In the salt-and-pepper-carpeted, walnut-paneled, fiberglass-draped conference room of the law offices of Wyatt, Grafton & Sloss in Louisville, the meeting came to order—all business. Along the sides of the glossy, oblong table sat half a dozen captains of Kentucky industry—tobacco, whisky, horses, communications, transportation and banking—and at one end sat an attorney noted for his agility in the conundrums of tax law. An outsider stumbling in might have thought it the board meeting of any corporation tussling with its problems of management. He might, except for that anomaly shedding an irradiative light at the head of the table: a pecan-brown young Negro, the heir apparent to the throne of heavyweight boxing, The Louisville Lip, Mr. Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. Why, of course. All in the world that was going on was a split of the spoils from Clay's third-round knockout of Charley Powell in Pittsburgh just days before. And the division was the mighty simple matter of dividing by two: half of the winner's share for Cassius (or $7,165.75 before taxes), half for his 11 sponsors, those six prosperous-looking businessmen pulled up to the table and their five absent partners. Once this had been attended to, a few more matters were discussed, and presently everyone pushed back his chair and the meeting broke up in handshakes all around. They will not collect again on such a formal basis until sometime later this month. Then, it is fervently hoped by each, they will take their respective cuts of the winner's share of a Cassius Clay-Doug Jones fight scheduled for March 13 in New York City.
In a time when prizefighting is dominated by unh-hunh boxers and is beclouded by underworld shenanigans, misappropriated funds, government investigation and a generally sorrowful malaise, Cassius Clay and his backers are a unique and uplifting sight. Clay's fists and his big mouth are making the gates, and the 11 men are making a kind of boxing history. (Speaking of Clay's boastful talk, one of the 11 says, "We may find it exasperating, but not when we count the receipts.") Representative of an almost complete cross section of Louisville business, the backers are, with one exception, millionaires or heirs to family fortunes, and they are so innocent of any background in professional boxing that when you say "uppercut" they think first of their income taxes. Yet they are giving boxing a fresh look. They have provided Clay an ideal, all-expenses-paid training program, they offer him the benefit of all their experience and business acumen, and they surround him with a substantial moral and ethical environment, a rare commodity in professional boxing. And since they are independently wealthy Clay is assured that he will never end up exploited and broke through any fault of theirs. By setting such an example the syndicate is encouraging other businessmen elsewhere to get behind boxing the way they have been behind baseball and professional football for years.
Legally syndicated and loosely interlocked by family, business, religion, horses and acquaintance, the 11 men call themselves The Louisville Sponsoring Group ("Please, try to avoid saying syndicate," says one member, shuddering), and taken one by one they constitute an interesting mixture of riches, position and personality.
William Faversham Jr., 57, is a large-sized, gravelly-voiced, stentorian man who, because he has a sports-page familiarity with boxing and because the idea of the syndicate was his in the first place, is Clay's manager of record. He is the glue that binds the syndicate to Clay and to Clay's trainer, Angelo Dundee.
An ex-actor, who sometimes reveals his past in histrionic mannerisms, Bill Faversham is the son of William Faversham, an English-born actor who made a prominent name on the American stage in the first quarter of this century. Young Bill was sent to the best schools (St. Bernard's, Groton) and eventually enrolled in Harvard. "But after my freshman year Dad had spent all his money, and I dropped out, giving up an ambition to become a writer," says Bill Faversham. Instead, in 1926 he joined a theatrical company in Boston, later was a leading man for six months on Broadway. To keep himself in shape he regularly worked out at Philadelphia Jack O'Brien's gymnasium in New York, sometimes sparred with a fellow named Spencer Tracy. "Then," says Faversham, "I gave up acting for good and went into the investment counseling business—in the summer of 1929, for heaven's sake." (Faversham's brother Philip is still an actor and can be seen on TV gunning ducks for Lucky Strike and suffering indescribable miseries before Dristan goes to work and decongests his eight sinus cavities.)
At the end of World War II Faversham found himself stationed in Louisville, a full colonel in the Air Force and a social friend of the town's influentials. Directly, his contacts paid off with a job at Brown-Forman Distillers Corp., makers of such esteemed pain relievers as Old Forester, Early Times and Jack Daniel's, and today William Faversham is vice-president in charge of sales in 18 states, certainly well off but not a millionaire.
Faversham's boss in all matters save the care and feeding of Cassius Clay is WILLIAM LEE LYONS BROWN, 56, chairman of the board of Brown-Forman. Brown is a bearish, courtly man of pronounced southern charm and manner ("Ah wonder if you realize," he once said, "that Cassius Clay's aunt cooks for my double-first cousin?"), and the handwriting found on a bottle of Old Forester bourbon, "There is nothing better in the market," was penned by Brown's grandfather, George Garvin Brown.
Lyons Brown was educated at Kentucky Military Institute and won an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. At Annapolis he 1) was a heavyweight on the plebe boxing team, 2) severely injured his right leg in a coaling accident aboard the old battleship Utah and 3) after two years flunked out. He transferred to the University of Virginia, flunked again and joined his family's distillery as a board director and secretary. Nowadays Brown winters in Delray Beach, Fla., where he keeps a deep-sea fishing boat and a standby crew, and he busies himself with other business ventures from oil to cattle. Brown is a nephew of W. L. Lyons, who runs a stock-and-bond firm in Louisville.
A partner in that same firm is JAMES Ross TODD. He's apple-cheeked and 26 and, as such, is the youngest member of the group (yet one of the richest). Ross Todd, unmarried, lives with his parents in a huge, granite-block Palladian mausoleum of a house called Rostrevor after Great-great-grandfather's home town in Ireland. A painting of Major General Sir Patrick Ross, a 19th-century warrior and a "great-great-something-or-other," hangs above the living-room mantle, hand on sword.
A descendant of old-line Kentucky affluence, Ross Todd is the only child of Jouett Ross Todd, an attorney. Ross says his folks made their money "wheeling and dealing." Jouett Todd is prominent, too, in Republican politics in Kentucky (the Prince of Nassau, the backroom boys call him behind his back, because of his habit of vacationing in the Bahamas). Ross is a fledgling wheeler-dealer himself, who became mixed up with Cassius Clay "because Daddy had enough on his mind without getting involved with prizefighting."
Ross went to Yale and holds a commercial pilot's license. He took up flying at college partly as a result of flying off a horse while drag hunting in Aiken, S.C. when he was 13. Ross hurt his back in the accident and had to give up schoolboy athletics. He is the official treasurer of the Clay syndicate, but his father's secretary is paid to do the paper work.
Ross Todd's godfather is VERTNER DE-GARMO SMITH SR. Vert Smith is also an old, old friend of Lyons Brown, having once been sales manager for Brown-Forman and having once, in partnership with Brown and two other men, owned a small stable of racehorses. The horses never got close to the Kentucky Derby, but Smith did as vice-chairman of the Kentucky State Racing Commission in the middle '40s.
A native of Louisville, Vert Smith, 69, wears glasses and a down-in-the-mouth expression. He is the antithesis of Clay's unflagging ebullience but, as he says, "Since Cassius doesn't smoke or drink or chase around, I can stand it." Still, Smith is a perfectly friendly and persuasive man and can prove it, because he has made a lot of money selling a lot of things: stocks and bonds and fire insurance, fraternity pins, table salt and whisky. His business now is selling liquor wholesale at a $4.5-million-a-year clip and, naturally, he helps push the Brown-Forman line in Kentucky. Vert Smith used to box for exercise as a young man, and since Cassius Clay has come into his life he has read a "good book" about boxing, but he can't recollect its title.
Robert Worth Bingham is 30, and the title on his door is Assistant to the Publisher. The publisher is his father, Barry Bingham, and the publications are Louisville's two newspapers, The Courier-Journal and The Louisville Times.
Worth Bingham, a long-faced, frank-talking young man, is now learning the advertising end of newspapering since he has just wound up a seven-year apprenticeship on the news side. He feels that his financial future is relatively secure but makes no bones about his hopes, along the way, to reap a profit through his share in the Clay syndicate. Bingham was schooled in the East, in Europe and at Harvard, but he gave up boxing shortly after he was introduced to the sport in grade school. Now obliged to keep abreast of the professional game, he buys The Ring magazine each month at the Readmore Card Shop in downtown Louisville. He is valuable to the syndicate because he helps it get a good local press, and no wonder, but no one has yet worked out the sticky business of which paper has first dibs on the syndicate's press releases.
Public relations are also served to Clay and his backers by GEORGE WASHINGTON NORTON IV. Possum Norton, as he is called, is no kin to George Washington, but is distantly related, through his mother, to Martha. More useful to the syndicate is the fact that George IV's father owns the NBC-affiliated radio and TV stations. (Barry Bingham, by the way, owns the CBS-TV affiliate.) Consequently, George, a 29-year-old Yale-man with prep-school (Taft) good looks, is secretary-treasurer of WAVE-TV. Norton has high hopes for The Louisville Sponsoring Group, having already tasted defeat in two other sporting ventures. Because he is married to a daughter of a well-known Kentucky Thoroughbred breeder, Warner Jones, Norton once bought two racehorses. As it turned out, they couldn't run. Later he invested about $1,000 in the Louisville Raiders, a professional football team. They were unable to keep pace with the United Football League and are defunct.
Now, a good friend of George Norton's father-in-law—through horse breeding—is PATRICK CALHOUN JR., who admits, "What I know about boxing you can put in your eye." What Pat Calhoun, a compact man with the sinister figure of Peter Lorre and the broad, open face of an Irish cop, knows about racehorses is something else, and the way he puts it is, "If a man is interested in horses he gets a little adventuresome spirit in his blood and might as well put his trust in a fighter as a horse." Calhoun's trust in horses has been returned in satisfying ways. He used to race them with some success, and today he takes his ease on a 700-acre broodmare and cattle farm 18 miles east of Louisville. Now 71, Calhoun is the retired "and some sort of honorary" chairman of the American Commercial Barge Line, the largest inland boat company in the world. Yaleman Calhoun has been in the boat-building business since before World War I, when he was a bird of a different feather: he gave seat-of-the-pants flying lessons to U.S. pilots in France.
Elbert Gary Sutcliffe introduces himself, if asked, as a "retired farmer." The fact is, says a friend, Sutcliffe could have retired the day he was born in Wheaton, Ill. 68 years ago. The reason becomes clear when one examines Sutcliffe's first two names: he is the grandson of Judge Elbert Gary, and both Sutcliffe and Gary, Ind. are named after the first chairman of U.S. Steel.
But before he retired, Sutcliffe went to Exeter, then to Centre College, that storied little school in Danville, Ky. that manufactured the football upset of the century in 1921 when it beat Harvard 6-0. After a year of "not applying himself," Sutcliffe dropped out of Centre, got married and went to work as a clerk for the Illinois Steel Co., then a U.S. Steel subsidiary.
Today, from behind his tortoise-shell glasses and faint, gray mustache Elbert Gary Sutcliffe looks out on the world with a wry benignity. He nurses a mild case of gout, which he depends upon to act up dutifully when he needs a social excuse, he describes his 300-acre estate outside Louisville on the Ohio River as a "dirt farm," and in the backyard lagoon of his winter home in Osprey on Florida's west coast near Sarasota he has a motorboat that he keeps tied fast to the dock. "I don't like it, I never use it," he says. "I got it just so people would hush telling me I ought to have a boat like everyone else in Florida."
Like his friend Calhoun, Sutcliffe says flatly he knows precious little about boxing and not very much about Cassius Clay, either. "I've just shaken hands with him, you might say," he says, you might say, elliptically. But in Danville, Ky., where Sutcliffe has another farm and is chairman of the board of trustees of Centre College, he has a barber friend by name of Either One Richardson. (In a quandary over what to call the baby boy, Richardson's parents asked his grandmother which of two names she favored. "I likes either one," she replied, and so he was christened.) "Either One knows Cassius," says Sutcliffe, "and he says he's a good boy. That's good enough for me."
Another man who winters in Florida (a Delray Beach neighbor of Lyons Brown) is J. D. STETSON COLEMAN. At any rate, he spends some of the winter there, having another home in The Plains, Va., another in Georgia and an apartment in New York. Built like Rocky Marciano, Coleman is pushing 60 but is a long way from running out of steam. He is chairman of a Florida bus company, chairman of a Georgia drug company, chairman of an Oklahoma oil company and an officer of an Illinois candy company, which his wife owns, to mention a few of the irons in his fire. The son of a "damned good moneymaker" of a father and a mother who "cursed" him with four names (he refuses to divulge what J. D. stands for), Coleman was born in Macon, Ga. He was an all-sports athlete there, at Exeter and at Yale and today owns shares of the Los Angeles Angels and the Los Angeles Rams. He likes to invest his money in sports in general "because of the drama and because Wall Street hasn't caught onto the idea yet," and he likes having money behind Clay because "we think we can keep him out of the financial trouble Joe Louis got into—which almost made me sick to see."
When WILLIAM SOL CUTCHINS was made president of Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation a few years ago, not too many people took notice. But when the Princeton Alumni Weekly mentioned that he owned a piece of Cassius Clay, he got congratulatory telegrams from old friends as far away as Australia. At such times, Bill Cutchins is tempted to wonder what on earth the world is coming to. "Frankly," he says, "the situation is pretty astonishing."
The grandson of a man who was a private in the Confederate army at 15, and the son of a lawyer, Cutchins was born in Richmond and went to school at Virginia Military Institute and Princeton. Along the way he played catcher for a semipro baseball team in Oxford, N.C. and hoped in the bargain to make it in the majors someday. "Then one day the Chicago White Sox were down to have a look," says Cutchins. "And as far as I know, one look was enough. If they saw anything they liked they never manifested that information to me."
With that dream dashed, Cutchins took a job at the Export Leaf Tobacco Co. in Richmond. Long interested in archeology, it was Cutchins' hunch that the company would send him to Asia and the Middle East—which it did and where he dug.
Once back in the U.S., Cutchins moved on to Brown & Williamson, began his career selling cigarettes to shopkeepers along the streets of Charleston, W. Va. Today, it is a pleasure to report, he is the No. 1 man (there is no chairman) in the company that makes Viceroys and Raleighs. He is also president of the town's new ABC-TV station.
Bill Cutchins, a handsome man of 62 who looks like a president, talks like a president and works like a president who wants to remain one, was thinking about watching Viceroy's thinking-man commercials on TV's Naked City the night he got a call from Bill Faversham inviting him over. Faversham said he had an idea about a syndicate to manage a young boxer named Cassius Marcellus Clay, of all things.
The man who helped plot the commercials Bill Cutchins never got to see that night is ARCHIBALD MCGHEE FOSTER. Archie Foster, 47, a senior vice-president of the Ted Bates advertising agency in Manhattan, is group leader for the agency's Brown & Williamson account, and no man ever walked out of Brooks Bros, who better looks the part. Husky-voiced and suave, Foster, as he figures to be, is quite a friend of Bill Cutchins. On top of that, for four years before Clay turned professional, Foster had been responsible for Viceroy's co-sponsorship (with Miles Laboratories. Inc.) of the old Wednesday Night Fights on the ABC-TV network. "So the group came to me because of my contacts in the fight game," says Foster. "They had a fighter, but they weren't exactly sure what they were supposed to do with him. I began to get in touch with people and, you know, one thing led to another." The most important thing led to was Angelo Dundee, the man the syndicate hired to train Clay after an idea for Archie Moore to do the job failed to work out. ("Dundee is the best trainer and free-wheeling psychologist in boxing," says one of the 11, "and he's so clean he's practically antiseptic") Another thing led to was an invitation to Foster to join the syndicate, which he was "delighted to accept."
Since there is a detectable thread of common interest running through the several syndicate members, the story of what brought them all together is half told right there. The complete story as remembered by Bill Faversham (like anything fading into history, the tale is already picking up minor contradictions) goes like this:
Shortly after Clay won the Golden Gloves heavyweight title in New York in the spring of 1960, Faversham was playing bridge in his home with Pat Calhoun, a friend since Colonel Faversham came to town. "It seemed logical that some day the boy would turn professional," Faversham says, "and while I'd never had such a thought in my life, it occurred to me that maybe a few of us ought to keep an eye on him. I said all this to Pat, and he just said 'Mmmm' and bid two hearts." In August of that year Clay won the gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the Rome Olympics. "Not long after that," says Faversham, "I read in the paper where a deal between Cassius and Billy Reynolds had fallen through. I decided we ought to make a move." The deal Faversham is talking about involved Clay and the executive vice-president of the Reynolds Metals Co. Billy Reynolds, a Louisville millionaire, offered Clay a contract almost as fat as the one he now has from the 11-man syndicate, but Clay never signed it. The conflict arose over a Louisville policeman, Joe Martin, who had taught Clay to box when he was 12 years old and had introduced Cassius to Reynolds. When Reynolds said Martin would play a role in Clay's professional career. Clay's father, who doesn't like cops in general and Joe Martin in particular, squelched the whole thing.
"Well," says Faversham, picking up the thread, "the first thing I did that night was to call Pat Calhoun and Bill Cutchins." Calhoun got up from dinner, Cutchins turned off Naked City and an hour later, in Faversham's living room, the three of them were congratulating one another on the scheme they had just cooked up.
As Faversham saw it then, it would take about $25,000 to launch Clay—allowing for a $10,000 bonus to get him to sign with them. (It actually took just under $20,000 the first year.) Thus, Faversham felt, they ought to have at least two more members to spread the burden to $5,000 apiece.
"Finding more was never the problem," says Faversham. "I called Vert Smith, another dear friend, right away. 'Vert,' I said, 'how are you and how would you like to buy a piece of a prizefighter?' Vert heard me out and said maybe so but only on one condition: we had to ring Lyons Brown in, too. Vert said Brown was just naturally lucky, and with him a member the syndicate couldn't go wrong. So the next morning I went to my boss and put the idea to him. He said fine, and we were five."
That same evening, however, Elbert Sutcliffe dropped by Lyons Brown's house for a drink. Faster than you can knock out Floyd Patterson, the syndicate was six. "What the hell?" Faversham says he said on hearing that, "let's go to 10." Pat Calhoun called his horse-breeder friend Warner Jones, and Jones passed to his son-in-law, George Norton IV. Norton cornered Worth Bingham at a cocktail party, somebody else saw Jouett Todd, who turned the whole preposterous idea over to his son Ross, and Lyons Brown, an evangelist by now, got in touch with his Delray-Beach-and-oil-well buddy, Stets Coleman. With the exception of Archie Foster, who joined later to make 11, the job was done. About all that remained was to let Cassius Clay in on things. "I did that," says Faversham, "right here in my living room. The whole family dropped over for a talk, and we hit it off fine."
Now that the syndicate had a fighter and a pool of money (all but Faversham were asked to contribute $2,800; as a reward for organizing everything, he got a free half share), it needed a contract. The best place to find one of those, it decided, was to get in touch with Gordon Byron Davidson, Billy Reynolds' attorney, who was mentioned in the news story Faversham had seen. "I got a call from Calhoun," says Davidson (who is, as you might expect by now, descended from George Gordon, Lord Byron), "and I said, 'Why sure, come on down.' After all, I had already drawn up a pretty good contract for Billy Reynolds, one of our clients, and 1 was perfectly willing to sell it a second time."
The contract Davidson drew up and the principals signed gave Cassius the $10,000 bonus, a guaranteed minimum annual salary of $4,000 for two years and $6,000 for four years. Everything Clay earns, whether in the ring or in, say, personal appearances (he got $500 for playing himself for one minute in the movie Requiem for a Heavyweight), is split 50-50 with the syndicate. Some of Clay's cut goes automatically into a trust fund in his name, and the syndicate pays all of Clay's expenses when he is in training out of its cut. ("Expenses" translates to mean everything from $125 a week for Angelo Dundee to the rent for a three-bedroom house in Miami the syndicate is providing for Clay and his family this winter and spring.) The syndicate has the option to renew the contract each year, and in October 1967, when it expires, the syndicate has first refusal should somebody offer Clay a more lucrative arrangement.
"That," says Davidson, "would be hard to imagine. If there is one thing these men are not, it is stingy. Expenses last year, for instance, came to $27,000, or more than half of the syndicate's share of Clay's purses. Cassius—he goes first class." ("The public thinks we've made a lot of money, and Cassius thinks we've made a lot of money," says Vert Smith. "The fact is, each of us is still about $1,000 in the hole.")
But just to make the contract even more attractive to Cassius—with regard to taxes, anyway—Davidson is currently drawing up a revision. Under the new terms Clay, who earned $45,000 last year and thus found himself in the uncomfortable clutches of the 62% income-tax bracket, would become a salaried employee of the syndicate. Instead of receiving his 50% after every fight, he would get a guaranteed monthly salary taken from his purses plus a year-end bonus based on his earnings. After he has quit righting (or reached 35) he will continue to draw a roughly equivalent salary for a number of years. "The effect," says Davidson, "is to make his high-earning years pump up the low-earning years and to keep him out of the upper tax brackets. Cassius hates taxes like poison [he asked Senator Ted Kennedy this winter to express his dissatisfaction to the head man], and if he wants to accept this new contract I figure he can keep almost twice as much of his earnings as he can under present conditions. The syndicate's financial picture won't change, no matter what Cassius decides, but of course you couldn't find a group more sympathetic to the hurt of high taxes than these millionaires."
The group is sympathetic, too, to protecting its $28,000 investment. Accordingly, it holds a $30,000 insurance policy on Clay's life and a $300,000 accident policy on him. Considering the fact that Clay has already been arrested twice for fast-driving his pink Cadillac (he likes to shadow-box an imaginary Sonny Liston while behind the wheel), nobody, except possibly the insurance company, feels the policies were a mistake.
Such matters as these, however, are left largely to Davidson and the group's executive committee—Faversham, Calhoun, Smith, Cutchins and Norton—and, indeed, the syndicate has never been able to assemble at full strength.
The mechanics of matchmaking and the methods of training are left pretty much up to Faversham and Angelo Dundee. On this score, Dundee opposed Faversham's idea for Clay to fight Alex Miteff, and Faversham opposed Dundee's matching Clay with Archie Moore. The upshot was that neither was able to change the other's mind, but since Clay won both fights handily, Dundee and Faversham are even. Otherwise the balance of the syndicate tends to sit back and hope for the best. Says Dundee: "I never hear much from the others except occasionally one of the younger ones—worried about his investment, I suppose—will ask me if Cassius is holding his left maybe a little too low or don't I think he is putting on too much weight too fast. But if anybody is boss of this boy, it's the contract. In all my years I've never known a fighter getting such a break as this."
The syndicate's physical participation in its heavyweight's career, then, is mostly confined to seeing as many of Clay's fights as they can (often flying to out-of-town sites in a Brown-Forman DC-3), and, to insure they are beholden to no one, they pay for their ringside tickets just like everyone else. "Some of us wouldn't cross the street to see a concert," says Sutcliffe, "but we'll go hundreds of miles to see Cassius in the ring." So far, the fights have also provided fine opportunities for victory celebrations (with everybody standing around smoking Viceroys and drinking Jack Daniel's) and, as Cassius himself says, "they all get a chance to say to their friends, 'Come on over here and meet our boy, the next heavyweight champion of the world.' " "Even if we lost every cent," says Ross Todd, "I'd say we've already had $2,800 worth of fun."
Of course, it doesn't hurt, as matters stand, that the syndicate has recouped all but $10,000 of the total $28,000 investment. (It spent $9,000 more than it took in in 1961, but last year it made all that back.) Nor does it hurt that a Louisville doctor not long ago offered $8,500 for one of those $2,800 shares. Which brings up again the question of what reward the syndicate seeks.
"All we want to do is to see that Cassius winds up rich," says one man who has already wound up that way. "Our motive," says another, "is to do something for boxing at a time the sport needs help. And I think, in our own little way, we've done just that. We've shown it is not a sport that must be controlled by the underworld." And, says a third, thinking of a nice way to put it: "You know it doesn't hurt sales in the Negro market if some of Clay's sponsors happen to be strongly identified with shall we say—consumer products."
"Let me give you the official line," volunteers a man who wants to remain in the shadows. "We are behind Cassius Clay to improve the breed of boxing, to do something nice for a deserving, well-behaved Louisville boy and, finally, to save him from the jaws of the hoodlum jackals. I don't know who composed that—maybe the executive committee—but I think it's beautiful. I think it's 50% true but also 50% hokum. What I want to do, like a few others, is to make a bundle of money. Why, do you know a Clay-Liston fight might gross a winner's share of $3 million? Split that up and it comes out $1.5 million for Cassius and $1.5 million for the syndicate. Best of all, it comes out $150,000 for me."