The Big Fight

Dos_homes_en_combat_de_boxa_sobre_el_ring_amb_pblic_al_voltantSunday, April 23, 1916. In the most intellectual circles of Barcelona, there was no another topic of conversation than the third centenary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes, the Quijote’s author. But the matter of the day was the combat of boxing between Jack Jonson and Arthur Cravan.

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The ambience in the Monumental (a new bullring in Barcelona) was warmed when it announced the first meeting «black against white» in the afternoon. Gus Rhodes faced Kid Johnson, who had already become one regular of the «Jack’s troupe». Despite of being prepared, the combat had a few promising beginnings. But there were complications in the outcome.

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The filmmaker Ricard de Baños had arranged strategically to six «routiers» with their cameras at different points of the Monumental to film the big fight. Everything was ready, when the sky began to fill with clouds. Ramón, Ricard’s small brother and experienced operator, warned that if they were late in beginning the Jonson-Cravan combat they were registering the movie in very low conditions of light, which could throw to loose all the work. Ricard commented to Jack. Finished the fourth assault with Rhodes, Kid feigned not to be able to keep on fighting. Other «introductory» duels announced in the program, Munich-Seem and Martínez-Cutchet, remained deferred and, before the awaited thing, Jack Johnson and Arthur Cravan jumped to the ring.

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The fans were glad, but his hopes of seeing a great fight did not last long. The boxer poet, with white trousers and short bathrobe of the same color, trod on the canvas very palely. Meanwhile the gloves were placing him, was necessary to sit in his corner because him the legs were trembling. His brother Otho tried to infuse encouragement from the corner, but Arthur was very afraid. Shortly before entering the ring, Johnson had threatened that he would beat him up.

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«Don Jack» spent the strings with his eternal smile, wearing a striped coat and pants darker than the color of their skin. The American boxer was disappointed by the scarce entry. However, concealed and distributed smiles generously. Before the Chilean coach Tony Berton, doing the functions of referee, announced the beginning of the fight, the chief Bravo Portillo presented himself in the ring to remind participants that they could not overextend their attacks. The authorities ordered that the expected clash of the titans had just as a simple exhibition by decree law.

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The fight was a complete failure. Gripped by fear, Arthur Cravan barely managed to move the site: unthinkable that an attack could in conditions against his rival. Johnson realized that they were offering to sorry sight, but have wanted to give swindle to Ricard could register the movie.

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Cravan was disgracing during six rounds, since Johnson did not take him seriously and was laughing at him. Of has not spent between them what it spent behind the scenes, surely that had the chivalry of putting K.O. to the first round, with what a sad role had avoided him.

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Jack was looking at Ricard to see if it was enough for the recorded movie. The filmmaker did not know what to say. He knew that this film had no value. The public, who so much had trusted in the possibilities of Cravan, was looking at the ring wonderingly. The combat was so bad that it was not even raising suspicions that it could be prepared. Suddenly, Johnson wanted to spice up the show, threw a punch against his rival and the nephew of Wilde collapsed.

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The combat of the Monumental could finish in scandal, but Jack and Gus improvised some exercises to entertain the public. Later, there were carried out two remaining fights, which did not shine for his quality either, although the participants were used by major ardor without fear to the suspension. Frustrated and indignant, some spectator did threat of starting a rain of chairs on the ring. The strong police device of Bravo Portillo avoided any type of disorder. In the following hours, the enormous disappointment didn’t manage to end with the topic of the boxing. Since it generated a passionate debate on the expediency of this sports practices.

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The Nephew of Oscar Wilde

Arthur Cravan, the Nephew of Oscar Wilde

Arthur Cravan was the second fighter who wanted to measure his fists against Jack Johnson in Spain, but this time in Barcelona. Under the name of Arthur Cravan there was hiding Fabian Avenarius Lloyd, the son of a wealthy English couple. Born in the Swiss city of Lausanne, May 22, 1887, he was presumed to be a nephew of famous writer Oscar Wilde. Became an eccentric boy who tried to succeed as a poet in Paris in the early twentieth century, inventing the nickname of Arthur Cravan. With the inheritance left him by his father, in the decade of 1910, he settled in an apartment placed behind the gardens of Luxembourg. Then attended the Bullier, a known local who met the intellectuals, artists and boxers, very fashionable in France during those years. There he met Jack Johnson, who then ran the Gallic country with a variety show that had set up with his wife Lucille. Possibly admired by the adventures of the great Johnson, Fabian signed up in a club led by the boxer Fernand Cuny and decided to turn into a fighter. Soon after, he took part in a championship for rookies boxers. Curiously, after any of his rivals does not present himself, Fabian won the title of amateur champion of France in the category of semi-heavy without even having to enter combat.

Arthur Cravan training with Frank Hoche

But boxing was just an entertainment for him. His real passion was poetry. Although he had a good plant and claimed to have an adventurous spirit, was never really an example of courage. At the beginning of the European war, looked terribly awful that the British call him drafted. Accompanied by an attractive young woman named Renee, Fabian fled to Barcelona. But there he did not even feel completely safe. As distinct from many of his countrymen, who were willing to overlook the conflict sitting in the cafes of the city, Cravan planned to flee of the war. His target was America, but to cross the Atlantic Ocean he needed money.

In Barcelona, Arthur Cravan understood that with his writings it was going to gain not even a cent. Nevertheless, he noticed the increasing interest that existed for the boxing, from what, without losing a second, started boasting of his knowledge on the matter, assuring to be a champion of France. His proclamations became effective and, in only a few days, the poet was giving classes of boxing for a select group of pupils in the Real Marine Club of Barcelona. Nevertheless, his salary as teacher was not reaching to acquire the ticket to the American continent. By chance he found out that Juan Elías was looking for a boxer capable of facing Jack Johnson in Barcelona. The nephew of Wilde at once presented himself as a volunteer.

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.

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 thrillers

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).