Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Charles "Kid" McCoy -- Down for the Count

McCoy ca. 1899
 McCoy, considered one of the greatest prizefighters in history and generally regarded as the inspiration for the term "the real McCoy," was born Norman Selby on a family farm in Moscow, Indiana, a small community 40 miles southeast of Indianapolis, on October 13, 1873.  While much of McCoy's life is bound up in self-created fiction, he did run away from home in his mid-teens to become a hobo.  He began his professional boxing career in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1890.  By 1891, the fighter had dropped the sissy sounding name of Selby in favor of McCoy, the stage name of a ham actor he had once seen perform.  According to legend, "the real McCoy" catch phrase was used both to distinguish him from other like-named pugilists and in recognition of his authentic boxing skills.  Though tall, skinny, and pale, McCoy was a scientific boxer who amassed an incredible 36-2 record from 1891-1895.  Nicknamed the "Corkscrew Kid" for a type of punch he twisted on impact, McCoy won his first world title on March 2, 1896, by knocking out welterweight Tommy Ryan in the 15th round.  On December 17, 1897, he outpunched Don Creedon for the world middleweight title.  McCoy retired in 1911 after 105 recorded bouts, posting a record of 81 wins, six losses, six draws, nine no-decisions, and three no-contests.

Outside the ring, McCoy was a flamboyant character with an eye for the ladies.  He routinely carried up to $40,000 on his person and, though married ten times (including three times to Julia Woodruff Crosselmire), had no children.  Shortly after retiring, the former fighter was arrested in Britain in 1912 on suspicion of stealing jewels from an Austrian princess in Belgium.  Though the charges were eventually dropped, McCoy's reputation was permanently damaged.  His post-fight career was filled with various unsuccessful business ventures.  McCoy briefly opened a bar in New York City (where be befriended future film directors D. W. Griffith and Mack Sennett), entered the diamond business, ran a detective agency, and launched a car dealership.  In 1917, McCoy was cast as a detective investigating a jewelry robbery in The House of Glass, a silent film shot in New York by French film pioneer Emile Chautard.  In 1919, D. W. Griffith picked the retired pugilist for the role of a prizefighter in the director's masterpiece Broken Blossoms.  McCoy also appeared in The Fourteenth Man (1920) directed by Griffith assistant Joseph Henaberry, followed by The Great Diamond Mystery, released in 1924 shortly after McCoy had been arrested for murder.
McCoy at the LA Jail in 1924 (UCLA Library)
By May 1924, McCoy (using the alias "Shields") had lived for three months with Theresa Mors, the 39-year-old divorced wife of art and antiques dealer Albert Mors, at the Nottingham Apartments at 28819 Leeward Avenue in Los Angeles.  The divorced couple were locked in a bitter property settlement which, ironically for McCoy, centered around the disposition of some valuable jewels.  While the events of the evening of August 12, 1924, remain somewhat confused, an argument over the divorce settlement between McCoy and Theresa Mors in their apartment left the woman fatally shot in the head.  The next morning, a drunken and deranged McCoy appeared at the store of Albert Mors and wounded three people with a .32-caliber revolver before driving away from the scene.  Later that day he turned himself in to police without incident.  At his murder trial in December 1924, McCoy maintained that Theresa Mors shot herself in despair after he suggested that a property settlement could be reached if he were temporarily out of the picture.  Deliberations lasted 78 hours before the jury on their 24th ballot found McCoy guilty of manslmanslaughter and attempted murder.  The ex-fighter was sentenced to 48 years in prison.

Hotel Tuller (Burton Historical Collection)
McCoy, a model prisoner at San Quentin, was paroled after eight years due largely to the efforts of car manufacturer Henry Ford.  The multi-millionaire industrialist gave the 60 year old a job supervising 85 security guards charged with overseeing some 12,000 vegetable gardens established by Ford employees in Detroit during the Depression.  The outbreak of armed hostilities in Europe deeply affected the 66-year-old McCoy.  As the war news worsened, he became increasingly depressed, sleepless, and reliant on sleeping pills.  On April 17, 1940, days after Nazi troops invaded Denmark and Norway, McCoy told his tenth wife, Sue Cobb Cowley, that he had to go to Chicago on business.  Instead, late the next day McCoy checked himself into the Hotel Tuller in downtown Detroit and left a request for a 10:00 A.M. wakeup call for the next day.  When McCoy failed to respond to the call on April 19, hotel officials forced entry into the room.  They found him dead near an empty box of sleeping pills.  A suicide note written in pen near the body read:  "For the past eight years I have wanted to help humanity especially the youngsters who do not know Nature's Laws.  That is, the proper carage of the body, or the right way to eat, etc.  Everything in my possession I want to go to my dear wife Sue.  To all my dear friends I wish you the best of luck.  Sorry I could not endure this world's madness.  The best to you all.  Norman Selby.  P.S.  In my pockets you will find $17.78."  In 1957, "Kid" McCoy was elected to The Ring Boxing Hall of Fame.

Recommended Reading

Cantwell, Robert.  The Real McCoy:  The Life and Times of Norman Selby.  Princeton, N.J.:  Auerbach Publishers, 1971.

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