During the first Golden Age of Sport, which was the 20s, people like Gertrude Stein and Bugs Baer knew each other. Not too well, but their paths crossed. In 1927 it was not incongruous that Mickey Walker, world's middleweight champion, should be sitting on a cushion on the floor of Miss Stein's Paris apartment, listening while she read things she had written.
"She could make it sound like Shakespeare," Mickey remembers.
There were others in the room—people like Baer, Floyd Gibbons, Norma Talmadge, Fannie Brice, Jack Kearns. These are the names Mickey remembers.
"We had our crowd," he explains, "and she had hers. We all sat around on cushions on the floor. We knew we were in the intellectual group, but the crowd blended. With three drinks it became very friendly."
This year is a long way from that year. In the meantime Mickey has become a painter, good enough to warm the cocktails of Miss Stein's heart, winner of first prize in a Marshall Field exhibition in Chicago in 1946, good enough to be exhibited at the gallery of the Associated American Artists on New York's Fifth Avenue in 1955.
But 28 years ago Mickey was in Paris solely to relax with that great relaxer, Manager Jack Kearns, after stopping Tommy Milligan, European middleweight champion, in 10 rounds in London, retaining thereby his world's championship. He had been world's welterweight champion, and a few years later he was to make a gallant try against Jack Sharkey in which he held the later heavyweight champion to a 15-round draw at a time when Mickey weighed 169 pounds. They called him the "Toy Bulldog."
They were bright, golden years. It was Paris. Perhaps under the Stein influence, Mickey plunked down $500 for a painting—"an ocean scene, a boat on the ocean." He put it over his fireplace in Rumson, N.J.
"I'd come home with a couple of drinks in me," he says, "and sit in front of it for an hour or two at a time. I always kept the painting with me. We moved to Elizabeth, and the painting went along. I kept looking at it for years, couldn't get away from it, until one night I discovered what it was about the painting that attracted me. The boat wasn't sailing right. I went to the kitchen and got a can of house paint and started making the boat look right. I worked on it for three or four months, trying to fix it. The waves wouldn't break the way I wanted them. Finally, I sank the ship. I got so sore I threw the painting in an ash can. But I had had it all that time, from 1927 until 1938."
Soon after this disaster of the sea, Mickey went to a movie, The Moon and Sixpence, based on Somerset Maugham's biographical novel about Gauguin. Mickey sat through it twice and came back the next day. After the third viewing he knew that he wanted to be a painter.
He is not sentimental on this point.