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"Pushed-in nose," agreed Aragon. "He looks good."
As for Rodriguez, his nose is folded over to one side, like a Picasso's. When makeup man Jack Young saw it, he said, "Your nose is perfect! I don't want to touch it!" Young should know, being not only a blood-and-scar technician of some note (who wouldn't reveal the base for his blood solution except to say that "it's edible on pancakes—in fact, I think I'll order pancakes tomorrow in the coffee shop, pour some of this blood on them and see what people say"), but also a former Golden Gloves champion with no bone left in his nose.
"Fighters' noses all used to be flat," observed Assistant Director Al Silvani, formerly Frank Sinatra's bodyguard, and an established fight trainer and fight-movie consultant. "All the bone would be taken out so it wouldn't splinter and cause bleeding."
Fat City, which will be released in May by Columbia Pictures and Rastar Productions, is about more than boxing. Its characters represent an entire stratum of people—winos, gas-station attendants, onion-toppers, a "taciturn black upholsterer" played by former welterweight champion Curtis Cokes—who have had more taken out of them than nasal bone and who are never going to make it to the sweet life symbolized in the title. Most of the film's action occurs on the small-time fight scene—boxing being what Tully and Munger hope will carry them to Fat City. And on-cam-era stuff aside, the movie's bringing together of so many real and simulated fighters gave rise to a wealth of fight talk, and even a few fleeting fights. It was a wonder no noses were broken.
Huston had some good fight stories to tell, and he almost got caught with an unscheduled punch. "When I was a boy in Los Angeles," he said, "my heroes were boxers: Jackie Fields, Fidel [pronounced Fiddle] La Barba, Baby Joe Gans, Dynamite Young George, Joe Schlocker, Georgie Levine, Ace Hudkins, Sergeant Sammy Baker....My father took me to see the Dempsey-Firpo fight, which was the greatest thing that could happen to a kid. And after I had been fighting some myself, I went to New York to see my father in a play. This was in the late '20s, and hoods [pronounced by Huston to rhyme with "foods"] were trying to move into the theater world. I went into my father's dressing room and he said, 'John, there's a man outside who's giving me a little trouble. I think he's one of those hoods.' I was full of myself then, so I jumped up and went outside, ready to do something. And there stood Jack Dempsey."
Needless to say, Huston did not mix it up with Walter Huston's friend, the Manassa Mauler, but in Stockton the director of The Maltese Falcon and The Red Badge of Courage and a star in Candy and Myra Breckinridge was almost decked by a nonentity. Stockton is currently undergoing urban renewal and chamber-of-commerce promotion, but patches survive of what used to be—at least according to the boasts of some of the more raffish Stocktonites—the biggest skid row west of Chicago. Washington Square in the center of town is still bestrewn with about as many semiagricultural drifters, dozing or drinking wine, as were found murdered and buried last May in Yuba City, 80 miles away. Huston and Keach were standing in a skid-row doorway going over a scene when one such individual materialized and snatched away the satchel held by Keach. When the bag had been retrieved and the scene shot, Huston ran after the man to offer him a couple of dollars. When tapped on the shoulder, however, the drifter whirled and just missed Huston with a roundhouse right.
Billy Walker also was involved in some tense moments. Walker, a tall, unmarked, high-Afroed welterweight, is a 30-year-old Stockton resident who is desperate to build a professional ring career after seven years in Soledad Prison, where he was both welterweight and middleweight champion. Walker's prospects have improved somewhat since the summer—he has had a couple of successful fights in Arizona—and Huston has been trying to make a match for him in Los Angeles. But when he was picked to play a minor boxing role in the film he was suffering from a reputation as a dangerous fighter (some said a dirty one) as well as a cutie who was likely to beat most anybody's boy but didn't have enough of a name, thanks to the seven years out of circulation, to make beating him worthwhile. He was getting less than one fight a month, never for more than $400, so he wasn't making much of a living. Then the movie came along and, ironically, Walker's role was to fake a fight with a local kid who had never boxed before and to make it look close. "I finally get into the ring and then I can't hit the guy," he said. "It's frustrating. Well, I hit him once. I didn't turn it over. I just slapped him. Almost tore his head off."
While the film company was in town, Walker had brushes with two fighters. One evening a series of popping noises resounded around the pool of the Holiday Inn. It was Walker and 24-year-old Ruben Navarro, once the top-ranked junior lightweight contender and hero of the Los Angeles Mexican-American population, who makes a couple of brief appearances in the film. The two got to sparring a little and generating some heat. It ended when Navarro cracked Walker's bridgework with his open hand. Then there was the taping session matching Walker and fifth-ranked welterweight Hedgemon Lewis. There had been talk of a movie-colony match between Walker and Lewis, which would have been a great break for Walker. But this session was solely for the purpose of recording some convincing thunks, to be dubbed into the soundtrack at appropriate moments. Lewis was almost stolid; Walker put more into it. He came on in his sidling-bristling style, his torso switching like a cat's tail, his eyes and mouth grimacing electrically. The two were concentrating hard on throwing undamaging punches to each other's gloves and arms. "Cut the voice," the sound man said when Walker started groaning—apparently with the effort of restraint. Still, the thunks didn't sound right. They tried Lewis hitting bare-handed into Walker's gloves, but that didn't work either. Finally they got the right sound from Lewis, gloved, hitting Al Silvani's bare hands. Walker got back into his robe, still twitching and jumping.
One of those watching was Bob Dixon, 50, a wizened ex-lightweight from Los Angeles, whose face has the texture of a much-abused boxing glove and whose voice is full of shattered glass. Rastar Productions found Dixon in a Stockton unemployment office and hired him to play a lettuce weeder who tells Tully, when the latter also is reduced to lettuce weeding, how wine and roses cost him a wife. Dixon hasn't fought in a ring since 1949, the year he got his first shot at a big purse. As he tells it, he was offered $3,000 to box in Canada under an assumed name. For such an opportunity he took the cast off a broken right arm, figuring he could get by without using his right hand. He won the decision, but had to throw a couple of rights in the process, and after the fight his arm was swollen monstrously. He couldn't go to a doctor because he was afraid the boxing commission would get wind of his using the phony name. So he got a friend to put a cast on over the swelling. When the plaster came off, the arm was frozen at the elbow in the position it remains in today, bent as if for jogging. Dixon wasn't much of a fighter after that.
"I get a government pension, from shrapnel in the war, so it really doesn't matter," he said. "But I'da probably been way up there. Ike Williams, he liked me. Because I was little and cocky. A little old lick didn't hurt too much, but you had to hit and not get hit, then counter good and drop the stud. But I started to drink a little bit. Got asthma. I'll go to the gym and fool around now. But I ain't got any gas."