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Circa 1916 Jack Johnson Signed "Confession" Letter to Nat Fleischer
Starting Bid - $2,500, Sold For - $8,813
In this rare and significant four-page typed-signed letter, written for Nat Fleischer, legendary editor of The Ring magazine, former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson chronicles the details of his historic 1915 title fight against Jess Willard, claiming here that he "threw" the fight. At the time of the Willard fight Johnson was a fugitive from justice in the United States; accused of violating the Mann Act after having an affair with, and then marrying, a white prostitute. According to this "confession," Johnson claims that one of the main reasons he purposely lost to Willard was in order to return home again. He writes that the idea for throwing the fight was proposed to him by fight promoter Jack Curley, who pitched the idea while staying on an extended visit with the champion in Europe:
During one of my conversations with Curley, he told me, 'Don't you know if you weren't champion you would not have all this trouble?' I told him that perhaps he was right in saying so...Curley did not leave as was scheduled and we were around together quite a bit. He nursed me like a baby. He tried to show me all the great things that would be done for me after the Willard fight, if Willard was the winner. He said that time and time again.
Johnson later writes that Curley and his financial backers, including Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, attempted to double cross him: I was to get so much of Willard's earnings, because after the fight I had to take it on the cuff from Frazee, Curley and Webber, because if they paid me the lump sum demanded, they didn't have any cash left. So, therefore, I trusted them to send me a certain percentage of Willard's earnings, and if I was not smart enough to get the cash money, I would have been up against it for payment. I was to have lost after the 10th round, namely the 11th round. I fought on for a couple of rounds then I said to them if they didn't come through quick, I was going to do my best to win the fight. So that stalled for a couple of rounds, and they was counting the money, they had an idea in their heads that after 12 rounds Willard might accidentally wear me down, but not so. About the 18 or 19 round I gave a couple of hard punches breaking one of his ribs, and then about the 22nd round everything was O.K., and I gave my wife a nod, and she went out of the arena...I didn't tell my wife just what I was going to do until the morning of the fight. I can never forget how sad she was, and how she cried and didn't want things to go that way. I told her it was best for all that was concerned, because I had been framed in America, and Jack Curley would fix and arrange everything so that I could come back home...Never mind what Jack Curley may say in the future, but he arranged the deal with Johnson and Willard, and arranged for Johnson to lose the fight. I always know I lost to a man that could not beat me.
Johnson has prefaced this four-page narrative by writing Dear Nat heres my story - Jack at the top of the first page. He has concluded it by inscribing the last page Jack Johnson - This good writing - Former Champion of the World. Both inscriptions have been boldly scripted in black fountain pen and grade "10."
This is one of several examples of this "confession" letter, all of which originate long ago from the personal archives of legendary boxing writer and The Ring magazine editor Nat Fleischer. While we will never know for certain, most historians are of the opinion that Johnson did not throw the fight, but was knocked out honestly by Willard in the 26th round. Obviously, if Johnson's assertions are true, then Curley did indeed double cross him. Johnson's legal problems in the United States never subsided after he lost the title, in spite of Curley's promises, and when Johnson finally did return home in 1920 he was forced to serve a year in prison for his crime. Although the letter reads as if it were written for publication, and it probably was, Fleischer, for reasons unknown, never did print it and the few known copies remained hidden for decades before their eventual release just a few years ago. The offered copy is one of the finer examples and would make an extremely significant addition to many different types of collections, both boxing and historical Americana. This is without question one of the most fascinating and historically significant of all Jack Johnson signed items. Each page of the letter (8 x 10.25 inches) has two notebook holes punched along the left border and displays a horizontal center fold. All of the pages exhibit minor border tears, with the final page displaying a few larger areas of paper loss (not affecting the text or Johnson's inscription). In Very Good condition overall. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $2,500. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $8,813
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