R.I.P. Bennie Georgino – Few men can bridge the sport of boxing from the 1930s to the present. Last week, one of those few, Bennie Georgino, passed away and with him goes the nuggets of knowledge accrued since the Great Depression to the present day.
Georgino, 95, grew up in the East L.A. section known as Lincoln Heights. Ironically, the LA Times erroneously calls it Northern Broadway area. It’s known to those living there as Lincoln Heights, not the Northern Broadway area. It’s less than five miles from the Times Building. But that’s the Times for you.
As a youth Georgino walked those downtown streets and sold newspapers. There were no local malls in the 1930s. If you wanted entertainment you visited one of the many palace-like movie theaters on Broadway. If you felt like shopping for clothes or gifts you could choose one of many large department stores such as Bullocks, Robinsons, Broadway, and I. Magnin.
Most people used the electric cable cars to get from one point to another. They were plenty and convenient until the 1960s when corrupt politicians allowed the bus companies to take over.
Outside of the movie theaters and dance ballrooms, finding another source of entertainment was where boxing fit quite nicely. More than a half dozen newspapers vied for the public in those days. They all covered boxing like flies on a sticky window.
In the 1930s at various boxing venues, you could find movie stars, sports celebrities, musical artists and politicians mingling shoulder to shoulder with the regular folk. Next to Robert Taylor you could see the construction worker from Happy Valley eating hot dogs and gulping down beers. One could see Mae West pull up in her limousine with Chalky Wright driving the car. It was a time in history when boxing took the forefront.
“I would fight on an amateur card at the Olympic and get paid $5 dollars. That was a lot of money in those times,” said Georgino to me a few years back. “Amateurs got paid money to fight. You could make some good money that way.”
Georgino was always a hustler when it came to making money.
“I would fight one day in South Gate, the next day at Santa Monica and at the Olympic another day,” Georgino said. “I wanted to fight pro but my parents would not let me.”
One day at the Main Street Gym, lightweight world champion Lou Ambers walked into the gym to take a look around. Ambers was famous for his clash with the great Henry Armstrong during the Depression era.
“He wanted to take me back east to train where boxing was stronger,” said Georgino of their meeting. “My parents said no.”
During the 1940s boxing remained strong as ever. While Major League Baseball lost many of its players to World War II, in the sport of boxing you only need one person to fight another person. The people needed entertainment and pro boxing fit that purpose like a glove.
One man who rose to the top during this historic time was Art Aragon, otherwise known as “The Golden Boy.” From the 1940s to the 1960s the Olympic Auditorium in particular was the house that Aragon filled whenever and whoever he fought.
“Boy, he could fill those seats,” Georgino said about his late friend Aragon who passed away in 2008. “People hated him and loved him. He had a way of bringing out the hate in people but boy he could sell tickets. That’s why they called him the Golden Boy.”
Aragon was famous for his escapades with Hollywood starlets such as Marilyn Monroe, Mamie Van Doren and others. Sometimes the courtroom was the only place you could find the boxing star. Georgino knew all of his haunts and they shared some of those stories, but not for print.
Georgino, who would own various businesses including a bar and a deli, became a mainstay at the Olympic fight cards and at the Main Street Gym.
“Bennie Georgino was a throwback to when Los Angeles was truly a fight town. A jack of all trades, his resume included the titles of gym rat, bar owner, bail bondsman, odds-maker, and running buddy of Art Aragon “Golden Boy” of the 1950s,” said Gene Aguilera, author of Mexican-American Boxing in Los Angeles. “I, for one, truly believe that Georgino enjoyed hanging out at the Main St. Gym and Olympic Auditorium more than he did his home. He never met a boxing match he didn’t like.”
On one side of the smoky Olympic Auditorium was a section reserved for gamblers. When television emerged in the early 1950s they were told to not show that section of the crowd. One particular night a new television cameraman decided to improvise.
“This (camera) guy showed all these guys exchanging money and other married guys sitting with women, you should have seen the ruckus it caused,” said Georgino about the incident. “This camera guy caused a lot of problems. Pretty soon they made an unwritten rule to never show that side of the boxing arena.”
Armando Muniz, one of the great attractions at the Olympic Auditorium during the1970s, remembers Georgino as one of the regulars.
“I always remember Benny as one of the gambling boxing fans. He and a bunch of other “real” fight fans all sat there at ringside in the same area of the Olympic,” says Muniz. “He was a good bettor. Somehow he had the lowdown on these big name boxers.”
Georgino had a guaranteed spot on that side of the arena. It was a spot he cherished. His fondest memories were of owning a deli near the now defunct Herald-Examiner building and serving sandwiches and drinks to customers. Then they would walk a couple of blocks to the Olympic Auditorium to watch the weekly fight cards.
“Boy those were the days,” said Georgino. “My customers would stop by and talk about boxing. There was no baseball back then. It was just boxing. The boxing writers Melvin Durslag and Bud Furillo would drop by to talk boxing when they had time before a fight. We’ll never see those days again.”
Aragon and Georgino had numerous escapades during the 50s and 60s. When Aragon retired he bought a bail bonds business next to that owned by Georgino near the L.A. County Jail.
“Art used to do some crazy things,” Georgino recalled. “I would ask him why do you do things like that? He would just shrug and say ‘why not.’ He was funny that way.”
After a while the two took different paths. Georgino always had an interest in supporting boxers as a sponsor of sort. He was a frequent visitor to the Main Street Gym in downtown L.A. and knew everyone that visited the gym from sportswriters, actors, boxers, trainers, managers and the owner Howie Steindler.
Main Street Gym
Steindler was the trainer and manager of a stable of some of the top fighters of that era including Danny “Lil Red” Lopez, Alberto Davila and others. Sadly, on March 1977, Steindler was found dead in the trunk of his gleaming Cadillac on the off ramp of the Ventura Freeway. He had been beaten to death. His killers were never found.
The top stable of fighters, including featherweight world champion Lopez, were in limbo for a short while. According to Georgino, he was asked by Lopez to take over. Lopez, Davila and others had their contracts picked up by Georgino.
Lopez would soon advance toward numerous world title defenses and be televised nationally on the major networks. He defended the featherweight world title a total of eight times until losing to Mexico’s Salvador Sanchez twice in 1980.
“Sanchez was too much for Lopez but he (Lopez) had run his time,” Georgino said. “I had written into the contract that if we fought Sanchez I would get part of his contract.”
Georgino had Sanchez on contract for a short period of time before he was asked politely to hand his contract over to Don King.
The new partnership between Sanchez and King never took root. The smiling Mexican champion was given a brand new Porsche by his new promoter and took off at high speeds one night. He crashed in the mountains of Mexico near his home of Santiago Tianguistenco.
“If he had stayed with me that would have never happened,” said Georgino of losing Sanchez. “You can’t spoil fighters. It’s no good. But I had to give him up.”
Georgino never revealed who it was that forced him to give up Sanchez’s contract.
Though Lopez retired after losing twice to Sanchez, there were other fighters in Georgino’s stable including bantamweight contender Davila. The fighter from Pomona challenged numerous times for the world title and was rebuffed.
“That kid could really box,” said Georgino. “Of all the boxers I managed he was the best by far. He could not punch much but he could out-box anyone. He just never got the breaks.”
Davila lost world title bouts against Wilfredo Gomez, Carlos Zarate, Lupe Pintor and Jorge Lujan. In 1983, Davila got another shot at the vacant title versus Kiko Bejines at the Olympic Auditorium. That night in March, Davila seemed the stronger fighter and stopped Bejines with a barrage of punches in the 12th round. Bejines was taken out on a stretcher and never recovered. He died a few days later from injuries sustained in the title fight. Davila won the title but it was not a moment to celebrate.
“Boxing is a dangerous sport. You can’t ever take anyone lightly so you have to be on your toes all of the time,” said Georgino. “It’s why I was always hard on my fighters. They had to be in the best of shape or get out. Lots of people die in boxing.”
Another champion steered by Georgino was hard-hitting Jaime Garza.
“He could really hit,” said Georgino of the super bantamweight champion. “If you could put Davila’s boxing ability with Garza’s power you would really have something.”
Garza terrorized the 122-pounders with his raw electric power. He knocked out Bobby Berna in June 1983 to win the WBC super bantamweight world title. Georgino had both Davila and Garza win world titles in the same year. For this he was named Trainer of the Year in 1983 by Ring Magazine.
“He guided Alberto Davila and Jaime Garza to world titles while under his watch,” remembers Gene Aguilera who witnessed Davila’s victory.
Others managed or trained by Georgino were Oscar “The Boxer” Muniz, Herman “Kid” Montes, John “Weto” Montes and Ron Weaver.
Few knew promoting like Georgino who became a guru for many casinos in the west coast. He was often sought to advise numerous Indian casinos such as Morongo, AguaCaliente and numerous out-of-state casinos.
In 1996 he began a successful run as promoter of the Lucky Eagle Casino in the state of Washington that came to an end in 2007 due to health reasons.
When Thompson Boxing Promotions opened its doors in Ontario it was Georgino they sought for advice.
“He would tell you like it was. He hated when guys didn’t want to fight each other,” said Alex Camponovo of Thompson Boxing. “He was one of our advisors. He was the guy, so generous, he never held back. In this sport a lot of guys don’t tell you what to expect.”
Georgino was inducted in the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003 as a promoter.
“He’s one of those guys from the L.A. boxing scene that you cannot replace,” Camponovo said. “He’s one of the last of that generation.”
Georgino is survived by his wife Ruth Georgino.
Funeral services will be held on Saturday Feb. 13, at Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles at 10 a.m.
PIC: Bennie Georgino, left, manager and trainer of WBC super bantamweight world champion Jaime Garza, middle, and assistant trainer John Montes Sr
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