In Palm Springs he mingled with the Rat Pack; in Las Vegas he attended celebrity-ridden parties; in Los Angeles the saloons he owned became a hangout for sports figures and famous actors.
Champions worked out at his legendary Main St. Gym and most of Hollywood's top boxing movie gym scenes were filmed there including the first three Rocky movies.
In his revealing reminiscences Ortiz fondly relates previously untold stories of celebrities including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison, Henry Fonda, Antonio Banderas, Woody Harrelson, Robert Mitchum, Lynda Carter, Olivia De Havilland, Bette Davis, Jackie Gleason, Ben Johnson, Dorothy Lamour, Milton Berle, Mickey Rooney, Lenny Bruce, Cliff Gorman, Phil Crosby, and John Drew Barrymore, along with sports icons like Muhammad Ali, O.J. Simpson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong, Rocky Marciano, and Joe Louis.
Johnny Ortiz has been a fighter, trainer, manager, boxing historian and a twelve year host of his own radio show. He is a longtime member of the Screen Actors Guild, has numerous TV and film credits, and is also an accomplished stage actor. In 1999, he completed his role opposite Antonio Banderas and Woody Harrelson in the film, 'Play It To The Bone.' In 2001, director Michael Mann cast him in the Will Smith movie, 'Ali."
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My Life Among The IconsA FASCINATING MEMOIR OF A RACONTEUR WHOSE LIFE INTERSECTED WITH THE GIANTS OF SPORTS AND THE GLAMOUR OF HOLLYWOOD
By Johnny Ortiz
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Johnny Ortiz
All right reserved.
Chapter OneL.A.'S Al Capone
(MICKEY COHEN) The Last of the Great Burlesque Queens (CANDY BARR) A One of a Kind Friend (JACK SAHAKIAN)
In order to accurately convey the story of my personal encounters with Mickey Cohen, Candy Barr, and Jack Sahakian, it is highly imperative that I establish where it all began ...
I was a lad of fifteen when my love affair with Strippers first commenced to bloom.
My young awakening began when I started to spend my Saturdays, as well as my summers, at the original Main St. Gym in Los Angeles, California.
My brother Phil, who was the eldest of twelve children, first took me to the world famous gym when I was nine years of age. I would sit, watch and wait, while he trained.
His trainer, the legendary, Arthur "Duke" Holloway, had trained the likes of Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Archie Moore, Zora Foley, and years later, Muhammad Ali.
When I had reached the age of twelve, Duke would have me come to the gym, and after he had finished training his fighters, he would find time to work with me. Duke told my brother Phil that he enjoyed training me; he thought I showed some interesting promise.
Of course, having no money to pay him, I was extremely grateful for the time he would set aside for me. My brother offered to pay Duke, but he would always tell him that this one was on him.
I was now fifteen. This one particular Saturday, I was ahead of my gym time schedule and having an hour to kill, I decided to get off the Red Line streetcar I was riding and walk the remaining six or seven blocks to the gym.
I thought it would be fun to look in the pawnshops and the other store windows along the way. I was not familiar with this part of Main Street as I had always surveyed the scenery while I rode the streetcar rather than on foot.
I was a youth, curious and eager to see any new thing life might hold in store for me. As I walked along, I watched and studied the people of Skid Row: the derelicts, the downtrodden, the winos begging for money to buy their precious wine and others just simply down on their luck begging in order to buy something to eat.
They never bothered me: not then, not even many years later, when I would co-own the same Main St. Gym; I would always manage to give something to the ones I sincerely believed were hungry.
I found it all very depressing, but educational in its own pathetic way. I have always been a people watcher; a little quirk of mine would come in handy later in life when I ventured into the acting profession.
The people of Skid Row were the front-runners of what can be seen today in the seedy parts of some of the once well-kept sections of Los Angeles and other neighboring areas.
I made a vow to myself that day that I would never let it happen to me. I would never become one of God's lost children.
Suddenly before I knew it, I was standing directly in front of a place called "The Follies Burlesque Theatre." I could only catch a glimpse of the Theatre as the Red Line rolled on. Now standing there, I could not believe my eyes: everywhere I looked there were large photos of nearly nude girls, all very pretty and captivatingly risqué.
Then I saw her! It was a huge photograph of the most beautiful woman my young eyes had ever seen. Judging from her king-size photo, she appeared to be very statuesque with long, beautiful blonde hair. The name at the bottom of the photo read, "Lily St. Cyr." She was absolutely breathtaking.
I would one day learn that I was not alone in this way of thinking. Famed journalist Mike Wallace after having watched Lily St. Cyr perform in 1957 had this to say: "I have never seen a more beautiful woman; she was absolutely glorious to look at."
I just stood there transfixed, my young eyes staring at her photo as though I were spellbound. Judging from the large photograph, I ascertained that Miss St. Cyr was undoubtedly the main attraction. My thought was confirmed when I stepped back and saw her name in huge letters on the marquee sign.
It also advertised that there was to be a matinee on this Saturday afternoon, commencing at twelve o'clock. The clock inside the ticket window read a quarter to eleven, indicating that the matinee show was not far off.
As I stood there riveted, I began thinking that my dear mother would kill me if she could see me standing here looking and taking all this in. After all, what did I know: I was a nice, Catholic boy just recently graduated from St. Aloysius. It was a nice parochial school where the good Sisters of Mercy took care of my early education. They certainly did not prepare me for anything like this.
Just as I was lost in the thoughts of my early upbringing, cars started to arrive in front of the theatre. A beautiful young girl emerged from each car. There were four in all, each one as lovely as the next. I immediately surmised that they were in all probability, arriving early to prepare for the upcoming matinee. Several of them gave me a polite little smile as they walked by me, most likely viewing me as a future voyeur.
Again, as I was lost in my newfound thoughts, a long black Cadillac pulled up. A man dressed in black raced around to the back passenger door. As he opened it, out stepped a vision. It was her! It was the woman in the huge picture; it was —"Lily St. Cyr!" Wow!
She was even more breathtaking in person. I will never forget that moment. She was stunning! Miss St. Cyr was wearing a black fur coat with long, beautiful blonde hair cascading over her shoulders. I believe that was the day I became an instant blonde freak.
My eyes must have resembled saucers; I was totally mesmerized by this blonde, female goddess. Never in my young life had I witnessed anything like her, she was mesmeric.
As she proceeded to walk by me, she could not help but notice this young boy so completely awestruck by her, standing there never taking his eyes off of her as she paraded by. On her way in she gave me a big smile, and paused to give me a little sisterly pat on the head. She touched me!
As I watched her regally enter the theatre to take her place in the spotlight as its queen, I could only wish that I had been old enough to see this heavenly vision work her erotic magic.
As quickly as she had appeared, she was gone in the same manner. Out of my sight, as well as out of my life. I turned back to the street leading to the gym, all the while, visions of Miss St. Cyr danced in my head.
As I walked my walk, I came to the ultimate realization that it would soon be the beginning of the end of my early teen years as I knew them, teen years that one day would ultimately give way to the amorous beginning of a man.
I could not wait to get home to tell my partner in crime, the future "Legend," Ward Jones of my discovery into the world of skin. Ward was totally intrigued by what I laid on him and he begged me to take him with me the following Saturday so he could see it all for himself. I agreed to, but first I had to call and check with Duke. I really wanted to share my newfound stripper world with my best buddy.
As luck would have it, Duke told me that because of some business that needed his utmost attention, he wanted me to come in at 2: pm on Saturday. Ward and I eagerly waited for the day with untold anticipation.
When Saturday finally arrived we set out on our way for what we hoped would be a fruitful adventure. We were out of luck; we had just missed the Red Line going into L.A, we had no choice but to await the following one.
Knowing we were running late, I secretly hoped that Ward would at least be able to catch a glimpse of some of the babes when they arrived at the theatre. When we finally reached our destination we were too late, the girls had already arrived and the matinee was about to begin.
Ward really got off looking at the photographs of all the beautiful nearly nude girls, exactly as I had done the week before.
I was disappointed to see that the gorgeous blonde fantasy, which had started it all for me, was no longer appearing at the theatre. The space that her huge wonderful image had adorned, now displayed a new image of the current headliner, who appeared to be a vivacious young girl, probably in her very early twenties.
The 'new' girl had flaming red hair and went by the gale-like name of, "Tempest Storm." I would later learn that Lily St. Cyr and Miss Storm were considered the two biggest stars in the world of Burlesque.
Tempest Storm would years later infatuate a very young Elvis Presley. In 1957, Elvis was interested in the famous burlesque queen. One night, he allegedly sneaked out of his Vegas hotel room and scaled an eight-foot Dunes Hotel fence to meet her.
According to Elvis, Colonel Parker allegedly told him, "If you keep hanging around that stripper woman, those screaming teen-ager's are going to quit screaming." He informed Elvis that if they stopped screaming he would be back in Memphis driving a truck. There still exists a famous picture of Tempest Storm, posing with a very young, Elvis Presley taken in 1957.
The tempting Miss Storm was also allegedly romantically linked with John F. Kennedy, Vic Damone, and Sammy Davis Jr. during her career.
Having checked out all of the very sexy pictures, Ward and I decided to check out the other surroundings. As I was looking at something that had caught my eye, Ward suddenly began calling out my name. I ran to him to discover that he had found a door on the side of the theatre building that had been left ajar.
We very carefully entered into what appeared to be a huge dark room. As our eyes slowly became acclimated to the dark surroundings, we quickly jumped into the nearest two empty seats. We slid down into the seats, hoping no one had seen us. It was so dark; that I do not believe anyone had spotted us. Besides, I am sure their eyes were glued on the stage where a very pretty young brunette was strutting her wares.
The Legend and the Flash, nicknames, Ward and I would one day answer to, were in Seventh Heaven. In our wildest dreams, we had absolutely no clue that this exotic world even existed. It was a world that we found ourselves eagerly wanting to get acquainted with it.
When the foxy, young lady finished her dance, a comedian came out and proceeded to really make us laugh. We were laughing so hard; I had to remind Ward to keep it down, as not to attract attention to us.
We were really enjoying this newfound experience. The performers we had seen were great, and to think we still had "Tempest" left on the program. Until then, being in this new world of skin, we had no clue what to expect next.
From time to time, we were treated to several comics. To this day, I have to honestly say that Burlesque comics were the funniest guys I had ever seen for pure shtick.
Many years later, the biggest name I would ever see perform on a Burlesque stage would be Lenny Bruce. It was long before he became notoriously famous. Lenny was truly outrageous and way ahead of his time, but he could not be considered a slapstick comic.
Lenny would one day give new meaning to the word, "Stand-up Comic." For silly slapstick comedy, you could not beat those old burlesque stage comics. Unfortunately, they fell by the wayside when the great flesh attraction known as Burlesque played out.
When this one particular comedian was finished completely destroying us with his repertoire of raunchy jokes, Ward and I were holding on to our sides, while trying to muffle our laughter.
We had heard raunchy jokes at school and at the park where we hung out, but neither of us were used to hearing this kind of humor, especially at such a machine-gun like pace. This guy, whoever he was, had the entire place in stitches.
Many years later, I would see and hear comics on Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, and David Letterman, but not a one ever made me laugh as hard as this guy once did so very long ago.
Some guy then came out from behind the big curtain and began to sing a song that was appropriately titled, "I've Got You Under My Skin." I looked over at Ward and jokingly asked, "Why the singer? We didn't pay to see no singer!" He laughed.
We would later learn that this was the balladeer's way of introducing the following act, which incidentally, was a knockout. She was introduced as, "Goldilocks," she was of course, blonde, young, and gorgeous.
This was indeed an education that could not have been paid for. One of the things that first caught my attention was the fact that behind each seat were built-in binoculars. They were locked in and required a quarter to release them. Once released, the binoculars had a thick chain attached to them in the event I imagined, someone tried to boogie with them. You had to be pretty much into lust to go for that gag. Rest assured, I knew I would never become that perverted.
When Goldilocks ran off the stage with the big, bad wolf in hot pursuit, our favorite singer reappeared. Actually, he had a very nice voice, I found myself enjoying his warbling a little tune in-between performances. In my young opinion, I thought he was very good at what he obviously was being paid to do. I momentarily entertained the thought that it was a kind of job I would like to one day have.
The next girl appeared to be of Italian descent. She had an outrageous, athletic body. She went by the name of Maria, and she too, was very young, pretty, and extremely sexy. She was very physical in the way she danced, and was clearly the crowd favorite up until now. I remember her well.
Now that my eyes had become acclimated to the dark and I was able to see better, I was overwhelmed as to how many patrons were in this place at such an early hour in the day. They were quite vocal at times.
According to the lineup we saw outside, we missed one girl on the show, saw three, so the next one up would be the one we slipped in hoping to see, Tempest Storm.
While we fidgeted in our seats awaiting the entrance of the Divine Miss Storm, all the while hoping we would not be discovered, not one, but two comedians proceeded once again to fracture Ward and I with their unique, coarse, comedic routine, rudely interrupting our anticipation. We again loved it.
After they finished with their tomfoolery, out pops our boy, the singer. After singing a little ditty, he loudly announced the main attraction, "And now ladies and gentlemen, I give you the voluptuous, beautiful queen of the runway, "Miss Tempest Storm."
The place erupted! Miss Storm did not disappoint. She emerged from another curtain in a beautiful floor length, red gown that accentuated her flaming red hair. She went into a complete production number befitting the star attraction, not that the other girls I am sure did not put a great deal into their acts, they simply were not as elaborate, nor did they appear to be as costly.
When Tempest got down to the nitty-gritty, just pasties and a G-string, one could really appreciate this all-woman created by God. Her main attribute, her well-endowed bust line, was in full view for the excited audience to behold. She was truly magnificent in every way. She appeared to have the bump and grind down to a science for someone so young.
Tempest Storm was 'woman' in every sense of the word. We might have been young, but we had eyes. When she finished her marvelous act, the lights went on and everyone gave her a rousing, standing ovation; we even stood up and joined in the tribute. What were they going to do, throw us out? The rest of the girls joined Tempest on stage to yet another loud ovation; the comics and our friend the singer followed the girls. After taking their final bows—they were gone.
Feeling sad that our little adventure had ended, Ward and I reluctantly hit the bricks and walked to the gym going over everything we had just witnessed. We found it hard to believe our good fortune, and that it all actually happened.
It was just a little after two, I was hoping that Duke would not be too angry with me and wondered if in fact, he had arrived from the situation that had required his attention. I was in luck; he was still training his last fighter. Duke preferred for me to be there while he trained his boys so that I could watch and learn as he taught.
Excerpted from My Life Among The Icons by Johnny Ortiz Copyright © 2011 by Johnny Ortiz. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
About The Author....................xi
Chapter 1 L.A.'S Al Capone....................1
Chapter 2 A Woman-Child on Her Own....................49
Chapter 3 Babylon's "PI" – The Legend And The Flash....................67
Chapter 4 The Chairman Of The Board, The Steamer And The Godfather....................93
Chapter 5 The Brown Bomber: A Boyhood Idol....................127
Chapter 6 The Night I Backed The Big Bear Down....................135
Chapter 7 Between The Rock And A Soft Place....................143
Chapter 8 Mr. Roberts Gets Torpedoed....................153
Chapter 9 Dinner And The Fights With The Juice....................165
Chapter 10 Bing's Boy: A Very Special Friend....................173
Chapter 11 The King And I....................203
Chapter 12 God's Gift To Boxing....................233
Chapter 13 The Bellflower Bomber And The San Pedro Pug....................247
Chapter 14 A Funny Thing Happened At The Forum....................265
Chapter 15 Wonder Woman, Melanie And The Cowboy....................273
Chapter 16 The Queen Of Them All....................289
Chapter 17 Farr Out And The Main Street Gym....................299
Chapter 18 When Henry Met Sugar....................321
Chapter 19 The Louisville Lip Comes To Main Street....................331
Chapter 20 Only In America, Los Angeles And South America....................343
Chapter 21 The Great One — How Sweet It Is....................373
Chapter 22 Rocky Meets Manos De Piedra....................381
Chapter 23 Mustang Sally Meets The Flash....................395
Chapter 24 The Beautiful Sarong Princess....................407
Chapter 25 John D And John O....................419
Chapter 26 Uncle Miltie And The Golden Boy....................429
Chapter 27 Requiem For A Heavyweight Actor....................439
Chapter 28 "Play It To The Bone"....................453