Good Living Has Worked Change in Jack Dempsey

Damon Runyon

Washington Times/June 14, 1921

“Why shouldn’t he be better now than he ever was?” argued Dapper Dan McKetrick, manager of fighters, speaking of Jack Dempsey the other day. “He’s had two or three years of good living, eating the best food, and meeting nice people. It’s bound to bring a man out, physically and mentally.”

There is something in Dapper Dan’s argument.

Take Dempsey as he was five years ago.

I met him on the occasion of his first visit to New York along in 1916. I had previously seen him fight Andrew Anderson and John Lester Johnson, but I did not make his acquaintance until some weeks later

Although Johnson gave Dempsey quite a belting, I was rather impressed by the youngster, and spoke favorably of him in my printed gossip on current sporting events

One night in Brooklyn, when Frank Mora the blonde punch absorber from Pittsburgh, was fighting Gunboat Smith, “John, the Barber” came over to a box where I was sitting with a number of friends, escorting a tall, dark browned sulky looking chap.

Had Round Head

This chap was twiddling a cloth cap in his hands. He had his hair clipped close, showing a round head. His face had recently been shaven, and his muzzle was a bluish-black. He wore a suit of clothes obviously new, and obviously ready-made. He seemed ill at ease as he followed “John, the Barber.”

John was a character of New York’s fistic world at that time. He had a paying barber shop in the heart of the “Roaring Forties,” but the ring was his hobby, and he had a boxing club in Harlem, and managed fighters. John’s right name is Reisler, and of recent years he has been located in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“This is Jack Dempsey,” announced John, as he reached the box, pushing the tall fellow forward. “You remember how you mentioned him in the paper not long ago.”

“Pleased to meet you,” mumbled Dempsey, sticking out one of his hands. His clasp drew attention to the size of his “duke,” if nothing else. His  name, of course, meant little at the time, save as an echo of one of the greatest champions the ring has ever known.

 Had Little to Say

Dempsey sat down in the box and “John, the Barber” babbled of him as a heavyweight prospect Dempsey himself had little to say. He seemed quite inarticulate He was just what he was, a small town fellow, somewhat embarrassed by his new surroundings.

I happened to know that the young man came from my home state, Colorado, and I mentioned several names that I thought he would be likely to know. He knew of them all right, but he did not brighten up to any extent. His answers were monosyllabic at first. He impressed me as somewhat surly, if not, in fact, dumb.

At that time Dempsey weighed around 170 pounds and was quite slender. Notwithstanding, he had a formidable, not to say forbidding appearance, which was commented on afterward by other members of the party. he was only twenty-one, but looked older.

He was then living out the last stages of his career as a hobo-fighter, and he bore unmistakable marks of the road in his manner. His brief speech was interlarded with expressions that smoked of the brake beams, the sand house and the “cuts” where freight trains linger just long enough for a wayfarer too catch on

He watched the Smith-Moran fight without any apparent interest.

 The Barber Talks

“I’d like to get either one of those fellows for you, Jack,” chattered “John, the Barber.”

“Uh-huh,” grunted Jack.

Not long afterwards he broke with “John, the Barber,” and caught a freight train back to the West. I did not even hear of him again until one day I ran into Jack Curley, the man who made Jess Willard champion

:Say,” said Jack, “you remember that fellow you thought could fight—that Dempsey? Well, old Jim Flynn stopped him in a round the other night.”

This was the affair, since admitted to have been a “Barney,” or fake, which stands in the record as the only knockout ever scored against Dempsey.

In common with everyone else who pays any attention to fistic matters, I dismissed “John, the Barber’s” former protégé from mind as just another of those bloomers that spring p at intervals to flourish brightly a few weeks, then fade forever.

(To Be Continued)