Recently, I had the great pleasure of interviewing someone who I feel is one of America’s funniest comedians, and a truly a nice man. This man of course, is Buddy Hackett. To my younger readers, you will probably recognize Hackett from Herbie The Love Bug or more recently, the voice of the parrot in Paulie, but in fact, he has been around for some 50 years. We have had the honor to share in his wonderful humor during those years. Hackett is another gem from yesteryear who knows his boxing.
Tell me about the different fighters you have met over the years and how you were involved with them?
I met Joe Louis in Las Vegas when he was a casino host at Ceasar’s and I used to play golf with him, as well. I knew Rocky Graziano, who I met at the Nevele Country Club, when he was training to fight Tony Zale back in 1947 or 48. We stayed friends over the years, till I moved out West and whenever I came back to New York, we would see each other. I met Jake Lamotta, I think maybe through Rocky. Funny thing about Jake, he liked to be a comedian and tell jokes, which he did fairly well.
Jake was really a nice guy. His wife Vicki at the time, was so beautiful that you didn’t want to pick your head up to look at her around him. Jake used to say, “go ahead you can look at her.” In fact, I know where I met him at now, the Concord Hotel, where he stayed for the summer.
I met Muhammad Ali when he was still Cassius Clay and at that time only 21. I met him at Gold’s Gym located in Miami Beach. At that time, I knew a guy named Joe Kalman, from Chicago, who also used to put fights on at the Marigold Arena there. He had a couple of kids who got in trouble when they held up a grocery store and shot somebody. They were going to get the electric chair, but could have spared their own lives if they would say they were sorry, or make a deal and they would not do it.
Joe and I, went to see Ali to ask if he would call those kids and have them change their minds to save their lives. I really didn’t know that much about it, but went with Joe and talked to Ali. I believe Ali made the call. Ali went on to become a great man and to this day, if we are at a big function together, one of his guys comes over to me and will say “the Champ wants to talk with you.” As soon as I walk over he starts to laugh and says, “I was going tell you a joke, but I can’t tell you a joke.” Ali is a great laugher, nice guy and just a very warm man.
How long have you followed boxing?
Since I listened to Jack Sharkey on the radio with my father back in 1930.
Who have you seen in your lifetime that you consider the greatest fighter of all-time?
Well I suppose it would be Harry Greb. I must say some great exciting ones were Kid Gavilian and Beau Jack. But pound for pound, I would say between Harry Greb and Sugar Ray Robinson.
What is the nicest venue you ever watched a fight at?
Well Brad, I see them mostly on Pay-Per-View at my home which is a pretty nice place. (I laughed hard when he said this.) I would have to say the old Madison Square Garden was a pretty nice place. It was a very exciting place and just hearing the announcer say, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Madison Square Garden Presents.” This just gave you gooseflesh.
I also played Madison Square Garden many times for very big benefits. I remember working there in 1949 and followed Lena Horne. It was just quite a place to be. In fact, that reminds me, I was there one time for the opening of the circus for some publicity thing where I rode an elephant all around that place.
What era do you feel had the best fighters and why?
Well before TV came in, so the era would be the 1930’s – early 40’s before World War II. I feel this because we were coming out of the depression. The depression started in the 30’s and didn’t end until the early 40’s. The depression breeds boxers and other athletes because people have to make a living. If you have a talent such as in sports, then you have to pursue it and work very hard at it, which produced the very rough and tough fighters.
Later on, after the GI BILL, guys could go to college, learn a craft, trade, or just about business. So then, what would have been a great potential of flesh, didn’t have to go into the ring. Later on when all the sports starting paying huge amounts of money, it became lucrative for people to go into sports after that. Nowadays what you’re getting in boxing, is not quite as good as what it was back then.
Who are your top three favorite fighters of all-time?
Joe Louis, Rocky Graziano and Sugar Ray Leonard.
Since you have been in the entertainment business for many years, do you have any funny stories about any of the fighters you have met over the years?
Well first a funny story is the old one where the corner is saying to the fighter that the other guy is not laying a glove on you. The fighter then turns to the corner and says, ”then you better watch the REF because someone is whacking the hell out of me!”
In today’s boxing, are there any fighters that remind you of fighters from the old days?
Yes! Oscar De la Hoya. I love to watch Oscar he is a throwback fighter to me who would have fit back in those days.
What is the greatest fight you have ever seen and why?
Joe Louis Vs Max Schmeling. The reason was, all of America back then was against the Germans. Of course Max was German, however, I want to say that later on, I found out that he was a very nice man. But back then all we heard in America was “Joe Louis”, “Joe Louis”, when I was a young man. Many years later, I met Joe Louis and I used to make him laugh so hard.
One time we were both sitting at Caesar’s in the coffee shop and a woman came over and I said, “Joe, before we are through you are going to hit the canvas.” Joe said, “If I fall don’t count me.” I used to make him laugh so hard he would fall down and I would start counting him out. It use to aggravate him that I would do this.
So anyway, the woman came over and said, could you gentlemen give me an autograph for a cripple? I said, “Oh yeah, show us the cripple!” You know, like she was lying. Joe went right on the floor and I started counting.
He kept saying “Buddy don’t count (LAUGH) and say don’t count Buddy again”. HOLD ON! I have a great story for you Brad about Joe Louis. Joe showed up in a casino and of course everyone knew he was a gambler, who gambled all his money away. Joe was dressed in a black suit, black shirt, white tie and white cowboy hat.
While he is walking through the casino people are yelling “Hey Champ, let’s shoot some craps. Here is five hundred play it and keep it.” Joe replies, “no I am going to Sonny Liston’s funeral today. I have to go to Sonny’s funeral.” Another “Hey Champ here is five hundred.” Joe says, “NO NO!” Then they say Hey Champ, here’s five thousand. Joe then says, “Sonny would understand.”
Finally, in all your years as a boxing fan, what was the most brutal knockout you have ever seen in the ring?
When Emile Griffith fought Benny “The Kid” Paret. Paret went straight back, down to the canvas and laid there. I turned to a guy and said, “Paret is dead” and he was. Very sad thing.