A bit jowly, but otherwise trim and fit for his 68 years, Jack Dempsey sat at the greeter's table in his Broadway restaurant and spat an indignant denial that his fists were encased in plaster of paris when he won the heavyweight title from Jess Willard. From time to time an admirer paused on his way out of the restaurant, interrupting to shake the still powerful right hand. "I'll always remember this," one of them said. Dempsey responded graciously, then turned back to the question.
"Ridiculous!" he said. "I could take an oath. In fact," he went on, "I will."
He raised that same right hand.
"I hope to God I die right now, and my wife and children, too, if there is any truth in what Kearns said."
On another Broadway, a continent away in Glendale, Calif., Jess Willard sat in a hotel lobby. No one seemed to recognize him. Eighty-two years old in December, Willard looked back on a bitter July 4 of his young manhood.
"I'm glad that Kearns finally was man enough to admit it," he said. "First time Dempsey hit me, I knew those gloves were loaded. He knocked me down seven times, maybe eight, I don't recall exactly now. But every time he hit me, I could feel another bone or two breaking....
"I got robbed by the king of robbers, I guess we could say. That Kearns. As long as I got robbed, I'm glad I got robbed by the best man in the country at stealing. He was a mob man."
Willard paused, drifting back in memory to that fateful afternoon. "I wasn't knocked out," he said. "Nobody ever knocked me out. But I was blind. I was dazed from getting clobbed by those chunks of cement. My face was all broken, and my head was, too.
"Look," he pointed to his left cheekbone at the temple. "Put your hand here. Feel that bone moving around? That's what them cement gloves did to me."
Outwardly calm, Dempsey was seething.