The Harder They Fall: Gladys Rosa—A Conversation (Part II)
By Kent Wallace
(Authors Note: When we last left Gladys Rosa, the young, no-nonsense lass was being pitched by boxing legend Don King—but not biting. Let’s take it from there…)
So I’m back at the 92 (my office), seated beside Cindy “Boom Boom” Podgorski—amber potion in one hand, the phone in the other with Gladys Rosa in conversational mode. I ask her to pick up her story from where we left off…
The Bronx born teen graduated high-school early (if you recall she was an advanced student, working as an intern—for school credit—with New York City honcho Melvyn Haywoode). Immediately after graduation Gladys accepted a full-time, salaried job, with Mr. Haywoode.
King, however, never known as a wilting flower, was doggedly determined to bring Gladys into his fold.
It was Gladys’ mom Gloria who fielded the call from King. She advised the promoter that her daughter was not available at the time but would be glad to pass on a message. King provided his private number.
“My mom was ecstatic—she knew who Don King was as my mom was a district leader and community activist—very politically and socially involved. My dad on the other hand was a one man Puerto Rican parade—he was so proud.
“In a sense, I called Mr. King back as much as for my folks as for myself.”
King wanted the kid. At the time he had legendary, Damon Runyonesque, press agent Irving Rudd working for him. When told she would be mentoring under the best in the business (Rudd) Gladys agreed to meet with the P.T. Barnum of the P.R. milieu.
Irving and Gladys had a break-bread, sit down session at a mid-town deli. Irving was impressed with the sophistication of the South Bronx teen. “I knew from my herring and Matzo Ball soup,” Gladys laughed.
Student and teacher hit it off and Irving had a suggestion…
“There was a big fight coming up and Irving asked me to put together a press release for him to peruse. I wrote it overnight and brought it by his office the following morning on my way to work.”
Irving loved it! A job offer was tendered (on a Thursday). Gladys went to work the following Monday.
“It was quite impressive, entering the Town House offices at 32 East 69th Street that very first time,” recalled Gladys. “The walls were plastered with posters of historical bouts and fighters. And what a gallery of champs it was! You must remember at the time Don King promoted Ali, Norton, Duran, de Jesus, Escalera and more. These were household names in Rosa casa—I’d grown up watching them on television with my dad.
“My first job was to serve as translator for Roberto Duran who was going up against Ken Buchannan. This put me in with the bulls right off. There wasn’t just Roberto to deal with but his powerful Panamanian manager Carlos Eleta and Luis Henriquez, his right hand man—they considered me, and in fact called me, a secretary! “
Gladys guided “Manos de Piedra” through the gauntlet of media platforms (television, radio and print). It wasn’t long before the pugnacious Panamanian saw much more than merely a youthful secretary—but a skilled, translator/publicist instead.
“When Roberto turned to me after one of the many interviews and said, ‘Eres mas que una secretaria’ the bond was born. And suddenly, he seemed thrilled by the Hispanic connection. He’d never seen a Latina operating so seamlessly in this man’s game. Roberto became my biggest fan!”
Duran won that night—becoming the WBA lightweight champion of the world.
Two years later, the life changing bout for Gladys and the entire boxing world took place in Madison Square Garden. The rematch of Ali/Frazier…
“Unbridled chaos from the announcement of the bout to the first bell,” Gladys laughed.
“Ali was training in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania. Irving was the inside guy, Murray Goodman was the outside guy and I was the gal in the middle—the liaison between the Ali camp and the Garden media corps.
“We were churning out 2-4 press releases a day as everything was news. You’ve got to remember, there was no internet back then—no emailing, no texting, I was hand delivering press release to the global boxing media.”
As for Ali himself, this writer needed to know…
“Ali was gracious, larger than life, and very easy going—a pleasure to work for. He respected my work ethic and I recall him once saying, ‘Usually I see women at these press conferences trying to impress—to stand out—to get a piece of the shinning sun. But Gladys is all business—she’s here to work.’”
Not everyone, however, was as complimentary of the youthful upstart and her position in this mano-y-mano realm typically regulated to men.
Dick Young, the legendary sports writer and colorful curmudgeon (a man, by the way, who refused to call Ali anything but Cassius Clay), wanted to know who the hell Gladys was and what the hell she was doing.
“He seemed to be eyeballing me and finally he came up and said, ‘You’re too nice to be in this racket. Tell your parents they didn’t do a good job!’
“I was steamed. My family was untouchable. I turned to Mr. Young and said, under no uncertain terms, ‘Watch what you say Mister. I’ll make you eat your words!’”
Spicier than fresh Sofrito and perhaps inspired by the Louisville Lip hisself, the Latina Lip put Mr. Young in his place!
That trait of fearless feistiness followed the lass throughout her storied career…
(Stay tuned for Part III)
Gladys Rosa—A Conversation (Part I)
By Kent Wallace
I was seated at the “Office” (Legion Post 92) a shot in one hand a phone in the other— with Gladys Rosa on the other end of the line in New York City.
I was solo—the last time I saw Boom Boom she was sailing East on a Junk—but like Sonny and Cher said, The Beat Goes On…
Gladys Rosa is a renaissance woman—a gal who boldly climbed through the ropes of the male-dominated sport of boxing—her influence felt at the highest levels.
Gladys has worn many hats—publicist, interpreter, trouble-shooter, confidant and more…
Plus she’s served in these varies capacities for such seminal Champions as Muhammad Ali, Roberto Duran, Larry Holmes, Julio Caesar Chavez, Felix Trinidad and Mike Tyson (to name but a few).
Perhaps best known for her marketing and public relation skills—Gladys single handedly crafted the images of the aforementioned fighters to the Latin Market and conversely polished the voices and mien of Latin fighters for consumption in the USA—you might say, she was the mouth behind the mitts.
“With Caesar,” Gladys’ voice came through the electronic device with a passionate lilt, “I was involved in every aspect of his career. He never had an “official” manager and so while Don King did the promotion, I took Caesar under my wing in a managerial sense—grooming him for the world stage.
“In the case of Tito (Felix Trinidad), despite hailing from Puerto Rico he was not particularly well known there—the fact that my parents were born in the Commonwealth allowed us a more personal connection and level of trust. Tito became very comfortable with the blueprint I created for his career—needless to say it worked.”
Gladys was an expert at molding the public personas of fighters but this scribe wanted to know how it all began and she was quick to pounce with a breathtaking narrative…
“I was an advanced student in High School,” Gladys began. “Therefore I did not have to attend classes during my sophomore and junior years. Rather, I was allowed to earn credits by working as an intern.
“I was fortunate to land a spot with the City of New York under the tutelage of Melvyn Haywoode.
“So here I was, a self-confident 16-year-old, working with Mel, when I was asked to join my “boss” at a meeting regarding smoothing out the relationship between Don King (promoter for Muhammad Ali) and the Nation of Islam (Ali’s managers). The mission; to help King leverage his position with the Nation.
“I’ll never forget the meeting in King’s office on the top floor of Rockefeller Center—it was akin to Dorothy entering the palace of the Wizard in the classic film.
“There was a room full of people (all men) seated around a huge table—and while the scene was overwhelming I was not intimidated.
“I sat quietly listening to a string of community leaders prattle on with suspect solutions I found to be more
confrontational than conducive to bridge building—a grave lack of diplomacy.
“I guess the “Tell” was my facial expressions. You see, while I didn’t dare speak up, I couldn’t mask my contrarian scorn for the blather—and Don King took note!”
“Suddenly, he raised his hand, silencing the room and steering his gaze my way, ‘You don’t seem to agree with much that’s being said at this table Gladys. I’d like to hear your thoughts.’
“If silence can get even quieter it happened right then and there. And while I was out of my element, I nonetheless spoke my mind. I explained that all the ideas being put forth seemed aggressive and that in order to breach the impasse they needed to focus on resolving the clash rather than trying to strong-arm a path to reconciliation.
“Mr. King listened intently and when I was finished, he smiled and offered me a job—right there on the spot, ‘I’d like you to come and work for me,’ those were his exact words, and well, since I suspect I was on a roll, I replied, ‘I’ll work with you but not for you!’
“It’s not that I was trying to be imprudent or sassy, but I guess I was the kind of kid that stood her ground—on her own two feet—Puerto Rican pride.
“A gentle nudge from Mr. Haywoode brought me back to my senses…”
Gladys and I ended our conversation with the promise and commitment to speak again. And frankly, I can’t wait.
Gladys has had a long career in the fight game and especially with the colorful Don King. She has many a story to share and she assured me continued candor and frankness.
Stay tuned. Meanwhile, I’m heading back to the “Office” for a tightener…