Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson goes to Florida this week to start the final round of training for his title fight with Ingemar Johansson in Miami Beach on March 13. In his wake will be the most bizarre cast of characters to hit the road since Jack Kerouac and his buddies careened across the country.
In order of their proximity to Patterson, they are Cus D'Amato, his unlicensed but loquacious manager; a lawyer with the unlikely name of Julius November; Roy Cohn, Senator McCarthy's old sidekick; Bill Fugazy, a fancy Dan who is Cohn's partner in Feature Sports Inc., the promoter of the bout; and Irving B. Kahn, the 5-foot-9, 240-pound president of TelePrompTer Corporation, the outfit that will show the fight on closed-circuit television in this country and Canada.
All five are individualists, and they often disagree with one another. What gives spice to their declarations is that some of them dislike one another intensely. D'Amato, for instance, detests Cohn and loathes Fugazy. Fugazy regards D'Amato as "mentally ill" and is often irked by Kahn. Kahn, in turn, is suspicious of almost everyone. He tape-records phone calls and conversations with visitors in his office. (He explains his penchant for taping by saying that it is more accurate and easier than taking notes with a pencil. He usually does it secretly.) Kahn is such an enthusiast of the electronic that Cohn suspects he may even conceal a mike on his person when he lumbers forth from his office. "He's so fat no one could find it," Cohn says. Once, in retaliation for taping, Cohn read through a batch of confidential papers in a briefcase Kahn inadvertently had left behind at Johansson's training camp. "He was livid," Cohn says with satisfaction. "Roy," says Kahn, restraining himself, "has a rather oddball sense of humor."
The sole tragic figure in the lot is Cus D'Amato, entangled in all sorts of legal snares. The press often reviles him as a crook. A crook he is not; a kook he may be. He fought the gangster-dominated IBC alone for such a long spell that he wound up with a deep and permanent persecution complex. For D'Amato, every night has a full moon. The sad thing about it is he has good reason to feel persecuted.
D'Amato attributes his difficulties to Bill Rosensohn, the onetime promoter who accused him of all sorts of shenanigans a year and a half ago (SI, Aug. 10, 1959). On the face of it, D'Amato, who can be devious in his own fashion, looked completely guilty. His enemies—and he had made many crusading against the IBC—pounced. "I was a person on the dirt surrounded by a pack of wolves trying to tear me apart," he says. The New York State Athletic Commission, which rarely said boo to the IBC, revoked his manager's license. The revocation was upset in court, where it developed that the commission had nothing to revoke because the license had previously expired. Now and then D'Amato toys with the idea of applying for a new license, but he is afraid that if he got it the commission would then "frame me for good this time" and make the revocation stick. "That," he says, "would put me out of business all over the world."
D'Amato also got into difficulty when he failed to answer a subpoena issued by State Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz. D'Amato says that November, who serves as attorney for both D'Amato and Patterson, told him to ignore it, that the hearing had been postponed. D'Amato did as he was instructed, but he was arrested, hauled into court, fined $250 and given a suspended sentence of 30 days in the workhouse. The case is now on appeal, but D'Amato was to see Lefkowitz Tuesday and there were reports "something might happen" to him.
Nowadays, what with having to avoid a managerial association with Patterson in New York, D'Amato leads a lonely life. He spends most of his time in his cluttered two-room apartment at Broadway and 53rd Street, his main companion a boxer dog with a black eye. The dog is named Cus because he looks as though he's been kicked around, too.
"Most of the time I just lay around," D'Amato says. "I read. I play with the dog. Anything to avoid boredom. Sometimes I just walk around the streets." He stays out of bars for fear an enemy agent might stuff marijuana cigarettes into his pockets, then whistle for the police. He avoids the press. "I can't afford to make any mistakes or have what I say misconstrued," he says. Although he has a bed in the apartment, he never sleeps there. He stays with friends, and he rarely spends two nights in the same place. "I don't like my comings and goings to be predictable," he says. He is wary of what he says over the phone because, he says, it may be being tapped. Sometimes, though, D'Amato will get carried away and talk about anything on the phone. Reminded of a possible tap, he'll shout, "I don't care! I tell the truth!"
At present most of D'Amato's fire is directed at Fugazy and Cohn. They are "depraved," and they make him long for the old days when he was battling Jim Norris. "I never had so much fun in my whole life," he says. "I would create illusions to have the IBC think one thing and then do something unexpected. I played with Norris and his henchmen. I'd lock all the doors except one, and at that one I'd be waiting with an ax!"
Fugazy, D'Amato says, tried to shake him down for a 15% cut of Patterson's closed-circuit money. "Compared to Fugazy," D'Amato says, " Norris is like a diamond in a coal pile. I didn't mind Norris, really. He used underhanded methods that were close to real business, like going to the press and political pressures. But Fugazy! This man has definite psychopathic leanings. The man has no principles! This man lies to your face, and he believes his own lies. A respectable racketeer!"