Friday, April 27, 2012

Recalling a Colorado Olympics?

The Games in London this summer help us to recall a Colorado Olympics that never was.
In the early 1970s, the hosting of the games offered the promise showcasing Colorado, the Centennial State in its centennial year. Area high school students competed in essay contests to go to the summer games in Munich in preparation. Resorts and ski areas began gearing up for the onslaught of tourists. Politicians touted the benefits of a global presence in local arenas.
“The International Olympic Committee gave the 1976 Winter Olympics to Denver, but in 1972, Colorado voters rejected a $5 million bond issue to finance the undertaking. Denver immediately withdrew as host and the IOC called on Innsbruck, site of the 1964 Olympics,” according to InfoPlease.
“Denver withdraws and the united States Olympic Committee unanimously names Salt Lake City as the replacement candidate city to host the 1976 Olympics Games. In February of 1973, the IOC chose Innsbruck, Austria, to hosts the 1976 games,” according to Utah Travel & Adventure.
In the file for “what might have been,” Coloradans could place a 19-year-old Dorothy Hamill collecting Gold in figure skating in Innsbruck then for the 1976 games, and Bill Koch winning the first-ever cross-country skiing medal for the United States by taking silver in the 30-kilometer.
“The vote was really one for conservation and the environment,” wrote Richard Ellis and Duane Smith in their 1991 book “Colorado: A History in Photographs.”
“Taxpayers wanted their money to go for something other than stimulating growth.”
The battle divided the state,  pitting then Colorado Governor John Love and Denver Mayor William McNichols against leading opponent Richard Lamm.
 Lamm used this effort to springboard into the governor’s office where he subsequently served three terms.
“The pro-Olympics faction had blundered badly and misjudged the changing attitudes of Coloradans. For the first time in the history of the state, the idea to ‘sell Colorado’ had been dealt a major blow,” according to Ellis and Smith.
A hand-picked committee by current Governor John Hickenlooper and Denver's Mayor Michael Hancock officially began an exploratory process on whether Colorado could and should host the Winter Games in 2022 in January.
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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Manassa Mauler bares knuckles in mining camps


In January of 1928, having recently lost the heavyweight championship of the world title, the fighter know as Jack Dempsey announced his retirement because he was having “trouble” with his left eye muscle. It has been a long tough road from the mining camps of Colorado.
The Associated Press reported in April that Dempsey would not attempt a comeback – not even for $50 million dollars. “I have enough money,” he told newspapers at the time and still had his health. “I can still walk around and tell time.”
In 1931 and 1932, Dempsey did fight over 100 exposition fights but after his poor showing against “Kingfish” Levinsky, he confirmed his decision not to make a comeback.
William H. Dempsey, the Manassa Mauler, was billed as “one of the toughest men to ever come out of the West. The moniker originated from Dempsey’s birthplace in the San Luis Valley town of Manassa, Colorado.
His dad knocked around various Colorado mining camps, and eked out a living in low level mining jobs for years. Barely able to scrape by, the young Dempsey worked as a mucker in the Cripple Creek District’s Portland Mine before he and his brother hit on a scheme in which they would go into the local saloons and offer to whip anyone in the house for the amount they could collect by passing the hat.
Both he and his brother fought in the saloons under the name of Jack Dempsey, which was borrowed from an eighteenth-century Irish brawler. Though he appeared slight and non-threatening as a 16-year-old kid, according to the legend, Dempsey never lost one of these bare-knuckle brawls.
The Cyber Boxing Zone says that because of this, his record is still incomplete.
“As a hobo from 1911 to 1916, Dempsey had many ‘fights,’ most as ‘Kid Blackie,’ in various Colorado mining towns. His first fight was at 140 pounds during the summer of 1912, a KO of Fred Wood, the ‘Fighting Blacksmith.’ Later that year he Kayoed his future manager, Andy Molloy; It is possible that Dempsey had as a many as 100 unrecorded fights.”
According to Hickok Sports, Dempsey went to New York in 1916 but met with limited success and returned to the west after suffering broken ribs by a more experienced fighter. Hopping freights and picking up occasional bouts to earn money, he met Jack “Doc” Kearns who reportedly taught him to box and matched him against a series of lesser fighters to build his reputation.
“The 6-foot, 190-pound Dempsey met with the 6-foot 6-inch, 250-pound,  heavyweight champion Jess Willard on July 4, 1919, at Toledo, Ohio. Dempsey won a third-round knockout. Promoter Tex Rickard immediately began calling him ‘Jack the Giant Killer’ because Willard was known as the ‘Pottawatomie Giant.’”
Dempsey defended his title only six times in the next seven years and finally lost it to Gene Tunney in a 10-round decision on September 23, 1926 in Philadelphia.
In the rematch in Chicago a year later, Dempsey knocked Tunney down in the seventh round. It took Dempsey several seconds to go back to his neutral corner (a fairly new rule prompted by actions by Dempsey in his 1922 legendary win over Luis Firpo). Tunney got to his feet at count of nine and held on to win a 10-round decision.
It became known famously as “The Long Count,” and Referee Dave Barry had to suffer through derisive fans shouting from one to 14 in unison between rounds in which he refereed – based on Dempsey’s belief that Tunney had been down for 14 seconds, not nine.
A 1950 Associated Press poll named Dempsey “the Greatest Fighter of the half century.” Of his available record of known fights, he logged 63 wins, seven losses, 10 draws, five no decisions, one no contest. Of his wins, 50 were by knockouts. Dempsey died in 1983 at the ripe old age of 87.
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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Can't get anymore stranded than that


“I don’t know what they have to say. It makes no difference anyway. Whatever it is, I’m against it.” __ Groucho Marx, from Horse Feathers.

Groucho actually began his career as a female impersonator, according to the March, 1974 issue of Playboy, playing a singer in a smalltime vaudeville troupe, The LeRoy Trio, in 1905.

“With the onset of puberty, and subsequent change of his voice, he was left stranded by the troupe in Cripple Creek, Colorado, and you can’t get any more stranded that,” said the magazine article.
Groucho told the tale in his book, “Groucho and Me,” which was first released in 1959. He went looking for the leader of the act, Gene LeRoy, only to find out he had been abandoned.
“I returned to our boardinghouse to question Larong (LeRoy) about our future plans, only to discover that the master showman had had hastily packed his blue kimono, his evening gown and his mascara and had taken it on the lam, never to be seen or heard from again,” according to Groucho.
After the LeRoy Trio fell apart, he tried work driving a grocery wagon between Cripple Creek and Victor.
“Though he had never seen a horse, he wrangled a job as a wagon driver until Miene or ‘Minnie’ (his mother) could send him his train fare home,”  according to the Playboy article.
His next engagement ended almost as abruptly in Waco, Texas, when the Englishwoman who had hired him, ran off with a lion tamer who shared the bill.
“He then found a job cleaning actor’s wigs, which he describes as a ‘hair-raising experience.’”
His mother decide to take matters into her own hands and organized an act called the ‘Three Nightingales,’ which featured him, his brother Harpo -- who couldn’t sing at all, and a girl who sang off-key. They became the ‘Four Nightingales’ when brother Chico, who had lost his job as a lifeguard (he had to be saved from drowning by another guard). His brother Gummo, eventually replaced the musically-challenged girl, and they became the ‘Four Marx Brothers. Gummo was later replaced by Zeppo, a younger brother.
The Four Marx Brothers knocked around vaudeville for years, finally hitting it big on Broadway in the two –year run of “I’ll Say She Is.” Other successes followed with “Cocoanuts,” and “Animal Crackers.”
Translated from Broadway to film, these and other monster smashes secured the Four Marx Brothers commercial success.
Groucho created his own solo success in radio programs like “You Bet Your Life,” which lasted until 1963, and with his brother Chico, playing the comic lawyers of ‘Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel.’
“You can just imagine those naughty eyebrows waggling as he warbles, “She has eyes that men adore so / And a torso / Even more so,’ followed more double entendres than you can shake a stick at, if that’s your idea of a good time,” notes Ron Weskind, in his book “Groucho.”
Julius Henry (Groucho) Marx died Aug. 19, 1977, in Los Angeles, of pneumonia, at the age of 86.

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1.      Groucho, with trademark glasses and mustache and cigar.

An early photo of the Marx brothers with their parents in New York City, 1915. From left to right: Groucho, Gummo, Minnie (mother), Zeppo, Frenchie (father), Chico

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Small town like coffee with cream

It is like strong coffee with cream in it, on a Sunday morning. Both bitter and smooth, in the same mouthful.
I am trying to figure out small town America. You would think, after all this time, I would understand, but I don’t.
“A place between two stands of trees,” as Adrienne Rich says. Rich died this week of complications related to Rheumatoid Arthritis, I think before she figured it out. But she was chasing the right clues. “Talk about trees,” she advised. I am with her.
I took a photo in a small town, of the stream that flows through the center, and empties in to the lake. I took another of an old Plymouth in front of the old town’s buildings, as one nears the lake… and another as the twilight reflected off its surface near the Gazebo. Not sure you can find a more welcoming sight.
There has been trouble in town, however. Early last month, the town hall was torched in the middle of the night, burned to the ground. Look at the lot over there behind the Post Office and you can barely tell there was ever anything there.
The lady fishing at the lake shakes her head in wonder.
Town Hall is important, history, presence, sense of identity. As one local educator said to me, “It is a part of us.”
Another poet, earlier than Rich, may have been wishful thinking.
Reverend Graham Frank described it in 1889.

“Here the children dwell in safety,
As they play by the streams;
And their elders all are happy,
With ease and rest and dreams,
And the mountains hold this village,
In the tenderest embrace,
While the trees and streams and sun and moon,
Lend their beauty to this place.”

True poetry. And like it, maybe you are never supposed to understand. Ambiguous, vague, wooly, hazy and uncertain. Both bitter and smooth in one mouthful … one more Sunday morning.

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