Shelby's Folly: Jack Dempsey, Doc Kearns, and the Shakedown of a Montana Boomtown

Shelby's Folly: Jack Dempsey, Doc Kearns, and the Shakedown of a Montana Boomtown

by Jason Kelly
     
 

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In 1923, not long after oil had started gushing from northern Montana fields, declining real-estate sales in nearby Shelby were dimming the little town’s prospects of becoming the “Tulsa of the West.” Then the mayor’s son dreamed up a marketing ploy: offer to host heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey’s next fight. What began as a

Overview

In 1923, not long after oil had started gushing from northern Montana fields, declining real-estate sales in nearby Shelby were dimming the little town’s prospects of becoming the “Tulsa of the West.” Then the mayor’s son dreamed up a marketing ploy: offer to host heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey’s next fight. What began as a publicity stunt soon spiraled into a civic drama unlike any Montana had ever seen. Shelby’s Folly tells this story in full for the first time.

Against the background of boom-and-bust Montana history, the folly of Shelby’s would-be promoters unfolds in colorful detail. It took months to persuade Dempsey’s conniving manager, Jack “Doc” Kearns, to sign a $300,000 contract. With less than two months before the July 4 fight, the town still had no stadium and no accommodations for tens of thousands of expected fans. Jason Kelly describes the promoters’ desperate measures and their disastrous results, from the first inkling of the idea to the bitter end of the fifteen-round boxing match. Shelby residents identified with the underdog challenger, Tommy Gibbons, who went toe-to-toe with the champion in an atmosphere crackling with tension. A soap opera of financial intrigue and chicanery, Shelby’s Folly chronicles how Big Sky ambition and Doc Kearns’s scheming mind collided to produce one of the most preposterous series of events in boxing history.

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Editorial Reviews

Wall Street Journal

“Enjoyable. . . . Mr. Kelly writes sympathetically, not mockingly, of Shelby, and he has a proper appreciation for the brazen roguery of Doc Kearns, whose greed and manipulativeness made the fight possible—and doomed Shelby’s self-promotional hopes.”—Bill Kauffman, Wall Street Journal

— Bill Kauffman

Billings Outpost

"Mr. Kelly, in his second book, tells this story in a highly entertaining fashion with great detail. . . . The book is a fine read, even for those who know the story well."—David Crisp, Billings Outpost

— David Crisp

Dave Kindred
"A friend once told me about driving to Shelby. I was jealous. No more. Now Jason Kelly has taken us not only to the place but to the time. His vivid piece of Americana breathes life into legends."

-Dave Kindred, author of Sound and Fury: Two Powerful Lives, One Fateful Friendship

ARETE

"Jason Kelly's Shelby's Folly is a highly entertaining slice of American history using Jack Dempsey’s July 4, 1922, heavyweight title fight versus Tommy Gibbons as a backdrop for brazen American optimism, small town politics, and snake oil salesmanship."
— Richard Arlin Stull

Montana, The Magazine of Western History - Ken Robison
"Shelby's Folly is such fun to read. Kelly builds toward the fight with insight into the backgrounds and personalities of Dempsey and Kearns, Gibbons, the Shelby town leaders, and the web of fight arrangers and their negotiations."—Ken Robison, Montana, The Magazine of Western History
USA Boxing News - John Rinaldi
"The University of Nebraska Press has published a simply marvelous book by author Jason Kelly detailing the tale of a little-known Montana mining town trying to break into the sporting world big leagues by promoting a heavyweight championship fight featuring the immortal Jack Dempsey."—John Rinaldi, USA Boxing News
ARETE - Richard Arlin Stull
"Jason Kelly's Shelby's Folly is a highly entertaining slice of American history using Jack Dempsey’s July 4, 1922, heavyweight title fight versus Tommy Gibbons as a backdrop for brazen American optimism, small town politics, and snake oil salesmanship."—Richard Arlin Stull, ARETE
Time Out for Entertainment - D. R. Danbom
"[Shelby's Folly is] a great story of a town prostituting itself to sport—and one that has been repeated many times since."—D. R. Danbom, Time Out for Entertainment
Time Out for Entertainment

"[Shelby's Folly is] a great story of a town prostituting itself to sport—and one that has been repeated many times since."—D. R. Danbom, Time Out for Entertainment

— D. R. Danbom

USA Boxing News

"The University of Nebraska Press has published a simply marvelous book by author Jason Kelly detailing the tale of a little-known Montana mining town trying to break into the sporting world big leagues by promoting a heavyweight championship fight featuring the immortal Jack Dempsey."—John Rinaldi, USA Boxing News

— John Rinaldi

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780803240049
Publisher:
UNP - Bison Books
Publication date:
07/01/2012
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Jason Kelly is an associate editor of the University of Chicago Magazine. He is the author of Mr. Notre Dame: The Life and Legend of Edward “Moose” Krause.

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