THE SHORT, SECRET LIFE OF GERALD FIDELMAN
"My true name is Ross Eugene Fields." With those words, uttered last week in a Los Angeles courtroom, the boxing promoter hitherto known as Harold J. Smith broke down and cried. Arrested two days earlier in a motor home near Dodger Stadium, Smith—or, rather, Fields—was described in court by federal prosecutors as a "fugitive bad-check and bunco artist" who had left a trail of 100 bogus checks across 30 states. Authorities also said that the woman living as his wife under the name Barbara Newman Smith was an accomplice whose real name was Alice Vicki Darrow.
Fields' arrest—Darrow was still at large—came nine weeks after " Smith's" disappearance following accusations that his organization, Muhammad Ali Professional Sports, had taken part in a $21.3 million embezzlement at Wells Fargo Bank. Smith had admitted owing the bank at least $8 million but said the debt was a legitimate loan he intended to pay back with proceeds from an elaborate boxing card scheduled for Feb. 23 at Madison Square Garden. That show was canceled after the disappearance of Smith, who had been known for his free-spending ways—not only in boxing but also as a benefactor of track and field athletes.
Smith's reputation for generosity contrasts sharply with Fields' image as a deadbeat. Fields was on the track team at American University in Washington, D.C. in the 1960s—he was a member of a mile-relay team that won an IC4A indoor title—and after dropping out of school, he somehow wangled permission to use Sammy Davis Jr.'s name on a discotheque he operated in Washington before turning to the promotion of closed-circuit boxing shows. Hit with several bad-check charges, he left Washington. Federal warrants were later issued for both Fields and Darrow. A 1976 FBI poster listing them as fugitives indicated that Darrow had used a dozen or more aliases. Fields' aliases were fewer but memorable. A black, he was said to have passed himself off as both Gerald Fidelman and Gerald Tishman.
Authorities say Fields took the name Harold J. Smith from a birth certificate issued in North Carolina for a white male. " Smith" went big time four years ago by getting permission to use Muhammad Ali's name on promotions—just as he had ingratiated himself with Sammy Davis Jr. By contrast with the fast-talking, smooth-skinned Fields, Smith was bearded and had a manner associates describe as "laid-back." He was also 50 pounds heavier than Fields had been. It was learned last week that Smith shaved off his beard upon his disappearance in January and insisted on wearing false whiskers during a TV interview he gave while in hiding.
Fields failed to make $355,000 bond on federal charges of falsifying a passport application and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution; he also faces possible extradition to North Carolina on state warrants for writing bad checks. His attorney, Jennifer L. King, was also indicted in the case on charges of obstructing justice and lying to a grand jury.
The revelation that Harold Smith was really Ross Fields drew expressions of astonishment from, among others, Stanford Track Coach Brooks Johnson, who said he may have seen Smith at meets but never associated him with the Ross Fields he had helped recruit for American University in the '60s. Johnson told SI's Brooks Clark that "there was just no way to hook up the two." But Johnson added that Fields and Smith did share one characteristic. Indisputably, he said, both were "highly motivated individuals."
THE BROWN BOMBER
Just 14 hours before he died of a heart attack Sunday at the age of 66, Joe Louis sat at ringside at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, a frail but attentive spectator at the WBC heavyweight title fight between Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick. Louis was introduced to the crowd, acknowledging its applause with a practiced wave, and then watched as Holmes outclassed his foe but couldn't put him away. It must have occurred to more than one onlooker that Louis, a vaunted puncher, would have had no such difficulty in the same situation.
Besides a devastating left hand and a reputation as a finisher—as world heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1949 he defended his crown 25 times, scoring 21 knockouts—Louis distinguished himself by conveying a sense of decency and order during a chaotic period of history marked by institutionalized racial bigotry, economic depression and global war. Knocked out in 1936 by Max Schmeling, who was rightly or wrongly regarded as a symbol of Hitler's Germany, Louis made no excuses, but instead avenged himself by knocking out Schmeling in the first round of their rematch two years later. In much the same way, he voiced few complaints about the marital, financial and physical problems that beset him later on. By maintaining his dignity through it all, even while confined to a wheelchair, Louis inspired some of the same awe that he did when he was relentlessly stalking one foe or another during the dozen years he ruled the ring.