Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Eleven Men Behind Cassius Clay

The March 11, 1963 issue of Sports Illustrated includes a fascinating article about 11 businessmen in Louisville who were, at that time, managing the career of the young Cassius Clay (later to be Muhammad Ali.)  Here is how SI explained the arrangement:

They have provided Clay an ideal, all-expenses-paid training program, they offer him the benefit of all their experience and business acumen, and they surround him with a substantial moral and ethical environment, a rare commodity in professional boxing.  And since they are independently wealthy Clay is assured that he will never end up exploited and broke through any fault of theirs.

That last sentence is a priceless example of how the mainstream press trusted the U.S. establishment in the early 1960's.  But the whole arrangement -- all of Clay's winnings were split 50-50 between Clay and the syndicate -- shines a fascinating light on how Louisville worked in the early 1960's.  Here are the 11 members of the syndicate, as described by SI:

1.  William Faversham, Jr., 57 at the time of the article, came up with the idea for the syndicate, and was Clay's manager of record.  He was a Vice-President of Brown-Forman Distillers Corporation, which made Old Forester, Early Times, and Jack Daniel's.  Faversham is the only non-millionaire in the syndicate.

2.  William Lee Lyons Brown, 56, was Chairman of the Board of Brown-Forman, which he had inherited.  As a young man, he flunked out of the U.S. Naval Academy and the University of Virginia.

3.  James Ross Todd, 26, was the only child of Jouett Ross Todd, a prominent attorney.  He was a partner in W. L. Lyons's stock-and-bond firm in Louisville.  He went to Yale.

4.  Vertner De Garmo Smith, Sr, 69, was Todd's godfather and a close friend of Lyons Brown.  He was in the liquor wholesaling business, and was thus closely connected to Brown-Forman.

5.  Robert Worth Bingham, 30, was the son of the man who owned the Courier-Journal and the Louisville Times.  (The Binghams also owned WHAS-TV).  Worth Bingham went to Harvard, and bought The Ring magazine each month "at the Readmore Card Shop in downtown Louisville."

6.  George Washington ("Possum") Norton IV, 29, was the son of the man who owned WAVE-TV.  He went to Yale.

7.  Patrick Calhoun, Jr., 71, was the retired chairman of the American Commercial Barge Line, the largest inland boat company in the world.

8.  Elbert Gary Sutcliffe, 68, was the grandson of Elbert Gary, the first Chairman of U. S. Steel.  (Gary, Indiana was named after Elbert, Gary.)  Mr. Sutcliffe went to Centre College.

9.  J.D. Stetson Coleman, 59, was a very successful businessmen (he had a number of different companies, none of which are identified by name), originally from Macon, Ga.  He went to Yale, and also owned parts of the Los Angeles Angels and the Los Angeles Rams.

10.  William Sol Cutchins, 62, was the President of Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation.  He was also president of WLKY-TV, which went on the air in 1961.  He went to Princeton.

11.  Archibald McGhee Foster, 47, was a Senior Vice President of the Ted Bates advertising agency in Manhattan, where he was group leader for the agency's Brown & Williamson account.  The syndicate came to him because of his relationship with Cutchins and because he had some contacts in boxing.  In fact, Foster was the one who brought the syndicate to Angelo Dundee, who acted as the trainer of Clay/Ali for decades.

All in all, this is a fascinating snapshot of the type of people who ran Louisville in the early 1960's.


  1. I would love to be part of a syndicate.

  2. Incidentally, I'm declaring this post a member of the "Oh, Kentucky" family of posts.