|| "I received a letter from
the Reich Ministry of Sports. They want me to split from Joe
Jacobs, my manager since 1928.... I really need Joe Jacobs. I
owe all my success in America to him."
-- Max Schmeling to Adolf Hitler, 1935
The boxing manager Joe Jacobs, born in New York's East Side
before the turn of the century, was the son of Hungarian Jews.
In his most famous client's description, he "spoke a mishmash of
English and Hungarian as if he had just stepped off the boat. He
knew nothing about boxing, but he knew how to negotiate and get
his man the best deal possible. And he was as nice as he was
Andre Routis, a boxer in Jacobs' stable, introduced Jacobs to
Schmeling. Schmeling had a
contract with Arthur Bülow, but Bülow, a fellow German, did not
know the American scene and Schmeling realized he needed someone
with local connections. In switching managers, Schmeling ran
afoul of boxing authorities, but Jacobs graciously agreed to
forego his own fees and let Bülow collect his percentage for the
remainder of Bülow's contract with Schmeling.
Jacobs set to work, inventing a ridiculous nickname -- "The Black Uhlan of
the Rhine" -- for his new fighter, arranging fights and
endlessly promoting him: "You need publicity. Not a single day
can go by without your name being in the papers." Jacobs
arranged for Schmeling to be photographed on
skyscrapers, with politicians and at parties.
Schmeling managed to make the socializing unnecessary with his
performances in the ring; after a string of victories, boxing
fans knew his name quite well.
After Schmeling's introduction to the American boxing scene,
Jacobs, Schmeling and his trainer Max Machon traveled to
Germany, triumphant. On the trip, Jacobs discovered a lucrative
Prohibition had inflated the black market
price of a bottle of champagne to $50, and when Jacobs saw that
a shipboard bottle cost only $3, he bought the ship's entire
stock -- 20,000 bottles.
Jacobs was an unstoppable public relations dynamo. For Christmas
in 1929, Jacobs rented a hall in one of Berlin's working class
neighborhoods. There Schmeling and Jacobs fulfilled the wishes
of a few hundred children who came to visit. In his memoirs,
Schmeling writes, "What moved me most was the modesty of their
requests: usually a few crayons, a top, a pencil case, or a
bathing suit... I was especially touched by a five-year-old
girl... whose wish -- that her father stop drinking -- we
couldn't fill. But the idea was a great success, and Joe Jacobs
came up to me afterwards and asked, 'How did we do that?' For
once, he took the giant cigar out of his mouth."
A Title for His Charge
For Schmeling's 1930 championship bout against Jack Sharkey, Jacobs had
arranged to donate a portion of ticket sales to the
Milk Fund, a favorite charity of the wealthy
publishing family, guaranteeing coverage by the Hearst
newspapers. Schmeling won the heavyweight championship by
default after Jack Sharkey was disqualified for hitting below
the waist. It was not how Schmeling had imagined claiming the
title; in fact, it would be the only time the championship was
decided on a foul. Jacobs had to cheer his boxer up afterwards,
as the public began calling Schmeling the "low-blow champion."
"Defend the title in your next fights! Then you can show them
whether you deserve it or not!"
The two boxers met again in 1932 for another title fight. After
Sharkey won a controversial decision in the rematch, Joe Jacobs
uttered his most famous line: "We was robbed!" He went on, "They
stole the title from us!"
A Jew's Salute
Jacobs went to Germany for Schmeling's 1935 fight against Steve Hamas in
Hamburg. Ever since
Hitler's rise to Chancellor in 1933, Germany
had been swept up in a militant nationalism, and anti-Semitism
was on the rise. Immediately after Schmeling won the fight, the
25,000 spectators spontaneously stood and sang the Nazi anthem
with hands raised in the Nazi salute. Schmeling recalled that
Jacobs, congratulating his fighter in the ring, didn't seem to
know what to do. Then he raised his right hand, with its
omnipresent Havana cigar, and joined the salute. "After a few
seconds he turned to me and winked." The scene did not go over
well with the Nazi brass. As writer David Margolick explains,
"It was a moment of high Wagnerian pageantry... It made the
Nazis unhappy because here was this Jew giving the Nazi salute
and not only that, he had a cigar in his hand, which they
thought was a terrible impertinence."
Photographs of a saluting Jew smiling ironically with cigar in
hand were published around the world. Back in the U.S., they
caused outrage. In the New York Daily News, Jack Miley
wrote, "Up in the Bronx the good burghers agreed that the little
man with the big cigar was no credit to their creed. in the
Broadway delicatessens and nighteries... the waiters were
Mickey Finns in his herring." The German
Minister of Sports called Schmeling and insisted that the boxer
spend more time in Germany, with German associates. Schmeling
had no intention of giving up Jacobs and asked Adolf Hitler for
an audience. Hitler received Schmeling and ostentatiously
ignored the fighter, making small talk with his actress wife
instead. Schmeling got the message and chose to emulate the
Führer by ignoring the Sports Minister's entreaties.
Unwelcome in Germany, Jacobs continued to work hard for his
fighter in America. He arranged a fight with
Louis, but backroom deals kept him from
arranging a title shot against Jimmy Braddock. Once Louis became
champion, Schmeling was granted a
rematch -- but the Boxing Commission had
temporarily suspended Jacobs for one of his public relations
stunts. Jacobs had had one of his fighters, Tony "The Walking
Beer Barrel" Galento, photographed with a keg in the ring. The
terms of Jacobs' suspension prevented him from sitting in
Schmeling's corner or even visiting his locker room. Schmeling
mentions Jacobs' absence as one of the factors contributing to
his nervousness before the fight, and he lost quickly to the
"He Made Us Laugh"
In 1939 Jacobs died of a heart attack, at the age of forty-one.
Although others blamed the cigars and alcohol, Schmeling
considered Jacobs a victim of his own character. "How often had
he made us laugh with his constant state of excitement --
gesticulating, voice cracking, never finishing a sentence,
working on his cigar, gasping for breath. That's what Joe Jacobs