One of many pleasures in my life is to meet up from time to time with the American novelist Budd Schulberg who crafted a line of dialogue that Marlon Brando made famous and is sometimes recalled in conversations about chicanery in boxing.
Even people of a young generation may be familiar with the scene from Schulberg's gripping screenplay, Waterfront (as it was known in the States), in which Brando, as the punch-drunk hero Terry Malloy whose evidence rids a New York dock of corruption, reminds his hoodlum brother balefully of persuasion in throwing an eliminator for the middleweight championship.
When you think of great lines from the movies, "I coulda been somebody, Charlie; I coulda been a contenduh," is right up there with best of of them. In obvious association it became, like Bogart's "Play it, Sam" and Cagney's "Ya dirty rat", a boon to impressionists.
In creating the role that enabled Brando to give one of his most memorable screen performances, Schulberg drew on a passion for boxing shared historically by other notable literary figures such as William Hazlitt, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer and AJ Liebling.
Wilde was so attracted to the sport that he journeyed by boat from Liverpool to watch John L Sullivan and Jim Corbett in a contest considered to have been the first, officially, for the heavyweight championship. What Wilde would have made of boxing today is another matter.
Last week in Las Vegas, shortly before Mike Tyson's comeback in an alleged contest against Peter McNeeley, who might have struggled to overcome the ring announcer, I put it to Schulberg that boxing today can legitimately be compared with professional wrestling. Everywhere you look there is more hyperbole than substance.
Schulberg agreed sadly. "Apart from Tyson and a few guys in the lighter divisions there is hardly a fighter worth speaking about," he said.
More than 30 years ago, a Schulberg novel, The Harder They Fall, that alluded to criminal activities and was unquestionably based on the exploitation …