A VICTORY FOR HELFAND—AND THE PUBLIC INTEREST
The triple entente which has ruled boxing—the International Boxing Club ( James D. Norris, president), the International Boxing Guild ( Charley Johnston, president) and the Syndicate ( Frankie Carbo, president of boxing)—has split asunder. In less than one eventful week, a boxing commissioner who dared to use his powers of office as no predecessor ever had done has forced realignment of what had been considered an impregnable bulwark against decency in the sport. At the end of that week the wall was crumbling.
The man who did it was Julius Helfand, appointed chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission shortly after SI began its report on boxing's dirty business. His orders from Governor Averell Harriman: clean up boxing. His unique and simple weapon: the law of the state.
A few weeks ago (SI, Dec. 19) Helfand attacked a main prop of the three-legged entente. He declared that after January 15 any fight manager who belonged to the Boxing Guild of New York, an affiliate of the International, would lose his license. The Guild, he ruled and proved, was a "malevolent influence" on boxing.
The Guild's typical, predictable response was to meet in secret and to vote ("not unanimously but 100%," as Charley Johnston put it) to boycott boxing in New York. The emptiness of the threat echoed in hollow harmony with the heads of the managers, who had let themselves be organized into a state of total subjection to the entente. Very few New Yorkers attend fights in person any more. They see them on TV, like fans in every other state, and, though boxing might move elsewhere, TV sets would still operate in New York. The treasury of New York State takes only a pittance from boxing revenues. Who, then, was alarmed by the Guild threat?
Jim Norris was. He is not only the principal landlord of Madison Square Garden—and likes to keep it busy—but his Garden also makes the most efficient and popular TV fight locale. As Norris brooded on this contretemps in Miami, a modest rival promoter, the London Sporting Club (Tex Sullivan, president), announced it would fulfill TV commitments by moving its shows from New York to Baltimore. And, oddly, the Maryland boxing commission, whose Chairman J. Marshall Boone had been first to proclaim in tones as loud as his fancy vests that he would back Helfand, voted to accept the transfer, with Boone abstaining but not complaining. The Baltimore shows would be promoted locally by Benny Trotta, a draft dodger, bookmaker and friend of Carbo. Carbo had, indeed, been reported in Baltimore no less than four times during the preceding two weeks, completing arrangements for the transfer.
To this development there were simultaneous reactions from Maryland's governor, Theodore R. McKeldin, from Helfand and from Jim Norris. McKeldin ordered an investigation of boxing in his state and called the Maryland boxing commission to Annapolis for a summary report. Baltimore Police Inspector Clarence O. Forrester sped to New York to investigate and filed a confidential report to the governor. Helfand called public attention to the criminal records of Trotta and his associate, Angelo Munafo (who had kept a tavern with prostitutes as waitresses). They were, he said, henchmen of Carbo. Their records alone, he said, would endanger the New York licenses of Tex Sullivan and his partner, Willie (The Beard) Gilzenberg.
As for Jim Norris, he was suddenly asking if he couldn't please see Mr. Helfand real soon. He boarded a plane in Miami and flew to Canossa. He waited on Mr. Helfand at the commission offices and listened with downcast eye-bags as the commissioner punched home the facts of life about the boxing racket, now that the law is in command. With Norris were Truman Gibson Jr., IBC secretary, and Harry Markson, IBC's director of boxing in New York. They made a solemn little grouping. The commissioner directed his remarks to Norris, who mostly listened. Neither Gibson nor Markson had much to contribute.
As Helfand outlined to the IBC the new philosophy of boxing in New York, Governor McKeldin was duck shooting on Maryland's Eastern Shore but two of his aides were talking firmly to the state's three boxing commissioners. The commissioners returned to Baltimore and reversed themselves. The London Sporting Club would not put on fights in Maryland after all.
Jim Norris hustled from Helfand's office and into a press conference. With some $2,500,000 in TV fees at stake he had a decision to make and he made it. He announced that he would cooperate 100% with Helfand, and the Guild could take the hindmost. The IBC would continue to promote fights in New York. As to Helfand, Norris paid him tribute.