The Tackle (1917)
Long, gorilla arms, reaching and reaching,
A heaving, gasping chest
Alert, shifting mud-stained legs
A quick pull, a thrust, a headlong dive at a
Group of rushing legs.
A crashing, rocking jar,
And the crowd yells:
“Yeagh! Throw him for another two yard loss!”
“A Matter of Colour” was written by Hemingway as a teenager. It was published by The Tabula, out of Illinois, in April, 1916. I enjoy all of the high school prose nuggets from Hemingway. It is a kinder, more charming and friendly person than his later years, with a gentle sense of teasing humor. Hemingway’s earliest published pieces were school announcements. Hemingway began to drift from these announcements of upcoming guest speakers and reviews of their visits to almost exclusively sports. Hemingway quickly gained popularity with school coaches who requested the rousing of students for their athletic meets. Hemingway found his literary voice, with a delightful mixture of fiction and non-fiction, for his favorite sport, football. From The Punt (1917): “Twenty-two mud-daubed figures battling together on a muddy field.” Hemingway’s publisher mentor must have been charmed and impressed because the pupil began taking more writing risks. Sometimes naming himself the same as the famous sportswriter’s son, Ring Lardner Jr. (who became a successful two-time Academy Award winning screenwriter: “Woman Of The Year” & “M*A*S*H”), Hemingway began to mix friends, faculty, members of the community and himself into his football stories. As a sports reader, it is safe to say that Ring Lardner Sr.’s “You Know Me, Al” & “Alibi Ike” were likely major influences on the teenaged Hemingway. Lardner’s famous fictional baseball humor pieces offer a homey, illiterate flavor – ala Mark Twain – for its narration. Lardner’s greatest influence might have been to assist Hemingway’s confidence that there was another literary style to sports. When Hemingway mixed himself into football stories it is successful as humor and should not be interpreted as overly serious. The later Hemingway makes me wonder if he fantasized that football players were real men and masculine – while he was only a cheerleader writer/poet. From The Safety Man (1917): “Standing, a little figure alone in the middle of awhite-lined field.” Most school teenaged newspapers are dull, uncreative and blandly serious. Most teachers would not have allowed the mixing of fiction into non-fiction sports events. Hemingway eventually turned traditional teenaged school reporting into a published personal clubhouse, full of “in jokes” which makes the reader a part of the process instead of a distant viewer.
The Punt (1917)
The sudden thump of a pigskin being kicked,
And the ball rises higher and higher in the air
While the grimy, muddy figures race down the field.
“A Matter of Colour” must be judged through the context of Hemingway as 16 years-old writer. As such, it is a reasonably enjoyable short story about a white, lightweight boxer named, Montana Dan Morgan. The lightweight has a great right punch, a weak left, apparently no jab with clumsy footwork. Morgan’s manager, Jim O’Rourke, agrees to match him against the soon to be great black, lightweight champion, Joe Gans. (The actual Joe Gans had recently died from tuberculosis.) Montana Dan Morgan injures his right hand shortly before the bout so O’Rourke decides to cheat. A “Swede” is hired to hide behind a curtain and hit the “black man’s head” with a baseball bat when he is backed against the stage ropes. In a not terribly satisfying O. Henry twist, Montana Dan Morgan is accidentally knocked out because the Swedish man yielding the baseball bat is colorblind.
The Safety Man (1917)
A grey figure whirls free of the tumbled line of scrimmage.
He tears straight down the field,
His flying feet thudding over the white lines.
The safety man poises, then shoots forward;
He brings the grey sweatered man to the ground with a crash.
Ernest Hemingway, Illinois, March, 1919 (aged 19): “As I got up to walk my knee cap felt warm and sticky, so I knew I’d been touched. Just before we (Italians) reached the trench their (Austrians) searchlight spotted us and they turned a machine gun on us. One got me in the thigh. It felt just like a snowball, so hard and coming with such force that it knocked me down. We started on, but just as we reached the trench and we were about to jump in, another bullet hit me, this time in the foot.” This was some tale from Hemingway to his former schoolmates of twenty months earlier. Hemingway claimed as souvenirs an Austrian automatic revolver, a gas mask and an Austrian’s punctured trousers. Hemingway capped off the 1919 school event with a rendition of an Italian song.
Ernest Hemingway’s imagination and enthusiasm appears to have got the best of him. Hemingway’s version of events is that he was drafted into the army, became an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross in Italy, before settling as a lieutenant in the Italian army. Hemingway insists that the Italians and he referred to himself, under the name “Stein”. Hemingway claimed an initial injury due to an explosion while at an observation post. Hemingway was “wounded two hundred and thirty-some times,” in driving wounded Italians to the hospital. The second set of wounds occurred as an alleged member of the Italian army when he was shot at least three times which knocked him unconscious. Hemingway talked about Italy’s most elite army unit (which would show up in his 1920’s fiction) called “Arditi”. The Italian military elite, according to Hemingway, were convicted murderers and arsonists who were released from jail and fought shirtless with hand grenades, automatic machine guns, knives and revolvers. Hemingway received no American military medals, but insisted he received three Italian war medals as a military officer in the Italian army. Hemingway claimed two Italian war crosses and the silver valor medal. At least one or more of these medals, according to Hemingway, was personally presented to the American teenager by Victor Emmanuel, the King of Italy.
The ‘gist’ of this 1919 kooky Hemingway American war tale – mixed with fact/fiction – mixed with excellent 1920’s short fiction – mixed with a Milan nurse – eventually became the classic 1929 novel, A Farewell To Arms. In the 1925 short fiction, the Milan nurse leaves the wounded, American ambulance driver, for a married Italian major that makes marriage promises he never keeps. The American responds with a one-night (day) encounter with an American girl in a taxi cab which results in gonorrhea. In the 1929 fiction novel, the Milan nurse remains with the wounded, American ambulance driver, but dies from childbirth.
Riparto d’Assalto (1922)
Drummed their boots on the camion floor,
Hob-nailed boots on the camion floor.
Lieutenant thought of a Maestre whore –
Warm and soft and sleepy whore,
Cozy, warm and lovely whore.
One reason I am always the ‘friend’ (or less) with American women is a shyness or discomfort over a woman’s boundaries: when is no “no” and when is no “yes”? Ernest Hemingway, with his earliest 1920’s Paris writing about the American mid-west is the teacher for me as boxing historian ‘pupil’. Okay, Hemingway assists, the man and woman share the outdoors for fishing or an activity, with food of some sort. The guy does not have to be romantic or interested in conversation. The guy can be rude or standoffish because the woman is not going anywhere. The guy should encourage the woman’s insecurity which will make her nervous, agitated as she seeks attention. Hemingway suggests the next step is a ‘walk’ which offers some sort of foreplay with arm around the woman mixed with an occasional kiss. The guy should stop walking and signal for both to sit closer. Hemingway suggests the guy must not ask or signal his intention, but relax one hand on her lap while the other hand slips (barely) under her dress and paws over her breasts. The woman will be frightened, but eventually will snuggle closer. The man should continue fondling before his hand rises underneath her dress. The woman will become more insistent, “Please stop,” but the guy should ignore that until her dress is lifted enough for intercourse. The woman will be frightened but aroused so it is consensual, and not rape. The woman will beg for everything to stop, but the guy quickly unzips and penetrates atop her until orgasm. The penetration will injure the woman, but she will not complain. Hemingway suggests she will push him away and fix her dress. The guy can nap until awakening refreshed. I do not inform my French friends the exact words, but the idea that Hemingway is offering 1921 or 22 advice to men that would make him a very bad boy. Stephanie V: “Hemingway was a man in every inch of his brain and body.” Sabrina H: “I bleed but not from my heart. Hemingway was a sexual man, manly.” The 1932 movie, A Farewell To Arms, has a similar scene as Hemingway’s first published short story. Gary Cooper walks Helen Hayes and makes ‘a move’. Helen Hayes slaps Cooper across the face and then kisses. When Cooper, an American ambulance driver returns to his residence, his Italian military doctor roommate, Adolphe Menjou, asks: “Did she? Was she nice?” (‘Nice’ was Hemingway’s 1920’s literary word for an unmarried woman having sex.) The Gary Cooper character shouts at Menjou that it was an inappropriate question and the nurse is not like that.
The 2011 movie, “Midnight In Paris”, depicts the early 1920’s Hemingway. The Woody Allen movie interprets a confident, macho Ernest Hemingway as slightly passive to Gertrude Stein. Stein was a writer, but was famous for her private art collection specializing in Picasso and Cezanne. Hemingway was impressed by Stein and hoped her affluence would assist his fictional writing ambition. In his later years, Hemingway denied a group of American artists regularly met or bonded in Paris, and never mentioned the many who claimed friendship following his death. Hemingway would speak of Stein, if not love/hate, with impassioned emotion. Stephanie V: “Gertrude Stein was mean and megalomaniac.” Sabrina H: “Hemingway hates Gertrude because he thinks she was a bad person always criticizing.” Gertrude Stein assisted with Hemingway’s career by offering literary and professional advice. Hemingway credited her late in life for teaching him: “the abstract relationship of words,” but insists she stole his literary narration, dialogue style. Hemingway’s first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems, was published in Paris, 1923, by Robert McAlmon. Fame for Hemingway, 1925, following his novel, The Sun Also Rises, negatively altered the Hemingway/Stein relationship.
I’m off’n wild wimmen
For I’m in loOOOOOOOve
Ernest Hemingway believed it was important for men to lie to women in female/male relationships. This 1920’s Paris assessment was based less on misogyny than personal observation. I am willing to become ‘pupil’ for his mesmerizing, hypnotic argument. Hemingway suggests that women fall in love with “an idea”, but not an actual person, so truth is something not desired. It is best for a guy to “lie through his teeth” with women and feel no guilt. Hemingway suggests that guys must understand what a woman desires or wants to hear, and then you lie in performing a fictional character to receive what you want. Since he was associating with ill-paid writers of artistic reputation the goal of those guys from women was money. The women were receiving what they purchased: affection and a “prized object” to display for others. Both sides are dishonest, so when the correct time arrives, the guy finally tells the truth and moves on guilt-free to the next woman. I asked Stephanie V to comment on Hemingway’s logic. Stephanie: “Hemingway was an angel and so are you, Chris.” Stephanie is saying that Parisian women are sophisticated and already know guys think like Hemingway.
—- Poem (1922)
The only man I ever loved
and went away
He was killed in Picardy
on a sunny day.
I have slept with many men
Wakened in the night
Stephanie V describes The Sun Also Rises (1925): “It is a story about Hemingway’s impotence, androgyny and sexless relationship with his first wife.” That description is more interesting than the book I read. Hemingway had married and moved to Paris, France. He was unsure if he was a journalist, poet or short story writer when he wrote the novel that would change his life. The Sun Also Rises for me is a tale about three contentious guys living in France (one a Jewish-American) who share a trip to view bullfighting in Spain. My only task is to analyze anything related to boxing. Robert Cohn, the 3rd person protagonist, was a former Ivy-league boxer from Princeton, who became middleweight champion. Cohn’s loser personality made no impression on anyone. This sort of scathing portrayal was consistent – not so much how Hemingway viewed himself – but ‘friends’, family and acquaintances.
The Robert Cohn fictional character was boxing trained by Spider Kelly. Cohn had good hand speed but quit the sport after a superior boxer disfigured his nose. The narrator, ‘Mike’ and Robert Cohn embark on a dull journey filled with vapid conversation. This observation is not a criticism of Hemingway’s dialogue, which is a strong, but stylistically intentional. The Cohn character is treated like a “schmuck” most of the trip until antagonized into a bare-fisted encounter. The narrator goads that the woman Cohn loves is fooling around with a Spanish bullfighter. Cohn calls the narrator “a pimp”. The narrator attempts a punch that Cohn avoids with head movement. Cohn knocks down the narrator with a punch to the jaw. It is not clear which hands – right or left – that either man utilized. Cohn then knocks down the other male character of their group, Mike, but without as much damage. Eventually, Cohn faced the bullfighter with another instigated, impromptu bare-fisted fight. Cohn knocks the bullfighter down fifteen times, but the Spaniard rises. Cohn refuses to continue so the bullfighter punches to the face with all his power. Cohn responds with a knockout. The ‘impotence’, if true of Hemingway’s personal life, would be the Cohn character. Cohn was once kind (as was Hemingway) who married the first woman willing. Cohn achieved a certain success and became more of a jerk (as did Hemingway). The worse and more selfish Cohn becomes the more women are “nice” (sexual) to him. Cohn had married a woman who emasculated him. Cohn loses his confidence and the ability to defend himself unless enraged. But whenever he fights it is fraught with crying episodes of guilt. A most charming conclusion for The Sun Also Rises, because I do believe it reflected Hemingway, was the narrator’s return to France from Spain. It had been an exhilarating trip – with fights and Spain and bulls – but now he was tired and glad to be home. Not America as ‘home’ but France. Home has the food, wine and French waiters that the narrator (and Hemingway) enjoys. The highlight or climax of The Sun Also Rises is the descriptive narrative of Spanish bullfighting. I think The Sun Also Rises is typical Hemingway interpretation post-death. Women interested in Hemingway search for allegory or symbolism. Men interested in Hemingway think it is ‘cool’ that he liked and wrote about bullfighting, but will never read the book.
“The Battler”, 1925, is a worthy Hemingway fiction short story that attempts to address the subject of boxing-related brain damage. It is a three character story: the white guy from the café in “The Killers”, Nick Adams, a black man, Bugs, and a white ex-prizefighter, Ad. Most of the Hemingway 1920’s stories written about black male Americans refer to them as “niggers”. It is difficult to gauge this as racism by the writer or fictional characters speaking their everyday vernacular. Bugs is a fleshed out character, and like most of Hemingway’s 1920’s black portrayals, is not accented with degrading dialect. Bugs is the friend and protector of Ad. Bugs met the ex-boxer in jail and they have been friends since. If there is a hero to “The Battler” it would be Bugs, but this is more slice-of-life than plot driven. Bugs and Ad are living outdoors when straggler, Nick Adams, approaches. Hemingway strength, in prose and life, is a descriptive love for food. Bugs cooks a simple eggs, ham and fat sandwich over a campfire skillet that makes the reader envy the first fictional bite. Ad is a smaller man who was once the champion. The fictional character in question is likely Ad Wolgast, a famous lightweight champion when Hemingway was 9-12 years old. Ad Wolgast suffered publicized mental illness and incarceration following his career. The mixing of fiction/non-fiction is something Hemingway always admitted as a writer. Ad speaks with a similar “The Killers” gruff, but it works better for this story of a boxer unable to control his mind and actions. Ad Wolgast could have a nasty disposition, during and after his boxing career, until his mental illness became pronounced. The fictional ‘Ad’ overreacts to Nick Adams’ conduct and challenges him to an impromptu bare-fisted fight. In the climax to the story, Bugs, with a cloth wrapped hand, knocks out Ad with one punch. Nick Adams is startled, but Bugs is relaxed and continues to eat. Bugs explains that confrontations between Ad and others is common so he knocks the boxer out with one punch, to prevent worse trouble, while the boxer remembers nothing when he regains consciousness.
“The Killers”, 1927, is viewed as one of Hemingway’s greatest fiction short stories, with a boxing theme, thus, it falls within my domain. It is a ridiculous brief tale about two hit-men in a café. They had hoped to find a Swedish heavyweight boxer named, Ole Anderson. Because of successful movie adaptations of the story it has become one of Hemingway’s most influential forays on pop culture. The gangster films of the 1930’s, film noir of the 1940’s or Martin Scorsese films of the 1970’s, 1980’s, 1990’s transfer Hemingway language as movie entertainment. There is Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, John Cassavetes, Ronald Reagan and many other actors ‘speaking Hemingway’. The 1946 movie, starring Burt Lancaster, bares little resemblance to the short story. “The Killers” dialogue is absurd. I have the dubious distinction of living around gang members in San Ysidro, California and Tijuana, Mexico. English was not the first language for these professional criminals. Most of the gang members in Tijuana were Asian (from Vietnam, Laos or China) or local Latinos. These gang members never spoke about their business or criminal activities. Asian, Buddhist, gang members were usually reserved, but civil with social graces. Latino, Catholic, gang members rarely spoke, and when they did, tended to minimize language with little outward emotion. “The Killers” hit-men remind me of Phoenix, Arizona wanna-be ‘gangsters’ from nice middle-class families or the lowest of the low petty street criminal trash that announce to everyone their goddamned business. Professional gang members do not call themselves ‘gangsters’ or share with strangers their jail or criminal background laced through gutter, non-grammatical sentences. “The Killers” gangsters are disappointed Ole Anderson is not inside the café to murder. The hit-men display a shotgun and tie together a white customer (Nick Adams), the white owner and a black cook. If there is hidden symbolism in “The Killers” it would involve the men in bondage as submissive. The ‘impotent’, or weakened men, are constantly referred to as homosexuals or women.
“The Killers” is not a boxing story other than the profession of Ole Anderson. The reason for the hit-men to kill the Swedish boxer is not revealed. Andrei Tarkovsky directed a wonderful, faithful adaptation of “The Killers” in 1956. Though a black man is a major character in the Hemingway short story it has not been true of the movie adaptations. Tarkovsky’s Russian-language movie is perfectly timed at twenty-one minutes so it was not necessary for him to add characters or alter the story. Hemingway and Tarkovsky retain suspense over the ultimate fate of Ole Anderson. The 1946 movie vehicle could be deemed a boxing movie that begins with Ole Anderson’s murder. The 1946 movie describes its tale in flashbacks. The 1964 adaptation has Ronald Reagan slapping around Angie Dickenson with an enraged John Cassavetes punching and threatening to kill our future American President. The 1964 adaptation is not a boxing movie and derives its theme, not from Hemingway, but other films: “Greed” or “Treasure of Sierra Madre”. The 1946 and 1964 movie adaptations contain female characters. There are no women in the Hemingway story or Tarkovsky adaptation. On a final note for “The Killers”, I once met a professional hit-man while working at a law firm in Century City, California. The eccentric, brilliant, combatant, amiable, but not overly moral entertainment attorney could not resist informing his secretary – so she was ‘pretending’ to be scared but actually excited – and told me. I waited until their private meeting was over so I could see what a professional ‘killer’ looks like in real life. The hit-man was an ordinary middle-aged white guy wearing a suit. I said, “Hello,” and he politely responded in normal language, “Hi. How are you?” And he continued walking.
“Fifty Grand”, 1927, is Ernest Hemingway’s most famous fiction boxing story. From a personal viewpoint, it is amusing to read the fiction/non-fiction mixture of people whom I am most familiar. The fictional lead character, Jack Warner, is patterned after the once famous Chicago 2-time welterweight champion, Jack Britton. I have not only researched and written about the non-fiction elements that sporadically cover the period, 1915-1922, but I interviewed Jack Britton’s daughter, Elizabeth. Phoenix New Times journalist, Paul Rubin, refers to this in a July, 2011, cover story: “(Shelton) has conducted several interviews in the past few years, some with the descendents of his subjects (a 2009 chat with the 90-year-old daughter of welterweight champion, Jack Britton is one delightful example).” Along with Hemingway’s inclusion of Kid Lewis, Soldier Bartlett, Dan Morgan (from “A Matter of Colour” and the non-fiction name of Britton’s famous manager) it feels as if I am re-visiting old friends. The fictional Hemingway story is focused on a bout between a slow, aging welterweight champion, Jack Warner, versus a 2-1 favored younger opponent, Walcott. Jack Warner is reduced to a final payday, and for the sake of his wife and kids, is going to bet $50,000 against his self for a $25,000 gambling payoff. Jack Warner does not believe he is ‘taking a dive’ because he has no confidence in his ability to win. It is a 147-pound limit bout which Jack Warner easily clears. Walcott is a shorter, blonde-hair European descent man, with wide shoulders and muscular arms. Walcott is slightly over the weight maximum. Walcott is an experienced offensive pugilist with poor defensive skills. The bout is in New York City at Madison Square Garden. Hemingway: “Jack is Irish and the Irish always get a pretty good hand. An Irishman don’t draw in New York like a Jew or an Italian but they always get a good hand.” That is not true. The Irish boxers of 1880-1927 had a rapid, vocal (and sometimes violent) fan base in New York. The non-fictional, Jack Britton, along with arch foe, Ted “Kid” Lewis, were the #1 East Coast draw for boxing during the years 1916-19.
ME: Was Jack Britton religious? I assume he was Catholic.
ELIZABETH: My father was very religious. Yes, you are right – and Irish Catholic. He faithfully went to mass all of his life. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade was a big deal for him – well, for everyone.
Either it is a coincidence, a terrific guess or Ernest Hemingway knew more about Britton than the numerous New York published stories reveal, but his fictional Jack Warner is the rare family man from one of his stories. The fictional Jack Warner is married with a daughter that likes classical music more than boxing.
ELIZABETH: I liked music and dancing. I was good at ballet. I played the piano.
ME: Were you any good?
ELIZABETH: Oh yes. I played piano all the time. I can’t play any longer because of old age and arthritis.
ME: Who was your favorite composer? Did you play Chopin?
ELIZABETH: Yes, I played Chopin. I played all the classics. I always played piano and danced to classical music.
The fictional challenger, Walcott, enters the ring first for the welterweight championship before gentlemanly assisting Jack Warner through the ropes. The crowd is pleased by this act of good sportsmanship, but Jack Warner is furious at what he perceives as Walcott baiting the crowd with future intentions of being a popular champion. As the pugilists step to the center ring for referee instructions, Jack Warner chides the pale, Danish appearing Walcott for naming himself after “a nigger”. (Joe Walcott was the European, black welterweight champion from 1901-04.) Hemingway: “Walcott came toward him and they touched gloves and as soon as Walcott dropped his hands Jack jumped his left to his face twice. There wasn’t anybody ever boxed better than Jack. Walcott was after him, going forward all the time with his chin on his chest.” All of this describes Jack Britton, a terrific boxer and one of the greatest defensive pugilists in history. Britton would always back-step, often with his hands down at his side, to preserve energy. The fictional, Jack Warner, keeps his hands down with the left rising occasionally to Walcott’s face. After four rounds, Jack Warner is ahead with Walcott bleeding from the face from left jabs. (Britton fights were the opposite with the offensive pugilist winning early rounds until a fresher Britton began to dominate later rounds, without a knockout, as his opponent tired.) After seven rounds, it has evened with Walcott landing several hooks to the ribs and body during in-close fighting. Jack Warner attempts to clinch and hold, but the feisty Walcott is breaking through his defense. Jack Britton threw less right punches than his fictional counterpart. Britton’s boxing diet was left, left and more left jabs, with an ambush right punch uppercut that he mostly hid throughout a bout. Hemingway: “(Jack Warner) don’t look good at all but he never does much work in the ring. He don’t move around much and that left hand is just automatic…. (Jack) doesn’t waste any juice.” Jack Britton was the King of preserving boxing energy, partially due to age (his fame and peak was later than most champions) and partially due to defensive patience. It would appear to spectators that Britton “never does much work in the ring”, but it was all preserved energy to tire offensive opponents. Jack Britton slowly backed, hands down, with minimal movement only as much as his opponent chased forward. Hemingway: “(Jack Warner) certainly did used to make the fellows he fought hate boxing. That was why he hated Kid Lewis so. He never got the Kid’s goat.”
ME: One of the greatest rivalries in sports history was your father’s frequent battles with England’s, Ted Lewis. Did your father ever say anything about Lewis? Were they friends outside the ring?
ELIZABETH: No, my father, well, he didn’t like him. They were not friends. That was real. My father would not say much about Ted Lewis, but just enough to know that they did not like each other. You know, it was the whole English-Irish thing.
ME: Do you remember anything that your father actually said about Ted Lewis?
ELIZABETH: My father would speak about Ted Lewis as if he was an enemy. My father would only say that he didn’t like Lewis – and then sort of chuckle to himself. My father was very proud to be Irish.
If boxing fans of 2012 fondly remember, Muhammad Ali, and the late, Joe Frazier, as the sport’s greatest rivalry, at 41 rounds, add 179 rounds to that total and you have Jack Britton/Ted Lewis. Part of their mutual hatred was an Irishman hating an Englishman, and vice versa. Part of it was Ted Lewis wearing a mouthpiece which Britton correctly insisted was an equipment violation. It led to an ugly stoppage and mayhem during their 1st round as opponents, Boston, Massachusetts, 1915, and it continued through their heavily publicized final encounter, New York’s Madison Square Garden, 1921. The final encounter had Britton following Lewis back to his corner shouting: “Violation of rule 5.” Britton insisted the mouthpiece unfairly softened any punch to the mouth. Britton punched Lewis’ corner man following the 2nd round when he attempted to intervene. The publicity from the punch placed ‘boxing mouthpieces’ on center stage in New York. Britton won the fight and was cleared of wrong doing for the extra curricular punch because the mouthpiece was illegal. The irony, because of the publicity and drama, is that 2-time welterweight champion Ted Lewis’ greatest contribution to boxing was the eventual acceptance (now mandated) of mouth guards.
ME: Anything else that you know about Ted Lewis or the rivalry will be appreciated. Is there any other thought or memory?
ELIZABETH: There is one thing that I know. The two would speak to each other frequently inside the ring.
ME: Do you know what they said to each other?
ELIZABETH: Well, it wasn’t nice. (laughs) My father would tease Lewis: “What are you weak today?” and then Lewis would say something bad in return. They just didn’t like each other and that never changed.
Hemingway’s fictional, Jack Warner, begins to tire against Walcott after the 7th round. Jack Warner has difficulty lifting his left arm for defense and jabs so Walcott begins dominating with a vicious beating to the body. After 11 rounds, Jack Warner’s legs have tired and he is unsure of surviving the distance. Jack Warner is relieved because he will win the $25,000. Now, he only wants to avoid the indignation of a being knocked out. Walcott knocks Jack Warner down in the 12th round. Warner rises at the count of ‘8’. As the round continues, Walcott backs Jack Warner against the ropes and lands an illegal punch to the crotch. The referee pulls Walcott away. Jack Warner is in physical pain, but also suffers mental panic. If the referee disqualifies Walcott, then Jack Warner wins and remains champion, but loses $50,000. (That would have been a great conclusion for the fictional story.) Jack Warner informs the referee the Walcott punch was not low or illegal, and if true, was accidental. The referee allows the bout to continue. Jack Warner begins flailing away offensively. Jack Warner lands a punch to the groin, borderline illegal, and follows with an intentional illegal punch to the crotch. Walcott falls to the ground in agony. Jack Warner loses the championship through disqualification but wins the gambling bet.
ME: The pugilist that gave your father the most problems inside the ring was Packey McFarland. Did your father ever mention McFarland?
ELIZABETH: He was friends with McFarland and was quite fond of him. They liked each other. They were both Irish – you know. They were both coaches for the Catholic Youth Boxing organization. There were always young boxers around them.
ME: Your father’s defensive style appears to have protected him from permanent pugilism damage despite hundreds of bouts. Am I correct that he sustained no lingering effects from inside the ring?
ELIZABETH: Well, he had a tin ear. That came from inside the boxing ring.
ME: You mean that he had difficulty hearing?
ELIZABETH: No, a tin ear that kids would like to look at. It stood out when you would first meet him. It was swollen like a tin can from the side of his head. Sometimes, people would want to touch it. That tin ear was as hard as a rock.
Ernest Hemingway’s mixing of fiction/non-fiction for “Fifty Grand” is similar to screenwriter, Sylvester Stallone, for his beloved fictional cinema heavyweight boxer, Rocky (1976). Stallone utilized an actual title fight, Muhammad Ali/Chuck Wepner, added Joe Frazier boxing traits (running up the museum stairs, punching meat at a slaughterhouse, the city of Philadelphia), adding other fictional elements and Chuck Wepner (Jack Britton) became Rocky Balboa (Jack Warner). Because the Jack Warner character has less integrity than Rocky Balboa and is portrayed by a famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, out of fairness to the Britton family it should be noted there is no proof (or even a rumor) that Jack Britton gambled against himself for a title bout. Only two Britton fights as welterweight champion are worth mentioning in relation to Hemingway’s story. On June 26, 1922, with twenty-six thousand fans in attendance, Britton was battered around the ring by the smaller, younger, superior lightweight champion, Benny Leonard. Jack Britton fights rarely produced a knockout, but the Jewish boxing legend thought he was close. In the 13th round, Leonard landed a left body shot. Britton slowly lowered his knee to the canvas. Britton shouted to referee Haley that he had been fouled. The referee offered no count so an anxious Leonard was unsure if he had scored a knockdown. Leonard stepped forward with a light slap to Britton’s side of head. The clever Irish welterweight collapsed flat onto the canvas. Referee Haley pulled Leonard away, and following a minute to ponder, disqualified the lightweight champion for hitting a man on the ground. It was such an unexpected conclusion that most spectators incorrectly believed the legal body shot was the disqualifier. The 13th round of “Fifty Grand” concludes with a disqualification.
There were no more mental or defensive tricks on November 1, 1922 for Jack Britton when he faced Mickey Walker, fifteen thousand fans, at Madison Square Garden. Mickey Walker was a Jersey guy who does not resemble Walcott physically or share ancestral similarity. The Hemingway fictional welterweight champion (a 2-1 underdog) entered the bout convinced he could not be victorious. The actual Jack Britton was favored to win. Britton had nearly knocked out Walker in the 1st round of their previous meeting, July, 1921. Britton teased and openly joked to the grim, quiet, outclassed fighter persistently stepping forward. Mickey Walker had been defeated again by fellow Elizabeth, New Jersey boxer, George Ward, June, 1922. But the younger fighter gained control early of the November, 1922, rematch with a left hook to the jaw that knocked the 36 year-old welterweight champion to the ground in the 2nd round. My 2009 published description is similar to the Hemingway fiction: “By the 10th round, Britton was a beaten man who had resigned himself to the fact he has lost his title and now only wished to avoid a knockout.” At the conclusion of the round Walker drove Britton against the ropes and landed a right to the jaw that knocked the champion down. Only the bell prevented a knockout. The Hemingway story has the fictional, Jack Warner, knocked down by a left punch in the 12th round. In the non-fiction world, Jack Britton, was knocked down by a left body punch in the 12th round. For the final three rounds Britton pulled out every defensive ploy in his arsenal to survive. Britton remained on his feet, but like his fictional counterpart lost the welterweight title. By the time “Fifty Grand” was published, 1927, Jack Britton had defied the New York Boxing Commission’s age ban and was still prizefighting. By 1930, he had finally retired but lost his boxing earnings through poor real estate investments. A year later, 1931, Britton was bankrupt and had to leave New York. Only Florida’s laws protected his home to prevent his family from financial ruin. Jack Britton’s enormous fame evaporated in his lifetime. With the death of his devoted wife, Rena, Jack Britton would sit for hours by himself with tears in his eyes and would no longer speak.
ELIZABETH: He was never the same again after Rena’s death. He was so lonely and lost. He would sit at the table by himself and not speak a word. We would try to get him to talk. But he just wouldn’t. We could see tears form in his eyes. He missed Rena terribly.
ME: That must have been difficult for all of you. I imagine Jack Britton was not the type to cry in front of others?
ELIZABETH: He tried to hide it. You are right. A man like him does not cry. But the tears would form – and you could see that he was trying to hide it – but could not.
ME: What was Jack Britton’s funeral like (1962)? Were there many people?
ELIZABETH: No, it was small. Only his loved ones were there. People were already beginning to forget the name ‘Jack Britton’.
ME: Sometimes as boxing writers and researchers we become so concentrated on the pugilists that we forget that they had lives and family outside the ring. I believe that Rena was a champion in her own way, too, and that she should be remembered alongside her husband.
ELIZABETH: That is sweet of you. Thank you so much. They were both wonderful people.
The only non-fiction Ernest Hemingway story from the 1920’s period is “A Strange Fight Club”. I have no reason to analyze or judge the piece. It was not published by Hemingway or with his approval. An industry of Hemingway post-death is to release anything and everything with his name attached for money. The preface of the first Hemingway work post-death, “A Moveable Feast” appears to be fraudulent. It contains two sloppy paragraphs – supposedly by Hemingway, Cuba, 1960 – that roughly states: “This is about Paris of the 1920’s, but unfortunately I did not write about boxing.” Who would write that as a preface for an unpublished book? A preface is something to write as finality when the book is ready for publication. Then, miraculously, another ‘restored’ edition of “A Moveable Feast” features a boxing story: “A Strange Fight Club.” These unpublished books are disappointing and disrespectful to Hemingway’s literary legacy. The lines do not appear to be the style of Hemingway in his lifetime. These ‘unpublished’ works are gossip oriented and celebrity driven. The writing is nothing like the challenging subject matter when the man was alive. Fortunately, I can combine the two books with regard to 1920’s boxing. A small passage states that his lifelong poet friend, Ezra Pound, asked Hemingway for a sparring lesson. “A Strange Fight Club” offers nothing relevant about boxing. It is an assessment of Canadian black heavyweight, Larry Gains. It is unfair to judge, or even believe, anything by the ghoulish industry of literary vultures that profit from death.
New York Herald Tribune, via Denver Post (11/24/1929): “One night at the Dome Callaghan’s name was mentioned and Hemingway said, ‘Oh, you can easily see he hasn’t any practical background for his fight stories — shouldn’t think he knew anything about boxing.’…. Callaghan, hearing of it, challenged Hemingway…. After arranging for rounds and a considerable audience, they entered the arena. Not many seconds afterward Callaghan knocked Hemingway out cold. The amateur time-keeper was so excited he forgot to count and the deflated critic had to stagger up and finish the round. When last seen Callaghan was demanding a bout with Jim Tully, saying that he wanted to take on all the rough boys of literature… Barring (heavyweight champion) Gene Tunney, of course… Mr. Tunney is not one of the rough boys.”
New York Herald Tribune (12/08/1929): “We can still feel remorse for having been taken in by one of those ben trovato but non vero tales which did sound too good to be true… Morley Callaghan writes us concerning the yarn we got from ‘The Denver Post’ about Ernest Hemingway having taken the count in a boxing match with Mr. Callaghan.” …. Morley Callaghan (12/08/1929): “You can imagine how much I regret not deserving such a reputation, but this ought to be said: Hemingway, as far as I know, never sat at the ‘Dome’ last summer. Certainly he never sat there panning my fight stories…. I have written only one fight story, anyway. I’ll have to do some more at once…. Nor did I ever challenge Hemingway. Eight or nine times we boxed last summer, trying to work up a thirst for an extra glass of beer. We never had an audience…. Nor did I ever knock out Hemingway. Once we had a timekeeper. If there was any kind of a remarkable performance that afternoon this timekeeper deserves the applause…. Being of a peaceful and shy disposition, I have only envy for strong men who go around knocking each other out. But, as it is, I wish you would correct ‘The Denver Post’ story, or I’ll never be able to go to New York again, for fear of getting knocked out myself.”
Ernest Hemingway to publisher, Maxwell Perkins, from Paris (12/10/1929): “(F. Scott Fitzgerald) also told me of a particularly filthy story Morley Calloghan (s.i.c.) had told him about me. Morley had gotten it from (Robert) McAlmon…. Morley, it seems, asked Scott on meeting him if he knew it was true that I was a homo-sexual. He had just gotten the news from McAlmon. (Callaghan) may therefore be counted on to have spread it fairly thoroughly. He seems also to be having a great deal of success with a story about how I sneered at his boxing ability, he challenged me and knocked me cold…. There should be a limit to what lies people are allowed to tell under jealousies. I did not know until last night that Calloghan (s.i.c.) was definitely in that class. It is all pretty disgusting. (Pauline, his second wife) says it is my own fault for having had any thing to do with such swine. She is right enough. There will be a certain satisfaction in beating up Calloghan (s.i.c.) because of his boasting and because he is a good enough boxer. There is none in beating up McAlmon — I would have done it years ago if he wasn’t so pitiful. But I will go through with it as I should have long ago because the only thing such people fear is physical correction. They have no moral to hurt…. Frankly I think (McAlmon) is crazy. Calloghan (s.i.c.) has no such excuse. He is a cheap, small town gossip anxious to believe and retail any filth no matter how improbable.”
Ernest Hemingway to Maxwell Perkins (12/15/1929): “When I write you, angry about McAlmon and Calloghan (s.i.c.) it was only personal anger. I can and will handle my personal business with them – only hope I won’t have to do any jail time for making it thorough – but I do not want you to think that I am against them as writers – altho it is dangerous when you have an enemy to do anything but kill him – and that’s too expensive a luxury.”
Maxwell Perkins to F. Scott Fitzgerald (12/17/1929): “The girl who started this (boxing) story is one Caroline Bancroft. She wanders around Europe every year and picks up what she can in the way of gossip, and prints it in the Denver paper (“The Denver Post”), and it spreads from there. Callaghan told me the whole story about boxing with Ernest, and the point he put the most emphasis on was your time-keeping. That impressed him a great deal. He did say that he knew he was more adept in boxing than Ernest, and that he had been practising for several years with fighters…. Ernest’s book (A Farewell To Arms) should have sold very close to 70,000 by Christmas, and then the question is whether we can carry it actively on into the next season; and that is chiefly a question because of the fact that we are evidently in for a period of depression. We have come out well for the year – probably the best year we have had – but it is largely because of four or five very good books. Most books have failed this year, and most publishers have had bad years because of the fall season.”
Maxwell Perkins to Ernest Hemingway (12/27/1929): “When Callaghan got back here, I was having lunch with him. Bunny Wilson had told me the story you speak of, it had seemed very improbable, and I said, ‘How about this story of you and Hemingway having a boxing bout?’ And then he told me in an altogether decent way about how you asked him what he wanted to do, and mentioned boxing among other things, and how he, who had done a lot of it since he knew you, had said he was for that. Then he gave an account of how you boxed, and the way Scott kept time. There was nothing about anyone getting knocked out or anything of the kind, but he only did so with pride, but not bragging that he had been able to hold you off through this heartbreaking round. He told me how he did not think he could last through the round, and could not imagine why it held out so long until he caught a glimpse of Scott out of the corner of his eye, apparently not taking any interest in his watch at all, or in the bout. This story was disseminated, as she admits, by Caroline Bancroft, of the Denver Post. She has admitted this and has corrected it so far as is possible.”
Ernest Hemingway wrote a couple of non-fiction 1930’s works in Madrid, Spain: Death In The Afternoon and The Fifth Column, about bullfighting and the Spanish Civil War. Death In The Afternoon is further proof that his love for bullfighting was more important than boxing: “Killing cleanly and in a way which gives you esthetic pleasure and pride has always been one of the greatest enjoyments of a part of the human race…. It is pride which makes the bull-fight and true enjoyment of killing which makes the great matador.” On The Fifth Column: “While I was writing the play at the Hotel Florida where we lived and worked was hit by thirty high-explosive shells. So if it is not a good play perhaps that is the matter with it. If it is a good play perhaps those thirty-some shells helped write it.” Hemingway wrote only one novel during the 1930’s, To Have or Have Not, which linked a couple short stories together. The novel’s location is the Cuban section of Key West, Florida that he resided. It is a fun movie adaptation with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, altered like A Farewell To Arms, but with Hemingway’s name prominently featured. The novel has some vile language to describe dark-skinned people and was dismissed by Hemingway in 1940 as “not very good”.
The following story via Daily Boston Globe via John Wheeler via George Brown talks about boxing at Key West. The story was published in 1951 by one of Ernest Hemingway’s better friends. Hemingway trained and sparred on and off for years at Brown’s gymnasium in New York. Brown was listed as a witness on Hemingway’s final will and testament. Brown (circa 1930’s): “When (Hemingway) lived in Key West, he had a man who used to bring over two or three husky colored stevedores every morning from the docks where they loaded ships. Ernest would take them on one at a time and usually flatten them all. Then he would pay each $2 for the exercise…. After a swim in the pool before lunch he would have a few highballs. Then he wants to box again in the afternoon…. Hemingway was all out of shape at the time, having trained on Scotch and champagne.”
Ernest Hemingway appeared in a national newspaper release at aged thirty-eight, on March 13th, 1938: “(Key West, Florida) Ernest Hemingway refs Negro boxing match…. Hemingway again proves that he has hair on chest…. Ernest Hemingway has to fight bout himself although he’s referee…. One of the fighters was floored in the last round and Hemingway started counting. The fighter’s second threw in a towel. Hemingway promptly counted kicked it out and continued to count. In came the towel again and again it was kicked out. Then the second himself leaped into the area with fists flying against Hemingway. The writer ducked and caught the second with a blow that left him groggy. Then he twisted the Negro’s ear and held him until a policeman appeared. ‘The kid lost his head,’ Hemingway grinned. ‘He asked me today to referee a fight in which he will be one of the participants next week and I agreed’.” The New York Times was delighted enough to reprint this story and mention it again days later in their highlights of the week. Sports Illustrated thought enough of this trivial story to expand an entire feature 47 years later. They identified the man who threw the punch as a lightweight named, Kermit ‘Geech’ Forbes, aka/ “Shine”. The 1985 story states the 120+ pounds corner man was so small that he leaped to throw a punch. The 1938 story implied head movement by Hemingway. Despite Hemingway being in the wrong by not stopping the fight, it appears not to be a harmful or relevant non-stoppage. Hemingway allegedly would pay ‘Shine’ and other black Spanish-speaking Cubans to spar with him as exercise. Hemingway (but not the smaller Cubans) wore headgear and sparring sessions included large gloves. The dark-skinned fighters were pleased Hemingway paid them money to visit or spar during the depression. Shine stated that Hemingway drank beer while he sparred and was a nice guy.
There are photos of Hemingway boxing during this period. It was badly needed exercise but not overly serious as sparring sessions. There is a dramatically changed appearance of the famous writer. He was no longer “Ernest Hemingway”, a dapper-dressed man of certain sophistication. He was now “Papa”, an obese, slovenly man who loved his food and drink too much. He no longer shaved or bathed with regularity. There must have been sadness for this man to lose his youth. For curiosity, I sent photos of the 20’s and 30’s Hemingway to Stephanie V and Sabrina H without informing them why I chose the set. They responded enthusiastically to the dapper 1920’s Ernest Hemingway, but had no comment for ‘Papa’. “The most handsome writer ever,” Stephanie V wrote for his early 1920’s passport photo. “The love of my life,” Sabrina H wrote for a shirtless 1920’s photo. ‘Papa’ was a horrible physical transformation. The man must have been acutely aware and embarrassed. On a surface level Hemingway embraced “Papa”, but it likely added a layer of depression. For the next eighteen months he worked on his classic, For Whom The Bells Toll, and re-emerged as a literary star of the highest caliber. The New York Times described Hemingway, July, 1940, as “elephant big”.
There was a published story via Chicago Tribune via Arthur Siegal via Pistol Pete Reiser. The Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team trained in Havana, Cuba. The Dodgers had a 4-time all star with a 102-99 pitching record from South Carolina named Van Mungo. There are certain celebrities that when people gather they gossip truth and fiction. “Mungo” stories abounded at one time much like Hemingway. The most infamous relating to Van Mungo was his being caught in bed with a married Cuban woman during Spring training, with the husband brandishing a butcher knife and the Dodgers sneaking Mungo back to the United States in a cargo box. The following story was published nationwide upon Hemingway’s death with affection. Hemingway, circa 1941, had invited several Dodgers to his Cuban home for alcohol and guy talk. Siegal: “Hemingway was proud of being a powerful, athletic type, and the conversation swung to boxing. He turned up a set of boxing gloves and then challenged the largest man in the group, pitcher, Mungo. This burly operative demurred because he had height, weight and age on Hemingway.” The weight advantage was one in his athletic prime and the other obese. Hemingway would have been 6’0 and approximately 41 years-old. Mungo would have been 6’2 and approximately 29 years-old. Siegal: “Hemingway persisted, so on went the gloves and the sparring began. Mungo decked Hemingway with a right. Hemingway arose, sputtering that he slipped and he had been careless. So Mungo put him on the deck again. This time Hemingway didn’t mention accidents.”
The Mungo/Hemingway bout might or might not be true and should be accepted with a grain-of-salt. While the story could reflect poorly on Hemingway as a boxer (being knocked down twice against a novice) it was not intended as hurtful. Ernest Hemingway never claimed for the public record to be a boxer. The 1941 story concludes with Hemingway removing his gloves while walking over to a wall with two sabers and (joking) challenging Mungo to a duel. This allowed the visitor an opportunity to defuse possible tension and the famous writer host to regain pride. Siegal: “Mungo backed down. He conceded defeat, and Hemingway beamed. He had won something.”