Boxing In Old Havana

By Ray Schultz

Havana, an old-world city known in folklore for its vice and political turmoil, was the dateline for at least two big stories in 1952. In March, the 1930s strong man Fulgencio Batista returned to power in a coup. In December, Kid Gavilan of Camaguey defended his world welterweight title against Billy Graham at the Gran Stadium. “The weather was hot—and Gavilan’s attack was as torrid,” the New York Times said. And nestled in the crowd was a 15 year-old amateur boxer named Angel Fortez Garcia. 

One of several Cuban fighters starting out in the ‘50s, Garcia was a future friend and peer of Sugar Ramos, Jose Napoles, Luis Rodriguez, Benny Kid Paret, Jose Legra, Florentino Fernandez, Doug Vaillant and many more. Two things set Garcia apart from most of them, though. One was his background. Paret fought to escape the Santa Clara sugar cane fields, Ramos, from Matanzas, because his father promised him extra food. Garcia was the son of an Army officer. He grew up in “a nice place in a well-kept suburb of Havana, a good neighborhood,” Chino Govin said. “There were six kids, a happy family.”

What had attracted him to boxing? “Some fights I saw on TV,” Garcia told me, and that was no doubt true. But I suspect he was also drawn to the money and the good times.

The other difference was his ring name. While Garcia admired Gavilan, the first Cuban champ since Kid Chocolate in the 1930s, he was more influenced by the man who had twice beaten Gavilan: Sugar Ray Robinson. Yet instead of calling himself Sugar (as Ramos did), Garcia or someone around him came up with a variation that fit better with his name: He would be Angel Robinson Garcia. 

Having won all his amateur fights, Garcia turned pro in July 1955, kayoing Roberto Garcia in a one-round featherweight bout in Havana, and he won four more before losing to Renaldo Marquez in Santa Clara. He was then 18 years old. “At the preliminary stage, he only lost one fight,” Chino Govin said. “The decision was a robbery. He fought the same guy three more times.” 

The next year was even better. Garcia scored 17 straight wins, many in distant towns, and topped it off by beating Trini Ruiz in ten rounds in Havana. He was fighting main events within 18 months of turning pro, and that meant something in Havana, that “hot and radiant” city, as Carlos Eire described it, where an upcoming pugilist was a celebrity.  “But Havana was not in the United States,” Eire continued. “That was the beauty of it, and the horror. So much freedom, so little freedom. Freedom to be reckless, but no genuine freedom from woe. Plenty of thrills, and an overabundance of risks, large and small. But so little margin for error, and so few safety nets.” 

Not that Garcia felt he needed a safety net. Ever the tough guy, he fought Chico Morales in Santiago de Cuba after sleeping all night in a theater and then on a park bench. Exhausted from that, and from a 14-hour bus ride, he went to the weigh-in, made the weight, then chowed down on “eggs, bacon, sausages and a little cheese, cold milk and lots of coffee” in a pub, the Italian writer Dario Torromeo reported. And he won the fight, although it is not listed on his record, Torromeo added.  

In May 1957, age 20, Garcia faced Orlando (Baby) Echevarria, a rugged southpaw, for the Cuban junior lightweight crown. He was inspired because Sugar Ray Robinson, at age 35, had just kayoed Gene Fullmer with a perfect left hook to win the world middleweight title for the fourth time.  

“The sensational victory in the rematch against Gene Fullmer has enthused the manner of Angel ‘Robinson’ Garcia, who talked of emulating his great idol in his combat on Saturday,” Diario De La Marina noted. 

“‘I have prepared myself to make an intelligent fight and gain a rapid victory like my great idol Sugar Ray Robinson,’ Garcia said. ‘I have decided to demonstrate to the fanatics who have seen my last encounters and think I committed many errors. The opportunity has come to my door.’” 

Garcia failed to kayo Echevarria, but he outpointed him in 12 rounds, and in his next bout that October beat Guillermo Medina with “a lot of left jabbing and moves,” Chino Govin said. Kid Gavilan’s legendary trainer, Yamil Chade, was impressed with Garcia, and at some point became his manager. 

Batista, meanwhile, was working with the gangster Meyer Lansky to build casinos and collect a “personal share of the gaming industry’s profits,” historians Dick Cluster and Rafael Hernandez wrote. One obstacle in his path was the 26th of July movement led by Castro. These rebels had stormed the Moncada army base on July 26, 1953, and were now fighting the regime from the Sierra Maestra mountains. There were frequent explosions and blackouts in Havana.  

In February 1958, Batista opened a City of Sports, the centerpiece of which was a $2 million indoor arena adorned with pink marble from the province of Pinar del Rio. The inaugural week was to start with the annual Gran Premio automobile race and end with an all-star boxing card. This would feature world lightweight champ Joe (Old Bones) Brown vs. the light-skinned Baby Echevarria, Garcia’s recent foe, in a non-title bout that would be broadcast to the States.  

Batista should have thought it through a little better. The previous year’s Gran Premio winner, Juan Manuel Fangio of Argentina, was standing in his hotel lobby the day before the meet when he felt a gun in his back, Sports Illustrated reported. Moments later, reporters received this call:  “This is the 26th of July speaking. We kidnapped Fangio.” 

The race went on anyway, and what happened next had nothing to do with Castro. A  race car skidded on an oil slick on the Malecon, Havana’s oceanfront highway, and hurtled into the unprotected crowd at 100 mph. Seven people were killed, their empty shoes “a stark indictment of heedless and irresponsible men,” a reporter wrote. Fangio watched it on TV with his captors, who released him after the race. 

Another politician might have cancelled the boxing program. Not Batista. It went on under armed guard, and 12,000 people, everyone from Joe Louis to the cowboy star Gene Autry, were there to see Cuba humiliated. Two Cubans, Oscar Suarez and Jose Ramon Flores, lost to Mexicans, Flores sustaining a cerebral hemorrhage. Then Echeverria got in the ring with Joe Brown. He landed the first punch, but Brown floored him with a right and finished him when he got up—Old Bones did not want to prolong this. “My easiest fight,” Brown said. “He’s very strong, but not too smart.” 

If there was any consolation for Cubans, it was in a bout for the Latin American junior lightweight title: Angel Robinson Garcia versus Panama’s Isidro Martinez. Outboxed at first, Garcia cut Martinez in the 7th, decked him in the 8th and finished him in the 9th when he could no longer move his left leg. “Angel Robinson Garcia, who has a striking resemblance to Sugar Ray, pounded out a 2-fisted attack in the 9th round to halt Isidro Martinez of Panama for the Jr. Lightweight crown,” Nat Fleischer, the dean of boxing writers, wrote in The Ring. Nineteen years and hundreds of fights later, Garcia recalled that he was the only Cuban to win that night. “I win for Cuba,” he said.

Dangerous Ring Rivalries

By Ray Schultz

Gil Clancy, the former gym teacher who trained fighters, had a gruff manner, and I could imagine him greeting a boy’s gym class by sneering, “Hello, girls.” He was all charm, though, when Oscar said I was writing Garcia’s biography. “Garcia is a great fighter, one in a million,” he said. “He’s fought everyone and knows what to do in the ring.” Then he threw this damper on it: “He’ll never make any more money.” 

Clancy’s biggest success, Emile Griffith, joined him in praising Garcia. “That man there is the only man who’s been fighting longer than I have—four more years,” Griffith said one day. Oscar returned the compliment. “This man was five times a champion.” Yes he was: Three times welterweight and twice middleweight champ, the Virgin Islander was the only fighter at the Solar Gym with his own dressing room. 

Now a grizzled 39, the once-handsome Griffith had a long history with Garcia’s countrymen. Having decisioned Luis Rodriguez and Florentino Fernandez in early bouts, he was matched with Benny Kid Paret for the welterweight championship in Miami in April 1961. Paret was the first of the new Cubans to win a title—he’d beaten Don Jordan for it in May 1960–and he was a likeable champ. The words “true love” were tattooed on his bicep, and his “ebullience was infectious,” Sports Illustrated wrote.

Paret was “not a naturally hard hitter or a consummate boxer,” the magazine continued. Yet he never gave an inch, and Griffith had trouble with him. Then Gil Clancy smacked Griffith at the start of the thirteenth round. Griffith went out and landed a good left hook, then another, then a right, and Paret went down for the count.

A rematch followed at Madison Square Garden in the fall, and Paret won it by a split decision after 15 grueling rounds—how happy he looked as his cornermen hoisted him aloft. Then came the third bout—at the Garden—in March 1962. The weigh-in was ugly—Paret called Griffith a “maricon”– and the ill feeling went into the ring with them. I saw it on TV. Paret floored Griffith in the sixth, but Griffith recovered and in the twelfth, he staggered Paret with a right. Paret “reeled onto the ropes,” Bob Waters reported. “His head was on the top strand of ropes and his right arm was crooked around the middle strand. Griffith hit him with a series of right uppercuts and then threw hook after hook for about 10 seconds until referee Ruby Goldstein grabbed Griffith and tugged him away.” 

In the dressing room, Clancy “allowed Griffith half an hour to be jubilant over his victory,” Waters wrote. “Then he broke the news that Paret was badly hurt” (brain dead, in fact).  Waters was moved by what he saw the next day. “A Methodist, Griffith prayed for Paret in a Roman Catholic church. Paret is a Catholic. ‘I prayed for Benny,’ Emile said. ‘I asked God, to please save him…make him well. I broke down. I wanted to regain the title very much, but no title is worth this.’” 

Despite those prayers, Benny died on April 3, and on the Fight of the Week that Saturday, the bell was tolled ten times for him. The non-boxing world was unmoved by this demonstration, and there were calls for abolition of the sport. Critics pointed out that Paret had taken a savage beating from the middleweight champ Gene Fullmer only a few months before. “Paret was one of the toughest guys I’d ever fought as far as actual tough,” Fullmer told Peter Heller. “I never hit anybody more punches harder than I hit Paret.”

The threat of death or injury didn’t deter Garcia. Fighting the Corsican Saveur Chiocca that fall, he caught a “shattering right to the jaw,” and went down for six, then hit the floor again a moment later. But he “gained control of his rapid feet” and won the fight, The Ring wrote. Next, he fought the ranked French welterweight Jean Josselin. “Josselin belted away unceasingly, always moving forward,” The Ring reported. Garcia retaliated by “roughing things up whenever he got the chance.” The heavier Josselin was “badly marked, Garcia undamaged, but utterly exhausted at the finish.” 

I asked Garcia about Paret the night we drank at the Beauburn bar. He answered, more or less, that Benny was tough, but that he didn’t think it could happen to a fighter with his own defensive skills. 

Maybe not. But a year after Paret died, two Cubans fought for world titles on the same program in Los Angeles. Welterweight Luis Rodriguez outpointed Griffith in a close one, reversing his earlier loss, and Garcia’s friend Sugar Ramos kayoed Davey Moore for the featherweight crown. Ramos was a stalker, who concentrated on “blows to the mid-section, and stinging lefts and rights,” Sports Illustrated wrote. The end came in the tenth. Moore was “knocked to the canvas twice and reeled helplessly against the ropes as the round ended,” Bob Waters wrote. In his dressing room, Moore said, ‘This just wasn’t one of my nights. It was a bad night.’” Then he collapsed, and Waters reported the next day that Moore was near death. The scene was a strange replay of the one the year before. 

“‘I am very, very sorry,’ Ramos said to the clusters of people who were standing in the hospital lobby,” Waters wrote. “’We are friends outside of the ring. I wanted to see Davey. I wanted to tell him I am sorry.’ Moore’s manager, Willie Ketchum, said, “‘Don’t worry, Kid. He’s in good hands. He’s in God’s hands. And you gotta trust God.” 

Griffith sent Ramos a telegram: “Don’t worry. It wasn’t your fault. You’ve got to pray; you’ve got to have faith.” But Moore died and boxing was again condemned. In a song titled, “Who Killed Davey Moore?”, Bob Dylan mocked the excuses of every party to it, including Ramos, “who came here from Cuba’s door where boxing ain’t allowed no more.” 

I personally resented those lyrics when I read them years later. How could you condemn a man who fought at age 12 for extra helpings of food and faced the same dangers in the ring as Moore? But the verse that upset me most seemed aimed at Bob Waters himself:

“Not me, said the boxing writer

Pounding print on his old typewriter

Saying boxing ain’t to blame

There’s just as much danger in a football game” 

Of course, the deaths depressed me—I grieved for Paret and Moore. But I felt protective toward boxing. I was sickened later when a radical newspaper tied Barney Ross to Jack Ruby and possibly to the Kennedy assassination. Barney Ross, the three-time title holder and hero of Guadalcanal? How dare they? And I agreed with Red Smith’s defense of fighters: “It is hard to believe that a nation bereft of such men would be the stronger or better for it.” 

Once again, the tragedy didn’t stop Garcia. He kayoed the Jaguar of the Sahara, Aissa Hashas, in Tunis, and won another war with Sauveur Chioca in Paris. And assuming he heard it, he ignored the commentary coming from Havana on the “criminal methods of professional boxing—boxing being run by real gangsters who are interested only in filling their bags with dollars and do not have the least regard for the lives of the fighters.” 

Sparring With Roberto Duran

By Ray Schultz

It seemed like just another Monday at Gleason’s Gym. “Feeling good?” Sammy Morgan asked a fighter coming in. 

“Yeah.”

“Well, that’s the main thing. You’ll do alright.” 

When the fighter was out of earshot, Sammy said, “He’s gonna get his (b—-) ass kicked. I saw this South American he’s fighting—a killer. He’ll knock him all over the ring.” 

Suddenly there was a commotion at the door, and Roberto Duran entered with his retinue. All eyes turned to the Panamanian. Wearing a fisherman’s white cap and a red-and-white ensemble, his eyes flashing, he greeted several people and disappeared into the locker room, returning several minutes later in his workout clothes: a plastic sweatshirt with a sleeveless yellow sweater over it. Training for a title defense against Edwin Viruet, of Puerto Rico, Duran loosened up, joked with Panama Lewis and Eddie Gregory, and sparred a round or two with a regular kid from the gym.

Then they brought in Tony Danza, an aspiring fighter and future actor. Danza was wearing tennis shoes instead of boxing shoes, and Duran was amused. But he was raging with unfocused energy. Freddie Brown grimaced and said, “No, damn it,” when Duran threw a wild right. Duran roughed Danza up a little inside, and landed a hard shot to Danza’s body. Freddie shook his head. Duran allowed himself to be maneuvered into a corner. Freddie said, “Move, move.” 

Finished with Danza, who had stood up well to it, Duran took on his next victim. He threw more body shots, and in the second round dropped the fighter with a glancing right. Freddie Brown was not impressed. “When are you gonna start moving?” he asked. 

Duran then shifted to the heavy bag, “cawing” when he threw hard shots into it. The father of the Olympic champion Howard Davis approached him and asked if he wanted to spar a few rounds with his son. This enraged Duran. “You give me the money for a 15-round fight, and I’ll fight him,” he said, then followed Davis Sr. to the front of the gym and repeated it. “Enough, get back here,” Freddie Brown said. 

Wearing new leather boxing shoes with the inscription “Rocky” on them, Duran sparred again on Wednesday. By this time, he was working with anyone who had the nerve to get in there with him. One young fighter, more poorly equipped than Danza, lacked even a protective cup. Duran made threatening faces, then aimed a shot at the kid’s groin and pulled it at the last second. Some joke: Most of us gasped. 

The moment had arrived. I approached Duran as he was leaving. “Duran, I’m from the New York Times magazine,” I said, lying. “Can you tell me about your fight with Angel Robinson Garcia?” Duran thought about it for a moment, then answered, in uncertain English, “I win a decision. He was very smart, a good fighter. I was out of shape.” Panama Lewis elaborated. “Duran fought Robinson Garcia when he was young, before he was champion. He was very fast, Garcia.” He added that Garcia drank the night before the fight. “He  wasn’t really drunk,” Lewis said. “But he had some drinks. He was, you know, hanging out.”

The lightweight fight took place in Panama City in January 1972. And Garcia showed from the start that he was not intimidated by Duran. “Garcia was knocked down by Duran by the first assault in the first round, but he raised himself from the canvas to make a true exhibition of good boxing before the desired evidence of the young Duran gaining success,” said an article on the “Gran Pelea” in Estrella de Panama. Even Duran was impressed. “Cuban, you know a lot,” he said during a clinch in round two. “The Duran fight was complicated,” Garcia said through Oscar. “I can’t explain it. The knockdown was a slip.” Duran’s one-time manager Nestor Plomo Quinones said that “Duran was all the time throwing his punches, but Garcia was blocking him all the time,” Christian Guidice wrote in his Duran biography: Hands of Stone.  

Win or lose, the Duran fight was Garcia’s ticket back to the Americas. He had beaten Bunny Grant in November In his return to Paris after seven years, but lost a month later to Jonathan Dele in Barcelona–his last fight in Europe. “The promoters didn’t want to use him after so many losses,” Oscar said. And he had little personal reason to stay. “He blew the money and blew the marriage,” Angelo Dundee said. As Chino Govin described it, “He sent his wife back to France.” 

Financed by his purse from the Duran fight, Garcia holed up in the Hotel Peral in Caracas, and tried to regroup, but he didn’t fight again for four months—maybe he was getting his paperwork in order. In April 1972, finally, he lost to Reymon Reyes in Maracaibo, and in June was matched with the new lightweight sensation Esteban DeJesus, from Carolina, PR, in Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum. DeJesus dropped out with an impacted tooth, though, and was replaced by Cemal Kamaci, of Turkey, who had beaten Garcia in Vienna in 1970. “The turnout was so meager that Garden publicist John Condon said, ‘There’ll be no attendance announced tonight. Instead, there’ll be individual names and addresses,’” wrote sportswriter Leonard Cohen.     

That was one of several indignities. Another was the press coverage of the fight, if anyone read it to him. “Garcia’s main resemblance to Sugar Ray was the fact that Ray once reached 35, too, and, despite Angel’s ring savvy, he appeared to have neither the reflexes nor the stamina to neutralize the attack of his younger opponent,” the New York Daily News reported. Garcia cut Kamaci, but was also cut himself. And he irritated the commission doctor, Dr. Edward Kleiman, by demanding a butterfly bandage instead of stitches—he knew the stitches wouldn’t work. 

Kleiman got his revenge, as shown by this entry in Garcia’s New York record: “Ill & unavailable indefinitely—laceration. Dr. Kleiman.”  And the news reports said Garcia was a Venezuelan.  

Garcia returned to his room at the Penn Garden Hotel. As it happened, Duran was at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills, training to fight Ken Buchanan for the world lightweight title. He called Garcia and hired him as a sparring partner. Garcia lasted two days, all he could take, Quinones told Guidice. But I doubted that. Garcia had gone ten with Duran in a real fight. And he had a big bout of his own coming up: a rescheduled fight against Esteban DeJesus in San Juan. 

Oscar, who was present that night in PR, was impressed by Garcia’s performance. Garcia won several of the later rounds, and easily evaded DeJesus’ punches, but he didn’t throw many of his own and lost the fight. “DeJesus was a hard hitter,” said Oscar. “But then I saw the way Garcia moved his head and defended himself for ten rounds, and the condition he was in.” That wasn’t all he saw: Before the bout, Garcia was drunk in the Attic, a nightclub in the Hotel Borinquen. That’s where Oscar met the Cuban with the close-cropped hair. 

Less than two weeks before that bout, Duran scored a controversial TKO over Buchanan. “The record will say that Ken Buchanan lost the lightweight championship of the world after the 13th round as he rolled in pain on the canvas, holding his groin,” Bob Waters wrote. “Ken Buchanan really lost on the second punch of the first round last night at Madison Square Garden. Buchanan landed the first punch, a jab that flicked back the head of the contender, Roberto Duran of Panama. The second punch was Duran’s, a right hand led that bounced off Buchanan’s shoulder and still had enough power to drop Buchanan after it ricocheted off his jaw.” 

DeJesus soon joined that elite circle. In November, he floored and outboxed Duran in a non-title fight—Duran’s first loss. Duran got his revenge in 1974 when he kayoed DeJesus in a title defense, and again in 1978. But the fact that Garcia had gone the distance with Duran, Buchanan, DeJesus and Napoles looked good on paper in 1972. 

Back in the Day With Henry Cowen

By Ray Schultz

Return with us now to the year 1941. Franklin Roosevelt was President, Joe Louis was heavyweight king, Frank Sinatra was singing with Tommy Dorsey, and 21 year-old Henry Cowen was taking a one-time course at New York University: Direct mail copywriting.  

Not that Henry set out wanting to write junk mail copy (who ever did?). He had his eyes on a banking career. But he was a born writer, so he signed up for the course. Oddly,  the first question they asked was, “How’s your math?” 

“I didn’t know why they wanted to know that,” Henry said in an interview in 1996. But he found out. “Everything was based on the math,” he recalled. “We learned how to do the budgets and the test reports.”

I’m recalling all this because we recently passed Henry’s centennial; he died in 2011.  

Direct mail may not have been the career he wanted, but he was one of the best direct mail copywriters who ever lived, and here’s the proof: copy he wrote as a young man was still selling subs in the age of the internet. 

He was also, to me, one of the nicest guys who ever graced the business. 

The Early Days at Cowles

Henry got his first copywriting job in 1942 at Look magazine. To get it, though, he had to move to Des Moines, Iowa, a place where “the people were nice and the winters were terrible.” 

Conditions were primitive in the Cowles office in the Wallace Homestead building. “We had manual typewriters, no air conditioners and no offices,” Henry recalled. “We created little offices by using file cabinets. When the assistant sub manager traveled, I pushed his files over an inch or two to make his smaller and mine bigger.” 

Look, then five years old, was in a circulation war with Henry Luce’s Life. It had “a lot of single copy circulation, and subscriptions were just coming into their own,” Henry said.  

There were no computers in those days. Envelopes were inserted by hand. With Les Suhler and Max Ross as mentors, Henry wrote letters, studied response, served as art director and ordered mailing lists. “Les said, ‘Spread the list business around. Give everyone their fair share.’” So he did: To brokers like George Bryant, Lew Kleid, Walter Drey and Arthur Martin Karl.  

The state of mailing lists? “We could segment by geography and the age of the list—recency, frequency, that type of thing,” Henry said. “We were sophisticated in using our own names, so sophisticated we could tell whether a person had renewed once, twice, three, four, five or six times. Later, we brought in an industrial engineer and he said, ‘You’re going too far. You’re too segmented.’”

Outside lists came on labels, but the house list was on Speedomat plates, making it  difficult to change an address. Not to worry: “They explained that farmers didn’t move much, so that wasn’t a big problem,” Henry said.  

Look also used some telephone lists, typed directly from phone books by women working at home. “We took the world’s poorest mailing list and made it a good list,” Henry said. 

The basic Look letter was two pages, “nicely written,” and mailed in a No. 9 plain white business envelope. “But it wasn’t jazzy,” he added. There were no premiums and no brochures. (“I don’t believe in brochures to this day.”) But the mailings worked. The offer for new subs? “Sixteen issues for a buck.” 

“We had a different renewal series for each source, and we did a lot of advanced renewals,” Henry recalled.  They even sent hand-personalized mail. “We personalized the name with a brush and ink—in gold, red or blue,” he said. “And we tested them. Gold was best, next was red.” 

Look did sub mailings in “places where no-one was mailing: Hawaii, Guam, the Panama Canal Zone, Alaska.” It also sold subs in Mexico City, Caracas and pre-Castro Cuba. “We sent the letters in English, and got a good return, but then the advertising department decided it didn’t want that circulation,” he said.  

Look also sold subs to department store charge account customers.

“We had stores in just about town in the United States,” Henry explained. “In New York City, we would alternate between Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s and Gimbals’. The orders would come back to the stores, and they would do the billing, so the payups were 99% or better.”

Some of those pieces might look a little strange today. “One store in Ohio had a policy of not using dollar signs, so the mailing went out without dollar signs. They knew their customers” Henry said.  

Sweepstakes

In 1952, a circulation expert named Harold Mertz visited Des Moines and tried to sell Henry, now a DM veteran, on something called Publishers Clearing House. His idea? Multiple sub offers would be mailed in a single envelope.  

“I told him to save his money because people had tried that before,” Henry said. “Curtis had tried it, Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward had tried it in a way.” 

But Mertz was “smarter than they were,” Henry admitted. “He worked harder and made it work.” Indeed, in 1960, after 18 years at Look, Henry found himself working at PCH.

At that time, PCH was “still only doing $4 million worth of business,” Henry said. And early PCH letters did not have stamps or sweepstakes. 

“Harold would write a letter like, ‘Dear Friend, it’s springtime,’” Henry said. “He wasn’t talking about the benefits or anything like that.” But the copy improved, thanks to Henry and a fellow copywriting legend named Marvin Barkley. 

At some point in the 60s, PCH finally started doing sweeps. But, as Henry put it, “We made a lot of mistakes.” For example, Reader’s Digest had a grand prize of $25,000. “People would say, ‘Do they really give that away?” So PCH offered a large number of small prizes—the highest was $10.

“It barely made a ripple,” Henry continued. “So we tried a $1,000 prize, and that did 25% better than $10. Then we got brave and went to $5,000, better yet, then to $25,000, then the sky’s the limit!” 

Founder Mertz was “a very smart guy, a very tough guy, a little hard for some people,” Henry said.

He added, “We didn’t even have a calculator in the office, but he could add up a column in the millions, 20 different numbers, zip zip zip. He was a genius at it.” 

Did Henry have any sample letters from the old days at Look and PCH? He got wary: He wasn’t about to share his trade secrets.  

“I still use some of those leads,” he said. “I bring them back every few years.”

The Havana Kid: In the Ring and On The Ropes With Boxing’s Greatest Journeyman

By Ray Schultz

“Sure, he ain’t going to last long. He ain’t going to last like you and me, Jerry.”— Fighter in Ernest Hemingway’s 50 Grand

Introduction

Angel Robinson Garcia, the Cuban boxer, rarely discussed politics, but he did one night outside the Solar Gym in New York. “I like Fidel,” he said. ” Some day I return to Cuba.”

This was more than his manager, a Puerto Rican named Oscar Seary, could bear. “When you get off the boat, they’ll have a sign that says, ‘Welcome, Garcia,’” he snapped.

The year was 1977, and few Cuban exiles would say they liked Fidel Castro, but that’s not what Oscar was getting at. What he meant was that the socialist paradise would not embrace a washed-up pug like Garcia, with his flattened nose, mounds of scar tissue and gaps where he once had teeth. 

At his best, this wreck had held his own with Roberto Duran,  but now he could barely survive a Baltimore computer programmer named Johnny Gant. Garcia lost every round to the programmer—all he could do was butt him. And even bouts like this were getting hard to come by. 

That, not Cuba, was the real cause of the tension this night. There were no fights, no road trips, not an ounce of relief, and Oscar blamed Garcia. “Drinking is all he wants to do,” he said, “fucking around with women, smoking pot.” He turned to Garcia: “You can’t lose any more fights.”  

We’d heard it all before. To ease things, someone suggested that Oscar “do” Garcia—mimic his boxing style. A small man with a mustache and a broad smile, Oscar rolled his hips and moved his arms up and down like the poles on a carousel, to howls of laughter. Then he left to get his car, and I waited with the sulking Garcia. It was hot, we had a long ride ahead of us and we were out of beer. For my part, I endured this every night, for I was Garcia’s biographer. I was there to record what he did and absorb the central lesson of his life: that greatness is not always defined by victory.

PR Flacks Then And Now

By Ray Schultz

When I started out in business journalism 30 some-odd years ago, PR flacks were viewed strictly as an annoyance. 

They called on the phone incessantly to tell you about some “news” or other, but there was no guarantee that the U.S. Postal Service would deliver the press release by the time they called. 

When it was a big story, they might messenger it over. But I once saw my boss at DM News, the legendary Joe Fitz-Morris, get red in the face and berate a PR person when Ad Age received an announcement before we did.

This was the same Fitz-Morris who reveled in breaking scoops on the World Of Advertising radio show and in DM News.

Another irritant was corrections. Usually, they were about context—we did tend to sensationalize things at times. 

The flacks would call to hector us and demand redress. I was intimidated by them, but not Fitz-Morris. 

He would tell them to write a letter to the editor, and in one instance snarled, “I disagree with what you’re saying, but I’ll defend to your death your right to say it.”

As for more minor errors, our policy was that if we spelled the name wrong, that was the way it should be spelled. 

Soon, I learned that PR people were obstacles to finding the news: The minute someone hired them, you lost direct access. 

One of my best sources sold his firm to a larger outfit. We were about to exchange a bear hug at a conference when one PR flack blocked him and another physically restrained me. 

Oh, you poor old fool. When I returned to the rigors of daily journalism a few years ago, things were different. 

Instead of the phone calls, I now receive dozens of PR emails a day. 

Many of them start with the daunting word EMBARGO in the subject line, alerting me that the news won’t be live for weeks, or even months, in some cases.  

These people are taking a big chance on my limited clerical skills. I suggest that Gmail set up a folder called “Embargo,” right  next to Promotions. 

Worse yet is when they offer you a report of some kind. To even access it, you have to first prove you’re not a robot, picking out the CAPCHA pictures that have stairs or motorcycles in them.

I’ve concluded that this is some kind of digital dementia test. 

Then you have to formally request the report, specifying your company size, number of employees and revenue, details I don’t know and wouldn’t share even if I did. 

Within minutes of the request, the phone rings—it’s a salesperson noting that I had downloaded the report. I always explain that I’m a reporter, not a candidate for a $600K software package. What a waste of his time and mine.

That said, it’s amazing how much of the work PR people try to do for you these days—it’s almost like the chef who does everything but chew the food. They provide easy-to-read synapses in cover emails, which are often easier to read than the actual press releases. 

They spot typos in real time. And they put in case studies from end users, something we were always after in more innocent days.  Not that they trust reporters–they often record interviews, in both audio and video forms.

I must be getting soft. It’s amazing that I’m so fond of many of the PR flacks I have known, then and now. 

Arlo Guthrie Introduces ‘Alice’s Restaurant’

The Newport Navalog, July 21, 1967

By Ray Schultz

First of all, it’s raining, and things are getting kind of soggy on Festival Field. Second, Joan Baez is sitting in the next seat eating a sandwich, the Goodyear Blimp is flying overhead, and an English group, the Young Tradition, is performing on stage. With that combination of props, it’s hard enough to concentrate on anything, particularly in the middle of a wet Sunday afternoon. And let’s face it, you do feel conspicuous, shall we say, in your conservative Navy haircut.

You’re just about ready to pack up shop and leave when Judy Collins comes on stage and makes the following announcement:

“As you know, all of us in the folk music scene were trained and influenced by one man more than any other, Mr. Woodrow Wilson Guthrie.”

The crowd starts clapping and stamping. 

“It’s impossible for Woody to be with us at this time, but we have to carry on his work and ideas, a remarkable young man, who toured Japan with me last month, his son, Mr. Arlo Guthrie.”

More applause, and some people are standing up. 

“All I can say is his creativity boggles the mind. Here he is, ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for Arlo Guthrie!”

With applause thundering the whole of Festival Field, a skinny ragamuffin-looking boy walks on stage, toting an ordinary folk guitar. He’s dressed in faded blue jeans, a beat-up jacket, and an old felt ranger’s hat, out from which his long curly hair projects on either side like two enormous mouse-ears. 

Everyone in the crowd start shouting ‘Alice! Alice!” and the young skinny troubadour on stage says: “You can yell a you want, I’m not gonna sing it.” Then, as he’s tuning the guitar, “You’re probably wonderin’ why I am gonna sing it again, after singing it yesterday. Well, I figure if I sing it enough, you’ll get sick of it and I won’t have to sing it so much any more then. I hope you get good and wet.”

With that, he begins a simple melody line with a voice not quite as raspy as Bob Dylan’s:

You can get anything you want,

at Alice’s restaurant

You can’t get anything you want,

at Alice’s restaurant

Just walk right in, around the back, bout a

Half a mile from the railroad track

You can get anything you want at Alice’s restaurant.

Then, strumming the guitar lightly, he begins a talking jag that lasts for something like 25 minutes. 

“This here is the ‘Alice’s Restaurant Bad Times Massacree Part Two,’ as oppose to the ‘Alice’s Restaurant Bad Times Massacree Part One,’ or as oppose to any version of Alice’s restaurant you might have heard, or any Alice’s restaurant you might have been in across the country. The name of the restaurant is not Alice’s restaurant, Alice just works there, but that’s just the name of the song, because it is about Alice, and that’s why I named the song Alice’s Restaurant.”

Well, it goes on about his being rejected for the draft after being convicted of littering in Stockbridge Mass. On Thanksgiving day. Twenty-five minutes of it, and each line funnier than the last. Towards the end of the song, he suggests that when faced with the draft, you should ‘enter the Army psychiatrist’s office, singing the chorus of Alice,” and “you’ll probably get rejected.”

“If three people go in and sing Alice’s restaurant, he chants, “then they might think it’s an or-gan-i-zation. If 50 people go in singing the song, they’re gonna think it’s a m o v e m e n t, and friends, it is a movement, it’s the “Alice’s Restaurant Bad Times Massacree Part Two” movement. I’d like you to sing it with me. With feeling. We’ll just wait till comes around again on the guitar. Here it comes.”

The crowd starts singing until he stops and tells them they’re doing terribly and should start again. Finally, he does the last note and chord of the epic, and then it explodes! The crow gives a thundering standing ovation that lasts for ten minutes, George Wein invites him back for the evening convert, and you know, you feel, that here in front of your eyes is standing the man who will be the next king of folk music. The Arlo Guthrie Masacree Parts One, Two, Three and Four movement!

Later that night he climaxes the 1967 Newport Folk Festival with another performance of the song, this time with Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Oscar Bran, Theodore Bikel and the rest joining in on the last chorus. You leave Festival Field with “Alice’s Restaurant” on your brain. Martha Matzke, a Providence Journal reporter, says: “He’s beautiful.” The New York Times calls him the new “festival hero.” Arlo Guthrie is here!

The young man who created that very remarkable song and experience for an audience of 15,000, is the 20 year-old son of Woody Guthrie, the rambling bard who wrote and sang so eloquently of the problems faced by the dust-bowl okies during the great depression 30 years ago. Since the early 1950s, Woody has been in a Brooklyn hospital, with Huntington’s Chorea, a progressively worsening disease of the nervous system. Friday night, the entire cast of festival performers sang Woody’s “This Land Is Your Land,” in honor of his 55th birthday.

Then here is young Arlo—with his own genius, an the only authentic claim among folk singer to being one of the “children of Woody Guthrie.”

In an interview with a Navy reporter Sunday night, he was asked how Woody feels about his son’s career.” He’s all for it,” young Guthrie said. When asked how his father is doing these days, he said: “He’s alive. That’s all I can say.”

Arlo was born in Coney Island, N.Y. and grew up in Massachusetts. He started playing the guitar when he was about six years old. He started performing professionally about two years ago, and has already toured England and Japan. 

He said that the visits to his father by such top folk performers as Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Jack Elliot, impressed him deeply.  Besides his father, he lists Jack Elliot as the greatest influence on his writing and singing. 

At this points, he has no plans for electrification of his music, or for any protest singing. 

“I plan to stay away rom the marching,” he said. 

He was genuinely pleased at his reception at the folk festival, and “feels great” about his first record album, which will be released by Reprise next month. 

Like his father, he’s done his share of rambling around the country. He has a sister who is currently performing bossa nova music. 

His repertoire includes blues and country music and the ‘Alice’ type of thing. 

Yale And Danny Do The Pandemic

By Ray Schultz

A Sunday or two ago, I was enjoying a stroll in Central Park when I was almost knocked over by a lout on a skateboard, wearing no shirt and no mask. I was about to curse the Millennials, then I saw it was a particular Millennial: Yale Moss by name.

I tried to hold my temper because Yale’s wife Danny was sitting on a bench not three feet away, wheeling a baby carriage back and forth. And she at least had a mask on.

The last time, I had seen this pair was at their belated wedding reception in January. Danny’s dad Hal Hall had finally accepted Yale as his son-in-law, mostly because of Yale’s sales record, and had even named him as VP in charge of used car lots and hauling and cartage concerns for the Middle-Atlantic region. And a baby was on the way.

Not that I cared, but how had they been faring and what were they doing in Central Park?  They looked a little gaunt. I sat down with them, carefully social distancing myself, and they told me the story. Yale did most of the talking.

The baby arrived in March and he was named in honor of his two grandfathers. There was some debate over whose name should go first, but Hal’s was chosen because Hal Mo sounds better than Mo Hal when the contractions are used together, and Hal is the billionaire.

Over Danny’s objections, Yale insisted that they fly to Tampa to see his folks Mo and Wendy. But the minute they landed, they were clapped into quarantine because Florida ordered that anyone from New York be isolated for two weeks. The only food they could get was takeout pizza during a three-hour window each day. Fortunately, they had enough baby formula and diapers.

The minute they arrived back in New York, though, they were  thrown into quarantine again because New York was retaliating by blocking anyone arriving from Florida. Here they were given leftover jailhouse bologna sandwiches once a day.

No sooner had the last two weeks expired, with things getting gamier by the day, when they were grabbed by ICE and transported on a bus with barred windows to Easton, Pennsylvania because someone heard Yale joke that they were being  “deported.” They were quarantined again, and left to rot  in a motel where there was no food available at all, and they had to subsist on small packets of Famous Amos cookies and Cheezits from a vending machine.

One night, Danny’s dad Hal was venting to Mo over the phone, and Mo suggested he call Erwin Forrest, a landlord-tenant lawyer and the fixer of all fixers in New York. Erwin was happy to hear from Hal because business was slow, there being a moratorium on evictions in New York State.

Hal, a man accustomed to great authority, had to visit Erwin’s office in a rat-trap office on Fulton Street, where file cabinets were kept in the hallway outside the elevators. Speaking over a telecom, Hal explained the problem and Erwin gruffly ordered Hal to deliver $20,000 in small unmarked bills, exclusive of fees.

Hal has never been talked to this way in his life, but he had a certain familiarity with criminality. He sent the assistant who was with him to his office to get the cash from a safe.  It took a day or two, but thanks to Erwin’s magic, Yale, Danny and little Hal Mo arrived back in the city by private limo.

All three had contracted colds, but thankfully not Covid-19. They were sure of this because the adults were painfully tested with long nasal swabs that went right up to the eyeball at every step of the journey.

Altogether, they  were in custody for two months, and their marital relations were severely strained. In fact. Danny threw Yale out of her apartment in the Pierre the day they got back.

Luckily, Yale had won a contract to gut the office of a bankrupt Philadelphia law firm for $1.5 million, and Hal brought in a telehealth marriage counselor so he could save the deal. The counselor advised  Yale and Danny to laugh at themselves and then go isolate in the Hall family compound in Southhampton, Long Island;; they were leaving the next day. Meanwhile, here they were, making goo-goo eyes at each other again.

I was happy that the lovebirds were reconciled, but not that happy. When I got home, I found that I had a fever.

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Introduction: Oh, Pioneers

By Ray Schultz

Copyright 2014

For Andrea

The consumer was prey who had to pray,” Copywriter Ed McLean

“`Who? Who’s got a steady job, a couple bucks nobody’s touched, who?’ David Mamet in Glengarry Glen Ross

Known for their beauty and even more for their vast ore deposits, the hills around Laramie, Wyoming were in 1865 the scene of regular knifings and garrotings. Then the Union Pacific Railroad was extended to Laramie, and westward from there: By 1875, trains were pulling in to refuel, and passengers were rushing into trackside restaurants to dine on dishes like minced liver on toast and calves tongue with tomato sauce. And there was one other sign of civilization: a lottery run by a man listed in the city directory as “Pattee, J.M., capitalist.”

Not that most townspeople were aware of the Lottery King. Having been run out of Omaha for swindling, Pattee had learned to operate by stealth. There would be no public drawings in Laramie, as there had been in Omaha. He would also pull back on advertising in newspapers. Why bother with that when there was a more hidden medium, one that would render him “hard to arrest for the deeds of the present, and harder to locate for the deeds of the past?”

That would be what is now called junk mail. This medium did not yet have a name, but it was the precursor of spam, and all other forms of instrusive advertising, and Pattee had mastered it. His circulars, 40,000 at a time, were printed by the Daily Sun, a newspaper located two doors down from his office, placed in hand-addressed envelopes, then loaded onto trains, some ending up “where the temperature is fifty degrees below zero, and little business has been transacted beyond sending to the general store for provisions,” as legend had it. Others went to places where “the golden scresent sinks beneath the blue water of the Gulf of Mexico. and summer is eternal.”

The pieces were simple prize sheets. There was no way to tailor the copy by classifying people by their characteristics. Still, early junk mailers like Pattee had little trouble targeting their customers: They referred to them, simply, as “the fools.”

It was all they needed. For the real pioneers were grifters of whom little good can be said except that they were less likely than train robbers or other postal felons to be tattooed.

Chapter 1: Crooked Colonials

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 24: The Traveling Salesman

By Ray Schultz

Edward Proctor Jr. was a child of privilege. He’d gone to the Hackley School, a boarding school, in Tarrytown, New York after his father decided that the children of tenant farmers of Teaneck, where his family lived, were not suitable classmates.

Young Proctor hardly ever saw his father, who worked non-stop to build the business he had bought. But as side benefits accrued as the prosperity of the 1920s took hold. One summer, the family visited 40 states on a train tour of the U.S.; the following year, they went on a European trip.

Proctor later attended Cornell, and hoped to become a journalist. He was hired as an intern on the Bergen Record in Northern New Jersey in the summer of 1931. One day, when the regular reporter didn’t show up, Proctor was sent to cover the dedication ceremony for the George Washington Bridge. He found himself riding in an elevator in the superstructure of the bridge with New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was shocked to see Roosevelt seated in a wheelchair.

It was easy to forget that his education was being paid for by the mailing list business, and that there was a depression going on. But Proctor was reminded of it that fall when his father called him in for a talk.

The old man got right to the point. Business was so bad that he had to restructure and lay off several people. There was no choice but for Ed Jr. to leave school and come to work for the company. Another young man would have rebelled, but Proctor took it well. “Everything my father suggested I just automatically accepted–so different from the children today,” he said.

So Proctor became an apprentice in the mailing list business, just as his father had in 1899. He started keeping entries in the same old ledger that had come down with Charles Guild from Boston. And although he attended night courses at Columbia University, he traveled one week a month to the Midwest.

It was a grueling regimen. Brokers like Proctor looked through newspapers for mail order ads, then contacted the companies and asked if they would rent their lists. “They made endless calls to list owners. They trudged up countless fights of stairs to dingy offices to meet with publishers and merchandisers who wore green eyeshades,” wrote the copywriter Denison Hatch.

“The big argument was money,” said Proctor. “We’d say, ”Look at all you’re losing. Ten dollars a thousand was a lot of money during the Depression.”

One such candidate was American Products, the possessor of about 2 million names mostly of the gullible. In a typical ad, it said:

Here is a new way to make money—a way that offers a chance for big, quick profits. Men and women everywhere are making $6 to $10 a day in full time—$1.00 to $2.00 an hour in spare time—taking orders for Jiffy Glass Cleaner—a new pure, harmless liquid that instantly cleans glass surfaces without water, soap or chamois.

Proctor visited them. “I went and sat in office in Cincinnati, trying to persuade them,” Proctor said. “They took in other bids, but ours was bigger—we had users lined up.”

In time, Proctor also “pried loose a few subscriber lists,” starting with that of The Workbasket, a magazine for “little old ladies who knitted.” He rented it to the publisher of a sex manual that he remembered as “How to Sleep with Your Wife.”

Then there was the Dale Carnegie list. “It reached a total of about 65,000 names and back in 1937 that was a large list — probably the largest high grade list available at the time,” Proctor said..

Either way, there was rental business to be had. Liberty magazine mailed millions of pieces for its Presidential poll, which wrongly forecast that Alf Landon would beat Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936–it was said to be the biggest direct mailing ever. And Lucky Strike mailed 12 million pieces for its Hit Parade that year.Capon Springs, which sold mineral water, sent this letter in 1933:

Dear friend:

Would you like to “feel years younger?”

Would you like to be “made over anew?”

Would you like your eliminative organs to function naturally, thoroughly, and of their own accord, without outside help?

Then drink water from the magic spring — the Fountain of Health — Capon Springs — “The most delicious water I have ever drunk.

The offer was 5 gallons of his water bottled and sealed at Capon Springs, West Virginia) for only $1.25 (regularly $3.25).

Also included in the envelope was a black-and-white brochure, titled “Things you will observe about Capon Springs Water,” which made these claims:

It leaves a clean taste in the mouth. Capon uncoats the tongue and checks pyorrhea.

It regulates the bowels. Capon restores their normal peristaltic action (the eliminative urge).”

Another good customer for mailing lists was Psychiana, the mail order religion run by Dr. Frank B. Robinson. I Talked with God. So Can You — It’s Easy, Dr. Robinson promised in his direct mail copy. You may learn to use this fathomless, pulsing, throbbing ocean of spiritual power just as you learn to use chemistry, physics or mathematics.

List brokers like Proctor were delighted with the sheer volume of names Robinson used. “Many mailing lists were prospected, with the highest conversion rates – 20 percent — coming from a lonely-hearts list and a list of inquirers interested in ‘the power of thought,’ wrote Martin Gross, a direct mail copywriter.

Gross continued, “The next list generated a return of 16 percent. These were mail order buyers of fish. (Always experimenting, Dr. Robinson had bought a very large list of these seafood lovers. He tested only 2,000; of those who responded, 16 percent bought the lessons. He expanded the test and the return was much like the first.)

“Other results included a Yoga list (14 percent), two astrological lists (12 percent and 11 percent), a Charles Atlas-like list (six percent) and a parents’ organization (six percent),” Gross continued. “No conversions at all were received from inquiries for a high-fashion list.”

When not on the road, young Proctor also adjusted to office lie. List brokers worked half a day on Saturday, and nobody was ever addressed by their first names. (“Everyone was Mr. or Miss,” Ed Proctor, Jr. said. “It was very formal in those days.”

Chapter 25: Harbors Of Missing Men