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Happy Birthday Henry Armstrong

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The unique man would be 100 today
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Reno Evening Gazette December 10 , 1958


Henry Armstrong, for benefit of the young generation, was a fighter of Extraordinary talent and action. He campaigned in the 1930s (and early 40s), when some folks stood in line for bread and salt pork, or told the guy at the bar entrance: "Joe sent me" As far as many of the young generation's elders are concerned , Henry was just about the finest thing that happened since Prohibition.

Today's steady looks like love-making compared to the action Armstrong provided. Today if a writer is among the more gentle set, he writes "it was a scientific bout Invariably the winner, be he bum or no, immediately calls for a" shot at the champ"

Armstrong wasn't a vocal champ. He just fought all comers. He won three world titles feather, light, and welterweight, from October, 1937 to August,1938, and held all simultaneously. No other fighter has accomplished the same.

Henry came to Reno Monday, trailed by two gents, Curly Owen and Conn Pulos, who are plugging a new food supplement. The supplement, their brochure casually indicates, may help offset such bothersomes as "sores about the angles of the mouth, reddening of the lips, constipation, and loss of muscle tone. " Messrs. Owen and Pulos will be billed for the commercial later.

Actually, Henry Armstrong is worth the price of admission, even when he isn't fighting. He talked a couple of hours yesterday with a sort of filibuster delivery, and we're passing it on to you.


Henry hauled into fifth floor room at the Holiday bouncing along at 180 pounds Paunchy but not punchy, and looking somewhat less than his 46yrs, less two days.

He is experiencing the ravage of falling hair, which is about the only thing connected with Armstrong that has been down for the count. He is not marked much for a man who has fought 300 professional fights . There is a little scar tissue on the right eyelid, and he says a slightly cataracted eye memento of Fritzie Zivic's thumbs.

Henry Armstrong was born Henry Jackson Jr. on Dec. 12. 1912 of poor parents in Columbus, Miss., the 11th of 15 children. Their Grandmother, Henrietta Chapman, was a slave . " She once saw Abe Lincoln" said Henry . ( Twenty years later, Henry , by then known as "Perpetual Motion Armstrong" had joined Joe Louis as a sort of emancipator - convincing white promoters that ***** boys could draw on their cards.

When he was five, the boll weevil and Jim Crowism so discouraged Jackson Sr. that he gave up a small farm and moved the family to St . Louis.Henry got out of high school just in time to be a bona fide "Hungry fighter" ; It was 1929. " It was jumping out of the window season " he says " I was a $15a week railroader. One day I picked up a wind-blown Globe-Democrat, and saw where Kid. Chocolate got $30,000 for a half hour's work against Al Singer. That did it. I quit on the spot. It was boxing from then on.Two buddies ,Eddie Foster and Harry Armstrong got together with Henry in 1930,jumped in a '27 Nash, and headed for Pittsburgh and some fights.

" There were four of us counting Fosters police dog," says Henry.

HENRY'S PSEUDONYM IN those days was Melody Jackson. "I took that 'cause I always wanted to do some singing. " Melody had a lot to learn. He bummed around, returned to St.Louis, told his girl, Yvonne, "I'm going to California. " He did. Before that he'd been in Chicago. " I couldn't stomach Chicago. There was something About the water there. I dunno I just felt like eating grass after drinking that stuff." In Chicago, Foster tried to Jack Hurley into appraising Henry as a boy for his ( Hurley's) Stable. "Take the kid back home, and send him back to school ." Harry Armstrong told Hurley : "You'll be sorry" It was one of the few boners on Hurley's record.

On the West Coast Henry adopted the name Armstrong , discarded the trite Melody Jackson. He was sensational both as an amateur and as a beginning pro. His opponents are cold bare statistics in the record book.Seven years later Henry Armstrong returned to St. Louis , got the key to the city, discovered girlfriend Yvonne couldn't wait, had married, and had three kids HoHum.

THE JAZZSINGER - After Armstrong fought and beat tough Mexican Baby Arizmendi at Wrigley Field in LosAngeles, boxing writer Jack Singer labeled him "Perpetual Motion." It stuck. Singer later produced nicknames "Black-Widow Spider," and "Homicide Henry. " (Singer, a war correspondent, went down with the carrier Wasp in World war Two)

Al Jolson, the jazz singer, and flicker toughie George Raft bought Armstrong's contract for a song - $10,000-in 1936. The big paydays were ahead. (In 1934,Hammering Henry had yet to see a $100bill). In '37,he won the 125 pound world title, knocking out Petey Sarron. Then, fortified at the weighin with some built in lead to boost his bulk ,he went on to take the 147-pound title, making Barney Ross bleed inside with a fierce body beating. A few months later ,he became the light-weight (135) champ, beating Lou Ambers in one of history's great fights.

REARRANGED HIS FACE - Henry .Armstrong helped make Fritzie Zivic's face what it is today crumpled. They fought three times and Armstrong says:

"Zivic was the dirtiest fighter I ever met." He also said : " The third time,I made him bleed inside, I hit him to the body, oh, how I hit him."

Armstrong- followed a formula: "I hit you in 'the middle - your chin comes down, I hit you in the chin you go down. " He fought the entire 15 round distance only four times because his indefatigable energy simply wore out foes. Armstrong could hook, jab ,and cross the right superbly. He loved contact, he loved the money ,he loved the spotlight. '

Onetime, he recalls, Mae West was in town ,but not to play the lead in "Gone With The Wind." She visited the gym with G.Raft and some of the boys. She had on so much jewelry, she clanked when she walked. Henry is alleged to have said: "Come up and see me fight sometime."; She did. So did everybody else who could afford it.

NOT HIS FIRST VISIT - Armstrong fought in Reno In 1936 and 1937against a tough southpaw with a mighty left hook. Alton Black, who, says Henry, "hit me harder than anybody. " He' says he'll be back again soon and wants to bring films of his famous fights with him next time.

He is an ordained minister of .the Gospel and spends some time in work as an evangelist. He has a daughter and a grandson, Johnny Scott ,four and a half years old, whom he loves big "Big as the sky." Perpetual Motion Armstrong yesterday visited the Sierra Nevada sportswriters group, and said "Boxing Has done a great deal for me. It's a part of me. I'll never forget boxing. " And Ray Gardella, sportswriters' veep, best summed up what folks think of Henry Armstrong. He said :

"Boxing will never forget Henry Armstrong." Speaking of the Gospel, Henry should be doing all right in the ministry. He always had away of making believers of opponent type people
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