RARA-AVIS: Re: Gerald Kersh

From: Richard Moore ( moorich2@aol.com)
Date: 01 Feb 2005

--- In rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com, Steve Novak <Cinefrog@c...> wrote:
> I¹m extremely glad to learn all this info abot Kersh and to learn
also that
> a bio is forthcoming by Paul Duncan. Also very interested by the
> concerning boxing legend Archie Moore that I remember seeing on
French TV as
> a youngster and who had such a dramatic face...the quintesential
fighter and
> in fact when I lived in Louisiana in 69 I met in New Orleans
several old
> fighters for whom he remained a hero...

If you are interested in Archie Moore he published his autobiography in 1960 or 61 about the time he was starring in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" directed by Michael Curtiz. Dodged by champions, Moore did not get a shot at a title before he won the Light-Heavy Weight championship at the age of 39. He held the title for ten years and is the only man to fight both Marciano and Ali. He was a genius in the ring and a smart man anywhere. He died in 1998 with his last moments in the spotlight as an advisor to George Foreman in his improbable but successful comeback. I recommend A.J. Leibling's THE SWEET SCIENCE as it has some chapters on Moore and it is also about the best book ever on boxing. And if you like that one, and love Paris (as I think you do), then pick up Leibling's BETWEEN MEALS.

Who were the fighters you met in New Orleans in 1969? Ralph Dupas, Willie Pastrano, Joe Brown...there were so many good ones.

But your mention of New Orleans in 1969 brings back many memories to my ADHD brain. I was not only in New Orleans in 1969, I was on my honeymoon! Ah, Claire, we only made it six years to forever but it was enough to convince me that every man's first wife should be a redhead. We made our headquarters the Court of Two Sisters' tavern because we loved the cigar-chomping, gold teeth-flashing piano player in the bar. It was Roosevelt Sykes, a man who made his first recording in 1929 and hundreds since and knew Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, jammed with Muddy Waters and…well, I curse my ignorance of that time. I knew John Lee Hooker and a couple of others but not enough to quiz this walking legend. I did find a recording of his first two songs and he autographed it for me.

But my first visits to New Orleans came a few years before that when I was a college student--1965 and 1966. One of the places I went to was a neat French Quarter restaurant owned by a blind former bantamweight champion of the world Pete Herman. I remember him at his table holding court. He is considered one of the best "in- fighters" ever in boxing. No one knew when was in his heyday-WWI and the early 1920s-that he had to be good in the clinch as he couldn't see anything at arm's length! He was going blind.

A Google search is a great thing for a mind like mine. I found an autobiography by a former Pete Herman girlfriend (THE LAST MADAM: A LIFE IN NEW ORLEANS) and another (BACKBEAT) on the life of Earl Palmer, a legendary rock and roll and jazz drummer, who danced in Herman's club before becoming a musician.

Archie Moore has a very ornate style (less seen in his ghosted autobiography than in interviews) that reminds me of Chuck Berry's autobiography. Palmer in BAKCBEAT is gutter tough, very hardboiled but with a hint of natural grace.

Who was Earl Palmer? Little Richard correctly said he was the greatest session dummer of all time. Little Richard should know as Palmer practically invented the R&R backbeat when he did "Tutti Frutti" and other hits. He was also the drummer on Fats Domino's "I'm Walking", Richie Valens' "La Bamba", Bobby Day's "Rockin' Robin", plus "You've Lost That Loving Feeling", "Summertime Blues", "Deadman's Curve", and a host of other hits by Lloyd Price, Eddie Cochran, Bobby Darin, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Sonny & Cher, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles and too many others to name.

Sitting in a session more recently with a group called Cracker, the lead asked Palmer if he needed to rehearse. "Nah, I invented this shit."

He also has a great hardboiled style, as witness this paragraph about growing up in New Orleans:

"Round there it was protect yourself. You came up hard. The Treme
(minus the accent mark my keyboard doesn't have) is the ghetto; the gangbangers and the drug dealers will rob you there. It's not a safe place to be! Back then it wasn't like it is now, but it was always tough. They had this chick named Ruth, she was known to be a tough chick around there. Stand up straight like a man and fight you with her fists. On Robertson between St.Phillip and Urulines, Ruth and another woman fought with knives to the death. Women were crying. I was crying, because I knew Ruth. People begged them, `Please stop, y'all, please don't, y'all gonna kill each other. Somebody please stop them!' Al Dennis tried to break it up, and Big Red, big light- complected guy. These were guys you'd expect could just walk in there and stop it-couldn't get close. I saw the other woman fall down for good, and Ruth kept on stabbing her. She was dead by the time the ambulance came. Ruth was on her knees, groggy, looked like she didn't have the strength to fall over. Blood running everywhere in the dirt. We later heard Ruth died in the hospital; she may have died on the way there. The ambulance driver probably took his time, didn't give a shit how long it took two niggers to kill each other."

Friends, if that isn't hardboiled, I don't know it when I read it. And all this from one reference to New Orleans that awakened old memories and then a Google search on Peter Herman plus New Orleans! Heck, I am skipping the story of the burlesque star Wild Cherry, who danced in Herman's club or the discovery that the fine, modern noir writer Katherine Dunn is writing for boxing magazines. But back to Steve's post:

> The only book of Kersh I ever read was Night & The City, and I had
come to
> the book through the magnificent J. Dassin film (the best and
meanest film
> noir to my eyes) with brilliant performances of Richard Widmark,
Francis L.
> Sullivan and Stanislaus Zbyszko as Gregorius the Great, and the
story of the
> Polish wrestler/intellectual is worth reading since it probably
inspired a
> lot of the Kersh
> story...( http://www.pwinsider.com/ViewArticle.asp?id=4243&p=1).
> was inducted in the Wrestler¹s Hall of Fame in 2003 and I learned
about that
> in a French film magazine!!...
> I read in France as a younster the S鲩e Noire version called ³Les
> de la Nuit² (SN480), translated by S. Henry and R. Amblard, which
I still
> have, and about 20 years ago bought a copy of the Dell Book (#374)
at a
> second hand bookstore in a small town in Michigan. This version has
> picture from the film on the cover and a map of Œunderworld London¹
on the
> back with a complete list of the locations mentioned in the story
such as
> the Silver Fox Club or Fabian Promotions or East & West Caf鮮..
> I bought a cassette of the Dassin film on e-Bay for about $5.00, 6
> ago since there are yet no DVD¹s of this magnificent film. The 92
version is
> farce, and a sad reminder that a sometimes interesting Producer
> remain on the phone and not behind the camera...poor Jessica Lange
> participated (that¹s the best one can say in that case) to this
> which has one redeeming value: the presence of Eli Wallach....
> Steve Novak
> le Montois de D鴲oit

I love the old Dell Mapbacks but have never seen their edition of Kersh's NIGHT AND THE CITY. I also love the Serie Noire series, most especially SN 1925, SN 1929 and SN 1933.

Looking over the Kersh books I have handy I see another novel not previously mentioned that has the hard edge. It is THE DEAD LOOK ON
(Heinemann 1943) that describes in detail the Nazi atrocities in Lidice. Here is the opening paragraph:

"'As long as iron can take a point, watch your backs!' Petz, clutching his cigar, stood in a ring of ashes. Dry, hot-eyed and dark, with his charred eye-sockets and his clipped grey hair and moustache which had the carbonized iridescence of coke, he seemed to have burnt himself out in the night. Even his voice had a husky rasp, as of cinders. He said: `The trees grow cudgels: wear your helmets! String can strangle: mind your throats! While there is a roof for a stone to fall from, watch your step! As long as men have toes to creep on, sleep light! Beware of strange women, shadowy doorways, and quiet streets. Dark nights are dangerous: don't walk alone!'"

Ah, Mr. Kersh, I am a sucker for your stuff. And Crippen & Landru has in print a collection by Kersh of his Karmesin stories-KARMESIN- THE WORLD'S GREATEST CRIMINAL OR MOST OUTRAGEOUS LIAR edited and with an introduction by Paul Duncan that I highly recommend. While it is not Kersh at his most serious, it is Kersh being quite entertaining. Kersh was a master at the framed tale and as with so many others, in the Karmesin stories Kersh himself provides the frame as the writer who stumbles across the person with a story to relate.

Kersh himself considered his best novel to be 1957's FOWLER'S END
(Simon & Schuster), which alas I have not read. I have owned a copy for years, and even picked up a second copy because it was autographed, but it hasn't yet made my reading schedule. Ranked before it on my "to-be-read" list is Kersh's THE IMPLACABLE HUNTER
(Heinemann 1961) a novel about St. Paul.

There is much by Kersh I do not have, most never published in the U.S. such as the collection with the great title THE UGLY FACE OF LOVE and a novel entitled A LONG COOL DAY IN HELL.

How can books with titles like that not be great reads!

Richard Moore

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