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Joe Louis

Getting A Shot At The Top

Cruelty and laziness had nothing to do with the real Joe Louis, as his management team well knew, but it would take more than the truth to change the image. A combination of skillful public relations and external factors would be needed to transform the Brown Bomber into a national hero embraced by all segments of society. Fortunately for Louis, the public relations aspects were in the hands of skilled management team that had been successfully crafting Louis' image from the beginning. With his sudden rise to fame, they went so far as to release to the press a series of "seven commandments" that Joe Louis had lived by, rules that many newspapers would use in shaping their own coverage.

Other factors were out of Joe Louis' control, but worked to his advantage. Among these was the sorry state of boxing. Riddled by scandal and lackluster champions, professional boxing had been losing fans since the retirement of Jack Dempsey in 1929. Boxing was hungry for an exciting champion, and Louis' undeniable power in the ring and his willingness to fight any serious contender fit the bill.

And far beyond boxing's precincts, world events were undermining America's racial worldview. In Germany, Nazism's aggressive trumpeting of Aryan superiority was beginning to irritate many Americans, who started to ask themselves hard questions about what exactly they found offensive in the doctrine. Together, these factors began to soften the rigid color line that had prevailed in heavyweight title competitions for twenty years.

Another twist of fate would put Louis in sight of the championship, and dissolve that color line. Just weeks before Louis beat Carnera, James Braddock had defeated reigning heavyweight champ Max Baer in one of boxing's biggest upsets. Assuming a Baer victory against a challenger who'd lost twenty-six fights in his career, the Garden's Jimmy Johnston had made a fatal contractual error. He had signed Baer to the standard contract, obligating him to fight his next match in the Garden only if he won. Mike Jacobs went to work on Max Baer, eventually signing him up to fight Lewis on September 24, 1935.

But Louis had personal business to attend to first. That day he married Marva Trotter, a 19-year-old secretary at a newspaper, beautiful, intelligent, well-spoken, and perhaps most important to his managers, black. As Louis put it in his autobiography, "No Jack Johnson problem here." The new Mrs. Louis had a ringside seat when Max Baer was counted out in the fourth round when he refused to stand up from one knee. Later Baer told a reporter, "I could have struggled up once more, but when I get executed, people are going to have to pay more than twenty-five dollars a seat to witness it."

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Famous Sports StarsBoxingJoe Louis Biography - Growing Up, The Amateur Years, Turning Pro, Chronology, The Brown Bomber, Awards And Accomplishments - SELECTED WRITINGS BY LOUIS: