Modern fight managers look back on the career of Leo P. Flynn with awe and, now and then, an attempt to imitate it. It isn't easy to do anymore, what with boxing commissions and new-fangled notions of ethics. A few of Flynn's breed survive—but the best place to look for his type is in some old Mark Hellinger movie on The Late Show, where a jowly, cigar-chewing character is watching his boy take an awful bruising in the ring with the calm of a man who knows that the gate is very good.
"Flynn was the greatest guy boxing ever had," says oldtimer Jersey Jones. "I mean all around—manager, promoter, matchmaker." Unlike most of his free-wheeling contemporaries, Flynn was a wealthy man when he died in 1930. He left behind him a legal estate estimated at half a million dollars and rumors of a safe containing $200,000 in $1,000 bills and a boxful of diamonds. He also left behind possibly the largest stable of fighters ever assembled by an American manager. Guesses on the number of pugilists who called Flynn their manager at any one period range from 30 all the way up to 50.
"I doubt if Leo knew himself," says Ray Arcel, who often trained Flynn's fighters. "I know that some of his fighters never even saw him."
Flynn was a manager in the true sense of the word. He did not cater to the whims of the young men who placed body and soul in his unsentimental hands. "No purse too small, no opponent too tough" was his motto. Flynn's fighters were in action somewhere every night in the week. On one Thanksgiving—so the story goes—19 of them fought in one town or another through the East and Midwest.
"More than half of them got stiffened, too," Flynn chuckled afterward.
He is said to have coined the expressions palooka and ham-donnie, to describe the earnest if inept young men who contributed to his wealth. A Flynn fighter was expected to know his place, and that place implied almost no personal contact with his manager—even at the moment of truth.
"He didn't work in his fighters' corners much in his later years," Arcel recalls. "But I remember he was there at a semifinal in the Garden when a boy got knocked cold. Leo never batted an eyelash. He just stared straight ahead and said to me in that deadpan way: 'Go in and get him.' "
The origins of the man, even of his name, are draped in obscurity. It is agreed that he came from Providence, R.I., but some oldtimers have said that his real name was McManus. Nevertheless, he became Leo P. Flynn early in life; the P stood for Parnell, he claimed. Certain skills came to him as easily as his name. In Providence he had been a jeweler's apprentice, a bricklayer and an amateur boxer. As a dancer of the cakewalk and other specialties of the time, he had acquired a number of prizes in dance competitions and a partner named Katherine. At 19, he married her, and together they went to New York.
"All I had was a carpetbag and a couple of bucks," he said afterward. "The latter belonged to Kate."
"The first time I ever heard of Flynn he was clipping suckers in the pool halls on 14th Street," a contemporary manager has said. But almost imperceptibly Flynn began to mingle with the boxing mob and, before anyone quite realized it, he had built himself a large stable of fighters.