Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Mae West: Gorilla Jones

William Landon Jones enjoyed a close friendship with MAE WEST for 50 years.
• • Born in Memphis, Tennessee on 12 May 1906, he was known in boxing by the moniker "Gorilla" Jones. This weekend, the five-foot-nine fighter will be inducted posthumously into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y. He died at age 75 on 4 January 1982. After Mae's death, it's said he lost the will to live.
• • The 22-year-old Jones met Mae West in a New York night club during 1928. He had enjoyed a long career in the ring and was about to come into the big time in 1929, when he would earn a $100,000 purse — — about $1.2 million in today's money
— — for winning a bout in Madison Square Garden.
• • Often photographed in a ringsize seat, the daughter of "Battling Jack" also befriended other black pugilists such as Chalky Wright and Joe Louis.
• • In a colorful feature for the Beacon Journal in Akron, Ohio, reporter Mark J. Price covers the career of Gorilla Jones as well as his private life with Mae West. Many pleasures await you.
• • Mark J. Price writes: Outside the boxing ring, Gorilla Jones was an unforgettable personality. He wore impeccable suits, flashed diamond rings, drove a Lincoln coupe, consorted with a Hollywood vixen — — Mae West — — and walked a lion cub on a leash.
• • Inside the ring, stripped of all excess, he was equally memorable
— — except perhaps to the dozens of fighters he knocked out. They were excused for not recalling a thing after Jones' right glove cratered their faces.
• • One of the greatest boxers in Akron's history, Jones won the world middleweight title twice in the 1930s. He will be inducted posthumously this weekend into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y.
• • Jones fought in 138 professional bouts, winning 101, losing 24 and drawing 13. He KO'd 52 opponents, but never suffered a knockout or serious injury.
• • ''I have been blessed with a mind that works rapidly in the ring and hands that work as rapidly as my mind tells them,'' Jones told the Beacon Journal early in his career. ''I think I can figure fight moves a bit faster than can the fellows I am fighting, and once figured out, my hands move as they should to carry me to victory.''
• • Why did they call him "Gorilla"? • •
• • The nickname ''Gorilla,'' politically incorrect in today's world, was attributed to Jones' long reach — 75 inches — in the ring. In 1932, Beacon Journal sports scribe Jim Schlemmer said the Gorilla moniker didn't fit ''in looks or actions,'' and called Jones ''as classy a piece of fighting machinery as the game has known.''
• • ''He is an unusual type of fighter,'' Schlemmer wrote. ''He doesn't like to hurt anybody. He wishes every fellow he fights could be as good or nearly as good as himself.''
• • William Landon Jones was born in 1906 in Memphis, Tenn. He confessed to doing a lot of things wrong in his youth, such as giving up on education after grammar school. He worked for a bootlegger, ran with a tough crowd and learned to fight.
• • The ring was his way out. At age 18, Jones started boxing for $7.50 a bout. He stood 5 feet 9 inches and tipped the scales at 145 pounds.
• • Jones' first fight outside Memphis was at the Akron Armory in 1927. He beat welterweight K.O. Kelly and won $100. Unfortunately, Jones tried to add to his earnings in a late-night dice game and lost everything.
• • He begged Akron boxing promoter Suey Welch for another fight so he could buy a train ticket to Memphis.
• • Jones won the rematch, but stayed in Akron after the promoter offered to be his manager and train him at the Welch Athletic Club at 219 S. Main St.
• • Welch called Jones ''the greatest fighter in the world, pound for pound.'' The two made a fortune together.
• • Jones pummeled his way through a long line of foes: Sailor Maxwell, Mickey Fedor, Tommy Freeman, Bucky Lawless, Al Mello, Izzy Grove, Jackie Horner, Nick Testo, Meyer Grace, Jock Malone. The purses grew larger, and soon he was fighting as a middleweight at Madison Square Garden in New York.
• • In 1929, Jones earned $100,000 — about $1.2 million in today's money — and went on a spending spree. He bought his parents a Ford sedan and $10,000 home in Memphis, then rewarded himself with a $5,400 Lincoln. He bought three suits after each bout, giving away older outfits to pals. He added a diamond-collared lion to his act, walking the cub on a leash to matches and personal appearances.
• • ''In 1929 when I was in the so-called 'big' money, I spent too much,'' he later recalled. ''I liked fast horses, fast autos, fast airplanes. I had too many friends who helped me spend.''
• • Jones hit the big time in January 1932 with a sixth-round knockout of Italian boxer Oddone Piazza in Milwaukee for the National Boxing Association middleweight crown. A cheering crowd greeted him at Union Depot as he returned to Akron.
• • Five months later, he lost the title to Marcel Thil before 70,000 spectators in Paris, but regained it in 1933 by knocking out Sammy Slaughter at Cleveland Public Hall. He declined to defend the title after that.
• • Jones boxed for seven more years, but his right punch lost its sting. His final fight at the Akron Armory was a 1938 loss to Babe Risko. Jones retired in 1940 after losing a bout in Idaho. ''Gorilla Jones will never stay in the fight game until he's ready to cut paper dolls,'' Jones vowed.
• • Mae West met Gorilla Jones in a nightspot in 1928 • •
• • In many respects, the next chapter of his life was flashier than boxing. He went to work as Hollywood legend Mae West's chauffeur and bodyguard.
• • He first met the wise-cracking actress at a New York nightclub in 1928. Mae West's father had been a prizefighter, and she enjoyed bankrolling boxers.
• • ''The boxers had a hard time, even some of them who were pretty good,'' West told biographer Charlotte Chandler in 1979. ''There was one I backed named Gorilla Jones. I don't know why he was called 'Gorilla.' He wasn't that kind of fighter. I saw he was getting pounded too much, and he really didn't like fighting anymore, but he didn't know what else to do.''
• • She asked him if he could drive a car. Sure, he could. Even with a lion cub in the back seat.
• • ''So I hired him as my chauffeur,'' West said. ''He turned out to be a very good driver — — and he was also protection.''
• • Mae West also employed Jones' mother, Daisy, as a wardrobe assistant when the actress traveled. She bought homes for the boxer and his mother in Los Angeles, and served as Jones' financial manager and personal manager.
• • Biographers agree that the relationship wasn't all business. West and Jones remained close companions for 40 years. In public, he referred to her as ''The Lady,'' never by her name.
• • One time, a heckler made a bawdy remark to the actress, and the boxer threatened to rearrange the man's face.
• • ''Let 'em talk,'' Mae West told him. ''It's good for business.''
• • According to Hollywood lore, West got aggravated when house managers tried to block Jones from visiting her sixth-floor suite in the Ravenswood apartment complex. She bought the building and hired new staff.
• • ''A motion picture company offered me a quarter-million to film my story, but they wanted to make me say I was her lover,'' Jones told Jet magazine in 1974. ''That would be a lie because she was my manager and my friend. All the money in the world would be no good without a friend who has done everything to keep me on top and let me live the life I wanted to live.''
• • When Jones began to suffer from diabetes and lose his eyesight, West kept him on the payroll and handled his bills.
• • Jones was devastated in 1980 when West died in Ravenswood at age 87. She left him two apartment buildings and three houses.
• • Acquaintances said Jones gave up the will to live after ''The Lady'' passed away.
• • As his health deteriorated, his weight plunged to 102 pounds. In 1982, William ''Gorilla'' Jones died of arteriosclerosis at age 75.
• • The final bell sounded for an Akron boxing legend.
• • Mark J. Price is a Beacon Journal copy editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or send e-mail to mjprice@thebeaconjournal.com.
— — Source: — —
• • Article: Akron's king of rings: Boxer Gorilla Jones conquers the world and lives the high life
• • Byline: Mark J. Price | Beacon Journal staff writer
• • Published in: Ohio.com
• • Published on: 8 June 2009
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

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