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The two faces of Cecil Rhodes
Martin Kane
April 27, 1959
In which boxing's latest Ivy League promoter retires by request, without ever promoting a fight but with $55,000
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April 27, 1959

The Two Faces Of Cecil Rhodes

In which boxing's latest Ivy League promoter retires by request, without ever promoting a fight but with $55,000

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Those men in white coats at the Patterson-London fight in Indianapolis May 1 won't be there to sell peanuts. They will be psychiatrists, assembled for clinical study of one of the more lunatic sporting promotions of our century, surpassing in some aspects even such demented delights as bunion derbies and dance marathons.

Simple elements of the promotion—like site, date and opponent—have been flipping like flapjacks since January, when Brian London, the Blackpool Blackjack, brawled his way to defeat at the hands of Henry Cooper in London. Floyd Patterson was to have defended his heavyweight title against the winner, who turned out to be Cooper, who in turn turned out to be reluctant. Guaranteed $72,000, he demanded twice that. So Cus D'Amato, Patterson's manager, settled for London. It made no difference, since the fight was essentially a fist-honing preparation for Patterson's later defense against the more formidable Ingemar Johansson and since London is, after all, one of the top-rated heavyweight contenders.

That made everything seem normal; but the promoter turned out to be a stylish stout young man named, of all things, Cecil Rhodes Jr., given to dropping casually the information that he held three degrees from Harvard, that he was vice-president of a steel-fabricating firm, and that he had taught at Suffolk Law School in Boston. (He taught English there for one semester.) Sometimes he varied this by saying that one of those degrees was from Brown, which is the correct version. He has, in fact, only one degree from Harvard, an LL.B. He was a bit of a genius, he indicated, at corporate reorganization, taking over foundering companies and building them back to robust health. He had a way of dropping the names of prominent persons ("Slivovitz? Not C.W.? We were at Harvard together").

For all that, he was correctly ponderous in manner, and this was perhaps the wellspring of his gift for winning confidence. He won D'Amato's confidence completely.

"This man," D'Amato said breathlessly one afternoon in Indianapolis, "doesn't care about making money. He wants to plow it all back into the sport."

Rhodes beamed but kept a sound, businesslike button on his lip.

There was talk, however, of a pension system for boxers and a syndicate of small, morally managed fight clubs. D'Amato, a rare bird among fight managers, keeps a set of Thomas Aquinas' writings in his bookcase and believes with the old philosopher that it is all right to make pots of money provided the stuff is used for the summum bonum. He was enchanted to find a kindred soul in Cecil, a fellow nothing like James D. Norris.

Well, Cecil is now out as promoter of the fight, having come to a parting of the ways with an embittered Cus last-week; but if Cus had talked to Day Mangus, a harness-horse breeder, he might have been disenchanted earlier. Mangus is currently trying to collect from Cecil the sum of $48,750—which he says Cecil owes him for Lady Ann Reed, last year's World's Champion Three-Year-Old Filly Trotter on half-mile tracks. She had done a record mile of 2:02 [1/5] at Grandview, Ohio.

In an affidavit filed in New Jersey Superior Court Mangus sets forth that he agreed last summer to sell Cecil the horse for $48,750. In return for a couple of postdated checks totaling $45,000 and a promise to come up with the remaining $3,750 in cash, Mangus says he turned over possession of the mare. Mangus deposited the two checks, but Cecil's bank refused to "release" the funds.

The affidavit describes more promises to pay, but even after several of these Mangus still had enough confidence in Cecil to pay a $50 entrance fee for him so that Lady Ann Reed could run in a race. The Racing Commission wasn't taking any of Cecil's checks.

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