Unlike Melville, most managers remain mute concerning Aileen Eaton. All managers must deal with her eventually, and in California, where there are more desperate and busted managers than anywhere else, they need The Woman if they are to survive. Survival comes in the form of a loan—$100, $300—and if and when the manager comes up with an interesting fighter, Aileen, smiling and charming, just reaches out like a giant squid and uses the boy without having to tolerate the usual preliminary gas from the manager. Says one: "When things get bad, I call her number in L.A. collect. I'm in bad shape and I say, 'I've got to have $500.' She says, 'You'll take $300.' She beats your brains out, I'll tell the world, but you get the money."
"Take this incident," says another manager. "There's this retired businessman who now manages fighters, and be also has a reputation for saving a buck. Well, the other day he tries to drive his car into the exit line of the coin parking lot outside the Olympic. Now, he's going the wrong way, maybe to save a few cents, see. Well, they've got these spikes, and they rip through two of his tires. He goes up to The Woman's office to see if she's got insurance for her parking gate. Hah! 'No,' she says, lookin' at him like he's crazy, 'but if your car is still there I'd appreciate the 50 cents.' "
"Sure," says Melville, secretly admiring her unruffled manner and boxing acumen, "she has the face of a rock, but she's not all rock. Just recently I go back to my room and all of a sudden I'm dying. I can't move one of my legs. Who do I call? Nobody's up at this hour. Who's gonna help? Another fight manager? So I call Aileen. 'Aileen,' I says, 'I'm dyin'. I got to get to a hospital.' So she says, 'You ought to die, Melville, you're such a liar.' I say that I know all of that but she was the only one I could turn to. 'That's all right,' she says. 'I had to get up and turn the television off anyway.' So she gets somebody to pick me up and then pays all the bills. She's not all rock."
One guesses that often, perhaps more than ever before, she is relieved at those times when she is away from boxing, that she even is embarrassed that she is in the sport. She appears to have a deep contempt for the people she has to deal with, for those who have eroded The Lady she dreamed of in some long-ago time. "I am a lady away from boxing," she repeats often, as if no one really believes it. She is, though, fond of fighters, many of whom she consoles with a kiss on the cheek when she is not prodding them in an effort to help them capitalize on their short, violent careers in a sport not notable for any form of almsgiving.
Violence does not jar her, but its aftermath does. If a fighter is hurt, she will not leave the hospital until he is cleared by a neurologist. When Davey Moore was killed in 1963, she made all the mortuary arrangements and generally conducted herself like the stand-up person many insist she is. Although she never appears hurt by any comment, she does wince when someone quotes a line circulating around L.A., which goes: "Aileen said Davey Moore wasn't hurt. 'Oh,' she said, 'he just has a broken nose." Yeah, and Paret died of pneumonia."
Whether there is any truth or not in the line, Aileen Eaton is, as one manager put it, "very unstupid." Her weekly boxing shows gross close to $1 million each year, and her wrestling shows, directed by her son Mike, do better yet. Even in her youth there were never any real problems, financial or domestic, unless you count the flutist who lived in her father's apartment house; he never did understand the meaning of pianissimo and often in her father's musical seances he sounded like he was in the front rank of an American Legion band. The apartment in Vancouver, B.C., the town in which Aileen was born to a Polish refugee father and a New Zealand mother, was warm and alive. "It was a happy life," says Aileen, "and a fine place for a little girl."
She would not always enjoy such solvency or happiness. Eventually her parents, who had taken to wintering in California, moved to Los Angeles. Aileen married Maurice LeBell after graduation from high school. Her husband became an osteopath, but she wanted a career of her own. She went to work in a law office and in the evenings studied law. When Mike became ill—there was another son, Gene, and later a stepson, Bob Eaton—she reluctantly chose to quit school. Her husband, paralyzed after a near drowning, died in 1941. Aileen was forced to start scrambling for a living, not any living, she decided, but a profitable one.
"We had no social security," she says, "and we didn't carry the insurance people do today. I had nothing left to take care of the children with. I finally put them in California Military Academy on a trade deal. I handled the academy's advertising in exchange for room and board for the boys."
It was through advertising that Aileen got into boxing. She landed an account with the owner of the Los Angeles Athletic Club, who also had the Olympic Auditorium. The promoter to whom the Olympic was leased was not doing well, and the Athletic Club had to support the arena. Aileen moved quickly. She brought the Olympic owner together with one Cal Eaton, who was an inspector for the state athletic commission. Eaton, a cultured Clifton Webb caricature who wore a thin mustache and his hat tilted at just the right angle, became the boxing promoter. Eaton divorced his wife in 1947, and he and Aileen married two years later.
The Eatons, along with Matchmaker Babe McCoy, cut up a lot of money together, despite the fact the '50s were dominated by Jim Norris' International Boxing Club, sometimes known as Octopus, Inc., and the now incarcerated Frankie Carbo, known variously as Mr. Gray, The Man or The Traveling Salesman. Everybody bought from The Salesman. In the mid-'50s the Cox investigation revealed Los Angeles to be a back-alley slum of boxing. McCoy, because of blatant chicanery and thievery, was in trouble. A beach ball of a man, vengeful and vicious, he hated and liked certain people with great excess. Though he had once been fond of Aileen, he went to his grave hating her, claiming that she and her husband Cal had tossed him to the wolves and that they never did honor a deal that sliced him in on part of the play at the Olympic after his enforced retirement. "I loved Babe," says Aileen. "I paid a lot of his attorney's fees and loaned him money. Why would he hate me?"