Dixon didn't have to fight anybody while Fat City was being made. Neither, by any means, did white-haired Sammy Stein, but he remembered rowdier days. Stein plays the movie ring announcer, a role he often fills in real life around San Francisco. Between takes he reminisced: "I started thinking about being an announcer when I was 17. I bought one of these small intercoms, cost $1.50. I put one end in the next room and talked into the other, and I said, 'The University of California.' It sounded pretty good. The U...ni...ver...si...teee of Cal...if...or...nia. Very good."
And Al Silvani—when he wasn't coaching a fight scene or conferring with Huston about how authentic the punches were looking—told about how he came within an inch of punching out a sensei on the set of The Manchurian Candidate to prove a point about boxing. Silvani never fought professionally but he has taught Paul Newman, the Thai army, Elvis Presley (for Kid Galahad) and Barbra Streisand how to box. (The Streisand lessons were just to pass the time during the filming of Funny Girl.) So Silvani knows what he is talking about when he says, "There is a definite art to taking a punch with your eyes open and looking to see what you're going to do next. Because it's a shock (he slaps himself unexpectedly in the face with a huge hand, causing three people nearby to start) to get hit in the face, and your first reaction is to flinch. That's why a boxer can always take a karate or a judo man. When we were making The Manchurian Candidate, this guy said his karate instructor could take seven guys throwing punches. I said I didn't know about seven guys, but I could take him. So a few days later this professor shows up. So I say, 'You won't hurt me, and I won't hurt you, but we'll just see how it would go.' So we got out there and I gave it this"—he feinted—"and he tensed up, and I had an opening."
Fat City was a remarkably realistic film, Silvani said, because "this is the first fight film where nobody takes a dive, nobody's got a gun to anybody's head. All the fights I was involved in, nobody had a gun to anybody's head. And the only time somebody will throw a fight is like this: during the war I had Tami Mauriello. Joe Louis was in the Army so Mauriello was very big. So the promoter in some tank town would call up and say, 'We want Mauriello and you can pick your opponent.' Well, Mauriello had been messing around, not training—he was out of shape. So what am I going to do—take somebody along who's going to knock his head off? So you find somebody and say, 'Tami is out of shape, he can go about two or three rounds, then you lay down.' Or you've got a good kid you're bringing along, and you want him to learn his moves, you don't want him to get beat. But that's just in tank towns."
Probably the snappiest fighter-talker on hand was Aragon, who handed out his bail-bond business cards reading, "I'll get you out if it takes 10 years," and who told about such fighters as the one who "was a great boxer, but he had bad hands. The referee kept stepping on them." Aragon went on: "When I retired, Jim Healy, the radio announcer in L.A., said, ' Art Aragon cleaned up boxing in California today. He quit.' " For a while Aragon read Guys and Dolls on the set and then he started carrying around a volume entitled
California Appellate Reports 2nd Series, 154, 1957. Appendix—California Supplement, which contained the appellate court's opinion on People vs. Aragon
. This was the case in which it was charged that when Aragon was third-ranked welterweight "he did, in substance, about Dec. 7, 1956, unlawfully offer to give a sum of money to Dick Goldstein with the intention and understanding that Goldstein would not use his best efforts to win a certain boxing contest, in which contest each of them was to participate, and with the further understanding that Goldstein would so conduct himself as to assist and enable Aragon to win the boxing event." A lower court's guilty verdict was overturned by the appellate division on procedural grounds.
"When I was 19 or 20," said Aragon, "I was in a picture with Bob Hope and Mickey Rooney—Off Limits. I played myself, Art Aragon, champion of the Navy, and Rooney played the champion of the Army. Biggest mistake of my life. I was supposed to miss him by half an inch—I hit him on the chin. Held up the movie two weeks. Couple of hours he couldn't talk. That was the last movie fight scene I was in. Word gets around."
That was the problem on Sixto Rodriguez' mind when he was trying to make his fight scenes with Keach realistic. "I tell him, 'Go ahead and hit me to the body,' " Sixto said, "and he says, 'You do the same.' I tell him no. I want to do well in this picture. Maybe it will lead to something else."
Rodriguez' life has so far led, if not exactly to Fat City, at least out of boxing (he couldn't get Archie Moore or Willie Pastrano to give him a title shot) and into ownership of a Texaco station. He also lives an enviably warm family life with the former Jackie Dempsey and their two children; one, who is 2�, can chin himself, and the other, 7�, is planning to take his father's leftover scars to school for show-and-tell. (Makeup man Young uses a special plastic for his applied scars. He makes them up in advance and keeps them in a Lucite box marked "Scars.")
Sixto was probably the best-liked person on the set, and he had no interest in causing any movie people to suffer. But one night Author Gardner, Ruben Navarro and Bob Dixon had been out all afternoon drinking and carrying on, and when Gardner came back to the Holiday Inn he apparently thought he was one of his characters. Gardner is as spare (6 feet, 147 pounds) and as low-keyed as his prose style, but he is tenacious. "When I'm writing," he declared one night, "I'm like the guy who wants to do 100 pull-ups and can only do 10, but he's still hanging on to the bar."
Anyway, this was the same night Navarro cracked Walker's bridgework. Rodriguez was among those standing around the pool, watching. And Gardner started moving in on Sixto—who kept protesting, "No, I don't do that." Gardner kept advancing, throwing open hands. Finally Sixto responded with three quick open hands to the body. "Leonard didn't back up," reported Dixon later. "Leonard was pretty keen. He's fiery, to be 38 years old. But Leonard did stop."
"Man, what were you doing?" Navarro asked Gardner. "Even I wouldn't do that."