Except for the Earl of Sandwich, Norman Selby is the only sportsman whose name has become a common noun in general use. Selby fought under the name of Kid McCoy and the word McCoy is now found in reputable lexicons, "usually preceded by the," according to The Random House Dictionary, "as, the real McCoy, the genuine thing as promised, stated or implied." The term "real McCoy" spread through American speech around the turn of the century, appeared in English novels in the 1930s and even popped up in Scotland, where it became the real McKaye. The real McCoy himself, that is the fighter whose true name was Norman Selby, never actually liked the phrase, and as he became a household word he tried repeatedly to recapture his identity as plain old Norman Selby. But he never succeeded.
Kid McCoy burst into sports history in 1896 when he was 23 years old. He won the world welterweight championship (145 pounds) and went on to fight middleweights (then 158 pounds), light heavyweights (175) and even heavyweights. The biggest man he defeated was one Herr Plaacke, who at 6'5¾" and 245 pounds was the size of Jess Willard. McCoy fought several heavyweights. He knocked out 220-pound Peter Maher, who nearly beat Fitzsimmons. He was barely beaten by Tom Sharkey, whose followers claimed he had really won a savage 25-round fight awarded to James Jeffries. McCoy was knocked out by James Corbett in the last fight in Madison Square Garden before boxing was outlawed by New York State in 1900.
In all McCoy had 105 recorded fights, winning 81 and losing six. The others were drawn or were no-decision affairs. McCoy is in the Boxing Hall of Fame, and by searching with diligence one can find occasional references to him in ring literature, but his real importance was as a word and a symbol. McCoy was the first sports celebrity to become a nationally known, publicity-created character, a fictional being. Later on the phenomenon became familiar, and people today recognize that the public image of, say, Joe Namath is not necessarily the same as the real Joe Namath in private life.
But in McCoy's time the popularization process was barely beginning. Because he was the real McCoy, people expected him to act like the real McCoy all the time. So he began to think of himself as the real McCoy and to act in a way that would have been impossible for the real Norman Selby. The result was a personality struggle and eventually Selby became trapped in his own living legend. There was nothing so clear-cut as a Jekyll-Hyde situation. It was just that the fictional creation of Kid McCoy and the living human being of Norman Selby became increasingly entangled with each other; the motives for their conflicting actions became confused and in the end, by way of romance, theft and murder, they destroyed each other.
May 31, 1970
Norman Selby was the more likable and definable of the two. He was a farm boy, tall and skinny, never robust, born in a close-knit family of three sisters and a younger brother in Moscow, Ind. He was soft-spoken, courteous and remarkably handsome, with gray eyes and black curly hair and a classic profile that made him look like a more rugged version of John Barrymore. His matinee-idol features even led him to a theatrical career, his greatest success coming in David Wark Griffith's silent-screen masterpiece, Broken Blossoms.
As a farm boy, Selby's life ran according to the pattern of the time and place: he fished, rode horseback, hunted rabbits, did chores, and left home. At 18, in Butte, Mont., he had his first and only professional fight as Norman Selby. He was paid $5 and believed he had come upon the ideal way to earn money.
His first fight under the name of Kid McCoy (there is no record as to why he selected that particular name) was in St. Paul in 1891 and for the next three years, while he was living at home, he fought a good deal around Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Cleveland. Eventually he began to attract attention because he went into the ring bent on getting the business over with as soon as possible. It was a time of long-drawn-out fights: Tommy Ryan, the welterweight champion, fought 76 rounds with Middleweight Danny Needham before knocking him out. These marathon struggles were masterly demonstrations of conditioning, but they were almost as tiring for the spectators as they were for the fighters.
McCoy, on the other hand, rushed into action from the first bell as though he had to catch a train. He had 12 fights in 1893 and won nine of them in from one to five rounds. He fought constantly, hurrying from bout to bout in Akron, Dubuque, Jersey City, Syracuse, Boston, Hot Springs, New Orleans, Joplin, Mo. He generally would knock out some promising local boy in a round or two and rush on to another fight. His opponents were an inglorious throng and they often dropped out of boxing after fighting McCoy. He was accused of a lack of sportsmanship in eliminating so many fighters who might have gone on, but he explained that he was doing them a service. "A quick knockout could be construed as merciful," he once said. "I always tried for one."
At this time McCoy was still subordinate to Norman Selby, for whom fighting was merely a means of earning money, one at which he happened to be proficient. The fight game as such, fight-club personalities, the vast importance attached to subtle gradations in the standing of opponents, meant little to him. A short time before his 21st birthday Selby fell in love with Lottie Piehler, a nice, quiet country girl who was working in a millinery shop in Middletown, Ohio. He had $300 left from McCoy's last fight, and he married her. They went to Cincinnati, and when the money was spent McCoy got a job in a theater in Louisville, where his part of the evening's entertainment consisted of fighting anybody in the audience who wanted to try him. For this he earned $250 a week and he and his bride saved their money and went to New York. There McCoy got a few fights with middleweights of some reputation, including Abe Ullman, Shadow Maber and Mysterious Billy Smith, all championship contenders. When he won easily he began to be taken seriously by the New York sporting crowd.
There was more than bold aggression, ambition and a hint of snobbishness in the makeup of Kid McCoy. Damon Runyon, at the beginning of his sportswriting career, called McCoy one of the greatest fighters in ring history and praised his intelligence. "One of the cleverest, craftiest men who ever put on boxing gloves" was the way Runyon put it. And most experts agreed that McCoy was a superb boxer. He differed from such fine boxers as Tommy Ryan in that he was not primarily defensive; his boxing skill included an attack that went on as long as he could keep it up or until his opponent could no longer face it. If his fights went more than 10 rounds they tended to be drawn.
McCoy made a quick trip to England in 1895, the first of 66 journeys abroad, and there lost a 10-round decision to Ted White, only the second loss in a 38-fight career. But early the next year he came back to win the welterweight title from Tommy Ryan in 15 rounds. The fight was Ryan's first defeat in 44 fights and it established Kid McCoy as a permanent name for Norman Selby.
The fictional creation of McCoy now began to take over from the real Norman Selby. Both liked to have money, but Selby liked to earn it and save it and McCoy liked to make it fast and either spend it or carry it around. One of McCoy's idiosyncrasies was to keep his money in cash—coins, bills and gold. He carried thousands of dollars in his pockets. He was fascinated with gems as another tangible form of wealth, and jumped at a chance to tight the middleweight champion of South Africa at Johannesburg during the mining boom. He won the fight, but he became legend there because of the money he carried around with him. He once added up a wad of it and found it totaled $40,000.
At this time James Corbett, the ex-champion, owned a flourishing saloon on Broadway that was a meeting place for sports figures, and McCoy decided to start a more elegant restaurant and bar in the building of the Casino Theatre a short distance away. The Casino was a fashionable playhouse—Florodora ran there for two years and brought considerable trade to McCoy's place. Corbett's bar was for men—horseplayers, bookmakers, gamblers and sporting types who preferred to avoid the limelight—while McCoy's had huge plate-glass windows through which passers-by could see the celebrities inside. Since these were theatrical figures accustomed to being stared at they were far from displeased. And they were a glamorous crew: Lillian Russell, Anna Held, Trixie Friganza and the wonderful comedienne Marie Dressler.
Mack Sennett got his introduction to theater life at McCoy's bar and became McCoy's friend, as did De Wolf Hopper and John and Lionel Barrymore.
Mrs. Norman Selby did not fit into this sort of life and divorced McCoy, who then married Julia Woodruff, a beautiful but hot-tempered young actress. After a stormy year of married life Julia divorced McCoy, but remarried him almost at once only to divorce him again. When they were married a third time McCoy tried to keep it a secret, but reporters learned that the couple exchanged vows in the office of a justice of the peace in Union Hills, N.J. and entertained their readers with accounts of catching McCoy trying to marry secretly a wife he had married twice before.
Ridicule got under McCoy's skin and this led to an action that Norman Selby would have avoided. Tom Sharkey was one of the toughest contenders in that Neanderthal age of heavyweight fighters, but McCoy impetuously agreed to fight him. The reason was that Sharkey had a saloon on 14th Street which was even more of a meeting place for the fight crowd than Corbett's and a pole apart from McCoy's own polite establishment. Sharkey's was dark, tough and always packed with surly partisans who loudly believed the owner to be the champion of everything. It also existed on the border of the underworld.
As a fighter Sharkey was a tireless head-down slugger, prone to windmill in like a barroom brawler, able to withstand terrific punishment and willing to slam away until something connected. In 1899 McCoy took on Sharkey and the match had somewhat the air of rival capitalists settling their differences with boxing gloves. Sharkey was a better businessman (and bigger at 183 pounds to 160) and he knocked out McCoy in the 10th round. Under the circumstances McCoy did not look bad, but it was a victory for the roughnecks, and trade increased at Sharkey's saloon.
McCoy was annoyed by imitators as well as competitors. He had fought in so many out-of-the-way places that fighters calling themselves Kid McCoy began turning up all over the country. One phony McCoy in California so irritated a San Francisco sportswriter. William Naughton, that Naughton went into fight promotion himself. His first offering was a fight between McCoy and Joe Choynski, a heavyweight. Choynski was considered indestructible. He was square, tough, experienced and willing to fight anybody. He fought Corbett (four times), Fitzsimmons and Jeffries, and remained in action long enough to knock out Jack Johnson in 1901.
This was the opponent that Naughton, in his hatred of sham and his concern for McCoy's good name, lined up for a fight three months after McCoy had been beaten by Sharkey. They met in San Francisco and McCoy was not favored. His detractors said he had only beaten beginners, that he had no staying power, that he could not take a punch, and that, if he ever had been any good, he was now only a Broadway playboy. At first it seemed they were right. McCoy forced the fight as he always did and Choynski knocked him down. When he got up Choynski knocked him down again. So it went, round after round. By the time round 20 arrived McCoy had been on the canvas 16 times. He also had an unnatural grimace on his features, the result of a bent bridge on his teeth, a broken nose and three broken ribs. But then, to the astonishment of all, he dramatically knocked Choynski out. Naughton ran the news in headlines: NOW YOU'VE SEEN THE REAL McCOY!
For no reason that is obvious—then or now—the phrase caught on and radiated far beyond the world of fight fans. The real McCoy came to mean a good suit of clothes, an ample meal, a tip on a horse race, a truly bad man, a full house, an expensive cigar, a no-hitter, a diamond ring, a winning lottery ticket, a reformed burglar, an earthquake, tornado, tidal wave, fire, train wreck or other catastrophe, or perhaps merely an unadulterated breakfast cereal. The turn of the century was a time of blatant imitation and outrageous pretense, of synthetic flavors, watered stock, salted gold mines, counterfeit bills, sawdust-stuffed sausages, artificial colorings, preservatives, patent medicines and cures, frauds and confidence games so numerous that some simple phrase was needed to get across the opposite. The real McCoy served to express the ordinary citizen's approval of whatever was genuine in a world of high-pressure unrealities.
McCoy was flattered at finding himself a nationwide slogan which, if some advertising man had invented it, would have been worth a fortune. It is uncommon for a living human being to become synonymous with authenticity and genuineness and the opposite of that which is artificial, imitation, bogus or pretended. McCoy reacted by reverting briefly to Norman Selby; he bought a farm. It was on the outskirts of Saratoga, N.Y. and only its location recommended it to Kid McCoy, for Saratoga was the gambling center of the country. For Norman Selby the farm, called Cedar Bluffs, was an ideal purchase. It was a link to an outdoor childhood and a simple life. But for the real McCoy at the height of his fame, a farmer's life was impossible.
There was, however, one meeting point in the identities of Norman Selby and the real McCoy. McCoy had a missionary zeal for physical fitness. He even persuaded Variety to publish a column, How to Take Care of Yourself, much to the bewilderment of readers who—while searching for items of gossip and theatrical news—instead encountedred McCoy's advocacy of fresh air and plenty of exercise. McCoy was now so famous and influential that he seriously believed he could restore hard-drinking, saturated sportsmen and playboys to a robust life they had never known or enjoyed in the first place. So Cedar Bluffs became a health farm. Unfriendly accounts later called it McCoy's roadhouse but it was, at least at first, a seriously operated rest home and reconditioning sanitarium.
Unfortunately McCoy did not have much time to spend at the farm. Everyone wanted to see the real McCoy fight, and in the fall of 1899, four months after he knocked out Choynski, he had four fights in only eight days. He won the first three easily. In the fourth Jack McCormick, who went on to a respectable middleweight career, knocked him out in the first round. The real McCoy could not let his admirers down in that manner, so he had eight fights in rapid succession and won them all (including a decision over McCormick) except for a draw with Choynski.
McCoy now had come to believe in his own legend. It was not that he dramatized himself or thought of himself as a hero—he was too shrewd for that and was always merciless in his self-honesty—but the mythical Kid McCoy exercised a kind of tidal influence that pulled human motives out of their natural orbit and made them subject to the fluctuations and changes in the legend. This helps account for why McCoy fought Corbett. The two men were on the same side in their attempt to raise the standards of the sport. Their wives had been close friends. But rumors spread the fight was fixed. Broadway Magazine speculated that domestic troubles lay behind the fight, and reported that Mrs. McCoy and Mrs. Corbett were no longer speaking. Money certainly was not a major motive.
At any rate, the fight was held on the night of Aug. 30, 1900, only hours before the anti-boxing law went into effect, and only a handful of spectators appeared. Both Corbett and McCoy were fast and expert but they shocked reporters by showing no scientific skill whatever and slugging like a pair of street brawlers. They kept it up until the fifth round when Corbett knocked McCoy senseless. The only thing the fight proved was that it certainly was not fixed.
McCoy went to his own health farm to recover. Two of his first clients were there at the time, Edward Ellis, the heir of the founder of the Ellis Locomotive Company, and Ralph Thompson, a famous coxswain of the Yale Crew and a wealthy playboy. Ellis came down with typhoid fever and nearly died, creating some ghoulish amusement among Broadway wits about McCoy's health treatments. Mrs. McCoy had a young actress, Estelle Earle, visiting her at the farm and Ellis, recovering, married Miss Earle. Simultaneously Mrs. McCoy ran off to Japan with Ralph Thompson, leaving McCoy alone with his punching bags, diets and health hints.
"This business of being a living trademark can be hell," Mack Sennett once said, and McCoy certainly agreed. He dropped out of sight, insofar as it was possible for the real McCoy to do so. His restaurant and bar went out of business. He quietly divorced the wife he had married three times and married an actress, Indianola Arnold, who was appearing in The Wizard of Oz. He tried to keep this marriage a secret, too, but the news got out. It turned out that that marriage did not count and was somehow annulled. Just at that time Augustus Thomas, a leading American dramatist, produced a prizefight play, The Other Girl, about a fortune-hunting prizefighter who tried to marry an heiress and was frustrated by the difference in their social positions. Lionel Barrymore, who played the fighter, carefully studied McCoy's appearance, walk, speech and mannerisms and duplicated them on the stage so expertly that McCoy himself seemed to be playing the role. The play opened at the Criterion Theatre at the end of 1903 and was a sensational success. It ran for more than six months and it altered McCoy's public image insofar as his former Broadway cronies were concerned.
In 1904 young Ellis died, leaving a fortune estimated at $7 million, and a year later, on Oct. 21, 1905, McCoy married his widow. The Morning Telegraph, an alert journal of horse racing and night life, headlined the news as the biggest story of the day and reported: "Along Broadway last night that same $7 million formed the chief topic of conversation."
McCoy lost no time in letting it be known what he was going to do. He was going to be Norman Selby again. With two established diamond merchants as partners he started a high-quality jewelry store on Maiden Lane and another on Broadway. Norman Selby was president of the company. Next he organized a nationwide detective agency, in partnership with a former New York City policeman. He had a luxurious suite of offices on Fifth Avenue and 25 operatives scattered around the country. Again Norman Selby was president. Still later he started an automobile agency.
But he never could get rid of Kid McCoy. Newspapers referred to him as "Mr. Norman Selby (Kid McCoy)." His wife named her yacht The Kid McCoy. Strangers tried to knock him down. In a New York bar some celebrating college boys who saw him wearing tails, a silk hat and a cape argued loudly that he could not possibly be the real McCoy. As a test one of them punched him on the jaw. The experiment was a success: this was unquestionably the real McCoy, for he knocked the intrepid undergraduate cold. In front of the Café Madrid a mining engineer named Asa Willard Hein slugged McCoy—or knocked his silk hat off, the accounts differ—and McCoy tried almost desperately to avoid a fight. After he blacked Hein's eye he pleaded with the patrolman who arrested them both for disorderly conduct, saying they had acted childishly. It did no good. The name of Norman Selby appeared on the police blotter, was spotted by reporters and reappeared in headlines the next day.
Hein may have had justification for his poke at McCoy since Hein had sued his wife for divorce and named McCoy as co-respondent. McCoy immediately went on a hunting trip to Canada, though it was not the hunting season, and then visited France while his third (or fourth or sixth, depending on how you count) wife divorced him. Sometime later reporters in the backwoods of North Carolina came upon the marriage record of one Norman Selby and the former Edna Valentine Hein. Since she was the daughter of a wealthy importer, the private life of Kid McCoy was again in the news.
The McCoys came to New York, where he opened a bar and restaurant in the Hotel Normandie, a short distance from the Casino Theatre, and welcomed back his theatrical patrons. David Wark Griffith, returning from California after his first success as a director, met McCoy in his bar nightly and often walked with him to his gymnasium two blocks away for boxing lessons.
McCoy's penchant for the limelight continued. He lived in a fashionable world but he did not share its prejudices, especially with respect to race. The bigotry at this time was focused on the Negro champion, Jack Johnson, and the search for a great white hope to restore white supremacy to the ring. All of which seemed irrational to McCoy. When Mrs. Jack Johnson, a white woman, committed suicide in 1912 McCoy wrote an eloquent letter to The Morning Telegraph pleading for an understanding between the races and concluding that it was each man's duty "to treat his fellow man as a brother and each woman as you would have your own mother and sister treated." The newspaper printed the statement with an apologetic disclaimer that said: "The Morning Telegraph can scarcely agree with Kid McCoy."
McCoy had trouble keeping up the standing of his bar and finally he lost his liquor license under conditions which suggested the role of the police was hardly simon-pure. So, at 39, McCoy returned to the ring, first for some inconsequential fights in Philadelphia and Toronto and then three bouts in France. His reputation was still such that his victory over a forgotten Englishman named P.O. Curran, in a 20-round bout in Nice in 1912, was international sports news from The Times of London to the Toledo Blade.
More important for McCoy, on this European trip he won the friendship of Maurice Maeterlinck, the Belgian poet who had been awarded the Nobel Prize in 1911. Maeterlinck held a princely position in Europe's prewar intellectual aristocracy. A short, powerful athletic figure who was in fact a good boxer and soccer player, he had made a fortune from his vaporous and lofty verse. He owned a villa at Nice, a chalet in Switzerland, an apartment in Paris and one of the most sumptuous estates in Normandy, Les Abeilles. It had formerly been a Benedictine monastery and had room for 400 guests.
Georgette Leblanc, an opera singer generally regarded as Maeterlinck's wife though they were not married, brought to Les Abeilles throngs of ballet dancers, avant-garde artists, modern composers, symbolist poets, sculptors, critics, essayists, scientists, opera stars and theatrical figures. On special occasions she put on magnificent outdoor productions of Maeterlinck's dramas and to these she invited political figures from all over Europe. Her plan was to make Les Abeilles a French version of Wagner's Bayreuth.
Maeterlinck himself, however, was a tireless hiker and trout fisherman, a follower of bicycle racing and one of the first people in France to ride a motorcycle. He had his own private boxing instructor, a fighter named Raymond Bon, but he took lessons from Georges Carpentier as well and in 1912 fought an exhibition bout for charity with Carpentier, who was then only beginning to be known. McCoy was a fine recruit for the Maeterlinck circle. He was not only an agreeable man of the world but a celebrated fighter as well. He too was invited to give Maeterlinck boxing lessons. One of Maeterlinck's many delusions was that everyone enjoyed boxing as much as he did, and he would greet his highbrow guests with a cordial invitation to put on the gloves and spar a few rounds. Carpentier later said Maeterlinck was a poor boxer, but McCoy remembered it differently. "He's a good boxer," he told reporters, "and a good sport."
McCoy fitted into Maeterlinck's world as if he had never known any other kind of life. He was no name-dropper and rarely mentioned his own eminent friends. Still, he knew it did him no harm to be pictured traveling with the Prince of Monaco (the grandfather of Prince Rainier), who was also a boxing enthusiast, or to be photographed sparring with Maeterlinck.
But McCoy's social success with European aristocracy was phenomenally brief. After being lionized at Maeterlinck's he went on to Ostend. He stayed at the Palace Hotel in that fashionable resort, where the Princess von Thurn und Taxis also happened to be. The princess was an American heiress from Pittsburgh; she had married the prince, a grandson of the Emperor of Austria, the year before. On the day McCoy left Ostend for London the princess noticed that $80,000 worth of her jewelry was missing. A New York gambler named Squealer Kemp, posing as a London industrialist, was charged with the theft, and since McCoy had been seen in his company the police believed McCoy had taken the stones with him.
The London police picked up McCoy on the Strand during the rush hour as he was on his way to the Hotel Cecil. He did not have any diamonds, but at the request of the Belgian authorities he was locked up. How long he remained in jail is unclear; some accounts say eight days, others a month. But a British magistrate eventually noted that there was no evidence against him. The charge of jewel theft was variously described as preposterous, absurd, ridiculous and bewildering, but whatever it was McCoy was no longer welcome in the homes of people who owned jewelry.
Suddenly a social outcast, McCoy returned quietly to New York, enlisted in the National Guard and served along the Rio Grande. He was an orderly on the staff of General John O'Ryan, a fight enthusiast who, when not engaged in military actions against Pancho Villa, was busy trying to get New York's anti-boxing law repealed. Soon McCoy was active in theatrical and sporting circles again, since many of his old friends saw service in Mexico. When the U.S. entered World War I, McCoy was made a recruiting sergeant and he apparently became a remarkably effective one. He dispensed with the fervent oratory and emotional patriotic appeals then in vogue and instead spoke in a forthright, down-to-earth fashion. The name of the real McCoy carried weight.
It was at the end of the war that he entered the most extraordinary phase of his extraordinary career. David Griffith wanted to make a movie that would not have the huge crowd scenes, huge settings and huge expenses of Intolerance and The Birth of a Nation and he signed McCoy for a key role in Broken Blossoms. The film was based on a chapter in Limehouse Nights by Thomas Burke. It revolved around a sadistic prizefighter, "A gorilla of the jungles of East London" (overplayed with horrible grimaces by Donald Crisp), and his brutal mistreatment of his daughter (played with haunting pathos and delicacy by Lillian Gish). A Chinese who rescued her and hid her away was played by an unknown youth, Richard Barthelmess, who wore a rubber band under his skullcap to make his eyes slant. The story was strange to begin with, the setting in London's Chinatown was remote from anything in the normal experience of an American audience, and the film was deliberately overdrawn—the father too monstrous to be credible, the daughter too winsome and lovely, even amid the beatings and the squalor, to be believed, the Chinese too sensitive and gentle, and the climax, in which the father killed his daughter and was killed by her Chinese lover, was too harrowing.
It was McCoy's task to be a link to the real world in all this madness and he performed it admirably. He played the part of a prizefighter opposed to the demonic father. He was merely an ordinary man, with natural, recognizable human impulses, in a world of grotesques. The audience could identify with him, and while he appeared before the camera only in the three rounds of the famous fight in the film, he performed his role admirably. Broken Blossoms opened on Broadway on May 13, 1919 with a stunning impact on its first-night crowd of international celebrities. It left its viewers silent as they filed from the theater, and the reviews the next morning were little more than collections of superlatives and references to the promise of a new form of art.
Thus McCoy, at the age of 47, began a new career. A survey of what the movies needed most, conducted by Photoplay magazine, had come up with an answer: genuine human beings. McCoy specialized in roles in which he represented reality, the real thing, the real McCoy, a human being without the affectations and hokum of the silent stars. In The House of Glass he was a detective, not a great Sherlock Holmes sleuth but a plain cop carrying out his orders. Clara Kimball Young was the girl falsely convicted of jewel theft who ran away while on parole after serving a long prison term. McCoy tracked her down, but in the process discovered she was innocent of the crime for which she had been imprisoned. Should he let her go or follow his orders? He took her back to jail.
McCoy's rise to cinema fame was followed by still another divorce: his wife said McCoy was a likable person "but he belongs to the public and not to any one woman." And he became even more of a public figure because of Prohibition, as the phrase "the real McCoy" began being widely used to mean a drink of real whiskey as opposed to bootleg hooch. In The American Language H. L. Mencken described the real McCoy as primarily a Prohibition term. Variety spoke of a McCoy as a speakeasy where genuine liquor could be bought. McCoy's name was a term of the highest approbation, as good as "bottled in bond."
McCoy enjoyed his celebrity. But celebrity and solvency were two different things and in 1922 McCoy was declared bankrupt by a Los Angeles court. The reason was another fatal friendship involving jewels. The personalities in this case were Albert Mors and his wife Theresa, operators of an art store in Los Angeles. Mors started his business on Seventh Street in Los Angeles, next door to that of a former New Yorker, Sam Schapps, whose wife had grown up with Mrs. Mors. In 1923 the Morses were divorced and McCoy appeared on the scene as a bodyguard for Mrs. Mors, a dark-haired woman in her early 40s. Disputes over the property in the art store created scenes, and McCoy was ordered not to reappear there. On the night of Aug. 12, 1924 Mrs. Mors, accompanied by McCoy, went to her former home to confront her husband. They found a party in progress. Mrs. Mors attacked her ex-husband. McCoy refused to come to her aid. Mors called the police and charged his ex-wife with assault, but the police refused to act in a domestic quarrel. Mrs. Mors and McCoy returned to her apartment, where McCoy told her he thought he ought to go to New York until everything blew over. She was depressed, saying the Government was going to take her jewelry—there was a smuggling problem—that Mors was removing her property from the store and that McCoy was now leaving her. His story was that she grabbed a knife and threatened to kill herself. He held her arm, he said, but she seized his revolver and shot herself.
McCoy placed a sheet over her body, wrote his will and got her car from the garage. At 2 in the morning he appeared at the home of his sister, who had married a Los Angeles banker. According to his sister, he said, "I killed her." His sister, in a remarkable statement that was never explained, said, "Did you kill him, too?" And nobody called the police.
When Mors' store opened the next morning, McCoy appeared with his revolver, locked the door and ordered the employees to call Mors and tell him he was needed at the store. When Mors did not appear McCoy decided to leave, but as a customer started toward him McCoy shot and wounded him and then shot two other people, neither fatally. He ran away but gave himself up moments later.
The evidence indicated that Mrs. Mors had been shot from some distance, and McCoy was charged with first-degree murder. The case was headlined across the country and would have been an even greater sensation had it not been that the Leopold-Loeb murder trial was going on in Chicago at the time.
Now the many legends of the real McCoy bore down on Norman Selby: the old scandals were revived, his fights, divorces, marriages and remarriages were related in a new light; the theft of the jewels of the Princess von Thurn und Taxis was recollected and the three decades of publicity that had gone into the making of the fabulous Kid McCoy dominated the trial. He was condemned as a moral leper, a man who had always preyed on women and abandoned them. Newspaper readers must have concluded that his physical appearance changed as the trial went on. At first he "basked in the glances and smiles of numerous women admirers, a lot that has been his since the day he first sprang into prominence as a crafty successful ring fighter," but at the end his head sagged, revealing a gleaming bald skull above his clipped black curly fringe of hair, and tears ran down his pasty cheeks. Only one female admirer remained in court when he was sentenced.
McCoy's defense was insanity and when he took the stand he admitted everything except killing Mrs. Mors. The jury deliberated for 78 hours, the longest time on record in California courts, and found McCoy guilty of manslaughter. He was sentenced to a maximum of 48 years.
Norman Selby was a model prisoner at San Quentin. He was released in 1932, age 61, at the low ebb of the Depression, but he had at last gotten rid of Kid McCoy. No one even wanted to admit that he had ever known Kid McCoy. Henry Ford now befriended him, giving him a job helping with the vegetable gardens that were established for Ford employees during the Depression. He was good at this. After all, Norman Selby had grown up on a farm. From time to time Selby spoke for church groups to juvenile delinquents, talking as an authority on the dangers of living a fast life. He believed that many youthful problems came from physical difficulties; young people did not know the proper carriage of the body or the right way to eat. And he found some satisfaction, now that he no longer hoped to better his own fortune, in feeling he was bettering that of others.
Alas, the start of World War II shocked him out of any hope that the world was improving. On April 17, 1940 he registered at the Hotel Tuller in Detroit and took an overdose of sleeping tablets. He left a note.
"To whom it may concern:
...I have wanted to help humanity, especially the youngsters, who do not know nature's laws.... Sorry, I could not endure this world's madness—the best to you all."
He signed it Norman Selby.