Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson goes to Florida this week to start the final round of training for his title fight with Ingemar Johansson in Miami Beach on March 13. In his wake will be the most bizarre cast of characters to hit the road since Jack Kerouac and his buddies careened across the country.
In order of their proximity to Patterson, they are Cus D'Amato, his unlicensed but loquacious manager; a lawyer with the unlikely name of Julius November; Roy Cohn, Senator McCarthy's old sidekick; Bill Fugazy, a fancy Dan who is Cohn's partner in Feature Sports Inc., the promoter of the bout; and Irving B. Kahn, the 5-foot-9, 240-pound president of TelePrompTer Corporation, the outfit that will show the fight on closed-circuit television in this country and Canada.
All five are individualists, and they often disagree with one another. What gives spice to their declarations is that some of them dislike one another intensely. D'Amato, for instance, detests Cohn and loathes Fugazy. Fugazy regards D'Amato as "mentally ill" and is often irked by Kahn. Kahn, in turn, is suspicious of almost everyone. He tape-records phone calls and conversations with visitors in his office. (He explains his penchant for taping by saying that it is more accurate and easier than taking notes with a pencil. He usually does it secretly.) Kahn is such an enthusiast of the electronic that Cohn suspects he may even conceal a mike on his person when he lumbers forth from his office. "He's so fat no one could find it," Cohn says. Once, in retaliation for taping, Cohn read through a batch of confidential papers in a briefcase Kahn inadvertently had left behind at Johansson's training camp. "He was livid," Cohn says with satisfaction. "Roy," says Kahn, restraining himself, "has a rather oddball sense of humor."
The sole tragic figure in the lot is Cus D'Amato, entangled in all sorts of legal snares. The press often reviles him as a crook. A crook he is not; a kook he may be. He fought the gangster-dominated IBC alone for such a long spell that he wound up with a deep and permanent persecution complex. For D'Amato, every night has a full moon. The sad thing about it is he has good reason to feel persecuted.
February 20, 1961
D'Amato attributes his difficulties to Bill Rosensohn, the onetime promoter who accused him of all sorts of shenanigans a year and a half ago (SI, Aug. 10, 1959). On the face of it, D'Amato, who can be devious in his own fashion, looked completely guilty. His enemies—and he had made many crusading against the IBC—pounced. "I was a person on the dirt surrounded by a pack of wolves trying to tear me apart," he says. The New York State Athletic Commission, which rarely said boo to the IBC, revoked his manager's license. The revocation was upset in court, where it developed that the commission had nothing to revoke because the license had previously expired. Now and then D'Amato toys with the idea of applying for a new license, but he is afraid that if he got it the commission would then "frame me for good this time" and make the revocation stick. "That," he says, "would put me out of business all over the world."
D'Amato also got into difficulty when he failed to answer a subpoena issued by State Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz. D'Amato says that November, who serves as attorney for both D'Amato and Patterson, told him to ignore it, that the hearing had been postponed. D'Amato did as he was instructed, but he was arrested, hauled into court, fined $250 and given a suspended sentence of 30 days in the workhouse. The case is now on appeal, but D'Amato was to see Lefkowitz Tuesday and there were reports "something might happen" to him.
Nowadays, what with having to avoid a managerial association with Patterson in New York, D'Amato leads a lonely life. He spends most of his time in his cluttered two-room apartment at Broadway and 53rd Street, his main companion a boxer dog with a black eye. The dog is named Cus because he looks as though he's been kicked around, too.
"Most of the time I just lay around," D'Amato says. "I read. I play with the dog. Anything to avoid boredom. Sometimes I just walk around the streets." He stays out of bars for fear an enemy agent might stuff marijuana cigarettes into his pockets, then whistle for the police. He avoids the press. "I can't afford to make any mistakes or have what I say misconstrued," he says. Although he has a bed in the apartment, he never sleeps there. He stays with friends, and he rarely spends two nights in the same place. "I don't like my comings and goings to be predictable," he says. He is wary of what he says over the phone because, he says, it may be being tapped. Sometimes, though, D'Amato will get carried away and talk about anything on the phone. Reminded of a possible tap, he'll shout, "I don't care! I tell the truth!"
At present most of D'Amato's fire is directed at Fugazy and Cohn. They are "depraved," and they make him long for the old days when he was battling Jim Norris. "I never had so much fun in my whole life," he says. "I would create illusions to have the IBC think one thing and then do something unexpected. I played with Norris and his henchmen. I'd lock all the doors except one, and at that one I'd be waiting with an ax!"
Fugazy, D'Amato says, tried to shake him down for a 15% cut of Patterson's closed-circuit money. "Compared to Fugazy," D'Amato says, "Norris is like a diamond in a coal pile. I didn't mind Norris, really. He used underhanded methods that were close to real business, like going to the press and political pressures. But Fugazy! This man has definite psychopathic leanings. The man has no principles! This man lies to your face, and he believes his own lies. A respectable racketeer!"
With D'Amato somewhat out of the Patterson picture November has filled the vacuum. November is a big, bald, baby-faced Brooklynite. He boasts of the honors he won in law school, and he is fond of telling how he sued as a minority stockholder to keep the baseball Giants from moving to San Francisco. (He lost the case—to Roy Cohn, of all people. Before the judge gave his decision, Cohn went on the radio and attacked November as a publicity seeker. "You can't warm up to Roy Cohn," November says.)
Things keep happening to November in November. November was born in November. November once got "deadly ill" in November. November started his law firm in November. "People think I'm kidding them when I tell them my name is November," November says. "I don't think it's any funnier than to say my name is Hiram Smith."
November does all he can to keep Patterson content with his services. Patterson got into a mild argument with a friend over Eisenhower's birthplace. Patterson said it was Georgia; the friend said (correctly) that it was Texas. Patterson said he'd checked November. November had assured him Eisenhower had been born in Georgia.
Recently Arthur Mann, a reputable free-lance writer who had been hired to do Patterson's autobiography, finished a draft of the book and the publisher was so elated with it that he sent Patterson a letter of congratulations. But Patterson decided he didn't like the book. November never read it, but Joel Weinberg, a young associate in November's firm, read part of it, some of it aloud to Patterson. Weinberg says Patterson thought it should have been titled Cus D'Amato's War Against the IBC. "I concurred," says Weinberg. "Frankly, I did." November saw to it that Mann was relieved of the assignment and his manuscript tabled.
Despite this, November denies there is any rift between D'Amato and Patterson or D'Amato and himself. Patterson, November says, has matured. "Now," says November, "Floyd makes up his own mind instead of deferring to Mr. D'Amato. Floyd said that after he went down seven times in the first fight he realized he was doing the fighting, and now he wants to be apprised of everything. I think Mr. D'Amato is a brilliant man, far above the average boxing figure. Personally, I've had clashes with Mr. D'Amato, but only on principles. This is not unusual. I am, after all, the lawyer."
Fugazy is also cuddling up to Patterson. If Patterson retains the title, which he is favored to do, he will be the key to any promoter's ambitions. An active Catholic layman—he says he is the youngest knight ever made by the church—Fugazy has taken Patterson, a convert to Catholicism, to meet Cardinal Spellman. He even talks of arranging for Patterson to visit Washington and chat with President Kennedy.
Fugazy comes by his grand airs naturally. At 36, he is a millionaire. He has made a number of investments with Cohn, an old pal, and he has expanded his travel business from one office to 19 in the space of a few years. Fugazy wears Italian suits, rides to hounds, gets at least one rub-down a day (three when he's under stress) and occasionally spars with Johansson. (This was news to Cohn, who says that when Fugazy once offered to put on the gloves, Ingo remarked, "Let's not. I don't want this on my conscience.")
Fugazy leads such a vigorous life one wonders if he is not training to take on D'Amato. "By the way," he says, "it's a lie if D'Amato says he threw me out of his apartment. I'm convinced Cus is on the way out. He is not calling the shots. Patterson told me he was calling the shots from now on. He said, 'I'm the champ, and I'll make the decisions.' "
Cohn was attracted to boxing by the controversy that seems to be inherent in the sport. "I think it is accurate to say that I did not get into boxing because I was a fight fan," he says. "The proposition had the element of a challenge, and that's what appealed to me."
Cohn, too, is a millionaire. He is a partner in a Wall Street law firm and chairman of the board of The Lionel Corporation. He likes desk work. "Frankly, I don't bother too much with the market," he says. "I find you can make more money on your rear end than with your brain."
Cohn has sometimes used his rear end instead of his brain as a promoter. When November said Patterson would have to read the contract for the second fight, Cohn cracked, "Can he read?" Cohn now denies he ever made the remark. "There's no question he made the statement," November says.
Cohn is intrigued by the characters in boxing. "D'Amato," he says, "is unlike any other person you'll encounter in a lifetime." Cohn is also intrigued by Irving Kahn. "At first," he says, "I had the same skepticism about Kahn that seems to be prevalent, but I've gotten to like him. I find him competent, but he drives you crazy, crazy with detail and motivation research. Everyone has to have a motive. With Kahn we had to make an escrow for an escrow. Really. This taping thing to me is a joke, it's ridiculous. At the beginning I resented Kahn taping all the conversations we had. Perhaps it's his association with D'Amato that's made him so paranoid." Cohn laughed. "I was in his office when his secretary said she was leaving and was there anything she could do before she left. Before Kahn could reply, I said, 'Mr. Kahn wants you to bring in the tapes of the Roy Cohn conversations.' Kahn got all excited and yelled, 'No! No!' " (Kahn said later, "It never happened. This is typical of Roy and his sense of humor.")
Kahn's full name is Irving Berlin Kahn, and he is named, he will have you know, for his uncle, the songwriter. A graduate of the University of Alabama, where he enthralled throngs as the baton-twirling drum major of the school's "Million Dollar Band," Kahn worked in New York for several years as a publicity man for 20th Century-Fox. During the war he was first an enlisted man in Army information and education, then an intelligence officer. In the service Kahn was celebrated as a wheeler-dealer. "I've never known him to do anything dishonest," says Hal Kantor, an Army buddy who is a Hollywood writer-producer. "He is very honorable. He's a hell of a horse trader though, and I'd want every light on in the room if I were doing business with him. I'd have to say he was the inventor of the loophole."
After the war Kahn returned to Fox, where he eventually became manager of television and radio operations. One day an actor named Fred Barton approached him with a crude device consisting of a wooden box and two rolls of butcher paper that would enable a speaker to read a script while looking directly at the audience. Fox was not interested, but Kahn and an associate were. Kahn borrowed up to $70,000, they set up their own company and perfected the device, which was an almost instant hit in television. That was 10 years ago. Last year TelePrompTer Corporation grossed $5 million.
Actually, the company name is now misleading. The corporation makes 90% of its money not from leasing or selling TelePrompTers, but from what Kahn calls "group communications." An example is a closed-circuit telecast that can attract a profitable number of viewers for a special event—for instance, the forthcoming fight, which may gross as much as $3 million on Kahn's hook-up. Besides piping the fight into theaters and arenas, Kahn expects to service 100,000 home sets linked to community antennas, and he claims TelePrompTer has the largest home pay TV potential in the world. He is planning for the day when he can put baseball's World Series on closed circuit TV.
Kahn was very much in evidence during the last few Patterson fights, but now he has withdrawn to the sidelines. Kahn and his board of directors were upset by the bad publicity he and the company received during the Rosensohn investigations, and Kahn is wary of incurring more. As far as he is concerned, boxing is merely a way of earning a corporate buck and dramatizing pay TV, and the less he has to do with the sport, without losing his cut, of course, the better. "Had I the benefit of hindsight, I might not have gotten into it," Kahn says, the tape recorder turning silently.