Ron Ross. St. Martin's, $26.95 (400p) ISBN 0-312-30638-5 Humming with wisecracks and crowded with oddball characters and lovable cranks, this mesmerizing anecdotal history rewrites the maligned legend of Jewish prizefighter Al "Bummy" Davis. Born Albert Abraham Davidoff in 1920, Davis was a plucky young street scrapper who rapidly became one of the most brash and charismatic boxers of his generation. With a devastating left hook and irrepressible chutzpah, Davis won many of his professional fights and nearly all of the hearts in Brownsville, the once infamous Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y. Home to Abe "Kid Twist" Reles and "Pittsburgh Phil" Strauss, two of the Jewish mob's most feared henchmen, Brownsville was where lighthearted kvetching and the shouts of pushcart vendors faded into the muffled screams of the mafia hit. In the hands of Louis "Lepke" Buchalter and "Big Al" Anastasia, Murder Inc. turned the business of crime into a vast, well-oiled enterprise. As the younger brother of Willie Davidoff, one of Buchalter's trusted bagmen, Davis never escaped his brother's shadow and the tabloids had a field day painting him as a dirty, low-life thug. To Ross, a former professional boxer and fight promoter, the story of Bummy Davis is inseparable from that of Depression-era Brooklyn, where the mob was still in its infancy and people were in desperate need of a champion. Having scoured the memories of Brownsville natives and boxing associates for scraps of stories, Ross stitches them together with wonderfully imagined scenes and crackling dialogue. Although the book is wreathed in the golden halo of nostalgia, Ross writes with the flair and spellbinding magnetism of a natural storyteller. Photos not seen by PW. (Nov.) Forecast: The book spans a variety of genres true crime, Jewish/New York history, sports biography and is likely to draw a diverse readership. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Al "Bummy" Davis was a tough but good-hearted boxer of the 1930s and 1940s. He was also the brother of two lesser members of a New York Jewish crime gang that added a string of minor crimes to its brutal contract killings. Ross, a former boxer, manager, and promoter, writes colorfully and sympathetically of Davis's ultimately tragic career. With the Davis saga he blends the reign of Murder, Inc., under its leader Abe "Kid Twist" Reles. Reles would in the end betray his associates but pay for it with his own life when he was thrown from a Coney Island hotel. Despite the often searing details, this is a worthwhile hardboiled story for sports and crime collections. [W.C. Heinz's wonderful 1951 account of the Bummy Davis tragedy, "Brownsville Bum," appeared most recently in The Best Sports Writing of the Century (1999).-Ed.]-Morey Berger, St. Joseph's Hosp. Lib., Tuscon, AZ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Pugilist turned biographer Ross spars with us in his debut, an account of the short, mostly happy life of fearless Al "Bummy" Davis (1920-45), a nice kid with a fierce left hook and a volatile, short fuse. It all took place in Brownsville, a land of gangsters in candy stores, of sudden death among egg creams. Everyone, readers may gather from this text, spoke in colorful argot filled with Yiddishisms: Gertude Berg joined with James T. Farrell, Henry Roth meets Damon Runyon. The street names, the people, the ambience, the very air are all quite accurate, but the set scenes, the dramatics, and especially the dialogue are frankly dubious. Although no one other than those involved can know last thoughts, intimate conversations, or amorphous motivations, Ross delivers them all anyway. He knows what Lepke Buchalter thought, what Albert Anastasia felt, what Kid Twist Reles said to his wife and just how that dirty bastard Reles took his fatal plunge from a window at Coney's Half Moon Hotel. Ross recreates what revered Cantor Yossele Rosenblat said to Bummy Davis (né Davidoff). And he clearly knows what Davis felt as he beat Tony Canzoneri in Madison Square Garden. It's a colorful tale that traces the life and times of an appealing street guy who keeps straight despite two gangster brothers. (Too bad John Garfield is no longer available for the title role.) If this reads more like a frisky novel than straight social history, it certainly has more brio and is more realistic than any ordinary history of life for some folks during Prohibition and after in Brooklyn. And it's funny too, in a Runyon Redux way, as present tense kayos the past. So maybe it's overdramatized: ya wanna make somethin'of it? Fluent and lively as a flyweight ten-rounder. (8-page photo insert, not seen) Agent: Jill Grinberg/Anderson Grinberg
From the Publisher
"You don't have to be a fight fan to enjoy Bummy Davis vs. Murder Inc., or even remember the riveting career of Bummy Davis, the ill-starred little Jewish boxer from Brownsville. Ron Ross tells an intense personal story with a powerful sense of social history about the Jewish mob world of the 20's-30's that makes this labor of love one of the most gripping reads in years."
- Budd Schulberg, author of On the Waterfront and Sparring With Hemingway: And Other Legends of the Fight Game
"My heartfelt thanks to Ron Ross for bringing excitement back into my reading time. I couldn't separate myself from Bummy Davis vs. Murder Inc."
- Angelo Dundee, trainer of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard
"A generation before Mike Tyson emerged from the poverty of Brownsville, Al 'Bummy' Davis came off of the same violent streets to electrify boxing fans with a lights-out punch and a wild-child style. With this compelling book, Ron Ross tells the tabloid tale of this Hebrew brawler with astonishing detail and a sense of history.
In the end, Bummy Davis probably died a hero, trying to stop a bar stick-up, because underneath it all he had the hero's fearless heart. This is a terrific, truthful book."
- Jack Newfield, author of Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King and Robert F. Kennedy: A Memoir