Boxing promoter George “Tex” Rickard, 51, knew that bringing his client, world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey, 26, into the ring to defend his title against world light heavyweight champion Georges Carpentier, 27, would draw a big crowd.
So big, in fact, that, rather than hold the bout in his usual venue, Madison Square Garden, Rickard has built this new facility, Boyle’s Thirty Acres, across the river in Jersey City, New Jersey, to hold 90,000. Besides, he’s been having a bit of trouble recently with the New York State Boxing Commission and Tammany Hall.
Dempsey has an almost 20-pound weight advantage over the Frenchman. But Rickard has spun the story for the newspapers so that this is seen as a fight between the handsome French war hero, Carpentier, and the American draft dodger [in reality, Dempsey received an exemption for family reasons] who recently divorced his wife. As a result, Tex has more women buying tickets for a boxing match than ever before.
Program from Dempsey Carpentier fight
The winner gets $300,000. The loser, $200,000.
Rickard is hoping that this will be the first million-dollar gate in boxing history. It is the first fight to be sanctioned by the newly organized National Boxing Association. And the first sporting event to be broadcast live in more than 60 cities across the country.
In a Midtown brownstone on West 49th Street, past an iron grille and a locked wooden door with a peephole in it, a group of revellers are drinking illegal booze out of big white coffee cups at tables covered with red checkered cloths.
Tony Soma’s is the speakeasy of choice for the Manhattan writers and editors who lunch regularly a few blocks away at the Algonquin Hotel.
Dorothy Parker, 27, Robert Benchley, 31, and Robert Sherwood, 25, met when they worked together on Vanity Fair magazine. But since a bit of a tiff with management at the beginning of last year, Dottie has been free-lancing, and Benchley and Sherwood are editing the humor magazine, Life.
On this Saturday of a long Fourth of July weekend, they are joined by friends just returned from their first holiday in Europe, novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, 24, and his pregnant wife, Zelda, 20.
In the New York Evening World, Parker and Benchley’s friend, magazine illustrator Neysa McMein, 33, has sketched Carpentier, calling him “The Pride of Paris,” commenting that Michelangelo “would have fainted for joy with the beauty of his profile.”
Tonight they are all here to listen to the radio broadcast of the “Fight of the Century.” As they always do, Benchley’s friends are urging the teetotaler to at least try some alcohol. How can he be so against something that he’s never tried? Benchley has taken the pledge to not drink, and even voted for Prohibition.
But tonight, he figures, What the hey. He orders an Orange Blossom.
Benchley takes a few sips. He turns to Parker and says,
This place should be closed down by the police.”
Then he orders another.
By the end of the evening, Dempsey has defeated Carpentier in the fourth round. And Orange Blossoms have defeated Robert Benchley.
Recipe for an Orange Blossom:
1 ounce gin
1 ounce fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon powdered sugar
Shake gin, orange juice, and sugar over ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with flamed orange peel.
This recipe from the Robert Benchley Society appears in Under the Table: A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick [Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2013]
Orange Blossom cocktail
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volume I covering 1920 is available in print and e-book format on Amazon. For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This summer I am talking about The Literary 1920s in the Osher Lifelong Learning program at the University of Pittsburgh. In the fall I will be talking about Writers’ Salons in Dublin and London before the Great War in the Osher program at Carnegie-Mellon University.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and e-book versions.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.