Jack Johnson Boxing in Spain

The boxer Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson came to Spain in good shape

March 23, 1916. The first time that Jack Johnson was boxing in Spain. The match took place at the Grand Theatre. The Madrid crowd moved in droves to attend the first public appearance of Jack Johnson in Spain. The Grand Theatre was filled to overflowing, and in their best appointments lyrics. The diverse audience was like a small representation of Madrid society of the time: aristocratic, military, politicians, priests, artists, small businessmen, journalists, shopkeepers, workers, peasants… Even went to a stage Don Alfonso, son of King Alfonso XIII.

On the theater stage was placed a platform as a ring and, to lengthen a little more the spectacle, they projected a series of comedic short films before starting the evening itself. The nephew of champion, Gus Rhodes was the first to jump on stage in the company of Kid Johnson, a Canadian wrestler who often employed the same name as a black boxer who act in Barcelona. This night was the Rhodes debut as professional. The fight did not have much interest.

The Jamaican fighter Frank Crozier was the opponent of the champion

The Jamaican fighter Frank Crozier

Later, slowly, as the big stars, Jack Johnson went out to the scene. In the spotlight he looked impressive: big, strong, slightly flat of the nose and of shaved head. The appearance of his opponent, the Jamaican fighter Frank Crozier, drew applause and more than a joke about the black that would be white for the champion. The Jamaican made clear that it was there to do a simple exhibition. His blows scarcely were raising air in the proximities of Johnson, who, for his part, it did not also demonstrate any hurry to attack. But the public started getting impatient and Jack chose to feign a more aggressive attitude.

The press thus described the combat that marked the first time that Jack Johnson boxing in Spain: «Only one time Jack unloaded a good blow to his adversary in full face, which was enough for Crozier rolling on the floor, where he remained for some moments as rugged. The panic that caused him to the Jamaican this serious mishap was such that after throwing on the floor two more times to contact Jack glove, did warn the public that, feeling short of forces withdrew the tapestry.»

Jack Johnson boxing in Spain with Frank Crozier

Jack Johnson vs. Frank Crozier

When the spectators sensed that the show was over, they started protesting. In the stalls, a fiery call to mutiny. Jack Johnson reacted rapidly and announced an exhibition with his sparring partner: Gus Rhodes. And with a series of strength exercises, Jack Johnson completed his first boxing match in Spain.

The Movie

Strength and Nobility, jack johnson, boxer, movie, film, serial, 1917, ricard de baños, heavyweight champion, boxer_as_an_actor, star_movie; johnson_jack; reel mystery thrillersJack Johnson developed many activities  in Spain. Maybe the most striking was his debut as a film actor. The former heavyweight champion had become friendly with Catalan film director Ricard de Baños, who wanted to turn his good friend into the rival of Maciste, one of the first strong ones of the history of the cinema, personified by the Italian actor Bartolomeo Pagano. The project title: Strength and Nobility.

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The story of Strength and Nobility was divided into four parts: The Will of a Prince, Among Beasts, The Film Developer, and Jack Johnson, Death Wish. The serial narrated the thrilling adventures of Jack, «a handsome man of gigantic stature and strong muscles so that his body resembles the legend of Atlas», as would say the press of the time.

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The plot was simple: In the exotic city of Osmalia, the legendary champion of boxing has to help Prince Federico to recover legitimately the throne and restore the monarchy. Of course, to get it soon had to face countless dangers and the most ruthless villains.

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The shooting of Strength and Nobility began in May 1917, when Barcelona were exhibiting several successful serials movies, as Ultus and the Grey Lady (George Pearson, 1916), Judex (Louis Feuillade, 1916) and Mysteries of the Grand Hotel (James W. Horne, 1915).

The Arrival

jack, johnson, spain, boxingOn Thursday March 9, 1916, the boxer Jack Johnson and his «troupe» —composed by his wife Lucille; his nephew Gus Rhodes; and his manager, an attentive British who was answering to the name of Jack Morris— registered in the luxurious Hotel Palace in Madrid, the Spanish capital. From the same moment of his arrival, the boxer was located in one of the big lounges of the hotel and showed like a museum piece.

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After his first exhibitions in Madrid, Jack Johnson was moved to Barcelona, where he acted as a referee in a boxing match between Hoche and Allak in the Iris-Park.

With curiosity and admiration, Spanish people began approaching the hotel to see the famous fighter. Johnson knew he had become an international celebrity thanks to the press and newsreels. In places as diverse as Russia, Germany or England, had received as a king. And in Spain, it was not different. The ex-champion did not want to disappoint the curious and put on his best clothes with lots of accessories: rings, tie pins, scarves, hats, canes…