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June 22, 1959
As fugitive, loser, prisoner and failure, Jack Johnson Kept his dream of glory intact
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June 22, 1959

Jack And The Game

As fugitive, loser, prisoner and failure, Jack Johnson Kept his dream of glory intact

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Jack Johnson, the first Negro heavyweight champion of the world, arrived in Europe in July of 1913 as a fugitive from a jail sentence for technical violation of the Mann Act in the U.S. He was accompanied by his third wife, Lucille Cameron Johnson, and his nephew and factotum, Gus Rhodes. Johnson had a vaudeville act in which he clowned and played the bass fiddle, in addition to sparring and bag punching, and was undoubtedly a much better entertainer than the average pugilist who took to the stage. He also had delusions of grandeur and a strong tendency to overestimate his popularity and to mistake mere curiosity for admiration. But even Johnson began to get the message of disapproval when he was heckled at the South London Music Hall and heard the savage booing of the audience at the Euston Theater of Varieties. And at Wolverhampton his entire act was canceled on the protest of the local Free Church congregation.

In the face of such discouragement Johnson decided to abandon the theater for a while and meet a suitable challenger in the ring. But it was not until the following year, when he met Dan McKetrick, that he found a promoter whom he considered trustworthy. McKetrick was a high-strung Irish-American who was staging fights in Paris under the corporate title of La Soci�t� pour la Propagation de la Boxe Fran�aise. He suggested that Jack take on Francis Charles Moran, a red-haired young man from Pittsburgh who had served a hitch in the Navy. Moran had beaten some reasonably good fighters and was feared for his devastating right swing, which was known as "the old Mary Ann." Johnson signed articles for the fight at a bottle-loaded caf� table in the Bois de Boulogne.

McKetrick's temper, not smooth at the best of times, was continually abraded during the promotion of this fight. For one thing, the French journalists raised a cry of "Qui est Moran?" and refused to publish McKetrick's propaganda until he agreed to distribute $3,600 among them.

The promoter was even more displeased when Moran went to the U.S. and brought back Ike Dorgan, brother of Hearst Cartoonist Tad, as his personal manager. Dan McKetrick had special reasons for wanting to continue as sole director of Moran's career. He called the boxer into conference.

"Let's sign a contract, Frank," McKetrick said.

"I don't need no contract," Moran replied.

"Well, I do!" cried McKetrick, quickly coming to a boil.

"I'm sorry," Moran said. "When I left the Navy I took an oath never to sign no papers."

"You took an oath!" screamed McKetrick. "What if I take a punch at your head!"

"You've got more sense than that," said Moran, but McKetrick went away fuming. The truth is that the promoter was convinced Johnson was finished as a fighter and that Moran could beat him and would then be worth "a fortune of money." He was further convinced of this when Johnson, out after some extra money before the Moran bout, broke a small bone in his left arm while fighting a heavyweight named Battling Jim Johnson. McKetrick could not endure the thought of Ike Dorgan cutting in on his expected bonanza. In this implacable mood, McKetrick decided that nobody would get anything until matters were arranged as he wanted them. Using a claim against Moran for a $1,497 advance as legal excuse, he instructed a French lawyer to tie up the entire amount in the box office the minute the fight was over.

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