So among the many Wayback TV channels I watch, where I can find classic and not-so-classic television shows from 30, 40, even 60 years ago, is Decades, on channel 483 (Verizon FIOS). You know what I mean by “Wayback”—not just old, but from a time when the networks’ goal was the production of lighthearted entertainment and not to make you throw up a little in your mouth. (Sorry, I just finished watching HBO’s parody of an ESPN 30 for 30 mini-doc, 7 Days in Hell, and it was awful, as in terrible, as in vile, crude, and anti-funny. Not unfunny; anti-funny. It made you never want to laugh again for fear it would only encourage the adolescents who produce this vomitous fare to continue in their chosen profession.)
Where was I? Oh, I know: Car 54, Where Are You? Not one of the best of the Golden Age of Television sitcoms, in fact probably best known only for the first pairing of Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis, who of course would go on to play Fred Munster and Grandpa, respectively, in The Munsters, a show that made Gwynne famous but that almost destroyed any hope he had of playing anyone else ever. (He made a mini-comeback late in his life, in films like The Cotton Club and My Cousin Vinny.)
So I’m watching an episode of Car 54 on Decades, which runs marathon showings of old programs all weekend long, and the guest on this episode, called “The Puncher,” was the late great Rocky Graziano, former middleweight champion of the world, who played a hairdresser who uses boxing to let out his his aggression.
And he was a riot!
The show even teamed him up again with Sugar Ray Robinson, probably the greatest middleweight of all time, and who, incidentally, knocked Graziano out in the third round of what would prove to be Rocky’s penultimate career fight, in 1952.
Check this out.
I’m looking right now at a four-disc pack of Paul Newman flicks: Harper (in which he plays a private dick opposite Lauren Bacall), The Mackintosh Man (a spy thriller directed by John Huston, with screenplay by Walter 48 Hours Hill), Cool Hand Luke (“What we have here is a fay-y-yl-yure to communicate”), and Somebody Up There Likes Me, in which he (of all people!) plays Graziano in what was half love story and half original Rocky. (And it features Perry Como! What more could you ask for in a boxing picture?)
I remember seeing Graziano in Midtown Manhattan many years ago, talking jovially with a fan, big smile on his face—even though it looked like he had been stopped on his way into an office building, oversize package in hand. (He had a string of pizza joints in Midtown, the original in Kip’s Bay, which is where I had an apartment at the time I saw him.)
I also remember seeing Jake LaMotta walking into a candy store on First Avenue, looking like he wanted to knock unconscious the first person who so much as whispered his name. Needless to say, I was not about to ask the Raging Bull for an autograph.
The two movies also say a lot about changes in our popular cultures…
Bio note: Graziano was married to the same woman, Norma Unger, for 47 years, until her passing in 1990. They had two children. Both Graziano and LaMotta are in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.