It is two years since Julius Helfand was tapped by New York's Governor Averell Harriman to preside over boxing's skull and bones as they whiten in the television desert. Until then Helfand had been a man of local reputation, known as a vigorous prosecutor of such simple delinquents as bribe-taking cops and cop-bribing racketeers. Since then, turning his investigative talents to a more subtle and devious world than even Brooklyn bookies know, he has become a national figure of justice and anger who has smitten boxing's unworthies hip and thigh. Only his name is unchanged among the innocents of Stillman's Gym. They still pronounce it "Hefflun."
The governor gave him, as they say, a challenging assignment. As chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission he was charged with maintaining—really creating—standards of probity in boxing and wrestling.
Now, so far as professional wrestling is concerned, no athletic commission since 1930 has bothered its pretty head about probity, and Helfand's has been no different. There is common consent that the job is impossible. At the time of Helfand's appointment a similar defeatism was settling over boxing. History was against him. Since the sport began the more spectacular hangers-on of boxing have been rascals, true adepts at circumventing commissions.
Willie (The Beard) Gilzenberg, shuffling along West 47th Street, chuckled through a snuffle. "What can Helfand do?" he asked. Willie, then a successful director of boxing at St. Nicholas Arena, is now doing business in New Jersey, having abandoned hope that he can do business in New York.
Willie pretty well summed up the situation at the time, though. Except in rare states like Minnesota, where boxing no longer is a major sport, the boxing commissions were little known and little respected. At best, the state commissions seemed merely ineffectual. At worst they seemed culpably unaware of obvious crookedness. The average commission seemed interested chiefly in attracting fights to pay taxes to pay commission salaries.
But when Helfand began his crusade some few governors were awakened to the situation and some few commissioners took heart. The face of boxing began to change, very much for the better. Willie Gilzenberg was one of the first to leave New York for states where the rules are less strict, but others have left town, too.
Not, however, without having had their noses rubbed in the hard-to-accept fact that Helfand meant business. He was one of the few commission chairmen since Jim Farley to take the job with serious intent. He is surely the first, since Farley instituted the no-foul rule, to throw confusion into the ranks of boxing's crooks.
The difficulties of Helfand's task were much more apparent than the possibilities. The commission he took over had been bamboozled by as audacious a group as was ever given to casual perjury, tyranny and subornation of victory. This has been a way of life in boxing for many years.
Helfand was confronted by a three-headed monopoly—the International Boxing Club ( James D. Norris, president), Frankie Carbo (mobster), and the local chapter of the International Boxing Guild, a managers' cartel ruled by a small clique that intended in time to take over all boxing everywhere.
As the new chairman drew a chair up to his new desk, he was advised that fixed fights were fairly common and uncommonly difficult to prove. More frequent and more obvious were mismatches, especially where a fake buildup was needed to develop fighters of promising television personality. Some TV fighters were successful for the same reason that some TV announcers were. They looked neat and clean. All that was needed was to provide them with winning ways. This was done.