"And then again, Monsieur Cocteau, don't you think that we, all of us, have rights as far as this boxer is concerned? Since when have you taken him under your wing? This makes 13 years now, monsieur, that he has belonged to us. For 13 years we have admired him, because he dazzles us and because he seems to us to be the perfect representative of boxing itself. Why do you want to take him away from us? Do you really think the best thing for him now is tilting his elbow? Let me tell you that his sole true interest is to go on boxing for a long time.
"Come, now, give him back to us, monsieur! Right? Agreed? You'll let us have him, eh, Monsieur Cocteau?"
The same morning on which the article by Henri Desgrange was published Jean Cocteau gave me the reply he had prepared, and asked me to pass it on to Desgrange. L'Auto published next day the following letter:
It was easy to laugh when I claimed that Al Brown could regain his title. It is easy to laugh now that I am advising him to give up the ring.
Here are the facts. My advice was not an order. Al Brown does not have to take orders from anyone. I brought him back to the ring and, if he stays, I shall be the first to cheer and pay for my seat. The poet's role leaves off where reality begins. Reality restores the specialists. Those who guess must bow to those who know. The essential thing is to know whether Brown agrees to continue with the hard life of a boxer. If not, then he has to make a living. He can always find, with my modest intervention, a means of displaying to the public the phenomenon he would cease to be were he to commit a single error in the ring.
Al is quite free. It is up to him and the boxing world whether he preserves his title as a symbol or as a career. I meddled only to get him back for you. Then I advised him to quit, because he wanted to quit.
I supported him. You support him, too. I am stepping aside. Let each take his turn.
Each did take his turn, though Cocteau knew Brown better than all the boxing experts. He may have been guessing, but he got nearer the truth than those who thought they knew. For the first time since the Greeks, a poet and an athlete had followed the same road—and the people had not understood. So the circle of the boxing ring closed in on Al Brown, but it was no longer a charmed circle. The poet had disappeared.
For a time, however, Brown followed Cocteau's advice. He signed a six-month contract with the Amar circus, and under the vast construction of canvas and poles that had to be assembled and dismantled each day he took his place among the traveling folk. He became the great star of the circus. He boxed his own shadow and revealed the mysteries of his art to the public—his feints and the other techniques that made up his boxing skill.
When his contract with the brothers Amar ran out, friends advised Brown to leave France, where rumors of war were becoming more and more alarming. Brown followed their prudent suggestion and sailed for America at the beginning of 1939. He disembarked in New York, and settled in Harlem, where he tried without success to find an engagement in a nightclub for the act that had met with such success in the circus ring. And then some short telegrams from agent to agent were soon to reveal, in a few words, that Panama Al Brown had, in the end, not followed the counsels of Jean Cocteau. Perhaps he truly tried. Perhaps no club would book his act. Perhaps he had no choice but to return to boxing. Perhaps.