Start big and you'll end big," says Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. This, too, is the wistful pitch of Pete Rademacher, who once—with a smile, a shoeshine and an Olympic gold medal—raised a purse of $250,000 and fought for the heavyweight championship of the world. Rademacher had the distinction—and the pain—of being the first amateur to box for the title; the first, at least, since 1805, when Henry Pearce, The Game Chicken, found John Gully, an utter novice, in a debtors' prison and whipped him in 64 rounds.
This is an article from the May 15, 1961 issue
Four years, 16 professional fights and a thousand smiles and shoeshines later, Rademacher, now 32, arrived in New York recently, wearing a sincere challis necktie, to fight Doug Jones, the second-ranked light heavyweight. Pete still hoped people would regard him as an amateur; most do. "I am a pro," he said cunningly, "hiding behind the cloak of obscurity of amateurism. The amateur represents the clean boy. That's what I want to be. Some people still think I don't get paid. When I go to the gym, people look at me with puzzled eyes—'how does he do it?' I drum up the business.
"Anything will work out," explained Pete glibly, "if you're a good listener at the right time, a good salesman at the right time. My thinking has been developed by having things work out. Every salesman has to have the ability to sell himself; that sells his product. Boxing is just a hobby, a good, easy hobby, and a means of education. It develops my personality; it teaches me how to sell myself; to sell ideas. Boxing gives me exposure. I've gained a little finesse in it, too."
Whatever finesse he may have gained, Pete certainly got his exposure a fortnight ago—if not as an amateur, certainly as something approaching a nonfighter. (Gully, on the other hand, eventually won the title and became a Member of Parliament.) Rademacher, who took the spread stance of a lobster, used his heavy-handed jab to win the first round from Jones, who unaccountably wore his trunks up underneath his armpits. Jones took the second; one of his punches, a fearful blow to the short ribs, where Pete said he had torn several ligaments while sparring earlier in the week, eventually nullified Pete's left and took the fight out of him. Rademacher did manage to win the third with three spectacular but harmless rights. Jones knocked Pete down twice in the fourth and once more in the fifth, and in the same round knocked him out, busting his left ear.
"See how nice that is," the doctor chirped later like an obscene tailor, as he sewed eight stitches in Pete's concha, or external ear. "Isn't it pretty? You're just a dandy patient. I wish all the boys would be as good a patient as you. But you're a man; you note I called the others boys."
A beating of that order might have discouraged other men from continuing to fight, but not Pete, who has had offers from such towns as Yakima and Belling-ham, Wash, and Rome, Ga., places where he could overthrow fighters more non than he and pick up some change. And then, too, Mr. Rademacher, as the clerk of scales called him at the weigh-in, has other interests. At the weigh-in Pete was full of beans, touting gold and silver mine stocks ("I dabble in mutual funds, too") and trying to line up bouts for Eddie Cotton, a light heavyweight he manages. When he posed for the traditional face-off picture with Jones, he brandished his left thumb in Doug's face. Jones insolently brushed it aside. "I've overestimated Mr. Jones," Pete said gaily, "so when I've given him a good licking, taken him down to the darkroom, I'll feel I've accomplished something. I've got 17 pounds, 1½ inches and 40 horsepower on him—and two good thumbs." An hour after the weigh-in, over a cup of tea, he seemed dispirited, however. "I'm not killing time," he said gloomily, "time's killing me."
The Spider's Lair
But Rademacher had other propositions to buoy him up. He was trying to get into a business manufacturing toys to rehabilitate crippled children; he murmured something about being connected with "a research and development firm"; he hoped, eventually, to go into "product representation"; he had been "approached by a corporation of three gentlemen in financing" to manage Bill Nieder, the Olympic shotput champion who intends to become a professional boxer; and he had made a pilot film for a proposed TV series called Come Out Fighting. This was filmed by Peter De Met, who produced All-Star Golf and Championship Bowling; the idea is on the order of carnival-booth fighting but gimmicked and glorified with buzzers, electric eyes and green and white sections of the ring, the white called The Spider's Lair, where Rademacher is supposed to lurk menacingly. The perhaps ingenuous concept is to give "rough mugs" a chance to win $1,000 by boxing three minutes with Pete without getting knocked down. "It'll show Mr. John Doe Public what it's like to fight a professional," said Pete, neglecting for a visionary moment his self-styled amateurism. "I'm intrigued with it. It's so offbeat it might go."
Pete's fondest hope, however, was the prospect of managing Sonny Liston. This, he said modestly, "has marvelous possibilities. Me No. 1 in the publicity rankings, him No. 1 in the heavyweight rankings. I'm after one thing—to help boxing; and, of course, there's the business end. Money, money, money; just think of it coming in. I'll give it all to the church. What church? The Rademacher church! And if I can't make Sonny see the light of me as his manager, then I'll turn against him and challenge him to a fight." Circumspectly ignoring the latter, Pete said he had called, with a sample case full of integrity, on Jack Bonomi, special counsel to the Kefauver subcommittee; "someone high up in Bobby Kennedy's office"; Irving Kahn, the president of TelePrompTer; Al Bolan of Championship Sports (formerly Feature Sports); and Julius November, Floyd Patterson's lawyer.
When Margaret Rademacher, Pete's wife, expressed her regret at the outcome of the Jones fight, Pete assured her: "It was a presentation situation, honey. I had to be in New York to see Liston." Indeed, the day before he fought Jones, Liston called on him. "How ya, ya big horse?" said Rademacher with a gleam, and took him to lunch and to pay his respects to General Melvin Krulewitch, chairman of the New York boxing commission. "I explained to Sonny what I do for myself," Pete said, "what I can do for him, what a good twist it is, what a good tie-up it is. I told him he was the No. I product." Evidently impressed, Sonny came to town again, this time for a bizarre meeting with Cus D'Amato' Patterson's manager. Afterward, Sonny visited Pete. "How ya, ya big son of a buck?" said Rademacher. Liston sat on the couch in his Baptist-black suit and regarded his awesomely pointed shoes. "He crazy," Sonny said heatedly. "He wouldn't let me get a word in sidewise. That white dog of his was jumping all over me. I tell you, he crazy."
Last week, at home in Columbus, Ga., Pete waited for Sonny's decision. It appeared, however, that Sonny had made his mind up some time ago and Pete had been what they call "middled." It was reliably reported that Sonny had signed with Georgie Katz, a Philadelphian who looks like George Raft and who once managed Gil Turner. The contract, which is for 10% of Sonny, is contingent on Katz's being certified as an Eagle Scout or the Ivory Soap baby. Evidently, Katz has the good name he says he has; it hurts him here when he is reminded that his brother is a bookmaker.
"I'm Mr. Clean," Pete Rademacher said desperately. "I'll dress up like Mr. Clean, and you can put me on the cover of your magazine. Now wouldn't that be something! Whoo-hoo!"
"Don't worry," said Sonny. "My manager will be so clean I'm going to wash him myself."
"I'm not happy," said Pete, "unless I'm shoving out ideas."
In Death of a Salesman a guy says: "A salesman's got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory."