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Mom, the Mettlesome Manager

Aug. 17, 1992
Aug. 17, 1992

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Aug. 17, 1992

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Mom, the Mettlesome Manager

Jackie Kallen, parent of two, is den mother to half a dozen fighters. She wanted a champ—and got one

Tom Jones, Please?" Jackie Kallen is on the phone. She is almost always on the phone. Her designer nails, pink polish with a Jackson Pollock motif, grip the receiver as she tries to track down Tom Jones. Yes, that Tom Jones.

This is an article from the Aug. 17, 1992 issue Original Layout

With her other hand, she strokes her ever-present toy poodle, Spanky. When you are a boxing manager, as Kallen is, and a woman, you often find yourself alone on the road, so companionship is important. Spanky is upset this morning because it's crowded in Kallen's room at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.

With her other hand, Kallen is modeling a gold bracelet for Sarah Donkins, the girlfriend of IBF middleweight champ James Toney. "Isn't it cuuuuute?"

"Yes," Donkins says. "It's also mine. Where did you find that?"

It's 11 a.m. on a February morning, and the 46-year-old Kallen is calling her buddy Tom Jones to invite him to the next afternoon's bout matching her fighter, Toney, against Dave Tiberi. But Kallen is stuck on hold. In the meantime an ABC television producer appears, and Kallen is discussing the possibility of signing a new fighter to her stable. "The knock on him is he's not colorful enough, but I'll make him colorful," she says, putting on her p.r. hat. "I'll mold him like raw clay. We'll bulk him up for power, and then he needs to crouch a little to punch harder."

Her son Brad walks in. Tom will have to call back. "Let's make up a press kit of your band for Tom," says Kallen.

"C'mon, Mom."

"No, you c'mon, this is a great opportunity." Brad, a 21-year-old college student, is in a rap/dance band called TKO, and Jackie is determined that Tom Jones hear it, so she carefully constructs a makeshift press kit, sealing a demo tape inside.

Then she steps out into the hallway for a breath of air—and spots Frank Garza, a judge for the Toney-Tiberi fight. "Hey, it's great to see you again," she says, schmoozing as she switches to her manager's hat. "I hope you won't need to watch our fight. But if you do, I know you'll see it our way."

Back in the room she announces she must go to the bathroom. She has been planning the trip all morning.

Moments later, her father, Phil Kaplan, who lives in North Miami Beach, appears at the door. "Last week I threw a waffle party for 150 people," he says. "I am the waffle king." Kallen greets him with a big hug and kiss. There are a dozen people in the room, and she is taking care of all of them.

Jackie Kallen's day is 27½ hours long. She doesn't waste much of it on such things as food or sleep. "I'm like one of those windup toys," she says. "You wind me up in the morning and I go all day until I fall over; then you wind me up again."

Kallen had two young sons, Bryan and Brad; a husband, Mike; a house in West Bloomfield, Mich.; and a twice-weekly newspaper entertainment column in 1978, when she wrote a story about an unknown local welterweight boxer named Tommy Hearns. Two weeks later, she was doing free-lance public relations for the Kronk Boxing Gym, where Hearns trained in Detroit.

After 10 years with Kronk, she met Bobby Hitz, a journeyman heavyweight who asked her to be his manager. "I didn't think twice," Kallen says. "I was like the girl who's always dreamed of getting married and the first guy that asks her she says, 'O.K.' "

In 1989, in the gym where Hitz trained, Kallen met Toney, a reformed drug dealer whose former manager, also a drug dealer, had recently been killed. At age 20 Toney was raw, but he possessed a fire, an anger, that attracted Kallen. He reminded her of Hearns. She promised him he would be a world champion. "When she started this business, she told me she would find a champion, and I thought she was crazy," says Mike Kallen, a general contractor. "I asked her if she had any idea how few champs there are out there, but damn if she doesn't have one."

Toney, a 22-1 underdog, won the IBF middleweight title on May 17, 1991, by knocking out Michael Nunn with a vicious left hook in the 11th round in Davenport, Iowa. Afterward Toney said, "This is an early Mother's Day gift for my mother, Sherri, and a late birthday gift for my other mother, Jackie."

The six fighters that Kallen handles never forget their mothers. They all have two moms, the obvious one and the one that gave birth to them. "She's like a typical Jewish mother, taking these guys in and making them feel like part of the family," Brad says. "James is like my brother."

Says Jackie, "My stable is kind of like the Osmonds of boxing. My fighters are like my kids, they all need their hugs and kisses."

Kallen recently purchased a home for her kids in a Detroit suburb, a dusty warehouse that is being made into a gym. She visualizes boxers dancing in a ring in one corner, the rhythmic pounding of speed bags along the back wall. In another corner she sees herself at a desk with the phone in her ear. She likes to refer to the gym as the House That Toney Built. Amazing what one left hook can do.

Not to mention the right hook. Kallen's marketing strategy yielded a $10 million deal with Top Rank for six Toney fights, beginning with a title fight against Mike McCallum set for Aug. 29, in Reno.

Kallen is always pitching something. Walking through a hotel lobby in Atlantic City or Las Vegas, she works the room like a presidential candidate. No hand is unshaken, no baby unkissed. One of her favorite public relations stunts was executed in 1982 when she got Hearns to appear on The Family Feud TV show. (Hearns's kinfolk KO'd fellow boxing champ Milt McCrory's clan.) "Mom's mind thinks publicity," says Brad. "She doesn't think normal thoughts."

Kallen's smoothest sales pitch came a few years back when her Porsche 928S got a flat tire in inner-city Detroit on a hot summer afternoon. She was approached by four young toughs who caressed the chrome and purred, "Nice ride, Mama." Thinking quickly, Kallen replied, "Didn't I see you at the fights last week? I work for Tommy Hearns." The quartet quickly provided free roadside service, jacking up her car and putting on the spare.

Kallen is equally happy hobnobbing with hoods, hotel maids and high-profile celebs. She gets chain letters from Goldie Hawn. When she ran into Donald Trump and Maria Maples at a recent fight in Atlantic City, she proposed a potential movie project called The Jackie Kallen Story, with guess who as the lead? Yup, Marla. Then there was the following exchange:

DONALD: "I think as a manager that Jackie's aggressive, honorable and smart. She really cares for her fighters. She's a great representative for the ladies."

MARLA: "Not just the ladies, Donald, everybody in the sport."

JACKIE: "The check's in the mail."

Through the twice-weekly column she still writes for The Oakland (Mich.) Press, Kallen has met enough stars to fill an astronomy tome. Among her highlights were a dinner with the Rolling Stones in 1964 and one of the last interviews with a strung-out Elvis Presley in 1975.

Despite her connections, she doesn't see herself as famous ("Geez, I'm not Madonna, I'm not Cher"). Still, during a recent trip to Los Angeles she was spotted at Spago spouting stuff like "Oliver Stone is a cuddly little teddy bear" and "Soupy Sales is so terrific, you know, he and I both adore The Love Connection."

As for herself, Kallen lists her ultimate media goal as appearing just once in PEOPLE magazine.

It's 1:15 a.m. Fourteen hours have passed in Atlantic City, and Kallen has worn out everybody in the entourage except her two sons, whom she drags, one on each arm, through the Trump Plaza casino. The rest of her day has been just like her morning, only much, much longer. She has chatted up 852 people (a ballpark estimate), bought a birthday gift for her niece and sequined pumps for herself, befriended a Haitian cabbie, dropped Spanky off at the doggie hair salon, won a bundle at the craps table...and then there's all that boxing stuff. "A lot of women my age are content going to the mall or playing tennis, but that's not me," she says. "You know, I think I do more in a day than most people do in a month."

As Kallen passes through the casino, an old woman nearby hits the jackpot on the 25-cent slots and the loot splashes down. Jackie doesn't miss a beat. A few hours later she watches as her champ, James Toney, wins a controversial split decision over Dave Tiberi. When the scores are announced, the tiebreaking judge is none other than Frank Garza. "Don't I have the most fun?" she says. "Don't I have the best life? I'm so lucky. But, hey, the night is young, we still have to walk Spanky and find Tom Jones and...."

PHOTOTOM CASINOToney dedicated his IBF championship to Kallen as a belated birthday gift.PHOTOFRANK FOURNIER/CONTACT PRESSKallen, with Spanky, is rarely off the phone and never at a loss for words.PHOTOEDWARD A. NOBLE/THE OAKLAND PRESSKallen met the Rolling Stones in 1964 and rang in the New Year with Elvis 11 years later.