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Don't call me honest," begs Jack Hurley, sipping Cordon Bleu cognac and preparing to eat one of his favorite Chinese meals. "You'll ruin me."
It is cruel and unfair to stigmatize a boxing figure as "honest," and no one knows this better than Jack Hurley, the lean and dour manager-promoter who has made a career out of converting third-rate fighters into first-rate attractions. In the weird world of boxing a certain amount of dishonesty is not only expected but almost demanded. One can, for example, tell the public that one's fighter has had 46 straight victories, conveniently leaving out the fact that he was kayoed in Pocalello and decisioned in Amarillo and actually has a string of one straight, and this against a fuzzy-cheeked lad just out of the Southwest Iowa Golden Gloves.
This is a standard kind of dishonesty, and it has never attracted Jack Hurley. He has, instead, gone to the top of his odd craft as manager, promoter and all-round publicity man by telling the truth, with only occasional side excursions into what might be called "the fringe truth." It was true, for example, that Hurley's fighter, Harry Matthews, had won 35 straight fights, 28 by knockout, and looked like the only logical opponent for Rocky Marciano. It was so true that the Houses of Congress rang with polysyllabic demands for the fight and for congressional investigations of those opposing it. During all the hubbub, no one ever heard Jack Hurley pointing out the rest of the truth—that Matthews had run up his string almost entirely against bindle stiffs and novices carefully selected by Hurley either because (a) they could not fight, or (b) their styles were perfect for Matthews.
Yet Hurley did not lie, and he does not lie. Such steadfast refusal to avoid the flat untruth is what has made Hurley, now 63 and hustling the road as a press agent, one of the most respected figures in boxing today. Newspaper sportswriters like Red Smith, Frank Graham and Shirley Povich find it almost impossible to write about him in anything but superlatives. Damon Run-yon once said that he had known only two honest fight managers in his life: "One is Jack Hurley, and I forget the name of the other one." Wrote Jimmy Cannon: "When Hurley again shows up in a corner, cranky and cynical, tall and wise, that will mean the racket's again a sport." In England Hurley was tagged "The Heavyweight Champion of the Word." One British journalist wrote: "I only wish there were more Hurleys in this world." In his adopted home town Hurley is called "the conscience of Seattle."
Certainly he is most of these. But mainly Jack Hurley is a walking anachronism, and always has been—a living epitaph for boxing as it might have been but almost never was, when a good fight manager handled his warrior like a son, told him when to fight and whom to fight and when to quit, took care of his finances and showed him how to behave in and out of the ring. "I don't say I'm honest," says Hurley. "I never take part in a big swindle, though I might take part in a small one. But my word is accepted in boxing, and that's good enough for me." He quickly recovers himself when he realizes he is tootling his own kazoo and adds: "Just say that my occupation is traveling about from town to town telling lies."
Hurley in action contradicts these last words. Now "between fighters," he sometimes travels the cities of the Northwest as advance man for the Harlem Globetrotters, building up gates and planting favorable stories—this in spite of the fact that he has hardly ever seen the Trotters in action. One year he witnessed their opening game in Chicago (because he happened to be there) and their closing game in Seattle (because he lived there), and absolutely no others. He called on a sportswriter and began one of his patented spiels: "Those Trotters, they are turrific. You should see that Meadowlark Lemon on the pivot. Why, he has the biggest hands I've ever seen. The way they set up their defense, you can't get within 30 feet of the basket. Layups are impossible against the Trotters."
The sportswriter interrupted: "What do you know about the Trotters, Jack? How often do you ever see them play?
Who knows what a lesser man would have answered? Hurley, exploiting the fringe truth, said simply: "Every chance I get."
On a few occasions, Hurley's sometimes sharp tongue has provided some uncomfortable moments for others. In 1957 the restaurateurs of Seattle arranged a testimonial dinner for the man who had brought hundreds of thousands of dollars into their town with his promotions. They gave Hurley a $400 vicu�a coat and assorted gewgaws and then made the awful mistake of asking him to say a few words. Hurley drew himself up to his full 71 inches of acerbity and said, tongue in cheek and dead pan, "I've been connected with a few swindles in my time, but this one tops them all. Fifteen bucks a smash. Hell, I only charged $20 to see the heavyweight champion of the world." He complained about the weather (a terribly sore point in rainy Seattle), and closed by pointing out that the city's restaurant food was so bad that "I have to make two trips a year to the Mayo Clinic." Some of the audience thought he was serious, and squirmed. But Hurley's true feelings were given away as he walked out. Visibly touched but trying not to show it, he said: "Now I suppose I'll have to stay in this town forever."
Food is one of Hurley's few passions. In 1934 two-thirds of his ulcerated stomach was removed. A man with a third of a stomach can't store up food; he is always hungry. Hurley now eats six meals a day. "I'm slowly going broke against a knife and a fork," he says. His last big meal is at midnight, after which the waitress brings him a carton of milk and a few bananas for a 4 a.m. snack.