Happy Birthday, Jimmy Glenn

By Thomas Hauser
Jimmy's Corner is a blue-collar bar on 44th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues in Manhattan. It's open seven days a week from an hour before noon until to 4:00 AM. The main room is dark and barely wide enough for people to pass behind patrons nursing their drinks at the bar. There's a smaller room with tables in back, but no food other than chips. Both rooms are ordinary except for the walls. Every square foot is covered with photographs of fighters and posters heralding long-ago ring confrontations.

"It's just a bar," says Jimmy Glenn, the soft-spoken man who owns Jimmy's Place and turns 75 today (August 18th). "Just a bar is easier. You don't have to worry about food and cooks. I'd rather run a gym than a bar, but you can't make a living running a gym. The rent's too high."

Jimmy Glenn is a link to boxing's past. Over the years, he has owned bars, restaurants, and gyms. Despite never having made it to the bigtime, he's one of the few people who's universally respected in boxing. I've written about the sweet science for two decades, and there are three people who I've never heard anyone say anything bad about: Eddie Futch, Al Gavin, and Jimmy Glenn.

Glenn was born in rural South Carolina on August 18, 1930. His grandfather was a sharecropper. His mother worked on the same farm. "My mother only had one child," he says. "But when I was ten, she married my stepfather and, after that, I had a lot of brothers and sisters on my stepfather's side."

Glenn's mother moved to Washington DC in 1937 and left Jimmy behind. After she married, she sent for him and they relocated with her husband in Harlem. In December 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked. The following year, Jimmy's uncles were drafted. So at age twelve, he went back to South Carolina to work with his grandfather on the farm.

Glenn stayed in South Carolina until the war ended in 1945. Then he returned to New York and got a job as a delivery boy in the garment district. He also began boxing in the Police Athletic League.

In the 1940s, boxing was a mainstream sport and deeply ingrained the fabric of Harlem. Joe Louis ruled the world, but the local icon was Sugar Ray Robinson.

Glenn's face lights up when he discusses Robinson. "I used to watch Ray work out at a gym on 116th Street," he recalls. "Ray had magnetism. He was something special. He was a partying guy; and to tell the truth, I'm more of a homebody. But Ray made the whole community proud. Everybody in Harlem was happy just to look at him. The first big fight I saw was Sugar Ray Robinson against Tommy Bell [on December 20, 1946] at Madison Square Garden. Ray won his first championship that night, but it wasn't easy. Tommy made him work for it. Ray had to call on everything he had to beat him."

Boxing as an amateur, Glenn compiled a 14-2 record with two knockouts. "I was a fair fighter, not a good one," he admits. "I started at welterweight and ended up at middleweight. I could box but I wasn't much of a puncher." In his most memorable amateur match, he fought a middleweight named Floyd Patterson. "He beat me," Glenn acknowledges. "Knocked me down a few times, broke my tooth. But I went the distance."

Ultimately, Glenn quit boxing. "I wasn't good enough for it to make sense for me to keep fighting," he says. But the sport was in his blood. And when the Third Moravian Church opened a community center on 127th Street in Harlem, he volunteered to teach youngsters how to box.

"The church gave me the space, but it couldn't afford any equipment," Glenn remembers. "We had some dances and parties to raise money, but it wasn't much. We didn't even have a ring. I had to teach boxing on the regular floor, and we still had twenty to thirty kids a night, six nights a week. Then a lady from a foundation came up to see the place and liked what we were doing and gave us money to do things right. After a while, we started entering kids in the Golden Gloves. We won a team trophy and some individual trophies. And we kept doing it until the church got torn down in the 1970s."

Several years later, Glenn opened the Times Square Gym on 42nd Street in Manhattan. In the mid-1980s, that building too was demolished.

Through it all, Glenn has earned a living by owning restaurants and bars. Les Nanette's on West 43rd Street in Manhattan was the first. Two more establishments came and went. Jimmy's Corner has survived for three decades. On the home front, Glenn has been married twice. His current marriage has lasted for 32 years. And while he himself dropped out of school in eighth grade, it's a point of pride for him that six of his seven children have graduated from college.

Meanwhile, Glenn remains committed to boxing. "The best thing about boxing is that it teaches respect," he says. "You take a kid off the streets. He's angry and scared and beefing about the system. But after a few weeks in the gym, it's 'yes, sir' and 'no, sir' and the lessons of discipline and hard work set in. Before long, the kid starts to make something out of himself and believe in himself. Kids in the gym want to learn. That's why they're there. People hear about the fighters who become champions. But a lot of young men who never go beyond the amateurs get good jobs and become good citizens because of boxing."

Over the years, Glenn has managed several fighters and trained many more (most notably, John Meekins and Jameel McCline). "There are times when it's frustrating," he acknowledges. "When you get a young fighter, everything you tell them the first few years, they listen. Then, with some of them, they become stars in their own mind. Everybody gets their ear, and they forget where they came from and what brought them from where they were to where they're at. They start wanting to change the way they train. You got to beg them to do things, and they still don't do it; or they do what you say, but they don't do it like they did when they were starting out."

There's also the business side of things. Two decades ago, Glenn spoke openly and eloquently about that aspect of boxing.

"Managers and trainers dream too," he said. "You teach a kid. You give him thousands of hours. The kid quits; you bring him back. He gets in trouble with the law or with a girl, and you help him out. You put a foundation under him. You give him your heart. Then the kid starts to look good. He turns out to be that one in a thousand who's really good. And all of a sudden, some guy walks in, offers the kid a salary, a bonus, and he's gone. That's always the way it is with amateurs on account of you can't sign an amateur to a contract. And with a pro, even if you have a contract, where are you gonna get the thousands of dollars in legal fees to enforce it? So you sell the contract or it isn't renewed when it expires. Guys like me dream of a champion. But when a fighter hits ten rounds, the big money pushes the little guys out."

"That's what boxing is," Glenn says when those words are read back to him. "That's the way it was then, and it's worse now. I'm not a pushy guy, and maybe I should be. In boxing, it helps to be that way."

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com.
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