Thursday, May 9, 2013

Celebrate Mother's Day at the Pizza King with Boxers and the Women They Love

Jimmy Connors with his wife Carol in 1957. The two met while playing PingPong.
One favorite old sight gag of a photo was the shot of a boxer washing dishes under the direction of his wife or his mother. Not only did we get to see that, yes, boxers are humans and have relatives, but we also got to see them doing housework. A big Palooka washing dishes was a standard and you can almost hear the photographer saying funny things to loosen them up.

Anywise, I took 9 of my favorite images and blew them up BIG and hung them on the walls at Pizza King in South Lawrence. 

Stop in if you're in the area and take a look. Bring your mother. Think of this as an unofficial house tour as you get a brief glimpse at their kitchens.

Also featured are Jack Sharkey, Tony DeMarco, Wilbur Wilson and others.

Click here if you want to read Jimmy's brief bio written by one of my favorite boxing writers and fellow IBRO member, Austen Killeen.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Arthur Flynn and Joe Louis

Lawrence's Arthur Flynn camps it up with Joe Louis
November 11, 1948

A few knowledgable souls who saw my exhibit at the Pizza King were dismayed that I didn't include any images of one of Lawrence's most well known boxer's, Arthur Flynn. The Pizza King exhibit was never meant to be the complete or final story and the displays were limited by the available wall space.

Also, this is the one of the only pictures I have of Arthur Flynn and when I do present him, I hope it will be in a fighting stance.

Arthur Flynn passed away in 1985. His big moment was as a kid in 1926 winning both the AAU and the PanAmerican titles. Flynn was the kind of guy who generated a lot of stories. He had a winning personality and was as good a writer as he was a toastmaster. For many years he assisted the Tribune in composing obituaries of boxers and wrote one of the best ones about his buddy, Andy Callahan.

One story about Arthur is that he showed up for an early professional fight and the guy at the door wouldn't let him in, he looked too young. Arthur had to wait till someone he knew came in to gain access.

Another story had him decking a punk on a Lawrence street who was man-handling his woman. Arthur was well over 70 years old at the time, and was still punching the bag at the Lawrence YMCA.

Arthur's son, Barry Flynn shared a story with me that Arthur loved to tell. A Lawrencian was riding a train in the late 1920s and saw Jack Dempsey, THE Jack Dempsey and went over to introduce himself. He told Dempsey he was from Lawrence, MA and did Dempsey ever hear of a fighter from the area named Arthur Flynn? Dempsey thought a moment and responded with "Ah, yes, Arthur Flynn... a cut above average." The fact that this was one of Flynn's favorite stories speaks to his wonderful self deprecating sense of humor.

After his boxing and wrestling career died down, Arthur became a radio announcer for the Boston fights and it was there that this picture was taken of a clowning Flynn and a bemused Joe Louis.

There will be more about Flynn in the future. Handsome with a big smile, he lent some glamour to local boxing and I like to think of him and his pretty wife, Molly, as our very own version of Billy Conn and his blonde.

People often ask me why I am so interested  in boxing history. I say it was seeing Andy Callahan's picture, which is true. But I leave out the personal part, that  men like Andy Callahan and Arthur Flynn remind me of my father, who was born in 1908. My father grew up in the Irish ghettos of Hartford and had more in common with these guys than he did with our suburban neighbors in Connecticut. Reading about Flynn and Callahan helps me put my father in context and better understand his unruly and unpredictable behavior. And strange 1920s lingo.

I am saying this as a way of introducing an article written by fellow IBRO member, Tina Post who is writing her dissertation on boxing and Joe Louis. Tina only writes about the tightrope Joe Louis had to walk as a black fighter and most interesting to me, why it matters to her.

Read Tina's article, The Phantom Punch.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Young Leonard, aka Sammy Lindenbaum, Well Known to Lawrence Police circa 1925

There were many noble men who pushed leather in Lawrence but there were also some that were not so noble. Here is a brief story about a Sammy Lindenbaum, who may have never called Lawrence home but certainly spent time in the city.

fought as Young Leonard during the 1920s

Photo from the Boston Globe, 1966

Although his official record on BoxRec does not list any fights for Sammy Lindenbaum in Lawrence, there's a good chance he had some fights of the unofficial kind.

According to Howie Carr's book, Hitman, The Untold Story of Johnny Martorano, Lindenbaum was a criminal jack-of-all-trades and was great buddies with Steve Hughes. On a warm Indian summer afternoon in September of 1966, Hughes and Lindenbaum came up to the Lawrence area to do some collecting from his bookies. They stopped off at Blinn's Clam Stand in Bradford Hills, where Sammy ate his "usual" two lobster rolls, french fries with a side of fried clams. Once sated, Hughes, Lindenbaum and his two Chihuahuas started the trek back to Boston via route 125 to 114. The pair where shot while driving in Middleton by men in a black sedan that pulled up and blasted them with a shotgun. Hughes was the target and Lindenbaum was collateral damage. The Chihuahuas were the only known survivors.

Years before this, Sammy Lindenbaum made front page news in Lawrence for a series of stick ups in the area, most notably Haverhill. In January of 1925, Lindenbaum put on a dress and make up in order to lull innocent shopkeepers into letting their guard down. Along with two female accomplices, one named Blanche Dubios (this is 22 years before Tennessee Williams glommed onto the name for his aging temptress who was "always dependent on the kindness of strangers") Lindenbaum, in drag, took on the much-bigger shopkeeper and, according to the Boston Globe, "went about her business expertly."

Included here is a link to a enjoyably informative article by Ted Sares that talks about the Boston gang wars and ties to the boxing community. The Friends of Tony Veranis by Ted Sares. Lindenbaum didn't make it into the story but it is most definitely worth reading, enjoy.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Pizza King and FFOE in the Tribune

Mike Sarko, from Tony Pappalardo's collection

 Yadira Betances and photog Angie Beaulieu of the Tribune visited Pizza King the other day to see the exhibit on Lawrence Boxing, Phase One. I plan on continuing along the boxing timeline and putting together another show sometime this summer. I already have some great pictures and stories from the 1940s on up. These displays depends on people sharing their personal family photos.

You can't buy these pictures anywhere. I use scans that I get from the children and grandchildren of Lawrence boxers.

If you are a former boxer or have someone in your family who fought from the Lawrence area and would like to share their story for either this blog or an exhibit, please email me at the addressl listed on the side of this blog.  For those of you who are local I will borrow your photos, scan them and return them to you, usually within the hour.

One correction from the article. Mike Sarkis/Sarko was a great fighter and he was, indeed, the National Guard Lightweight Champion but he WAS NOT the winner of two world championships. He fought some world champions, but he himself was not one.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Stick around long enough, and boxing will break your heart

Often referred to as the "Red Light District of Sports" boxing has a long history of breaking the hearts of those who love it the most.

William "Scotty" McGhee

Born a twin in Glasgow, Scotland in 1883, William McGhee came to Lawrence an experienced amateur boxer sometime around 1910. Although BoxRec doesn't (yet) confirm it, his first pro fight in this country was against George (Young) Cuddy, brother of John E. Cuddy at the Hibernian Hall in Lawrence, MA.

He never quit his day job with the Washington Mills and graduated to chauffer, escorting the mucky-mucks to their meetings in Shawsheen Villiage or the company's rural retreat, The Cosmopolitan Club in Boxford. Like many men who loved boxing, McGhee never really left the the ring and made the progression from participant to referee soon after the Massaschusetts State Boxing Law was put in place in the early 1920s.

In April of 1926 McGhee stopped a fight at the Crescent Arena between Tommy French and Ray Cross, because the fighters stalled and McGhee determined that is wasn't a fight, but a fake. He demanded the ticket holders get their money refunded. Johnny Buckley was one of the fighter's managers. Buckley was very well connected. In many different circles. McGhee's referee license was taken away from him without any explanation. McGhee petitioned the boxing commission repeatedly and got no answer. Not a surprise, given that the head of the commission at the time was Gene Buckley, brother of John.

The Boxing Commission held a hearing in Lawrence's City Hall in 1930 as part of a PR effort to check on the state of boxing and wrestling. Other than McGhee, in attendance was John Gibbons, a local wrestler who was equally disgusted with the chicanery involved in wrestling.  Only a handful of other people attended the hearing and they were reporters. McGhee named some names and told them of the numerous occasions where he was offered cash for favorable decisions. He also told them that a few years prior to the hearing he approached Johnny Buckley and asked him about his license suspension, to which Buckley replied "You're all right McGhee, but you should not hold up the boys' money. Take care of the boys, never mind the fellows who pay at the door."

McGhee continued to ref amateur boxing but his days as a pro boxing ref were over.

Friday, February 22, 2013

News from the Pizza King, Boxing Exhibit

Pizza King, 29 Salem Street Lawrence, MA

Putting the finishing touches on the last few photo reproductions for the exhibit of early Lawrence boxing history. While taking final measurements at the Pizza King today I caught the Channel 7 interview that is currently airing on the King. Click here to take a look.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tony Pappalardo

Tony Pappalardo's Boxing License

Tony Pappalardo was well liked by everyone, he was a man who cared deeply about the young men he trained, managed and promoted. His career around the ring began sometime in the 1920s with local standouts Al Zappala and Maurice Goesslin and continued through the early 1960s, ending with fighters Chris Devaney and Jimmy Reilly. At various times in his life he trained fighters, he promoted fighters and put on shows, and in his so-called retirement years he sold fight-related goods at local boxing events. He was a quiet, soft-spoken gentleman and many who knew him from his Salisbury Beach sandwich stands were stunned to find out he had been deeply involved in the gritty world of boxing.

Anthony Pappalardo was born in the Sicilian city of Catania on October 4, 1904 and came to Lawrence as a six-year old and attended the Oliver School. Little Tony was a fast learner and was double promoted before graduating the 8th grade and entering the mills. He married a fellow Sicilian who came from Trecastagni, Catherine Babargallo, and they had three children: Catherine, Rose, and Al. Although there is no hard proof at this time, it is believed that Tony spent some time in the ring as a boxer as his AAU card has an assumed name as Tony Duffy.

His first gym opened sometime in the late 1920s, in an alleyway between Mechanic Street and Haverhill Street. For years before his name appeared in the papers for being a cornerman during the epic Sicilian vs. Neopolitian battles between Mike Sarko and Henry Janco. Along with his fellow Sicilian, former boxer-turned-trainer Louis “Kid Lewis” Laudani, the two were among a handful of men who kept the sport humming during the 1920s. The Irish trainers and promoters were beginning to move out of Lawrence and men like Pappalardo, Laudani, and Bencivenga were there to take over.

In August of 1932 Tony signed a contract as the manager of a young Al Zappala, who’d been the New England light heavyweight champion and was said to be the man who would replace the great Lowell welterweight, Al Mello. Zappala continued his rise under Pappalardo’s tutelage but soon left Pappalardo and the Lawrence area for New York City. Tony continued, moving his gym to various locations throughout the city of Lawrence and worked with many boxers of varying levels and different ethnic backgrounds. Many gyms were segregated by ethnicity but Tony’s gyms were mini United Nations. Where you came from or what language you spoke didn’t matter as much as character and the ability to work hard. In 1933 Tony signed a contract with local middleweight Maurice Gosselin and continued working with his regular stable of fighters including one young power-puncher known as Sammy Martin. Sammy, who’s real name was Salvatore Polese, eventually gave up boxing and opened an auto repair shop Jackson Street. The two men remained lifelong friends.

A part of Lawrence boxing’s inner circle, Tony was contacted by Louis Laudani when boxing great Jack Johnson passed through the city on his way up to Haverhill. Tony told his son Al how he shook hands with Johnson at the Laudani’s Capri CafĂ©. (Side note: Johnson spent a lot of time in Haverhill, MA with a friend who had a shoe shine shop downtown.)

In the early 1950s Tony trained a handsome heavyweight from Keene, NH by the name of Horace Veery. Horace was scheduled at the 1952 Lowell Golden Gloves to fight Peter Fuller, son of former Massachusetts Governor Alvan T. Fuller and at the weigh-in a member of Fuller’s entourage gave Horace a once over and said to Fuller: “don’t worry, you’ll knock this hayseed down in the first round.” Horace went on to win the fight and in fact, according to an interview with the Lowell Sun soon after the fight, Fuller claimed he was hanging up his gloves. (We now know that not to be the case, Peter Fuller donned gloves for a charity event in Boston, 1977 against a somewhat bemused Muhammad Ali.) Horace was a regular fixture at the Pappalardo’s Union Street home for Sunday dinner as there was always an extra plate for a boxer at the Pappalardo home. (It didn’t hurt that the Pappalardo girls were knockouts!)

Local boxer Peter Dugan remembers Tony Pappalardo with great fondness and said that Lowell boxing impresario Ted Coupe always had the best things to say about Tony. Ted could be cynical about the people involved in the underbelly of the sporting world, but he had total respect and affection for Tony. Peter often saw Tony at Bengy’s gym in the 1950s, selling gloves for the bags and then later, in the 1960s, selling trunks at the Frost Arena. Always, Tony would be in the middle of the circle, talking with everyone, keeping up with the local world of Lawrence boxing.

Although I knew the name Tony Pappalardo for his involvement in boxing, most Lawrencians remember him for the delicious sandwiches he served up at the beach. His best-known location was across from the Five O’Clock Club and next to the gypsy fortunetellers. Any Italian American artist performing at the beach would make a stop at Tony’s stand for some good home cooking and leave behind a personalized, autographed picture as thanks. Connie Francis and Frankie Avalon were just a few of the performers who enjoyed Tony’s food and company.

Tony made it a point to give his boxer’s AAU registration cards back to the boxer’s families. Some of the men moved away from Lawrence before growing old and theirs were the cards left behind in Tony’s son, Al Pappalardo’s garage. I had the privilege of calling some of the adult children of the boys that Tony trained in the early 1930s and they were thrilled to have validation for the stories their fathers told them about their days as young men in the rings of Lawrence with Tony Pappalardo.