Madame Bey’s: Home to Boxing Legends!
By: Ken Hissner
In 1881 a little girl was born in Turkey to an American father and a French mother. Her life’s journey would eventually lead her to immigrating to America, marry and run a training camp in Chatham Township, New Jersey that would host 12 world heavyweight champions and no fewer than 78 IBHOF inductees. “Meet the woman who ran one of the most famous boxing camps in history,” – Nigel Collins – ESPN, The Ring, IBHOF inductee.
In a well-researched biography boxing enthusiast Gene Pantalone ‘shares’ the story of Madame Bey, a remarkable and fiery pioneer of women in business—who stood tall in a sport of men. Pantalone details the history of boxing and the life of Bey as she demanded exemplary behavior in the toughest of men. He shines a light on her ability to connect with people without preconceived notions, her roots in government and a mezzo-soprano opera singer (she sang the Stars Spangled Banner at the opening ceremony of the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, NY, in September 2001), and her friendship with President William McKinley and his wife. She was feet away from McKinley when he was assassinated. Included are bios and notable boxers during Madame Bey’s era.
Here is the Amazon link to the book: https://www.amazon.com/Madame-Beys-Home-Boxing-Legends/dp/1480836443/ref=sr11?ie=UTF8&qid=1483878341&sr=8-1&keywords=madame+bey
Madame Bey’s: Home to Boxing Legends share a fascinating story of an aristocratic woman who operated the training camp for world champion boxers during the early 20th century. The boxers who stayed at her camp and the boarders followed her rules. There was no alcohol, lights out at ten, no swearing and no women. Exhibitions were held on Sundays attended by sports writers and local residents.
Bey operated the training camp from 1923 to 1942 when she died. Her assistant Ehsan Karadag then changed the name to Ehsan’s Training Camp in 1945 and ran it for over 20 years closing in 1969. She was married to a Turkish diplomat. She spoke seven different languages – English, Armenian, French, German, Greek, Italian and Spanish. She ran a successful Oriental rug business with her husband after they left the diplomatic corps, but her boxing endeavor she coveted the most.
A list of those boxers who she called “her boy’s” with her favorites being Max Schmeling, Freddie Steele, Tommy Farr, Paul Berlenbach (LT HVY champ), Primo Carnera, Lou Ambers and Gene Tunney, who she called her “polished emerald”. An alphabetic list starts with Georgie Abrams, Lou Ambers, Fred Apostoli, Red Applegate, Ray Marcel, Freddy Archer, Henry Armstrong, Buddy Baer, Max Baer (HW champ), Joe Baski, Sam Baroudi, Billy Beauhuld, Tommy Bell, Steve Belloise, Paul Berlenbach, Melio Bettina, Carmine Bilotti, Whitey Bimstein, Jimmy Bivins, James Braddock (HW champ), Jorge Brescia, Jack Britton, Freddy Brown, Al Buck, Red Berman, Mushy Callahan, Victor Campolo, Tony Canzoneri (LT WT champ), Primo Carnera (HW champ), Georges “The Orchid Man” Carpentier (4 Div Euro champ), Jimmy Carter (LT WT champ), Rubin Carter, Ezzard Charles (HW champ), Kid “Cuban Bon Bon) Chocolate (JR LT champ), Gil Clancy, Freddy “Red” Cochrane (WELT champ), Jimmy Carrollo, Lulu Constantino, Cus D’Amato, Jack Delaney (NYSAC LH champ), Al “Bummy” Davis, Red Top Davis, James P. Dawson, Jack Dempsey (HW champ), Gus Dorazio, Carl “The Bronx Express” Duane, Chris Dundee, Johnny “Scotch Wop” Dundee (JR LT champ), Vince Dundee (NBA MW champ), Sixto “El Callito” Escobar (BAN WT champ), Tommy Farr, Abe Feldman, Freddie “Martin” Fiducia, Jackie Fields (NBA WELT champ), F. Scott Fitzgerald, Billy Blackjack” Fox, Humbert Fugazi, Charley Fusari, Tony Galento, Kid Gavilan (WELT champ), Frankie Genaro (NBA FLY champ), Billy Gibson, Joey Giardello (MW champ), George Godfrey, Arturo Godoy, Charley Goldman, Ruby Goldstein, Bud Gorman, Billy Graham, Frank Graham, Rocky Graziano (MW champ), Abe Greene, Gus Greenlee, Emile Griffith (2 Div champ), Babe Herman, Steve Hostak, Ace “Nebraska Wildcat” Hudkins, Herbert Hype Igoe, Beau Jack (NYSAC LT WT champ), Tommy Hurricane Jackson, Jimmy Jacobs, Joe Jacobs, Mike Jacobs, Joe Jeanette, Ben Jaby (NYSAC MW champ), Lou “Sweetwater Swatter” Jenkins (LT WT champ), Jack Johnson (HW champ), James Johnston, Doug Jones, Ralph Tiger Jones, Phil Kaplan, Jack Kearns, Frankie Klick (JR LT champ), Johnny Kilbane, Solly Kreiger, Jake “Bronx Bull” LaMotta (MW champ), Tippy “The Garfield Gunner” Larkin (JR LT champ), Benny “The Ghetto Wizard” Leonard (LT WT champ), Gus Lesnevich (LT HVY champ), King “Kingfish” Levinsky, John Henry Lewis (LT HVY champ), Isaac Logart, Tommy “Phantom of Philly” Loughran (LT HVY champ), Joe Louis (HW champ), Joe Lynch (BAN WT champ), Eddie “Mc Carthy” Mader, Nathan Mann, Lloyd Marshall, ”Cannonball” Eddie Martin (BAN WT champ), Joey Maxim (LT HVY champ), Jimmy McLarnin, Bat Masterson, “Bould” Mike McTigue, Jack Miley, Bob “Bobcat” Montgomery (NYSAC LT WT champ), Archie “Old Mongoose” Moore (LT HVY champ), Todd Morgan (JR LT champ), Dan Morgan, Walter “Der Blonde Tiger” Neusel, Kid Norfolk, Lou Nova, Philadelphia Jack O’Brien (LT HVY champ), Bob Olin, Lee Oma, Carlos Ortiz (2 Div champ), Ken Overlin, Benny Kid Paret (WELT champ), Floyd Patterson (HW champ), Willie “Will o’ the Wisp” Pep (NYSAC feather champ), Billy “The Fargo Express” Petrolle, Willie Ratner, Grantland Rice, Gilbert Rogan, Maxie “Slappsie Maxie” Rosenbloom (NYSAC LT HVY champion), Al Roth, Andre Routis (NBA Feath champ), Irving Rudd, Bobby Ruffin, Damon Runyon, Sandy Saddler (2 Div champ), Lou Salica (NYSAC Bantam champ), Johnny Saxton (WELTER champ), Max Schmeling (HW champ), Flashy Sebastian, Marty Servo, Jack Sharkey (HW champ), Battling “Singular Senegalese” Siki, Eric Seelig, Freddy “Tacoma Assassin” Steele (NBA MIDDLE champ), Allie Stoltz, Young “King of the Canebrakes” Stribbling, Herman Taylor, Lou Tendler, Sid Terris, Young “Trenton Terror” Terry, Jack Thompson Jose “Chegui” Torres (LT HVY champ) , Gene Tunney (HW champ), Pancho Villa (FLY champ), Mickey “Toy Bulldog” Walker (2 Div champ), Max Waxman, Al Weill, Charley “Newark Adonis” Weinert, Freddy “Welsh Wizard” Welsh (LT WT champ), Harry “Black Panther” Wills, Charley White, Johnny Wilson, Chalky Wright (NYSAC FEA champ), Paulino Uzcudun, Jersey Joe Walcott (HW champ), Ike Williams (NBA LT WT champ), Teddy Yarosz (NBA MID champ).
The camp the Madame and her husband purchased was on River Road and situated on a hilly 30 acres of farmland. The two story building had the gym on the first floor. The walls were covered with posters of past and future fights at Madison Square Garden and other facilities. The dining area where the Madame served food twice a day which much of the food was obtained from the Bey farm. You could get seconds and thirds if you requested them but the word “please” better start the request or be rejected.
The main attraction for spectators was the outdoor ring a few feet in the back of the farmhouse. Many came to see the sparring sessions and the workouts. The air was crisp with mountain breezes unlike most camps. The trees filtered the high temperatures created by the sun. The evenings were cool enough to make blankets welcomed. The early outdoor ring was a simple wooden structure covered on top by canvas. Later the outdoor ring sat on a platform raised about two feet above the ground. At the end closet to the farmhouse a platform supported from the ring roof was a speed bag and a chain wrapped around a rafter supported a heavy bag. Bleachers were at ringside. This created space for plenty of spectators around the ring.
The outdoor ring would become an important part of the camp. Carmine Bilotti, a renowned boxing publicist, recalled the River Road lined with limousines and cars to obtain admission to attend Bey’s outdoor exhibitions. “It was a hell of a healthy spot in those days,” Bilotti recollected.
If a celebrated fighter was in training, crowds could outstrip the population of Chatham Township. More than two thousand writers, photographers and fans would descend upon Madame Bey’s when the town’s population numbered well under one thousand. A sign erected outside informed fans who would be training in the outdoor ring. The sign had the title “TRAINING TO-DAY”. Times were listed on the left side in half-hour increments. On the right side, boxer’s names slid into slots besides the times.
The boxing exhibitions had the quality that would make a promoter proud. Often they used referees to keep the sparring bouts in control. The boxing exhibitions were an extra source of income for Madame Bey. There was a ticket booth to charge admission. She would stand at the entrance with a large black pocketbook slung over her shoulder. She would collect one dollar on weekdays and two dollars on weekends from each person that wanted to view the exhibition. She would place the money in her pocketbook. It was customary to give the marquee boxer at camps, the one who drew the biggest crowds twenty-five to fifty cents per spectator. On nice spring days, boys would drive from Morristown High School or take the Erie-Lackawanna – a train line that served the area – to Summit. From there they would hitch a ride or walk. Most boys had no means to pay for entrance. Madame Bey would continue to chase them away and to collect from her paying customers. Once the sparring began, Madame Bey would take her seat in the back. She would then give a nod to the boys she had kept away just a short time before. They knew their cue and scrambled to take any unoccupied seats.
All boxers training at Bey’s paid the same rate of four dollars and fifty cents a day, giving the room, board and the use of the gymnasium. An unwritten hierarchical structure existed. The best boxers, champions, former champions and Bey’s favorites lived and slept in the farmhouse. At meal times, the resident champion garnered the head of the table with the better boxers sitting closest to him. They had conversations at the table with a range that had no limit.
Heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott described the relationship that existed.
“It always seemed like a family. Like a bunch of brothers sitting at a table. We were brothers in the same profession.”
Besides the singing entertainment Madame Bey supplied, boxers listened to the radio – no television existed – played cards, and joined Madame Bey at the piano. Sometimes in the evenings, they would go to neighboring town of Summit that had a movie theater. Madame Bey often went with them. She had her own seat she expected to occupy. They could do any of these activities, but Bey expected lights out by ten, with no exceptions.
One time heavyweight Charley Weinert, the Newark Adonis from Hungary stayed at the camp. He had beat Jack Sharkey, and fought Gene Tunney twice, losing once by a fifteen-round knockout and the other time by a twelve round decision. He appeared on the cover of the Ring Magazine on July of 1925. Now all of this unimpressed Madame Bey. Weinert tried to test Bey’s curfew. She stayed awake until he returned.
“When he came sneaking back in the dawn,” Madame Bey recalled, “I was waiting for him but instead of what you would call putting the blast on him, I just said, “Charley I never thought a nice boy like you would be so unkind’ and I walked away leaving him staring at me. Charley never tried to cheat again once he had made me feel badly. And it affected him when he realized that I had called him a nice boy instead of some of the things he knew he had coming.”
Not all Bey’s guests were pleased with the remote location. A journalist would follow a boxer for weeks before a marquee fight. He would hand-crank his press release on a mimeograph machine after he had typed it on a stencil, licked the envelope and walked two miles into town to the post office. Some sports journalists who had to visit the camp to report on a fighter before a big fight would write about the location and surroundings derisively. One who called Bey’s camp a cross between a chicken farm, and a ninth avenue, New York, gymnasium:
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