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Scott Ostler

In His Job, You Had to Have a Story--Either to Tell or Sell

June 17, 1986|Scott Ostler

Irving Rudd grew up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn in the '30s, when it was an Irish-Polish-Italian-Jewish ghetto. Tough place, know what I mean?

"You didn't graduate from high school, you were acquitted," Irving says.

There were fights all the time. You either fought your way out of 'em or talked your way out. Irving Rudd chose the latter. He was a natural. Some people were given the gift of gab. Irving won the state lottery of gab.

So, naturally, he became a fight publicist. He did that from 1937 to '51, then he did some other things, then he went back to the fight game in '76. Right now he's working his 50th big fight camp, pumping out publicity on Roberto Duran and Barry McGuigan, who will fight two other guys in Las Vegas on June 23.

At least Irving is almost sure this is his 50th camp. He wouldn't just say that to make it a news peg and thereby help hype the fight card, would he?

Not like the "accident" back in '58, when he was trying to drum up publicity for the opening of a new clubhouse at Yonkers Raceway in New York. This event was only faintly newsworthy, and certainly not worth a photo in any newspaper.

But driving to the track one morning, Irving saw painters working on a new sign just off the expressway.

Rudd stopped and ordered the crew to finish the sign so it read, in three-foot-high letters, "YONKERS RACEWYA."

The next day photos of the sign appeared on the front pages of newspapers all over the country, with captions like "Oops!" and "Somebody goofed."

Rudd might have been a big executive with the Dodgers today, but he decided he liked eating better.

In 1951, when TV dried up most of the fight action, Irving went to work for the Brooklyn Dodgers as a publicist. He worked like a dog and got paid like one, too.

"Walter O'Malley was a wonderful man," Rudd said. "Avuncular, affable, but he paid soup-kitchen wages."

O'Malley booked the Dodgers to play seven league games in Jersey City in '55, and put Rudd in charge of the operation. Irving got his pal Eddie Fisher to sing the national anthem.

The games were played at a broken-down relic of a ballpark-turned-stock-car-track. Terrible for baseball, but there were 10,000 parking places O'Malley could sell for a buck each.

As Rudd and another Dodger employee were walking down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn one day, they saw a storefront church with a neon cross and a sign, "Jesus Saves."

Rudd's buddy looked at the sign and muttered, "They oughta meet O'Malley ."

So Irving quit the Dodgers after four lean years, but he left his mark.

"Do they still do Camera Day?" he asked. "That's mine. Also Batboy for a Day. And I brought General MacArthur to the ballpark, right after Korea. I told him, 'They say you haven't lived until you've been to Ebbets Field.'

"He gave a speech at the ballpark. The first thing he said was, 'I've been told one hasn't lived until. . . .' That was '51. He fell in love with the team, came to the park 13 times that season and we lost every single time he came. We blew a 13 1/2-game lead to the Giants."

And you thought it was Bobby Thomson who killed the Dodgers that year. It was Irving Rudd's pal, General Mac.

Irving liked baseball, but he loved the fight game. On his first publicity job, he slept on a cot underneath the ring. Now he bunks in $300-a-night hotel suites. Back then he hand-cranked mimeograph machines. Now he presides over jet tours and satellite-feed press conferences.

Irving has worked for Ali and Boom Boom and Norton. In the old days he worked for guys like Al (Bummy) Davis, who got mad and kicked Fritzie Zivic in the, uh, well, below the midsection, then Bummy did the same to the referee.

In the fight game, you gotta be creative. Know what I mean?

Rudd remembers when fighters had to have a gimmick. One fighter was billed as King Solomon, and wore the Star of David on his trunks.

"King Solomon is training to fight Jack Sharkey," Rudd said. "A newsman goes to the gym on Yom Kippur and finds the King working out like crazy. He says to Solomon, 'Whattaya doin'?'

"Solomon says, 'Training for Jack Sharkey.'

" 'But what about Yom Kippur?'

" 'I'll fight him next.' "

Like all fight publicists in the old days, Rudd had a lot of fighters who got their names in the paper by rescuing damsels from drowning in lakes near where the pug was doing his morning workout.

"What these damsels were doing in lakes at 6 a.m. in the middle of the winter, nobody ever asked," Rudd said.

Still, he didn't want to arouse suspicions.

"You could only use that one about once a year."

Like his clients, Rudd is kindly but tough. At the last Hearns-Hagler fight, a security cop who didn't know Rudd wouldn't let him into the dressing room. Irving was furious.

"Listen, you bum," Irving yelled at the cop, "just because you make four bucks an hour don't make you no Sherlock Holmes!"

And Irving Rudd ain't no Shakespeare, but the man can sell a fight. Fifty, count 'em.

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