Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Mae West: Champ Segal

Mae West knew some shady characters — — and Champ Segal had a special place in his heart for Mae.
• • Sunset Boulevard during the 1940s was where all the guys and dolls nightclubbed, gambled, brawled, and minted gossip. Harry "Champ" Segal, a former boxer and bookie, ran a little joint on the Strip that was disguised as a barbershop (not unlike the bookmaking and loan-sharking operation he ran in a midtown Manhattan barbershop). Nearby in Los Angeles, Champ's bosom buddy Benjamin Siegel had an office at the corner of Sunset and Vine, although Bugsy did not take walk-ins.
• • Although Champ Segal never won a title in the ring, the dapper hoodlum managed many prizefighters — — Charley "Phil" Rosenberg, Ace Hudson, Phil Kaplan, Freddy Beshore, Sal Belloise — — and had 118 fights himself, 78 of which he won by knock-outs.
• • Mae West enjoyed going to boxing matches and she got a kick out of the nattily dressed wheel-dealer. Champ Segal admired Mae and included anecdotes about their friendship in his book.
• • Born in Harlem in 1899, by 1917 Harry had an arrest record for possessing narcotics.
• • In 1927 he was locked up in connection with a homicide at his restaurant on St. Nicholas Avenue and West 112th Street. Throughout his hair-raising past he must have been taking notes for this biography that his brother published in November 1959, which was called "a daring and exciting book about the world of sports, gambling, gangsters, and politicians from the 1920s to the present day." Though Champ was as solitary a figure as Charlie Chaplin, astonishingly he did have a brother; Hyman's name appeared on the dustjacket: They Called Him Champ: the Story of Champ Segal and His Fabulous Era by Hyman R. Segal [NY: Citadel Press, 1959; 480 pages with b/w photographs].
• •
Mae West, Texas Guinan, Al Capone, Legs Diamond, Bugsy Siegel, Primo Carnera, Mayor Jimmy Walker — — they're all inside.
• • November 1959 there was a book launch at Lindy's Restaurant with his buddies from Stillman's Gym.
• • That was a better November than nine years earlier for Champ Segal. On 1 November 1950 the 51-year-old bookie was arrested outside of the Park-Sheraton Hotel, where he'd been living. This was part of a Times Square round-up of gangsters by the police. Champ Segal slipped through the grasp of the city's legal eagles, however. The colorful con man was still being indicted in 1974 when he was age 77.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

• • Photo:
• • Mae West's pal • •
1967 • •

Mae West.


  1. Anonymous1:57 PM

    I didn't know Champ but my family has great stories of him. My uncle was Ernie Robbins, his jockey. When he talks in the book about hiding out in the "foothills" of Kentucky with Ernie's family, Champ was talking about West Covington, Ky about 2 blocks from the Ohio River (granted you did have to walk up a hill to get to 966 John Street where the Champ hid for many months). My mother would tell me about going to Cincinnati to meet Ed Smiley (who I believe was with Bugsy Seigel when he was killed) and pick up money so Champ had some "spending cash". Ah the times were different then, weren't they!

  2. Anonymous3:20 PM

    A large towering man who went by the name of Champ Siegal stopped by our UPWS apt during the 50s. He rarely took off his long grey coat or fedora, but could be coaxed to hang around for dinner if my mother was making a pot of red with meatballs. He was always loud, usually making a joke and pulling gifts out of his deep pockets for a 6 year old girl who had know idea who Uncle Champ was. He gave me my first real pearl necklace in a red leather box, my first transistor radio that I listened to under my pillow. He was larger than life and seemed to be what Life was meant to be. My father, who thought of himself as a 'contender' shrank in Champ's presence. When Champ showed up it was usually with a bunch of stuff that had to 'cool' off and then never left. Tapestry, paintings, antiques that became covered with the brown silt of my father's chain smoking. Beautiful pieces of other lives that were lost when my father himself died in '73. Champ was kind and generous to my family, he was protective of my parents...I think because of garment industry dealings. When I heard he was in the hospital, I bought flowers and easily found his room. But it was filled with family and whispers, a steady beeping of machines. I wanted to thank him for his kindnesses and writing this so many decades later is a small letter of remembrance to a very special man with a huge heart.