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Pat Putnam
March 03, 1969
A lot of light heavyweights hear about scholar Eddie Spence and figure he'd be a pushover. Eddie teaches psychology and he sings, acts and plays the piano. But he also slugs people silly
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March 03, 1969

A Knock-out By A Brain-in

A lot of light heavyweights hear about scholar Eddie Spence and figure he'd be a pushover. Eddie teaches psychology and he sings, acts and plays the piano. But he also slugs people silly

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He's driving me up a wall," wailed Roger Sala, the fight manager out of Pittsfield, Mass. "When he climbs in a ring I don't know if he's gonna break out in an aria, recite Shakespeare or throw punches. One time I'm telling him something in the gym and he's not listening. Then he looks up and says, 'You know, Roger, I was just thinking that, whereas the Fechnerian argument makes sensory magnitude a logarithmic function of the stimulus magnitude, the newer methods of direct estimation indicate that it should be a power function—S equals kMn, where k and n are constants, for any particular sense modality.' I know that's what he said because I made him write it down."

"And later," said Edward James Spence III, who is paying his way toward a master's degree in psychology by raising lumps on other people's heads and was putting his manager on, "Roger asked me who the hell Fechnerian ever fought?"

For one, Fechnerian never fought Six-to Martinez, a tough graduate of the streets of San Juan. Spence knocked out Sixto inside of two rounds several weeks ago in North Adams, Mass. It was his 33rd victory in 39 pro fights and required only three smashing left hooks: one to the stomach followed by two to the head. After a second knockdown Referee Ed Bradley didn't bother to count. Spence may not be the most artistic of boxers, but then no one ever belittled Marciano for not fighting like, say, Sugar Ray Robinson. A month earlier Spence had scored a relatively easy 10-round decision in Portland over Pete Riccitelli, a strong journeyman Maine light heavyweight. Spence had him down four times. "You gotta understand," says Sala, "nobody knocks Pete off his feet."

"Eddie sure as heck doesn't look like a fighter," says Sam Silverman, the New England promoter. "Other fighters listen to him talk and they figure they've got a real pushover. I've got light heavyweights lined up for two blocks trying to get a shot at him."

As a fighter Spence looks more like a, well, a 26-year-old dean's-list scholar who is about to get his master's in psychology. A baby-faced scholar with a chest melting straight down into his stomach and sitting on a pair of swizzle sticks. Usually he carries black-and-blue marks under both eyes because he can be bruised by a cough, and that can be embarrassing, for at the moment he is rehearsing for the male lead in the play The Knack, which is scheduled to open in Pittsfield early next month. He is playing the role of Tolen, a highly sophisticated lover with a knack for collecting girl friends.

"Which is a paradoxical role for me," he says, "because I tend not to get too involved with women. Most of them aren't too bright. You explain your way of thinking to a lot of girls and they shut the door; you can't communicate with them. Sometimes I'm a terrible person: I find myself throwing them out of my house."

The house is a $45-a-month seven-room farmhouse, just beyond the reach (and understanding) of Pittsfield, which he shares with Paul Barbeau, a ski instructor, and sometimes with Tommy Patti, a New York City artist, who painted the place in solid reds and greens and dark browns and blacks. Patti used Day-Glo paint in one room, then set the whole thing off under a flashing black light. Spence made him change it. "It was blowing everybody's mind," Spence said. "It was very pale and it made everybody look sick. I guess I'm the conservative type."

Except for a few close friends, Spence is a loner. His mother and father were divorced when he was very young, and he remembers himself as a lonely child, but not necessarily an unhappy one, with a great facility for opening soup cans. "And a facility for nothing else," he says. "In high school," says a former classmate, "Eddie was nothing, a big zero."

"I look upon myself as someone who was born when he was 17 years old," Spence says. "Before that my life was, well, nothing happened. Very dull. But I don't believe my early years have any effect upon my thinking or my actions now. I don't believe in Freud. I believe in the autonomous motivation of an adult. I look back upon my childhood and I understand it; therefore, I can dismiss it. Just because I react one way to a situation now doesn't mean I can't react another way to the same situation in the future."

The people of Pittsfield look upon Spence with a somewhat jaundiced eye. It is a small New England community—as exciting as a cemetery, says Spence—and those who choose to think for themselves are viewed with considerable suspicion. "Eddie won't accept theories," says Sala, who long ago gave up trying to stereotype his intellectual. "He demands facts. He likes to do his road-work at night. I told him this was bad, that he should run in the morning. He likes to go to bed late. I told him that every hour before midnight was worth two after. He laughs at me. Oh, hell."

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