Posted in Fighters & Writers, tagged Boxing, Budd Schulberg, Fighters & Writers, Heavyweight champion, Hollywood, Humphrey Bogart, Mark Robson, Max Baer, Movies, Sparring with Hemingway, Sports Illustrated, The Harder They Fall on August 21, 2010 |
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After recently rewatching, The Harder They Fall, I considered writing something about the differences between the movie and the novel on which it is based. As it turns out, the author of the book, Budd Schulberg, beat me to it – by more than fifty years.
In a June 1956 Sport Illustrated piece, Schulberg calls Humphrey Bogart’s last film “an inaccurate and overstated picture of boxing evils” and contends that “to suggest that every fight is fixed, every manager venal, and every fighter a victim is to do a large injustice to hundreds of fine fighters and reliable trainers and managers whose careers ride on the unknown outcome of every big fight.” He complains that the director, Mark Robson, sensationalized his story by imagining improbable fixes, disregarding boxing’s rules and misrepresenting fans’ response to a fighter being carried out on a stretcher. He objects to the depiction of a fighter (played by a former heavyweight champion, Max Baer, no less) as eager to receive credit for the death of another boxer. Schulberg knew several boxers who “figured in fatalities or near fatalities” and reports: “Not one ever voiced any other sentiment but anguish for any permanent damage inflicted on an opponent.”
Even before the film was released, Schulberg objected to Bogart’s sportswriter character calling for the abolition of boxing, something the novel doesn’t do and something Schulberg never supported. The producers agreed to change the scene so that the ex-press agent instead says “the boxing business must rid itself of … evil influence – even if it takes an act of Congress to do so.” But this too was something Schulberg didn’t endorse. Instead, he believed boxing needed a strong commission similar to the one governing baseball.
I knew Schulberg wanted boxing reformed. In the 1995 foreword to his 1947 novel, he expresses the hope that “maybe one of these days we’ll rescue a fascinating sport, full of brave warriors and honest practitioners, from the gutter which it still finds so congenial.” I use that line as an epigraph to one of the section of Fighters & Writers. While I was familiar with some of Schulberg’s work while writing the essays in that volume, I had yet to read his 1995 collection Sparring with Hemingway, where the film critique “Hollywood Hokum” is reproduced.
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Posted in Fighters & Writers, tagged A.J. Liebling, Albert Camus, Boxing, Christopher Hitchens, Darin Strauss, David Remnick, George Foreman, George Orwell, George Plimpton, Henry Rollins, Ian McEwan, James Braddock, Joe Frazier, Joe Louis, John McCain, José Torres, Joyce Carol Oates, Larry Holmes, Martin Amis, Max Baer, Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Norman Mailer, Oscar Wilde, Philip Roth, W.C. Heinz on May 21, 2010 |
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As I write this post, Fighters & Writers is at the printer. Here’s a bit of background on my forthcoming book.
Fighters & Writers is neither a traditional sports book nor a conventional collection of literary essays. It blends literary criticism, journalism and memoir and considers both the lively body of literature directly related to boxing and the ways the sport relates to writers not usually identified with it.
Essays in Fighters & Writers discuss works about boxing by authors such as Albert Camus, W.C. Heinz, A.J. Liebling, Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates, George Plimpton, Philip Roth, New Yorker editor David Remnick, Darin Strauss and José Torres – a boxing champion who became a writer – as well as the cultural impact made by boxers like Muhammad Ali, Max Baer, James Braddock, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Joe Louis and Mike Tyson. Rodwan also considers the sport in connection with figures such as Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens, John McCain, Ian McEwan, George Orwell, Henry Rollins and Oscar Wilde.
The title essay surveys a selection of the mammoth body of literature involving boxing in addition to writing on closely related topics such as confidence games. “The Ali Act” considers writers’ undiminished interest in one extraordinary boxer. “The Fighting Life” looks at two prominent writers’ use of boxing in their fiction. “A First-Class Sport” assesses boxing’s frequently overlooked positive aspects by examining the memoirs and autobiographies of several boxing enthusiasts, including a former heavyweight champion, a well-known trainer and television analyst, and prominent public figures including a former president and a U.S. senator. Other pieces in the collection explore how boxing inserts itself in writers’ imaginations even when they write about other subjects. Essays on diverse topics such as book dedications, Orwell’s Spanish Civil War memories, digressions, tattoos and weight loss reveal the close, if not always recognized, connections between fighters and writers.
Carlo Rotella, author of Cut Time: An Education at the Fights, called Fighters & Writers “a spirited and far-ranging meditation on boxing that’s also a thoughtful inquiry into the relationship between the writer’s craft and the fighter’s.”
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