View Full Version : Movie's Portrayal Of Max Baer Unfair, Incorrect

03-24-2006, 03:09 PM
Movie's portrayal of Baer unfair, incorrect

By Ann Tatko-Peterson

Max Baer Jr. has spent the past year setting the record straight. His father was not the boxer portrayed in a cruel, villainous role in director Ron Howard's movie, "Cinderella Man."

Movies frequently use dramatic license to exaggerate an antagonist. In Howard's movie, released last year, James J. Braddock is a dock worker during the Depression who rose to fame by beating heavyweight champion Max Baer, a Livermore native, in a title fight. Baer is presented as a womanizer and merciless killer.

"He could be arrogant, and he was definitely a lady's man," Baer Jr. said of his father, "but more often he was kind-hearted, a clown at heart. He loved having a good time."

Baer Jr., better known as Jethro on television's "Beverly Hillbillies," and movie critics took exception to the movie's false characterization of Baer regarding a real-life tragedy.

In 1930, Baer knocked out Frankie Campbell during a fight held at Recreation Park in San Francisco. The beating caused Campbell's brain to detach from his skull. He died 13 hours after the knockout.

In one movie scene, the Baer character implies that he also might deliver a fatal beating to Braddock, telling Braddock's wife that she's "far too pretty to be a widow." He then adds, "On second thought, you can always come to me for comfort."

George McCartney, a critic for the online Chronicles, called that scene an inexcusable lie. He added that it was done to elevate Braddock as a perfect hero.

"By Hollywood standards, such fudging is a venial sin hardly worth mentioning," McCartney wrote, "except that it exists side by side with a whopping mortal offense: the shameless defamation of Max Baer."

Campbell's death deeply affected Baer.

Baer Jr. said his father had nightmares about it until he died of a heart attack in 1959.

"Nothing haunted my father more than that fight," Baer Jr. said. "Nothing."

During the weigh-in, Baer and Campbell were instructed to keep fighting as long as the other boxer was on his feet.

In the fifth round, Baer had Campbell pinned against the ropes. There, he unleashed a wave of punches that knocked Campbell senseless. Only later did officials realize the ropes alone had kept Campbell on his feet.

Referee Toby Irwin didn't intervene until Campbell's head hit a metal turnbuckle. When Irwin stopped the fight, Campbell slumped to the canvas unconscious.

Campbell remained in the ring for a half-hour because the ambulance was stuck in traffic.

After Campbell died, Baer was arrested for manslaughter, even though Campbell's widow, Elsie, and his mother, Eliza Camilli, refused to sign a complaint against him. The charges were dropped after a four-month inquiry.

Baer, Irwin and managers for both boxers received one-year suspensions by California's boxing commission.

Baer initially retired from boxing, with plans to return to the family's Livermore ranch. He stayed away from the sport for four months.

Later he wrote, "Nothing that ever happened to me -- nothing that can happen to me -- affected me like the death of Frankie Campbell."

The tragedy changed Baer as a boxer.

Reporters who covered him noticed how he reined in his punches while dominating boxers, as if afraid he might hurt them. Lou Nova credited two of his wins to Baer's unwillingness to finish him off.

The 1930s marked a time before the three-knockdown rule in boxing.

As Jeremy Schaap wrote in his book, "Cinderella Man," "The sport needed reform. But vilifying Max Baer as public enemy number one was unfair. And arresting him was ludicrous."

Throughout his career, Baer donated purses from exhibition fights to Campbell's family. He also arranged through Jack Dempsey, the former heavyweight champion, to pay for the college educations of Elsie Campbell's children.

Basing its information on some newspaper accounts, the movie also attributed a second death in the ring to Baer.

In 1932, Baer knocked Ernie Schaaf unconscious for several minutes in the 10th round. Six months later, Schaaf died following a fight with Primo Carnera.

Newspaper reporters pounced, claiming the beating he received from Baer had caused Schaaf undiagnosed brain damage.

In reality, Schaaf had fought twice since the Baer match. Six months had passed. And the autopsy showed a recent bout with pneumonia had contributed to Schaaf's death.

03-25-2006, 08:26 PM
Max Baer and the Death of Ernie Schaaf
By Michael Hunnicutt – (April 5, 2005)

It has long been considered part of boxing lore that the death of Ernie Schaaf on February 14, 1933 was directly the result of his bout with Max Baer on August 31, 1932. Due for release in June 2005 the movie “The Cinderella Man” a story of the life of Jim Braddock may well allude to Mr. Schaaf’s death at some point in the film and attribute the tragedy to Max Baer. If so, it will repeat what already has been considered fact from the 1956 movie “The Harder They Fall.” “The Harder They Fall,” was the fictionalized boxing story of Primo Carnera. In this movie, the Max Baer character, played by Max himself, spoke according to the script: “You know I’m the guy who nailed Gus (Ernie Schaaf), murdered him for 15 rounds. Don’t know what held him up, but when Gus (Ernie Schaaf) left the ring that night he was a dead man. All your joker did was tap him. I did all the work and they gave your guy all the glory,” your guy meaning Primo Carnera. Since the release of “The Harder They fall” and Max Baer’s appearance in it, whatever information about the death of Ernie Schaaf was minimized. From press clippings gathered by Dan Cuoco from the Baer fight to the autopsy, I will give a more objective view of the events leading to Mr. Schaaf’s death.
Certainly one of the most important and yet least known aspect of Mr. Schaaf’s death was the autopsy report shown accompanying this article . The cause of death was oedema to the brain; this is swelling of the brain. This was inflammation preceded by inflammation of the surrounding tissues of the brain, meningitis. The cause of the meningitis “cannot be known with certainty, but it may be referred to the recent attack of influenza with a reasonable degree of probability.” Perhaps, because Ernie came off two top shelf performances prior to the Carnera bout it would seem less likely he had this inflammation at that time. It was only after he contracted influenza that Mr. Schaaf gave the poor showing he did against Carnera. It seems to me to be fairly cut and dry, but of course, without absolute certainty.
Ernie Schaaf, born on September 9, 1908, was just shy of his 24th birthday when he entered the ring to box Max Baer on August 31, 1932. Prior to this bout, Ernie had 71 professional bouts including a decision over Max in 1930. He had never been knocked out and was considered an excellent heavyweight prospect with a hard punch, a good chin, and good skills. The 23-year-old Baer was also considered to be an excellent prospect with improving skills. (The fact that Baer killed an opponent, Frankie Campbell in 1930, may have also played a part in the public mind following Ernie’s death; but not until years later).
The 1932 bout between Schaaf and Baer appeared to be a rather cautious affair for the first eight rounds. Both men were warned twice by the referee “for them to fight.” Baer took command of the bout in the ninth round, forcing Schaaf to the ropes and outclassed him with a heavy assault of punches. In the tenth and final round, “Baer beat Schaaf around the ring and into the ropes with a savage attack to the head and body. Just before the round ended Baer dropped Schaaf to the canvas, but the bell sounded as Schaaf hit the floor… two seconds before the fight ended Schaaf was knocked flat on his face, completely knocked out. He was dragged to his corner and his seconds worked over him for three minutes before restoring him to his senses.”
On October 20, 1932, Ernie next stepped in the ring with Ed “Unknown” Winston and lost on points in 10 rounds. The author has not found the press clippings for this bout. The rematch on December 12, 1932 was different. Schaaf knocked out Winston in the sixth round. The New York Times reported: “Winston won the first round, but from there on his rival drove ahead at a pace that earned him one of the most impressive victories he has registered in a local ring.”
On January 6, 1933, Schaaf met highly regarded Stanley Poreda who had previously decisioned him. Ernie knocked out Poreda in the 6th round after flooring him 3 times. The New York Times reported, “Schaaf Superior to Carnera – Anyone who saw last night’s bout can easily visualize Schaaf battering down the Italian man mountain if the former fights in the manner he did last night.” This impressive showing installed Ernie as a 7 to 5 odd favorite to beat Carnera.
Now, on February 10, 1933, Ernie fought Carnera and makes a “mediocre showing” so much so that when Schaaf collapsed in the 13th round, boos echoed the Garden; “He (Schaaf) had been dangled, figuratively, on the end of Carnera’s long left jabs, sent off balance not infrequently with Carnera’s ponderous hooks, and smashed by the giant’s awkward right crosses and uppercuts. In every round of the twelve Carnera held the upper hand.” The films of the bout only seems to bear this out. Perhaps, most importantly, Ernie seemed in this bout not able to ride or roll with virtually any of the punches that he received. His head was continuously being pushed, jerked, and snapped back through the 12 rounds as it was when the final jab in the 13th snapped his head back and Ernie collapsed. Under his condition of meningitis at that time, it is remarkable he did not collapse much sooner. Ernie was more than game, he was heroic in his final bout. Ernie died on February 14, 1933 at the age of 24. Following the autopsy results, Lucy Schaaf, Ernie’s mother, consoled Carnera: “Kindly be assured that I do not consider you in any way responsible for the death of my boy. I feel toward you like I would have wished your mother to have felt toward my Ernie if you had met with some misfortune during your bout with him. I thank you for your offers of sympathy and for your expression of admiration for Ernie.”
While it can never be said with absolute certainty, it seems now, as then, that Max Baer in a high degree of probability did not fatally injure Mr. Schaaf. In all of the tidal wave of press reports following the Carnera bout and death of Ernie, Max Baer’s name was never even mentioned. The culprits were influenza, as noted in the autopsy and Ernie’s obituary “just before his bout with Carnera, Schaaf went into reclusion in a religious retreat near Boston to recuperate from an attack of influenza” that produced the meningitis and then fighting with this condition. The reader may form their own conclusions.
My thanks to Dan Cuoco for his personal insights and the press clippings used in this article.

Mike DeLisa
03-25-2006, 08:49 PM
I have responded to these sorts of bullshit articles several times over the past year-- BUT

Max Baer in the summer of 1935 was the complete asshole the film makes him out to be -- and worse! He was actually engaged to be maried while he was, in the immortal words of Moe Greene, banging cocktail waitresses two at a time.

He hated Jimmy Johnston, was trying to break from the garden, and made numerous comments about Braddock leading up to the fight.

In some way, Baer can be credited with using psycological warfare in the form of trash talking -- but in 1935 this did not play.

As I write in my book, he also got kicked off his radio show (a detetective series) for scandolous comments he made about his won sex life following the Braddock loss.

Baer reinvented himself after the loss to Louis -- but these articles are a knee-jerk reaction to an honest portrayal of his character AT THAT FUCKING TIME.

Does anyone feel George Foreman was warm and cuddly circa his massacre of Ken Norton -- Baer was the same way!

03-26-2006, 01:00 AM
Wow, no need to get nasty, Mike. I have a hypothetical question for you. Do you think Ron Howard would have been perfectly content with a plain and simple witty and fun-loving version of Baer?

03-26-2006, 03:32 AM
Just from what I've read, Baer certainly took his loss to Braddock a hell of a lot better than Foreman took his to Ali, didn't he? And I still have seen no evidence that Max did a "Duran" on Jimmy's wife, the way the movie showed. PeteLeo.

The Shoemaker
03-26-2006, 04:27 AM
Another interesting question about the movie was "why didn't they show the Star of David on Baer's trunks ?" That was a big part of Baer's personna, even though he was only like 1/8 to 1/16th Jewish.

Roberto Aqui
03-26-2006, 10:29 AM
Another interesting question about the movie was "why didn't they show the Star of David on Baer's trunks ?" That was a big part of Baer's personna, even though he was only like 1/8 to 1/16th Jewish.

Probably has something to do with Crowe's "religious" convictions!

HE Grant
03-26-2006, 06:27 PM
Look, Baer was in his early twenties at the time depicted in Cinderella Man. He was a catered to celebrity only a few years off farm, living a movie star life while most of the country was starving to death. It is completely possible he acted at times like a spoiled brat and a bit of an ass. It's also totally possible he grew up and became a more experienced, decent person with time. Unfortunately, the film only featured Baer as a foil to Braddock as they needed needed a villian to make the otherwise boring Braddock interesting. They used one of many Baer's to try and achieve their goal. Let's face it, Baer was a far more interesting character to begin with. They were trying to make and sell a movie.

03-27-2006, 04:37 AM
For me, after having seen the film, my initial reaction was, "I would have much prefered to see a film about Max Baer"...

Mike DeLisa
03-27-2006, 04:30 PM
Baer's Mogen David is also discussed in my book -- he used it to nettle Schmeling, then realized it was "good for the jews" in the sense that many Jewish writers and fans lived in NYC.

Be that as it may, the Star of David IS on Baer's trunks in the movie, just darker than real life's yellow or white.

By the way, Baer alienated his "Jewish base" in NY by claiming that his swollen nose after the Schmeling fight made him look Jewish! Yeah, a real sweet guy that Maxie! I wonder how an athlete making such an observation today would be treated.

03-27-2006, 08:32 PM
To clearly show the Star of David on Baer's trunks (as he wore in real life)would not have helped his image as a 'villian' in the hollywood potrayel. The movie casted Baer as an unsympathetic and vile person. Showing the Star on his trunks, as a symbol against nazi oppression and brutality, would have compromised the 'villian' role that Hollywood recreated him in....

....In other words. Let's make Max out to be a complete bastard with no redeemable traits. So let's lose the Star of David that he prominently wore on his trunks. Let's make the star on his trunks very light and difficult to see. We don't want people to know that he was strongly opposed to the treatment of Jews in nazi Germany....Otherwise the movie goers may not hate him as much as we want them to do.

It's called revisionist history. Hollywood does that all the time.

Mike DeLisa
03-27-2006, 09:48 PM
Max Baer in 1935 was actually much worse a guy than made out in the film.

And, let's not forget that, for all his personal angst afterwards, he hit Frankie Campbell in the back of the head -- a clear intentional foul to all present. (Campbell was walking to a neutral corner after knocking BAer down; Baer jumped up, followed him, and landed the illegal punch)

His sex life was not just the subject of gossip -- it was the subject of numerous lawsuits as he was sued for breach of promise and for alienation of affection -- ie banging married women.

The movie summed up what would be a long list in the scene where he is with the two broads in his bedroom and his comments to Braddock.

Revisionist? Not in the least. The portrayal is balls on accurate.

Your comment was "We don't want people to know that he was strongly opposed to the treatment of Jews in nazi Germany...." Baer was widely criticized for using the Star becasue he did so for MERCENARY not political reasons. That is the facts.

I suggest you revise your ass.

03-27-2006, 10:24 PM
"I suggest you revise your ass."

Obviously your very passionate in your hatred of Max Baer. Unlike you, I'm not going to get persoanl about it. But as for your 'mercanary' statement, I don't buy it, just because you say it is so. Where is that documented by his contemporaries? I have a strong suspicion that is just an opinion offered up by modern day revisionis 'historians' and Hollywood film industry. I have never come across anything written by his contemporaries that give justice to your 'mercanary' accusations regarding The Star of David on his trunks.

As for Max's sexual promiscuity; so what? The guy was a young man and on the top of the world. One can argure that he was just acting on a healthy sex drive. And he was a prizefighter. Since when are prizefighters supposed to be the model of morality? How many other champions were one women men? Why judge Max by such rigid standards? Hell, half our politicians 'bang coctail waitresses two at a time" also. Why in Max's case must we bring sex life into the equation as a measure of character? Are you suggesting that he was the only heavyweight champion who diddled more than one chick at a time?

03-28-2006, 01:06 AM
All due respect Mike, but you are an administrator here and should be leading by example. Your swearing and personal insults are not what is to be expected from a leader of a respectable board (and site) like the CBZ.

Mike DeLisa
03-28-2006, 01:02 PM
Yo! That's what I get for watching the Sopranos and then writing a post!

My full apologies and withdrawal of the comment.

But, I gotta say, I actually LIKE Max Baer -- I devoted an entire chapter of my book to a Baer biography, based upon extensive research of the contemporary newspapers AND in conjunction with Buddy Baer's own recollections, which he had provided to me years ago in a manuscript version of his autobiography. I tracked down just about every interview with Baer for the years 1930-1935, along with thousands of newspaper articles about him in general.

As far as Baer's mercenary attitude, it was all over the papers prior to his bout with Schmeling. Here is just one quote, from Dan Parker:

"Baer was only 50 percent Hebrew when he set out for New York. He became 100 percent when he arrived in Gotham and were it not for the fact that the Atlantic seaboard intervened, he might have kept on travelling until he was 350 percent yiddle."

That was the common view in New York -- along with the view that Baer was not Jewish, summed up by Ray Arcel's pithy statement: "I seen him in the shower."

Baer's ancestry, courtesy of Buddy Baer, is also included in my book.

I guess my point is this -- I worked hard on getting the facts straight and presenting a clear picture of the era. The boxing community has jumped on this notion of "defamation" of Baer when in fact he acted like the boor he was portrayed to be. Today, Baer's sex antics can be viewed as comical, but at the time they were viewed morally corrupt. Recall, he was BOOTED off his radio show for comments. He accused Jimmy Johnston of the very same thing that cost Bernard Hopkins over $1 million in a defamation suit won by Lou DiBella. He left a string of women livid and litigious, as well as several angry husbands.

He turned it all around it seems after he married his wife in 1935 and became the Baer we are now familiar with.

03-28-2006, 02:13 PM
Damn, Mike, you're turning him into my idol and role model. PeteLeo.

Mike DeLisa
03-28-2006, 02:43 PM
Pete -- I agree --especially since once your realize that one of the "broads" he was involved with was Dee Starr -- a trapeze artist!

I think I wrote about Baer something to the effect that he blew half his money on wine, women, and song -- and the other half he wasted!

03-28-2006, 05:26 PM
I wonder if he got anything off of Myrna Loy while they were making that movie together? I always had kind of a thing for her. PeteLeo.

03-28-2006, 06:15 PM
She was no Vernoica Lake.

03-28-2006, 06:28 PM
on Russell Crowe by mentioning Veronica Lake.

As long as you don't make any Virtuosity movie references, we're fine.


03-28-2006, 07:45 PM
LOL! Damn those Sopranos!

Mike, did Baer actually make those sorts of threatening statements to Braddock and his wife that we hear in the movie, or apparently take pride in the death of any fighter? Of course I can't remember exactly what was said, I saw the flick so long ago... but anyways, was it consistent with his character at that time? I mean, didn't Tyson once remark about driving bones into people's brains? It's not outside the realm of possibility for a fighter to say something like that... but what about any factual basis for Baer's barbaric statements in the film?

BTW, congrats on the good book review in The Ring!

Walker Smith
03-28-2006, 10:10 PM
LOL! Damn those Sopranos!

Mike, did Baer actually make those sorts of threatening statements to Braddock and his wife that we hear in the movie, or apparently take pride in the death of any fighter? Of course I can't remember exactly what was said, I saw the flick so long ago... but anyways, was it consistent with his character at that time? I mean, didn't Tyson once remark about driving bones into people's brains? It's not outside the realm of possibility for a fighter to say something like that... but what about any factual basis for Baer's barbaric statements in the film?

BTW, congrats on the good book review in The Ring!

Ever since I watched the Harder They Fall, I've wondered the same thing.

03-30-2006, 11:30 PM
I just want to clarify, that I personaly thought 'Cinderella Man' was a great movie. I thought it captured the time and people very realisticly. That it wasn't a box office bonanza I think is more reflective upon the mentality and mind-set of movie goers than it is the quality of this film.

And as for the portrayel of Baer, yes, I do think it was heavy handed and slanted. But I also understand and appreciate that a movie has no legs if it doesn't have an antagonist that an audience can't hate.

But that being said, my view does remain the same in regards to max baer. (Even if he did only wear the star of david for financial reasons) You can't blame the guy for seeking out an ethnic fan base, even if he wasn't representative of that fan bases ethninticity. Back at that time, especially, a lot of boxers claimed blood they didn't sport in order to draw a gate. Lot of Irish fighters claimed to be Italian, and vice verca, in order to gather a following in certain locales. So I don't interpret Max baer claiming to be jewish, even if he wasn't, as anything other than business sense. I certainly don't see it as anti-semetic or hateful.

And again, as for his sexual promiscuity, I don't consider that as anything other than a young guy with fame and fortune being seduced by the devil's gams. I mean, big deal. At least he was honest about it. He never did claim to be a symbol of virtue.

Again, I understand the portrayel, and I thought the movie was great. Do I accept the portrayel of mad cap Maxie as a pure sonofabitch of the first order? No, that I won't buy into. Simply because i relaize that Hollywood is entertainment as opposed to true history.

Mike DeLisa
03-31-2006, 06:44 PM
Ok, fair enough. One last point -- I think if you watch the movie again, it is the Depression that is the main villian, not Baer.

Also, watch Baer/Bierko at the end of the fight in C-Man -- he is smiling, and happy for Jim. He then shakes his hand. Perhaps his public persona was all an act and the filmmakers knew that?

04-06-2006, 06:40 PM
When Did Max Baer start wearing the Star of David on his trunks.
I think he wore it when he fought Primo Carnera for the heavyweight championship.

Mike DeLisa
04-07-2006, 12:01 AM
he first wore it in 1933 for the schmeling fight

04-08-2006, 06:11 PM
I wonder if he was anything like the Buddy Brannon charter,in the movie
When they go into the toliet,to talk with him,and he he almost goes haywire.

04-08-2006, 09:53 PM
This is interesting. Based on all I know about Baer, the movie's portrayal of him as a sadistic, leering brute seemed to be wildly inaccurate, but it is interesting to hear that there may be some justification for it. However, even given the incidents described here, there doesn't seem to be any evidence that I'm aware of that would support the sort of depiction of Baer in that scene with Jim and Mae Braddock. That seemed to me to be the most egregious slander of Baer, frankly.

Even if there is some support for perhaps a less positive portrayal of Baer than as the familar "fun loving" clown, it seems that the movie went really over the top in trying to portray him as a slug. That's what I think his son, and those who are fans of Baer, really objected to.

04-08-2006, 10:18 PM
I agree with the points you made, Zakman. Ithink the'yre right on the mark.

& Btw: Welcome to the board, Zakman!


Cojimar 1945
06-10-2006, 12:43 AM
CBZ's claims about Baer don't seem like such a big deal. In the scheme of things such behavior is not something to get worked up about. People have done far worse things.

01-08-2007, 06:16 PM
In light of the recent Baer article.


01-09-2007, 01:14 AM
Mike wrote: "Does anyone feel George Foreman was warm and cuddly circa his massacre of Ken Norton -- Baer was the same way!"

My only personal knowledge of George Foreman comes from 1970 when he came to Oklahoma City to fight Lou Bailey. I have always been intrigued by stories that he was, at that time, an angry young man - a la Mike Tyson, or a thug a la Sonny Liston. The George Foreman who was in Oklahoma City beat the shit out of Lou Bailey, it's true. But he was also polite, unassuming, smiling outside the ring, and spent most of his time at Pat O'Grady's office reading Sean's "Archie" comic books.

Ron Lyle was the guy who reminded me of the descriptions I read about Sonny Liston.

01-10-2007, 08:25 PM
I have seen the old footage of the Max Baer vrs Braddock fight,and after the ring annoucer annouced that Jim Braddock the NEW Heavyweight Champion,Max Baer sure looked gracious and even happy for Braddock congradulating him in the ring!

01-10-2007, 08:27 PM
Anyway,maybe Jim Braddock's family should sue Russell Crowe.
His portrayl made Braddock seem like he had bland personality.