Here is our pal John Schulian’s 1980 column on Jake LaMotta, who passed away a few days ago at the age of 95. It is reprinted here with the author’s permission.—AB
She keeps dabbing at her left eye with a hanky as soft as an angel’s breath—dabbing, then smiling and pretending nothing is wrong. Maybe this is way all beautiful women growing old protect themselves. When nature can’t be depended on anymore, they master the art of illusion and produce what Jake LaMotta sees before him now. She is no fading flower. She is, rather, the same long-legged honey blonde he met beside a Bronx swimming pool thirty-seven years ago.
“That’s the Vikki that’s in the picture,” LaMotta says.
The hanky comes away from her eye quickly.
“He loves to say my name,” she purrs.
Once they were man and wife. Now they are friends and business partners, reunited by Raging Bull, the movie of LaMotta’s star-crossed life. They may even be more, but time apparently has taught them the virtue of discretion. When they checked into the Continental Plaza, their request was simple: same floor, separate rooms. “All I’m gonna tell ya,” LaMotta says, “is that I don’t go for that brother and sister stuff.”
Under the scarred brows that were part of the price he paid for the world’s middleweight championship, his dark eyes twinkle roguishly. It is what you expect, but it is not the complete picture of Jake LaMotta’s crowding sixty.
There is no more of the fire, the savagery, the craziness that could have made this untamed street kid a murderer if he hadn’t discovered the joy of mayhem in the ring. In a deftly-tailored gray suit, with his chair adjusted so you can speak into his good ear, he seems totally incapable of destroying his championship belt or, worse yet, punching his beloved Vikki.
“Feelin’ any better,” he asks her.
“I’m gonna go see the doctor in just a little while,” she replies.
She turns to a visitor.
“Isn’t Jake cute?” she asks.
Vikki LaMotta used different adjectives for him that grim day when his jealousy boiled over and he accused her of rampant infidelity, garroted his brother on a hunch, and blackened her eye. It was the same one that is bothering her now, and the funny thing is, her latest injury can be blamed on Robert De Niro, the actor who plays Jake in the movie. Vikki was holding De Niro’s picture the other day, and when somebody tried to grab it, she pulled back and poked herself in the eye. Just like that, history had repeated itself.
If Jake LaMotta flinches at the thought, you need only see Raging Bull to understand why. He has sat through it twice, and twice may be all he can bear. “I come out a bad guy in the picture,” he says. “It’s the way I was, it’s the truth, but that don’t make it no easier on me. The first time I watched it, I didn’t know what happened; I didn’t know whether to like or dislike it. There was something wrong and I couldn’t figure out what it was until the next day: I was reliving my life.”
It was a life in which the good times were almost extraneous. Sure, LaMotta waged a glorious holy war with Sugar Ray Robinson for the better part of a decade. Sure, he pole-axed Marcel Cerdan to win the championship in 1949. Sure, he refused to concede that Laurent Dauthille had him beat and knocked the stubborn Frenchman stiff with just thirteen seconds standing between him and ignominy. But the bulk of LaMotta’s legacy is as sad as a cauliflower ear and as ugly as nose split down the middle.
The ruination of Jake LaMotta began with the fight he threw to Billy Fox in ’47. The mob may have been leaning on him and he may have had to play along to get a shot at the title, but he went in the tank all the same, and when he did, he stamped himself as a bum forever. No wonder people were saying it figured years later when LaMotta got run in for letting a teenaged hooker operate out of his Miami strip joint.
He wound up on a chain gang, did time in the rat hole dedicated to incorrigibles, and never heard a word of sympathy. Maybe it would have been different if the word had gotten out that he pried the diamonds out of his championship belt to pay for a defense attorney, but Hollywood wasn’t going to make Raging Bull for another twenty years.
“When I done that to my belt,” he says, “I was symbolically—is that the word?—destroying the thing that made me the way I was. See, I was like one of those dogs that go to war. They’re trained to be vicious, they’re rewarded for it. But when the war’s over, and they’re back with their civilian masters, they can’t understand why they’re punished when they attack people. That’s the way I was, and I had to figure it out myself. I couldn’t afford no psychiatrist. I had to adjust by myself. There’s the word. I had to adjust.”
Not until now, however, did LaMotta have the chance to prove that he has succeeded. With Raging Bull hitting theaters across the country, he gets paid to leave New York and hold court in fancy hotel rooms in the cities where he used to fight. He does Marlon Brando’s back-of-the-taxi speech from On the Waterfront, and when the telephone rings, he leaps from his chair and shouts, “What round is it?” And always there is Vikki, the second of his four wives, the mother of two of his six children. She is up from Miami, back into his life, and for just a while, Jake is young again.
“Ya know why she didn’t play herself in the movie, don’tcha?” he asks. “I didn’t want her kissin’ Robert De Niro.”
“You mean you didn’t want me to kiss Bobby’s booboo?” she teases.
“That’s the truth, Vikki.”
He loves to say her name.
Thirty-seven years ago this December, Jake LaMotta Jr. ushered me into his father’s hotel suite and introduced me to the man himself, sitting there in a high-backed chair looking like a Mafia don. Then Jake Jr. turned to a beautiful blonde of a certain age who, if I hadn’t seen her in Playboy, I might have guessed had been kidnaped by these two characters. “This is my mother,” he said. “You believe it?”
He was balding and rumpled, in his 30s somewhere but the extra pounds he was carrying made him seem older. He’d probably asked the same question of every writer he’d met on this press tour, but he still tensed up as he waited for my answer.
“To tell you the truth,” I said, “no.”
His father laughed first. Vikki just smiled serenely even with her bothersome eye tearing up.
She didn’t say much beyond what I used in my column, but she turned out to be the salvation of that cold Monday morning anyway. Whatever humanity Jake LaMotta possessed, she coaxed to the surface with a look or a laugh or a few gently teasing words. The rest was part of the show he didn’t need much encouragement to put on. His On the Waterfront routine wasn’t bad, but it was still LaMotta imitating Brando, just as Raging Bull was an imitation of LaMotta’s life.
There really wasn’t enough meat on the bones of LaMotta’s life to sustain a movie. Martin Scorsese made one anyway. His infatuation with tough guys and wise guys blinded him to the lack of a dramatic arc in the story. As Barney Nagler, the vinegary columnist for the Daily Racing Form, once said of LaMotta: “He was a prick the day he was born and he’ll be a prick the day he dies.” Not that Raging Bull was without brilliance. Those brutally beautiful scenes depicting LaMotta’s war with Sugar Ray Robinson leap to mind every time I think of the movie. Unfortunately, Scorsese turned the violence into a cartoon that neither man would have survived for six fights. They might not have lasted six rounds.
It was Roger Ebert’s job to review the movie for the Chicago Sun-Times. I would write a column about LaMotta that would be paired with Roger’s review in the paper’s promos. The day before my audience with LaMotta, I’d damn near frozen to death in a press box in Minneapolis before racing to catch the last flight home so I could get up early and drive downtown. I wasn’t sure he was worth the trouble. Then Vikki said he liked to say her name and he was.
Could have been much worse
Fuck you, Joey Bats
Boo, hidden ball trick
And FUCK YOU, Goins
Ah, here's where the game thread is!
Also, I co-sign #3 & #5
I fucking hate the blow jays
Tag it and bag it ... the Tanaka solo special.
Let me repeat #3 ... FUCK YOU, JOEY BATS!
(3)(5) I like Joey Bats & the hidden ball trick :)
Reds beating the Sawx so far..
Yeah, Scooter hit a granny off porcello
Mr. OBP. Wish they would've shown his 1st inning line drive homer. I missed it...
Gary missed his pitch...
#10 Screw Joey Bats ... he's utter toast ... except against us:
Jose Bautista’s season is Exhibit A in the case of explaining the Blue Jays year as a whole. He’s having the worst full-season of his career, despite staying healthy throughout, slashing .203/.309/.369 (80 wRC+) with the worst BB%, K%, and ISO of his Blue Jays career. The combination of his poor hitting and awful defense has him pegged at -1.8 bWAR in 148 games.
It’s also worth noting that Bautista’s numbers are mildly inflated due to his performance against the Yankees this year. He’s hitting .260/.362/.480 with 3 HR against the Yankees, and .198/.304/.358 against everyone else.
FUCKING Tanaka ...
I just finished reading that at RAB!
I'll get to the chat next. That site just fucking RULES!!! I *love* it.
Damn you, Coltrane.
We're losing by the same score as the shit sox, who can go to fucking hell.
Tanaka throwing "shitters" tonight ...
I don't know if I can take more than another inning of this bullshit.
Of course, the shit sox are now winning 5-4 and we'll lose 12-1. Total fucking bollocks. I wish they'd be contracted. Or sent to the Senior Circuit. And the fens needs to be torn the fuck down.
#18 Yeah, it does ... but it ought to be an object lesson on how hard it is to survive on the web. Their game thread comments are in the thousands, and yet it's only Mike left from the original crew ... and it's not clear how long he's going to stick around.
Sigh, more RISPfail
The comments are pretty brutal. Pretty much as bad as LoHud was. Mike is the BEST and I *really* hope he sticks it out another 10 years!!
Do you still follow the BTF? (I think I have that right - baseball think factory)
Thumbs down, only a double for Judge
It is high, it is far...it is barely to the warning track.
Leadoff double is good though. C'mon, El Gary!
Wouldn't that be 2 thumbs down? ; )
Once again: FUCK YOU, Goins.
Goin fuck yourself. Asshole shithead son of a fuckstick
#25 Where do you think all the commenters came from? I never comment there anymore, just read the articles.
I'm still on BBTF daily, but there's not a lot of new blood around there, people wander away, die off ...
Meanwhile, we're going to strand a lead-off double, aren't we ...
Maybe I should have said we're GOINS to strand a lead-off double ...
Castro has been el stinko for a while now, pity the binder never says, "give the rook another chance" ...
Oh, the LoHud commenters went to RAB? This is the only site I comment on and I very rarely have ever checked the comments at the other sites. Close to never.
Yeah, and All-Starlin hasn't had the best evening afield.
Am I the only one that thinks he resembles Bruno Mars?
#36 Yeah, after LoHud shut down their game threads, there was a MASS exodus to RAB, it was nuts.
I don't know if any of the old posters there are still around.
Pity, they were a pretty good group.
 rab comment section is terrible. but where did everyone from here go? there used to be so many more commenters.
I read the RAB articles everyday. Great stuff and lots of content. I loves it!
Well, this isn't good.
I think I've seen Old Yanks Fan over at RAB!
There's one young girl over there. Her picture is really cute and she gets a lot of shit. It's not cool...
 Dunno ... life? Family? I miss some of the old regulars. Maybe a playoff run will bring some back.
As a DB guy, it would be interesting to me to get into the back end of this and the Toaster and make some sort of master posting chart, showing where every "regular" poster began and stopped, along with posting frequency ...
Fuck off and die Goins
Motherfucker. Fuckin Goins. Seriously? What bollocks.
Screw baseball. I'm drinking beer.
Well, that's going to do it for Tanaka ... and me.
That was a fucking pathetic start.
If he opts out, the Yankees should count their blessing ...
See y'all tomorrow.
I think Shaun P was the master of figuring out old posting habits and amount of comments. I was reading here for years before commenting. Hell, I was following Alex when he was at the all-baseball site!
do any of you remember there was a really cranky commenter who fought with everyone, and then one day his wife came on to tell us he had died and that she was so grateful for us because he really enjoyed his time posting? did i just make that up or did that happen?
You did not imagine that.
Man, did he HATE Cashman ...
Always wondered how he would have reacted if he'd made it to 2009 and the WS win.
Yup I remember Jim Dean.
wow that's right, jimmy dean. that was very surreal.
I remember Jim Dean.
There were a few hotheads 'round these parts. Stormer Sports comes to mind.
Well, yeah, and it wasn't just that he died ... he died while posting/game chatting on Banter (IIRC) ... yikes.
When's the last time anyone saw monkeypants post?
I was *just* gonna mention that Jim dean was on the banter at the time. That was nuts.
Monkeypants showed up some last season (or earlier this year), iirc. Maybe he's at the game tonight! Wasn't he north of the border? I think knuckles stopped by earlier this season or last year too. Anyone remember when he had a short lived baseball themed online comic strip? (Or something like that...)
I'll never forget coming home from a rehearsal to see Todd's post about being sick. That crushed me. Still does...
 didn’t stormer basically dare Alex to ban him at one point. A challenge that was accepted.
Really hope the Reds pull out a victory.
Man, when/if we reach the playoffs, if only for the WC, maybe we can get Alex to send out a "BronxBanterBlog Reunion" email blast to the last known email addresses of any of the old-timey crew ... mattpat11, monkeypants, knuckles, williamny23 (everyone I'm forgetting) ... maybe get an "OLD SKEWL" Banter going for the game?
Ha! Yeah, that sounds about right. People, man...
I've made a lot of lifelong friends from this site and am in touch with a fair amount of them off this page. If RI were here, I would've said "goodly." He emailed me a few weeks back. Hell, I'll prolly text cult late night after I'm hammered and he's 3 hours behind! ; )
In other news, the little girl hit in face Wednesday is in stable condition but has a long road ahead.
Just extend the netting, it doesn’t bother me. Two year olds leaving a game to go to the hospital does. And I don’t like kids
That's. great fucking idea, cult! I see at mattpat on Facebook every now and then. I'm friends with seamus, Shaun P, AB, chyll will, ok jazz, and others there...
Of course, I'll be teaching during the WC and won't be able to check in. I think it's the first day of the new quarter, so it'll be quite hectic at work...
FUCK YOU, Joey Batflip
#67 This is all that needs to be said:
Whew on the little girl. On the RAB chat from today, someone asked if the netting can be clear mesh with small squares that would barely be noticed. Axisa agreed. There's gotta be some kinda material out there to make everybody happy.
In the meantime, some type of makeshift temporary netting should be installed THIS WEEKEND!!! There shouldn't be another game played in MLB without it. My daughter was at the Braves game with her Girl Scout troop last weekend. She was in the outfield, but I shudder to think...
Ooh, can I be the drummer?!
There used to be quite a few drummers around these parts...
We had some girls here too.
Jete up the middle was a fun handle!
#71 Do you play *both* kinds of music?
i remember monkeypants showing up earlier this year and saying he probably wouldn't post much but hi
Country AND Western!!
#76 YES! You're hired!
) You mean country and western?
And yes, Western Swing is distinct from Country. More big bandish
We used to have a Bronx Banter shirt idea too. I think it was a score truck on the front and a bunch of our lexicon/argot on the back. We've had some good lines here for sure.
3rd Basement. Tooptimistic. I wasn't on the recent thread, but read the gouble digits.
Whew. I could use the work... (Seriously)
I gave Cliff 2 or 3 drum lessons in NYC. That was a blast. He'll prolly be back on MLBN this offseason!
I became close with the Yankees organist, who used to comment here sometimes and always read the game threads. Hell, he was at my wedding!!
#81 That's awesome!
And for those here tonight that don't know or remember...cult and I were at a sports bar together watching Joba's debut. The Hutt tore up these blow Jays!
i'm imagining something like "do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?" ba-da-da-da-da, charge!
I remember when one of the rotating Yankee broadcasters said he read Yankee blogs, including the Banter. Was it Leiter?
#83 Yeah, what a crazy coincidence it was that I was in the ATL on business when he happened to get called up ...
Well that sucked.
A few banterers bought my solo percussion CDs and sent me nice messages. Professor longnose.
I believe ken boyer is still around here...
Coney! Even mentioned the banter, by name, on air!
I forget who here said it, but it's one of my favorite things ever. Might've been Bronx big in nc or just fair...
"Trevor Hoffman should never be mentioned in the same sentence. As Mariano Rivera." : )
Redlegs are gonna have to walk this off...
You bet. I hope the job search is going well!
Well, Charleston and Michigan are no’s, and Cleveland is taking its time. But I did bank two months of vacation, so I have some time.
Night all. Dogs to park in morning, then more house cleaning. Game at 4 pm
Ugly ending for Los Rojos. Fuck.
Oh, seems I missed some old school Banter chat going on! Be cool if some of those old timers show up for the WC game.
Jim Dean...that's a crazy story...
Well, that was some Ball Saxbury tonight ...
We definitely need to try and get the band back together for the playoffs ... maybe if we make it past the WC game? That way everyone would have a chance (well, at least a few) to drop in ...