The not so gorgeous tale of the rise and fall of Jack Doyle
For many years the old familiar excesses have been trotted out by way of explanation as to why and where it all went wrong. These have a familiar ring, i.e. the interminable womanising, the reckless alcoholism, bad decisions, bad management, lack of self-discipline, immaturity, debauchery and much more. All of these played a part in the final destruction of Jack Doyle.
To gain a much clearer insight into the man who was born in Cobh, Co. Cork on August 31, 1913 and who died penniless and homeless in St. Mary?s Hospital, Paddington, on December 13, 1978, it is necessary to read Michael Taub?s recently published biography on the subject. Stitched into 370 absorbing pages is a roller-coaster ride that leaves the reader almost breathless with anticipation. That is surely the ultimate test of a good book, the longing to turn the next page.
Jack Doyle qualifies as the flawed hero who is loved as much for his human frailties as for the prowess that he demonstrated in the sporting arena. His promise as a fighter up to the age of 21 was unmistakeable. By the time he reached his mid-20s he was on the way down; by the age of 30 he was near enough to being washed up.
But for a few gloriously unfulfilled years Jack Doyle lived the dream. Michael Taub puts his place in the greater scheme of things into perspective when he writes: ?That over-used word ?charisma? is applied liberally to popular sports stars nowadays but none had it in such large measure as the young Jack Doyle; not Mike Tyson, not Muhammad Ali, not Henry Cooper, not Frank Bruno. Speak of Jack in the same breath as Elvis Presley and The Beatles in terms of live performances and the comparison becomes more realistic?. High praise indeed.
Growing up in the Holy Ground area of Cobh the Doyle family had absolutely no delusions of grandeur. Theirs was a harsh, deprived environment, living at subsistence level in cramped accommodation on the third floor of 11 Queen Street, a tenement building that fronted the water?s edge.
Most days, the Doyle children, all five of them, ate at the local convent where ?the penny dinners? were handed out. These consisted of a bowl of hot soup and a chunk of bread to warm up frail under-nourished bodies in the chill of winter. Jack, the second eldest of Michael and Stacia Doyle?s brood, left school at 12 to become a quay labourer, working the coal vessels that docked at the pier and this was where he first showed signs that he could mix it with men twice his age. Coming home covered in soot and grime after 11-hour shifts (£3 for two days? work) was an occupational hazard and well worth the price.
It certainly wasn?t a high-fibre, low-calorie diet or steak dinners that hastened his magnificent physical development (6 ft 5 inches in height, weight 13 st. 7 lbs. chest 45?). His film star good looks and the promise he held out as a potential heavyweight champion of the world were his passport to acceptance in the most exclusive of British society. In time he would become a social lion in Mayfair, living a life that contrasted sharply with the monastic discipline that was required of a professional boxer. This was the life he had aspired to from an early age.
On leaving home at the age of 17 to join the Irish Guards he made a promise to his weeping mother. ?Don?t worry, mother. I?m a big boy now. I?ll take care of myself. And soon, I?ll be famous ? you?ll see?. He was as good as his word even if fame and infamy became part of the intoxicating mix that charted the rest of his life.
After joining up, Recruit No. 2717222 was packed off to brigade headquarters at Caterham barracks in Surrey for training. His pay was to be five shillings a week ? hardly an encouraging remuneration package for someone who in just two years? time was destined to have a fortune hovering at his fingertips, but it was a start.
After nine months in uniform the novelty of soldiering had worn off but Jack?s application for discharge on compassionate grounds was refused. By now he was making his mark as a promising fighter and that was enough to keep him anchored to his post. The regimental top brass simply wouldn?t hear of him going anywhere else.
That was until an ill-fated alliance with a dodgy fight manager, Dan Sullivan, finally wrested him free from army life and his discharge was signed on February 23, 1932 after roughly 17 months? of service. Sullivan ? an illiterate but stretwise Cockney ? steered Doyle through his opening professional fights but later sold him out behind his back for a sum of £5,000. This was an act of treachery that marked the first downturn in Jack Doyle?s burgeoning career in the ring.
Within a year Doyle, then only 19, drew a crowd of 90,000 to London?s White City to see him fight and he was earning £600 a week on stage as a singer. By the age of 30 he had earned and squandered a £250,000 fortune. This would equate to millions in today?s money. His motto was: ?A generous man never went to hell? and he lived his life like the hellraiser that he was right up to the end.
During his heyday as a heavyweight boxer, singer and playboy, Jack Doyle?s celebrity status rivalled that of the Prince of Wales, and he and his third wife, the beautiful Mexican film star and singer, Movita (who later married Marlon Brando) were as popular in the 1930s and 40s as Burton and Taylor were later on or David and Victoria Beckham are today. His friendship with the Royal family, his fist-fight with Clark Gable, his life as a film star and gigolo, his throwing of a fight by knocking himself out and his extraordinary post-war career as an all-in wrestler are the stuff of legend.
It all went horribly wrong when Doyle?s propensity for self-destruction finally caught up with him. His descent into the gutter during his later years makes deeply sad reading when the once glamour-boy of British high society found himself homeless, friendless and alone in London, the city that first seduced him as a young man.