Barbara Long: The Manly Art is Off to Camp
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June 10, 1965, Vol. X, No. 34
The Manly Art Is Off to Camp
By Barbara Long
I've seen the crisis coming for some time now, and I'm not sure Boxing will survive this one.
God knows, Boxing's been in trouble for years. Scandals. Public apathy. Paucity of young talent. Not enough hungry kids to go around for all the poverty projects that need them; compulsory education that keeps them in school when they should start training at 12 or 13. TELEVISION.
Instead of fighting its way back, Boxing went soft. Tired. No more spirit. Wee-e-e bit of self-pity. When Boxing went into its decline, it was discovered by the literati. If the rest of the country is down on something, or done with it, the literati picks it up. Male writers are always a little ashamed of the way they make their livings -- there's something so woman-y about sitting at a typewriter, so they love hanging out with machismo things like Boxing. And the Existentialism...holy hell! The literati sniffed all that dying and decaying hang-up, and wigged out. The literati understood, felt for, agonized with, identified Boxing with Zeitgeist and Weltanschauung and the Decline of the West and the Death of Vaudeville. The literati pampered Boxing, tickled its ear with a rosebud, and Boxing lapped it all up like mother's milk. Petting felt so good after years with crude types like Al Buck and Milt Gross -- hollering, all the time hollering.
The literati never hollered, it just explained and analyzed everything. Sartre, Buber, Kierkegaard, Barth, Bardot...it was good for Boxing to know it was in there with all that Fear and Trembling, to have all those writers analyzing everything, explaining why Patterson wore disguises and Liston didn't, something boxers were once able to figure out for themselves. Boxing enjoyed being pussy cat, and in turn was proud of its literati.
It's nice to know that Ph.D. dissertations are being turned out about the influence on Dickens and Thackeray of Pierce Egan, 19th century sports writer. Pure boss to have Jose Torres' sparring partner, Norman "Left Killer K.O. Tiger" Mailer, take 25,000 words in Esquire to explicate the metaphysics of the Liston-Patterson fight. Very comforting to know, as A.J. Liebling wrote of that fight, that "placed before typewriters, the accumulated novelists could have produced an issue of Paris Review in 42 minutes." Soothing to know that Leslie Fiedler and George Plimpton and James Baldwin and Mailer were sitting out front during the recent twin-title fight at the Garden.
The relationship is psychologically-, aesthetically-satisfying for Boxing, but what does the literati really do for Boxing? Weeks ago, after seeing an ad for a Happening scheduled to take place in the ring at Sunnyside Garden, the last local club-fighting site, I was the only writer who rushed up to Gleason's Gym to warn the guys about the Imminent Sacking of the Temple. Where were Fiedler and Mailer and Plimpton and the boys from the New York Review of Books and Marianne Moore that morning?
Freddie Brown, one of the top trainers, listened to my recital of doom, shifted his cigar to another spot on his lower lip, and said, "Pick 'em up, Joey, keep them hands up."
Whitey Bimstein, best cut man in the business, took me aside for a Standard Bimstein Lecture on the state of Boxing in the World Today. "Look, girlie, don't worry about Happenings. What we gotta worry about is clubs. Not enough clubs today. Clubs are like public school. First you go to public school, then you go to junior school, then to high school."
One of the assistants to Bobby Gleason, Maker of Champions, hollered, "I don't care noth' what's Happening at Sunnyside! All I care is I told you plenty times not to walk away and leave your purse on the chair. You can't trust none these guys, lady."
Unable to impress upon these gentlemen the need for direct action against the avant-gardists who were about to defile that symbol of Boxing, the ring, I persuaded Joey Archer, ranking middleweight, and Tod Herring, Houston heavyweight en route to Sweden to get his head knocked off by Patterson, to go along with me to the Happening. Herring thought the girl who stripped down to her brassiere and step-ins was too flatchested to be interesting, but that, all in all, the Happening beat the freak show that "Ernie, this guy lives over near Austin" puts on. Joey didn't see the significance of the Happening but thought that the people who knew the plot must be serious about the whole thing and should be allowed to give as many Happenings as they like.
This kind of weakness for the Art World has practically done in Boxing. First the literati then the avant-garde, and now...
Last Tuesday night, William Klein, well-known fashion photographer and serious boxing buff, presented a private screening of the documentary film he's produced on Cassius Clay. At that presentation the crisis in Boxing became clear.
Sugar Ray, Joe Louis, Gene Tunney, Rocky Marciano, "Mysterious" Billy Smith weren't there...
Baby Jane and Andy Warhol were.
Can Susan Sontag be far behind?
From now on, when a boxer says he's going to camp, he'd better be more specific.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956. Go here to see this article as it originally appeared in print.]
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