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Rocky Marciano

Rocky Marciano: The Rock of His Times

Russell Sullivan
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    Rocky Marciano
    Book Description:

    In this captivating and complex portrait of an American sports legend, Russell Sullivan confirms Rocky Marciano's place as a symbol and cultural icon of his era. As much as he embodied the wholesome, rags-to-riches patriotism of a true American hero, he also reflected the racial and ethnic tensions festering behind the country's benevolent facade. Spirited, fast-paced, and rich in detail, Rocky Marciano is the first book to place the boxer in the context of his times. Capturing his athletic accomplishments against the colorful backdrop of the 1950s fight scene, Sullivan examines how Marciano's career reflected the glamour and scandal of boxing as well as tenor of his times.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09819-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface A Rock of a Record: Fifty Years of 49–0
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Introduction: A Man for His Time
    (pp. 1-6)

    It was a simple time.

    It was the early 1950s in America, and everything was finally and blissfully settled. The Great Depression was more than a decade removed. World War II was also finally behind us, as were the troublesome times that immediately followed the war, with all the uncertainty surrounding the reentry of servicemen into the mainstream of American life and the return of the women they had left behind to more traditional roles. Everything had returned to normal.

    In many ways, the Age of Simplicity was a great time to be alive. Everyone seemed to know his or...

  6. Part 1: Rising

    • 1 Holyoke
      (pp. 9-22)

      It was St. Patrick’s Day in the year 1947, and the good, hard-working people of Holyoke, Massachusetts, had several options for their evening’s entertainment.

      They could, of course, visit their favorite neighborhood tavern and raise a pint or two to celebrate the traditional Irish holiday. If they were in the mood for a special celebration, they could go to O’Brien’s Ballroom at the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus, which was staging a big holiday dance featuring Gordon Corlies and his orchestra, or to the Ancient Order of Hibernians Hall, which was offering Joe O’Leary and his Irish Minstrels...

    • 2 Providence
      (pp. 23-42)

      Al Weill and Charley Goldman were both old-time fight men, and they were both short. That’s where the similarities ended. Al was cunning and egotistical; Charley was guileless and altruistic. Al sought the limelight; Charley was happy in the shadows. Al was despised in many quarters; Charley was universally beloved.

      Together, however, Al and Charley were a formidable pair, two men quite capable of steering a young fighter with the right stuff toward the top of the boxing world. Weill was the shrewd manager who had the influence to get the right fights against the right opponents in the right...

    • 3 New York
      (pp. 43-68)

      In 1950 the unquestioned capital of the sports world was New York City. It was the home of the biggest and best sports columnists—writers like Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon, and Arthur Daley whose syndicated work set the tone and the sporting opinion for the rest of the country in an era where newspapers still trumped television in terms of influence. It was also home to the best teams—the Giants of Leo the Lip, the Boys of Summer in Brooklyn, and, of course, the mighty Yankees—in the sport that was far and away the most popular at midcentury....

    • 4 The Great White Hope
      (pp. 69-94)

      No one asked Rocky Marciano whether he wanted to assume the mantle of the Great White Hope, although that is what he did when he defeated Rex Layne in the summer of 1951. And he would continue to play that role throughout his rise to the title, during his imminent reign as heavyweight champion of the world, and until the day that he retired from the ring in 1956. The Great White Hope would thus become an overarching image and dynamic in his career and his emerging role as the athletic symbol of his age.

      Then again, he had little...

    • 5 The Uncrowned Champion
      (pp. 95-114)

      For many fans of the early 1950s, the fact that Ezzard Charles and then Jersey Joe Walcott held the title of heavyweight champion of the world was a mere technicality. In their minds and in their hearts there was only one true champion: Joe Louis. The sudden arrival of a new Great White Hope on the scene may have been interesting—particularly given how that dynamic had long played into the career of their man—but it hardly altered that fundamental conclusion.

      Louis, of course, had formally held the crown from 1937 to 1949, and during the course of his...

    • 6 Jersey Joe
      (pp. 115-136)

      His real name was Arnold Raymond Cream, but to the world he was known as Jersey Joe Walcott. And by the time he finally crossed paths with Rocky Marciano in the fall of 1952, Jersey Joe Walcott was known. Whenever a big heavyweight fight came around in the late 1940s or early 1950s Walcott was usually involved. In one of those big fights—against Ezzard Charles in the summer of 1951—Walcott had, at long last, become heavyweight champion of the world. One year later, he continued to possess that coveted title. He also possessed a definite public persona.


  7. Part 2: Reigning

    • 7 The Ideal
      (pp. 139-163)

      Long before he became heavyweight champion of the world, the imagemakers had been hard at work crafting an official image for Rocky Marciano. His wholesome, all-American-boy persona had started to form as soon as Marciano first burst into the national spotlight with the victory over Joe Louis in October 1951. By the time of his second title fight with Jersey Joe Walcott in the spring of 1953, the image had crystalized and become firmly fixed in print and in the public’s mind. It would remain indelibly his for the rest of his career.

      That someone like Marciano had such an...

    • 8 The Ugly Duckling
      (pp. 164-184)

      When Rocky Marciano and Roland LaStarza first met in the ring back in March 1950, both were young, up-and-coming fighters, and the future had appeared bright and wide open. That future had become a reality for Marciano. It had eluded LaStarza. Marciano had a big-time, well-connected manager who had gotten him the big fights and then pushed him into the title picture. LaStarza did not. Instead, his career went nowhere until the fall of 1953, when Marciano, at long last, granted LaStarza a rematch.

      The mere fact that LaStarza had to wait so long for a return engagement bothered him...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 9 The King and His Kingdom
      (pp. 185-210)

      Rocky Marciano’s return engagement with Roland LaStarza in the fall of 1953 signaled a return to the kingdom of heavyweight championship boxing. Following Joe Louis’s retirement in 1949, heavyweight championship fights had lost much of their luster. Too often, they featured cautious craftsmen like Walcott and Charles in front of moderate crowds in places such as Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. Although Marciano’s first two title fights in Philadelphia and Chicago had brought back much of the glamour to the heavyweight championship scene, there was still something missing—the carnival-like, big-event atmosphere that was uniquely New

      Before the fall of 1953...

    • 10 Ezzard
      (pp. 211-232)

      Ezzard Charles puzzled people. Perhaps that is why he never won the acclaim that should have been his when he reigned as heavyweight champion of the world from 1949 to 1951. Instead, he became the most enigmatic, misunderstood, and ill-treated boxer of his generation. By the time he met Rocky Marciano in the summer of 1954 in a quest to reclaim his throne, Charles was still vainly chasing respect.

      What made all of this particularly sad was the fact that Charles seemed to have it all. “Charles is a boxer in the classic meaning of the word,” praised Gerry Hern...

    • 11 The Italian Hero
      (pp. 233-253)

      For his next title defense in May 1955, Rocky Marciano took the heavyweight championship out of New York and to the West Coast to fight British champion Don Cockell in San Francisco. Despite the cosmopolitan overtones, though, few paid attention. Among Marciano’s seven title fights, this was the only one that failed to generate much in the way of public interest.

      The source of the apathy was his opponent. Not much was known about Cockell, and the limited stream of information that had trickled across the Atlantic hardly dazzled anyone. His ring history was one problem. In seventy-two fights as...

    • 12 Archie
      (pp. 254-276)

      When it came to rags-to-riches stories, Archie Moore made Rocky Marciano look like Little Lord Fauntleroy. Unlike Marciano, Moore didn’t have a strong family behind him. Unlike Marciano, he didn’t have a real place to call home, just a string of adopted hometowns that tracked his travails. And, unlike Marciano, he didn’t have the support and influence of a powerful manager as the backbone of his ring career. He was, in very many ways, on his own. Still, he was not bereft of assets. He had talent. He had personality and the ability to invent and reinvent his persona. He...

  8. Part 3: Receding

    • 13 The Wanderer
      (pp. 279-299)

      And then, somewhat suddenly, Rocky Marciano quit. On April 27, 1956, at the relatively young age of thirty-three, he announced that he was retiring from the ring.

      The retirement was not a complete shock. The day before his September 1955 fight with Archie Moore, several sportswriters, citing sources close to the champion, reported that the Moore fight would be his last. Al Weill was enraged by the reports and vigorously denied them, but his fighter gave the story fresh legs after the bout. “My mother wants me to retire,” Marciano announced to the press in his dressing room. “My wife...

    • 14 Rocky
      (pp. 300-306)

      Rocky Marciano’s days of wandering ended suddenly and tragically. August 31, 1969, was the eve of his forty-sixth birthday. Marciano was in Chicago and scheduled to fly home to Fort Lauderdale for a birthday celebration that evening. Then a friend—Frank Farrell, an insurance executive—asked him to deliver a speech at a Des Moines steak house that night. Marciano agreed to postpone the trip home and make the appearance. In the early evening, he and Farrell boarded a small, single-engine airplane piloted by Glenn Belz. The weather that night was poor, with a low cloud ceiling and limited visibility,...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 307-336)
  10. Bibliographic Essay
    (pp. 337-346)
  11. Index
    (pp. 347-368)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 369-372)