Three months ago a millionaire businessman named Blaise D'Antoni organized Louisiana Boxing Enterprises, Inc. to stage prizefights in New Orleans. In mid-May LBE's first promotion, a match between Lightweights Ralph Dupas and Frankie Ryff, drew $48,000, biggest New Orleans gate since Jim Corbett fought John L. Sullivan there in 1892. Last week D'Antoni, former president of the Standard Fruit and Steamship Company (a banana-importing firm founded by his grandfather, Joseph Vaccaro, with assets above $38 million in 1953) and now head of a banking investment house, came to Manhattan to spend some money, see the Moore-Olson fight, and meet the men who run bigtime boxing—notably, Jim Norris and Frank Carbo. SI Staff Writer Robert Boyle and Reporter Gil Rogin found D'Antoni relaxing in one of his two suites at the Waldorf-Astoria.
Call me Blaze or Dan—everybody does," said Blaise D'Antoni, a short, hefty man with tousled hair on both his head and his chest. "What are you drinking? I got anything. You want champagne? Have the best. I don't drink. A little sherry makes my head go round." D'Antoni, who was wearing only trousers and black silk socks, flung himself on a couch. Staring happily at the ceiling, he said:
"I'm promoting in New Orleans now. I love boxing. We got Maxim-Pastrano set for June 28. That fight should do $117,000. It's $25 for ringside. We just built a $25,000 gym—it's the only air-conditioned gym in the world—and a $40,000 cocktail lounge right next to that. I just paid $2,500 for three murals to put in the bar. One picture is the Dempsey-Tunney long count, another of Marciano beating Louis—I was at that fight—and then a picture portrait of me. All in oil.
"In three months," D'Antoni went on, "we're gonna break ground for a $3 million sports center that will seat 20,000. We're also gonna build a movable seat thing for outdoor fights. We're working on a Marciano title fight that should do $300,000. Spoke to Norris today. He called me Blaise."
"What about that contested split decision in the Dupas-Ryff fight?" one of his visitors interjected.
"Hell," exclaimed D'Antoni, sitting up with a start, "you get Ryff up here and if he says he won I'll give you a hundred dollar bill. A hundred dollar bill. Money's nothing to me. I love boxing. Just this morning I bought my little girl 15 leopards."
A bellboy entered the suite. "Where the hell you been?" D'Antoni asked, leaping off the couch. "I told ya to stay around and answer the door." The bellboy whispered something in his ear. D'Antoni reached into his pocket for a roll of bills. "Here's a five for your trouble," he said, and, with that, leapt back to the couch, collapsed on his back and resumed his monologue.
"I boxed nine years," he said challengingly. "It was a hobby. I boxed nine or 10 champs. I had the pleasure of knocking the famous Greb on his ear. He was training for a fight in New Orleans. That was in my gym next to my swimming pool. It was the only salt-water pool in the South. It cost me $100,000, but what's money? I feinted Greb with a right. I got Jack Dempsey to back me up. I also got two witnesses in New Orleans to back me up. I hit him right here. I gave him a tough time. Greb fought a draw in his fight, and when it was over, he said he had had it all taken out of him in the gym."
A little girl of about 11, wearing pajamas, strolled into the room. "G'wan, play with your leopards," D'Antoni bellowed. The little girl scampered off. "My daughter," D'Antoni said with obvious affection. A young man came in carrying a paper bag. He opened it and white collars and gold cuff links spilled on a table. "They're gold filled," the young man volunteered nervously. "That's okay," D'Antoni replied, dispensing a bill. "I'm just goin' to the Copa tonight. They'll be okay." The young man left.
He leapt off the couch again, barked, "Let's go down to my other suite," and left the room to clothe himself. He was back in an instant, his chest now covered by a gaudy sports shirt but his feet still innocent of shoes. "Come here," he said, bouncing out of the room, "I want you to meet my wife." Mrs. D'Antoni, a rounded brunette clad in a negligee, was standing in the foyer. "Honey," D'Antoni said, "say hello to the boys." Honey did. "See that," he said, pointing to a heart-shaped purplish gem pinned to Mrs. D'Antoni's bosom. "I gave her that purple heart for being married to me 16 years." Mrs. D'Antoni smiled shyly. "Honey, get that bracelet I got you," D'Antoni ordered. She disappeared into the bedroom and returned with a diamond bracelet that appeared to be almost the length of the Missouri's anchor chain. "Thirty thousand bucks. That's what I paid," D'Antoni said, taking the bracelet and passing it around to the visitors. "Feel that. Look at those diamonds. That thing is worth $50,000. I got it insured for that. But I only paid $30,000. I got it this morning." With that he wheeled out the door of the suite, his two visitors trailing in his wake. "Nice to have met you, boys," Mrs. D'Antoni called softly from behind the door.
YOU CAN DO ANYTHING
D'Antoni padded down the hall to the elevator. "I'm gonna go to the Copa tonight in slippers," he said, like a man who had made up his mind, "and when I get there, I'm gonna kick 'em off and walk around in my stocking feet. When you got money, you can do anything." On the way down to his fifth-floor suite, D'Antoni announced, "I got two suites in this hotel. What's money? I'm modest. But I like to live right. I love the poor."
Inside the suite, D'Antoni was asked another question: What about the appointment of Bonnie Geigerman, a brother-in-law of Racketeer Frank Costello, to his Louisiana Boxing Enterprises payroll?
"A great guy, Frank Costello," said D'Antoni, with fervor. "I'm a personal friend. What's that? Did I say I was Frank Costello's friend? I would say a very dear personal friend. They're persecuting Costello. What the hell does Costello want with narcotics when he's got 99 other legitimate rackets?"
D'Antoni sat down and lit a cigarette. "When Costello was called before Kefauver," he continued, "I rented TV time at 11 o'clock in the morning—cost me $5,000—and told my audience everything Kefauver said about Costello was an absolute lie. Costello didn't have the chance to defend himself. Costello gives away money. If I thought he handled dope or was tied up with the Mafia, I'd spit on him. Suppose, just suppose, he's a gambler. If he's underworld, then everyone who gambles with him is underworld. Kefauver just wanted to be president. I made five bets of $1,000 apiece that Kefauver wouldn't even be nominated. And I won 'em. I donated the money to charity. I love the poor. I'm always doin' things for 'em. I'm always buyin' bars for the poor bums who are down and out."
Did D'Antoni know Frankie Carbo as well as Frank Costello?
"I expect to meet Mr. Carbo in New York," D'Antoni replied. "I never met him, but I would say indications are that I'm goin' to like Mr. Carbo. He sounds on the order of my friend Frank Costello. Carbo sounds like a real guy—he sounds like me. Norris says he drinks coffee with Carbo. I'll let Carbo drink what he wants—I'll drink Mountain Valley water. If you want a picture of me and Frank Carbo, I'll put my arm around him for you. Some guys are scared. Me, I ain't scared of nothin'. Put down Poland water if you can't spell Mountain Valley. Mountain: m-o-u-n-t-a-i-n. Got 20 bottles in my room."
D'Antoni stopped for breath, then suddenly lifted his shirt and slammed himself in the belly with a clenched fist. "It's real hard," he said proudly. "Pretty good for a 54-year-old. Fifty-four—how do you like that?" He blinked under the impact of his own blow. "I'll give you $100 if you can pull my head down," he said, strutting about the suite with his head thrown back and his chest out. "I've got real hard neck muscles." One of his visitors locked his hands behind D'Antoni's head.
"Go when I say, 'go.' " said D'Antoni. "Go!"
D'Antoni steeled himself, and the visitor rocked back and forth for leverage. In a minute, the visitor gave up. D'Antoni grunted with pleasure. "One hundred bucks," he yelled, "to any guy who can pull my head down." The second visitor also tried but panted and strained without success. D'Antoni's head was anchored as firmly as the Rock of Gibraltar. D'Antoni danced away, still full of fight, still frisky, his neck still straight, his spirit still unbowed. "A longshoreman down in New Orleans tried it on the docks. He was a big guy. I was spinning around all over the place, but he couldn't budge my head."
D'Antoni resumed his chair, not at all winded by his muscular display, and directed his thoughts first to money and the good life. He estimated his present fortune at $10 million—"made it with hard work, sweat and the stock market." In addition to boxing, he has an interest in yachting, as evidenced by two yachts and a $40,000 boathouse. "That boathouse," said Mr. D'Antoni with nostalgia, "is prettier than any room in this place. That's where all our intimate parties are held, and we don't have one band, we got two. If I want a little music at two in the morning, I just pick up a phone and tell 'em to come on over. I got the best Dixieland in the world."
The phone rang and D'Antoni left the room to take the call. He bounced back in a minute, a satisfied smile on his face. "It must be 5 o'clock," he announced, exhibiting a watchless wrist. "That was New Orleans. They got orders to call me every hour. Right now I also got calls waiting for me from Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis and Washington." He beamed. "Down in New Orleans, I got five phones and two teletypes in my office. They're all goin' off together! It's wonderful! Everybody knows me. We just had our wedding anniversary. We got 500 telegrams. Five hundred. And flowers. When Roosevelt died he didn't have as many flowers.
"The other night I came off my yacht and my feet were hurting. I was wearing a $40 pair of slippers, but I pulled 'em off at the end of the gang plank and gave 'em to a footman. Then I went to bed. I've got $51,000 in the LBE, and there are 49 others with a thousand apiece. I'll put up another $100,000 if they need it. Our combined wealth must be $300 million at least. We love competition. I love the poor. All you gotta do is have money and be nice to people. One thing is that I like to be frank. You'll find me refreshin'. I got guts. I'll say what I think. I got 19 ringside tickets to the Olson-Moore fight. You want two—take two. Money is nothin' to me. Some guys just don't like to spend it. But I say, 'spend it.' What else is it for?
"Another thing you gotta get in. I built my air-conditioned pool because a guest got bit by a mosquito when I had a party outdoors. That was in FORTUNE, page 62. (October 1949, page 90) I was born near the French Market, where all the great fighters come from, like Pete Herman. I only went to the fifth grade. I built Loyola Stadium for a half million dollars in 1923. But what's money? At the LBE, we're gonna put on two boxin' shows a month from here on in. And no pushovers. We love competition. Before we came in, boxin' was dead in New Orleans. The more boxin' the better. C'mon down to New Orleans. As my guests.
"Boxin' is great in New Orleans. At my first fight, they booed. But I climbed into the ring and offered any bum a thousand bucks to come on down. No one did. Let 'em boo. I'm havin' a party next Tuesday. If you don't have invitations, consider this as them. Everybody will be there. I guess it'll cost me $5,000 at least. But what's money? You gotta have a good time. Don't bother to ask where the party will be in the hotel—the hotel will know. I'm gonna have Eddie Condon's band and Wild Bill Hickok's [sic]. The only one had anything like it was the King of Siam.
"I'm gonna wear my $250 cashmere jacket, my $100 blue cashmere pants and my new $85 shoes. Eighty-five dollar shoes. And my $250 cashmere jacket. And those $100 pants, they're blue. Bring a photographer. Bring anyone you want. And don't forget to come down to New Orleans, champs. And after I treat you all all right—four motorcycle escorts, not one—you'll stand back and say, 'Jeez, he wasn't exaggeratin'.' "
RELAXING IN HIS HOTEL SUITE, SHOELESS AND SHIRTLESS PROMOTER BLAISE D'ANTONI SAYS: "I'M A CULTURED MAN WHEN I'M DRESSED."
D'ANTONI SPEAKING: "What's money? Money is nothin'. All you need to do is tip people nice.... I'm in my office reclining in a chair on a foam rubber mat with two lawyers at my elbow. They start talking about millions—I'm pretending I'm sleeping. Soon as they make a mistake, though, I'm up.... In boxing, let us [the LBE] handle the South and Midwest. Him [Norris] the East. No joint deals.... I like high-class people. I met Al Weill: high class. [Willie] Ketchum: high class. [Jack] Kearns: high class."
D'ANTONI DISPLAYS $250 jacket: "My weakness isn't women—it's coats."
ATTACK AND DEFENSE are demonstrated by D'Antoni as he left hooks SI's Boyle (left), thwarts SI's Rogin (right) after offering him $100 prize "if you can bend my neck."