The Man in the Arena
The leading roles in the endlessly unfolding drama of history must always be reserved for an active few, with the rest of us standing by willy-nilly as critics and observers. As such, we could do worse than recall the words of one who played one of history's most vital roles a half century ago.
"It is not the critic who counts," wrote Theodore Roosevelt, "not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."
For an account of a man who fulfilled these qualifications in the year just past we invite you to read the story on Rafer Johnson, which begins on page 19.
January 5, 1959
Cup Weather: Hot and Humid
The Oppressive heat of Australian midsummer kept eyeglasses constantly fogged as Captain Perry Jones's U.S. tennis team met the Italians in the Interzone Finals of Davis Cup competition at Perth last week. It was so hot and humid that even the omnipresent Perth flies were too lazy to stir, although the players all liberally doused themselves with lavender oil in anticipation of the flies. But neither lavender scent nor the constant wiping of eyeglasses could do much to dissipate the miasmic pall that seemed to hang over the immediate prospects of U.S. tennis.
It meant little that the American team blasted through the Italians with ease to become the challengers for the cup itself, to face the Australians in the challenge round for the 15th year in a row. Even before the interzone matches began, Perry Jones's bearded Italian counterpart, Giorgio Dal Fiume, gloomed that his boys had "little or no chance," and the prophecy was borne out in five straight Italian defeats. Captain Perry Jones made dutifully optimistic noises about victory against the Aussies, but his top adviser and right-hand man, Jack Kramer, was plainly of another mind. Kramer had already made arrangements to sign top Aussies Anderson and Cooper for his professional troupe and gave little public indication of a belief that the Americans could beat them. "I'd love to see the cup back in the states," Kramer said, "but you have to look at things sensibly." Meanwhile, undoubtedly leaning heavily on Jack's advice, Jones himself took a sensible look at the record and decided that his No. 1 player, Ham Richardson, was not up to taking on the Aussies at singles. Sulky and disheartened at being relegated to the status of a mere doubles player after journeying to Australia for the matches, Ham announced himself "disgusted with the entire mess."
It was not a happy start for the greatest event of the tennis world, but the augury was perceptibly improved at Brisbane when Alex Olmedo took the first challenge match from Anderson in four sets.
Paraffin at Five Paces
It was Sunday. Crape-black clouds draped over the city of Denver. The streets were quiet but for the sluice of cold rain in the gutters. Abruptly, the sharp report of a Colt six-shooter cracked the dusk. The echo faded, and you might have heard a firing pin drop. "Thirty-two one-hundredths of a second," breathed an awed man in a string tie. His further words were lost in a cheer. An Air Force pilot had just won a fast-draw match between the Colorado Frontier Gunslingers of Golden and the Colorado Gunslingers Assn. of Colorado Springs.
The newest in a long line of exacting Western diversions, fast-draw gunslinging bids fair soon to replace steer wrestling, coyote hunting and drinking coffee from a can. Not since the days when Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson and Clay Allison did it for fun and profit has the air been so clogged with gunsmoke, and already some 100 clubs dedicated to the art have sprung up across the plains. Members come from everywhere. Jim Dillon (no kin to Matt), president of the Golden club, is a butcher. Robert Six, organizer of The Six Shooters, is president of Continental Air Lines and the husband of Ethel (Annie Get Your Gun) Merman. And there is no trouble with class distinctions. Everyone wears an equalizer. Almost everyone also wears brocade vests, striped pants, outsized hats and high-heel boots.
Apart from the outside chance of plugging yourself in the calf—a relatively bloodless accident that has been suffered by Butcher Dillon and others—gunslinging as a sport is fairly safe. Cartridges are hand loaded with about one grain of powder, and bullets are of molded paraffin instead of lead. At the intraclub and interclub showdowns that mark any weekend these days, members fire against electric timers. Usually, the gunman holds his finger on a button switch no closer than four inches from his holster. When he releases the button to reach for his iron, the clock starts. It stops either at the sound of the shot or when the paraffin smacks a cutout target some five paces distant. Other timers oblige the contestant to draw and fire when a light is flashed by the timekeeper. Guns themselves vary from .22 to .45 caliber, with barrels at least four and three-quarters inches long, and they cost up to $125. Original Colts, circa 1871, are prized but rare, and most gunslingers use modern single-action six-guns of the same design.
Protected as they are from any real need to back up their talk outside the Silver Dollar saloon, fast-draw sportsmen are developing a fine trace of snobbery. Says Dillon: "I'm pretty sure I could do just as well as Jesse James or Billy the Kid. And the old-timers were sloppy in their looks, too. They just didn't seem to give a hang. Of course," he adds gracefully, "I never heard of any of them shooting themselves in the calf."
The Terrible Fork
In Italy eating is a sport, and they give gold forks and similar trophies to their champions. This year a new competitive event was held in the city of Bologna with an item named tortellini (little tarts). Tortellini are small round bits of dough, or pasta, enclosing an even smaller but more savory charge of meat.
Why tortellini? According to Bruno Bassini, manager of Bologna's Bolognini Restaurant and secretary of the Italian Gastronomic Society, "because the French have astutely pinched just about all the other recipes of Italian origin" and because the tortellino is still largely undiscovered and yet deserving of "the attention of the world."
So Bassini invited 20 of Italy's finest eaters to an upstairs room in his restaurant for a tortellini derby. In an effort to prove that such pastas nourish but do not necessarily fatten the human body, Bassini limited contestants to either the thin (under 165 pounds) category or the fat (over 220 pounds) category. Most participants commenced training five days before the derby, eating nothing but a few vegetables until derby day minus one, when they had a little pasta "so as not to weaken the stomach unduly," and, on D-day, a light lunch with broth "to form the ideal base."
Among the most formidable fats were a pair of 225-pounders: Franco Bergenzeni, 24, a Bologna porter who won the Gold Fork award in 1956 for eating 2.64 pounds of noodles in 2:58.8, and Enrico Busi, 43, a Bologna bill collector who was famed for having eaten, at a single sitting, three bowls of beans, 2.2 pounds of spaghetti, three stewed thistles, a certain amount of cheese and a few tangerines. The pre-derby favorite among the thins was Sergio Rosa, 33, Venice's "devouring flame," who claimed to have eaten 27 pounds of eels in 15 minutes.
The contestants were required to tackle three plates of tortellini, each weighing 1.1 pounds, during a preliminary round which would last no more than 45 minutes. The field broke fast. A Bologna carpenter (150 pounds) got through his three plates in 10:05.0. Then came another thin in 14:06.0, then the first of the fats in 19:05.0. Then Busi, eating methodically, in 23 minutes flat. The celebrated Venetian eel eater rose after his second plate and retired, vanquished. But the most notable nonfinisher was Giuseppe Fava, 51, a Bologna businessman, who simply got bored eating nothing but tortellini. After finishing his three plates he went downstairs and devoured a grilled chicken, two quail and an order of bananas flambé.
Seven fats and two thins remained for the second, and final, round, in which they were to eat until the timer announced that their total eating time for both rounds amounted to 90 minutes.
The rigors of the first round told quickly, and soon there were only two left, Busi and Romano Masetti, 20, of Bologna, who weighed 163 pounds. Masetti, a brilliant but erratic eater, was suddenly stricken over his fifth plate, left the table briefly, then staggered back and, with a gallant gesture which brought cheers from the spectators, speared another tortellino.
It was to no avail. During Masetti's absence, Busi, eating with marvelous precision, a gold tooth flashing—as one emotional follower said, "like the regular blink-blink of a lighthouse seen through a foggy night"—had gained a full plate over his rival. As the deadline approached, Busi, confident of his lead, paused briefly to refresh himself with a swig of consommé, then turned to attack his seventh plate with the same implacable hand he had brought to his first. Masetti, pale, trembling, but game to the last, tried to turn the same trick. He sipped a little broth as his followers wiped his streaming brow, faced his plate, collapsed and withdrew.
The beat of Busi's terrible fork, rising and falling, rising and falling, never altered. As the gong sounded, Busi, who had been on mineral water throughout, poured and drank his first glass of wine and, rising, let out his belt to its final notch. He received a gold medal in the shape of a tortellino, inscribed "Nobody Gets Fat From Eating," and strolled out to spend the rest of the night walking in the cold air. He had consumed a magnificent 7.15 pounds of tortellini and brought the little pasta to the attention of the world.
Nino, the Voodoo Assassin
In his 40 years as a fight manager little Bobby Gleason has promoted the welfare of his fighters in odd and curious ways, such as attending voodoo ceremonies and learning to speak Spanish. He has had a measure of success—his featherweight, Phil Terranova, was champion of the world for a while in 1943-44—but in late years his luck has been less than good. As sponsor of Nino Valdes he has been very close, on occasion, to snaring a heavyweight title fight, but each time the chance has eluded him.
The other night, therefore, he claimed the "professional" heavyweight championship of the world for Nino, who had just knocked out Pat McMurtry in the first round at Madison Square Garden.
"We will leave the amateur championship to Floyd Patterson," Gleason explained with quite a straight face. "Patterson fights amateurs."
"Me asasino!" the Cuban Valdes interrupted in a delirium of pride, and went on to declare that after the fight McMurtry had told him, "Tu es animal!"
Well, it is doubtful if McMurtry, a standoffish kind of fighter, ever used the familiar tu in addressing an opponent, but it is true that Nino sometimes has looked like a dangerous water buffalo in the ring and at other times has looked like a tame cat. He is now in a water-buffalo period, having achieved six straight wins in the past year, three of them by knockouts. He is ranked second by Nat Fleischer and fourth by the National Boxing Association. But Nino has been as high as No. 1 without getting a shot at the title, when Rocky Marciano held it, and Gleason has been getting desperate about the problem.
"We are both getting old," Gleason says. "I will be 67 next June and Nino is 34. Something had better happen soon or it will be too late. I have been in boxing for 50 years [he started as a bantamweight in 1908] and I hate to think what I have put up with to make something of this bum, though I will say he is the best bum around.
"I have been a psychiatrist and a psychologist to him. He used to be very superstitious and once I even went to a voodoo ceremony in Cuba with him. My priest would beat me up if he knew. Now all I have to do is make sure he wears white trunks because he thinks black is bad luck."
He also thinks the gymnasium Gleason operates in The Bronx is bad luck. After a tiff with his manager a while back Nino shifted to Stillman's Gym and promptly went into a winning streak. For a long time thereafter he refused to set foot in Gleason's gym.
"I think Patterson is a hell of a fighter," Gleason went on, "but he has not proved it. The first rated heavyweight he ever fought was Hurricane Jackson. Patterson won a split decision in 12. Valdes knocked out Jackson in two rounds. Patterson won the heavyweight title by beating a light heavyweight, Archie Moore. There wasn't any tournament. Why should he have been recognized? Until he beats Valdes I, personally, won't recognize him."
"Me no tigre," Nino said. "Me asasino! Me kill Patterson!"
Whenever, he meant to say, they meet. A Havana syndicate headed by George Raft has offered Patterson $400,000 to meet Valdes there but there are signs, based on an antipathy Cus D'Amato has developed for Gleason, that Nino will be bypassed for another opponent.
The Dog That Sat
The British press seldom misses an opportunity to solicit sympathy for the underdog—especially when he happens to be a dog. Just before Christmas, for example, London papers were filled with a picture of a mournful black-and-white mongrel, captioned "The little dog that sat on and on and on." Doleful accounts told how the pup had sat faithfully by a roadside through a cold and foggy night because his master had told him to "sit" and then abandoned him. Rising as one, the dog lovers of Britain fumed and sputtered, then sat down as one and dashed off hundreds of letters offering to adopt the little fellow. The RSPCA had several choice comments to make about the owner, then added tartly: "We think it unlikely that he will come forward." But he did and told all Britain that his dog was a "humbug."
"If I told Pip to 'sit' until I was blue in the face," said Ernest Jolly, an Ipswich milkman, "he would take no notice. He is that sort of dog. It was not a matter of master abandoning dog but of dog abandoning master." To prove his case Jolly brought Pip before a BBC television audience, where the faithful animal refused even to stand up and beg for a lump of sugar at his master's order. He just sat on and on and on.
I think that I shall never ski
Again against so stout a tree.
A tree whose rugged bark is pressed
In bas-relief upon my chest.
A tree that with bacchantic air
Wears ski poles in its tangled hair.
I've learned my lesson: Fools like me
Should never try to shave a tree.
They Said It
Jim Tatum, University of North Carolina football coach, speaking in praise of second guessers: "When I come home at night after losing a game and go to bed and lie there wondering why I didn't pass or kick or run under such and such a situation, why, I know that 20,000 other people are in their beds wondering just that very thing, too. I tell you, it's a great feeling of fellowship."
Althea Gibson, tennis champion turned novelist, singer and most recently actress, asked in Hollywood about her future plans: "I might still go back to tournament tennis. It depends on how my other careers go."
Harbin (Red) Lawson, University of Georgia basketball coach, reflecting on the age of Georgia's Woodruff Hall after his team had taken a 98-49 drubbing from The Citadel in the spacious, trim Citadel Armory: "I wouldn't say our gym was bad, but I was checking through some old newspapers the other day and one item read, 'Aristotle to speak at Woodruff Hall tonight.' "
Fred Hall, old grad Louisiana State tackle presenting a season's-end gift to Coach of the Year Paul Dietzel at a football banquet: "We're not giving you a new car, because too many coaches have used them to drive away, so we're giving you something you can't move—a swimming pool for your backyard."
Archie Moore, searching for the right phrase for his up-from-the-canvas victory over Yvon Durelle: "It was my finest hour."