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The Art of Boxing

“In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade and he carries the reminders of every blow that laid him down or cut him till he dried out in his anger and his shame, I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains.”  Paul Simon, The Boxer

Terme Boxer Terme Boxer

 There has a been a strong connection between boxing and the arts that goes back thousands of years. The Terme Boxer from 1 st Century ancient Greece is one of the finest pieces of sculpture ever created, and it shows clearly the face of a veteran boxer who has suffered the blows that Paul Simon wrote so expressively about. Look closely at this work and you will see the broken nose and cauliflower ears that is the trademark of boxers throughout the ages. Note how his hands are bandaged to not only protect his fists, but to also

allow him to inflict more punishment on his opponents. The grim determination in his face is very moving. After a visit to New York City, this warrior is back home in Rome.

Sugar Ray and Sammy Davis Jr. rehearsing Golden Boy Sugar Ray and Sammy Davis Jr. rehearsing Golden Boy

Fighters have been portrayed in plays and movies over and over again. On the stage Golden Boy, by Clifford Odets first played on Broadway in 1937 with Luther Adler playing the lead role of Joe. The supporting cast was absolutely amazing and included Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, Elia Kazan, Harry Morgan, Howard DeSilva, Karl Malden, and John Garfield.  It doesn’t get any better then that. Garfield would go on to play the lead role in a revival of the play in 1952. Garfield also portrayed Charley Davis in the movie Body and Soul, another great boxing movie and his most famous role. Years later Sammy Davis Jr. would step into the same role of golden Boy. He got some expert coaching for the part from a guy who knew a little about boxing, the great Sugar Ray robinson.

In 1997 I had the good fortune to see the world premiere of a new play, Tunney / Shakespeare In Six Rounds. The play was written by David E. Lane and starred Jack Wetherall. Appropriately, it opened at the Merrimack Rep in the great boxing town of Lowell. The story line is based on the time Gene Tunney gave a lecture on Shakespeare at Yale University. Wetherall was superb in the role of Tunney and showed the intellectual side of the great champion who loved Shakespeare as much as boxing. I hope to see it revived some day, as it deserves to be seen by a larger audience.

Rocky The Musical, Doodle by Ken Fallin Rocky The Musical, Doodle by Ken Fallin

Rocky, The Musical will be opening on Broadway this February. I am curious to see how that is staged. Will Rocky be serenading Apollo Creed? Could be interesting.

Boxing lends itself very well to the big screen. I have already mentioned Body and Soul, but there are so many others. Who can ever forget Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in On The Waterfront. His lines, “I could have been a contender” are firmly embedded in the American culture. Robert Ryan was outstanding in the role of Bill Stoker Thompson, the washed up pug stepping into the ring in The Setup, a great film noir and one of the best boxing movies ever made. Ryan had been a champion college boxer and it shows in the fight scenes. Other great boxing movies include Fat City with Stacy Keach, Champion starring Kirk Douglas, and Raging Bull, the life of Jake LaMotta with Robert DeNiro in the lead role. Filmed in balck and white and filled with raw intensity, it is considered one of the best American movies ever made.

Stag at Sharkey's, George Bellows Stag at Sharkey’s, George Bellows

Both Thomas Eakins and George Bellows did some great paintings of boxers. Bellows was from the Ashcan School of Art and portrayed the fighters in his work as almost blending into each other. Stag at Sharkey’s was his most famous, but he also did a terrific piece with his subject being the Dempsey Firpo fight. Bellows always included himself in his paintings. It is a bit like how Alfred Hitchcock always made an appearance in his films.

Eakins’ work was more traditional but very detailed and impressive. His two most well known boxing pieces are Between Rounds and Salutat. Both were painted in the 1890s and appear to be set in private clubs. They look quite sanitized when compared with Bellows’ work, but are beautiful works.

Shakespeare Boxing

Take some time to explore this connection between the arts and boxing. You will also find plenty of music, literature, and poetry on the subject. It is a rich and fun topic. If Will Shakespeare had been around back in the glory days of boxing, I am sure you would have found him hanging out at Stillman’s Gym.

Happy New Year to all of my readers. I do hope this is a safe year for all those brave boxers who enter the ring, and I hope they are respected and cared about by those who make so much money off of them.



Rare Film Surfaces


Mike Silver

I have been intrigued by the great middleweight boxer Mike Gibbons ever since I read that Gene Tunney tried to duplicate his style. “I learned more about boxing by watching Mike Gibbons in the gym than from any other source”, said Tunney. That is high praise from one of boxing’s all time ring scientists. Mike’s younger brother, Tommy, was also a master boxer but was a bit more aggressive and packed a heavier wallop. He is best remembered for surviving 15 rounds with Jack Dempsey in 1923.

Boxing over Braodway - Gibbons McFarland Mike Gibbons (right) squares off against Packy McFarland before their 1915

Mike Gibbons was known as “The St. Paul Phantom”. The nickname honored his home town and his uncanny defensive skills. Opponents were constantly missing him with their punches. Gibbons was one of the early pioneers of the “sweet science”, wherein footwork, timing, distance and balance were fundamental to the art. According to, over the course of a 15 year career (1907-1922) Gibbons had 133 bouts. His three official losses occurred when he was past his prime. Among the many outstanding opponents he faced were Harry Greb, Leo Houck, Ted Kid Lewis, Jimmy Clabby, Soldier Bartfield, Al McCoy, Jeff Smith, Eddie McGoorty and Jack Dillon.

Another quality opponent of Gibbons was middleweight contender Augie Ratner of New York. As an amateur Augie won both National A.A.U. and international welterweight titles. He turned pro in 1915. By the time his 104 bout career ended in 1926 Ratner had fought (on multiple occasions) many of the top fighters of his era, including Harry Greb, Ted Kid Lewis, Dave Shade, Jack Delaney, Paul Berlanbach, Jock Malone, Lou Bogash and Bryan Downey.

At the age of 71 Ratner was interviewed in the August 1967 issue of Boxing Illustrated magazine. He told the interviewer that Ted Kid Lewis and Harry Greb were the best fighters he ever faced. “Both were great”, said Ratner. “Lewis could box and he could hit. Greb was not as other men; he started his fights at a fast pace and accelerated it as the fight went on.”

But of all his opponents Ratner considered Mike Gibbons the best boxer he ever fought. “Gibbons was a wonderful boxer,” he said. “Maybe the very best I ever saw. He employed a peculiar footwork—none of the fancy-dan steps some of the moderns use, but a gliding maneuver that proved amazingly effective and energy-conserving. He knew every defensive move in the book, but he was by no means all defense. When he went on the attack, the punches came thick and fast, hard and true. He was a marvel.” [1]

Only one film of Gibbons in action is known to exist—his 1915 10 round no-decision bout with the great Packey McFarland. Sadly the film is not available on YouTube. (Maybe our indefatigable editor can come up with it). But recently I came across another YouTube of Gibbons giving boxing instruction to American soldiers in training during World War I. It is quite impressive and a revelation to those who think boxing back then was crude and unsophisticated. Gibbons is shown demonstrating various punches (including stepping in with “the old one-two”), and also blocking, slipping and countering techniques. These are fundamental moves but rarely seen in today’s world of “I hit you, now you hit me” school of crude and unsophisticated boxing. The rest of the film–Gibbons is only featured in the first few minutes–is just as interesting, as it shows Uncle Sam’s Doughboys getting judo instruction and lessons in bayonet fighting. It is a rare glimpse back in time and well worth the ten minutes it takes to view it.

Note: Boxing historian Mike Silver is the author of “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science” (McFarland Publishing Co.)

[1] Harry Cleavelin, “Augie Ratner: Champ Without A Crown!”, Boxing Illustrated (February 1967), p. 38-40.

Talking with Joe Cross About Not Being Fat, Sick, And Nearly Dead

“People are sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

In 2010 the movie “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” was released. It was directed by Joe Cross and chronicled his journey from a 310 lb man suffering from a rare autoimmune disease and taking a handful of medications everyday to a 210 lb picture of health. He did this by drinking only vegetable juice, what he calls a Reboot, while spending 60 days driving across the United States. The movie was a great hit and is still very popular. Joe, 47 years old and a native of Sydney, Australia is back on the road, this time with a book, “The Reboot With Joe Juice Diet”. I recently caught up with him by phone while he was traveling to Albany, NY for an appearance.

Speaking with Joe, you immediately feel his optimism and positive attitude. His Australian accent is infectious, and his story of how he took control of his health is truly inspiring. He plans traveling the world in an effort to lead by example in showing people how they too can change their lives. He is quick to point out he is not a doctor or scientist, but a man who just wants people to see how he was able to improve his health by making some important lifestyle changes. He is spreading the word about how we all have the power to do the same thing.

I began our conversation by telling Joe how most of the books and movies I have read and watched about changing to a healthy lifestyle when it comes to food tend to be preachy and not at all flexible. Many interject a strong political bias as well. His approach is different. He tells me “I think, predominately, that people are pretty smart and crowds are dumb. We tend to do things as a group, but I think trying to reach people as a crowd and then work that down to the individual doesn’t work very well. You already know fruits and vegetables are good for you, but when someone gets up and says you should do this and you should do that, the message gets lost. The preachy side is not the way we educate, not the way we inspire, and certainly not the way we entertain. Make it fun, make it interesting, and make it something that resonates within. Find the answers we all know and then present the questions in interesting, fun, and inspiring ways. Healthier is happier. I have a view that happiness is by default about being useful, but unless you have your health you can’t be fully useful.” He asks rhetorically, “ Who’s unhealthy and happy? Very few people.”

Joe Cross 2 In the movie Joe drank only fresh vegetable juices for sixty days and then the viewers assume he was able to stop taking all of his medications. “ No, after the sixty days I continued with a very strict vegan diet for an additional ninety days. At that point I was pill free. I had done some research and found that for 70% of us our health problems are caused by lifestyle choices, the other 30% is from genetics. I wanted to give myself the chance to find out if I was causing my own disease or if I was one of the 30% for whom it is genetic. Was I in the bad luck crowd or the stupid crowd? I got my answer.” Should those who are unfortunate to be in the 30% crowd just give up? “No, they should still make the changes, and they will most likely find they will need less medication and will feel a lot better.”

Is Joe a vegetarian? “No, I can tell you what I don’t eat. I don’t drink soda or alcohol. No caffeine. I don’t eat fast food. I will eat a hamburger but only in if it is good and from a reliable source. I do not push a plant only diet. I talk about plant based. There are three things available for us to eat: plants, processed food, and animal food. If you can make the plants the base, 40 to 50%, and then split the others up at 20 to 30% you will be doing well. I know when I do eat plant-only I feel better, but I am not ready for that now.”

Joe talked about how are bodies are programmed to go into famine mode, a survival mechanism from a time when we would live through feasts and famines. After all, fat is stored energy. “A lot of people wake up in the morning and are not happy with what they see in the mirror, not a good way to start the day. Don’t look at it as a negative, just think about how your body is protecting you and storing up a lot of energy in case a famine is coming. I would advise before doing a Reboot checking the Internet to make sure there is not a food shortage happening in Boston anytime soon. As long as the coast is clear, maybe it’s time to bring on your own nutritional famine.”

There are many who believe government should step in and play a role in what we should be allowed to eat. Joe leads by example and believes “healthy is happy”. “I don’t want to become a nanny state. I am all about market forces, and my role is writing books, making movies, and doing TV shows. I want to educate people, entertain people, and inspire people to make healthier choices that can affect their happiness and existence. People are sick and tired of being sick and tired. The more we demand it the more the tsunami of change will happen.” I mentioned how I am seeing more and more healthier alternatives on menus. “People are voting with their dollars, and when you vote with your dollars in America s..t happens. Those businesses that don’t keep up with the changes will be left by the wayside.”

What’s next for Joe? “The book is number one in Canada and in the top 100 on Amazon. The tour is going global. The movie is now available in 15 languages. I have a new movie coming out in September and am working on a possible program to be aired on PBS. With a base of ten million viewers of my movie, the scientific community is now talking to me. I take their advice and regurgitate it in simpler ways so we can all understand it.’

Joe Cross is leading a revolution that is gaining tremendous momentum. He has boundless energy and the power to motivate and inspire. Watch his movie, read his book, listen to him talk, and you will be inspired to make the changes that will keep you from being Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. Check him out at

Bobby Franklin can be reached at bob [at] boxingoverbroadway [dot] com

Rest In Peace Jimmy Ellis

Rest In Peace Jimmy Ellis

Former WBA Heavyweight Champ Passes

Another Loss From The Era Of Competitive Boxing

The boxing world was saddened by the recent death of former WBA Heavyweight Champion Jimmy Ellis. Ellis passed after a long battle with dementia pugilistica. For years Jimmy was best known for being Muhammad Ali’s sparring partner, but it is unfair to remember him for that. Jimmy Ellis was a superb boxer puncher who rose through the ranks beginning his professional career as a middleweight.

Jimmy Ellis fought in what was probably the most competitive era in heavyweight boxing.

Ellis and Ali were both from Louisville, Kentucky and began as boxing as amateurs under the tutelage of Officer Joe Martin. They fought twice before turning pro with the young Clay winning their first encounter, and Jimmy taking the decision in the rematch.

Ellis turned pro under the management of Bud Bruner with whom he compiled a record of 15-5 with 6 knockouts. Jimmy’s losses were to Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, George Benton, Henry Hank, Don Fullmer, and Holly Mims, whom he defeated in a rematch. All of these opponents were top rated contenders, and many of the losses were by very close decision.

Jimmy left Bruner and began training with his old friend Ali under the tutelage of Angelo Dundee. He also put on weight moving up to light heavyweight and then heavyweight. Ellis scored a spectacular one round knock out of Jimmy Persol in 1967. This win catapulted him onto the world stage and earned him a berth in the WBA Heavyweight Tournament to find a successor to Ali who had been wrongfully stripped of his title for refusing to be inducted into the Army.

Ellis was considered a long shot to win the title, but he surprised everyone by stopping Leotis Martin, winning a decision over Oscar Bonavena in a fight where he dropped the tough Argentinean twice, and then defeating Jerry Quarry over fifteen rounds to win the title in 1968. Later that year he would successfully defend his crown against Floyd Patterson.

In the meantime, Joe Frazier, who had chosen not to enter the WBA tournament, defeated Buster Mathis in a fight recognized by the New York State Athletic Commission as being for the World Championship. It was just a matter of time before the two would meet to unify the title.

On February 2, 1970 Frazier and Ellis stepped into the ring at Madison Square Garden to decide who the better fighter was. Ellis was coming off a layoff of a year and a half, while Frazier had remained active and was at the peak of his ability. Jimmy put on a valiant effort landing a number of strong right hands on Joe, but Frazier was unstoppable that night. After decking Ellis twice in the fourth round, Angelo Dundee stopped the fight before the bell rang for round five.

Ellis would never again challenge for the title, but he did fight his old friend Muhammad Ali in a twelve round bout in 1971, with Ali stopping him in the final round.

Jimmy Ellis fought in what was probably the most competitive era in heavyweight boxing. There were many exciting bouts at that time with so many of the contestants being evenly matched. Also, the top fighters did not duck each other. When the public clamored for a unification bout between Ellis and Frazier, both men agreed to fight. What a contrast to today when fight fans have been waiting years for Mayweather and Pacquiao. In the 70s just about every top fighter met at some point. Ron Lyle, Jerry Quarry, George Chuvalo, Earnie Shavers, Jimmy Young, and many others were in the mix. Many, if not most of the matches then were highly competitive as the fighters were evenly matched. Before these fights, fans would argue for hours over who would win, and no one could be sure. It was a very exciting time for boxing.

Jimmy Ellis was not a big heavyweight, but his years working his way up from middleweight to heavyweight were a time when he learned his craft.

Jimmy Ellis was not a big heavyweight, but his years working his way up from middleweight to heavyweight were a time when he learned his craft. Even though he had a number of losses, he was learning his trade, and he learned it well. He had a tremendous right hand, which he combined with great footwork and speed. This combination allowed him to defeat much stronger fighters such as George Chuvalo and Oscar Bonavena while also outspeeding Floyd Patterson, and outsmarting slick counter punching Jerry Quarry.

Jimmy’s career came to an end in 1975 after he was poked in the eye during a sparring session. The accident caused him to lose the sight in that eye. His career was now over, but unfortunately, it was too late. The years in the ring both in matches and the thousands of rounds of sparring in the gym had already taken their toll. For a number of years before his death he suffered the effects of dementia pugilistica, an Alzheimer’s type of disease that is the result of repeated blows to the head. Jimmy’s former rivals Jerry Quarry and Floyd Patterson suffered the same fate.


For years Jimmy Ellis lived under the shadow of having been Ali’s sparring partner, but make no mistake about it; Jimmy was a world class boxer puncher who fought and beat many of the top contenders of his day, and that was quite a day. Ellis was also a deeply religious man who sang Gospel along with his wife Mary Etta, who passed away in 2006.

Jimmy Ellis was a gentleman who never spoke a bad word about anyone.

Jimmy Ellis was a gentleman who never spoke a bad word about anyone. He never gave less then one hundred percent when he stepped into the ring. He always carried himself with dignity, and was a true Champion in the ring and out. He will be missed. Rest In Peace Champ.


Tinker Pincot

Rest In Peace


Former light heavy weight contender and long time Ring 4 member Jordan Tinker Picot passed away recently. Tinker was one of the hardest punching fighters to come out of the New England area with a pro record of 17-3-1 with all of his wins coming via knock out. At Ring 4 events Tinker was always one to elicit laughter and he will be missed by all of us.

Rest in Peace Brother.

Ken Fallin

Ken Fallin:

Doodling The Stars From The Broadway Stage

To The World Stage

Ken Fallin Ken Fallin

You have most likely seen Ken Fallin’s work as it appears with “alarming regularity” in the Wall Street Journal, Playbill Online, The Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker and on the posters for Forbidden Broadway. He also got his start here in Boston doing a weekly drawing for the Sunday Arts section of the Herald back in the 80s. You may not know his name because he prefers to not allow it to intrude into his pieces.

Woody Allen Woody Allen

Ken has always loved cartoons, and has been drawing, or what he calls doodling, since he was a kid. His dream was to be an actor and he pursued that career for many years, but found he made more money drawing caricatures of his fellow actors on the side. Eventually, he got his big break, not in acting, but when he was asked to do the drawings for the poster for “Forbidden Broadway” in 1983. This led to the job at the Boston Herald, followed by working for Wall Street Journal, where he still contributes work every week. I recently spoke with Ken by phone from his home and studio on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

The first thing you notice when speaking to Ken is that there is a calmness to his voice. He comes across as a man who loves people and enjoys his work. I ask him about how he calls his work doodling and not his art.

“I try not to take myself too seriously.” Did you doodle when you were a kid?

Aladdin Aladdin

“I did, I did, but it was something that was just a lot of fun. I loved cartoons. I loved comic strips in the newspapers. I loved watching cartoons on television, and I loved Mad Magazine. Warner Brothers made a lot cartoons with caricatures of their famous players like Humphrey Bogart, and that just blew my mind that they were taking real people and making them into cartoons. That’s how I saw it…it was just the best, because when I would look at people, especially funny looking people, I would think this person looks like a cartoon. That’s where I think I got my love of caricatures.”


Max Schmeling Max Schmeling

Were you taught drawing?“It wasn’t taught. It’s kind of an instinctual thing. You see somebody and the way you see them is your own vision of them, and I don’t think you can teach that. It’s the way you see the person.”Ken has doodled just about every major Broadway performer in the past thirty-five years as well as world leaders including President Obama for the Wall Street Journal. I was curious what it was like to sit with these famous people and sketch them. I was in for a surprise.


“I don’t get to meet them. It’s not a glamorous life like a photographer where you actually get to go and see the person. I work from photographs. Photos are sent to me via the Internet. Sometimes I get an assignment at 11:00 A.M. that has to be done by 4:00 P.M., I can work fairly fast.”

Ian McKellen as Richard III Ian McKellen as Richard III

A lot of the time Ken does not know anything about the person he is drawing,

“I usually try to pull probably a dozen photos, and if something catches my eye I think, I can draw that, I can draw that angle, the eye, or the nose, or whatever; and I try to do that, a oktiokwj. canada goose citadelnd sometimes it doesn’t work and I have to switch over to another photo.


Commissioner William Bratton Commissioner William Bratton

Ken has been heavily influenced by the work of Al Hirschfeld. I ask if he had ever met the great artist,


“I have. Well, this is funny because years ago I actually got my big break doing a show called “Forbidden Broadway”, and Al used to go to all the opening nights. He went to one in New York and they showed him the program cover that had my drawing on it and said, ‘what do you think of it?, and he thought he had done it. I took that as the ultimate compliment. He was a very nice man. I never got to know him really well. After he died I got to know his wife and I got to go up to his studio. I actually got to sit in his chair. That was

Rocky The Musical Rocky The Musical

very exciting. Louise Hirschfeld and the people at the Al Hirschfeld Foundation have been very supportive of my work. They can see I am influenced by, but not copying him.”


Other artists, photographers, and architects, have influenced Ken including Aubrey Beardsley, Richard Avedon, and Irving Penn. I read a quote from Irving Penn to him. “Sensitive people faced with the prospect of a camera portrait put on a face they think is one they would like to show to the world…very often what lies behind the façade is rare and more wonderful then the subject knows or dares to believe.” I was curious if this would apply to Ken’s art.

Madmen Madmen

“Usually, when I am drawing, my mind is pretty blank because I need it to be that way in order to create something. It’s probably subconscious with an artist. Anytime you do anything creative you’re not really aware of it at the time, but things come through when you love it, and I really love what I do. I am an old fashioned illustrator. I use a quill pen that I have to keep dipping in ink, and scratching on illustration board. I love the old fashioned stuff, and I’m hoping that comes through, and when people buy my stuff and they tell me they love looking at them that means the world to me.”

Billy Joel Billy Joel

With his upbeat yet easy going manner, Ken hardly seems to be a suffering artist. I mention that I don’t see him pulling a VanGogh and cutting an ear off. “I sometimes clip a fingernail, but that is as far as I go.”

I find it amazing he is able to draw such meaningful doodles without having met his subjects. It is as if Ken has a sixth sense.


“I’ve had relatives of people I’ve drawn tell me you captured something there, and I’m like I did this from a photograph. I guess it was subconscious, but that is such a compliment.”


Rocky Rocky

Ken got his start with the Wall Street Journal in 1994. “I had an agent and she got me my first WSJ job, and they hired me to draw sports figures. I did every sport. I even did the Winter Olympics that year.” I ask if he got to go, “Oh no, it’s all photographs. You’re trying to make my life much too glamorous. I’m not a sports person and I know very little about it, but I would look at photographs and just hope they wouldn’t come out looking like chorus boys or something. And it worked cause they had me doing that for almost four years.”


I bring up the subject of drawing political figures without having his own views, either positive or negative, come across.

“I have to be real careful if it’s somebody I know and that I don’t like, and they don’t want my drawings to be editorial. They just want me to show the person. It can be frustrating, but then I think of the paycheck and I push forward.”

Bullets Over Broadway Bullets Over Broadway

Caricature can be a bit of a minefield particularly when drawing different ethnic groups. Because so many of the early illustrators had a field day making hateful statements with their disgraceful pieces. Ken is comfortable with any subject he doodles.

Chuck Berry Chuck Berry

“I grew up around a lot of prejudice, but I never understood that, it didn’t make sense to me to be prejudiced. I just didn’t understand why people didn’t like other people. It usually is from ignorance and fear of the unknown. With caricatures, it’s interesting we are talking about this, when I got my first assignments to draw black people my editors would sometimes be very nervous, but I would say, ‘You shouldn’t be nervous’, and this is true, I’ve drawn blacks, I’ve drawn Asians, you know, all types, and I approach all of them the same way, and I think it shows in that. It’s not like I’m trying to make fun of any particular person, it’s just the way I see them without being cruel, I never try to be cruel. I’ve never had a problem.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Death of a Salesman Philip Seymour Hoffman, Death of a Salesman

I ask Ken how old he is, and as he tells me he is 65 he reflects a bit on his very interesting journey.


“When I turned 50 my life was actually better. I got started in my late 30s that is when I got my first big break. Things have just gotten better. The really great thing is I don’t think I peaked too young, and I’m not jaded. It’s like things are happening. I’m hearing from all these people I went to high school with and they are so happy to be retiring, and I’m thinking I love what I do, I would never retire unless somebody stopped paying me.”


Fallin talks about his time in 1975 at the New School in New York and studying under famed cartoonist Mort Gerberg.

Joel Grey Caberet Joel Grey Caberet

“I wanted to be a cartoonist for a brief period. Mort knew all these cartoonists at the New Yorker, and every week he would bring one in to talk to us, and we had people like George Booth and Charles Addams, and they were wonderful. And for our assignment every week we had to send a batch of cartoons to the New Yorker, and we had to bring in our rejection slip to show proof that we did it.”


Ken had spent a number of years after school as a starving actor as he kept pursuing his dream. What went on during those “lost years” from school until your big break in 1985?


“I did everything you can imagine. I’ve had just about every job. I’ve never worked in a hospital, but I’ve done just about everything else. I’ve been a waiter and a cab driver (Ken drove for Red Cab in Brookline, MA). I was drawing and acting, that was my original goal and the reason I came to New York. I got a job in 1979 working in a summer stock company in Connecticut, and I was making more money doing their posters for the shows and doing caricatures for the actors. You know, they’d pay me like five bucks for a drawing of them, and since I was only making like $45.00 a week as an actor, this came in very handy. I still thought of myself as becoming an actor but it got to the point I was making more money doing illustrations, these rinky-dink jobs, but they were coming in. What’s ironic is now a days I have meetings with Broadway producers and directors and writers about my art, but I’m always thinking, gosh, why didn’t I know these people when I wanted to be an actor. But it all worked out, I have no complaints.

Keith Jarrett Keith Jarrett

“It wasn’t until my late thirties when I got my big break. It got to the point where I didn’t think anything was ever going to happen, and I was very discouraged. But then things just started happening and it was great. I think you just sort of have to be ready. If you believe in your self, and I have to admit there were periods that I didn’t, but if you can just sort of hold on and have somebody else tell you they believe in you that helps too.


“I have to throw this in because everyone has a parent story. My father never understood what I did as an illustrator until I started working for the Wall Street Journal, and other people would say ‘look at what Ken’s drawing here.’ And he started taking pride in it, but he could not believe people would pay you to draw. He was a salesman. If I was selling drawings that would be one thing, but he finally got it. Just before he died he told me he was proud of me, and that made it all right, but for years he thought I was a bum.”


What else would he like people to know about him?


“You can say I am very kind to animals. I do dog rescue, that’s my big, big thing. I help rescue dogs out of the shelters here in New York. Our main goal is to get them out of the kill shelters cause we have very bad shelters here in New York. We try to get them either into foster homes or into a shelter that doesn’t kill. I like drawing dogs too. I don’t get to do that much in my pay work. I think they are such characters.”


After my conversation with this very warm and talented man I feel it is never too late to pursue your dream. It wasn’t easy for Ken, but he persisted and we are all the better for having him sharing his art with us. I hope you will now feel you know the man behind those wonderful doodles you see in so many publications.


Originals and prints of all Ken’s work are for sale including his work for the Wall Street Journal. The day we spoke he had earlier been on the phone with Patrick Stewart who was buying a copy of the wonderful piece Ken did for Playbill of “Waiting For Godot” starring Stewart and Ian McKellan.


You can contact Ken through his website at


Holman Williams and Marcel Cerdan, The Boston Strong Boy, And Boxing At Boston City Hall Plaza

Williams-Cerdan-Rooftop The photo of Holman Williams and Marcel Cerdan which accompanies this article, having a conversation on a Paris rooftop has always fascinated me. I first saw it in the International Boxing Research Organization Journal, and Dan Cuoco, the director of that fine organization shared it with me. On July 7, 1946 Williams and Cerdan fought each other in Paris with Cerdan winning a decision over the American. Holman Williams was one of a group of boxers that came to be known as The Black Murderers’ Row. Others in this elite crowd were Charley Burley, Cocoa Kid, Eddie Booker, Bert Lytell, Loyd Marshall, Jack Chase, and Aaron “Tiger” Wade. All were great fighters who never got a shot at the title partly because of race, and partly because they were just too good. Author Harry Otty has written a fine book chronicling the careers of these boxers who deserve to be recognized by all boxing fans. His book, “Charley Burley and The Black Murderers Row’’, is a must read for anyone interested in the history of the sport.

In this photo, we see Williams who is at this point on the downside of his career, speaking with Cerdan who would two years later win the Middleweight Title from Tony Zale. I don’t know if this was taken before or after the bout, but it is interesting to see how intently they are listening and speaking to each other. This is not a photo of two wise mouth punks talking trash to each other, but of two professionals, of two gentlemen spending some time together. Are they talking about their fight? About boxing in general and the techniques they use? Perhaps they are having a conversation about the cultural scene in Paris. What I find striking is how relaxed they are with each other. These are two great fighters who would, or have already, put on a very tough fight; yet they are completely at ease in each other’s company. In this photo, both men convey class and dignity. The backdrop of Paris further enhances them. Both are impeccably dressed and could easily pass for a couple of writers or actors. It is a snapshot of a very different and interesting time. Take a moment to study this picture and let your mind wander to just what their conversation was about that July afternoon on a rooftop in Paris.

Strong Boy, The Life and Times of John L. Sullivan
America’s First Sports Hero
By Christopher Klein Published by Lyons Press

John-L-Sullivan John L. Sullivan was America’s first larger then life sports star, and author Christopher Klein has written a fine account of the Boston Strong Boy. Sullivan, the son of Irish immigrants who had arrived in Boston during the great wave of Irish migration in the mid nineteenth century, was born in Boston’s South End, not Roxbury as many have believed. He made a reputation for himself at an early age with his amazing strength, intimidating stare, and powerful right hand punch.

Klein’s book follows Sullivan’s life in detail and shows just how the Great John L was the right man at the right time to win the adoration of fans nationwide. His fistic talent along with his magnetic personality and booming voice made him an instant celebrity. But, he never would have attained the prominence he did had it not been for the completion of the intercontinental railroad system. This feat of technology, comparable with the internet today, allowed Sullivan to crisscross the country putting on exhibitions and taking on all comers in four round matches. For the first time, Americans were able to see one of their heroes up close, sometimes too close, because Sullivan’s proclivity to drink would make him a very difficult character to control.

I learned much about John L from Klein’s book. Many things I didn’t know, such as the fact that after Gentleman Jim Corbett defeated Sullivan for the crown, the men would later engage in at least two exhibition matches. That Sullivan was a somewhat talented actor who loved performing on the stage, and that he was the first athlete to earn over a million dollars, most of which went to living the high life. The only fault I find in this book is that often times I found myself wanting more details about some of the events, such as the time in Augusta Georgia where Sullivan, who had been drinking heavily grew so verbally abusive that a train hand knocked him out. Surely, this was a big deal, and I would love to have had more details about that incident. I found this book a very interesting read and highly recommend it.

Boxing At City Hall Plaza
June 29 th

This Sunday a live boxing show will take place out doors at City Hall Plaza in Boston. It is the Neighborhood Youth challenge and will feature a team of young amateurs from the local gyms going up against a team of boxers from Connemara, Ireland. Outdoor boxing in Boston is a bit of a throwback to the days of the Great John L and should be a lot of fun. I hope to see you there.

Reading The Gods Of War – Shadow Boxing With Golovkin

Review: The Gods Of War

Springs Toledo Springs Toledo is well known in boxing circles as a very good writer who also knows his boxing. Whether writing about Harry Greb or one of the current champions, his style is a throwback to the days when boxing writers knew the craft of writing as well as the sport. You do not have to be a boxing fan nor do you need a knowledge of the Sweet Science to enjoy his work. However, if you do know your boxing history Springs will make you think more deeply about it.

In his book The Gods Of War, Toledo has compiled a collection of his essays in the first section and then takes us on a run through his selection of the ten best fighters of the modern era (fighters who hit their prime after 1920) he calls this select group The Gods of War.

Gods of War Reading the essays in the first section you will hear echoes, not imitations, of A.J. Leibling and Raymond Chandler. Springs is not attempting to set the clock back with his style of writing, but rather he understands that boxing is the perfect subject for interesting and creative writing. I think of the term coined by Gay Talese, creative non-fiction, when reading these pieces as they all have a certain sense of drama to them that deserves to be explored.

I was pleased to see four essays on Sonny Liston, a fighter much too little has been written about. Springs absolutely nails it when he discusses the Ali Liston fight that was called off in Boston. If that fight had taken place history may have been very different. Much of what is revealed here I know to be true.

He talks about Alexis Arguello and the suffering this very decent man lived with all his life, a life that ended tragically and too soon, but one that is not uncommon in boxing. Boxing has a way of focusing our attention on the unfairness and cruelties of life, and Toledo uses his pen to paint a picture of this reality.

In the section entitled The Gods of War, Springs has developed a criteria for rating the greatest fighters. These greatest of all time lists are always controversial and guaranteed to raise the hackles of boxing fans, but in this case the author has used a very interesting and solid system for rating his picks. Will you agree with his choices? Probably not. But that is part of the fun. What will happen is you will be forced to think more deeply about your own picks. This is not just a list, but a series of short pieces that give the reader insight into each of the Gods of War. I feel I am pretty knowledgeable about the sport having spent a lifetime around it, but I learned much by reading these essays. For instance, I had not known about the connection between the Bob Fitzsimmons Shift and Roberto Duran. I would advise not jumping to the end to see the pick for the top spot, but rather read and savor each bio has you work your way to the end. There are surprises, but Springs backs up each of his choices with his terrific writing and deep insight.

There are many books on boxing being published today. Some very good, some that are labors of love that just don’t measure up, and some that would have been better off remaining as trees. The Gods of War is one that deserves to be read by everyone with an interest in boxing, an appreciation of good writing, and those with an a desire to know more about the human condition. I know it will remain in my library for many years to come.

Shadow Boxing With Golovkin

Gennady Golvkin A couple of weeks ago I watched the Gennady Golovkin Daniel Geale bout on television. I saw something before the bout when the cameras were in Golovkin’s dressing room, something you rarely if ever see today, Gennady was shadow boxing. This used to be common practice as fighters warmed up for their bouts, loosening up and getting ready to do battle. Today, they are usually spending their time warming up while robotically playing patty cake on the mitts with a trainer or having batons swung at them. Golovkin actually moves around the room getting loose and is practicing the movements he will be using in the ring. His mind is engaged. He is not just going through drills and repeating the same moves over and over again. He is visualizing his opponent in front of him, imagining what he will be facing in the ring. He is getting his body ready while engaging his mind.

Golovkin is a very good fighter. He showed that when he rolled with a right hand while delivering his own knockout punch in the Geale fight. He has power, is in great shape all the time, and knows how to think in there. He knows how to slip punches and create angles. He has been well taught and is learning his craft. He is also a class act, behaving as a gentleman before and after a bout. There is no cheap talk or language you wouldn’t want you kids to hear. He carries himself well and sets a very good example.

Golovkin Geale I do see problems for him though. I think he can dominate the division, but I doubt we will ever see him reach his full potential. We may even see him regress a bit. This is because he does not have the level of competition to force him to improve. At this stage in his career he should still be forced to learn in each fight he has. He is a very focused and intellectual boxer, but he does not have the peers to pressure him to go beyond where he is now. I saw some signs that he was getting just a bit sloppy in the Geale match. This is not to take anything away from him, it just shows that he is so good he does not have to pay for his mistakes. I doubt his camp is even able to find good sparring for him. In an earlier age they would have had solid journeyman sparring partners for a fighter like Gennady. Guys that would make him work in there, forcing him to hone his skills and continue to learn new moves. I hope he continues to improve so we get to see if he is able to develop into a great fighter, but I fear that instead of improving, he may be brought down by the caliber of fighters he is facing in today’s game. He is very smart. He is very talented. I want him to prove me wrong.

Bobby can be reached at bob2boxer [at] yahoo [dot] com

Master Boxer Speaks! My Interview with Curtis Cokes


Mike Silver

Curtis Cokes held the welterweight title from 1966 to 1969. He was born and raised in Dallas,Texas, where he still resides. Curtis was a gifted all-around athlete in high school, excelling in baseball and basketball. He earned all-state honors in both sports and briefly played basketball for the Harlem Stars, a professional touring team.

Curtis Cokes - Boxing over Broadway Welterweight champion Curtis Cokes.

Curtis first laced on the gloves at a local YMCA and was undefeated in 22 amateur bouts before turning pro in 1958. This was at a time when there were eight weight divisions and eight undisputed champions. (How quaint!) By the mid-1960s Curtis had become a top rated welterweight contender. Like all of his contemporaries he acquired contender status the old fashioned way—he earned it. (Also quaint by today’s standards). During his climb to the title he sharpened his considerable boxing skills against the likes of Stefan Redl, Joe Miceli, Kenny Lane, Manny Alvarez, Jose Stable, Stan Harrington, Stanley “Kitten” Hayward, Billy Collins and in three memorable bouts with the great Luis Rodriguez.

The boxing world first took notice of Curtis Cokes when he upset future welterweight champion Luis Rodriguez in 1961. Rodriguez outpointed Curtis in their rematch four months later. The rubber match took place on July 6, 1966 in New Orleans. The bout was the semi-final of a tournament to determine a new welterweight champion. Curtis stopped Rodriguez in the 15 th round, thus becoming the only fighter to stop the great Cuban welterweight in his prime. Less than two months later, in the final bout of the tournament, Curtis outpointed Manny Gonzales to win the crown vacated by Emile Griffith.

Curtis Cokes had an elegant and refined boxing style of a type that is all but extinct today. He was adept at both offense and defense but was primarily a counter-puncher— skills that were admired and appreciated by knowledgeable boxing fans. (Films of several of his fights are available on YouTube). After five successful defenses, including impressive KOs over Charlie Shipes and Willie Ludick, he lost the title to the great Jose Napoles on April 4 th 1969. With both eyes nearly swollen shut Cokes’ manager told the referee to stop the fight before the start of the 13 th round. The rematch, two months later, ended similarly with Cokes unable to continue beyond the 10 th round. Curtis fought for three more years before hanging up his gloves. He compiled a 62-14-4 record, including 30 knockouts. Napoles and Hayward were the only fighters to stop him. In 1972 Curtis gave a credible acting performance in “Fat City”, a boxing movie directed by John Huston.

After he retired from boxing Curtis was involved in various business ventures but he always remained close to the sport he loved. In 1980 he wrote, with co-author Hugh Kayser, The Complete Book of Boxing for Fighters and Fight Fans. I consider it the best boxing instruction book of the past 70 years. The book has reportedly sold more than 77,000 copies. He currently owns and operates Curtis Cokes’ Home of Champions Boxing Gym in Dallas where the emphasis is on serving his community through an amateur boxing program geared to keeping young people off the streets.

Today, at the age of 76, Curtis Cokes is healthy and mentally sharp, with an amazing memory for the details of his career. Fortunately, he exhibits no ill effects from his 80 professional bouts—a testament to his superb defensive skills, physical conditioning and knowing when to hang up his gloves. Aside from being an old school fighter Curtis is also an old school gentleman. He is gracious, engaging and warm. Interviewing this Hall of Fame boxer was a delightful experience.

My thanks to mutual friend Ken Burke for providing contact information for Curtis.


Mike Silver: Champ, the purists loved your smooth delivery and emphasis on basic fundamentals such as the left jab, footwork, counter punching and defense. I count myself lucky to have seen you fight on television. When I told a few older fans (who also saw you fight) that I was going to interview you their first words were, “He was a good boxer”. That is how you are remembered—that and your tremendous victories over the great Luis Rodriguez. How do you go about conveying your storehouse of knowledge to the young students at your gym?

Curtis Cokes: Before we start teaching fundamentals that involve throwing and blocking punches, or how to get away from punches, I get their legs in shape. We work on walking and running forward and backward. Footwork is such an important part of the sport. When I played baseball and basketball I knew I had to get my legs in shape because the legs are what carry the body. I think today’s fighters forget about footwork. I worked every day on my footwork, turning left and right, backing up, going forward. I turned to my left to be outside of my opponent’s right hand, and then I’d swing to my right to be outside of his left jab. Learning how to box is a slow process but you try to learn something every day.

MS: Speaking of footwork, in my book, The Arc of Boxing, I asked the great ballet dancer Edwin Villella, who was a champion amateur boxer before he became a ballet star, to explain the similarities between the two disciplines. You cover the same topic in The Complete Book of Boxing. Quoting from your book: “The balance and rhythm of a dancer are also important, for a boxer must be able to move quickly and change his tempo and direction at will…maneuverability is of extreme importance. An almost ballet type of body coordination gives a fighter a distinct edge.”

CC: The balance of a dancer is tremendous, and like a dancer a boxer has to be able to move and dance while maintaining his balance. You have to be able to have good balance to throw your punches. When I played with the Harlem Stars basketball team I used to watch Goose Tatum, how he would get in position and block people out. It was amazing to see him do that so smoothly. Goose Tatum’s coordination and balance was outstanding.

MS: Aside from footwork, what do you see as the main difference between the boxers of your generation and today’s practitioners?

CC: Today it’s all about hitting and that’s all it is…just go out and hit, hit, hit. They don’t learn the fundamentals of boxing. They don’t get a Ph.D. in boxing—how to block, roll, duck, slip and get away from punches– to hit and not get hit. You have to learn the smart part of boxing, because you want to come out of it the same as you went in. Most guys just fight, fight, fight, but “fighting” isn’t “boxing”. It’s an intelligent sport and you have to be smart to be able to succeed in it. If you just go toe to toe it becomes a toughman contest and the toughman wins. It’s not a science anymore. You don’t have to be smart to box anymore. There is no sport called “fighting”, it’s called professional boxing. A big part of the problem is we don’t have the trainers that we used to have. There are not too many people that know how to train fighters.

MS: Who was your trainer?

CC: I had two trainers: Robert Thomas was my first coach and Robert “Cornbread” Smith was the coach with all the experience. He was back in Joe Louis’s day and he was a good trainer. My manager was Doug Lord. Doug was a good manager and he took care of me. He was not only my manager, he was my friend. I knew the boxing game and Doug, who owned an insurance company, knew about business.

MS: You became welterweight champion in your 53 rd professional fight. Two months ago a fighter with only 19 pro fights won a welterweight title belt. The fighter he dethroned had all of 24 pro bouts.

CC: I don’t think there are as many fighters available as in my day. Most become champions before they are ready to be champions. To be a champion you’ve got to have fought some of the best fighters in the world. Even if you lose to some of the great guys it’s not a shame to lose to a great fighter. You can learn from the experience. You have to take it step by step. You go from first grade to the tenth grade and then you graduate. Instead of learning the game they want to fight for a title too early even before they learn to tie their gloves on. You’ve got 10 fights and you’re fighting for a title. Back in the day you had to have at least 30 or 40 fights to get the experience before you challenged for a title. Baseball players don’t go to the major leagues until they prove themselves in the minor leagues, then they go to the major leagues. It’s a step by step process. Just because you can hit a guy and knock him out doesn’t mean you can get up there and fight.

MS: As a young boxer did you have any role models that you wanted to imitate?

CC: I learned from two of the best—Joe Brown and Sugar Ray Robinson. I watched those guys when they were fighting. I tried to copy their style. I tried to copy Ray’s style but I worked with Joe Brown. I trained with him when I was a kid and he was lightweight champion of the world. I went to Houston and sparred with him and he told me that I was going to be a champion. Brown would show me how he would throw punches and miss them on purpose to make a guy move his head in the range of his right hand. And I started doing it—I would purposely miss a jab on the outside so my opponent would move his head to the inside where he was in my right hand range. I was a good right hand puncher. I don’t see anybody doing that today. I saw “Kitten” Hayward do it. So did Luis Rodriguez. Emile Griffith did some of that. Those fighters, they were smarter than these guys today who just go out there and hit.

MS: Did anyone else influence your style of boxing?

CC: I sparred with (former middleweight champion) Carl “Bobo” Olson in Honolulu, Hawaii when I went over there to box one time. (Note: Cokes outpointed Stan Harrington on May 21, 1963 in Honolulu). They all told me I was going to be champion of the world one day and they helped me quite a bit. I got Olson’s jab and I got Joe Brown’s movement and his right hand, and I picked up all this stuff from these guys. You have to learn how to box and you have to learn it well. You go to school to learn your ABC’s and you have to learn boxing the same way.

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