Charlie Beecher's Gym was located back of a poolroom on Livonia Avenue in the
Brownsville section in Brooklyn. It was a prizefight gym where Bummy Davis, Lou
Feldman, Bernie (Schoolboy) Friedkin and half a hundred other ring figures
first learned their trade. For over 20 years its walls echoed the drum fire of
punching bags and the thud of falling bodies and it smelled of sweat and
liniment. Now it is no more. About 10 years ago the poolroom changed hands. The
fellow who bought it had no interest in boxing and he wanted more room for more
tables. So the fighters had to move out.
section was a melting pot like the lower East Side, a pushcart and
pickle-barrel marketplace, an area that is known to most people as the home
ground of Murder, Inc. But Danny Kaye and Phil Silvers came from Brownsville,
as did lots of doctors, lawyers and legitimate businessmen.
was a good featherweight boxer in the era of Johnny Kilbane. Brother Willie was
a topnotch lightweight just before the rise of Benny Leonard. They were both
good teachers of boxers, but the presiding genius of the gym in its heyday was
a character called Froike. His real name was Benjamin Katz, but he had boxed
under the name of Frankie Kane and Froike is the Yiddish equivalent of Frankie.
At least 10,000 kids must have passed through the gym. Every boy who grew up in
the neighborhood was in Beecher's at sometime or another, either trying to be a
fighter or trying to manage fighters, or training them or just watching
To get to Froike
you approached the dingy building in the shadows of the Livonia Avenue El and
scurried up the stairs past the pool tables and characters like Benny Toomel,
Fats Yerna, Smoke, Mousey and Munis the Shylock. You always wore your long
pants because if you wore knickers you were sure to get the bounce; kids
weren't allowed in the poolroom.
Froike could have
been a rich man. There's no telling how much money he could have made because
he had from the beginning many good fighters who went on to Madison Square
Garden main-event stardom. He could have kept them and made a lot of money with
them, or he could have sold them, keeping a small piece of their earnings.
But Froike was a
simple man. He always felt that in the boxing game he was a small man and he
looked with awe on managers like Joe Jacobs, Hymie Caplin and Pete Reilly. When
he realized that he had a promising fighter he would tell one of the famous
managers about the prospect.
him," he would say. "Maybe he will be a great fighter someday. I can't
do any more for him. He needs a manager like you."
The only fighter
he stuck with long enough to work his corner in Madison Square Garden before
being squeezed out was Al (Bummy) Davis. Davis had a formidable left hook,
which earned him many thousands of dollars. It didn't make him popular though.
He was one of the most hated main-eventers ever to fight at the Garden.
Froike started to
teach Bummy boxing when Davis was about 13 years old. Amateur boxing had a
tremendous following, especially in Brooklyn, with places like the Trinity
Club, Knights of Columbus and Golden City Park in Carnarsie. As in the case of
Walker Smith ( Sugar Ray Robinson), the borrowing of an older boy's baptism
certificate in order to get an AAU card was a common practice. When he was not
quite 15 years old, more than a year under the legal requirement, Albert
Abraham Davidoff climbed into the ring and was introduced as Giovanni Pasconi,
unattached, 126 pounds. As Pasconi, he won a lot of bouts by knockouts. He got
his nickname of "Bummy" after an AAU inspector heard him in a Yiddish
conversation with his father. (Abraham in Yiddish is Ahvroom, which was
corrupted to Boomy and then Bummy.)
As a pro Davis
knocked out one opponent after another. He began to attract a tremendous
following and was soon boxing star bouts as a lightweight. A meeting between
Davis and Schoolboy Friedkin, who had preceded Bummy into the pro ranks by a
couple of years, was arranged. Friedkin also had a large following, and the
biggest single event for the entire Brownsville neighborhood until the U.S.
entered World War II was the night in 1938 when the pair met at the Garden.
They were first matched to box outdoors in Dexter Park. It rained on one Monday
night and was postponed. It rained again and again, and the fans were roused to
a tremendous pitch of suspense.