- Hard Luck: The Triumph and Tragedy of Jerry Quarry by Steve Springer, Blake Chavez
Jerry Quarry, a 1970s’ heavyweight, slipped through the cracks of boxing lore as a rare, legitimate white contender. Hard Luck: The Triumph and Tragedy of Jerry Quarry, by Steve Springer and Blake Chavez, rectifies that. His fans will enjoy a thorough analysis of his life and career.
His background screams Horatio Alger, a poor man punching his way to riches. Quarry’s toughness came from his father, a dark influence alien to an America obsessed with children’s self-esteem. Jack handed down a philosophy tattooed on his knuckles, “Hard Luck,” and promoted their careers with “There is no quit in a Quarry,” a slogan that presaged their health declines. One visualizes pit bull fighting when reading of the sons eating punches in the ring to please their Svengali father. Jack used his sons to chase riches otherwise denied him, signing Jerry to fights for his financial wants.
Quarry’s appeal as an undersized boxer beating larger men, perhaps an allegory for Irish America, combined with movie star looks and a friendly personality, made him promotional gold. After Ali’s exile from boxing, he was the face of boxing, with a marketability that today would make Madison Avenue boil over. The reader visualizes a nineteenth-century street tough, admired for winning street fights, then buying drinks for tavern crowds.
His family, almost a caricature of Irish America, inspired Jerry’s career, but their tribal feistiness was both a crowd-control headache for promoters and distraction from his fights. Quarry never complained of carrying the weight of a family that would indulge themselves at his expense.
The authors narrate the rise of a mama’s boy to a popular boxer and family patriarch replacing his father, generously rewarding his mother with money after fights. A poignant moment is shared of mother and son celebrating a huge payday fighting Ali. How much credit was given to Quarry for this bout, laced with racial tensions in Dixie, or for his willingness to face brutal opponents avoided by other fighters?
Quarry’s flaws, including a robust thirst for alcohol and women, barely scratch his image, as one ex-wife lovingly kept his name.
This boxer appreciated his money and fans. Warm nostalgia is felt reading that Jerry happily talked over the phone to a cold-calling stranger! One senses boxing fans never appreciated Quarry in his time.
Sadly, both fighting Quarry brothers retired without a world title, sinking deeper into addiction, on a shared road to brain damage and early deaths. One gasps at Jerry unable to speak at his Boxing Hall of Fame induction. Yet one can smile at the bittersweet depiction of Quarry being approached by fans, giving him praise long overdue, then dying in the bosom of his family’s love, a nice guy and scrapper to the end.
The authors say Jerry could be counted on to draw solid crowds from a wide fan base in California starting in 1965. It is never satisfactorily explained why Jerry had no future in the Golden State two years later. [End Page 248]
Thanks to Chavez and Springer, scholars interested in Irish Americans, race in sport, popular U.S. culture, American working-class mobility, or how Americans choose sport heroes will find a vehicle for classroom discussion.