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CAMPING OUT WITH THE CHAMP
Milton Gross
November 07, 1966
A onetime pennypincher, Middleweight Champion Emile Griffith has become boxing's classic soft touch and the prime support of his sisters, his cousins and his mama. Most often, though, he hides away in a flossy pad that belies the harsh realities of his trade
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November 07, 1966

Camping Out With The Champ

A onetime pennypincher, Middleweight Champion Emile Griffith has become boxing's classic soft touch and the prime support of his sisters, his cousins and his mama. Most often, though, he hides away in a flossy pad that belies the harsh realities of his trade

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The wall-to-wall carpet in poinsettia red is what first strikes you when you enter the living room of Emile Griffith's apartment. Then the cupids decorating the wall and the delicate furniture: the twin French Provincial tufted couches, the spindly-legged end table supporting a pink Princess telephone. Go into the bedroom, and it is both different and the same. It begins with a $400 circular bed eight feet in diameter. The bed is dominated by a headboard that radiates toward the ceiling like a Renaissance crown. The style is parvenu modern, or, in the hip phrase, high camp. Everything was bought personally by Griffith, the middleweight champion of the world.

Lady, a 6-month-old Doberman pinscher, whines from the bathroom. Don Achilles, a white poodle, barks from the kitchen. (Don recently had his hair shorn. Griffith, who did not care for the styling, spent three hours with a pair of shears carefully recasting his dog's image.) But Griffith does not notice the dogs. He is singing:

She brings out the tiger in me
And she makes me feel like a man.

It is one of several numbers Benny Benjamin has written for Griffith to use in a TV act.

Gil Clancy, the champion's co-manager, is also in the apartment, but he is less impressed with Griffith's singing than with the exigencies of the future. "You got to run over the weekend, remember," he says. Clancy once was known as "One Eye" in the tough Irish neighborhood in Rockaway Beach, N.Y. where he was brought up. The one eye glistens. It incites Griffith.

"I'll run. I'll run. Don't worry about me, Clahncy," he says, his voice rising in pitch, the words running together in heightened calypso cadence. "But now I've got to practice my singing. The recording session's on Tuesday."

"I don't like it here. It's too quiet," says Gloria, Griffith's widowed 25-year-old sister. She is the second oldest of eight Griffith children, the mother of five children of her own, and she is visiting in the apartment.

"They're like steps," says Griffith in glee, his hand counting down the steps. "Eight years old, 7, 6, 4 and 3."

Quiet is hardly the word. Griffith is picking up the beat; his fingers snap as he resumes his voice practice. The dogs grow louder. In the background Lindsey Nelson's commentary on a Mets-Reds game coming from a color TV set is fighting a losing battle with two stereo speakers blaring out something that resembles the Tijuana Brass. As he sings, Griffith bobs and weaves around the room in a boogaloo dance step.

"My pad," as Griffith always calls his apartment, is just across the Hudson River from Manhattan in Weehawken, N.J., and when the wall-to-wall drawstring drapes are pulled open the Empire State Building seems to reach into the living room. It took Griffith five months and $10,000 to furnish the pad. Two closets are filled with tailor-made clothes and boxing equipment. Drawers are littered with unanswered letters, boxes of jewelry and haberdashery.

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