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Close Encounters With Jack Dempsey

(Jack Dempsey oil painting by LeRoy Neiman.)

By Scoop Malinowski

A hundred years ago Jack Dempsey was the world’s Heavyweight Champion and one of the most famous, popular figures on the planet. Today, most people don’t even know who Jack Dempsey was. So I did this collection of memories from boxing world figures who actually encountered the one and only sporting icon. (Read the Jack Dempsey Biofile done via his wife Deanna here.)

J. Russell Peltz: Who would have thought that the fifteen year old geek from Philadelphia would meet the legendary Jack Dempsey at his New York restaurant in 1962. My synagogue confirmation class in 10th grade went by bus to New York to visit different places of worship. When it was time for dinner, I convinced our teacher that we should eat at Jack Dempsey’s. Of course, when I heard the champ was there, I had my picture taken with him. I can’t remember what I paid, but they developed the photo while we ate. On the bus ride back to Philly, I sat next to the hottest girl in the class, remember, this was 1962, but all I did on the 90-minute ride home was stare at the black-and-white photo. It’s a bit fuzzy because I had it framed years ago and I took a photo of it through the glass frame.

Wallace Matthews:  I did not (meet Jack) but wish I had. When I was very young my grandmother pointed him out in the window of his restaurant after we left the circus at the old Madison Square Garden. He waved to us. I had no idea who he was. Jack Dempsey is my favorite old-time fighter and not meeting him is one of the biggest regrets of my professional life. He died when I was still in college.

Tyrone Monaghan: My Dad had dinner with the great Jack Dempsey, his wife Deanna and her daughter Barbara in Jack’s restaurant, Broadway, New York. The following evening he was in Madison Square Garden in Muhammad Ali’s corner when he fought Smokin’ Joe Frazier in “Super Fight II”. Jack Dempsey signed a few post cards and menus and gave them to my dad. The following day Deanna gave my dad a special present from Jack, it was a large envelope, inside were two of Jack Dempsey menus signed by Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. It’s about time I got them mounted and framed.

Jack was telling my dad he will have to close the restaurant because the landlady was asking too much rent. He told my dad the landlady was the Queen of England and she owned most of the expensive restaurants in Broadway down to the cheap clip joints.

LeRoy Neiman: Jack Dempsey used to come visit me in my studio (on West 67th Street in NYC). He told me when he first came to New York City as a young fighter, he slept on the benches in Central Park. Then years later he had an apartment overlooking Central Park. When Mike Tyson would come to visit me here, he loved Jack, he would ask me, “What would Jack talk about?”

Arthur Mercante: New York City has been called the city that never sleeps. It was never more so the night of the Ali-Frazier first fight. Celebrations and talk of the fight echoed throughout Manhattan. Two spectators in the Garden had actually suffered fatal heart attacks from the excitement. On his way back from the fight, Jack Dempsey, seventy-six years old, knocked out two muggers outside his restaurant on Broadway. Clenching his big-knuckled right fist he told me later: “I can’t go long, Arthur, but I can still punch a little.”

Deanna Dempsey (Wife): “I used to work in the lobby of the hotel in my boutique. He would come by and visit me. When he first told me his name, he told me his name was John L. Sullivan [smiles].”

Henry Hascup: It was at one of the boxing affairs. People were all over him asking for pictures and autographs. What I remember is he was pretty nice.

Ron Lipton: I spent about an hour with him and I talked about that meeting and his legacy this very day in my boxing classes. The pre-Hollywood Dempsey was a force of hunger, iron-fisted power and speed. He came up like “Chaney” in the film “Hard Times.” His hand shake, the feel of his right hand has stayed with me all these years. He was so gracious to me and my father it was illuminating for me as I had seen all his fights on film and read so many books and articles about him before I met him. Seeing him sit at our table and take the time to answer all my questions without once brushing me off, talking to me like a pal, made me idolize him even more. A great and wonderful memory.

Question: Where did you meet Jack, what do you remember him saying?

Ron Lipton: I met with him at his restaurant with my father. Across the street was another restaurant my father always went to called McGuinnes’ where their long brass rail bar specialty was little roast beef sandwiches dipped in gravy. I could not get him to go to Jack Dempsey’s with me as he kept saying that Dempsey was never really there, etc. I wanted to meet Jack together with my father who along with his brothers had sung Dempsey’s praises for years. When I finally had to drag Pop with me that day and he relented. Dempsey was much bigger looking in person than I had imagined. Anyway I talked with him about how he applied the brine to his face as I was fighting every two weeks or so back then. Where he got it and what exercises he did in training. Then I brought up some of his earlier fights on the way up. I asked him if he had any special diet and I remember him laughing and mentioning that he loved steak but whatever he ate he just burned it up training hard and that he remembered when there was no food so when there was good food he just ate it and trained hard. Then he asked us what are you guys eating because all the food here is great. I asked him when he threw his hook was it with thumb up or down, and he looked puzzled for a second, in thought and then extended his left arm toward my chin and his knarled hand and knuckles lightly touched my chin and he smiled and said, “You tell me.” My Dad busted up laughing and so did I and Dempsey said, “Anyway I could hit them, did not think about that too much.” It was just wonderful to be in his presence for me knowing so much about him. Illuminating!

 

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