Jun 30, 2013

Slapsie Maxie and Mad Max: Boxers with a Hint of Lavender

I've heard the phrase Slapsie Maxie many times, usually applied in derision to a guy who fights with open-hand slaps rather than closed-fist punches.   It's supposed to suggest that you're a sissy, potentially gay. But only recently did I discover that the phrase originated with a potential landsman.

Born in 1907, Jewixh boxer Maxie Rosenbloom (left) had a weak, open-glove punching style that earned him the nickname "Slapsie Maxie."  It was marginally effective: he won 222 of his 298 fights, but he was hit in the head so often that he lost some motor functioning and reasoning skills, becoming what they called "punch drunk."  

Forced into retirement in 1937, Slapsie Maxie began a new career in the movies, playing "himself" or other big, tough,  slow-witted, "punch drunk" characters.  He also capitalized on the association of "slapping" with effeminancy, playing characters with "a touch of lavender," such as a powder puff salesman in The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942),  a gangster named "Trixie Belle" in Here Comes Kelly (1943), or a Hopalong Cassidy parody named Skipalong Rosenbloom (1951).  

The humor came from seeing someone big and tough who might be gay, or who was too "stupid" to realize that his acts were gender-transgressive.

 In real life, he was married for a few years (1937-45), but he seemed to prefer the company of men, such as trainer and manager Frank Bachmann (left).  And he was not averse to gender-transgressions: apparently a young Davis Hopper saw him in drag at the premiere of Dodge City (1939).

Slapsie Maxie also opened a popular nightclub, Slapsie Maxie's, and made a dent in radio and on tv, playing "himself" in an ongoing role on The Fred Allen Show, and appearing on episodes of The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie, and The Donna Reed Show.

In 1950, he teamed up with his lifelong friend, another boxer-turned-actor, Max Baer (known as Mad Max, top photo and left), playing the "stooge" who bedevils "straight man" Baer.  They starred "as themselves" in four comedy shorts and toured as the comedy team "The Two Maxies."

They remained close friends until Baer's death in 1959.  Slapsie Maxie died in 1976.

Max Baer's son, Max Baer Jr. (born in 1937) made his own splash in Hollywood as Jethro Bodine, dimwitted backwood Adonis on The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71).  Later he contributed to gay history by producing Ode to Billy Joe (1976), starring Robby Benson as a gay teenager who commits suicide.