Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson
[Photo: http://www.cyberboxingzone.com]
(This site has movie clips of some of Johnson's fights)

Jack Johnson

The late actor Victor McLaglen (an Oscar winner for The Informer, and an unforgettable foe of John Wayne in The Quiet Man) was once a professional boxer. In fact, he once fought world heavyweight champion Jack Johnson in a bout in Vancouver!

The date was March 10, 1909.

The Province of the day described Johnson’s opponent as “Vic McLaglan of Tacoma.” The World identified him as “Arthur McLaglen, a local heavyweight.” The Ring Record has it right: Victor McLaglen. He obviously wasn’t well-known at the time.

Jack Johnson certainly was. Johnson, 30, the first black man to win the heavyweight title, got a lot of attention while he was in Vancouver. He’d defeated Tommy Burns , the Canadian-born title-holder, in Australia the previous December and had returned to North America (aboard the Makura) in triumph. This Vancouver bout, even though a non-title exhibition match, was his first fight as world champion.

“Great Reception for the Big Black,” read the Province’s headline. (One becomes inured to the shock of reading how minorities were described in newspapers of the day. This was a mild example.) “Anyone,” the paper continued, “who thinks this same Jack Johnson is an ignorant and unsophisticated negro should have seen the Chesterfieldian grace with which he bade farewell to those ladies in silks and satins on the Makura yesterday.

“Johnson has a pleasing voice, his soft, southern accent sounding almost strange coming from such a huge frame. In fact, from the delicate way in which he expressed himself one could almost close their eyes and imagine it was some ballroom dandy at an afternoon tea.”

The champion was accompanied by Mrs. Johnson, “who,” the World enthused, “owing to the fact that she is a white woman, occasioned almost as much attention as her big, colored husband.”

Johnson toyed with McLaglen during the six rounds, and impressed the Vancouver Athletic Club audience of 1,000 with his speed . . . and his “classical English” in a short speech of appreciation to the throng after the fight.

Johnson would lose the title to Jess Willard in April 1915, six years after his visit to Vancouver.

Victor McLaglen, who was 22 at the time of his Vancouver battle, had been a professional boxer and wrestler in Canada for five years. He apparently had also briefly been a cop and a circus strongman while up here. He had a few more fights, and even faced Jess Willard in October, 1911 in Springfield, Missouri.

Born in Tunbridge Wells, England December 10, 1886 McLaglen grew up in South Africa with eight brothers. Their father was the Bishop of Claremont there. Victor had a rollicking, haphazard career, which you can read about in his Imdb entry. One passage: “During the British occupation of the TransJordan (now Iraq) in the 1920s, McLaglen, who was a sergeant in the British army, was appointed provost marshal—chief of military police—for Baghdad.”

He got into British silent movies in the 1920s, then American director John Ford made him a star with The Informer (1935). His hilarious turn as Squire Will Danaher in 1952's The Quiet Man assures his permanence in our memories.

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Victor McLaglen, c. 1909 (photo: www.cyberboxingzone.com)
Victor McLaglen, c. 1909
[Photo: www.cyberboxingzone.com]