"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Games We Play

He Loves to Say Her Name

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.

 

Postscript

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.

Feduciary (yawwwwn!)

Nick SwisherToo tired to put up a real post and not wanting to spoil the tribute post to a recently passed well-known and respected contemporary jazz singer/entertainer, I’m tossing this up for discussions on various things baseball and Yanks related. Among those things:

Nick Swisher retired. Well, at least he didn’t drag it out too long. But he was one of those guys who always seemed to let the kid inside come out and play. I’ll miss that.

Both Tyler Austin and Mason Williams have injuries that, although not career-threatening, will certainly alter their destinations after Spring Training (unless they have super powers).

Front office is sounding quite jerky yet again. I mean, you can be right and correct, but you can also control the impulse to gloat about it, and Randy Levine continues to make the team (and its fanbase by proxy) look like complete [insert favorite expletive here]s. Which, maybe they are, but we don’t seem to want anyone else to say it. What it means down the road is almost obvious though, and it would be really disheartening to lose great talent because the person or people in charge are loose-lipped sociopaths, which is certainly a New York sports-related specialty of late.

Okay, never mind with the vague grinding of axes, let’s get on with the show already!

When Yankee Stadium Was Under Construction

Ah, to be in the right place at the right time, that’s the spot Ross Lewis, an associate director for WCBS-TV news, found himself in October, 1973 when the old Yankee Stadium closed its doors. Lewis, 30, early into his second career as a professional photographer with the NFL, was there in the Bronx on October 1, the day after the final game.

Lewis returned in November and into the winter. In early ‘74, the construction teams briefly denied him access but the City of New York quickly worked out permission, and for the next two-and a half years, Lewis documented the transition between the old park and the new, modern stadium. The Yankees spent Nixon’s Watergate years—the Dog Day Afternoon, Taxi Driver era— playing crosstown in Queens, sharing Shea Stadium with the Mets. Meanwhile, as Hip Hop culture percolated in immediate vicinity, the new stadium came into shape.

Here is a taste Lewis’s fine work—a testament the architectural virtues of each stadium but also a thoughtful appreciation of the workers involved in the renovation, as well as the neighborhood people who watched them work. Now, forty years after the remodeled Stadium opened, Lewis is crafting models for an exclusive Fine Art book, as well as a photography exhibition. You can check out more his Yankee Stadium photos here.

In the meantime, enjoy.—AB

 

Oct 1, 1973—Bleachers.

Oct 1, 1973—Guard in doorway in outfield.

Oct 1, 1973–Guard in doorway in outfield.

October 1, 1973—Surveryor at work.

October 1, 1973—Surveryor at work.

Nov, 1973—Copper Frieze, Workers on infield.

Nov, 1973—Copper Frieze, workers on infield.

Nov, 1973—Upper Deck, left field with columns.

Nov, 1973—Upper deck, left field with columns.

March 18, 1974

March 18, 1974

March 18, 1974—The Second Dragon Back hoisted in place.

March 18, 1974—The second dragon back hoisted in place.

June 3, 1974—Dragon Back, sunburst.

June 3, 1974—Dragon Back, sunburst.

Aug. 20, 1974—Coffee Break.

Aug. 20, 1974—Coffee break.

August 20, 1974—Scaffold workers on partial wall.

August 20, 1974—Scaffold workers on partial wall.

Aug 26, 1975—Old man taking a stroll.

Aug 26, 1975—Old man taking a stroll.

Sept.19, 1975—Curiosity Viewers from Subway Platform.

Sept.19, 1975—Watching the progress from the subway platform.

Nov 24, 1975—Scoreboard lightbulb man silhouette.

Nov 24, 1975—Scoreboard lightbulb man.

Workers playing around, March, 1976.

The slide. Every man’s dream! April 5, 1976.

March 8, 1976—Painting the exterior walls.

March 8, 1976—Painting the exterior walls.

April 9, 1976—Yankee Logo being painted.

April 9, 1976—Yankee logo being painted.

April 11, 1976—The new field.

April 11, 1976—The new field.

April 11, 1976—The new park, ready to roll.

April 15, 1976—First game in the new park.

April 15, 1976—First game in the new park.

Opening Day 1976, featuring Joe DiMaggio, Joe Louis, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Billy Martin.

Opening Day 1976, featuring Joe DiMaggio, Joe Louis, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Billy Martin.

Old Man Yells At Baseball

Peanuts What Me Worry

Wow, Goose Gossage got old in a hurry, didn’t he?  Or has he always been this way? Furthermore, does he have a point or is he fantasizing about glory days?

For what it’s worth, he provides a lot of context towards what he told Andrew Marchand.

Hall of Fame Ballot Open Thread

imageApparently the baseball world waits with bated breath as we see who gets in for the Class of 2016… as well as which idiot refused to have Ken Griffey, Jr. go in as possibly the first unanimous selection in HoF voting history.

Yet, with the new streamline process that removes legacy voters who haven’t written about or even mentioned baseball within the last ten years, there is a slightly better chance that it could happen. On top of that, there’s a better chance than that in which players like Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell; guys who have been suspected of PED usage over the years, can possibly make it in this time, as well as guys like Barry and Roger and Gary Sheffield getting much closer, if not in.

Time changes a lot of things, perhaps, but it did nothing for Pete Rose, who was denied re-entry into MLB, with the HoF following suit. One can argue that the Hall is not an MLB property and should not be beholden to the whims or decrees of the league, and you’re certainly welcome to do so here.

As far as this writer is concerned, the HoF is an incomplete record and repository of baseball lore and references and in the age of the Internet there is plenty of room for improvement, but that’s not my call and therefore not of much interest to me. It’s not about me though (words to live by if you are a voter), it’s Hall of Fame Vote Day, so let’s hop on our pins and needles and wait for the dust to settle, shall we?

(Note: perennial Banter favorite Tim Raines also stands a good chance of getting the vote this year. Will update when final vote is announced.)

How High the Moon

birddrj

Over at Esquire Classic I curate a series of profiles written about some of the NBA’s finest in the twilight of their career: Dr. J, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal. With a little Kobe and LeBron in the mix, too.

New York Minute

gumball

On Saturday afternoon I saw my neighbor Louie standing with another guy in front of our building. I asked the other guy if he was rooting for the Mets.

“I’m rooting for New York,” he said, “I’m a New Yorker. We need to win. It’s been so long.”

He meant it, too. Then: “We need a fuckin’ parade.”

There’ll be no parade this year but I like the sentiment.

You Gotta Believe!

 

the dark knight

It’s Matt Harvey, the so-called Dark Knight with the season on the line in Game 5 tonight in Queens.

The fans have been great at Citi Field. Last game home game of the season, be beautiful to end it on a high note.

Volquez on the hill for the Royals and it’s hard not to root for him after his father’s death. Whole lot on the table…

Let’s Go Base-ball!

Drawing by the great Frank Miller.

Trick or Treat?

thewarriors

This is gonna be a Halloween to remember for Mets fans–either in a good way or an awful way. We shall soon find out but it says here that they win again and even the Serious.

I know Chris Young is a great story but can he do it again? I’d put my money on the kid the Mets have going for them instead.

Never mind the cavity creeps:

Let’s Go Base-balls!

 

Queens Get the Money (Long Time No Cash)

thor

Thor’s on the hill as the Whirled Serious moves to Queens. Gonna be some noise tonight. The kid Ventura’s got the redass and it’s easy to see him unravelling if things get tight; on the other hand, I can see him being a stud and just shutting the Mets down. Hopefully, that won’t happen.

Pulling for the Mets to make this a series. Set up a big Game 4 tomorrow for Halloween.

Be nice to see all those Met fans cheering–loud and proud: “You Gotta Believe!”

Let’s Go Base-ball.

Drawing by Walt Simonson

Dig’em Smack

kc

Gonna be some fine feasting’ for the Mets tonightski. I figure they’ll cream the Royals and return home tied-up.

Let’s Go Base-ball!

[Photo Via: Groupon]

The Whirled Serious

bluemoonbags

Last night I go to my wife, “Holy shit, the Mets are in the Whirled Serious.” And she goes, “I know isn’t it so awesome?”

And it is, for so many friends and relatives and wonderful people I know who root for the Mets–and who have rooted for the Mets, through it all. What’s not to like about that? It’s great for the city. Truth be told, this is about as likable a Mets team as this non-Mets fan can imagine. Love Grandy, of course, and David Wright, and my favorite, Lucas Duda (Duda’s my favorite because The Wife and I randomly went to Spanish Appreciation Night and Dominican Heritage Night at Citified a few years back and the announcer had a particular way of saying Duda’s name–LooooKas Doo-Dah–sounding just like Ricardo Montalban).

I mean, I’m still rooting for the Royals, but it’s awesome for the Mets and if they win it, good for them (I know some Mets fans are prickly about the idea of any Yankee fan rooting for their team, but lighten, up, Francis, you know? We can be happy for you, if it’s as clean as that–if it’s about something else, I can see the beef).

The real pickle would have been in the Mets played the Blue Jays. Then, for the first time in my life, I would have actually felt–even privately–some real pain at Mets pain, and that would have perhaps been too much to handle. Being forced to be a Mets fan. Even if I didn’t tell anyone, just by circumstances. Because believe me, after the Yanks’ painless exit, I was rooting harder for the Jays to lose than I’ve rooted for anyone to win.

I just hope the Mets and Royals play a long series, maybe some extra inning games. Hopefully nobody will be a Bill Buckner Goat on either side–got to say a littler prayer for that. I like the Royals, they’re fun. The Mets are fun. No matter who wins, I just hope it’s one to remember.

Let’s Go Base-ball!

Picture by Bags

Killshot

wolverine

The hometown team tries to advance to the Whirled Serious for the second year in a row while the Gashouse Gorilla Blue Jays look to push this to a one-game-winner-take-all tomorrow.

I’m going for the Royals.

Let’s Go Base-ball!

 

All Together Now

peteski

Dickey vs. Young today in Toronto. You can count on the Jays tying the series up.

Mets and Cubs move to Chicago tonight. Man, tough order for the Cubbies, what with deGrom going for Los Mets.

Never mind the chill:

Let’s Go Base-ball!

Picture by Peteski

Bring On The Bad Guys

beta

Royals are in Toronto this week. Gotta figure the Jays are going to make some noise and, at the very least, get this series to return to K.C.

Here’s hoping I’m wrong about that because the sooner the Jays are defeated, the better.

Saturdazed

blue graf

Royals and Jays already underway, the pale, late afternoon October light setting the tempo and nature of the game.

Mets, Cubs tonight. Should be good.

Let’s Go Base-ball!

Picture by Bags

Tangled Up in Blue

bluewindow

Royals host the Big Bad Blue Jays, baseball’s answer to the old Detroit Pistons in their assumptive arrogance. Everyone loves a bad guy so this series could be fun. Hope the Royals can pull it off. My feeling is that if anyone is going to stop the Jays they are going to come from the National League.

Never mind the bullies:

Let’s Go Ro-Yals!

Picture by Bags

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls: Dyin’ Time’s Here

Doddd

Winner of the Mets-Dodgers game will face the Cubs in the NLCS.

Never mind the view:

Let’s Go Base-ball!

[Photo Credit: Linda Posnick]

Which Way is Up?

ladder

Couple of Game 5’s in the AL today; first, the Jays will beat the Rangers to advance to the ALCS and next the Astros try to upset the Royals in K.C.

I want nothing more than the Jays to lose but Jays vs. Royals does have a ring to it, doesn’t it?

Never mind the prognostications:

Let’s Go Base-ball!

Picture by Bags

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver