The Fearless Harry Greb
By Bill Paxton
Book Review by Clay Moyle (author of Sam Langford: Boxing's Greatest Uncrowned Champion)
It's amazing that until now, the only book that had ever been produced about Harry Greb was a 1946 work written by James Fair that was a mixture of fact and myths. Thankfully, Bill Paxton has rectified that situation with his masterfully written new biography about the man also known as "The Pittsburg Windmill" for his unique two-fisted attacking style.
Paxton's book is well researched, and loaded with 124 photographs, many of which most fans will have never seen before, and it makes for a nicely paced and interesting read. Greb's most important contests are covered in detail, including all five of his meetings with future heavyweight champion Gene Tunney. Greb handed the Fighting Marine the only defeat of his professional career, giving him a terrible beating in their first contest. Although the record book shows Tunney winning the following four bouts between the pair, many folks who witnessed the matches felt that Greb won the second meeting as well, and deserved no worse20than a draw in their third fight. Tunney later credited Greb for his rapid development from novice to a world champion, and called him the greatest fighter he ever saw.
Paxton's comparison of the performances of Greb and Dempsey against their many common opponents such as Battling Levinsky, Billy Miske, Bill Brennan, Willie Meehan, Gene Tunney, and Tom Gibbons among others, as well as his description of the results of sparring sessions between Greb and Dempsey, leave one with the impression that Dempsey and his manager, Jack Kearns, were wise to ignore Greb's challenges for an official pairing between the two men. I found it interesting to note that in 1918 Dempsey's management team chose to fight Battling Levinsky, a man Greb had just defeated, rather than accept Greb's challenge.
Undoubtedly, many folks will read that and say that Dempsey was too big for Greb, but as the author points out, Greb was fighting bigger and heavier men than Dempsey, and having no problems beating them, and easily defeated every heavyweight opponent he ever fought.
The author identifies Greb's first fight with Kid Norfolk in August of 1921 as the one in which Greb received a blow that eventually resulted in a detached retina, and the permanent loss of vision in his right eye shortly thereafter. In that same chapter he explains in detail what most likely occurred, and includes opinions from modern ophthalmic surgeons to assist in that effort. Remarkably, that means that Greb fo ught almost the last third of his career with one eye, including most, if not all five contests against Tunney, and during his entire reign as middleweight champion from 1923 to 1926.
Like Sam Langford, Greb had over 300 recorded professional fights, and over the course of a four year period from 1917 to 1920 entered the ring a remarkable 134 times, including an even more mind boggling 45 times in 1919 alone. Tragically Greb passed away in 1926 at 32 years of age as a result of a blood clot on the brain the day after an operation to address injuries suffered from an automobile accident.
The book dispels a number of common held beliefs concerning Greb, most notably that he was a womanizer, drank heavily, and rarely trained. Instead, Greb is portrayed as a devoted and faithful husband to his wife Mildred up until her untimely death in 1923, and as a man who drank sparingly, and only pretended to be a heavier drinker when it suited his purposes. Cuddy DeMarco, a stablemate of Greb's was quoted after Greb's death as saying that "Harry was always in shape for a fight", "never failed to train religiously for a fight" and "was in the gym every day."
Paxton's wonderful description's of Greb's unorthodox boxing style leaves one with a strong desire to view him in action. Sadly there is no known film of him in action. All that we have is a very brief clip of him in training for his contest with Mick ey Walker. The author explains that there were four of Greb's fights confirmed as being filmed, the first Tunney fight, his fight with Mickey Walker, and both title contests with Tiger Flowers. Unfortunately, the films were made of nitrate stock and it is believed that all disintegrated over time. Hope persists that somehow, and somewhere, someone copied one of the films onto a more modern medium and that evidence of him in action might one day surface, but to date that hasn't happened.
In addition to the well researched content and abundance of photographs, the book includes chapter notes, a bibliography, and an appendix with Greb's complete fight record.
I had a healthy respect for Greb's accomplishments before reading this book, but even more so now. I highly recommend it to anyone with a desire to learn more about one of the most remarkable fighters in the history of boxing. I guarantee you will not be disappointed in it.
To order this very detailed book, visit the websites www.amazon.com and www.mcfarlandpub.com
252 pages, softcover, $39.95; paperback, $39.95
Book Review by Jim Amato (feature writer for the myboxingfans.com website)
Oh my this book really sealed the deal. It was the best boxing book I have read in over two decades.
Believe me I've read some outstanding books during that time. This one takes the cake. Why ? Well for a variety of reasons. First off Harry Greb is considered by many experts as one of the three best middleweights who ever lived. Up to now Harry Greb was somewhat of a mystery man. There are no known films of his classic fistic battles. This is very hard to believe since there are many films of his contemporaries. Also little was known of his personal and family life.
The author of this book, Bill Paxton must have spent countless hours in researching this book. Although no films of Greb s famous battles with Gene Tunney and his bout Mickey Walker, Paxton gives detailed accounts of these contests and others. There is more though, much more. Paxton takes you on a journey through Greb s life. The ups, the downs, the triumph and the tragedy. Once I picked this book up, I didn t want to put it down. I wanted to know more about this sometimes complicated yet at times a simple man. Greb was a boxing hero in the Golden Era of the sport. This book has over 100 photos that help tell the story. I urge you to treat yourself to a rich slice of boxing history.
Book Review by Tracy Callis (Director of Research for the Cyber Boxing Zone website)
Fans of boxing's great middleweight, Harry Greb, are in for a treat. In a well-researched and detailed work by Bill Paxton, the career of the highly regarded, "Pittsburgh Windmill," is presented in an interesting and easy to read manner. Coverage of the major bouts in Harry's ring tenure is given great attention as well as the circumstances surrounding the contests. In addition, there is a plentiful display of photographs that enhance the presentation.
The man, Greb, considered by many boxing historians to be the greatest middleweight fighter of all time, is under the microscope in this thoroughly researched book. No doubt, Paxton's work will rekindle the reader's interest in the exploits of Fearless Harry.
Scrapping in one of boxing's most competitive periods of history, Greb owned victories over a number of very talented fighters. The only man to defeat Gene Tunney was known in boxing circles to have "bamboozled" Jack Dempsey in sparring sessions. Mr. Paxton discusses Greb's encounters with Tunney and Dempsey. Both of these great fighters held Harry in great esteem.
Harry also tangled with the amazing Kid Norfolk. These matches are discussed too. Greb received an eye injury in one of these contests that cost him his vision in that eye for the remainder of his career.
A lengthy discussion regarding Mickey Walker is included as well as informative descriptions of Greb and Tiger Flowers, Maxie Rosenbloom, Tommy Loughran, Battling Levinsky, Fay Keiser, Perry "Kid" Graves, Joe Chip, Joe Borrell and many others.
Previously, Greb has been depicted as a rough, wild and rowdy, drinking man. In this book, however, he is described as a calm, focused fellow who was a devoted husband. Fearless Harry is said to always show up for a bout in fighting condition - which, doubtless he did.
This book is interesting and informative and includes notes for each chapter, a bibliography and a complete version of Greb's ring career record. It is a must read for boxing historians and fans.
Book Review by Paul Kennedy (Author of the Billy Conn biography "The Pittsburgh Kid")
An important book for boxing,
Mr. Paxton has written a much-needed biography of Greb that is a great read. To call it "well-researched" doesn't do it justice. He has painstakingly cleared up all of the myths about the great Harry Greb in a book that is easy to read and holds interest throughout. I am the author of Billy Conn the Pittsburgh Kid, so I know a lot about researching old documents from the pre-Internet age. Paxton has done a superb job of bringing a fascinating character to life and describing the city of Pittsburgh in the early 20th century. This is an important book in the field of boxing history. Greb may well be the greatest fighter in the history of the sport, but is not well-known because he fought so long ago. No boxing fan's collection is complete without it.
"There may not be a huge audience out there for a biography of Harry Greb, but Bill Paxton has put together a good one"-The Ring.
Book Review by Patrick Myler (newspaper writer for Dublin, Ireland's Evening Herald)
Evening Herald, Dublin, July 11, 2009
MORE myths have grown around Harry Greb than probably any other fighter in history. Known as 'The Pittsburgh Windmill' for his aggressive, rapid punching style, he supposedly used every dirty trick in the book, never trained, and often made love in his dressing room before a fight to help him relax.
Happily, author Bill Paxton, who runs the official Harry Greb website (www.harrygreb.com), knows his subject so well that he is able to dispel most of the myths and still tell an engrossing story.
In an incredibly busy career spanning 13 years, Greb fought 299 times, held the world middleweight title from 1923 to 1926, and was the only man to defeat heavyweight champion Gene Tunney.
Although he wasn't a big puncher, only scoring 48 knockouts, he frequently gave away weight and still proved too good for light-heavyweight champions Jack Dillon, Battling Levinsky and Mike McTigue.
The only myth that stands up, finds Paxton, is that Greb fought for the last five years of his career while blind in one eye. Somehow, he was able to conceal his handicap in cursory medical examinations.
Ironically, it was during an operation on his nose, broken in a car accident, that Greb fell into a coma and died. He was just 32 years old.
The Fearless Harry Greb: Biography of a Tragic Hero of Boxing is available from McFarland Publishers, Box 611, Jefferson, North Carolina 28640 (www.mcfarland.com) or from www.amazon.com