be fun at the same time it is dealing with serious and difficult subjects. We live in very polarizing times and have for many years. Too often when trying to make a point, a playwright can leave the audience feeling further divided. I found much in Pacific Overtures to give us reason to strive to understand each other and find ways to exchange the best we all have to offer. Tearing down walls and barriers to the free exchange of ideas and goods is a positive thing, though it is difficult to accomplish. I think of the words of Frederic Bastiat “If goods aren’t allowed to cross borders, armies will.”
This is the final production of the Lyric’s 2018-2019 season, and they are finishing on a high note (pun intended). Pacific Overtures should top your list of plays to see. You are making a huge mistake if you miss this one. Spiro Veloudos works magic when he brings these large productions down in size for the intimate confines of the Lyric Stage Theater. After attending a number of these scaled down versions, I could argue this is a better way to see them. Well, it certainly is when produced by the Lyric Stage.