Jim Beattie in 1968. Photo by United Press International.
Jim Beattie died this week. He was 77. He was a towering heavyweight boxer and had one of the most-interesting stories you could find among Minnesota athletes of the past 60 years.
Search with today’s technology for Beattie and there are numerous articles from Robert Lipsyte, who created his foundation for greatness as a writer by covering boxing for the New York Times.
Jack Mann. Red Smith. On and on. All the legends of East Coast sports writing had something to offer on Jim Beattie in those 33 mercurial months, from when he arrived in New York City in April 1963 to seek the heavyweight championship of the world, to January 1966, when he was “involuntarily retired for his own sake’’ by the New York State Athletic Commission.
What a place it had to be as a celebrity, New York in the early ‘60s, with Frank Gifford's comeback with the football Giants, and the Yankees of Maris and Mantle, with Casey Stengel and the National League back as comic relief with the Mets, and with characters such as publicist Gene Schoor selling a tall tale to sports writers.
It was a legend created for James J. Beattie, a young boxer from St. Paul chosen in a national search for the next heavyweight champion. It started with a classified ad that Schoor placed in many newspapers, promising $10,000 a year and all training expenses paid “while you learn’’ the skills required to win the heavyweight crown.
Schoor and his partners – Bill Nicholson, Sy Krieg and Phil Krupin – formed Kid Galahad, Inc. and the candidates became the Kid Galahad Boxers.
Beattie eventually was the chosen one among a half-dozen finalists. He arrived in New York, and was taken to the top of the Empire State Building and, yes, Beattie was told: “Look around, kid. Some day this will all be yours.’’
He was training at Gleason’s Gym, where the media would show up to check on the progress of “Kid Galahad’’ with trainer Freddie Fierro, who went all the way back to Billy Conn.
What did a wide-eyed 20-year-old from the most blue-collar of St. Paul backgrounds think of that, walking down the crowded streets of Manhattan, being recognized, having every 20th person ask, “How’s the weather up there?’’
Jeff Beattie, the second of Jim's three sons and five children, laughed and said: “He absolutely loved it. He enjoyed people. He loved walking into a room and taking over the conversation. He loved being somebody.’’
According to Schoor, Beattie was the first 7-foot boxer. Told by reporters, “The kid says he’s 6-foot-8 and three-quarters,’’ Schoor responded: “That’s because he’s shy about his height. Trust me. He’s a 7-footer.’’
Also Schoor would say: “Be sure to put the name of the steakhouse in the article. Jimmy Johnston’s. Second Avenue. Best steaks in town.’’
Schoor, Nicholson, Krieg and Krupin were partners in the steakhouse. When the ad on the search for a heavyweight champion was placed, the Times called and Schoor claimed the group had $100,000 to spend to find and then train their Kid Galahad.
They did not. As luck would have it, they found backing from a “wealthy’’ New York construction man to help finance the effort.
“What do you think that was like?’’ Jeff Beattie said this week. “My dad came there as a 20-year-old kid from St. Paul and eventually discovered he was working for the Mafia. Not working as such, but that was the source of the money.
“He met some of those guys. He met everybody. As I said … he loved it.’’
John Wareham, our researcher at the Star Tribune, found the Lipsyte stories and other Beattie material for me on Thursday. I started reading this, and was refreshed on the details of the Beattie story.
For over a decade, Beattie had been making a good living selling precious metals, making calls to convince people to buy gold, silver and all that good stuff, appearing here and there at local boxing events, and I never called and asked:
“Jim, do you have a couple of hours to talk about ‘Kid Galahad,’ to talk about playing ‘Jim Brady’ as James Earl Jones’ foil in the 1970 film, ‘The Great White Hope,’ to talk about addiction and sobriety, relapse and recovery?’’
It was worth numerous smiles, reading Lipsyte and others, but it was with this knowledge:
I said hello to Jim Beattie a couple times, shook hands with him, but I had never sat down and heard the stories. What a dummy. Me. Not him.
The stories of Schoor’s exaggerations during the Beattie buildup, including Beattie’s gawdy record as a carnival boxer, nightly one-punch destructions of all-comers, as well as a one-punch KO of a police horse.
“He did spend at least one summer as a teenager as a carnival boxer,’’ Jeff Beattie said. “I know that because I’d go to the State Fair with him, we’d go to what used to be called the ‘freak show,’ and he knew all those people.''
KO’ing the police horse? ‘’I’m not sure,’’ Jeff said. “I know that ‘Blazing Saddles’ was one of his favorite movies and he laughed extra-hard when Mongo punched the horse.’’
Also missed by me: The story of his first fight as “Kid Galahad,’’ a one-punch knockout of 5-foot-8 Duke Johnson – official time, 24 seconds – on May 28, 1963, at Sunnyside Garden in Queens.
Beattie was TKO’d in his next fight in August by a rugged fighter named Johnny Barazza. That might have been the first time that trainer Fierro and Beattie used the excuse that Jim was a hypochondriac and might have overmedicated.
Truly. In January 1966, when New York’s Athletic Commission was holding a hearing on Beattie’s fitness to continue boxing, and “pleurisy’’ and “nasal congestion’’ were mentioned as maladies he had suffered, Fierro said:
“He’s a hypo … taking 8, 10 pills a day.’’
Different times. Pill-taking as an excuse.
Back in 1963, Beattie responded from the Barazza loss to start a nine-bout winning streak, including the respected Dick Wipperman. He lost a split decision to James Woody, then won five more in a row, including a fifth-round KO of Boston favoriteTom McNeeley.
Then, on Dec. 10, 1965, he fought Woody again, in Madison Square Garden, and it was an embarrassing loss. Beattie was unable to defend himself or mount an attack.
A month later, the New York commission issued the involuntary retirement edict after a three-day hearing, the contract with Kid Galahad ended, and he came home to St. Paul and started working with Glen Flanagan.
Jim Beattie landed a solid right to Dick Wipperman in June 1967. Photo by Donald Black/Star Tribune
He resumed boxing in September 1966 and put together a string of victories, mostly in Minnesota. On Aug. 25, 1968, there was a major promotion at Met Center with Beattie taking on Buster Mathis.
Beattie vs. Buster was a big enough fight that Lipsyte was in attendance to cover it for the Times. Buster had been bloated in recent fights and his star had fallen, but he showed up in shape and defeated Beattie.
One more loss four months later to Tommy Fields at the Silver Slipper in Las Vegas and Beattie retired, this time voluntarily. And he stuck with that until the middle of 1976, when he started a comeback with a KO of Bill Jackson at the Prom Center in St. Paul.
Jack Mann, in a Washington Post article, noticed Beattie’s comeback when he saw an Associated Press report on a fight at a Ramada Inn in Oklahoma City in February 1977. Mann wrote:
“It couldn’t be [him.] Still, how many 6-foot-8 James J. Beatties could there have been out of St. Paul lately? How old would he be now, that handsome tower of roseate flesh that trembled and wept after a five-round abuse in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on a hot midnight in 1963?
“Thirty-three,’’ said Jim Beattie, “and I’ve finally grown into this big body. I’m faster and stronger than ever.’’
That comeback reached its climactic point on Feb. 20, 1979, against fellow Minnesotan Scott LeDoux at Met Center. It was billed as a “grudge match,’’ although with Beattie’s affability and LeDoux’s gregarious personality, that had to be the nonsense still being used to sell regional fights in those days.
LeDoux stopped Big Jim. Beattie had a couple more losses followed, and then he retired for keeps. Even with the three-bout losing streak at the end of his career, he was 40-10 with 32 knockouts as a pro. He also was 50-5 as an amateur, with four straight heavyweight titles from 1959 to 1962 in the Upper Midwest Golden Gloves.
The story of The Kid can live on. All you have to do is track down “The Great White Hope,’’ with the rousing, six-minute fight scene at the end of the 1970 film.
That’s Jim Beattie taking the beating from James Earl Jones (based on the story of early black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson) in the climactic final scene, before The Kid rallies to knock him out, to the rousing cheers from the white audience.
It was filmed outdoors in Barcelona, to replicate the heat in Havana on April 5, 1915, when the gigantic Jess Willard took the title away from Johnson, amidst the great prejudice that Johnson had faced as a heavyweight champion.
“The whole family went to Barcelona for the filming,’’ Jeff Beattie said. “We stayed in a nice hotel. Everything paid, everything first class.
“We had the time of our lives. Dad couldn’t have been happier. He loved the acting, the excitement of it. He said, ‘I think I could do this.’ ‘’
No more actual movies. Lots of alcohol. Married three times. Mary, the mother of three sons, the St. Paul sweetheart that was with him in New York, received a divorce. So did Joey, the mother of Alyssa.
Peggy, the mother of Vanessa, was with Jim until the end; able to get those final 20 years of sobriety.
“He wasn’t a violent man; he was a sweetheart; he wanted everybody to be his friend,’’ Jeff Beattie said. “But he was unpredictable. He had that part of him, whatever it was, that when women ended a relationship with Dad, they didn’t want much to do with him.
“He needed constant affirmation. I’d say Peggy maintained that talent, to tell him how much he was loved every day.’’
Jeff paused and said: “He was always a salesman, our dad.’’
He did have that early experience with Gene Schoor, the pitchman for Kid Galahad. That might have rubbed off.