Victoria In the Ring with Larry Holmes, Heavyweight Boxing Champion

July 20th, 2014

“One second you were standing next to me, the next you’re on the TV screen in front of me,” said John, the executive producer.

It all started a few weeks before. I had met several producers in 1979 at the Cannes Film Festival during my junior year abroad. One hired me to help with the first English televised Cannes Film Festival Awards show to be filmed in a couple of days.

I showed up in the afternoon for set-up. It was the craziest, most inefficient set up I had ever seen. The guys in charge wanted the chairs over here – 300. After we did that, no over here. I mutinied. Here I was in beautiful southern France, inside re-setting chairs because the guy in charge couldn’t visualize?

I asked him what result he wanted and got it done. Next they had me babysit some of the talent. Robert Morley, an English character actor.

We sat on the deck overlooking the Mediterranean. I was 21 and had learned some social skills.

I asked him if he would like something to eat or drink.

“Yes. A coke, please.”

“And get yourself something.”

I promptly got it – or three – for him. And one diet for me.

I then used what a grande social dame in England had taught me when I was 17 and fairly shy with adults. Or with her. She said, “My daughter Emma was painfully shy when she was 17. I told her ask your dinner partner about himself – he’ll go on for hours and think you are the most scintillating woman.”

So I asked Mr. Morley about himself.

He sighed and responded with a short answer.

I asked another question. He patted me on the knee and said, “My dear, I love you very much, but for the answer to those questions, you must go read a book – I’m sure my history is somewhere.”

I would have but….there was no internet in those days and no book on Robert Morley readily available. So I stopped talking.

He wanted to take a nap anyway.

Every now and again he would awake and make some pronouncement such as:

“I do so love the south of France…..”

Snooze.

“Too good for the French.”

He continued in this way for the next two hours. What fun!

That evening in time to help with the televised awards, I arrived in a beautiful one of a kind dress designed by a friend of my mothers, a great New York designer, and high heels.

I thought I’d get to meet all the actors backstage but I was assigned to sit in a specific seat in the audience and hold the cue cards for the talent  Hmmm.

So I put the cue cards in the seat and helped elsewhere until it was time. The audience was filling up rapidly.

Just before “show time”, I returned to my seat to find it occupied by a fairly long, white haired, slight, fey man. I told him he was sitting in my seat and to please move.

He said. “But I was told to sit here.”

Sternly, I demanded: “By whom?”

He pointed to some fellow at the end of the row.

I looked at him, back at the seat usurper – I had no time for this nonsense. The show was about to start and I had to be ready – my first job in international TV.

I insisted: “He is not official. You will have to get out of this seat. I have a job to do. You will either leave or I will call security.”

That aroused the man at the end of the row and the man in my seat. They found another one somewhere.

I sat down, my job intact, relieved.

The couple behind me said: “Good for you! We’ve never seen anyone take on Andy Warhol before and so politely and effectively.”

What?

“Didn’t you recognize him?”

Me: No, but I don’t care who he was – it was clearly taken.

Unwittingly, I had impressed the crowd. While I was familiar with his paintings, I hadn’t read his book either so I’m not sure what I would have said or asked had there been time. While I like his paintings fine, I really never saw him as a genius that others did. All in the marketing.

The show started. I held up the cue cards.

There was a change in scene……only no one was removing the two chairs on stage for the next presenter or scene. No one.

I got up, went up the stairs to the stage and in my high heels and dress, manhandled the large chairs to the side. No help from anyone. Ridiculous.

And went back to my seat….which no one dared to take at this point J

There were technical problems. Sally Fields threatened to leave if they didn’t give her award to her immediately. I was told the French had strict unions so they cut the cable when the delay went on too long.

A good idea, not well-planned, went bust.

I had intended to follow a friend to Florence, Italy to learn Italian there but instead I was offered more television production work. I figured I didn’t know if I’d be offered that work again and Florence would still be there…(I still haven’t gone for the 6 week Italian course, though, and it might have been a better option! :-)

Back in the States, the same group hired me to work the televising of the Larry Holmes v Mike Weaver heavyweight boxing championship at Madison Square Garden as well as the television show of Spartakiade – Spartacade – in Russia.

While prepping the show in New York City, I walked by a couple of female employees/assistants reviewing some promos for the show and remarked, “The number is wrong,” and continued out the door to my appointment.

I heard, “Can’t be. I’ve watched this 100 times. No way.”

I suggested as I headed to the elevator: “I could be wrong – why not double check it?” They had worked for Wussler for years so I wasn’t going to argue.

They didn’t double check it and sent it to one of the sponsors of the show.

It was promptly returned. The numbers were wrong.  Wussler was very embarrassed – might lose a huge sponsor. How could this happen?

The younger gal was so upset and eventually they acknowledged to their boss that I had seen it, told them, and they hadn’t believed me.  I had a new respect from some, annoyance from the gals.

At the Holmes/Weaver fight, I was in the control room at Madison Square Garden. I had secured tickets for my father and my brother. Great seats. It was their first time to attend a professional fight. The company had sent its limo to pick them up at the train station and take them to the hotel. Then to pick them up at the hotel and take them to the Garden.

I remember meeting Don King – and his hair – on the elevator. I asked him what he did before he was a boxing promoter.

He was honest: “I ran the numbers.” I smiled knowingly although I had no idea what he meant. We arrived at our floor thankfully because I had nothing – no follow up question. I hadn’t read his book either.

Later, the producer said he was stunned Don King was so honest with me and explained “running the numbers” was part of illegal gambling.

Oh.

I remember watching the fight in the control room and thinking: Dang! I might as well be home watching it on TV – no crowd ambiance, no live performance, no…my family is having a more authentic experience than I am.

I helped with replays, etc. but towards the end – the near complete knock-out in the 11th round – it all took a life of its own.

When it was clear I was superfluous, I left the control room and went to the arena where the crowd was. I had a pass so security did not bother me too much. I explained I was supposed to watch the fight in person. They weren’t sure what I meant but clearly I wasn’t a threat.

I tried to squeeze out of the way. I tried to find a seat as I kept moving toward the ring.

As I was running down the aisle toward the ring, looking for a seat or place to watch innocuously, the fight ended in the 12th round with a TKO (technical knock-out). Cheers.

I kept moving to the ring and as others climbed in through the ropes, so did I.

And then…..

I stood there wondering what do I do now? Congratulate Holmes?

He was walking around the ring, still pumped up. I sensed he wanted to punch Weaver out again – but Weaver wasn’t there so whoever got in the way next….

He turned the corner and was heading my way…

Uh. Hmmm. Gotta go. Didn’t think “Congratulations” was going to cut it. And suddenly I really did have to go.

I climbed back out and ran back the same way to the control room.

When I got there, John noticed and that’s when he said:

“One second you were standing next to me, the next you’re on the TV screen in front of me….

In the ring!”

I responded: “I kept running and running and that’s where I ended up. But Holmes didn’t seem to be giving anyone a warm welcome so I thought I’d better come back.”

John was still trying to sort out if his eyes deceived him and how I had accomplished that.

Later at the after party, an uninvited fan pestered Larry Holmes for his autograph.

Holmes punched him out.

c. GCYI

 

 

 

 

 

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