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Original Issue


The sordid details of the Jim Norris-Frankie Carbo alliance that ruled boxing for a decade were verified in Washington

When James D. Norris, wearing a somber tan and a funeral suit, came last week to Room 318 of the old Senate Office Building in Washington, where Senator Kefauver's Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly was conducting hearings on professional boxing, he walked with the reluctant step of a man approaching the gallows. Indeed, the jig was up. In Room 318, once the floodlit forum of the Army-McCarthy hearings, a noose of testimony had been drawn by Truman K. Gibson Jr., Norris' associate in the International Boxing Club, and Hymie (The Mink) Wallman, one of the most prominent managers of the '50s, which certified and reinforced in damning detail what had been known for years: that practically every significant boxing match in the U.S. during the last decade had been controlled, to their mutual benefit, by IBC President Norris and his convincer and expediter, Hoodlum Frankie Carbo. As Jack (Doc) Kearns, manager of Archie Moore, had said: "Norris and Carbo run everything in boxing, and when they feel like it, they throw you a bone every once in a while."

With bemused candor, Gibson, who has the sincerity of a used-car dealer and the aplomb of one of those out-of-focus gents in a perfume ad, had testified that the IBC knowingly dealt with managers and promoters who were either very close to or controlled by Carbo. The distinction was Gibson's. The list included almost every promoter of note and a formidable majority of the successful managers: such men as Lou Viscusi, manager of Lightweight Champion Joe Brown; Willie (The Undertaker) Ketchum, manager of Featherweight Champion Davey Moore; and John DeJohn and Joe Netro, co-managers of Carmen Basilio.

Gibson's rather flimsy excuse was that the IBC was "confronted with the facts of life" and that it decided "to live with Carbo" to "maintain a free flow of fighters without interference."

It developed, however, that the IBC was not only blandly willing to accept Carbo, who has been arrested five times for murder and is now serving a sentence for undercover managing and matchmaking in New York; it went out of its way to court his favor. A subsidiary of the IBC employed, on Norris' request, one Viola Masters, or Mrs. Frankie Carbo, to the tune of some $45,000 over a three-year period. This was to obtain her husband's "good will" and, as Gibson testified, "for the effect that it would have on the fighters and managers with whom he was friendly."

Jack Bonomi, the exceedingly able subcommittee special counsel, asked Gibson why Mrs. Carbo was hired instead of Frankie. "Because," Gibson glumly replied, "it looked...better on our record, not even considering the possibility of being called before a Senate investigating committee, to have Viola Masters down instead of Frank Carbo." Wallman, who told the subcommittee that he had known Carbo "for about 38 years," or since he was known as Jimmy the Wop (Senator Kefauver: "Spell that." Mr. Wallman: "W-o-p."), was even more thorough in describing how Carbo and Norris colluded to control boxing.

Wallman, an aggrieved 59-year-old furrier with a wistful lack of memory who, after two days of testimony, begged the subcommittee to let him go home because he had run out of suits, shirts and underwear ("laughter"), testified that he bought the contract of former welterweight champion Johnny Bratton following a conference with Norris, Carbo and Gibson, the money being loaned by the IBC. He testified, too, that Billy Brown, who was the IBC matchmaker in Madison Square Garden from 1952 to '58, was a Carbo man and that almost all of the IBC fights in New York were arranged by Carbo "through his matchmaker"; and also that if Carbo told the IBC or Norris that he didn't want Hymie to get a fight Wallman's chances of obtaining one would be "zero."

Particularly revealing was Carbo's role in the Orlando Zulueta-Joe Brown lightweight title fight several years back. Hymie managed Zulueta, and he asked Lou Viscusi, Brown's manager, if he would agree to a fight. Viscusi said he would if he could get a promoter "with plenty of money." Wallman sought out Joe Dupler, a Denver promoter, who said he would take the match. Wallman then consulted Carbo. Carbo told him: "The furrier [Dupler] wants the fight; I want $5,000 for the fight." Dupler instructed Wallman to withdraw $5,000 from a New York account of Dupler's and give it to Tex Pelte, the bagman. Carbo subsequently told Wallman that Pelte had given him the $5,000. Before the fight, Carbo told Wallman: "I never bothered you until now but if the kid [Zulueta] wins the championship...Lou Viscusi gets a piece of the fighter."

There was also sworn testimony, included as an exhibit, that Wallman informed Carbo, for betting purposes, whenever Wallman "had a judge or referee who would favor your fighter...."

An intriguing and revelatory bit of testimony concerned a meeting on Feb. 10, 1958 at Wallman's home in New York. In attendance were Carbo, Denver Matchmaker Jimmy White, Billy Brown and Jim Norris. Wallman described the meeting:

"We sat down and we had one or two drinks, and they started in... They started talking about Logart [Isaac, who was to fight Virgil Akins in an elimination tournament to determine a new welterweight champion]. With that Jimmy White opened up his mouth and he says, '...He [Logart's manager] promised me to take the fight to Denver.' Norris, on the other hand, said, 'No, we need the match.'...Carbo, on the other hand, started to argue with Norris, 'Well, let them go wherever they can get more money.' So Norris says to him, 'No, we need the match in here....' Then Jimmy [White] got sore and walked out.... The discussion came about where they wanted to eliminate Martinez altogether [Vince, a welterweight, who was also in the elimination tournament with Logart and Akins]. He [Carbo] says...'I don't like the fighter Martinez.... All I have to do is pull out Akins and you ain't even got a match....' So Norris [says], 'What is going on here?...' So Carbo [says], 'Now, look, I am telling you right now, unless Logart fights Akins there will be no match altogether. Akins will go out. I'm pulling him out....' "

What Jim faced

This then, in substance, was the testimony which confronted Norris when he appeared before the subcommittee. Because he has a delicate heart (he has had two strokes), Norris was permitted to testify in executive, or closed, session. It was of little comfort, however, for no longer could he hide behind the perjured testimony he had given the New York State Athletic Commission in May 1955:

"Q. 'Have you ever discussed with Mr. Carbo fights or fighters?'

"A. 'No.' "

Norris is not subject to prosecution for perjury because of the statute of limitations, but last week, in response to Bonomi's vigorous questioning, Norris grudgingly admitted that his 1955 testimony "isn't 100% true.... I have to admit that."

To which Senator Kefauver acidly added: "It sounds to me like it is 100% untrue...."

Norris admitted, too, that, "I believe I mentioned to Frank Carbo that possibly he might have some suggestions as to how some of these problems [in boxing] might be eased for my organization [the IBC]"; that Carbo's relationship was "a reluctant one that in some ways I sought out to develop"; and, most significantly, that Al Weill, Rocky Marciano's manager, who was the matchmaker in New York before Billy Brown, was "very friendly" with Frankie Carbo; and that Marciano did not fight Harry Matthews in 1952 until Carbo told Weill to.

On the second day of Norris' testimony he admitted that Carbo acted as the "convincer" in lining up Jake LaMotta, Carmen Basilio, Willie Pep and Tony DeMarco, for IBC matches; that he had seen Carbo when he was a fugitive from justice; and that the IBC may well have paid travel expenses for various state commissioners to attend IBC fights, including Julius Helfand, currently a member of the New York boxing commission, and formerly its chairman.

Whose fighter?

Another matter which Bonomi questioned Norris about was Norris' well-publicized statement that the heavyweight Sonny Liston was his fighter. Norris explained that Liston was his fighter in the sense that he was pushing, building up Liston as his candidate for the title. But after Norris bad finished, New York City Detective Anthony Bernhardt, who was an undercover man with the fight mob, recounted that in March of 1958 he overheard Carbo saying to Blinky Palermo, apparently concerning Liston: "...Jim Norris comes in with some guys, and Jim was upset. He says to me, 'Listen, he's my fighter.' "

Liston was brought up, too, in the course of interrogating two witnesses, both of whom took the Fifth Amendment: Frank Mitchell, who runs a Negro weekly in St. Louis, who has 26 arrests (no convictions other than speeding), and who trembled with incipient tears as, almost inaudibly, he recited the catechism of the Fifth; and John Vitale, identified as St. Louis' top hoodlum, who has 58 arrests, three convictions. Lieutenant Joseph A. Kuda of the St. Louis Police Department testified that Liston was divided up as follows: Vitale, 12%; Blinky Palermo, 12%; two others, unidentified, 12% each; Carbo, 52%. He said, furthermore, that Palermo, who managed former welterweight champion Johnny Saxton, is the custodian of Carbo's share while Frank is in the can and that Mitchell, who is Vitale's front, will become Liston's manager if he becomes champion. Liston's manager of record is one Joe (Pep) Barone.

As an interim epitaph to the investigation, which continued this week, listen to Carmen Basilio: "I was a fighter and I know the pains and labors that a fighter goes through, and those guys [Carbo, et al.] were making money that they were not earning and did not deserve. There are ladies present here and in all respect to them I have to contain my inner feelings but I just do not have any respect for those fellows and they do not belong in boxing. The quicker we get those fellows out, the better it is going to be for the sport."



Senator Kefauver (above) swears in James D. Norris during a closed hearing of the Antitrust Subcommittee.


A BOXING EXECUTIVE, Truman K. Gibson Jr., Norris' aide, told Senators the IBC decided to "live with Carbo."


A BOXER AND A MANAGER, Carmen Basilio (above) and Doc Kearns, agreed hoods were prevalent, Carbo ran show.