Floyd Patterson And Westport’s Kid’s Gloves

If you live in this town long enough, you hear everything.

But it’s taken me my entire life to learn about Westport’s boxing club, Kid Gloves. And one of the men who trained there: Floyd Patterson, heavyweight champion of the world.

The story comes thanks to alert “06880” reader Franklin Mason. A 1960 Staples High School graduate who earned a Ph.D. in chemistry, taught college for 10 years and then became a technical writer in Silicon Valley, he emailed me recently with this fascinating tale.

Franklin Mason: 1960 and 2010.

Mason sent news clippings and photos too. There is no hook or angle to this; no upcoming title fight, demolition of the boxing club building or anything else. It’s simply a fascinating tale, about a long-buried part of Westport’s past.

In 1958, a few prominent Westporters started an after-school gym. The focus was on boxing and body-building. (There were also “figure control classes” for ladies.)

Seven years earlier, the group had helped start Westport Little League. Now they were doing something else for boys in town.

Kid Gloves was located in Nash’s Barn, at the head of Nash’s Pond on Kings Highway North. Built before the Revolutionary War, in the early 1940s it had been converted into a theater. Then it was a dance studio, with a hardwood floor.

Nash’s Barn, 1952.

The building no longer exists. It’s been replaced by a handsome private home — the one owned by singer Michael Bolton.

But in 1958 it hummed with activity. Jim Freeman — a boxer in the 1928 Olympics, World War II pilot and boxing referee, manager and promoter — served as Kid Gloves’ director and “heart,” Mason says.

He should know. Though just 16, scrawny and out of shape, his neighbor Virginia Mercier — Kid Gloves’ office manager — hired him as an instructor.

Freeman taught Mason how to teach the boys how to work out — including 14-year-old Westporter Michael Douglas. One day, his father — Kirk — came to visit. He strapped on gloves, and sparred with his son.

The actor knew what he was doing: In 1949 he’d starred in “Champion,” a boxing movie (based on a short story by Weston’s Ring Lardner).

Other young boxers at Kid Gloves included Daniel, Max and Peter Shulman. Their father, Max Shulman, wrote “Rally Round the Flag, Boys!” about the Westport Nike missile site. In 1958 it was made into a film starring Paul Newman. Soon he and his wife, Joanne Woodward, moved here.

Westport Town Crier ad, October 16, 1958.

In 1959, Floyd Patterson needed a spot to train for his rematch against Ingemar Johansson — the man who had recently taken the world heavyweight title from him.

He wanted a place with “peace and quiet.” A special, regulation-sized ring was ordered. Patterson’s smaller-than-usual speed bag was sent too.

Patterson arrived with his manager Cus D’Amato, and sparring partner Tommy “Hurricane” Jackson. Jackson spent several nights at Mason’s home.

Floyd Patterson, on the speed bag.

Ed Mitchell’s oldest son, Jack, was a football player at Wesleyan University. That summer, to get in shape for the upcoming season, he ran around the track at the old Staples High School on Riverside Avenue (now Saugatuck Elementary School). His younger brother Bill was with him.

D’Amato saw Jack, and asked if he wanted to work out at the gym. He brought the Mitchells across the Post Road. There was Floyd Patterson. They did some pullups and other exercises together.

Patterson asked Mitchell if he’d run on the track with him. “I was never a runner. He wasn’t either,” Mitchell recalls. “But we ran together.”

The brothers were told not to tell anyone that Patterson was there. They kept quiet.

But word got out. When it did, the Westport Town Crier ran this headline: “Boxing Gangsters Invade Westport.”

That was a reference to D’Amato’s alleged association with organized crime. When Patterson saw the headline, he left for another training facility, in Newtown.

Lou Dorsey and Franklin Mason, 1954

Freeman soon left also. But Kid Gloves added staff members. Lou Dorsey — a popular Saugatuck Elementary School phys. ed. instructor — took over as boxing coach. Derek Shelton taught dance to all ages; Edwardo Enrich was a judo instructor for boys and adults.

One of the dance students was Amy Vanderbilt — the famous etiquette expert. One day, waiting for a friend outside the building, Mason honked his horn. She rushed out, and reprimanded him. Sixty years later, he says, he still remembers — and has never done that again.

But Freeman’s departure was crucial. In January of 1960, Kid Gloves was sold. New owner Anthony Iannone of Stratford renamed it “Anthony’s Health Center & Gym.”

By that time Freeman could easily do sit-ups and chin-ups. He was adept on the free rings and trapeze.

Bridgeport Post ad, January 3, 1960.

In June of that year, Floyd Patterson knocked out Ingemar Johansson. For the first time ever, a boxer had regained the world heavyweight title.

Four months later, Anthony’s went out of business.

15 responses to “Floyd Patterson And Westport’s Kid’s Gloves

  1. Did Floyd Patterson actually live in Westport?
    I do remember Paul Neumann, Farrow family and more… I just don’t remember Floyd??

  2. Joanne Crawley

    Absolutely fascinating!
    Thank you for sharing this wonderfully rich recollection, part of the glamorous history of Westport. Wish I had lived here then….
    I love the kindness and appreciation of the author which comes through in his writing.
    Thank you!

  3. Your story about boxing and Floyd Patterson brought back some memories from my days growing up in Newtown. Floyd Patterson did come to train in Newtown for his rematch with Ingmar Johansen. He trained at this former goat farm turned into a restaurant on Orchard Hill Road called the La Ronda. It was big news for a sleepy New England Farm Town. I went out to watch him train and then when he won the fight( I believe it was a rematch as Patterson was knocked out in the first fight) there was a big rally at the Edmond Town Hall for him. I had a copy of Sport Magazine and he signed it for me. Unfortunately that disappeared along with my Mickey Mantle cards!

    For our fiftieth reunion at Newtown High School ( 79 graduates) I did a slideshow and went to the library to see what pictures I could get about the town in those years. I copied this picture of Floyd Patterson for the show rom the Bee among other stories connected to our class.

    I found another bit on google about the place he trained and Iwill send it to you.

    I can’t remember where my keys are most mornings but these things live in your heart.

  4. As Little Steven might say, this could be the coolest story of the year.

    So now we have three sports legends—Babe Ruth, Johan Cruyff, and Floyd Patterson—who played or trained in Westport.

  5. Michael Calise

    An Amazing story! – and more so for me. I graduated Staples 58 (Janet Mason was a classmate) remember everyone mentioned including franklin. That year I boxed in the Golden Gloves training at a gym in Stamford. but I totally missed all of this! Left for the USMC in August. Maybe this started in the fall of 58?

  6. Patrick Kennedy

    Dan, good one, thanks.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  7. As Fred said, this is a great piece, thank you!

  8. I am right now in the middle of reading Mike Tyson’s book Iron Ambition, which is his adoring account of his life with Cus D’Amato, who legally adopted Tyson as a young teen and gave him the both the training and fatherly guidance he needed to put his life on track and accomplish what he did in boxing. The book also contains a fair amount of biographical information about Floyd Patterson who, along with Tyson himself and Jose Torres, were D’Amato’s most famous pupils. There were indeed several references to Patterson’s training camps in Connecticut and specifically the one here in Westport at this gym. I suppose there’s no significance to this other than my own sense of serendipity when this posting appeared on almost the same day as I read the relevant portion of Tyson’s book.

    I’ve lived in Westport now for 30 years and, thanks mainly to Dan, the secrets of his history and it’s famous residents keep revealing themselves.
    This is a great story.

  9. Russell Gontar

    I vaguely remember that boxing facility. It was in the area you described and as I recall, it was situated up behind or near “Tony’s” Esso station. In fact, if you google 15 Kings Highway North, street view, you will see a barn which looks just like “Nash’s”. I’d venture to say that Nash’s gym is still standing today.

  10. I was a big Floyd Patterson fan as a kid. He knocked out Ingemar Johansson so hard that the only thing moving was his left foot twitching while out cold on the canvas. Friday Night Fights were my favorite time with my dad and Floyd Patterson was a big star of that era.

  11. Dan, Great Story about Kid Gloves.
    I went there from 5th grade to 7th grade.
    A man named Jim Brown(not the football Jim Brown) was my trainer.
    We did sparing rounds with Hurricane Jackson. My father wanted me to be a boxer but my mother said no.
    Paul McNulty. Staples ‘64

    • Thanks, Paul. Your mother was a very wise woman.

      And for anyone who does not know Paul: He became a superb runner at Staples High School — and then a state champion lacrosse coach at Wilton High School. He returned to Staples to coach, and led the program to great success.