SI Vault
William Barry Furlong
October 10, 1960
A defeated Jim Norris, about to be subpoenaed by a Senate committee, dissolved his boxing empire last week, offering hope that mob rule of boxing is finally on the way out. Here is an on-the-scene account of the people and talk at Jim's last lunch
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October 10, 1960

Is It Goodby To All This?

A defeated Jim Norris, about to be subpoenaed by a Senate committee, dissolved his boxing empire last week, offering hope that mob rule of boxing is finally on the way out. Here is an on-the-scene account of the people and talk at Jim's last lunch

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To Jim Norris the air in room 1029 seemed stuffy. He picked indifferently at a seafood cocktail as an official of the Illinois Athletic Commission jumped up to open a window. On a couch against the wall, Truman Gibson Jr., the urbane, smooth-talking "front man" who had run Norris' boxing operation for 11 years, nursed a drink and watched a score of freeloaders gulp their luncheons. "I seldom eat lunch," he said with a wan smile. "Breakfast and then a pretty good dinner. Hardly ever lunch."

It was not a day for bon appetit. Norris and Co. had gathered in the Bismarck Hotel in Chicago on Tuesday of last week to admit that they were licked and that they were getting out of boxing. The following night, the 501st—and last—of the Norris-promoted TV fights would be held in the Chicago Stadium (attendance: 760, including freeolas; net gate: $841). "This is the formal dissolution of the NBE," said Norris. With those words, the 20-month-old National Boxing Enterprises followed its Norris-controlled predecessor, the International Boxing Club, into oblivion.

For a week Jim Norris had alternately scheduled and postponed his G�tterd�mmerung luncheon while his aides scurried about, trying to find out just what the agents of the U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating boxing were planning to do in Chicago. The investigators were scattering subpoenas about—hitting Norris' chief partner, Arthur Wirtz, as well as heavyweight contender Sonny Liston and eight other persons—for hearings that are scheduled to open in Washington on December 5. They had not yet hit Jim.

Now, as Norris pushed away his roast beef in the Wirtz-owned Bismarck, his longtime associates were thinking more of the future than the past. "Ya see what I tell ya, Truman—newspapermen respect ya if ya always tell 'em what ya can," said Bennie Bentley, who had been matchmaker for the Norris interests in Chicago. Now he was about to open a public-relations business in the Loop. "Mention me in your story," he said to a newsman. "People will think I'm an O.K. guy if ya mention me in your story. I mean, in your paper, ya know?"

Norris rose and smoothed his gray suit. Two members of the Illinois Athletic Commission—part of the Greek chorus in the tableau to follow—dutifully stopped bolting their food. Norris' face seemed a trifle puffy, his eyes a little sad. A monopoly "only exists if it comes from Chicago," he said bitterly. Of his years in boxing, he said, "I've enjoyed them, but we're not going to be able to continue." He cast out his plea of innocence of any wrongdoing in boxing, apparently hoping the antennae of the Senate subcommittee were properly tuned. "Any disreputable elements in boxing in New York were there before," he said. "I didn't bring them in. We didn't have any of that in Chicago and no matches were questioned here." ("You're —- —— well right," said a member of the Greek chorus. "You're —- —— right he's —- —— right," echoed a member of the state athletic commission.)

In order that everybody could have their say—and express undying fealty—Norris turned the chair over to Frank Gilmer, chairman of the Illinois Athletic Commission. Gilmer is a lumpy, belligerently naive ex-referee (and a lawyer in one of Chicago's most prominent law firms) who insists that the only villains in boxing are those who attack it. "When you knock a promoter like this out of business, you hurt a very great sport," said Gilmer. An elevated train rumbled by outside, dramatically punctuating the remark.

" 'They' didn't want Jim Norris and Arthur Wirtz in Madison Square Garden," said Gilmer. He rambled on about the antitrust decision of Federal Judge Sylvester Ryan and the U.S. Supreme Court. " Judge Ryan's decision and the Supreme Court don't look so good," he said.

("Like I say, I can't afford to have no subpoena served on me now," said Bennie Bentley. "I mean, now that I'm a respectable businessman.")

Beside Gilmer sat pudgy, marcelled Lou Radzienda, chewing on a big black cigar. He nodded solemnly as Norris, speaking again, said, "Truman has been tremendously embarrassed. We've been tremendously embarrassed. To use a vulgar term, we've had a bellyful." The Greek chorus around him bobbed with emotion. "Boxers never went without their money with you running things," shouted Radzienda. "You're —- —— right," shouted another member of the chorus. "They weren't not paid, they were overpaid." "Nobody did more for boxing than you did," said a third.

Norris went on. "Ten years ago, when we came in, there were no title fights in Chicago. We got into business and got a lot of title fights for Chicago. (The Greek chorus: "You're —- —— right, Jim." "Without you, they would of never gotten a fight in Chicago.") Said Norris, "Now we're back to where we were 10 years ago."

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