The most controversial football story of the year broke last month when Ronnie Knox, star freshman quarterback in 1953 and previously a high school All-American, abruptly transferred from the University of California to U.C.L.A. The action cost young Knox a year of eligibility and brought charges that Ronnie's stepfather, Harvey Othel Knox, a handsome ex-haberdasher, was attempting to exploit the boy. Harvey was accused of interfering with Ronnie's coaches, of counseling other players to sell their services dearly and of making extreme monetary demands on the university. Now, for the first time, Harvey Knox tells In his own words his own side of the story.
First off, let me say that I am familiar with most of the charges made against me and Ronnie. We have been called the "Migratory Knoxes" and have been painted as a couple of Ozark hillbillies careening along the road, hawking our football wares. I've been charged with not only ruining Ronnie's football career but also his life. But Ronnie said to me, "Dad, why don't you be the hero of this story instead of the heel the papers make you out?" I think that's pretty good advice, and I always act on good advice. So let's begin at the beginning.
About me: I guess I'm what you might call a cynic. I've seen a lot of life, from an Arkansas orphanage to the finest haberdashery store in Hollywood, which I built up myself and lost myself. I've been around enough to know you don't get something for nothing. I also know that a lot of people try.
A PRETTY GOOD LOOK
I got wise to football scholarships as a kid, when I got one at Ouachita Baptist College. I won't say I was fooled at Ouachita. Let's say I wasn't pleased. I had set a state pass-catching record in high school. But at Ouachita I had to wait on tables three times a day. I had to break off practice at 4:30 every afternoon. The coach never got a square look at me. And when I transferred to the University of Arkansas I wasn't any better off. I quit college in my third year and by then I'd got a pretty good look at the way college athletics were working. I made a vow then that if I ever had a son who was a good football player I would see to it that he never got a fleecing. This vow lives.
I married Ronnie's mother in 1942. She had a daughter, Patricia, who was two years older than Ronnie, who was seven then. Pappy Waldorf, the coach at California, has been quoted as saying, "It looks like Harvey's only business is managing his kids." The way he says it, it sounds like something dishonest. Well, I'd like to tell you how I got my daughter Pat a movie contract at the age of fifteen.
She was going to Beverly Hills High School at the time and she got the lead in a couple of plays. I dropped over to watch rehearsals. I saw something in Patricia. I went to work.
In Hollywood, that which they can't see and can't have, they can't live without. I got a school cop stationed at the door of the auditorium "to keep talent scouts off." Up to then, the talent scouts hadn't heard of Pat. But the school authorities didn't know that; I told them they were pestering her.
Pretty soon the agents were trying to sneak into rehearsals. One day Billy Gordon rings me up, the talent scout for 20th Century-Fox. Patricia got a contract, $150 a week, with yearly options. A year later, when she went down to court to get her contract approved (you have to do that with minors according to California law), she found she was taking a salary dip?to $125 a week. Fox had done nothing with her.
So I dressed Patsy up in a glamour dress and went to court with her. I informed the photographers, "Boys, I don't know who she is but there's some girl upstairs who is the most gorgeous doll I ever saw." I nearly got trampled in the rush. Patsy made page one all over town. A very big producer spotted her and a little later he put Pat under personal contract, which she is to this day. If helping your kids isn't a career, what the hell is it?