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Of Mink and Men
Martin Kane
April 18, 1960
Middleweight Champion Gene Fullmer and Manager Marv Jenson, mink ranchers, prepare for a title fight
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April 18, 1960

Of Mink And Men

Middleweight Champion Gene Fullmer and Manager Marv Jenson, mink ranchers, prepare for a title fight

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The mink-mating season, an event of absorbing interest to the world middleweight champion and his 250 mink, abated in West Jordan, Utah a few days ago. There was a perceptible diminuendo of minkish interest in Liebestraum. When the last shiny-pelted black diamond of the Gene Fullmer ranch turned jaded eyes from the last female of a luxuriously coated harem, Champion Fullmer tucked the beast into its bachelor dorm for another year, took off the leather gloves he wears for this dangerous work of love and put on boxing gloves for the coming defense of his National Boxing Association title against Joey Giardello. At the same time, his neighbor, Manager Marv Jenson, was separating his own male and female mink and turning his thoughts back to prizefighting.

Fullmer, whose hands are scarred by mink bites, his brows by human fists, will meet Giardello April 20 in the unlikely town of Bozeman, Montana, a scant 210 miles from the unlikely town of Shelby, Montana, where financial disaster struck 37 years ago with the truculent force of Jack Dempsey's fists and the subtle poison of Jack Kearns. In Shelby, prosperous once more, the Fourth of July is remembered with the proud bitterness with which Hamelin recalls the day the Pied Piper skipped town. It was on that Fourth that Shelby went illustriously bankrupt. Shelby had guaranteed Kearns $300,000 for the Dempsey-Tommy Gibbons fight but was unable to pay the final $100,000. While Kearns threw a diversionary party for Shelbians after the bout, two of his helpers, by means of liquor and bribes, got past local bank guards and made off with $60,000 in gate receipts. After paying off the station master and an engineer, the Kearns retinue skipped town by locomotive, leaving Shelby penniless.

For the Fullmer-Giardello fight, TV's Wednesday Night Fights will pick up most of the tab, not Shelby, and by no means Bozeman. Bozeman is supplying only the Montana State College's spang-new field house, which can seat 11,600, and a community fascination with prizefighting that extends throughout the Rocky Mountains, a region that proudly recalls that Jack Dempsey developed his brawling ring ways in this very locale. Dempsey had some of his early fights at the Copper King Saloon of Bingham, Utah, a few miles from Gene's home in West Jordan. The Copper King still stands, weathered now and afflicted with grand jury prejudices against open gambling, but proudly memorialized to every thirsty wayfarer as the scene of many a wild Dempsey fight. An abstemious Mormon elder, Fullmer never has sipped the Copper King's beer but he has soaked up its spirit. To him and to Manager Jenson, Dempsey is the idol of all boxing history.

The mystique of the fight with Giardello is founded on these long thoughts of bygone days and on the plush pelts of thousands of mink. Not only is Fullmer a mink rancher, Manager Jenson is one of the biggest mink ranchers in Utah. Jenson probably is topped in local ranch size only by Promoter-Furrier Joe Dupler, president of the Intermountain Boxing Club. Dupler will co-promote the fight with Norm Rothschild of Syracuse, New York, a man who would like to make enough out of it all to buy his wife a mink coat. And the fight was timed to coincide with the end of the mink-mating season.


Jenson is famous as originator of the cerulean-blue strain worn only by the likes of Ava Gardner and Paulette Goddard. His 1,200 mink are expected to produce 4,000 kits, and these, when mature, will be sold at prices ranging from $30 to $105 apiece. Jen-son's original cerulean-blue male was sold as breeding stock for $6,500. It cost him $12 to raise. Jenson deals only in the rare strains—black diamonds, pearls, autumn hazes and such—and so does Fullmer. Jenson has won the international mink-breeding championship in 10 of 11 years. Because he found it tedious to round up horses, slaughter and hamburger them for mink feed, he established a mink farmers' cooperative, which now takes care of the chore. He is rated the best mink grader in the West Jordan area. A mink grader evaluates mink in terms of its fur's color, texture and other desirable qualities, and can make $300 a day at it. Jenson performs the service free for his West Jordan friends. He does his fastidious grading under artificial lights designed to give the same natural light as would be found at 10 a.m. on a sunny November day at a distance of 20 feet from the north side of a building 20 feet high. Grading mink is that finicky.

But Jenson is also a country-style fight manager who first came to national attention in 1951 when he raised Rex Layne to the eminence of a losing fight with Rocky Marciano.

Six years later the country manager came back to New York and beat the city slickers with Gene Fullmer, a country-style fighter who won the middleweight title from slick Sugar Ray Robinson, only to lose it in their return engagement. Now Gene once more holds at least the NBA version of the title, which is unrecognized only in New York and Massachusetts. In those states Paul Pender is king, at least until his April 29 bout with Robinson at Boston.

Like his champion, Jenson is a devout Mormon elder. Neither will drink even tea, let alone whisky. Jenson is also a former mayor of West Jordan (pop. 2,100), president of the district's 20-town school board and a citizen of high practical consequence to his community. During the mink-mating season he was involved in such a busy tangle of civic, genetic and sporting pursuits that he had to call school-board meetings for 6 a.m. In this early rising he is topped locally only by Ned Winder, Utah Boxing Commission chairman, who called 4 a.m. meetings. Winder is a dairy owner, with dawn waking habits firmly fixed. He is also a baker and cemetery owner. His business motto: "Drink our milk, eat our bread and let us bury you after you're dead."

Jenson recently built a luxurious fight camp, which he hopes eventually will stable 40 fighters. The building's announced cost is $80,000. It could easily be more.

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