Two L.A. Venues Host Local Gladiators in The Manly Art

Damon Runyon

Wilkes-Barre Evening News/February 17, 1926

The Manly Art of Scrambling Ears has now been going on under legalized conditions in California for over a year, and it seems to be doing as well as could be expected—perhaps better.

It is thriving better in the southern part of the state than up north around San Francisco, which may seem surprising if you remember that San Francisco was once one of the world-capitals of Fistiana. There was no better fight town anywhere.

The absence of boxing arenas of any size up north is probably responsible for the fact that the game is not what it used to be there. Several open-air shows in San Francisco have drawn upwards of 40,000 but apparently the patronage of the indoor pastime hasn’t been sufficient to justify the building of any temples of Thesus, such as they have in Los Angeles.

There are two big clubs in this city, the Olympic and Jack Doyle’s Vernon Club, still one of the finest arenas in the country, although it is dwarfed by the Olympic. This club, located almost in the heart of Los Angeles, was built in the past year, and not even George Tex Rickard’s mighty Madison Square Garden is any finer taking it just as a boxing arena.

The Olympic seats about 12,000, and from nearly every seat in the place you could toss your hat into the ring. The balcony seats are as good as the floor seats. They run boxing shows at the Olympic with all the decorum of grand opera.

The Olympic was reared by local capital, and the head of the club is Jack Root, the first light heavyweight champion of the world. Jack is now as bald as your hand, and emanates an air of prosperity in keeping with a fat bank account.

Joe Levy, who once managed Joe Rivers, a good Mexican lightweight of years ago around Los Angeles, is the matchmaker, and Harry Pollock, formerly associated with the late Pat Powers in the management of the old Madison Square Garden, has charge of shows and exhibits outside of boxing.

You sit back in an opera chair and view the gladiators in the Olympic, while an electric bulletin board advises you of what is going on. It is a remarkable institution, this Olympic Club. The referees and the announcer appear in evening clothes.

The announcer is Mr. Frank Kerwin, a good-looking youth with a loud clear voice, and when he raises his hand from the middle of the ring, you get the impression that he is about to deliver an after-dinner address.

Besides the Olympic and the Vernon Club, there are half a dozen smaller clubs in Los Angeles, or hard by including the famous Hollywood Club, where the movie actors assemble every Wednesday night as regularly as if they were under orders.

Under a new rule of the boxing commission, the Olympic and Vernon Club can produce shows only once every two weeks, while Hollywood Club gives weekly entertainments. This rule which seems discriminatory favors the Vernon Club. The Hollywood Club really does not figure in the matter, because it draws from its clientele regardless of what is going on at the others.

But Vernon is some distance from the city, and weekly shows at the Olympic would probably leave nothing for Mr. Jack Doyle in the course of time. There are not enough matches for weekly shows at two big clubs as it is and the Olympic might make the ringworms forget the Vernon.

The latter club was built by Doyle in the days of the four-round game, and he made plenty of money there. The ten-round legalized pastime has not been exactly to his advantage, especially since the Olympic opened.

I would not be surprised to see the Vernon Club discontinued eventually and Doyle running the Olympic with weekly shows. That would seem the sensible thing. I doubt that New York would support two clubs the size of the Olympic and the Vernon Club with both giving weekly shows. They couldn’t get the entertainment.

Good matches draw well at either the Vernon or the Olympic. It takes rather better matches to draw at the Vernon than at the Olympic because of the distance from the city.

Hollywood draws regardless of the matches, although its customers favor local boys. Harry Greb, the middleweight champion, couldn’t fill the small Hollywood arena not long ago.

Poor matches play to empty seats at both the Olympic and Vernon as the promoters have discovered to their very great sorrow. However, I think that is the experience of boxing promoters all over the land.

The Los Angeles ringworm is peculiar in that he will not go to a boxing show merely to see one man. The promoter has to provide what looks to be a real match. A champion will not draw against a fellow that the local ringworms regard as a pop-over.

In this respect the Los Angeles ringworm is different from his Eastern brother, who turns out to see Harry Wills, or some other pugilistic notable, bowl over the set-ups. You couldn’t draw a dime in Los Angeles with some matches that have pulled thousands in the East in the past year.

Furthermore, an Eastern reputation in The Manly Art of Scrambling Ears often doesn’t mean a thing out here. The boxer has to show what he can do before he is accepted. This surprises some of our exponents of the Manly Art who think they have national reputations, only to come out here to learn that they can’t get semi-windup money for their services in their first shot.

And yet, if a chap makes good he can get plenty of work and money here. A youth named Ace Hudkins, who was what they call a hundred dollar boxer around the Middle West a little over a year ago, is said to have picked up $50,000 for his “bit” during the past twelve months because the ringworms like him.

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