Memoirs Of A Promoter

Ring Magazine – May, 1930
By Jack Curley, as told to Frank Graham

. . . Even among some of my friends there lingers an impression that I was born in Europe, but this isn’t so. Five years before my birth, my parents, who were Alasatians, fled to this country to escape reprisals after the Franco-Prussian war, for the end of the war found Strassburg, which was their home, a part of the German Empire and their sympathies had lain with France. Arriving in New York, my parents proceeded almost without delay to San Francisco, where they had relatives and there, on July 4, 1876, I was born.

The haven which they had sought did not meet with my mother’s expectations and this, combined with her homesickness, caused my father to take us – my mother and three children – back to Europe. My father feared to return to Alsace but sent us there to live with relatives.

He spent a brief time in Paris and then came back to this country, settling once more in San Francisco. When I was about thirteen and a pupil in a school in the Vosges, about twenty kilometers from Strassburg, Dad sent for us and we rejoined him. I completed my elementary schooling at Lincoln School and entered a business college with the intention of becoming a merchant.

The intention was not lasting, for I was caught and held by the glamour of the streets and the life that seethed about them. The business school, so attractive to me in the beginning, became dull and I quit it to become a copy boy in the office of the San Francisco Chronicle . . .

At that time George La Blanche, the Marine, who had knocked out Jack Dempsey, the Nonpareil, with the celebrated pivot blow, kept a saloon and shooting gallery on Market Street. I had played hookie from the Lincoln School to see that fight at the old California Athletic Club (August 27, 1889) and had conceived a tremendous admiration for La Blanche for I had given no heed to the illegality of the blow and was impressed only with the fact that he had knocked out the great Dempsey. Having lost my job on the Chronicle (on the ground that there was no room on the paper for a “romancer” such as I), I frequented La Blanche’s place, and he put me to work in the shooting gallery.

There I was employed when, just prior to the opening of the world’s fair in Chicago (1893), tales of the wonders of that city drifted out to the Coast and found a responsive listener in me. I was sixteen years old now, big and strong and very sure of myself and, leaving home one night, I set out for Chicago. I worked my way when I could, paying my fare when I had to and stealing rides on freight and passenger trains when the opportunity presented itself.

Chicago, during the fair, was a boom town for youthful adventurers like myself. Work was plentiful, fun was to be had cheaply. I slipped easily from job to job, saw the fair exactly twice, made friends among the sporting fraternity and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The bottom fell out of this pleasant existence with the closing of the fair. Work became scarce and thousands of men and boys were thrown out of jobs. My first thought was to find a place on one of the newspapers, but the best I could do was to get occasional assignments from Dunlap’s Dispatch, an afternoon newspaper . . . (and) as newspaper assignments fell off, I tramped the streets, slept in shreds and alleys and often suffered from hunger . . . I got a job washing dishes in a cheap restaurant . . . the pay was almost nothing but I got my meals free.

In September of 1893, by which time the situation had improved somewhat, I met a man who was to have a direct influence on my career as a promoter. This was P.J. (Paddy) Carroll, of Logansport, Ind., manager of Jack Burke, the Irish lad who had fought a six-round bout with Jim Corbett in San Francisco a couple of years before, and had been a persistent challenger of John L. Sullivan until Corbett had beaten Sullivan at New Orleans. Carroll, at the time I met him, was running the Pelican A.C. on State Street near Twenty-third and he employed me to act as a second for the fighters and to help him as best I could in the conduct of the club . . .

Carroll had no small measure of ability as a promoter but he was lazy, and, as time wore on, he left many of the details of the management of the club to me. Had he paid stricter attention to his affairs, my connection with him would not have yielded me much but, thrown largely on my own, I learned a great deal about the business to which I was to devote my life. I made matches, handled all arrangements with the fighters and their managers, got out what little publicity we could command and virtually staged the shows.

Then, breaking sharply in on my new found prosperity, came the great railroad strike in June of 1894. The depression accompanying the strike compelled Carroll to close up temporarily and I again had to depend chiefly on the scattered assignments I could get from the Dispatch for a living.

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