Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Joe Gans And Ernest Hemingway

Norman Marcus at boxing.com offers a piece on the late, great fighter Joe Gans and the late, great writer Ernest Hemingway.

American author Ernest Hemingway used Joe Gans as a character in an early 1916 short story, “A Matter of Color.” In this story a fictional fighter, Montana Dan Morgan, was to fight Joe Gans for his lightweight title. Except Dan had a broken right hand that night and not much of a left. Morgan’s manager hired an immigrant boxer called The Swede, to stand behind a curtain and hit Gans on the head with a bat, as the two boxers moved about in the ring. (The curtain butted up against one side of the ring.) Problem was, the Swede mistakenly knocked out Morgan instead! Enraged, the Chicago mob, whose money was all on Morgan, put a contract out on the Swede’s life. The story seemed to end there. The reader was left to draw his own conclusion.

Now let’s find out exactly who Joe Gans was in the boxing world at that time. He was raised in Baltimore, Maryland. In the early part of the 20th century Joe was the lightweight champion of the world. He reigned from 1902 to 1908. He was good on defense and had heavy hands when necessary. He was a counterpuncher who would go to the body early and often end the bout with a well placed KO punch. Gans won 100 of his 145 professional fights this very way.

Gans was the first African American to hold a modern world boxing title. Nat Fleischer, editor of The Ring, rated Joe the greatest lightweight boxer of all time. John L. Sullivan, Bob Fitzsimmons, Benny Leonard and Sam Langford all agreed. His ring name, The Old Master, mirrored his fame in the ring.

... “The Killers” was a short story written in 1927. It first appeared in Scribner’s Magazine. It later showed up in a collection of Hemingway’s works entitled “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” This one is about a boxer named Ole Andreson, again known as The Swede. The story is a continuation of the story line from “A Matter of Color.”

Ole is hiding out from the mob in a small town called Summit, just outside of Chicago. He has a job at the local gas station. He is told that two mob hit men are snooping around town looking for him. The Swede doesn’t seem to care anymore. He waits for them to find him in his rented room. As he lies there smoking in his bed, he seems at peace with himself. He is tired of running. He welcomes the dumdum bullets that will blow his head apart. The debt for his earlier blunder will be paid in blood, as it is in the ring.

This short story is one of Hemingway’s best.  Hollywood brought it to the screen several times. The first and most famous version was made in 1946 and starred Burt Lancaster (a former circus acrobat) and Ava Gardner. The second film in 1959 starred Ingemar Johansson (the heavyweight champion) and Diane Baker. The third adaption in 1963 starred Ronald Reagan (a B-movie hero), Lee Marvin (an ex-marine) and Angie Dickinson. This was Reagan’s last film role. The Gipper was later cast on the world stage as the President of the United States. He had an eight-year run at the White House.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:


Note: You can read more about Hemingway and his great short story The Killers via the below link to my Crime Beat column:


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