Remembered By His Friend
By Bobby Franklin
The Harvard and Commonwealth Avenue Section of the Allston neighborhood of Boston was a very interesting place back in the 1950s and early 60s. Comprised mostly of apartment buildings along with some two family homes, it had a very New York feel to it. With a combination of nice restaurants and dive bars it attracted all types. The variety of immigrants that had settled there differentiated it from other parts of the city which tended to be defined by one group or another.
Among the people who lived there over the years were Wrestler Maurice Tillet; also known as the French Angel, Killer Kowalski, and Wallis Warfield Simpson, the future Duchess of Windsor. Add the name of Michael Marley to that eclectic crowd.
From an early age Mike was a natural in front of a camera. He was quick on his feet, had a great sense of humor, and was never afraid to speak his mind. He grew up in Boston, but in many ways he was an old time New York City guy. He easily fit in with the crowd at Jimmy Glenn’s Corner Bar on West 44th Street while also being welcomed by a redneck crowd in Reno. Mike was comfortable in almost any setting.
Mike Marley passed away on March 2 at his home in Falmouth, MA. The cause of death was Parkinson’s Disease. He was 71.
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Mike’s longtime friend, Boston Globe journalist Frank Dell’Apa. The two attended the University of Nevada at Reno and it was Mike who encouraged Frank in becoming a newspaper writer. I already knew quite a bit about Mike, but in talking with Frank I really have gotten to know what a truly remarkable guy he was.
I’d like to share some what Frank Dell’Apa told me about Mike:
Friendship With Ali
“It was the Ali relationship that defined Mike’s life. He was 12-year-old when Herb Ralby gave him a ticket to B’Nai B’rith Sports Lodge dinner at Sheraton – Mike was there to get Stan Musial’s autograph, he was a baseball fan at the time. But 20-year-old Cassius Clay stole the show, according to Ralby’s story in the Globe. That was it, Mike became an Ali fan and he started the Cassius Clay Fan Club, which became the Muhammad Ali Fan Club – Mike got business cards that billed him as “The World’s Youngest Boxing Writer” (also Ted Whitfield Fan Club) and became a Ring Magazine correspondent.
“Two years later, Ali came to Boston for the Liston fight and Mike called him at his hotel: Mike fired off an Ali-like rhyme and Ali recognized him as “you’re that kid that’s following me …” and asked Mike if he was “a black boy or white boy,” and Mike replied: “I’m a white boy, should I hang up?” Ali said no and invited him up to his room.
“Then Ali had the hernia operation and the fight was postponed; Mike went to the press conference at Boston City Hospital and Ali put him on the dais as “this little boy from Boston, My No. 1 fan”/ that’s when Mike praised Ali for his boxing prowess, etc. … and also his “humility,” which brought a smile to Ali’s face and also was Ali’s cue to get Mike off the podium since he was starting to actually take the limelight somewhat … they stayed in touch.
“Mike went to Lewiston and almost every Ali fight after that … he got to the training camp in Chicopee, met everyone, including Diamond Jim Riley, Rudolph Valentino “Rahman” (Ali’s Brother). Angelo Dundee didn’t want to be responsible for Mike and prevented him from boarding the bus to Lewiston. (Mike ended up getting a ride with Diamond Jim Riley). Malcolm X had been assassinated Feb. 21, 1965; Ali-Liston 1 Feb. 25, 1965; Ali-Liston II May 25, 1965 – some thought Ali could be a target of assassins, etc.
“At that time, Mike met another Bostonian — Louis X, who became Farrakhan, they made a connection and met a couple times later – both went to Boston English. … Drew “Bundini” Brown, Wali Muhammad … Mike got on the bus with all of them post-fight (he was only white person on bus) and was part of the family from then on. Mike’s mother, Dorothy, raised him and he loved her (a photo of her greeted you at his Falmouth home) and his brother Joe (Chip), but father figures/male role models were the boxing guys.”
“Mike’s roots were in journalism and newspaper writing, old school Boston – totally influenced by the sports writers of the Globe, Herald, Traveler, Post, Record-American, etc. he grew up with. … it was a competitive business and they were clever writers, wise cracking, sense of humor – Bud Collins took a liking to Mike when Mike was abut 12 – Mike always talked about Col. Dave Egan, John Gillooly, etc
“Then came the sports talk shows, they were naturals. Mike was a Glick Nick, he was up late with Larry Glick. To the end, he went to sleep listening to late-night radio talk, now on an Alexa.
“Also, not many fight writers actually ever got into the ring, at least the modern generation – you guys that did get in there bring an unequaled understanding of the sport to your writing. Bobby Townsend in Brockton was another, he went on to modest pro career. Mike decisioned Townsend in the amateurs. Mike got his start in boxing at New Garden gym where he was trained by Al Clemente and Johnny Dunn. He fought at Arena Annex, the Fargo Building, and in Lowell. He received a boxing scholarship to University of Nevada-Reno, which is where I met him – first time I saw him he was in the ring and he won by TKO against an opponent from Chico State – he was basically all footwork, jab and move. (Crazy having a collegiate boxing team; those were the most passionate college sporting events I’ve seen to this day – forget Final 4s, Beanpots, football Bowl Games – when your classmates are in the ring, it’s not just school pride on the line, it’s something else, as well). [btw – just happened we both went to UNR, lucky for me]
“He told me it was after he fought Johnny Coiley that he realized he wasn’t going to be a pro. Later when at NY Post Mike sparred with Tommy Hearns in Atlantic City.
“We worked together in Reno, Mike got me hired on the school newspaper, then part-time at the Nevada State Journal. I went to Las Vegas before Mike, because Mike actually had been fired three times (and hired back twice) in Reno; minor things, and he would’ve gotten hired back had he stayed – but he decided to come back to Boston and was driving for Ambassador Taxi in Cambridge. Las Vegas Sun hired him and two years later he was hired by sports editor Jerry Lisker at the NY Post – he covered the Yankees for a couple years, then boxing. I’d say Mike was destined for NY – he loved coming back to Boston and North End was a must (Limoncello, Mare; coffee at Café Dello Sport, Paradiso) … but Boston couldn’t hold him, he needed to be in NY.
“It was a competitive scene covering boxing in NY; NYT/Daily News/Post/Newsday, also SI and AP/UPI – regulars, experts – Phil Berger, Michael Katz, Marley, Wallace Matthews, Pat Putnam, Ed Schuyler, Dave Raffo – ringside seats and up front at press conferences. Mike was ahead of everybody in “scoops,” and sheer New York-brashness even though Bostonian. He found Roberto Duran’s father working in a kitchen, I think; also found Tyson’s father; wrote about Tyson getting into a street fight, etc. Mike was close with Tyson, and of course Ali. He also knew Larry Holmes well. As much as Mike admired Ali, he thought Holmes would’ve defeated Ali.
“Mike is the only person I know who worked for both Cosell and Don King … he passed the NY bar and could go toe to toe with Harvard Law grad Bob Arum and did so in press conferences. Won 6 Emmys (producer for SportsBeat / Cosell). He was in the room when Arum got involved in boxing for first time, Chuvalo v. Ali in Toronto – as Mike said, Arum had never seen a fight or been in one.”
“Mike had a heart of gold – he was a criminal defense lawyer, picked up a law degree from Fordham in his “spare time” while working for NY Post. He basically raised a young kid from Harlem via Big Brother, also sponsored young kids in Ghana. The essence of Mike was he never went after anyone that couldn’t defend themselves; he challenged the guys with the money and the frauds. He was a muckraking journalist and he defended those who needed help, whether in print or courtroom – and the rest of the time he just enjoyed life to the max.”
Thank you to Frank Dell’Apa for sharing his memories of Mike Marley. Mike will be sorely missed. I smiled when I learned Mike’s slogan for his law practice was “Reasonable doubt for a reasonable price.” It is tempting to call Mike a character, but that term isn’t fair. He was a truly interesting person who lived life to the fullest and did his best to help others.
My deepest condolences to Mike’s brother and former grammar school classmate Joe Shadyac.
Rest In Peace Mike Marley.