I know I could be censured for permitting a situation to exist in which the Carbos and others hung around. But let's level. What would you or anybody else do, if you were in my position and faced with the problem of making honest fights?" Thus James D. Norris applied broad strokes of whitewash to himself last week in the Chicago Sun-Times.
For 10 years as the boss of U.S. boxing, he says, he waged an obsessive crusade to "keep fights on the level." To do it, he felt he had to choose between fighting the established racketeers of boxing or doing business with them. Norris did business, but not on the level.
The Sun-Times called the interviews "a story that has never been told before." Actually the story Chicago readers got was full of Norris' self-serving hokum. Viz.: "...after attending a series of schools, he was graduated from Colgate University, a kissin' cousin to the Ivy League schools." Norris never even attended Colgate. But this sanitary version of the life and times of James D. Norris was not intended for the readers of the Sun-Times alone. The Kefauver Committee is due to call him as a witness in its boxing hearing a few weeks from now, and Norris needs a little prehearing sanitizing.
"I suppose I also should be censured for this approach to the great problems I encountered," Norris continues. "But I feel the ends justified the means." The means was Frankie Carbo, who was already in boxing "when I got there." Carbo is now serving a two-year prison sentence for undercover managing and matchmaking but, until the law caught up with Frankie, Norris used him to "police" boxing.
"Carbo was in the position to hear about an effort to fix a fight because of his broad acquaintance in the field," Norris says. "I told Mr. Carbo: 'The first time I hear about a fight that doesn't smell right, that will be the day I pull out of boxing.' "
In tones of nostalgia Norris adds: "You know, Carbo and some of the other controversial individuals in boxing helped people through the years." "Controversial individuals" is a Norris euphemism for men with criminal records, such as Frank (Blinky) Palermo, Sam (Golf Bag) Hunt and Eddie Coco.
When Coco was arrested for killing a Miami Beach car washer, Norris wrote a glowing character reference for him. "A lot of pressure was on me to write a letter," Norris explains. "If I didn't I would alienate others in that cliquish group involved in boxing to which he belonged. The word would get around: Rich James Norris, the prude, wouldn't help out a member of the fraternity."
When Golf Bag Hunt, Al Capone's old bodyguard-chauffeur died, Norris went to his funeral, he says. "I didn't care how it would look. I loved that little guy."
The Sun-Times got its "exclusive" after Reporter Art Petacque let it be known around Chicago that he wanted to speak with Norris. One day, Petacque says, his phone rang. "This is Jim Norris," said the caller, "I understand you have been making an effort to talk to me."
New York District Attorney Frank S. Hogan has been making an effort to talk to Norris for several years. He wanted him to tell a grand jury what he knows about boxing, but Norris avoided the witness chair when a physician certified his heart was unable to stand the strain of the real story. It isn't too late, though. District Attorney Hogan would like it to be known around that he would still like to get Norris' story. Mr. Hogan's office telephone number is REctor 2-7300.