This is how I learn – Jerry Lewis, Cassius Clay, and who is that guy?


The above is my favorite photograph of all time. It’s also the only framed photograph that I still own.

I bought it over 20 years ago at a fancy art shop in San Francisco. Mine is cropped differently, is sepia toned and like this one has a fake Muhammad Ali autograph on it. The above was probably colorized too, but it’s the best version of what I have that I could find on the internet.

The photograph was taken by Donald L. Robinson. He is not credited on my photo.

Hilariously, someone penciled in on the canvas part of my print “Float like a Butterfly Sting like a Bee – Ali Liston circa 1964”

That circa 1964 thing always makes me laugh, because “Hello” this was a famous event and it’s date is incredibly easy to ascertain. The photo was taken May 25 1965. About six months before my birth.

There is also a great story about how Donald L. Robinson got this shot.

Can you see the photographer between Ali’s legs?

That guy was the preeminent boxing photographer of his day and always got his first choice of where to set up his rig during a big fight. So not only did Robinson historically scoop this guy – he also got his rival’s image right smack at the exact moment he is missing the opportunity to take one of the greatest photographs of all time too!

By the way I only know the above from some magazine article I read years ago – I couldn’t find a thing about it on the internet, which shocked me because it’s a very famous image.

I credit Muhammad Ali with almost all of my non-academic learning. I would never want to read required school reading, but I’d put down the required school reading to read something else. They could have assigned me my favorite comic books as required reading and it wouldn’t have been enough to stop my urge to rebel. Whenever I did a book report, it was on the shortest book that came from the classic counter in the library.

Goodbye Mr. Chips. Hiroshima. Catcher in the Rye. My cousin Greg turned me on to the greatest book report book of all time. Candide by Voltaire. It’s short, it’s a classic, it’s funny as hell. I told all my friends to do book reports on it and they all subsequently did.

But I was always reading something. I still can barely sit through a meal without reading something. I read when I walk. I’ve read in the shower. I was reprimanded by Citigroup for taking a copy of an Al Capone biography I was reading into the bathroom with my when I needed to answer nature’s call, which for me was a lot because I have Crohn’s Disease.

I’ve always believed that you could teach a kid anything by starting first with something they loved and then lovingly guiding them elsewhere.

I loved sports books as a kid. In elementary school we were allowed one object to be photographed with – my choice was the baseball book I was reading at the time so I would have something to read while everyone waited in line to have their picture taken.

My first real starting point was “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali’s autobiography.

It’s a great read. I didn’t know at the time that Ali probably hadn’t written a word of it. I didn’t know that there were lots of stories in the book that were blatantly untrue (Sadly, the story that Muhammad Ali threw his Olympic gold medal off a bridge after being refused service in a hometown segregated restaurant – is completely untrue – It’s still a great story. It’s just not true. Ali just lost his medal and he or somebody else concocted their own bit of history.). The book came out in 1975 and that was probably a year or two before I read it around the age of 12.

But one book for me happily always led to the next book.

After reading “The Greatest” I absolutely had to read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” which is also not really an autobiography, has a lot of stories in it that probably aren’t true and is still the best sort of non-fiction book I’ve ever read.

Every book would lead to another. Malcolm X got me interested in Billie Holliday and Jazz. That got me to the amazing somewhat true additionally ghost written autobiography of Miles Davis, which itself was basically a history of Jazz.

A biography of Jim Morrison led me to consider that being a poet could be cool and roused my interest in Greek mythology. Morrison’s profanity case got me interested in Lenny Bruce’s “How to Talk Dirty and Influence people” – incredibly yet another sort of autobiography which had a ton of great not true stories in it despite the fact that it’s one of the greatest statements about truth telling ever written. I give Lenny Bruce a pass because you can’t openly talk about your heroin addiction when you are constantly being hauled in to court over your use of profanity and supposed use of heroin.

One book always led to another, and if it wasn’t a book it was a record or a movie. I always wanted to learn more and more importantly figure out what was and was not true.

When I heard the Kinks lost masterpiece (aka flop) “The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society” I realized that it was incredibly similar to the Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology that I had been forced to read and actually somewhat enjoyed at school.

All the things that I know and cherish came from reading “The Greatest.”

This still happens to me, because I just love watching anything that was filmed of Ali before his disastrous accidentally drugged fight with Larry Holmes seriously messed up his speaking ability. I wound up finding this.

The above is part one of a live interview Ali did with Jerry Lewis when he was still known as Cassius Clay.

Here is part two.

Wait a second who the hell is that drunk guy that comes onstage and interrupts the interview? He’s totally hammered. He’s drunk on live television. Why have I never heard of this debacle.

I googled it and found out that the man’s name was Phil Foster. Who the hell was Phil Foster. Then I learned that he went on to somewhat sober up and play Laverne’s father Mr. DeFazio on Laverne and Shirley.

So now I needed to know everything about this show and discovered a huge pop culture snafu that was perhaps television’s answer to the Elizabeth Taylor incineration of money while making the movie “Cleopatra” and one of which I was totally uncognizant. The story of one of the most amazingly expensive mistakes in television history, 1963’s The Jerry Lewis show. How could I have missed this?


Anyway it led me to this article about the history and the aftermath of the show and it’s a fantastic and extremely informative article.

Today it was gifted to me by Muhammad Ali. Now I gift it to you.

The Late Night Distemper of Our Times by Kliph Nesteroff

I have no idea if there is really a person out there called Kliph Nesteroff out there who wrote this in 2010, but if there is job well done Kliph.

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