"I don't know what I'm doing here. I can't sing. And I can't dance. But just to be sociable, I'll fight the best man in the house."
—ROCKY MARCIANO, addressing patrons of The Rifle, a London pub, circa 1967
She sensed what had happened the instant that she heard her mother scream. Sat frozen for a moment in her bedroom at the top of the stairs. Knew for sure what she had lost out there, someplace in the Midwest, out there among the cornfields in the dark.
Mary Anne was only 16 then, but old enough to know the chances that her father had been taking, day after day, as he crisscrossed America in all those storm-whipped, wind-sheared private planes, often holding in his ample lap a grocery bag filled with $100 bills, as much as $40,000 a bag, looking like some pug-nosed desperado who had just knocked over a savings and loan. By then, by that late evening of Aug. 31,1969, Rocky Marciano was just a few hours shy of his 46th birthday; it had been 13 years and four months since the April day in 1956 when he had finally risen from the crouch and retired, at 49-0, as the only undefeated heavyweight champion in history. He had moved through those years as he had once moved in the ring, in a relentless, unremitting pursuit of what he desired—money and women, celebrity and respect, all that he ever wanted as the poor son of a shoe-factory worker growing up in Brockton, Mass., during the Depression.
By that August night Marciano had become his own savings and loan, rich beyond his most extravagant boyhood dreams, a kind of wandering minstrel of money, in fact, dispensing cash loans with the careless facility of song. Indeed, he had accumulated vast stores of cash since he had quit the ring, mostly through personal appearances, and by 1969 he had at least $750,000 in loans on the street, not including the $100,000-plus he had lent to a loan shark linked to the Cleveland mob whose business he was helping to finance. He had even more money squirreled away in assorted hiding places—stuffed in pipes, in safe deposit boxes, in curtain rods, in all his favorite places—from Cuba to Florida to upstate New York to Alaska. He never paid for anything if he could help it; he could, for example, beat the telephone company by using slugs or a tripping wire to get his money back from coin-operated phones. Even if he had a round-trip commercial airline ticket, usually part of the deal when an appearance called him out of town, he would try to scrounge a freebie lift to his destination, often by calling on a network of private pilots who were willing, for the pleasure of his company, to bear him where he wanted to go. Back home in Fort Lauderdale, of course, he would hustle off to the airport to exchange the ticket for cash.
Mary Anne knew well the perilous edge on which he lived. In 1965, on a trip from Los Angeles to Honolulu, Rocky had hitched a ride on a cargo plane and loaded Mary Anne and a friend of hers in the hold in back. "They put little jump seats in for my friend and me, and my father and his friend were sitting on the top of the luggage," Mary Anne recalls. "A window blew in and we went into a nosedive and a red light came on and I thought, I'm 12 and I'm going to die. My father kept saying, 'Don't worry. You're gonna be O.K.' " He had escaped serious injury in a light-plane accident a year or two earlier, and for a long time his family and his friends had been importuning him to fly on commercial jets. "You are trying to save money in the wrong places," one of his closest friends and fellow skirt chasers, couch designer Bernie Castro, used to scold him. "You are risking everything...."
On Sunday, Aug. 31, Marciano was in Chicago with one of his oldest pals, Dominic Santarelli, and handling the logistics of his life as recklessly as ever. His wife, Barbara, had turned 40 on Aug. 30, two days before Rocky's 46th, and he had promised her that he would be home to celebrate their birthdays on the day that fell in between, Aug. 31, a family tradition. In fact, that afternoon, in the Marcianos' oceanfront home in Fort Lauderdale, the gifts had all been wrapped and the guests had already arrived. The sweetest gift of all was waiting there unwrapped. Unbeknownst to his lather, the Marcianos' 17-month-old adopted son, Rocco Kevin, had learned how to walk while his father was gone, and Barbara had arranged a welcoming scenario that had the toddler carrying Rocky's presents to him when he walked in the door.
"We were all waiting with the birthday cake," recalls one of the friends, June Benson. "Then Rocky called from Chicago. He said, 'I'm gonna make an appearance in Des Moines, and then I'll fly right back. Hold everything.' "
That was the last his family ever heard from him. Frankie Farrell, the nephew of Marciano's pal Chicago mobster Frankie (One Ear) Fratto, was opening an insurance brokerage in Des Moines, and he had convinced Marciano to fly there with him from Chicago to make an appearance. Farrell had hired Glenn Belz, who had not been cleared to fly by instruments and had logged only 35 hours of flying at night, to pilot the single-engine Cessna 172 from Midway Airport to Des Moines. They took off at 6 p.m., despite warnings of a storm front billowing in front of them, and three hours later had made it as far as Newton, Iowa, when their plane was seen flying barely 100 feet off the ground, into a roiling bank of clouds. Reappearing once, it rose and disappeared again. In his laudable 1977 study, Rocky Marciano: Biography of a First Son, author Everett M. Skehan wrote: "The plane crashed into a lone oak tree in the middle of a cornfield. It was totally demolished by the impact, which killed all three passengers. A wing was sheared off and landed 15 feet from the tree; the battered hull skidded on and came to rest in a drainage ditch 236 feet away. Rocky's shattered body was found braced firmly in the scat of the wrecked Cessna...Belz and Farrell had been thrown clear...."
It was late evening in Fort Lauderdale when the doorbell rang on North Atlantic Boulevard. Mary Anne heard her mother answer the door. She bolted to the staircase after she heard the scream. Jack Sherlock, the Fort Lauderdale police chief and an old friend of the family, was standing just inside the door. "Are you sure it's him? Are you sure it's not Rocky Graziano?" Barbara was saying, referring to the former middleweight champion of the world with whom her husband was often confused. "It can't be. Are you sure?"
Mary Anne started down the stairs. "Is my dad dead?" she asked.
"I'm sorry," Sherlock said.
Rocco Francis Marchegiano would have turned 70 years old on Sept. 1, and by the time he died, almost a quarter of a century ago, the life he had created for himself outside the ring was quite as large and unlikely as the figure he had once cut inside it. Of course, Lord only knows what he might be doing today had he somehow survived his endless peregrinations; how many sacks of cash he might have wadded up and squirreled away in his far-flung caches; how big his lending business might have become; or how long he could have avoided arousing the serious curiosity of IRS agents, not only over his out-of-pocket lending business, for which he kept no books or paperwork, but also over his travels around the banquet circuit, where he insisted on payment in cash only. It was a strange, fantastic world he had built for himself, one shaped in considerable part by the obsessive, endless quest for $100 bills, for cash to feed his lending business, for cash to buy his way into multitudes of deals, for cash to toss onto Pasqualena Marchegiano's dining room table.
"He'd come home sometimes with two bags of money, and he'd give his mother one," Marciano's longtime accountant and traveling companion, Frank Saccone, recalls. "Five or six thousand dollars in each bag. His mother would count it, all over the goddam table." She would then stack it neatly in piles.
"What do you want me to do with it, Rocky?"
"Keep it, Ma, for spending money."
His idiosyncrasies were often so irrational as to drive Saccone to teary despair. One evening in the mid-1960s, Saccone recalls, Marciano had just delivered a speech at a large function in Montreal, when one of the organizers approached him and Saccone in the lobby of the hotel where they were staying. Thanking Marciano profusely, he handed him an envelope containing a check for $5,000. The Rock shook his head. "Can you cash the check for me?" he asked.
That would not be possible; the banks were closed. "I'll guarantee it," the man said.
"That's not it," Rocky said. "I don't take checks. I'd rather have the cash."
It was an awkward moment. "Look," Rocky said, "do you have $2,500 in cash? I'll take that. You keep the check."
Saccone took Rocky aside. "Why don't you let me take the check, and I'll cash it," Saccone said. "Then I'll give you the cash."
Rocky insisted. "I want the cash, right now!"
"But, Rocky, you're throwing $2,500 away!" said Saccone. "I know these people. I know this check is good. It's a cashier's check. It is cash in the form of a check. Try to imagine that."
There was no trying. "These are my deals," Rocky said. "If I want cash, it's my business. Don't interfere."
Marciano turned to the organizer. "Can you get me $2,500 in an hour?" he asked. An hour later the man was back with the money, as bemused as Saccone at Marciano's thinking. "Is this really what you want?" Saccone asked.
"That's great," said Rocky, happily handing the organizer the check.
Saccone traveled the world with Marciano, on hundreds of trips, and he never knew the man to want it any other way. "He had this crazy, crazy need for cash," Saccone says. "He loved the sight of cash. A check was just a little piece of paper. I remember times he'd get a check and lose it. He'd put it somewhere and forget about it. He'd reach in his pocket and pull out checks that were all tattered. I've seen him give away checks for $50,000, $100,000. I'm talking big money. He didn't even associate that with money. To him a check was just a piece of paper. But if he had $40,000 in $10 bills, there was no way he'd give any of that away. He believed in green stuff."
There was always plenty of it flowing his way and far more abundantly in the days after his retirement than during his years in the ring. Marciano was an enormously popular champion, and more than his complexion lay at the source of the appeal. The archetypal working-class stiff from blue-collar Brockton, he brought to the lights a boxing style edited down to its barest essentials, an unearthly power of will and tolerance for punishment, particularly around the chin; and he had what columnist Red Smith called "a right hand that registered nine on the Richter scale," and a left hook that trembled the upright like an aftershock. Stir into this mix an incomparable appetite for work, a quality of meekness and humility that was often affecting—after knocking out his boyhood idol, Joe Louis, in the eighth round of their 1951 fight in New York, Marciano wept openly in Louis's locker room—and that crooked smile on a darkly handsome mug, and what you had was the ideal composite for the central character in a cartoonlike Hollywood movie.
None of this was even remotely foreseeable in the beginning, back in the days he spent at the James Edgar Playground, in the rough-and-tumble Irish-Italian streets of central Brockton, where he dreamed of escaping the want of his childhood by making it as a catcher in the big leagues. Slow afoot, without a major league catcher's arm, he worked hours on his short, powerful stroke. "There were 40 or 50 of us shagging balls for Rocky," says Nicky Sylvester, a boyhood friend and later the court jester in his entourage. "He wouldn't give anyone else a chance. Two hours of hitting!" Marciano used to run lunch down to his father, Pierino, a laster at a nearby shoe factory, and the sight of his father standing at his machine, his undershirt drenched, both legs and arms moving at once, a dozen tacks held in his lips, spoke to him of a life he did not want to lead. "I'll never work in a shoe factory," he told his family, according to his brother Sonny. "I have to find away out."
Climbing out of Brockton and leaving the dread privations of his boyhood behind was the theme with variations that ruled him the rest of his life. "He was deathly afraid of being broke," says former world featherweight champion Willie Pep, one of Marciano's best friends. "He used to say to me, 'I'll never be broke again.' He was a tough guy with a buck. Rocky. He was afraid."
Marciano was drafted in 1943 and began boxing in the Army, chiefly as a way to avoid KP and other schlock details. He devoted all his considerable energies to it only after his discharge from the service, in 1946, and an abortive tryout with a Chicago Cub farm team in North Carolina in the spring of 1947. By then, fighting under an assumed name, Rocky Mack, to protect his amateur status, he had knocked out one Lee Epperson in the third round of a bout in Holyoke, Mass., and earned $35. He fought as an amateur the rest of that year and into the next, and at 5'10" and less than 190 pounds, with only a 68-inch reach, shorter than that of any other heavyweight champion who ever lived, he appeared on his way to Palookaville. One afternoon in '48, Goody Petronelli, who would one day train Marvin Hagler to the world middleweight championship, was leaving the gym on Center Street in Brockton when he ran into Marciano. Goody had seen him in the amateurs and was surprised when Marciano told him that he was turning pro.
"I never thought he'd make it," Petronelli says. "He was too old, almost 25. He was too short, he was too light. He had no reach. Rough and tough, but no finesse."
But he had that hammer, that CroMagnon chin and that fearless, unbridled instinct for the attack. He turned pro on July 12, 1948, when he scored a first-round knockout over Harry Bilazarian in Providence, and then fought 10 more times before Christmas, all the matches ending in knockouts, seven in the first round. Brockton is only 25 miles from Providence, where he fought 15 of his first 17 fights, and a Brockton cheering section soon began showing up to witness the mayhem. Recalls Sylvester: "When Rocky had a guy in trouble in Providence, all the Italians from Brockton would stand up and yell, Timmmmmberrr!' "
They were shows bereft of art. Trainer Lou Duva, who would take Evander Holyfield to the heavyweight title some 40 years later, recalls driving with Vic Marsillo, the manager of Sugar Ray Robinson, to see an early Marciano brawl in New England. The word footwork does not make it in describing what Duva saw that night. "Rocky kept falling down," he recalls. "He kept missing and going through the ropes. I said to Vic, 'He's as strong as a bull.' Vic said, 'Are you kidding? He can't light at all.' It was Charley Goldman who straightened him out."
Charley trained fighters for Al Weill, the New York manager and promoter, and that fall he had Marciano and his Brockton trainer, Allie Colombo, begin working with him in Manhattan. Goldman was the training guru for a young Angelo Dundee, later the trainer of Muhammad Ali and Ray Leonard, and Goldman seemed apologetic about how the young man looked. Says Dundee, "So Charley told me, 'Ange, I gotta guy who's short, stoop-shouldered, balding, got two left feet and, god, how he can punch!' I remember going on the subway to the CYO gym, and in walks Rocky with a pair of coveralls and a little canvas bag." Goldman knew that Marciano had trained hours as a baseball catcher, and he taught him to swarm and slide and throw from a crouch, rising as though he were pegging to second base.
"Charley taught the technique that if you're tall, you stand taller," Dundee recalls. "If you are shorter, you make yourself smaller. Charley let him bend his knees completely to a deep knee squat. He was able to punch from that position, come straight up from the bag and hit a heck of a shot.... It was just bang-bang-bang-bang-BANG and get him outta there. And he was the best-conditioned athlete out there."
No one understood his limitations better than Marciano himself, and his whole monkish existence in the gym and on the road was geared to making up for them, to developing what gifts he had. He thought nothing of walking the 75 blocks from his room to the gym to train. A health buff long before it became the fashion, he ate veggies, sipped only an occasional glass of Lancer's rosè, always with dinner, and carried a jar of honey in his pocket to sweeten his coffee. He chewed but never swallowed his steak, and left the ruminated chaws in a bowl next to his plate. And Marciano may be the only fighter in history who exercised his eyeballs, obtaining for this purpose a pendulum that he rigged above his bed. Lying flat on his back, with his head still, he would follow the pendulum back and forth with his eyes—convinced, of course, that stronger eyeballs did a better fighter make. More than once he sparred 250 rounds for a single fight, 100 rounds more than normal, and there was never anything in his ring work to suggest a hesitation waltz.
Marciano never met an opponent, particularly among the 43 he knocked out, who did not leave the ring with a fairly intimate knowledge of that fact. Even long after Goldman had straightened out his feet and taught him how to slip a punch and make a weapon of his left, there was a merry unpredictability about what would happen next when Marciano was in the ring. He threw punches from every conceivable point on the compass, and the legal ones landed everywhere from the navel to the top of the head. Some even found the chin.
But it was in the fights in which Marciano was in trouble, behind in points or cut and bleeding, that he created the persona he would carry with him all the way to that fatal field in Newton. And his signature moment in the ring, the instant when the myth was born, came at the single most dramatic turning point of his life. It was the night of Sept. 23, 1952, in Philadelphia, in the 13th round of his 15-round title fight against the world heavyweight champion, Jersey Joe Walcott, and the time was growing short for an increasingly desperate Marciano. A beautiful boxer, clever and resourceful, Walcott had built up an easy lead in points, and all he had to do was keep Marciano away. Marciano had chased but not quite found, had thrown but not quite landed, had struck but not quite hard enough. By the 13th round he knew there was only one way to win it. He waded in yet again. And then, as Walcott feinted back toward the ropes, Marciano suddenly stepped in and threw a short, overhand right that struck Walcott on the jaw with such force that it distorted his face, dropped him to one knee and left him slumped forward, kneeling unconscious, with his left arm slung through the ropes.
So Marciano's long journey out of Brockton was finally over, and the belief in his indomitability became a kind of article of shared faith among his ardent followers. Marciano defended his title only six times in the 3½ years that he held it, but he did nothing to discourage the belief that he was invincible and much to embellish it. In fact, in his second fight against Ezzard Charles, in New York, on Sept. 17, 1954, he once again turned imminent defeat into sudden, stunning triumph. Like one of those Benihana chefs butterflying a jumbo shrimp, Charles hit Marciano with a blow in the sixth round that split his left nostril down the middle; blood spurted everywhere. At the end of the round no amount of work could stanch the bleeding. Marciano's corner was in a panic. The ring doctor let it go through the seventh, with Marciano bleeding heavily, but by the eighth round the corner sensed that time was short. They were all screaming at the champion to press the attack. Marciano fought with a fury. A right hand floored Charles. Glassy-eyed, he climbed back slowly to his feet. Marciano rushed back at him, landing thumping lefts and rights, until Charles at last fell for the count.
No matter what happened, in the end the Rock would find a way.
When Marciano retired on that April day in 1956, seven months after knocking out Archie Moore in nine, he had not only fulfilled his father's most oft-expressed wishes—"Don't do anything to disgrace the family name. Don't do anything I'll be ashamed of"—but he had also brought honor to it beyond the old man's unlikeliest hope. More than undefeated, he left the ring utterly untainted, and this despite one underworld figure's efforts to coax him to hit the water in his May 16, 1955, defense against Don Cockell, an Englishman, in San Francisco. One of Marciano's closest California friends, Ed Napoli, recalls the day he sat with Marciano in a hotel room in that state and listened as a gangster made him an offer to throw the light. Cockell was a long shot, at 10-1, and Marciano could always win back the title in a rematch.
"Rocky, you can be set the rest of your life if you throw this fight," the mobster told him.
At which point Marciano got angry, Napoli says, and ordered the mobster out. "You disgust me," the fighter told him. "I'm ashamed that you're Italian. Get outta here and don't come back." The fight ended in the ninth round with Cockell, out on his feet, sagging in the arms of referee Frankie Brown.
As celebrated and mythic a folk hero as he became to the workaday Italian-American across the land, Marciano found himself to be an even larger, more respected figure among members of the underworld, a life-sized icon whose company and favor were sought by hoodlums wherever he went. Over the years, with all the running around he did, Marciano kissed the cheeks of many of the major crime-family bosses—Raymond Patriarca, Carlo Gambino, Frank Costello and Vito Genovese, who when he was dying put out the word that he wanted Marciano to visit him in prison. Rocky paid the call. "Rocky went to Leavenworth to show Genovese films of his fights," says Richie Paterniti, one of Marciano's best friends during the last 12 years of his life. "Wherever we went there were mob guys. They loved him because he represented what mob guys really want to be, the toughest guy in the world, right? A macho guy. They all had respect for him. They all wanted to be with him. They kissed his ass. Every mob guy. He was an Italian, and he beat up every guy he faced. He exuded power, an air of authority. That's why they wanted to bask in his sunshine."
They could not indulge him enough. They bought him dinner and gave him money and set him up with their tailors. When Saccone first went to New York with Marciano, he found himself among all these shiny suits. "We'd go to these elaborate restaurants and sit with 15, 20 underworld characters, but I didn't know it," he says. "I was a naive accountant from Brockton. I thought they were just friends of Rocky's and they liked him. Rocky finally told me who they were. They couldn't do enough for him. They'd say to him, 'I got a beautiful tailor. Let me take you down there and get you some suits.' They'd buy him six suits, three dozen shirts. He loved it and they loved it."
In spite of the casual social contact he had with hoodlums, he feared the violence and notoriety of the underworld, and he made it a point not to get involved in their businesses. "Let's keep our distance," Marciano used to tell Paterniti. In fact, according to an underworld source, one of the most feared hoodlums in the history of organized crime, Felix (Milwaukee Phil) Alderisio, saw Marciano not only as a venerated Italian-American folk hero whose reputation had to be protected, but also as a kind of naive, innocent bumpkin from Brockton who had to be watched, lest he stumble blindly into trouble. "He was an Italian champ, and they wanted him to be clean," the source said. "All the boys. That came out of Chicago. Milwaukee Phil said, 'Keep him clean. Don't get him dirty. Protect him at all costs. He's a goofball; he doesn't know what he's doing.' Chicago had an umbrella over him."
The only time Marciano ever faced serious trouble with the law was after he began quietly investing vast sums of cash, $100,000 at a crack, in the loan-sharking business of Pete DiGravio, with whom he often stayed in Cleveland. "If you've got some cash and want to make some money on it," DiGravio told Rocky, "I've got the outlet. Guaranteed. No bad debts in my place." The Rock was in. Marciano never felt that he was involved in anything illegal, says Saccone, and justified his investments on the grounds that he was merely lending to the shark and not involved in the dirty end of the business, on the street itself.
Of course, there was never anything in writing, since the Rock did not believe in paper. "All unsecured loans," says Saccone. "Never secured. Never-never. No piece of paper. No note. Nothing signed. All in his head. I can recall him saying to me, 'Jeez, I know I loaned somebody $5,000 in New York, and I can't remember who it was. But I'll remember it.' He never did. It was gone. Rocky was a very articulate, intelligent man, but when it came to business, he was so, so stupid."
This nearly got him into trouble in Cleveland when the Internal Revenue Service started looking into DiGravio's affairs. When the IRS asked him where he had obtained some large sums of money, DiGravio told investigators, "Rocky Marciano loaned it to me." And when they asked to see the contracts, DiGravio told them, "We don't have contracts. He just gave me the cash." With nothing on paper, Marciano grew anxious when the Cleveland IRS office invited him in for a visit to explain his ties to DiGravio. Marciano was an extravagant evader of taxes, never declaring any income unless it left a paper trail, but until the Cleveland inquiry, Saccone had finessed all IRS queries by having them transferred to the Brockton office, where "they loved Rocky," says Saccone. "It wasn't difficult to get rid of the cases. He was a great charmer, Rocky. We'd spend two minutes discussing the case, and the rest of the time Rocky would tell stories about his first fight with Walcott. The IRS guys would eat it up."
Cleveland was another matter. Marciano and Saccone made the trip together to Ohio, and the morning they arrived they called the IRS office to tell investigators that they were in town. "Forget about it," the agent told Saccone. "Pete DiGravio just got killed." DiGravio had been cut down by rifle fire on the 16th hole of a golf course outside Cleveland. Marciano, Saccone says, never saw a dime of the thousands that he had given the shark—fearing that word of his loan might leak out, he never made a claim on the estate—and this was not the first time that one of his investments had evaporated. Marciano raced around the country looking for deals to sink his money in, and he lost hundreds of thousands in ill-chosen ventures. Taken in by the hoariest of scams imaginable, he once actually bought swampland in Florida. He lost nearly $250,000 on some coal company in Pittsburgh, even more than that investing in component parts for telephones, and once confided to a Florida friend, Jim Navilio, that he had found an investment that couldn't miss: "I got a guy who can cure arthritis." said the Rock.
When he wasn't chasing after these and other phantoms, he was spending an inordinate amount of time trying to collect bad debts. At times he enlisted in this enterprise his wide variety of friends, from a law-abiding New York State judge, John Lomenzo, to his old Chicago pal Frankie Fratto, a reputed syndicate terrorist. In the early '60s when Marciano grew tired of waiting for repayment of a $75,000 loan to a Toronto businessman, he appealed to Judge Lomenzo, who shed his robes and headed north with Marciano to Canada. A distinguished jurist who would later serve as New York's secretary of state, Lomenzo made a plea for mercy and compassion on behalf of his poor client, Marciano. "Rocky is having hard times, and he loaned you the money," said the judge. The businessman wrote out a check immediately. Waiving his own private rules, Marciano took the paper and cashed it.
Fratto was persuasive in his own quiet way when Marciano sent him collecting. "If people did not pay Rocky back, I would help him," he says. It was all very simple: "I went to them and told them, 'You owe my friend some money. I suggest you pay it back.' They did not give me a hard time."
Mostly, though, Marciano did his own enforcing. Saccone remembers the time he and Marciano were strolling through Brockton when Rocky, pleading business, excused himself and ducked into Brockton Eddie Massod's pool room and gambling hell on Center Street. Massod owed Marciano $5,000, and he hadn't made a payment in months. Worse, he had been hiding from him, a no-no at the Marciano savings and loan. "If you couldn't pay it back, be a man and face it," Saccone says. "You could never hide on him." The Rock found him on the third floor, from where Saccone, standing on the sidewalk below, could hear the rising shouts. Glancing up, he saw Brockton Eddie hanging halfway out the window and the former heavyweight champion of the world leaning over him, a hand clutched around Eddie's throat.
"I've waited long enough!" Marciano screamed. "No more stalling. I want my money. Now.... Now!"
"I need a little more time," gurgled Eddie.
"No more time.... No more time!"
A few minutes later Marciano stepped from the door counting a sheaf of $20 bills, the first of dozens of installments that Saccone would be in charge of collecting monthly from Massod. The CPA was only one in a vast and intricate mesh of people, friends and followers of unusual ardency, who worked what lives they had of their own around the odd, often nocturnal, unpredictable movements of the Rock. Marciano had been married to the same woman, the former Barbara Cousins, the daughter of a Brockton cop, since Dec. 31, 1950, but the union unraveled long before the decade was done. Barbara tended to obesity, had a serious drinking problem and smoked heavily—she would die of lung cancer in 1974—whereas her husband's tastes ran more to svelte, statuesque blondes, that single glass of wine and smokeless rooms. "He couldn't stand his married life," says Saccone. "He loved his daughter, and she loved him, but he had no relationship with his wife. There was nothing compatible between them. He wanted to do things, and she didn't."
So the mesh included people, such as the late Lindy Ciardelli on the West Coast and Paterniti on the East Coast, whose job was to help feed Marciano's prodigious sexual appetite. "Rock liked girls, know what I mean?" Paterniti says. "Nobody wants me to tell you about it, but Rock was insane about girls—all the time. Rocky was the heavyweight champion of girls. Forget about the fights. He was crazy about the girls; that's all he wanted to do. Rocky constantly had orgies and parties, night and day.... A friend of mine in New York got me and Rocky thousands of girls. Honestly, literally a thousand girls. We had girls every single day and night. I carried a suitcase full of vibrators. I mean, we used to call Rocky the vibrator king. I had a suitcase that I took all over, filled with vibrators and electric massagers and emotion lotion and all kinds of creams and oils.... We went to Pennsylvania and we were with these mob guys and they were bringing us girls and Rocky said, 'Don't let 'em know we got all that stuff. They'll think that we're weird or somethin'.' "
There were women for Marciano everywhere he went in those days after his retirement. That a woman be waiting for him was as requisite for his appearance as the folded $100 bills. "He never had an affair," says Santarelli, his Chicago underworld pal, who booked him to make appearances and advertisements all over. "I don't think he had sex with the same girl twice. Never, that I know, and I knew him a long time. Any girls he had sex with, you couldn't bring her to dinner no more. That's it. Get rid of her. He never wanted to see her again. For dinner, or even a cup of coffee. If he ever went to some place and there was not a girl waiting for him, he'd never come back."
So it was this lust for women and the hunger for making deals and the quest for cash that drove the Rock to the road. He had the whole mesh linked together perfectly, his life and travels so arranged that he never had a need for anything. There was the network of pilots, of course, and then all those eager aides-de-camp awaiting him with cars and limos at whatever airport he was headed for. He was, by consensus, the world's worst driver.
On one of his occasional sojourns to the family home in Fort Lauderdale, he did a commercial for a car dealership and for his fee asked for a gold Firebird 400. He gave it to Mary Anne so she could pick him up at the airport. She remembers a comic interlude of her youth when a motorcycle cop pulled her over one day and discovered she not only did not have a driver's license but also was only 13. She told the cop who her father was and where she lived. The cop roared off to fetch Rocky. "I waited until they came roaring back," Mary Anne says. "My father in his Bermuda shorts, no shirt, bare feet, baseball cap, black hair blowing, with his arms around the cop, holding on. The cop asked my father for his autograph and drove off."
The cop no doubt left thinking he had saved Fort Lauderdale from this adolescent menace. "The world's worst driver drove me home," she says. "My dad did not even have a license."
So he had all his chauffeurs in place. He had rooms and places to stay all across America—at Ed Napoli's in Los Angeles, at Lindy Ciardelli's in Santa Clara, Calif., at Ben Danzi's 12-room apartment in New York, at Bernie Castro's estates on Long Island and in Florida, at Santarelli's in Chicago, at any hotel he chose in Las Vegas and at scores of homes all over Providence and Brockton, Buffalo and Boston. Santarelli recalls one night in Las Vegas when they were watching Jimmy Durante on stage and Durante announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, in our audience tonight we have the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world—and America's guest—Rocky Marciano." Touchy on the nerve of his parsimony, the Rock got all indignant. "Can you imagine this guy?" he said to Santarelli. "He ties a rope around his suitcase so his clothes don't fall out, and he says that about me?"
But that was what he was, America's guest. In all the years, going back to the championship days, there was never a single reported sighting of Marciano picking up a check. One evening, at a table of 12 in a Chicago restaurant, the waitress passed by the seat of businessman Andy Granatelli, the manufacturer of STP motor oil additive, and unknowingly gave the check to the Rock. In a hot panic he tossed it over his shoulder, onto the floor, and demanded of Santarelli, "How could she bring me the check with Andy Granatelli sitting here? Who owns this place? He's trying to be a smart guy." Marciano never ate there again. He knew all the restaurants where he did not have to pay—dozens of restaurateurs sought him out to decorate their tables—and when he was dining with any of his innumerable fat-cat associates, which was quite often, his immediate entourage of traveling friends was under orders never to buy as much as a round of drinks. Just about every such friend suffered Marciano's rebuke for offering to pay for something.
One night, after watching Castro pick up the umpteenth straight dinner check at an expensive New York restaurant, Saccone asked for the tab. Marciano grabbed him and took him aside. "Don't ever, ever do that!" Marciano scolded. "When you're with me, you don't pay a nickel. When you're with me, and you're my friend, you don't touch anything: never, never, never." Saccone protested that he felt uncomfortable freeloading all the time. "I'm capable of paying my own way," he said.
"Doncha understand?" said Marciano. "These people wanna be around me. Let them pick up the tab. They enjoy it. They wanna do it."
The freebies, as Marciano saw it, were among the benefits a man received for being part of the entourage, for being there when Rocky needed him. In all the hours in all the years he worked for Marciano, Saccone never dared send him a bill, never received a dollar for his services. The adventures were the payment, and the bonus was all the business that Marciano nudged his way. "He introduced me to people who were very substantial in my getting work," Saccone says. So it was for all the professionals, the lawyers and bookkeepers alike, who served Marciano's needs.
"Rocky was a door-opener, the greatest door-opener in the world," says Santarelli. "I'm an Italian guy from the old neighborhood in Chicago. I'd go to parties with Rocky and meet nice people, business people. 'How you doin', Mr. Santarelli?' Business people would contact me to get ahold of him. Many people called me: 'Do me a favor. Set up Rocky for me.' Rocky was a great guy, everybody loved him—if a favor was needed, Rocky would be there—but he was being used all the time. In every walk of life, every friend. Everybody used him. Even the priests used him, restaurant owners used him, women used him, movie stars used him, mob guys used him...."
Knowing this, of course, Marciano refused to go anywhere for free, and the only exception involved the occasional favor for a friend, as when he showed up one day in Michigan to referee some fights, at no charge, for Goody Petronelli, when Goody was running a boxing program in the U.S. Navy.
"You had to pay him to show up for lights." says Santarelli. "He got $250 just to step in the ring to be introduced as the former heavyweight champion. If you wanted Rocky, you had to pay for it. In cash."
If Marciano thus beat the IRS out of some taxes, Santarelli says, that was not the only reason he insisted on payments in cash. On numerous occasions, he says, Marciano complained to him that, under his contract with Al Weill, his former manager, he had to pay Weill 50% of all his earnings—not only from his days as a fighter but also from his years in retirement. "He took 50 percent of Rocky in and out of the ring," says Santarelli. "That's the reason Rocky retired. That was the conflict. He didn't want to pay Al Weill any more money. Even for a personal appearance, Weill wanted 50 percent of it. He wanted cash because he didn't want Weill to get a dime."
The whole object of Marciano's daily existence, the reason for the network that moved and sustained him from place to place, was to get him from one sunset to the next without spending a dime. "There wasn't anything he ever needed that he couldn't get with just a phone call," says his brother Sonny.
On occasions it was only the phone company that stood between Rocky getting through a day in which he got away free and a day in which he was forced to spring for a coin. Marciano worked on correcting that nettlesome problem by using those slugs to make calls, or by feeding that wire contraption into the coin deposit in an apparent attempt to lobotomize the system. He had an unfathomable hostility toward phone companies, and more than once he was observed hammering a phone cradle as though it were Jersey Joe Walcott's nose in the 13th round at Philadelphia. On one occasion, says Napoli, Marciano lost a dime and went berserk, pounding on the phone with the receiver.
"It took my dime," he cried.
At New York's La Guardia Airport one day a phone did not return his dime after he got a busy signal. He screamed at the operator, "You sonuvabitch! I want my dime back!" When that failed, he ripped the receiver out of the phone, threw it on the floor and then began walking past the bank of pay phones along the wall, pressing the coin-return buttons, then fingering the empty coin slots and then ripping all the receivers out of the machines.
"I thought, My god, what is he doing?" says Saccone.
For as much as he coveted the cash, of course, the paradox is that he did not need it, never used it to buy himself anything, never put all but a small part of it to any other use but in the service of his own dark, meretricious underground of unsecured loans and fanciful investments. In fact, it is difficult to imagine anyone handling money more cavalierly or treating it with such unconscious contempt, dating back to the days when, according to his biographer, Skehan, he used to stuff it in plastic bags and tape it inside the water tanks above the toilet bowls in his hotel rooms; or when, one night, he took off and left $27,520 in a plastic bag among clothes mildewing in a suitcase in Napoli's care; or when, too impatient to sit through a stage performance of The Great White Hope, he told his daughter, who was sitting next to him, that he would meet her for dinner later at La Scala and then bolted out of the theater, leaving a brown paper bag mashed in his seat. Mary Anne happened to notice it and stuck it in her purse before she left. They had just settled in for dinner when Marciano said, "Oh, god, I'll be right back...."
"You left something?" she asked, removing the bag.
It contained $40,000.
This was Marciano, impulsive and restless, distracted and eccentric, who climbed into the Cessna that night at Midway Airport, and it was fitting that he left for Des Moines with a paid Chicago-to-Fort Lauderdale airline ticket tucked in his pocket. When he called home to say he was heading west to make that appearance, his family life had become a lie, and his life had more hiding places than his money and more secrets than hiding places. When Santarelli and Benny Trotta, the Baltimore mob associate, saw him off at the Butler Aviation terminal that day, Marciano had no intention of returning to Fort Lauderdale anytime soon. "I'll see you in the morning," Santarelli recalls Rocky telling them. All Farrell needed to do, to get him on that plane, was play on his weaknesses for cash, in the form of a $500 fee, and women. "They promised Rocky a young broad, 17 or 18 years old, to help little Frankie Farrell," Santarelli says.
That was all it took to lift him off toward the distant storm.
No one knows what eventually happened to the $40,000 that Mary Anne recovered from the theater seat that night in New York, just as it is hard to imagine what might have happened to all the rest of the cash, perhaps more than $2 million, he loaned out and stashed away. Most of Marciano's friends and family believe that the bulk of his savings ended up in the bomb shelter on the Ocala, Fla., estate of Bernie Castro, who died two years ago. Mary Anne used to go there with her father, and she vividly recalls him placing his hand on a pipe that ran through the shelter: "He told me, 'Remember this spot, Mary Anne. A great place to hide money. Remember this pipe.' "
A year after the accident, Mary Anne says, she and her mother went to Castro's estate to ask him if they could search the shelter. "He told us, 'Don't be silly,' " she says. They never got inside. Mary Anne figured that some of the money was in safe deposit boxes, under assumed names, and she found doodlings of Rocky's that suggested he might have used two names: Mr. Rocco and Mr. March. She tried to make sense of code words he used to write down, such as powerless and insecure, but got nowhere. "For many years I tried to put it together," she says. "I even had a CIA friend who helped me search Swiss bank accounts. Nothing."
Believing himself to be immortal, Marciano had no use for life insurance, and wills were only for people who foresaw an end he simply could not imagine. He died intestate, and his family had a terrible struggle at first. The taxes and expenses to maintain the oceanfront house were "so astronomical." Mary Anne says, that the family had to move two miles inland in Fort Lauderdale, to a more modest, four-bedroom ranch house. "It was rough," Mary Anne says. "My mother sold her diamonds for us to live. There were all sorts of liens on the estate: it wasn't settled for five years."
Mary Anne lives in the ranch house with her grandmother Betty Cousins, whom she calls Nana, and Rocco Kevin, 25, who goes by Rocky Jr. An electrical engineering student at Florida Atlantic University, in Boca Raton, Rocky Jr. bears a resemblance to his father, and Mary Anne thinks that he was born out of a relationship that her father had with a Florida woman. Barbara had had live miscarriages after having Mary Anne, and she had become "desperate to adopt." Magically, a lawyer who was close to Marciano found a mother willing to give her child up for adoption.
"I think it was all arranged," Mary Anne says.
"I have my suspicions," Rocky Jr. says. "My one regret in life is that I didn't get to know my father."
Mary Anne has nothing but fond memories of him and the time they spent together. "To me he was gentle and caring," she says. "He'd pick me up and spin me on his knee. He'd come in off trips and he'd yell, 'Barb, can you get me a glass of water?' And then he'd walk into little Rocco's room and pick him up and say, 'My son! My son!' " His death shattered the family. "When he died, a piece of my mother died," Mary Anne says. In her last days Barbara lay in bed and hallucinated, seeing her husband beckoning to her. "Rocky, Fm not ready to go yet," she would say. "I have to take care of Mary Anne and Rocky." Barbara died in 1974 and was entombed next to her husband in a Fort Lauderdale mausoleum.
Mary Anne is sitting at the kitchen counter in her home, sipping iced tea and smoking a cigarette. She has not had an easy few years. On Aug. 4, 1992, she was released from the Broward Correctional Institution after serving eight months of a 22-month sentence for her part in a robbery at a club in Fort Lauderdale. "I made a few mistakes," she says. "I just got mixed up with the wrong people. It's been rough for me, very rough. I never hurt anybody. The only people I ever hurt were myself and my family. I was brought up very well. I had a good family background. The mistakes I made are my own. I went the easy way instead of toughing it out. I felt so bad when those articles came out about me. I didn't want his name to be tarnished: Rocky's daughter. What a nightmare. I'm still on probation, but I've come a long way. I was made to look at myself and make some serious changes."
Marciano left a large and lasting legacy as a prizefighter, as a historic force and presence in the game, but that was not all he left in Fort Lauderdale. Nana Cousins, 89, feels angry and bitter toward him for the kind of life he lived, for his long absences as a husband and father, for what he put his family through. In a living room scattered with photographs, in a house where his son and daughter live, there are no photos of the former undefeated heavyweight champion of the world. Twenty-four years after his death, he is still old business, unresolved. Mary Anne is telling that story about how Rocky loaded her and her friend into that freebie cargo plane bound for Hawaii when she was 12, and how the window blew in and the plane went into a dive. Mary Anne laughs.
"You should never have got on that plane," Nana scolds. She is standing with her back to the kitchen window, facing her granddaughter. "God, he was tight!"
Mary Anne tosses back her hair and turns to smile sweetly at her. "But, Nana, I could get anything I wanted out of him."
"And me?" Nana says. "I even bought my own ticket to see him fight Joe Louis. And he lived with us! Everything I say is true. We could write a book. Too bad. We really did like him in those days...."
"I loved him and I always did," says Mary Anne.
"You should. He was your father. But he wasn't a good father."
Mary Anne shakes her head. "He was a wonderful father."
"O.K.," says Nana. "All right, have it your way."
"I think he was wonderful. I only had him 16 years."
"Did you have a father, Mary Anne?" Nana says, softly.
"Yes, I did."
"He was gone!"
"So what? We went everywhere together, and we spent quality time, and we did, so, I mean, yes, we did," says Mary Anne. "Some people can live a lifetime and not have what I've had. They don't communicate. I was very lucky. My mother and father were two wonderful people, and I was very fortunate."
"Say it your way," Nana says.
"That's the way I remember it."
Nana drifts toward the door. "Barbara should have gone through with her divorce."
Mary Anne looks down, shaking her head. "Oh, brother," she says. "Would you let out the dog, please? She's locked in my room."
"You're just trying to get rid of me."
"No, I'm not."
Nana starts out the kitchen door. "It's all coming out in a book some day."
"Fine, write a book."
"Maybe I'll be six foot under, but...when I get to the other side, I'll tell loverboy a thing or two."