by Lee Kolozsy


I’ve had many fights over the years in show business. I started early, constantly being the new kid in school meant that I had to establish where I stood with bullies. Things haven’t changed all that much over the last half century. I don’t remember every clem[1], but I do know that I left a lot of people wishing they had left well enough alone. Lately I’ve had a remarkable  run of fights with millionaires. Maybe there are just more millionaires than ever before. Now I have nothing against guys with money, after all , it is a sign of success, and successful people are usually the brightest, hardest working, etc. Kinda like me. But not always. Not every millionaire is successful. Some are blowing it all, not all are self made, some of them have never done anything for a living but inherit. The millionaires I’ve been fighting seem to fall predominantly into this category.


Except for one. This guy fits several categories. He’s nuts, like me. He did inherit, but he also works. He certainly isn’t blowing it. Just most of the dates he inherited. And he likes to fight, although not always on the side of truth, justice, and the American way. And the family fortune was made by fighting. Well, not fighting, exactly. More like another racket that involved fighting as a respectable front.


The At shows[2] are all gone now. There’s Boxing, Collegiate wrestling, and of course Professional Wrestling.[3]  Sadly, the carnival athletic show is no more.


At one time the organized carnivals had more shows than rides and games. That is why anyone with three truckloads of pig iron[4] calls his outfit “something or other SHOWS” It’s tradition.


Regrettably enough, showmanship is a lost art. With these articles  I hope to teach the art to the next generation, and revive that ballsy mix of greed, grift, and razzle-dazzle that can still work if played well.


The Athletic Exhibition was a major draw in the early days of the biz.  Sex and violence are not the invention of Hollywood moguls. Girl shows, Jig shows, thrill shows, menageries, freak shows, water shows, and single-Os[5] of all kinds made a horseshoe[6] midway where you could spend hours watching bally after [7]bally and not spend a dime.


The At show was special, it was a manly place. A place where guys went. A fun place that didn’t cost a bundle. Cheap entertainment. Until they played you… And they did… in a variety of ways… Consistently…A variety of money making plays that sucked in the money week after week ‘till the track came to an end. Now here’s the play…


Weeks before the big event, the show press agent organizes a press party catered by the best hotel in town. All the V.I.P.s from the local social set , the mayor, chief of police, etc. are at the shindig, as well as the gentlemen of the fourth estate. The theme of the elbow rubbing extravaganza is “meet the Champ”. There were opportunities to have your picture taken with the fighter, to see and be seen. Everyone in town wanted to be there.


Now every At-show of any consequence at that time carried a bona-fide contender. A fighter of some note. A recognized “Champ”, perhaps a Navy Golden  Gloves, or a record holder of some sort that could be publicized with some degree of credibility. They had colorful names, like “YOUNG STRANGLER LEWIS” who was actually young James E. Strates.


As the party was winding down, the show press agent would inform the boys from the press that the Champ wanted to stand them all a round of drinks down at Clancy’s bar. Well newsmen are genetically unable to refuse a free drink, so off they go and things start to happen at Clancy’s that may be predictable if you know the score.


Quietly getting drunk at Clancy’s is a character familiar to us all. The local bully. When the lighthearted mob of Clark Kents and Jimmy Olsons arrive with the “Champ” and his entourage, they don’t quite expect what follows.


As the happy group is lushing it up and discussing the current state of sports in the nation, the surly drunken local heavy begins to display an ugly humor. “You ain't no fighter, yer a bum, I could knock ya out with one hand tied ahind me back!” Well the Champ takes this very graciously. He says “Come to the show and step into the ring, I’ll post your entry fee myself, and if you can go three rounds you win a hundred dollars.” At this point things get really ugly, the local jerk gets offended by the Champs offer to post his entry fee and says he can put up his own fiver. The champ apologizes, says he meant no disrespect, and offers to buy the belligerent guy a drink. The upshot is that the local asshole takes a cheap shot, tries to sucker punch the Champ, who easily sidesteps the clumsy swing and dispatches the fool with a well placed Dempsey. Exit bully, enter tweety birds.


Well it spreads like wildfire, the story is told and retold, all over town. The Champ is the hottest thing going. The local bully is the butt of everyone’s jokes. His attitude only gets worse. He swears revenge, and is universally condemned, and mocked, although hardly ever to his face. The few who dared are occupied recovering.


Comes the show and it’s the biggest thing in public memory. A world of attractions and fun for all. And the boys of course are torn between the girl shows and the At show. They invariably end up at the At show. I mean the girl show satisfies curiosity, but the At show relieves tension. Hoowee! Did you see that farm boy get knocked on his duff!!! Cleaned his clock by gum! Who’s gonna be next, the Champ is goddam



And not a day goes by without the local bully heckling our boy from outside the ring. It becomes a standing joke. The Champ invites him in the ring, even throwing a fiver on the sign up table, (the entry fee) and every time the jerk says “ not tonight, I’m in training, I’m climbing in Saturday  night and I’m gonna demolish you!”

And he is mocked by one and all. But never to his face.


And it’s every day. With only slight variations.


Then it’s Saturday night, the last night, and no one has made three rounds with the Champ…. Yet!

Everybody was there every night to see the feud progress. To be able to report with authority on the Champ vs. bully situation. Which has yet to be resolved. And all the challengers to date had been carried from the ring. Man, the place was packed! Everyone wants to see the bully humiliated. “The bums gonna chicken out” “Horseshit! He’s gonna get murdered, his kind ain't got the sense to back down.”If’n I was him I’d leave town permanent” (this from a recovering mocker to his face who was expressing some wishful thinking)

Plus a new twist. Gambling ! That’s right you could now place a bet, and they were paying off on some of the matches. You could bet on how many rounds the boy would last. Usually one.

Finally, the moment of truth…. The news raced around the lot, they were fighting to get in, the bully was at the sign up table. The eleventh hour, literally. The show was almost over. The place was packed. The betting was fierce. There was Rockefeller money riding on this. Everybody was backing the Champ…. Except the smart money, …. Man weren’t they all surprised when the Champ took a dive in the second and their money was GONE…



[1] “CLEM” a fist fight, brawl, or altercation involving more than one person.

[2] “ At Show”…Carnie lingo for athletic show, a long gone exhibition involving fighting.

[3] ( Also called “Sports Entertainment”,  which is a lot like calling a prostitute a “hostess”) a cross between wrestling and clowning.


[4] “Pig Iron” Carnie Lingo for mechanical amusement rides.

[5] “Single-O” carnival show featuring a single attraction.

[6] The classic horseshoe shape of the midway layout allowed one to stand almost anywhere and see a panorama of banner lines and attractions spread out in all directions.

[7] “Bally” or Ballyhoo… a free act performed on a stage at the entrance of a fairgrounds show intended to gather a large crowd and sell them on the idea of purchasing tickets to the attraction. A typical bally consists of the “opening”, where a talker assembles a crowd with verbal descriptions of the wonders they are about to see for free, after which a variety of “strange people” are paraded onto the stage. This is followed by “the pitch”,which details what these strange people will do inside the big tented theatre, when the stage is filled with performers and a point of high drama is unfolding, the action is interrupted with a commercial for what is waiting on the inside. Then the climax… the “turn” or “jam”, where the onlookers are converted to customers. This can be described, but must be seen in action to really appreciate the fine points.



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