hours never passed faster than that session in Mayor Brunner's office atop
Camden City Hall the other late afternoon. Jersey Joe Walcott was there,
and Ange Malandra, the Mayor's ubiquitous, exuberant deputy, came in.
three had toured Europe together when Joe went abroad to fight Ten Hoff at
Mannheim. He wasn't the champ then, but so starved are Europeans for
entertainment that he was treated like Pompey returning triumphant from the
wars with Mithridates and Tigranes in the East. Everywhere wild, milling
throngs besieged him, with shrill shouts of Walcott and Jersey Yoe. Harried
police, who implored him to stay off the streets or slip out the rear door
of shops and hotels to foil the waiting crowds, found no cooperation in
lightening their burdens.
they want to see me, they can see me," Joe would say with
characteristic selflessness. "What if they did rough me up and muss me
up and maybe tear a shirt?" he added with a wry smile.
shirt in those days was an item for the challenger to the world's
heavyweight championship. Now, as Malandra delights in reminding him loudly
and often, he wears silk shirts—"Thirty dollars he pays for a shirt,
the poor man; I feel so sorry for him . . . don't give me that business
about how hard it is to cash in on the title!"
and Joe are pals; the champ takes his incessant needling good humouredly.
And neither Ange nor anyone else can begrudge him a dime; he toiled and
sacrificed for twenty-one long years in the rough, tough Tartarus of
fistiana before he made it, and he deserves all he can get while the
wonder the kids went crazy over him," Malandra was saying.
"The smart guy took three hundred dollars in bright, shiny nickels with
him and sowed them like kernels of good will through Italy, Germany and
thousand are a lot of nickels and a lot of money, especially in Italy,
with its devalued currency.
thousand-lire note there," Malandra pointed out, "is worth
as big as pillow cases," Walcott interposed, stretching his hands two
feet apart, then demonstrating how they folded them to carry them in their
we handed them out as tips," Ange continued. "They loved us, the
rich Americanos. After all, they didn't make that much money in a week. A
go into a night spot," Joe recalled gleefully, "and I'd hear the
mayor or Ange call out: 'Give them a big one.' That was the signal to pull
out one of our folded thousand-lire notes to tip a waiter or check girl or
musician. Suddenly over the din of the place a voice would boom out in
English, 'Give them a big one.' "
fiddler was so overwhelmed with the big ones, Joe continued, that he
insisted on following them to their hotel and serenading them all night. His
favorite number: "Jealousy." "I'll never hear it without
going into a mental tango," Joe chuckled.
they boarded their plane for home, "Jealousy" accompanied them to
the airport, fiddling all the while, and shed real tears as the craft
bearing away big Joe cut off the supply of big ones.
of the Europeans, especially the Italians, are desperately poor. Mayor
Brunner tells of alighting from a plane with two big bags, and being pounced
upon by a porter. "Hotel Metropole," he directed.
minoot," said the fellow, holding up a finger.
walked five minoots that sunny, hot May day, and His Honor began perspiring.
far?" he demanded.
minoot," came the stock phrase, with gestures.
continued for thirty-five minutes, until a fuming but helpless Brunner saw
the welcome facade of the Metropole. What gives the story a touch of pathos
is the fact that the porter carried those two heavy bags all that distance
rather than take a cab, so he could get a larger tip.
can imagine, then, the impact of Walcott's nickels on a war-born generation
to whom five cents in American coin is a young fortune.
went along with the night-clubbing for laughs—he doesn't drink. He got the
laughs, too. Like the night they found themselves ankle-deep in champagne;
someone was tipping over the bottles and charging them for it. Expensive
delights in telling one on his boss. "The mayor told us all the way
over how well he handles the German language," Ange said. "He got
a chance to try it out with an old German couple on the train from LeHavre
to Paris. I could see he wasn't doing so well, but he insisted everything
when they reached Stuttgart and stopped at a bar, Ange told Brunner,
"Okay, here's where you take over."
his confidence evidently shaken by his experience on the train, offered the
conventional, "Shpiken English?"
ja," the waiter nodded while Malandra made derisive sounds and scoffed,
"So you speak German— Shpiken English— some German!"
ignored him and ordered, "Dry martini."
came the waiter and placed three drinks in front of him.
this?" asked George.
Martini" replied the waiter, and counted them out: "Ein, zwei,
German-speaking or not, Brunner was well received there; they called him
Ober-burgemeister and Malandra Burgemeister. The two thus salute each
other in moments of levity now.
it was in Switzerland that Brunner really came into his own, his fame
eclipsing Walcott's. They visited George's mother's folks, whom he never had
seen. The town went wild at the visit of the mayor of an American city who
has Swiss blood in his veins. They really trod the royal carpet, and
consumed eight-course dinners, by far the best food of the whole trip.
Italian food was a disappointment to them— "We get better spaghetti
right here in Camden," Brunner insists loyally.
took over the ordering in Italy. "When in Rome eat as the Romans
eat," explained Walcott sagely. But Ange admitted ruefully that
Alfredo's famed spaghetti turned out to be baked macaroni with butter sauce.
"Gene Leone wouldn't dare serve it," he said.
Swiss were so determined to do everything up in a big way for Brunner that
they wouldn't let him take the regular flight to Rome because it stopped at
Geneva and took two and one-half hours. Nothing but a special non-stop trip
would do for the American mayor of Swiss ancestry. So with great ceremony
George was bundled onto a special plane. Enroute to Rome, it flew hither and
yon so his hosts could point out spots of interest in Switzerland or France
was non-stop, all right," Brunner said, "but it flew all over
time for the regular two and one-half hour run: eight hours.
never had been up, and vowed he never would. But they hustled him onto a
plane at Zurich and he received his baptism of flying 30,000 feet over the
was trying to say my prayers and the mayor was trying to cheer me up. He
kept telling me, 'Look how pretty the Alps look below us.' Those jagged
mountain peaks below us, and he called that cheering!"
it was mainly of Rome that they talked, where they had an audience with Pope
Pius and visited the landmarks of antiquity. They had a Jewish friend in the
retinue who made it a habit to saunter
into their room every morning promptly at 7:30, no matter how late they had
been up the night before. Friends of Mayor Brunner know he doesn't go for
that early rising. Leave the early worms for the early birds, is his
philosophy. Anyway, this particular 7:30 a.m. found Abe, clad in bathrobe
and slippers, rousing the others. "So what's for today?" he asked.
we better buy souvenirs to take home to our friends," suggested
kind of souvenirs?"
Rome, religious souvenirs, what else?"
I'll go with you."
will you do with religious souvenirs from Rome?" demanded Malandra.
said Abe, "do you think I have only Yiddisha friends?"
concluded Ange, "he bought more than any of us, and took them all to
the Vatican and had them blessed by the Pope."
every fight fan knows, Walcott won his bout at Mannheim. But not only do the
Germans forbid taking money out of the country that is earned there, they
ration your spending, at the rate of seventy-five marks per person per day.
They used up what they could, and later Joe went back with his eldest son
and spent two months there. But he still has seven thousand dollars worth of
marks deposited to his credit in Berlin.
be going over again soon, on an exhibition tour. Before he leaves, though,
he wants to start a program of lasting value to kids. Joe is intensely
serious on this subject; his affection for youngsters is genuine and
something truly noble. If he can use his prestige and influence to help the
small fry and steer them in the direction of good citizenship, harnessing
their energies along proper channels, he will consider the whole long,
difficult, often tedious twenty-year grind worth while. He's most sincere
about this—he's absolutely crazy over children.
want to do something for your boys," he said. "What
can I do?".
write them a note," I suggested. "They'll get a
charge out of that."
the same kindly, courteous, good-natured fellow 1 knew in the early 30s,
gentlemanly, deferential, unaffected by fame, a credit to his race and to a
game that sorely needs weighting on the credit side.