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Monday, September 08, 2014

Putting On Gloves For A Night At The Movies


When Boxing Sold The Show

"Good" fights were seen by a few, read about by millions more. You could sometimes hear them on radio, less frequently view action on TV, especially the big matches, where live ticket sales mattered most. Priority was natural put on seeing punches land, and so came post-match boxing films to show us what sport reporters described blow-by-blow. Who knows but what our interpretation of action might be different from theirs? Projected footage, sometimes in slow motion, brought combat closer after all. "Better Than Ringside" was no empty claim: these greater-then-live-size gladiators were better observed from theatre rows than back-of-stadium with jack-in-box spectators constantly rising to block view. Besides, the outcome was by now old news, money from matches duly made and bets paid off. Revenue from fight films was gravy, and got from seemingly every gauge, 8, 16, and 35mm.


Home movie sellers counted glove action among top sellers. Men's smokers and fraternal orgs ran such reels to ribbons, then sent them on to brother clubs. Lots bought home projection just so they could screen pugilists. When footage was freshest, it stood high on marquees, very often above the feature. "Theatre TV" floated live broadcasts from early in the 50's (as in the ad at right when Loew's Midlands in Kansas City featured Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Carmen Basilio live on 9/23/57), and there would be closed-circuit matches during the 60's. All the while, however, came heavyweight clashes rushed to audiences while ink from ring reportage was still wet, and note how movies on view are dwarfed in these ads. The Fox Capitol tendered Anchors Aweigh and Barefoot Battalion as afterthought to Marciano vs. Cockell, though Anchors Aweigh was admittedly a ten-years-oldie by this 1955 date where it played as a reissue (highlights of the 5/16/55 match, probably the same stuff Capitol patronage saw, is on You Tube). The Fox Crest put Marciano/Cockell over Kiss Me Deadly for selling purpose, as would the Senator after Marciano met Archie Moore on 9/21/55. Were these proofs that sports trumped movies for a public's willingness to come in and spend?


UPDATE: 1:07 PM: Scott MacGillivray sent the above poster image for a 3-D boxing short, along with some fascinating info ...

Hi, John -- If I remember the 1953 trades correctly, UA had planned to release the Joe Louis-Jersey Joe Walcott fight as a full-length 3-D feature. This had to be revisited when the fight lasted only two minutes and 25 seconds. The picture ultimately came out as a two-reel short, padded out with slow-motion replays. (The referee was accused of counting Walcott out too quickly, so I guess UA jumped on this to let the movie audience review the action.)

2 Comments:

Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer provides some boxing-in-theatres background:


There was a good deal of interest among boxing fans in the heavyweight championship fight between Rocky Marciano, the champion, and Don Cockell, though less for the matchup than an element of personal drama in Marciano's career. Cockell was the British Empire Champion, a large soft man with a capacity for public suffering. Marciano, however, was coming off his second fight with former heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles, in which the end of his nose had been sliced through as neatly as though a knife had been taken to it. There was question going into the fight as to how well the repaired nose would hold up. By the end of the bout, however, which came when the referee stopped it in the ninth round to save Cockell from further punishment, the nose was fine.

The showing of a film of the Marciano - Cockell fight would have been commercially feasible, even in the television age, since those who saw it live were limited to the spectators in Kezar Stadium in San Francisco and a small closed-circuit television audience around the country. Closed-circuit television was something new then, but most of the more important fights were already being telecast that way rather than over the air in regular commercial broadcasts. There was a premium charge for such events. Had you wanted to watch this fight at the State Theater in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for example, the cost of a ticket would have been $3.50, or $30.55 in today's money. No doubt a ticket for the film would have been in line with the usual attractions and the visual quality would have been much better, though of course, the results of the fight would have already been known by then.

I don't have figures for the closed-circuit attendance, but 400,000 viewed the fight between Marciano and Archie Moore later that year. Moore was a very popular light heavyweight champion, so the attendance for the Marciano-Cockell fight was probably less.

In 1970, I more or less replicated the experience of watching both the film of a heavyweight fight and a live, closed-circuit telecast, when I went to see the "Super Fight" at the Moorestown Plaza Theater in Moorestown, New Jersey. A producer by the name of Murray Wolner had a computer generate the results of a fight between the long-retired Marciano and Muhammad Ali, and then hired the fighters to do some sparring before the cameras. The 46 year-old Marciano went back into training, lost 50 pounds of weight, and bought a new toupee, so he looked a reasonable facsimile of himself. Ali needed the cash for his participation, as he had been stripped of his title for refusing induction into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam conflict. Reportedly, both men got $10,000 for the show. They boxed 75 one minute rounds, the films of which were then edited according to the computer printout. Different endings were filmed, among them Marciano losing on the kind of cuts which plagued his career and each fighter winning by knockout or decision. Neither knew the winner before the finished film was released to 1,500 theaters on January 20th for a one-time showing. The Plaza was the largest venue in the Burlington County area, with about 2,000 seats. The shell of the theater still exists, by the way, as the Regal 12. On the night of the 20th, it was snowing heavily, but the theater was packed and the fans were soon cheering as though they were watching a live contest. The result was a 13th round knockout by Marciano, though not without drama. He'd been knocked down once and suffered the usual cuts. The nose held up, however, and the toupee remained in place. The old champ, however, had died a few months before in the crash of a light airplane, and never knew the outcome. I don't think that he would have been all that surprised by it, though.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I saw that fight on network television! It was explained that every possible outcome was filmed, and then edited according to the statistical probability of the action as determined by the computer. It was all very advanced and surreal, like some science-fiction trickery where we're seeing holograms instead of real people.

Seeing Rocky again at that late date was like seeing, say, Carl Perkins or Roy Orbison 20 years after their peak: a pleasant surprise that the star looks so well and can still deliver the goods.

11:49 AM  

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