Jack Dempsey: Prize-fighter, Actor and Author

When: 1895-1983

Where: Manassa, CO

Why Important: Professional Boxer

Biography

William Harrison “Jack” Dempsey was born on June 24, 1895 in Manassa, CO. He grew up poor. Jack’s father had trouble finding work and Jack helped out by working when he just a young boy. He left home when he was sixteen. To make money, Jack would go into a bar and challenge someone to a fight.  He almost always won!

Jack started boxing professionally around 1914. He had two nicknames, “Kid Blackie” and the “Manassa Mauler.”[footnote]“Neither Greg Nor Gibbons Are the Class.” Daily Journal, March 22, 1922. CHNC[/footnote] Even though he started making money as a boxer, it wasn’t enough and he still had to work so he found worked in the shipyards. By 1918, Dempsey was boxing all the time. In that year, he had seventeen fights! He only lost one and was known to knockout his opponents, often in the first round.[footnote]“Sports and Athletics.” Herald Democrat, February 25, 1918. CHNC[/footnote]

Jack Dempsey knocking out Jess Willard in 1919.

On July 4, 1919, the World Heavyweight Championship was held in Toledo, OH. Jack fought Jess Willard and won.[footnote]“Dempsey Wins.” Silverton Standard, July 5, 1919. CHNC[/footnote] He held on to the title of World Heavyweight Champion for the next seven years, then lost the title to Gene Tunney after 10 rounds.[footnote]“The Big Fight in a Nutshell.” Daily Times, September 23, 1926. CHNC[/footnote] Jack’s fights became very popular. When he fought Georges Carpentier in 1921 in New Jersey, it made one million dollars and 91,000 people came to see the fight.

Due to Jack’s popularity, he became quite famous even with people who did not like boxing. He appeared in Hollywood movies and traveled the country going to fairs and exhibitions.[footnote]“Carpentier in Denver Tonight!” Aspen Daily Times, July 7, 1926. CHNC[/footnote] This made Jack very wealthy.

On September 22, 1927, Jack and George Tunney had a rematch in Chicago. The fight brought in two million dollars and millions listened on the radio.[footnote]“News Review of Current Events.” Aspen Daily Times, September 30, 1927. CHNC[/footnote] Unfortunately, Jack lost this fight and Tunney was named World Heavyweight Champion.[footnote]“Jack Hurried to Estelle; Father Nearly Gets Into Fight; Second Annoys Jack.” Daily Times, September 23, 1927. CHNC[/footnote] Jack decided it was time to retire from boxing.[footnote]“Dempsey Expected to Retire from Ring; Tunney May Fight in London.” Daily Times, September 24 1927. CHNC[/footnote]

After boxing, Jack opened a restaurant in New York, got married and divorced three times (with his fourth marriage he found success), acted as a boxer in the movie The Prizefighter and the Lady,[footnote]Craig Empire Courier, July 4, 1934. CHNC[/footnote] and wrote three books. On May 31, 1983, Jack died from a heart attack in New York City.