An American Dream Expanded/Mailer hosts party for Jose Torres, Herald Tribune April 1, 1965

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Written by
Dick Schapp


19650401 Herald Tribune.JPG
This page is part of
An American Dream Expanded.


The party was to honor Jose Torres, the new light-heavyweight champion of the world, and the fight mob turned out in force. Jimmy Baldwin was there, of course. And Leslie Fiedler and George Plimpton and Norman Podhoretz, and there was, in the atmosphere, the special camaraderie of people who have read and understood “The Killers” and “Forty Grand” and The Sun Also Rises. When Torres came through the door at 2:45 yesterday morning, the first person to shake his hand, naturally, was a literary critic.

Mucho gusto felicidades, Joselito,” said the literary critic, who was brave and true and bilingual.

“Great fight, champ,” said a Puerto Rican.

And Torres smiled his thin, neat smile, and slid among the socialites and the novelists and the debutantes.

The boxing clan had gathered at Norman Mailer’s Brooklyn Heights apartment to toast Torres, who a few hours earlier had destroyed Willie Pastrano and had won the world championship for the glory of Puerto Rico and the Partisan Review.

Mailer was the perfect host, charming and gracious, mingling among the hundreds of crowded guests, guiding people toward the two well-stocksd bars, seeing to it that Jose’s mother and father and his own mother and father did not get lost in the crush. And now and then Mailer paused and talked about the fight and about the punch that crippled Pastrano, that shattered his insides, and among all the guests, Mailer was one of the few who knew what he was talking about. It was a very good party

The Fight Mob

A clique collected around Leslie Fiedler, who had come in from Buffalo. Fiedler had not seen Torres fight. He had delivered a speech in Stony Brook, then had hurried to the party. But he was talking about the last fight he had watched, Gene Fullmer against Joey Giardello, in Bozeman, Montana, in 1960. He remembered the fight vividly. “When Fullmer came into the ring,” Fiedler said, “somebody turned to me and said, ‘I didn’t know he was a white man. I thought he was a Mormon.’” Fiedler laughed heartily, and the people around him nodded. He is a professor and a critic and a novelist, and his words carry great weight among the fight crowd.

A lady who lives in the Dakota apartments looked a lttle bewildered. She had not gone to the fight either. In fact, she had never gone to a fight. But she lives in the Dakota, which qualifies her as a member of the fight mob. “Who is Torres?” she asked.

The conversations touched on all those little things that appeal to boxing buffs. “You see that guy sitting over there in the corner?” someone said. “He was the model for Valentine Gersbach in Herzog.” That’s the sort of information you always hear around Madison Square Garden.

One book reviewer was having a terrible problem. He wanted to talk about the fight. He wanted to find somebody who would stand still and discuss the fight seriously. He finally found Norman Mailer’s father, and the two of them stood in a corner and analyzed Torres’ jab and Torres’ peek-a-boo defense and Torres’ surprising strength, and most of the people who wandered past them, toting glasses of scotch and bourbon, didn’t have the foggiest notion what they were talking about.

The Fighting Man

The best thing about the party was Torres. He is an impressive young man, calm and friendly and confident. He has matured a great deal since he was fighting in Sunnyside Gardens seven years ago, ringing up an imposing string of victories. He was friendly then, too, and immediately likeable, but now he is his own man. He looked so good against Pastrano, so much better than many of the people at the party had expected him to look. Some of the ones who were slapping him on the back and shaking his hand had been saying, before the bout that Torres still looked like a middleweight, that he was in over his head against the veteran Pastrano.

In Mailer’s apartment, with its handsome nautical decor and its magnificent view of the harbor, with writers and philosophers and hangers-on swirling about him, Torres seemed completely at ease, much more at home than many of the guests. Novelists couldn’t scare him. In his training camp a few weeks ago, while Mailer stood on one side of the room explaining why Torres would win the fight, Torres stood on the other, explaining the beauty of Mailer’s new novel, An American Dream.

There was, at least, a touch or two of phoniness at the party that lingered into yesterday morning, but the relationship between Mailer and Torres is real. There is mutual respect and mutual affection, and each brings to the other something that he needs. It is a nice thing to see, even if there is an occasional temptation to call Torres “Ordonez.”