A FLAT TOM COLLINS
through the recesses of my memory I wandered as I watched the slaughter on
First Avenue, Boston. I was trying to recall anything to match this mismatch
for frequency and force of floorings, every knockdown so clean-cut and
times in one round, ten times in five minutes the lethal lefts and rights of
lightweight champion Jimmy Carter drove doughty Tommy Collins to the canvas.
No stumbling, half-hearted, half-slipping, down-on-one-knee upsets were
these. No sirree. Every knockdown found the dashing darling of Beantown
stretched full length, flat on his back, momentarily out as cold as a
an exhibition of grit and gameness that handsome little Irishman gave!
Pathetic as was the sight, one couldn't help admiring such amazing courage
as the outclassed idol of Boston fans struggled to his feet each time,
groggy and bewildered, but still disdaining to back-pedal or clinch or cover
up, fighting back as hard as he could, swapping punches with a much harder
puncher if it killed him—and it almost did. A forlorn, and yet heroic
figure he made as round three ended. He reeled and groped blindly, trying to
find his way to his corner—and he couldn't. I never saw handlers so slow
getting into the ring and to his rescue, or more callous in sending him out
for the fourth round.
took bravery far beyond the call even of pugilistic duty for Collins to
answer that bell of doom. What a pity his chin isn't as stout as his heart.
all my years of experience in covering bouts I could think of nothing quite
up to this—or down. Oh, I've seen many in which the gore flowed more
freely, sometimes spattered onto us in the working press row; I've seen
them in which men actually took more
punishment, even died from the brutal beating they absorbed. Ernie Schaaf,
for instance, and Les Darcy, fine men both, and first-rate fighters.
I've seen them battered into bloody hulks, enduring tortures beyond
belief, without the intermittent surcease from assault represented in those
cease-fire seconds of recumbency as they stubbornly refused to go down.
Actually Collins' glass jaw was a blessing, providing him as it did with an
accumulative two minutes of escape from Carter's flailing fists. From the
first knockdown to the last, Tommy spent half his time on the canvas, more
if you count the rest between rounds.
I can't agree with television fans— most of whom never actually watched a
scrap at ringside— that Collins' beating was worse than many another
gladiator has assimilated. What made this one unprecedented in my book was
the vivid decisiveness of the knockdowns.
all-time height of unadulterated, fearsome ferocity, I think, was reached in
the Dempsey-Firpo brawl up in Jersey City. Perhaps Jack was fiercer in
chopping down Jess Willard, Joe Louis more vicious in his return go with
Schmeling, but those were so one-sided they could have taken place in
in Boyle's Thirty Acres, Firpo, a powerful oak of a man, was felled six or
seven times by Dempsey's deadly attack before he himself caught the champ
with a club-like right that knocked Jack clear out of the ring. Nothing
fist-iana ever can produce will match the supreme thrill of that moment.
even those knockdowns, and the final one that put the Wild Bull from the
Argentine pampas away for good, couldn't match those Carter scored over
Collins for full-draped form. These were truly picture-type floorings, in
the classic sense. Each time Carter connected, Collins hit the deck as
though pole-axed, as flat as the head of the matchmaker who brought them
together. Tommy actually took off and sailed head first through the air,
landing sprawled with a crash, only the back of his skull breaking the fall.
I couldn't think of anyone who had experienced such treatment before.
Wait a minute— I have one: me.
skinny, brittle kid I was in my youth, given to breaking bones every time I
played football or anything else involving bodily contact. My right arm
alone was in a cast three different times, not to mention collarbone,
shoulder blade, foot, ankle— even fingers and toes. But I was fairly fast
afoot, and that's how it all started.
Brooks and I were chums back in those long-ago days in Westmont. A husky,
plodding boy, big and strong, he shielded me from the bullies; I in turn
helped him weather the rigors of scholastic onslaught; one of those
combinations in which each gave of his own natural talents to fill a
deficiency in the other's armor. He was the physical type, I the mental: you
know, class valedictorian and that sort of thing.
entered Collingswood High together as freshmen away back in 1920 and joined
the Hi-Y. The program included boxing, and I was pretty good in a Fancy Dan
sort of way, using my speed to step around, jabbing and tapping gingerly
while keeping out of harm's way. The emphasis was on skill, and no one
actually tried to hurt anyone else. Our leaders saw to that. And that's what
don't remember what the quarrel that developed between Joe and me was about,
but I guess I was pretty cocky because I used to dance rings around him in
those touch-tangoes and actually began to believe I could lick him. Joe, my
protector, who could hold his own with the big, tough Rufe Wards and Lefty
we had words this particular morning in the classroom, and agreed to fight
it out on the school grounds during lunch hour. No ring, no gloves, no
unwritten agreement about easy blows. The only similarity to our Hi-Y hopscotches
was the presence of a referee: big Eggs Warren, the strapping fullback, star
of the football team.
stood between us, suddenly stepped back, and while I was flexing my knees
for a balanced position, left foot forward in the classic posture, Joe,
disdaining the niceties of Hi-Y protocol, let one go. I hadn't even thought
about starting yet, hadn't yet cradled my chin with my shoulder, brought my
right up to protect it, extended my left, when Joe's first punch caught me
flush on the button. I never even saw it coming.
when I first learned that knockdowns in the true sense actually are
momentary knockouts. I felt no sensation of falling, had no opportunity to
put my hand down in an effort to break the fall. First thing I knew after
Joe's fist exploded on my chin I was skidding along the cinder path on my
I got to my feet, never even thinking about a count, to be met with another
right my pal brought up from his shoetops. A dozen times it happened. Each
time I was unconscious from the moment of fist-meets-jaw impact until I
landed, the force of the fall seeming to return me to consciousness. If
you've never been flattened, that's how it feels. You can take my word for
it—and I advise you to do it!
it all, it never occurred to me to protect myself. I got to my feet as soon
as I hit, made no effort to duck or slip a blow, bob, or weave or sidestep,
let alone clinch or hold. Nor did I throw a single punch. I was more overmatched
than Collins. Gone was everything I had learned about boxing. This was the
raw, savage law of the jungle, and I was lost in its unfamiliar maze.
stopped it finally, not so much, I think, to save me from further punishment
but because lunch hour was running out and he had to eat. He was a big
eater, Edgar Warren was. Even then, as a high school junior, he weighed well
over two hundred.
took me to the washroom, I remember, picked the cinders out of my face and
elbows, scrubbed the grime off me, brushed the dirt from my clothes, then
couldn't eat a thing. Gingerly I fingered my aching face and pondered the
difference between boxing and brawling.
I watched Carter clip Collins neatly on the chin and drive him to the canvas
flat on his back time after time, I rubbed my jowls reflectively. I knew how
always owned a set of boxing gloves and I've always enjoyed donning the
mitts with someone, but I never forgot the painful lesson Joe Brooks taught
me—the hard way. A polite, friendly display of skill and speed is one
thing; a slug-fest quite another.
I first joined the Courier sports staff thirty years ago, I went to
the Y daily to keep in shape (boy, could I use some of that shape now!) and
loved to beat a tattoo on the light bag, pummel the heavy sandbag. I was
quite adept at it, too, and should have been, since my original instructor
was Benny Leonard, probably the classiest mittman, pound for pound, who ever
of the scrappers of the day used to work out there, and occasionally they'd
induce me to spar with them, but I always made it plain I was doing it to
sharpen their speed and not their punching prowess. Once in a while one of
those pros would become annoyed at my jab-and-run tactics, my tantalizing
flicking left, and I could see his eyes hardening, his mouth tightening, as
he began maneuvering me into a position where he could nail me. Whereupon I
would unceremoniously call time, climb out of the ring and shed the
gloves. A little later, when I began covering boxing, I stopped fooling
around with those boys altogether. I'll tell you why.
official decisions were given in New Jersey bouts in those days. There were
no judges, and a referee's duties were confined to refereeing. All bets were
paid off on newspaper verdicts, which meant on my decisions. I used to get
more threatening messages than Casanova, and once I tangled with a copy boy
from the rival Morning Post (I always suspected Dan
McConnell, then Post sports editor, put him up to it) who tried
his hand at the game. Not only did I give the duke to his opponent that
night; I derided his efforts in print the next day. He resented it.
Lew McFarland I was worse than Ali Baba and all forty of his thieves, to use
his eloquently descriptive allusion, when one of my findings went against
him. Roxie Allen, Mickey
Blair, Jackie Hindle,
Nick Nichols, Watson
Finch, Battling Mack—all the boys were my
friends—so long as I scored them their way. Otherwise it was the brightly
lighted streets and keep out of the dark alleys for me.
pug back in my Y days even suggested I should consider a fistic career,
insisting I had a sharp, kayo punch and speed both in hands and feet! I and
my porcelain promontory. Thanks be to the Lord I had enough sense to reject
that invitation to hari-kiri, anyway, or my brain would be even more
scrambled than it is.
recently I've confined my fisticuffing to not-always-gentle sessions with my
youngsters, although I wouldn't dare tangle with Bruce now that he's six-one
and a military cadet. When he was about five (years, not feet) and I was
spending all my extra time and money accumulating miles of home movies in
color that now is drying up from disuse, we filmed a bout between Bruce and
me. I remember projecting it one night when we had guests, among them Lucy
and Pete Burling. Pete wasn't on the Supreme Court bench yet in those days,
but he had a sense of the fitness of things, and he bristled at the unequal
struggle— until Bruce caught me with a left hook and right cross that
draped me outstretched for the full count. That delighted him no end.
know something? I've never shown that film to Ross — and I don't think I
will, because we still put on the gloves occasionally.
writing finis to this excursion into a bygone era- gone by some
thirty years and forty pounds— I must relate this one incident.
afternoons always were dull around the Courier back in the 20s. Dave Stern
hadn't yet bought the Post-Telegram and made it into a morning paper,
which brought around-the-clock shifts and ended our watchful, usually idle
lobster trick. I suppose they're back to it since the Stretches
abandoned the Post because they couldn't make a success of it.
also were the days, incidentally, before the forty-hour week, the Wage and
Hour Law, the Wagner Labor Relations Act, and the Newspaper Guild. Come to
think of it, none of these marks of progress is taken very seriously by the
present management either. There isn't even a Guild chapter in the place,
and it runs as wide open as bookie joints in Camden. Strange, the propensity
of cycles for making complete revolutions if you wait long enough.
some of us had to stick around those Saturday afternoons in case anything
happened, and we used to amuse ourselves at chess or checkers, or some other
harmless pastime like black-jack and spit-in-the-ocean. For us sissies
there was tic-tac-toe, and I quickly mastered the simple game, becoming the
champ of Third and Federal. To this day I'll play anybody for any stakes he
names. That is, I'll bet him he won't win, not so much as a single game.
I digress. This particular Saturday afternoon who came up for a visit but Sergeant
Ray Smith. The sarge wasn't too long out of the service, where he had
been AEF light-heavyweight champion, and had been doing well professionally,
one of his recent opponents being Gene Tunney.
sadist suggested Ray and I put on an exhibition, and in the brashness of my
seventeen years I consented. After all, what could happen? The whole second
floor was our ring, and quick as I was in those long-gone days I felt
really was a lot of fun. Ray was fast and shifty for a big man, and kind,
too. He contented himself with stepping around, flicking out his long left
and using that punishing right only to counter to my body when I led, and I
fancied that we were putting on quite a flashy display of boxing skill and
that I was acquitting myself very well indeed.
that moment the big boss entered the room, saw us sparring, stepped between
us and, taking me by my scrawny arm, said: "You're a damned good man,
Abe, and I don't want to lose you."
my chagrin at being treated like a little boy was
mitigated somewhat by Mr.
Stern's inferred praise of my work. I didn't realize he even knew my name!
he gave orders that such horseplay cease and desist, and if I had sense I'd
have been grateful to him. As I outgrew my teens and picked up a little
wisdom, I learned that it's a mistake to cross gloves with a professional,
even in fun. Their intentions may be good, but if they're stung they react
instinctively, or if an opening presents itself they seize it automatically,
without even thinking. A thing like that can prove fatal!
a tough game, pugilism, tough, rough, and rugged. And as I watch those young
hopefuls on TV, getting their physiognomy and cerebrum alike scrambled, I
can't help but feel that Amycus and Epeius did mankind a grave disservice
when they invented fisticuffs.
much I know: no youngster, however quick and elusive, skilled and brave,
even if he possesses the wraithlike speed and will-o'-the-wisp cleverness of
Chuck Davey, should fool around with prize-fighting unless (a) he has a
crushing punch that, landed squarely, can stiffen the hardiest opponent;
and (b) he himself is the possessor of a chin of granite and a body of
don't get the point in that broadcast $100,000 "reward" for any
enemy flier who deserts and brings an MIG with him. Sounds coldly mercenary
to me, and I'm sure to the people of the world whose esteem we're wooing.
Have police stool pigeon tactics invaded the military? . . . Newark's old
Broad Street Theatre at Broad and Fulton has been razed for a parking lot,
and produced a whole gallery of photos for the Newark library. One was
autographed by Vivienne Segal in 1917 when she appeared in "Blue
Paradise" there. The same Vivienne Segal who is currently delighting
Broadway in the revival of "Pal Joey"—nearly forty years
later! . . . June's roommate at Pembroke, Marian Mixon of Scotch Plains, has
been elected by the class of '56 as its president for next year. A clever,
personable gal .... Guess I was wrong about April; it's May when Moorestown
must be at its colorful best, with the plethora of dogwood trees, white
and pink; red and purple azalea, violet lilac and wisteria and Judas trees,
fiery red maple, tulips and heart's-ease of all hues. Adding to the riotous
display are the brilliant cardinals and bluejays, thrush and robins. Never
saw them so plentiful, around our place, anyway, vying with the scampering
squirrels and bounding bunnies. What a show they put on, chasing one
another up and down trees and around bushes, filled with the joy of living
in Springtime .... Ox DaGrosa's passing leaves a void. The Egg Harbor husky
made sports history at Atlantic City High, Wenonah Military Academy and
Colgate and later as coach, manager, Pennsylvania athletic commissioner,
etc. I used to see him often on the speak-for-your-supper circuit. He told a
good story .... I'm getting into the bark and bite fraternity myself; spoke
at two meetings in one day: Paterson YMCA and Summit Rotary Club. A Kiwanian
who sneaked into that den of Rotarian din tried to book me for his club, but
it conflicted with my promise to John Stevens to speak my piece before the
Essex County Insurance Association. Amazing how hungry business men are to
learn something about public relations .... Wasn't Maurice Evans superb in Hamlet?
Finest thing yet done on TV, I thought .... Speaking of the Bard, June was
home over the May day weekend, mainly to attend a military ball at St. Joe's
College with Gus Weiland, and among the trinkets she brought from Providence
was a box of "Shakespeare Howls" for me. They're cocktail napkins
illustrating immortal lines from his plays and sonnets. Like the gals of
varying width perched on bar stools: "There's a divinity that shapes
our end." Hamlet, Act V, Scene II . . . . Margaret Phelan sounds
so sweet on that show from Houston's Shamrock that it's hard for me to place
her as the same gal who bills herself as the Naughty Sophisticate.
Caught her act last time I stayed at the Washington Statler. Radio cramps
her style, but even her risque nightclub songs are genteel. . . . Sinatra
doesn't do too well with Billy May's provocative "My Lean Baby"
but he deserves a vote of thanks for bringing its teasing tune to
popularity. "She's frantically, romantically mine": whew! . . . I'm
delighted that they've revived "All By Myself," but whose idea was
it to "improve" on Berlin's lyrics by changing "I sit alone
in a cozy Morris chair" to "I sit alone with a table and a
chair"? . . . Dolores Gray's great in "Say You're
Mine Again"----------------- Ditto the
Modernaires in "Tell Me You're Mine"------------- And Kay Armand's
echo version of "It's A Sin to
Cry Over You" .... Kay Starr does a tremendous job with "What Can
I Say, Dear, After I Say I'm Sorry?" and sings up a mean billow with
"the wind that fills the sail that moves the ship that's bringing her
honey back to her," but she's at least as lousy as Frankie Laine with
her atrocious maltreatment of "Tonight You Belong To Me" -and
brethren and sistern, that's lousay. Must be something about that
beautiful number that brings out the worst in vocalists. Peggy Lee is even
more irritating than usual with it, too .... Tops for putridity, though, is
Johnnie Ray's "Somebody Stole My Gal." No wonder somebody took