The Sugar Man

To All the Ships at Sea,

I have a very dear friend that I have the utmost respect for. She constantly reminds me not to use certain terms. Well, I know she’s right and for the most part, I always listen to her. I’ve decided to take two words out of my vocabulary. One word is “no”…not in my vocab. Second word is “but”…not in my vocabulary (do I occasionally slip? Absolutely). Anybody following my blog knows that my dear friend Bert Sugar has moved on to the Irish Bar in the sky, where the double cutty sarks are wrapped around the perfume of cigar smoke (there was a day when you could smoke in bars). While researching for my book, Shooting From the Inside Out, I came across this note the Sugar man sent to me. I’d like you to look at it, read it, close your eyes and just think good thoughts. On that note, I wish you health and happiness.

All the Best,

Joe D

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Shelly Saltman on Bert Sugar


It’s a small world; I was in Italy and I ran into Shelly Saltman, and we started to talk about boxing and about our mutual friend Bert Sugar. It turned out that we knew each other many years ago, and he came to a couple of my classes. I’m just passing along an article of his about our friend Bert.

One of the advantages of growing older is that you’ll be able to experience a great many things — good, as well as not so good. Along the way you meet many people. In my case, I have been blessed. I have walked, not only with the great and near great, but I have also had the privilege to rub elbows with many wonderful and legendary characters in my lifetime.

Sunday, I learned that a dear friend and long-time associate has passed on. The headline simply read, “Boxing writer Bert Sugar dies of cardiac arrest.” That is a true statement, but hardly tells what he meant to sports.

Bert Sugar was my friend. The last time I talked to him was approximately three months ago. There was no indication that he was sick, or that he was battling lung cancer. Instead, we talked about all the times we had worked together and what we might do in the future. Obviously, the future never came.

In his lifetime, Bert wrote and had published somewhere between 60 and 80 books. As a man who has only had five published books, I can certainly attest to the difficulty of coming up with something worthwhile to write about. I also understand how meaningful it is to get a publisher to say, “I want to print that.”

More impressive was the fact that in this day of modern technology, Bert never owned a computer and shunned the proprietorship of a cell phone. He did all his work either longhand, or on his longtime friend, the typewriter.

My young readers should know that a typewriter is an ancient, now obsolete, non-electronic term for computers. During my early years, computers never existed.

Bert was hailed in the media as a boxing writer and historian, but that was only a small part of his persona. He was a true sports historian versed on every facet you could name, especially when it came to baseball, horses and boxing.

Bert was familiar to everyone in the world of boxing. He was a pleasant caricature with his white fedora perched at a rakish angle on top of his, I think, bald dome. I never knew!

As a joke, I once asked him if he even wore his hat to bed. His answer was, “Only my wife and I know and neither us will ever tell.”

In his career, Bert had a great many “ups” and “downs.” At one point, he was the owner and publisher of the venerable boxing magazine, The Ring (aka Ring Magazine). Unfortunately, this creative genius only wanted to write, so unscrupulous associates wrested control of the publication from him.

During those dark days, many in the fight game considered him a pariah. He would hold court with his typewriter on a table at a favorite sports watering hole in lower Manhattan, Runyons.

In those days, I was traveling between Los Angeles and New York at least once a month. I would have lunch with Bert each time while he continued to bang out column after column and orchestrated his return to Ring Magazine stewardship. He fought a costly court battle and finally won his right to own and publish The Ring (the Bible of Boxing, the maker of the rankings) once again.

During this hiatus, I put Bert in quite a few of my productions where his wit and knowledge was astounding. Eventually it established him as a boxing spokesperson, leading to many other opportunities.

Back at The Ring, although he was the publisher, all he wanted to do was write. He drove his managing editor bonkers. Fortunately, this time he was in with people who respected him and although they fought his desire to write, they relented and protected his ownership interests at the same time.

My situation at FOX Sports was similar. I had originally cut my broadcasting teeth as a blow-by-blow boxing announcer. Whenever we broadcasted fights and our regular announcer Tom Kelly was unavailable, I desired to be the fill-in. Here, even though I was the boss, my beloved Executive Producer Janice Cassazza never wanted to hire me. Thanks to Clair Higgins, who spoke for the late wonderful female promoter Eileen Eaton, I prevailed.

In 1974, I had the opportunity to be the Toastmaster (The Emcee) of a roast for Bert at the Touchdown Club in Washington, D. C. The outpouring of affection was overwhelming. Here was a native Washingtonian who never forgot where he came from as he scaled the heights of sports journalism.

In 2005, Bert was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He constantly astounded all of us with his vast knowledge and encyclopedic memory of events, places and times.

On a few occasions, I had lunch with Bert at another of his favorite Manhattan watering halls, Gallagher’s Steak House. It was here, on at least three luncheons, when Bert was accosted by Howard Cosell, Cosell being the self-proclaimed, all-knowledgeable sports maven. He was forever questioning Bert’s awareness of a particular sports subject. It eventually would end up in a bet for something like dinner. I am here to tell you, Bert ate free at Howard’s expense many times.

Bert, when he was your friend, never turned away if you needed help. One time, when I was still doing publicity, I mentioned in passing that I had an event that was in need of placement and I was short on media names. I mentioned it only once and then forgot about it.

I was living in Palm Desert, Calif. at the time when a week later a bulky overnight mail envelope arrived at my house. Bert had heard my plight and had taken upon himself to supply me more than 500 names with addresses and phone numbers (e-mail didn’t exist at that time), all written in longhand. This proved invaluable and made me indispensable to my client. When I wished to repay him, he wouldn’t hear of it. In fact, he felt insulted!

Bert was a showman and he reveled in creating that impression. His public persona was that of a gregarious, flamboyant Damon Runyon character. But in fact, he was pensive and studious as well as modest. He had a wit and a sense of humor without parallel. He never took himself seriously.

In boxing, when a champion dies, the ringside bell is stuck ten times indicating a knockout. Bert is down for the count, but his legacy will never suffer.


So Who Do I Ask?

© 2010 Dylan DiMaggio

Here’s the Question – Bert who do you like in the Chavez vs Martinez Fight? Imaginary Answer – “Uncle Joe what’s wrong with you and how many years have you followed boxing? How many world championship fights have you photographed and you come to me for the answers?”  Bert speaking, ” if I’m not mistaken at one point, you almost had a perfect record in guessing the outcome of a boxing match – well maybe not perfect, you may have gotten one or two right out of 60 or 70 fights.  The big joke at the fights was – whoever DiMaggio picked the other guy was sure to win.”  “So now you come to me and the “Bertster” is suppose to have the answer.  Well Uncle Joe, Sergio Martinez is going to take him apart like a cheap suit. Unless of course, he gets real lucky with an overhand right. Enough of this foolishness, I have three deadlines and I will see you at the fight.”

Bert, I genuinely miss you so I’ll smoke a cigar and have a double Cutty Sark and yes, I won’t be wearing socks.

The fight game will never be the same without you. No disrespect to Roy Jones Junior

The Bertster


© Joe DiMaggio

To all the ships at sea, if you ever decide to write a book (an autobiography, a memoir, etc) and you’re involved in the arts; whether you’re a musician, an oil painter, a sculptor, or even a photographer, I’m going to give you the tip of the century. Before you write the book, go into your archives and find ALL of your artwork, photography, and illustrations before you put a pencil to paper. Okay, a new ribbon in the typewriter. Okay, a new tape in the tape recorder. Buy a new laptop? Oh, remember the save button; always remember the save button. Now that I’ve given you this great advice, anyone who knows me knows that I did what? Didn’t pay any attention to it. So now my publisher is screaming because the book is finished, but the illustrations go back to the black and white film days and Kodachrome one and two, and the sheer numbers are astronomical. As a subtext to this, you also find out that the quote “your first 10,000 photographs are your worst” from Henri Cartier-Bresson was accurate times ten. While looking for several book covers I did with my dear friend Bert Sugar, I stumbled across a few frames. The Bertster was a true Damon Runyon character, and as I recently found out, he was one of the original Mad Men. He also wrote what is (in my mind) one of the greatest jingles of all time; N-e-s-t-l-e-s Nestles makes the very best… chocolate.

© Joe DiMaggio


© Joe DiMaggio


Bert Sugar aka Bert The Great

Good friends try to keep their requests for assistance down to a minimum. Every time I’ve asked Bert Sugar for a favor, he’s always come across. There is an old italian word for bert. He’s a real “Mench” You can tell how good my Italian is. Bert joined me and Dylan yesterday as Gleasons Gym to interview Oscar De La Hoya. Bert being the profesional that he is, made a few executive decisions. We managed to get through the day unscathed and with all of the information we needed for our film “In This Corner”. Oh my God, that’s the name of the blog! What a coincidence! As day was winding into early evening, Bert wanted to go for a cocktail. Anyone who knows Bert, has to get used to three things; his fedora, his cigar, and his double Chivas Regal neat. I’m pretty sure that’s scotch whiskey! So we left Gleason’s and strolled over to a lovely little wine bar, 7 Old Fulton. It was way to early for dinner, and way to late for lunch. It was perfect timing for us to kick back and exchange war stories. Bert just returned from Miami, where he helped our mutual friend Angelo Dundee re-open the 5th Street Gym, after having been closed for 17 years. Boxing is coming back to Miami in a big way.The principles at the restaurant were of Italian heritage from Triest. The decor was beautiful, the food spectacular, and a genuine warm place to go with some friends  for a cocktail and dinner. I affectionally call Bert the “Bertster”, and he calls me Uncle Joe (don’t ask.) It was a great day, a hell of a lotta fun. That’s it, Signing off. – Joe D.

Birthday. The Bertster.

Everyday of our lives, is an important day. Six months ago I made a decision to teach a work shop at Gleason’s Gym. When my studio manager reminded me that it was my birthday I said great. I consider work a privilege and what better to do then teach photography at Glesons’ Gym. Its just does not get better then that. I knew it was going to a very special and an amazing eclectic group. From Brazil, Chili, Colombia, England, Norway, and all over the east coast. A great balance between men and women, and great help from JoAnne Kalish, Larry Malang, Peter Poremba. It was a hell of a great day. Life is funny, I was on a great natural high, and I got back to the studio. Did not check my voice mail, did not check my email, downloaded the cards, checked facebook. I don’t check it that often and I find one of my close friend died of a heart attack. It was Bert Sugar. On Wednesday, I called Bert, he answered me as usual “Uncle Joe.” I always call him the “Bertster”. I asked him how he was feeling, and he said” I have lung cancer, and have internal bleeding but that’s not the problem.” Then I asked him what the big problem was? He said, “I have F@$!#ing terminal acne.” Thats the Bertster, no matter what the dialogue is he always finds humor in it. He was loved by millions, hated by thousands, he was a true Damon Runyon character and a great friend. I will miss him, yes I will miss him… Off the record, he suffered “Cuttysheimers”, his words not mine. RIP Bert Sugar.

                                 Bert Sugar, Playwright Budd Schulberg, and son Benn Schulberg

                                                           Bert Sugar

                                            Captain Lou Albano, Bert Sugar

Bert Randolph Sugar at his finest at Gleasons’

All photos copyright Joe DiMaggio

Angelo Dundee: A Dear Friend.

The first rule you learn in journalism is to stay totally objective and never become close to the person you’re photographing or writing about. It isn’t an easy thing to do. In the case of Angelo Dundee, it was absolutely impossible. I met Angelo back in the 70’s and did major stories on him for the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and Ring… too many to mention.

I think anyone who’s been around boxing can tell you there’s a dark side, and at some point everybody either goes there or experiences it. Angelo Dundee never had a dark side. He is the epitome of sportsmanship, a true gentleman, and the ultimate motivator. He was the total package. One of the most gentle people God put on this planet. He made a perfect ambassador for the sport of boxing. I met several hundred people in boxing over the years, from the very top to the very bottom and never heard one bad word against Angelo. Whether it was Budd Schulberg, Bert Sugar, or a journeyman fighter in Mississippi, they all loved him. Angie treated everybody like they were an important person. He never forgot a name and he had that beautiful smile and those beautiful eyes. He was always warm and attentive. Did I mention his sense of humor?

Here’s an Angelo quote sent to me today from one of my students, Steve Ellis:

“Joe, just want to tell you how much your call meant to me. Really nice gesture.

I was sorry to see the news about Angelo. He seemed like a really interesting guy. I remember when he was a commentator during the ’88 Olympics. During one of Riddick Bowe’s fights he was really critical about all the obvious mistakes Bowe was making. Angelo said ‘If this kid’s lucky, he’ll have a spasm of lucidity.’ I always remember that expression.


Anyone who knows me knows that I can go on and on. I’m going to bring this blog to an end and I will revisit Angie and his memory at a later date. One of my last experiences with him is when he was kind enough to give me a few hours of his time for an interview for my documentary In this Corner.

P.S. In an interview I did with Jake LaMotta, “The Raging Bull”, he told me that he gave this kid Dundee one of his first jobs.

I can see Angie with a water bottle and a towel, cooling down Saint Peter as he’s entering the pearly gates. Rest in Peace, my friend. You’ve got a lot of champions on the other side.