Bill Rosensohn returned to New York last week after a swift, audacious and extraordinary odyssey to Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago in search of a site for this summer's Floyd Patterson-Ingemar Johansson heavyweight championship fight, of which he is the promoter, the drummer, the one-man band. He had lost his voice but, in turn ingenuous, cunning, bullying, sympathetic, wheedling, conning, he had gotten promises of $500,000 gate-receipt guarantees from six cities—Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis, Colorado Springs, Philadelphia and Honolulu. He had all but dismissed Honolulu's proposal which included a plan to televise the fight the 2,400 miles to the mainland by "air-to-air microwave relay" as "science fiction," Colorado Springs because of its dinky stadium and Johansson's fear of altitude.
Rosensohn admits that when he set out he was prejudiced in favor of New York and Los Angeles but wanted to visit the other cities to be fair and to assay them for future promotions. At week's end, however, New York remained lofty, complacent and Rosensohn turned dubious. "I told the general [New York's boxing commissioner, Major General Melvin L. Krulewitch]," he says, "that New York would have a much better chance of getting the fight if one of his rich Republican friends came up with the money. The general was upset, so I said, 'Look, General, supposing you were a 38-year-old boy sitting down with a pencil in his hand, figuring.' "
To appraise the various cities equitably, Rosensohn devised a score, or report card. It has 10 categories: 1) seating capacity of stadium, 2) potential and probable gross receipts, 3) parking facilities, 4) recent history of large boxing gates, 5) recent sports trends, 6) attitude of media executives, 7) cooperation of business and civic leaders, 8) unusual events which might help the promotion, 9) cash guarantee, 10) special considerations. Each category is scored from 0 to 10, and 100, as always, is a perfect score.
There is still time for new guarantees, proposals, schemes; Rosensohn's mind and score card are not yet made up. But, with the decision on a site only a week or so away, our chart below summarizes the current prospects of each city.
Rosensohn began scoring in New York four weeks ago when he had separate talks with Co-owner Dan Topping and General Manager George Weiss of the Yankees and Mayor Robert F. Wagner and the general. Rosensohn explored a flat rental deal for the Stadium with Topping and Weiss, instead of the traditional 10%, and sought the Yankees' cooperation in plugging the fight at their games, on radio and television and by selling tickets. Rosensohn asked Wagner for permission for Johansson to train on city property (wherever he went Rosensohn was insistent that Johansson's training camp be located where people could see him) with half of the admission fees going to a city charity; for permission to use the city's information centers to sell tickets in, with Rosensohn employing the additional personnel; for permission to put up streamers at his expense in 20 locations. Then, belted and buckled in his huge trench coat, he flew to Indianapolis.
Indianapolis asked Rosensohn to stage the fight on the eve of its 500-mile automobile race, when, he was told, it never rains. In the enormous living room of his suite, which was a Pullman stop from one end to the other and stuffed with venerable parlor car furniture, he was told that 200,000 fans attend the "500" ("Are they boxing fans?" asked Rosensohn politely). In the rose-paneled Louis XIV Room of the Hotel Claypool, he lunched on apple juice and filet mignon in an effluvium of sweet after-shave lotion and among gleams of pinky rings and hard white collars with monstrous points. The luncheon assembly was made up of what he likes to refer to as "business, civic and media leaders"—his favorite people—the banquet captain offered himself as a sparring partner, and he was told that the American Association baseball schedule would be altered so the fight could be held in the ball park. On the Speedway, over which he was permitted to drive at 60 mph, he was incredulous when told that more than 40,000 people could be seated in a 12,671-seat ball park. Rosensohn was genuinely impressed, however, with what he likes to call the "enthusiasm and cooperation" of the city, but on points 1, 2, 4, 5 and 9 of his score card Indianapolis was wanting.
In Minneapolis, Rosensohn was told at a meeting of his favorite people in Room 118 of the Radisson Hotel: that there are a lot of Swedes in Minneapolis and that on Svenskarnas Dag, or Swedish Day, 90,000 of them come to town ("Are Swedes boxing fans?" inquired Rosensohn politely); that Lawrence Welk grossed $56,000 at the ball park; that "there is no animosity, as the Irish would like you to believe, between Swedes, Norwegians and Danes"; that "the same thought would run simultaneously through the beans of all Swedes—to see Johansson"; that the Swedish flag would be printed in full color on the front page of the newspaper and that "we'll get some royalty to come over." Rosensohn was impressed with the "enthusiasm and cooperation," the Swedish legions, and the incontrovertible fact that it would be considerably more profitable to black out Minneapolis for either home or theater TV than New York or Los Angeles, but the meeting was running down like a wind-up phonograph. The ball field (cap. 21,688) was just not big enough. At this point one of the civic and business leaders left the room. "I have talked with God," he said upon returning. "We offer you not only a $500,000 guarantee but we will try to get the University of Minnesota football stadium [cap.: 75,000]." He told Rosensohn that the university's board of regents has never permitted the stadium to be used for a professional event. Early last week the regents turned the business and civic leaders down, so they have devised a desperate plan to seat 50,000 in the ball park.
In Las Vegas, that city of performing monkeys, mastiffs and magicians' doves that the show girls call Devil's Island, Bill Rosensohn watched three jugglers working and saw himself. "I'm a juggler," he said. He was. Above him were cities tumbling in the air. None of them was Vegas, however, which Rosensohn characterizes as "half a city." He went there because "I know just enough people to get into trouble," and to examine the possibilities of holding quite another heavyweight championship fight there, a fight which would not require an arena with an enormous seating capacity. He sat early one morning in the lounge of the Desert Inn, while 12 violinists fiddled love songs among the tables, with Artie Samish, who once made the celebrated boast that he held the California legislature in the palm of his hand. Samish is a substantial, patriarchal man with "Art" embroidered on his shirt, who rolls off California counties like the names of grandchildren. Samish toyed with a plastic souvenir cane, and told Rosensohn not to put the fight on in Los Angeles, a town of "cheap bastards" but in San Francisco, where "the bastards are spenders." Rosensohn was unaware that Samish had been in jail on an income tax rap.
Rosensohn's chief concern in Los Angeles, his next stop, was that half the press was knocking Johansson and the fight. In a particularly diplomatic press conference, in which he let the truculent writers air their beefs, he succeeded in gaining their support. One of Rosensohn's most effective techniques is to ask the local press for advice. "Let me ask you this, now," he will say, and, his long fingers in a prayerful tent, he will inquire of them how much he should charge, where they think the training sites should be, whom he ought to visit for support. Before he arrived in Los Angeles he had intended to put the fight in the Coliseum, but when he was taken through the new Memorial Sports Arena adjoining it, which has 22,400 seats, he got the "tremendous idea" of staging it there at premium prices and erecting three giant screens in the Coliseum where the masses could watch it for popular prices on theater TV. He spent an evening with Mac Krim, a lean, old bachelor friend, at his hilltop home on Krim Drive ("It's named after me," said Mac as he roared up to it in his Dual-Ghia) which has hi-fi in the bathrooms. Krim told Rosensohn that he was going to import the 100-girl Japanese troupe which had appeared in Sayonara and wanted Rosensohn's help. "What do I want with 100 Japanese girls?" said Rosensohn, and flew to San Francisco.
In San Francisco, Rosensohn was told that Kezar Stadium was "foggy as hell" at the end of June. He was taken on a tour of the city by a banty Irishman who had been in the legislature for 32 years ("That's a California record," he said) and was shown the Thomas A. Maloney Athletic Field ("A beautiful field named after me"), the Thomas A. Maloney. 11th hole ("They honored me at a beautiful banquet for that hole") and "a beautiful ocean," which he did not say was named after Maloney. Rosensohn made a stealthy trip to Palo Alto to inspect Stanford's rustic stadium (Stanford's board of regents refused to allow the fight to be held there among the eucalyptus groves, however) and was visited by a bright-eyed Oakland lawyer who tried to interest him in an improved baseball spike he had invented, and who told him that "all the Giants have big feet."
In Chicago, his last call, he entered what he calls "the lion's lair," because of the strong influence there of the remnants of the International Boxing Club and the wishy-washy athletic commission. He met, again, with his favorite people who told him that Queen Elizabeth is going to open the St. Lawrence Seaway in June, that there is to be an International Trade Fair in July and that there are 63,000 native-born Swedes in Chicago and 400,000 of the second, third and fourth generations. Rosensohn told them, in turn, that 2,600 Swedes want to come over and cheer for Johansson. He got a guarantee from a 12-man syndicate headed by Ragnar Benson, a Swedish-born construction tycoon for whom the King of Sweden once stopped his car to chat (" 'If it isn't Benson!' the king said to me. He remembered me!"). Benson, a big, mild man with twisted, trembling fingers, said he was offering the guarantee "because Chicago has been good to me. I came here without a cent. It doesn't help my business one single cent, not one single cent." It was the grail, the Ithaca that Rosensohn had been looking for—a guarantee from a really big city. Now the other big cities would have to kneel in line.
"Do you know any guy who's in a better spot than I am?" Rosensohn said. "This is it, old man. If there is one thing a guy could pick to do, this is it. No holds barred. And I'm not going anywhere the money isn't. Boxing to me is creating people, creating illusions. If you got the people or the illusion, charge for it. If you don't have it, you can't give it away."
FLYING TO PAPPY
He stood in the dark in Chicago under the elevated tracks while a traffic cop blew on his mournful bosun's pipe. "Well, we've played the circuit and we leave in a blaze of question marks," he said in the ruins of his voice. "We're on the threshold of a new era in boxing, my good man." But at week's end he was on stage again. There were not only cities up there but two new intrepid projects: yet another fight for Patterson against one of the top five contenders, perhaps in Vegas' new circular convention hall, and an Archie Moore-Sugar Ray Robinson light heavyweight championship fight. "I'm off again," he croaked over the phone in New York. "I'm flying out to see Pappy and taking my lawyer. Ray's in the Bahamas. Can't reach him. Mayor Wagner wants to speak to me. Can't talk until I get my voice."
Boxing's old guard does not understand Rosensohn. "I think he's a little boy on a man's job," a guy said in New York. "What kind of a promoter is this?" a British promoter asked. "He wears the same old jacket every day. He doesn't look like he has a million dollars in his back pocket." "He's a modren-day Tex Rickard," said a guy in San Francisco. Rosensohn looks like a little boy but isn't, he is not another Rickard, and he wears the same old jacket because he happens to like the way it looks. Boxing's old guard is also its rear guard and Rosensohn has passed it by.
"I love glop," said Bill Rosensohn as he ate a peach tart over Wyoming, his stocking feet in a baby's cradle, which he had asked the stewardess to put up so he could read his giant paperback in comfort. "I like comfort," he has said. During his tour Rosensohn had eaten a lot of glop. He greatly prefers it to double Jack Daniel'ses on the rocks, which he feels society forces him to drink. In the sweetshop of San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel he had lemon crunch cake a la mode; in an ice cream parlor on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, which advertises 31 flavors, he had Rocky Road, which is compounded of chocolate ice cream, marshmallows and almonds; in Chicago he stayed at The Palmer House, because its bleak coffee shop serves what he considers the finest chocolate ice cream in the world; in Las Vegas' Desert Inn he had a sundae which looked like a monument carved out of colored plastics.
Rosensohn's odyssey did more than soothe his sweet tooth; it realized his image of himself. In Chicago a friend told him he was a success. "Wasn't it inevitable?" Rosensohn said. "I believe people are flexible," he said another time. "They can do any number of things they thought they couldn't do. I'm a mountain climber and I like stories where I don't know how they're going to end. I like someone to come to me and say, 'This is an impossible job,' and then I like to do it. If you're going to shoot, shoot big. When I get to the point where it has been conquered, however, my interest dwindles. I don't think I'm happy now. I don't think I could be happy until I achieve something important in life. I want to do something substantive, something important." Today, it is promoting the Patterson-Johansson fight.
"You're a nice, shy little boy," said Rosalind Wyman, a Los Angeles councilwoman, to Rosensohn during a meeting in the Beverly Hilton, where "short shorts are not permitted in the lobby." "You don't look like the promoters I've seen in the movies." It was, perhaps a motherly portrait (Rosensohn has large, mild, blue eyes), and Mrs. Wyman might have spoken differently if she had heard him talking to Tom Anderson, a local promoter, in a Minneapolis café several days before. "I'm very cold-blooded when it comes to money," Rosensohn told Anderson. "If you're sentimental all your friends are on your payroll. That photographer in Chicago wanted me to smile. Why should I smile? I don't smile when it comes to money. He couldn't understand it. I took a chance once on a 1000-to-1 shot and I had no more reason being a promoter than that guy playing The Sheik of Araby on the accordion, believe me. But I always believe I can sell anyone anything once. It's the second time I'm worried about."
"Promoting," he said another time, "is an old field with no new techniques for a long time. It's been a cliquish kind of thing which has discouraged clean-cut guys because of its disrepute. Instead of attracting guys who can sell—promoting, after all, is merely merchandising guys—it generally attracts fighters, managers, guys in no way qualified except that they've been in the fight game. It's like a gas station attendant being made president of Standard Oil just because he's wiped windshields and checked oil for 20 years."
A DEBATING CHAMPION
William Paul Rosensohn did not get into the fight game until last summer, when he started at the top by promoting the Patterson-Roy Harris title bout in Los Angeles, but he got his experience elsewhere. He was born in New York City. His father was an obstetrician who wanted him to become a professional man, too. "At a very young age," Rosensohn says, "I wanted to be a lawyer. I like to argue with people, use logic." He went to Williams, where he was New England Intercollegiate Debating Champion, manager of the tennis team, circulation manager of the newspaper, steward of his eating club ("It was the only salaried job," he says) and graduated cum laude in political science. After Williams, he went to Yale Law School. When World War II started he quit law school and got a job with the War Department as an ordnance inspector, then wangled a commission out of the Navy. While waiting for it to come through, he "pulled a stunt that I really enjoyed. I thought it would be a great idea to be in the Army, so I enlisted and had the enjoyable experience of being honorably discharged three months later." Rosensohn spent three years in the Navy, part of the time as a gunnery officer on an LST in the Pacific, the remainder teaching navigation at Northwestern, where he wrote a textbook called Navigator's Guide. "I like teaching," he says. "You're helping people. It's a matter of simplifying. I wouldn't mind at all being a visiting lecturer, but I don't want to be tied down."
When the war ended he went back to Yale, but after a semester he became impatient and started the first of his many businesses and schemes. They were:
1) Shop-At-Home Services, mobile grocery stores in Westchester. "My trucks were known as the Pink Piggies," Rosensohn says, "because on the sides of the trucks we had 'This Little Piggy Went to Market, This Little Piggy Stayed Home,' and a picture of a pink piggy reclining on a chaise lounge." He sold the business after a year for a $10,000 profit.
2) Prince Willows, 55 acres in Scarsdale, N.Y., which he planned to develop but sold instead in various parcels for a profit of some $75,000.
3) Polo (Po for powder, lo for lotion), an after-shave lotion which, when applied to the face, evaporated and left a film of powder; and Sunny, a suntan oil which was also an insect repellent. "Keep Your Sunny Side Up" was its motto. "I never intended to become a cosmetician," Rosensohn says. "I just did it for the satisfaction of knowing I could do it. The same way I never intended to become a songwriter, although I wrote three songs. [One, Don't Care, goes: "Don't care what makes the sun come out after the rain./Don't care whether the markets profit and gain./Don't care what makes the stars so at home in the sky. Don't care whether it snows in the month of July."] I enjoyed going around and giving out samples of my Polo and Sunny and playing my songs with three fingers."
4) Hospi-Video Services, Inc., an outfit which rents TV sets to 10 hospitals in the Los Angeles area. Rosensohn lugged a seven-inch set around Los Angeles ("It weighed 33 pounds, ' he says. "I ought to know. I carried it for a year") as he lined up his hospitals. For a time he ran the business by himself, wearing a white coat to look like a doctor ("It was helpful with the patients and nurses," he says). The business is thriving today under an associate, and Rosensohn claims necessity made him "a reasonably well-qualified TV repairman."
5) Orange Julius, an orange-juice milk shake which Rosensohn combined with vodka in a tie-in with National Distillers. "I would go around to bars in Los Angeles demonstrating the stuff," Rosensohn says. "I hate vodka."
6) Rocket Jet Engineering, a subcontracting precision-engineering firm which he founded with some friends from Warner Brothers. It was run by the former technical advisor to King Michael of Rumania, a man called The Chinaman, because "he looked like a Chinaman except for his eyes. The Chinaman was a genius," Rosensohn says with astonishment. "I didn't understand half the things he was doing." Rocket Jet was sold for a 20% profit.
ORANGES AND SUCCESS
7) A fruit-juice bar. "This," Rosensohn says, "I consider a joke. I was having lunch one day at The Town & Country Market in Los Angeles with Mac Krim when a tearful woman came up who said she was being dispossessed from her fruit-juice bar. We bought it from her for $1,000. I spent a good many hours behind the stand squeezing oranges before Mac and I sold it for $10,000."
8) Box Office TV, Sheraton Closed Circuit TV, Inc., TelePrompTer Corp. The first of these theater TV firms Rosensohn founded to televise Notre Dame football games, for which he broadcast the color. "Box Office was artistically successful," he says. He went into Sheraton, which put on industrial shows for the most part, with his friend, Producer Walter Wanger. He was a vice-president of TelePrompTer, which televised his Patterson-Harris fight. It was his last venture before fight promoting. "The challenge was gone," he said the other day between phone calls, lounging in his yellow terry-cloth robe. "I had succeeded in establishing three different companies. I knew more top executives than any of my contemporaries. It was routine. I wanted to get on to something more exciting."
Rosensohn once said: "I like sports, women, television and reading. You can put them in that order." He left out glop, but it falls somewhere between women and television. His favorite sports are pro basketball, pro football, boxing, tennis and horse racing. He has two television sets in his New York apartment, which is on the 29th floor overlooking Central Park, and his idea of Eden is to watch two events simultaneously while listening to a third on the radio. His participant sport is tennis. "I never took a lesson in my life," he said the other day. "I never took any lessons in anything except piano, and that's why I gave it up. I like to do things in my own way. I haven't played tennis in four months but if I get out on the court I'll hit four balls and say 'let's play.' I'm impatient.
"My game," he says, "is a game which has no form, but I annihilate the opposition in mixed doubles. Girls can't cope with my great net game. And the bigger the stakes, the better I play. I'm strictly a money guy all the way."
As for women, Rosensohn is a "face man," likes his brunettes tall and never takes a girl to a sports event. He was named Parlor Athlete of the Year at Williams. He says the girls attribute his success to his blue eyes, but he says it's his "sensitivity." "I expect," he says, "to remain a bachelor until I am 50. I like independence. My sister has four kids, and when I feel the yen to play with kids I see her."
Rosensohn has never used the stove in his apartment. "I don't cook breakfast," he says, "because I don't eat it. I never cooked a meal in my life." His pantry contains fruit juices, crackers, chocolate cookies, candy and countless bottles of pop. "I like to keep things that don't spoil because I never go to the icebox for weeks at a time except for ice cubes or champagne." He has a maid come in daily. "I'd rather leave my bed unmade than make it," he explains. His apartment is haphazardly furnished with mechanical easy chairs, and Rosensohn isn't interested in the modern landscapes on his walls. "Pictures to me are not important," he says. "I just have them put up because you have to put pictures on the wall."
Most of his reading is contemporary. "I try to read all the bestsellers," he says. "I may not have the patience to finish them, but I like to start them." One of the books he finished recently was Conrad's Victory. "A girl gave it to me," he says, "because she thinks I resembled Axel Heyst. He was an independent man, self-sufficient, self-reliant, an individual. I recognized a vague resemblance, but I wouldn't want to live on a desert island or in the tropics. I like California, the outdoor life, where you're not dependent on taxis on a rainy day, where there is respect of the individual and pedestrians crossing the street have the right of way. London's my favorite city because there a person has dignity and cab drivers take care of their cabs. Maybe they're 20 years old but they treat them with great pride. You know what they do in New York.
"You want to know my philosophy? I believe people are good, not bad. If given a chance to choose they would do good things, not bad things. Unfortunately, they're not given the choice. I believe in strength, not weakness. I believe a person can determine his ultimate success or failure. Too many people are willing to be the victims of life rather than the masters of it. I believe in the privacy and dignity of the individual. And I believe that to do anything, you have to be ready."
Largest Swedish population. Immense stadium (Soldier Field, cap.: 110,000). Good parking. Guarantee. Large gates for indoor title fights. Civic, business aid. Concomitant special events.
Fight would open new Sports Arena, with theater TV in huge Coliseum. Promise of guarantee. Splendid sports trend (e.g., Dodgers). Civic, business, media cooperation. Fine weather.
Finest record of outdoor gates (best recent: Marciano-Moore, 1955, $948,117). Potential gross excellent. Largest population center. Large arena (Yankee Stadium, cap.: 85,000). Nearest Sweden.
Large, militant Swedish population. Swedish Day, June 28. Best city to black out for TV. Superb business, civic, media cooperation. Guarantee.
Tremendous stadium (Municipal Stadium, cap.: 120,000) available at token rental. Guarantee. Civic cooperation promised. Large population center.
Sports trend healthy (e.g., Giants). Fairly suitable arena (Kezar Stadium, cap.:75,000). Keen boxing interest in area. Civic cooperation promised.
Splendid cooperation of business, civic, media leaders. Concomitant special event: "500" race (attendance: 200,000). Good city to black out for TV.
Guarantee. Excellent cooperation of government, business leaders. Concomitant centennial celebration. Fine city to black out for TV.
Boxing officials unsatisfactory to principals. Lingering influence of disbanded IBC. No I recent large outdoor fight gates (last: Louis-Braddock, 1937, $715,470).
Poor history of large gates for outdoor fights (largest: Basilio-Aragon, 1958, $236,521). Potential gross uncertain.
No guarantee. N.Y. too sophisticated to give much civic, business cooperation. Least profitable to black out for TV. Outdoor sports trend declining (e.g., Dodgers and Giants departing).
No real boxing history (largest gate, in St. Paul, Flanagan-Gavilan, 1957, $43,653). Available arena has only 21,688 seats but plans call for 30,000 temporaries. Potential gross uncertain.
Boxing, sports trend not heartening. Largest recent outdoor gate (Marciano-Walcott, 1952, $504,645) poor second to N.Y.
History of outdoor gates (largest: Marciano-Cockell, 1955, $196,720) not too good. Foggy, uncertain weather in early summer. No guarantee.
No boxing history to speak of. Insufficient seating in arena (Victory Field, cap.: 30,000). Potential gross uncertain. No guarantee.
No boxing history. Insufficient seating in arena (Penrose Stadium, cap.: 27,500). Johansson's fear of altitude.
Mainland TV improbable.