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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Look Back: Eddie Leonard

In an effort to link the past with the present, The Jewish Boxing Blog will offer monthly a short biography of notable former Jewish boxers.

Eddie Leonard was a good Baltimore-based fighter who fought exclusively in the Mid-Atlantic region during his career in the 1920s. His legacy, however, stems from his career after boxing.

Benjamin Simon was born May 17, 1905 in Baltimore, Maryland, where he was raised. He became a professional boxer as a teenager. As with the great Benny Leonard, who purportedly took his surname from the famous minstrel actor, Eddie Leonard, so that his mother would not discover his new profession, it's likely that Simon took his new moniker from the same man for the same reason.

In fact, there were a few Eddie Leonards fighting during the 1920s, which makes it difficult to pin down this Eddie Leonard's actual record. BoxRec lists nine fights in New York on Leonard's record from 1921 to 1922. Another Eddie Leonard probably took part in those fights, because our Eddie Leonard would have been 15 years old for his first fight. BoxRec admits that the identity of the true Eddie Leonard is in question for these fights.

Leonard likely partook in his pro debut in August 1923 against Porky Flynn in Baltimore at the age of 18. A flyweight, he stood 5'4" and fought with his hair slicked and parted in the middle. He wore a Star of David with the letters "EL" inside it on his trunks over his left thigh

Managed by Max Weinman and trained by Heine Blaustein, Leonard built up his record against inexperienced opponents early in his career. He was 12-0-1 when he suffered his first loss to Battling Frye. In their many duels, Leonard went 3-2 against his fellow Baltimore native with four of their fights taking place in 1924.

Leonard's best wins came against a fellow Jewish Baltimorean, Marty Gold, who he defeated twice, once in 1926 and again in 1927. Leonard's biggest fight came against a Londoner and former title challenger, Ernie Jarvis. Jarvis won an eight-round decision in that one. In 1928, Leonard fought for the last time, a loss to Troy Ross.

Leonard's record was somewhere in the ballpark of 45-4-1 with 6 KOs and three newspaper victories, although Thomas Scharf asserts that "Leonard fought around 50 battles during his first two years after turning professional in 1923." Eddie was never stopped.

Comedian Dick Curtis claimed that Leonard was owned by the mob. After his boxing career, Eddie became a referee and judge. He was in the ring with the likes of Joe Louis, Archie Moore, and Willie Pep. Eddie also ran a few businesses. Kliph Nesteroff explains, "As the Mob's pugilists aged they were often granted their own nightclub, as casually as a retiring office worker receives a gold watch."

Eddie opened Eddie Leonard's Spa in Baltimore. This was no day spa; it was a strip club. Curtis described it as one of the worst strip joints in the world. He explained, "I opened at Eddie Leonard's Spa in Baltimore on Christmas Eve. This was in 1952. Can you imagine who would go to a strip joint on Christmas Eve in 1952?"

Curtis's material was clean, much to the chagrin of the angry audience. Leonard came over to Curtis during an interlude and said, "Hey, kid. Don't you know nothing dirty?" Curtis retorted, "No, I don't do that, Eddie. People tell me I look like a choir boy." Eddie answered, "You better learn something dirty or you're on your way out of here."

Curtis did, but the audience continued to viciously heckle him. Leonard came over to him during another interlude and said, "Hey, kid. Don't do those dirty jokes in here 'cause you look like a choir boy." Curtis later asked Eddie why he hadn't been fired in the wake of the patrons' reaction to his comedy. Leonard snapped, "Shut up. You got a tuxedo. You make my show look good."

Leonard also opened a line of carryout establishments, typically in poor neighborhoods, in the 1950s called Eddie Leonard's Sandwich Shop. A number of them are still open in the D.C.-Baltimore area, although they've all been bought out by immigrants from Asia. Of all the fights Leonard- who died in May of 1983- took part in, the sandwich shops have become his lasting legacy.

Bibliography
Debose, Brian. "Eddie Leonard's - 63 years and still going." Be About Design. February 8, 2012.
Nesteroff, Kliph. "An Interview with Dick Curtis - Part One." Classic Television Showbiz. September 24, 2011.
Nesteroff, Kliph. "The Comedians, The Mob and the American Supperclub." WMFU's Beware of the Blog. February 19, 2012.
Scharf, Thomas. Baltimore's Boxing Legacy, 1893-2003. 2003.

4 comments:


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  4. I'm great grand son to Eddie. Interesting article. I've heard mention of his connection to the mofia and of the seedings of the "spa" but have never seen it in writing.

    Also, he was born Bernard, not Benjamin (as far as I know)

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