1920-1922 ...1923-1925 ...1926

1927-1999 ...2000-present





Red Mason, Manager of Harry Greb, Dies



Date Printed: unknown

Here's That Greb Story Again

I don't know how many times we'll have to get the story of Harry Greb's last days straightened out so it will stay straightened out.

I notice that a brother of the doctor who performed the operation during which Harry died revives the old story that Greb fought for two years with only one eye.

That's ridiculous. Harry had the bad eye removed after his last fight, the return bout with Tiger Flowers in which he failed to regain the middleweight title. That was a little more than a month before he died.

I was in Atlantic City covering Jack Dempsey's training for his first fight with Gene Tunney at Philadelphia in 1926 when I recieved word from my office that greb was in a private hospital there. I visited him and found him sitting up in bed with both eyes bandaged. He told me he had had a cataract removed from the eye which had been blinded by a detached retina several years before.

The day before the Tunney-Dempsey fight, he showed up in Philadelphia wearing a black patch over the eye. The fight was on Sept. 23. He died on the operating table from a hemorrhage while undergoing treatment on Oct. 22 for a nose injury recieved in an automobile accident.

It was not until after Greb's death that it was revealed that the "cataract operation" really had been an operation for the removal of the eye and that he had been wearing an artificial eye since that time.

I talked with greb downtown the night before he was operated on the last time. He told me that he would not fight again and was contemplating taking over a floor in the then new building which houses the 5 & 10-cent store at Sixth Ave. and Smithfield St.

"I'm going to go on talking about fighting Flowers again," he said. "I want to keep before the public until I get the business started. the fans soon forget you when you're through fighting."

That night he was bothered by severe pains and called his doctor and took a train for Atlantic City and his rendezvous with death.

There is no more truth in the story that Greb fought any fights with one eye or while wearing an artificial eye than there is in that old chestnut that his name really was Berg and that he transposed the letters to make it Greb.




Harry Greb, 'Greatest Fighter,' Died in East 20 Years Ago Today

Harry's Best Battle Was Night He Whipped Gibbons, Albacker Says


Twenty years ago today--Oct. 22, 1926--when word came over the wires that Harry Greb had died on the operating table in an Atlantic City hospital, almost every Pittsburgher felt he had suffered a deep personal loss.

Greb belonged to the people more than any other pittsburgh fighter. Even today, no fight discussion is complete without mention of Harry Greb, "greatest fighter who ever lived," as many fans call him.

"The Pittsburgh Windmill" died long before his time. He was 32. He had gone to Atlantic City to have a simple nose operation. He breathed his last on that operation table.

It was a shocked and subdued sports world that recieved the news. It was almost unbelievable. Greb was a legend--both in and out of the ring.


Greb Never Drank Liquor

Two of his closest friends were Bernard (Happy) Albacker, who grew up with him and was with him almost constantly, and Cuddy DeMarco, like Greb, a great fighter, and Greb's stablemate.

Albacker knew Greb inside out. "I was probably as close to greb as any person," Albacker related. "I saw him in practically all of his fights and rarely left him at any time.

"Greb never drank a drop of liquor. He would drink an occasional bottle of ale to build up his strength after trying to make weight or sometimes a glass of champagne, but never the hard stuff.

"You might have heard stories of Greb sitting in a nightclub roaring drunk. But not Harry. He would either dump his drinks under the table, spill them or pass them to others at the table. He liked to give off the impression that he was 'tight.'


Always in Shape for Fight

"Harry always was in shape for a fight and he never cared who his opponent was. And he never failed to train religiously for a fight, either. He was in the gym every day.

"I think Greb's best fight was the night he licked Tommy Gibbons in Old Madison Square Garden. Gibbons was a 12-5 favorite that night but Harry gave him the beating of his life.

"I'd say Greb's toughest fight was with Jeff Smith in 1922. And that was the night Greb became blinded in his right eye.

"Smith butted him coming out of a clinch and that was it. Greb carried the secret of his one eye to his grave, except for a few persons.

"He won the middleweight title from Johnny Wilson with one eye. He beat Mickey Walker in that big fight in New York with one eye. But Greb never fought with a glass eye.

"Greb was a sensitive fellow about his appearance. He was always carefully groomed and usually slicked down his hair with vaselline before he entired the ring. And if his opponent ever mussed up Harry's hair, he was like a wildman. He didn't care about punches or butts or thumbs, but that mussed up hair drove him nuts.

Never Bet on Himself

"Greb never bet a nickel on himself in any of his fights. He'd bet more on a handball game or a game of casino than anything else. But he did win a lot of money when Gene Tunney won the heavyweight title from Jack Dempsey.

"Greb's one ambition always was to get Dempsey into a ring, but Jack Kearns wouldn't ever allow Greb near the training camp, after his first experiance with Harry.

"His five fights with Tunney were pips. Greb always thought the first four Tunney fights were easy until the last one in Cleveland, when Tunney won.

"They both got under the shower and Greb said to tunney: 'You not only beat the hell out of me tonight but you hurt me. You can't miss as the next heavyweight champion.'

'A Soft Touch'

"Harry was always a soft touch for show people and was very good to the Catholic church. He rarely came back to Pittsburgh after a fight but that he didn't stop in to see father Bonaventure at the Immaculate Conception Church and leave a donation to the church.

"I used to be a pretty good two-fisted drinker in my time. But the day Greb died, I turned over a new leaf. I haven't had a drink for 20 years."

DeMarco spent three years--from 1923 until 1926--as Greb's stablemate and they were three years he'll never forget.

"I fought with Harry in the gym and he was just as tough as in the ring," DeMarco says in admiration.

Never Let Up

"He was really superhuman. He always wanted me to work out with him to improve his speed. He treated me like he'd treat any opponent. He never knew what it was to let up.

"Before I went with red mason, who handled both Greb and me, I had had about 150 fights and never suffered a scratch. But Greb gave me the works. He mussed up my nose and he gave me my cauliflower ear.

"In the ring Greb always set a terriffic pace. He started in the first round and in the 15th, he was still going strong. I never saw a man with so much stamina.

"I always thought his best fight was with Mickey walker in 1925 for the middleweight title.

Sensitive About Looks

"Harry was always in shape and didn't need much work in the gym.

"We used to share an apartment and I never knew Greb was blinded in one eye. When we'd go out at night, and he'd always ask me how he looked, I always said, 'Great.' I noticed he had one crossed eye but I knew how sensitive he was about his looks and kept my mouth shut."

Red Mason, who followed Greb in death and was his manager most of his career, said at the time Greb died: "The death of Harry Greb marks the passing of one of the greatest fighters since John L. Sullivan.

"He was one of the very best who ever stepped into a ring. I never knew him to make a complaint. He was ready to fight any man who ever challenged him. He never ran out of a fight and never laid down."




Greb: An Old-Timer's View

What kind of a guy was Harry Greb, Pittsburgh's most famous boxer?

This question was asked by Frank Graham, a New York sports writer who has been close to boxing for many years. His answers should be of interest to others as well as New Yorkers. In part, they follow:

"Let's take Greb off by himself and try to see what kind of a guy he was. Well, he was this kind of guy. He would fight anybody, anywhere, in the ring, in a dance hall or up an alley. Weight made no difference to him. He fought middleweights, light-heavyweights...well, as a middleweight, he fought Gene Tunney, a lightheavyweight then, five or six times. Greb won the first one; Gene won all the rest. But the one Gene remembers most is the first one.

" 'He cut my face'," Gene says, " 'He beat me in the body. Before the fight was over, I was sick at my stomach from swallowing blood. I was proud and brave. I didn't want the spectators to see I was bleeding from the nose and mouth. So I swallowed the blood and was sick at my stomach. Not even Dempsey gave me as rough a time as Greb did'."

"Somebody spread a rumor, which Harry went along with because he was a laughing guy that, in lieu of training in a gym or on the road, played handball, bounced glasses off mirrors in bars and did his road work on dance hall floors. There is no denying that, and why should there be? Harry enjoyed life most when the lights were lowered all over town and there were places to go where a guy could buy a drink and hear a band strumming and a girl singing and there were other girls around.

But that wasn't where he did his training. Look at his record in Nat Fleischer's book. He climbed through the ropes 291 times and lost only nine. He fought everyone who stood in his way and, when there wasn't anybody in his way, he went searching.

"There was an afternoon in a burlesque theatre in Brooklyn where Harry and another were sitting on a trunk backstage. The time was, roughly, 1925 and Dempsey was the champion of the world.

" 'Grantland Rice,' the other said, 'thinks you are the greatest fighter, pound for pound, he ever saw. He would like to see you fight Dempsey.'

" 'How many rounds?'

" 'He didn't say.' "

" 'Tell Mr. Rice,' Harry said, 'I'd like to fight Dempsey, too. For six rounds. If I didn't blind him by then, he would kill me in the seventh.' "

(Harry's deceased wife had been a chorus girl at George Jaffe's old Academy burlesque theater on Liberty Avenue. The couple had a daughter whom Greb loved dearly. Mrs. Greb died several years later.)





Was Harry Greb World's Greatest Fighter?

His Record Strongly Supports That Conclusion


"Bring 'em on," he used to say. "All I need is a haircut and a shave."

It was no boast; it was pretty close to being the strict truth. He had a native enthusiasm for fighting unmatched in the annals of boxing. For five gory years, he fought with only one eye--fought and beat almost every top middleweight, light-heavyweight, and heavyweight in the world, including Gene Tunney. It was the only fight Tunney was ever to lose.

Although he has been dead for almost 52 years, the world of boxing has never forgotten Harry greb. Greb beat Johnny Wilson for the middleweight title in 1923. He lost it three years later to the first black man ever to win the championship in that division, Tiger Flowers, known as "The Georgia deacon."

Was Greb, pound for pound, the greatest fighter who ever lived? Many respected ring scholars and historians believe he was.

It was in 1921 that tough Kid Norfolk rammed a thumb into Greb's eye. The next day Greb complained of seeing lights of many colors. They were the last things he'd ever see with the injure eye. He had suffered a detached retina, did nothing about it, and lost half his sight.

But he won some of his most memorable battles with only one good eye-among them, the victory over Tunney and a 1925 title defense against young and powerful Mickey Walker, the welterweight champion of the world.

Five-foot-eight-inch Harry Greb fought them all, in towns across the country, beating the best men around, big and small.

They called him "The Human Windmill," "The Flying Dutchman," and "The Iron City Express." But, mostly, they called him the meanest man who ever laced on the gloves. He was seen as a rip-roaring Yankee Doodle Dandy who never trained and whose big weaknesses were pretty girls and strong drink.

That's the Greb legend, the hardiest perennial that blooms in boxing's garden of myths.

However, one man's recollection of Greb showed a person far different from lurid legend. That man was Harry Keck, sports editor of the old Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph for 33 years. Keck was a man of unimpeachable integrity, a nationally recognized boxing authority, and Greb's close friend and confidant.

Keck died in April of 1965, striving to the end to erase what he vehemently insisted were "frank desecrations" of Greb's memory.

"Each rehash of the Greb legend," Keck would complain, "is sickening than the one before it. A foul fighter? Take a look at the record; there's your answer. Harry was disqualified only once in a career that spanned almost 14 years and more than 300 fights.

"He enjoyed the companionship of both men and women. He trained diligently--long hours in the gym, running, swimming...all of it. True, there were some months when he did very little training. But look again at the record. He fought so often that he used one fight as preperation for the next. That was true of many outstanding fighters of Greb's time."

"As for his alleged drinking," Keck would ask, "do you think a drunkard could have compiled a remarkable record like that of Greb?"

An unbelievable fighting heart, jet speed, fantastic stamina, the wierdest, wildest style in ring history, and a tremendous zest for fighting-put them all together and you don't have anything very fancy. You do have Harry Greb, who laughed at the cuties and gang-fought the heavy hitters.

Neither boxer nor puncher, he overwhelmed his opponents with the most relentless, tornadic attack the ring has ever seen.

Greb's opponents were the best men around in the 1920's, when the woods were full of great fighters. Possibly excepting Sugar Ray Robinson, try to think of a middleweight of the last 50 years who could have handled any of the following: Jack Dillon, Tommy Loughran, Mike Gibbons, Tommy Gibbons, Frank Klaus, Bill Brennan, Billy Miske, Jeff Smith, Augie Ratner, and Maxie Rosenbloom.

On Feb. 26, his amazing stamina beginning to fade at last, Greb lost his title to Flowers. They fought again in August of that year, and once more Flowers won a split decision. It was the end of the road for the king of the road.

Two months later, Harry Greb died at age 32 on the operating table in Atlantic City. He had been plagued with excruciating headaches for several months.

The great heart that had sustained him so long quit beating. The boxing world was stunned.

"I have lost a good friend and boxing has lost it's greatest champion," read a telegram to the family from Jack Dempsey, who only a month before had lost his heavyweight crown to Tunney.

Tunney was one of the pallbearers. His admiration for Greb was, and still is, boundless. The night that Greb beat him but couldn't knock him out was the most important night of Tunney's life. From that time on, Tunney has said, he believed that no one could knock him out. And no one ever did.