The Million Dollar Man: Jack Dempsey

By John J. Raspanti

The Million Dollar Man
The Million Dollar Man

Jack Dempsey. His name alone is synonymous with the glorious golden age of sports in the 1920s, when Babe Ruth thrilled fans with prodigious home runs, “The Galloping Ghost” Red Grange, ran back kickoffs for touchdowns, and Bobby Jones was setting records in golf.


Dempsey, nicknamed “The Manassa Mauler,” won the heavyweight championship of the world by brutalizing Jess Willard in 1919.


His subsequent fights with Georges Carpenter, Luis Firpo, and Gene Tunney were enormous financial windfalls for promoter Tex Richard.


Dempsey was an aggressive fighter, fueled by an inner rage that compelled him to knock out his opponent as quickly as possible. He was savage and controversial-which seemed to fuel the flames of his popularity. While Dempsey hated the controversy, his slimy manger Jake Kearns loved it.


There have been numerous books published about Dempsey over the past seventy years. The old champ even told his own story in 1974. A few years ago, Roger Kahn wrote A Flame of Pure Fire, which I believe ranks as the best of the Dempsey books.


Therein lies the problem that Thomas Brennan faced when he got to work on The Million Dollar Man, his own take on Dempsey, published last year by Regents Press.


Was there anything he could write about Dempsey that was new and fresh?

Actually, there was. Brennan focused more on Dempsey’s fights then his personal life. The biographical information is there, the hardscrabble life that Dempsey lived before achieving his dream, the ups and downs of his boxing career, the doubts of a man who reached the top of his profession. All this is told in a straight-forward way.


However, the best chapters of the book are the introductions to many of Dempsey’s fights. Not just the famous ones, but the early bouts, when Dempsey was barnstorming from place to place, fighting to win and survive. I


In his prime, Dempsey’s matches set attendance records, including the first million-dollar gate, hence the name of the book.


Brennan’s research is admirable. He makes most of Dempsey’s fistic encounters feel fresh. The only drawback is that Brennan relies too much on Dempsey’s own words to tell the story. I’m wary of biographies that use the subject’s words to tell their story. The end result is usually some truth, mixed with fiction.


But that’s easily overlooked. The Million Dollar Man is a fun read. Author Brennan writes well—keeping the reader entertained. It might not be Roger Kahn’s style but it’s a welcome addition to the vast collection of books about the legendary "Manassa Mauler."


The book can be purchased here:


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