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Culture

“Silent Jimmy”: The James Anest Story

April 11, 2021

For some Greeks living in America day-to-day life has never been anything short of an endless battle. Getting up every day to return to those labors one must face – regardless of nearly everything else – is an all-too-common story. James Anest he had little choice. He faced a host of issues that would have, and in fact very often did, literally defeat others. Some might say personal character rather than rigorous training are at the core of this man’s story. I will let you decide.

On November 2, 1924, James Anest was born to Greek immigrant parents in Hackensack, New Jersey. At the age of six, after having suffered spinal meningitis Anest became deaf. In and of itself this means nothing, but compounding this situation is that innumerable newspaper accounts from around the country also assert Anest was a mute. Whatever the case may have been, the point of considering any of this is to underscore the nature of the daily hardships Anest had to endure.

Aside from Anest's hearing loss was the fact that the man grew up during the Great Depression of 1929-1939. In practical terms where was Anest, even if he had all of his faculties, to get a job in the 1930s when work of any sort was virtually non-existent?

No readily available public documents report upon the how’s and why’s of Anest's choice to become a professional prizefighter. His training was singular since Constantine 'Cus' D'Amato (1908-1985) was his trainer and eventually manager at the Gramercy gym in New York City. For those with no background in American boxing history, D'Amato was, in time, also the trainer/manager for Floyd Patterson, Jose Torres, and Mike Tyson. Anest became a lightweight contender in the 1940s, turning professional in 1942. D'Amato, who learned a bit of sign-language to signal Anest, was the young Greek's trainer/manager from 1942 to 1948 – essentially Anest's entire boxing career.

Whatever Anest's ambitions it is more than likely this young man knew of the careers of literally dozens of highly visible professional Greek boxers, wrestlers, strong men, and other highly accomplished sports figures. Just as they do today, professional athletes even during the Depression made far more, dollar for dollar, than the average wage earner. Win, lose, or draw the participating men earned more money during one match, than all but the most prominent Greek businessmen.

This is a point worth stressing especially since the vast majority of young Greek-American boxers during the 1930s were not all champions, but they could (and did) take a beating and return for more. This is no exaggeration. The highly successful career of Theodore Antonopoulis (1891-1927), better known to his many fans as Anton the Greek, is a case in point for an entire generation of Greek boxers in North America. And let us be clear: the only championship Anton ever claimed, and for a very limited time, was the welterweight title of Wisconsin. Antonopoulis certainly lost more professional boxing matches than he ever won but through careful savings and not having (and so having to pay, a manager) he retired from professional sports a wealthy man. In addition, news accounts throughout the 1930s-1950s, frequently reported upon the professional immigrant and minority boxers and other sports figures who had achieved considerable wealth. While we do not know Anest's thinking on this state of affairs it remains an obvious point worth considering.

Whatever the case, Anest became a lightweight contender in the early 1940s with, by my count, well over 60 recorded bouts between 1942-1948. Roughly, Anest achieved “27 wins and 23 losses” (JAMES “JIMMY” ANEST – New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame) although, I believe, again by surveying the reporting on his career fights, that Anest won more fights than he is currently credited for in official accounts. Regardless of all that, during his time as a professional boxer Anest traveled the country fighting some of the best welterweights of his era including (but not limited to) Billy Graham, Johnny Bratton, and Johnny Cesario.

Sometime after 1943, James Anest joined his two brothers, Nick and George Anest, in helping to manage the popular boxing venue Sunnyside Garden Arena. “The Sunnyside Garden Arena was a popular boxing venue. The old red brick arena, at the southwest corner of 45th Street and Queens Boulevard, in Sunnyside, Queens, New York City, seated about 2,500. It consisted of two parallel gables perpendicular to the street fronted by a lower, flat-roofed entry. Across the entry was a large neon sign and below that, just above the main entrance, was a large clock.”

Various Greeks were also heavily involved with the management of arenas and even entire sports regions. Names such as Thomas Nicholas Packs (born Anthanasios Pakiotis) (1894-1964), Paul 'Pinkie' George (born Paul Lloyd Georgeacopoulos) (1905-1993), George Parnassus (1897-1975) and George (born Theodore Vetoyanis) Zaharias (1908-1984), are but a handful of the Greek-Americans who at different moments in their overall careers managed (often simultaneously) individual athletes as well as sports arenas and other venues.

James Anest died on July 3, 1981 of cancer – he was only 56 years old. Rather than a forgotten minor figure of the long-ago past, on November 3, 2016, James Anest was posthumously inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame.

We know that Anest's professional career and the spirit it exemplifies was not forgotten. In 1988, reporter Steve Drummond recalled Jimmy Anest through some memorabilia he was shown (Journal News (White Plains NY) August 18, 1988). It was an old card with a collectible bowling pin key-chain/bob. Nearly all professional sports have/had collectible cards for all their participants, not just the notable champions. I was quite surprised when I first learned fans could readily buy a Jim Londos hair brush. Sports memorabilia of all sorts is still actively sought after and at times often extremely expensive. Anest's memorabilia card said:

“LADIES and GENTLEMEN

I am a former PRIZE FIGHTER SILENT JIMMY ANEST. I do not ask for Charity or Sympathy. I am selling this Card and Novelty to help see my way thru. I have fought such fighters as Johnny Bratton, Billy Graham, Marty Servo, Beau Jack, Rocky Marziano and many others.

PRICE 25 Cents

THANK YOU–GOOD LUCK

Manager Cus D'Amato

1942-48”

And on the other side this brain twister:

“Take your age, multiply by 2; add 5; multiply by 2; add 5; multiply by 50, subtract 365; add loose change in your pocket under a dollar, add 115; the first two figures are the answer to your age and the last two, the change in your pocket.”

Aside from a highly reputable boxing career, puzzles in many ways remain in public documents on James Anest. Numerous references over Anest's career note that the young 5'-5 ½' 140-145 lbs. Greek-American once fought against the 5'-10” heavyweight Rocky Marciano (1923-1959).

Again for those not versed in the history of professional boxing in America, Marciano was a champion boxer who competed from 1947 to 1955. Marciano held the world heavyweight title from 1952 to 1956 and he is also the only heavyweight champion to have finished his boxing career undefeated.

Given all the published references to Marciano and Anest meeting in the ring, something, some event, must have taken place. But, still, under what circumstances did Marciano, a heavyweight, and Anest, a welterweight meet? From what I have read of Anest's life and career I have no doubt he would have entered the ring against Marciano.

Yet, so, many unanswered questions remain. Not just concerning James Anest's professional boxing career but with the overall history of Greeks as professional athletes. Why are our Greek-American historians – such as they exist – so afraid, or worse uninterested in the undeniable accomplishments of Greeks and their descendants in professional sports in North America? This roster of dedicated athletes were never shy or afraid to show up against others of their kind. No matter what the odds. What do our intellectuals, fear?

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