James J. Beattie, 6 feet 9 inches in altitude, 240 pounds in avoirdupois, 22 years in age, hushed of voice and handsome as Marshal Dillon, stretched his long frame across a chair and a table and talked about his chosen craft. "Boxing takes more dedication than a normal man would put out. But I'm a nut. I like it. You've got to be obsessed and single-minded. You do this by continually remembering what the end result would be: fame and money, the things you want to do for your family. I want to better boxing. I'm a big white heavyweight. I'm not an ex-strikebreaker. I'm not a hoodlum. I'm not a black Muslim. I haven't even got a police record."
James J. Beattie is in training to be the heavyweight champion of the world. He was plucked out of nowhere by a group of boxing buffs who moved him from St. Paul to New York, put him in experienced hands, laid on a rigorous training schedule and did everything but anoint him with oil. The timetable calls for him to be a ranking contender in about two years and heavyweight champion in about three. The schedule may work out, and lightning may strike the church steeple, but there are no vast sums being bet on either possibility.
At a quick glance, Beattie does not even resemble a heavyweight prospect. He has markedly short arms for a man of his height; he is slope-shouldered and tends to thickness in the waist; his legs appear somewhat ornithoid for a man of his bulk. He has what his young lady friends in the Greenwich Village espresso shops like to describe as a "soulful" look. His face is unmarked, his nose unmashed. He is gentle and kindly in his ways, and so agreeable that making conversation with him is as relaxing as an hour in a sauna. He likes to discuss theology, philosophy, sociology and girls, but he also believes that the proper study of James J. Beattie is James J. Beattie, and he will discourse for hours on the forces that shaped him and the path he is taking. He lives in a small apartment next to Central Park in a section of New York not exactly famous for its masculinity, a fact that used to disturb him.
"When I first moved in here," he recalls, "I put on my gold sweater, slacks, dark glasses and tennis shoes and went out for a walk. Was I an attraction!"
August 30, 1964
He is not overly sensitive about his height, but he does not like the way certain New Yorkers, in a patronizing, superior manner, make audible remarks about him as he walks down the street. "One day when I first got here I was walking along the street, when here come three guys. One of them had per-oxided hair down to his shoulders and lavender toreador pants, and he wiggled like Marilyn Monroe. I figured he'd get some stares and then somebody would get a net and take him away. But he went completely unnoticed. People were too busy looking at me! And some guy said, 'Holy cripes, lookit the size a dat guy!' They don't know it, but I could have a tremendous complex about my size, I could be almost a sick boy, yet they say crude things like that. But that's New Yorkers. They're so smug. They think New York is the beginning and the end of civilization. They're the biggest hicks in the world, and New York is the world's biggest hick town."
Beattie the Heavyweight Hopeful is the creation of Gene Schoor, an energetic, enterprising New York City writer, restaurateur, public relations man, former amateur fighter and the general brain behind Kid Galahad, Inc., an organization which aims to clean up boxing, develop a new heavyweight champion and maybe even pick up a buck along the way. As Schoor explains it, the late President Kennedy provided the impetus for the project. Researching his book Young John Kennedy, Schoor spent a day in Washington with the President, and the conversation turned to youth, with Schoor complaining that too many people were shutting the door on youngsters and giving them no chance. "In five minutes this guy had his arm around me," Schoor says, his eyes sparkling over the pleasant memory, "and he told me, 'Gene, it's not true. Damn it, it's not true, because we have more opportunities for kids than ever in the history of this country. Look at the space business alone. We got millions of opportunities for kids. But they got to be shown, they got to be guided, they got to be helped. If you get the kids when they're young,' he said, quote, 'why, hell, the kid walking down the street could be the next astronaut.'
"And I said, 'Or the next President of the United States.'
"And he said, 'Yes, Gene, or the next heavyweight champion of the world.' "
"I was walking on clouds for days," Schoor goes on. "He put a bug in my head. Sitting at Johnny Johnston's restaurant one day—that's the restaurant my partners and I own—we were talking about what the President said, and one of my partners said, 'Why don't we do something about the state of boxing? Let's go out and look for a fighter.' "
Schoor went to The New York Times in January 1962 to place an ad in the sports section:
$10,000 A YEAR WHILE YOU LEARN...
A newly formed syndicate of sportsmen and businessmen is anxious to sponsor the next heavyweight champion.
This group of sportsmen will underwrite all expenses of the chosen candidates and will pay a salary of $10,000 a year for the full training period.
If you are between 19 and 25 years of age—if you weigh upwards of 186 pounds—if you are at least 6 feet tall—then you qualify for an interview. The men we choose for training might make a million dollars. But our trainers (the best in the world) will subject the body of the candidate to fantastically strenuous conditioning. Also the mind and morals of the chosen ones will be under rigid discipline. This will be no hay ride—but the stakes are big.
Write or phone Mr. Phil Krupin [Schoor's partner], Johnny Johnston's Steak House, 846 Second Avenue, N.Y.C.
The Times thought the ad was intriguing and asked one of its editorial personnel to telephone Schoor and question him. "I started to ad-lib right there," says Schoor, who at the moment of placing the ad had had little more than an idea, a restaurant and a shoeshine. "I told the Times I have got a syndicate and we've got $100,000. I want to develop a knight in shining armor. I want to show what a couple of businessmen can do without being gangsters or bums. You don't have to be a Frankie Carbo or a Blinky Palermo, et cetera." The Times, bedazzled by Schoor's rhetoric, ran a long Sunday article about the Kid Galahad project, and Johnny Johnston's steak house was turned into a roaring cacophony.
"The phones never stopped ringing for a week," Schoor says. "Customers—short, fat, tall, dark, skinny, even women—said, 'How do I look?' and they'd start to shadowbox. There were letters, phone calls, wires from all over the country, from Australia, Germany, every place. We were struggling to run a new restaurant, and we didn't know where the hell we'd get any kind of money. My partners said, 'Hey, what did you do? What happened? What are we gonna do about all this?' "
Three months passed, and what they did was nothing—"we didn't have the money to do anything," says Schoor. Then a wealthy New York construction man entered stage left. The builder likes nothing more than to hire the once and future kings of boxing, paying them good money as laborers, and at any given time he is likely to have a dozen or two on his payroll, in much the same manner that other men collect Indian-head pennies. "He came in and he said, 'How much would you need to bring in the first batch of, let's say, 15 kids?' " Schoor recalls. "I said between $3,000 and $5,000. The next day he handed me $5,000. I said, 'What the hell is this?' He said, 'It's $5,000! Go!' I turned red, blue, green. I almost fainted. I'd seen big money before, but I thought he would give me $30 to make a phone call."
With the builder as the money man, Kid Galahad, Inc., was off the ground. Schoor hired Fred (Fat Freddie) Fierro, trainer of Billy Conn, Joey Maxim, Gus Lesnevich and other name fighters; he brought in Ray Arcel as a consultant and veteran Fight Manager Charley Bauer (conveniently employed as a construction foreman for the builder) as an assistant. The first batch of 15 knights in shining armor, advance guard of an eventual contingent of 62, was brought into New York, put up in a hotel, studied, tested, appraised and urged to eat all the steaks they could eat at Johnny Johnston's steak house.
None of this happened in primeval silence. The newspapers were festooned with stories and interviews. "I rate myself the top one," Candidate Sheldon Saffron of Windsor, Ont. told the press. "Why should I degrade myself? Be sure to say I'll be the first Jewish heavyweight champion. My father says Max Baer wasn't Jewish."
John Williams, a 235-pound Florida Negro with eight children, told reporters he was going to become heavyweight champion of the world and then turn to preaching. "Those children," he said disarmingly, "they taught me to be a man and I want to do something for them."
Candidate Ted Williams of The Bronx observed that he was interested in cars, and after he became champion "I wouldn't get me no big Cadillac, but I'd like one of those little foreign cars like a Jaguar or an MG."
They were all living on dreams, and dreams were what they wound up with. At Bobby Gleason's Gym ("No Smoking or Spitting on the Floor") a board of judges consisting of Schoor and Fierro studied the boxers and found them, with a single exception, wanting. The exception was Jim Donlinger, a young seminarian from Winona, Minn. "He walked in one day," Schoor says, "and he was a darling-looking kid, Billy Conn's twin brother. We have a big colored boy, 6 feet 3, 210, and Donlinger punched the stuff out of him, punched the stuff out of every kid we had in the gym. I said, 'This is it. We got the boy.' But he still wanted to be a priest. I kept saying, 'Jimmy, as a boxer you can still be a priest later on after you retire. Think of it, as the heavyweight champion of the world and a priest, your parish could be the most successful, the most famous, you can do more for the people. Anyway, I lost the decision to the superior fathers of St. Mary's. He went back to school."
Schoor got on the phone to Dr. Edwin L. Haislet, director of alumni activities at the University of Minnesota and former boxing coach at the school. "I said, 'Now damn it, Ed, you're in the land of Paul Bunyan.' So help me, this is what I said: 'Ed, there must be some 6-foot 12-inch guy sitting someplace, damn it.' I said, 'I saw those football players at Minnesota, they don't run anything under seven feet tall.' I said, 'You must have some son of a gun not doing anything.' He said, 'Gene, there is a kid sitting on his tail in St. Paul, the Upper Midwest Golden Gloves champ three years in a row, a great-looking kid, a little clumsy, white, six nine, 245, 20 years old.' I said, 'Hold the phone!' "
Via the mails Schoor put the hard sell on the new prospect through Dr. Haislet. A letter to Haislet noted: "In my estimation one of the very vital points in bringing a youngster along is the ability to pick opponents and to 'nurse' the boy along slowly but steadily. To that end my very best friend promotes in two boxing clubs. Both clubs sponsor regular weekly boxing shows—and I select my own opponents." Schoor wrote Haislet that Madison Square Garden Matchmakers Teddy Brenner and Harry Markson were interested in using Kid Galahad fighters in the Garden "again with suitable opponents I okay." Within a year, the voluble Schoor added, the boxer "would be a national figure...and not necessarily have to fight a single tough opponent." If all that was not enough to sell Haislet and the fighter on the project, Schoor pointed out that the trainee would be paid $158 a week as a construction worker, that all training tabs would be picked up "and the boy eats $7 steaks at Johnny Johnston's steak house at no charge."
It took every one of these blandishments to convince James J. Beattie, then 20, to make the trip, even though Kid Galahad, Inc., agreed to give him a free ride and take only one-third of his purses. He was not, at that period of his life, an overly joyous young man. He had left his church after a difference of opinion with his priest—"he thought he could advise me on nonreligious affairs, and I thought he wasn't infallible in things like that." Beattie had won 50 of 55 amateur fights, and two out of two as a professional, but for months he had not been able to get a fight. He was suffering from claustrophobia so severe that he wore a medallion around his neck warning anyone "in a position to incarcerate" him that he would require immediate medical attention if he were closed in. He had even made a study of elevators to learn how to make escapes from them if they stalled ("there's always a hatch you can get out, and then there's a release lever you can push to open the doors"). Minneapolis police, in a bumbling case of mistaken identity, had arrested him as a payroll robber and kept him in the drunk tank for an entire afternoon, an experience that left him shaking and sobbing for two days. On top of that he had asthma, a tendency to injury and a chronically bad back, with five vertebrae out of place. With all these liabilities, he came to New York in April 1963, tried out in front of Schoor and Fierro in the gym and, in Schoor's words, "punched the stuff out of everybody."
The brain trust called an immediate council of war, and Schoor announced: "Fellows, this is our boy, and no ifs, ands or buts." The remaining fighters in the Kid Galahad project were handed honorable discharges, and the drums began to roll. An early publicity release set the pattern:
"Beattie is taller than Camera and hits like a pile driver. Stories of his fighting prowess are as legendary as the great northwest hero Paul Bunyan—but Beattie is a better puncher. As a frail 195-pounder he took on all comers in a traveling circus at 16 and, needless to say, he knocked out 30 successive challengers in 30 nights—including some of the biggest and toughest Swedes and Norwegians in the Northwest. The circus owner finally fired Jim for knocking down one of the circus horses with a blow from his powerful fists!"
Minnesota sportswriters, who had known Beattie as a fine amateur but something less than a Paul Bunyan, rose in a unanimity of annoyance. Wrote Don Riley of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "Blood curdling, isn't it? Too bad it's not true.... Madison Ave. blurb factories still treat their country cousins like rubes from nowhere." George Edmond of the St. Paul Dispatch charged that the public relations experts around Beattie had been "careless about ethical standards." And another home-town writer put it bluntly. Beattie, he wrote, "is no legitimate heavyweight contender. He'll never be a champion and I pray that he will never be hurt before he finds out."
Dr. Haislet fired a letter at Schoor: "Gene, you have me worried. Your ballyhoo is a work of art—and at that you are the expert. But the ballyhoo is timed wrong—putting the pressure on you to bounce and on Jim to be a good fighter, able and ready to do all you have talked about. It is all wrong—introducing the boy as the 'next heavyweight champion'—all the publicity. Jim is out of the amateur ranks (where he never was quite the best) and when he's not yet 21 years old.... You could get him knocked off so easily. Jim is still a big awkward boy, gifted with a heavy hand, and a desire to be a fighter. He is not a natural fighter—potential, yes, but underdeveloped. At this point a fast, slick boxer could make him look like a rank amateur—and then where is Kid Galahad?"
Haislet asked that the boy be given six months of training, then six weeks of rest, including a trip to Europe, and then a fight or two, followed by another training period until he had been given enough time "to learn his trade, mature, and become psychologically and physiologically ready."
Schoor felt no less strongly that Beattie should be brought along slowly, but his plan was to fight the boy occasionally in out-of-town bouts against "carefully selected" opponents as part of the training process. At first, Beattie made Schoor's approach look good by wining three straight fights by knockouts. Then, on a hot and humid night in Saratoga Springs, in front of half a dozen New York sportswriters, Haislet's prophetic warning came true. The opponent was John Barrazza, sparmate of George Chuvalo, a ranking heavyweight contender. The kindest words that boxing people had been able to say about Barrazza was that he was a "catcher," a fighter who could take punishment. For two rounds Barrazza confirmed his reputation, taking a fearful beating about the head from Beattie's vicious lefts. But in the third round Beattie suddenly stopped pitching and started catching, and soon he was all but immobile as Barrazza pounded at will to the vast midsection. "He hurt me, yes, he did hurt me," Beattie recalls with chagrin. "I was exhausted, I could see three of him coming at me, but I couldn't get out of the way." At the end of the fifth round Referee Arthur Mercante awarded Barrazza a TKO, and an ambulance was called to take Beattie to the hospital, where he was placed in an oxygen tent. Doctors discovered that his foot, injured in training, was broken in three places. Unable to pivot, he had been a stationary target. Schoor remembers trying to shake Beattie out of his lethargy in the hospital. "I told him, 'You didn't lose because of your foot. You lost because you were not in shape. And let this be a lesson to you!' " Beattie has two vivid memories of his trip to the hospital: "I remember Freddie Fierro sitting in the ambulance with tears in his eyes, and I remember Schoor saying to me, 'Every boxing writer in the state was there,' and, 'You quit, you quit on me.' "
In the light of the subsequent publicity Schoor's anguish was understandable. Jack Mann felt constrained to remind the 400,000 readers of the New York Herald Tribune that The Harder They Fall was not about James J. Beattie. "He can't play Budd Schulberg's classic patsy because he's smart enough to do something else for a living," Mann wrote. "He should."
Murray Robinson, in the New York Journal-American, observed that the fight had "exploded another ring bubble, the brain child of a New York press agent and his partners.... I use the past tense in referring to him as a fighter."
Beattie's first opponent after the Saratoga Springs disaster was Al Alberts, a boxer whose name does not appear in The Ring Record Book, largely because Al Alberts is not his real name. Other easy opponents came and went (three potential opponents were turned down by the Massachusetts Boxing Commission as unfit), and Beattie rolled up a string of seven straight knockouts, making his overall professional record read, to date: 11 wins, 10 knockouts, one loss by TKO.
Though not all agree, many of boxing's insiders are satisfied that Schoor's system of heavy training and occasional fights is as good a way as any to bring the big fighter along. ("It was good enough for Marciano," said one. "It oughta be good enough for Beattie.") Beattie's opponents may be stiffs, but they are also Beattie's peers. As Schoor points out, "We are fighting kids that can beat Jim. Take, for example, we fought a kid named Frank Davis, and we told Jim the only way he could get hurt was to walk into a wild overhand right. Well, he walked out into a wild overhand right and went down. He got up, and Davis knocked him down again. Then Jim got up and knocked Davis out. Jim could very easily have lost that fight, but he showed something. I try to match him against opponents of his own experience and against opponents who can teach him something."
Not that every Beattie fight has been a tutorial success. In his New York debut Beattie knocked out one Duke Johnson of Red Bank, N.J. with the first punch of the fight, at 24 seconds of the first round. Johnson, it developed, had been put to rest in seven of his previous 13 fights, and the commission doctor recommended strongly that he seek some other means of gainful employment.
The main difficulty presented by a record consisting of 10 KOs over the likes of Duke Johnson is that it offers no yardstick by which to evaluate the fighter. "Can he hit?" asks a hanger-on at Gleason's, where Beattie works out daily. "Whadda we know? He's only been fightin' punchin' bags. Dolores Del Rio'd look good against a punchin' bag." A New York heavyweight who was asked to hire on as a sparmate for Beattie said, "I turned them down. I ain't no fool. Maybe someday I'll fight him and get a big, fat payday. You can hit this guy easy with a right hand." But veteran Manager Al Braverman says, "This kid is a handsome white giant who can punch. As if that isn't enough, the kid's intelligent." Charley Goldman, who trained Marciano, says, "This kid could be just the thing to get boxing healthy. He's got a nice left, but he's slow—maybe too slow. And they could be bringing him along too fast. He should be fighting in the sticks, where he can come along slow, build up his confidence and get those press notices without getting hurt." The consensus is that he is a legitimate prospect in a very early stage.
As for Jim Beattie, he is more than commonly aware of what is happening around him, and so honest about himself as to be almost an affront to boxing, where honesty is not recognized as one of the nobler virtues. Beattie looks back on all the drum rolls and trumpet voluntaries and says simply: "They shouldn't be talking so big about me. Who the hell is Jim Beattie? I might get up against a really tough top-name opponent and go completely to pieces, totally out of my mind. Maybe I can't take it. They don't know that. They don't know whether I'm gonna get into a fight and start making amateur mistakes because the pressure eats my nerves out. They don't know. I know I'm not yellow, but they don't know it. I'll speak for every boxer that climbed into a ring: there's the tension, the nervousness, almost downright stark fear. There's nothing in the world as real as fear. Fear is the one thing. And my own fear isn't a fear of getting hurt. That's never bothered me. I'm afraid of looking bad."
Beattie figures that the fear of looking bad might have some connection with his childhood when, for a period, he did look bad. His father and two brothers were excellent baseball players, and Jim, the middle brother, could not get the hang of the game. But the family was close-knit and loyal, and the Beattie boys kept trying to inflict their hapless brother on the neighborhood baseball teams, while Jim cringed with shame. "One day when I was about 14 my brother Davey talked his team into letting me play first base, and I got a single my first time up. Then I got to second base and the bases were loaded. So what do I do with the bases loaded? I try to steal third. The guy on third headed for home, and they tagged him out. I ran back toward second but the guy on first was coming into second: so they tagged us both out. That made it a triple play, and the batter hadn't even swung at the ball yet. That one play gives you an idea of what kind of a baseball player I was. You can laugh, but there was nothing funny about it to me. I felt I was letting the whole family down.
"I remember an incident long before that one—when I was 5 or 6 years old. They were all out playing baseball, and I was sitting there watching and I'm saying to myself, 'I wish I could play. Boy, I wish I could play!' And then some idiot broad said, 'Why don't you play ball with your brothers? You're not any good like your brothers.' Then I got mad. I said, 'Don't worry, I'm gonna be a prizefighter some day." Five years old! Things that are said to you at that age form you. Your mind is like jelly—puttylike, impressionable."
Beattie's problem in his teens was that he was growing too fast; his coordination did not keep up with his statistics. "I'm still not mature," he says, "and I won't be till I'm 24, 25. It takes a big man longer. But aside from that, I'm all right now. The asthma's gone. The chiropractor's fixing up my bad back. The broken foot is healed. I'm a freak in only one respect, that I'm abnormally large."
Beattie remains overly sensitive, and is given to long, brooding conversations over coffee, preferably with girls. Although he started boxing as a 14-year-old amateur and he calls boxing "my life, the thing I really live for," he is also concerned about his image. "People think all fighters are Cauliflower McPugg on The Reel Skelton Show," he says with disgust. "When people find out I'm a fighter they back off a little bit and they look at me and they wait for me to start picking things out of the air. It's terrible."
He is enthusiastically indifferent about certain suggestions that he will go to Hollywood as a western hero when his highly publicized boxing career is over. "I think it's a bunch of baloney myself," he says. "It would be a real lark, a world of fun, but I don't think I'm the Hollywood type. Sometimes I wonder what I would do if all this comes to an end, if I get a big fight and get clobbered. What then? Well, if it all came tumbling down I really don't know how I could take it. Probably I'd go to school and try to become a teacher—history or social studies. But you don't have to be a great fighter to make a fortune nowadays. I can make enough money in one fight to retire financially for the rest of my natural life, and I'm looking forward to that day. Right now I'm realizing the one dream of my life: boxing. But I don't think anybody can keep up this tremendous love for the sport, for any sport. There's a pot of gold waiting for me. Maybe someday I'll be a great fighter, maybe I won't. But even if I'm not, I can still make a fortune."
To make a fortune, and to help his backers recover the 560,000 they have in Kid Galahad, Inc., James J. Beattie eventually would have to step into the ring against the likes of Eddie Machen, Doug Jones and Floyd Patterson, the rated contenders. If he is worried about the prospect, he does not show it. "I figure they'll bring me along right, so that I'll be ready for whatever comes," he says. "I don't lose any sleep worrying about it."
He has had one recurrent dream. "I dreamed I was fighting Doug Jones. In a street fight. I hit him and hit him and hit him and hit him. The fight developed like a nightmare. I couldn't hurt him. I couldn't hurt him. I hit him with everything, and I couldn't hurt the guy." If the Doug Jones-Jim Beattie fight ever comes off, one can only hope that another part of Beattie's recurrent dream will come true. As Beattie remembers the dream, "Jones never hurt me, either." It is said that the dreamer composes his own dreams, and sometimes they are the stuff that life is made on.