|Sportswire||Feb 4 2011|
As long as we’re on the subject of promo materials (see next post), here’s another rare find. It’s a publicity still of German boxer Max Schmeling from late 1929, a time when he was being touted as a contender for the world heavyweight boxing title. The photo was shot in New York City, and was used as a press handout for newspapers and magazines writing features on the fast-rising fighter. Schmeling soon won the heavyweight belt, albeit in controversial fashion, and held it until 1932, when he lost to Jack Sharkey, also controversially.
Actually, controversy followed Schmeling his entire career, peaking around the time of his second bout against Joe Louis, in 1938 at Yankee Stadium. The bout was billed “The Fight of the Century” because by then Schmeling had been anointed a hero of the Nazi Party (though reluctantly, biographers tend to agree), which made his first round destruction by Louis a cause for celebration (though it should be pointed out that many Americans, particularly some wealthy and prominent ones, were openly pro-Hitler).
In 1939 the winds of war began to sweep across the world, and Schmeling fought for the German army in Crete. After the war he became an exec at Coca Cola in Germany, and amassed considerable wealth. Time passed, and he and Joe Louis became friends. When Louis died impoverished in 1981 Schmeling paid for a funeral with full military honors.
Max Schmeling lived fourteen more years, finally dying this week in 2005 at the age of ninety-nine. He is yet another of those complex characters from history, which means we may revisit his story sometime down the road. In the meantime, if you’re inclined, you can read a bit more about the great Joe Louis here.