Bisexual Boxer Emile Griffith and a Deadly Fight

Emile Griffith

On March 24, 1962, bisexual (or gay) boxer Emile Griffith knocked out his opponent, Benny Paret, at Madison Square Garden. In round 12, Griffith trapped Paret in a corner; by that time, his opponent had stopped punching back. Griffith held his opponent's shoulder to keep him in position while using his free hand to hit Paret.
 

Griffith knocks out Paret

The audience was shocked; the famous author Norman Mailer, who wrote about it in his essay, “The Death of Benny Paret,” claimed it was the hardest he had ever seen a man hit another man. At this point, the referee, Ruby Goldstein, stepped in, an awarded Griffith a win by a “technical knockout.” Paret slid to the floor; he was carried out on a stretcher and died ten days later in a hospital.

There's a back story here to this admittedly brutal incident, and it ties into the intense homophobia of the time, and the double life Emile Griffith had to lead. He visited the gay bars during that period, and he even hung out in the then-seedy Times Square where, the time before the fight, according to Donald McRae's book A Man's World: The Double Life of Emile Griffith, he “laughed and danced with the Hispanic gay crowd and the old drag queens.”

Before this fight, Emile was able to live this life: be a man's man in the hypermasculine world of boxing, and apparently hold court with the queens of the period on women's hat styles (in fact, he started out working in a women's hat factory, and his shirtless physique (he requested permission to work that way in the heat) caught the attention of the owner, who got him involved in the world of boxing).
 

Emile Griffith news clipping

But, in the weigh-in before the fight, Paret called Griffith a maricón, which means faggot. Members of the press and officials from the New York Boxing Commission witnessed this exchange. And, in pre-fight interviews with the press, Paret's manager portrayed Griffith as effeminate and thus an unworthy opponent for the hypermasculine Paret. Paret also touched Griffith's ass when he called him the slur, apparently enraging him.

The consequences of this homophobia were indeed deadly. Even though Griffith told a television interviewer that he was proud to be the welterweight champion again, and expressed hopes for Paret's recovery, Paret's death resulted in insults and hate mail. And many sources claim that even though Griffith continued to box for 15 more years, he lost his enthusiasm for the sport. Emile blamed himself for the incident; it always haunted him.

Griffith married a woman in 1971 by the name of Mercedes Donastorg. After retiring from boxing in 1977, he worked as a corrections officer at juvenile detention facility in New Jersey.

But Griffith was still struggling with his overall identity. In 1992, he was viciously beaten in New York City after leaving a gay bar. He was in the hospital for four months with serious kidney damage, and under the care of his adoptive son, began a slow mental and physical decline, but also some serious soul-searching.

He told Sports Illustrated in 2005, “I love men and women the same, but if you ask me which is better … I like women.”

Yet, another reporter for the New York Times, Bob Hebert, about that time, asked him if he was gay, and Griffith struggled to answer. He said he no longer wanted to hide, and he wanted to ride that year in the New York Gay Pride Parade.
 

Emile Griffith older

Other interviews with him do emphasize that he did not like labels about his identity.

Yet the one label everyone remembers him by I think should not just be that deadly fight, but his place in the International Boxing Hall of Fame; no other boxer in boxing history had fought more championship rounds, not even the great Muhammad Ali.

Emile Griffith died on July 23, 2013 at the age of 75.

There's a complex legacy here in Griffith's struggles and triumphs, and documentaries and plays and books and even an opera have struggled to understand and express a turbulent double life that exploded savagely in a literal arena which glorifies a violence it claims to sublimate.
 

Ring of Fire, a film about Emile Griffith
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RetroStuds of the Past: Focus on Johnny Dawes

 

Johnny Dawes portrait

Johnny Dawes, famous face in 1980s pre-condom gay porn, was born in Akron, Ohio, on March 22, 1955. His birth name was Brian Lee.

His career in gay porn started in the late seventies, was in a loop called “Toilet Training,: part of Falcon Video Pac #23. Acccording to Gay Erotic Video Index, in 1978, he made a film for Falcon Studios, Dirt Bikes, aka F Truck.

Thus began a prodigious career for many studios, pretty much the major ones of the late 1970s and 1980s, such as HIS Video, LeSalon, Mustang, and Marathon, and and other less known ones such as Ari Productions and Stardust.

Johnny has starred with a number of actors which include Jose Garcia, Magdalena Montezuma Montez as well as Sharon Kane.

Paired together eight times, Chris Burns has had the privilege of being seen most frequently with Johnny Dawes, in flicks such as Pleasure Beach (HIS Video).

The collection of movies in which they have appeared together also includes The Private Pleasures of John Holmes (Stardust), School Of Hard Cocks (HIS Video), and Revenge of the Nighthawk in Leather (HIS Video).

Dawes retired in 1986, but came out of retirement in 1989, to make several films. In fact, a vintage gay porn magazine of that period, Thrust, celebrates his return, “the return of a bluemovie sensation,” in Who's Dat Boy.
 

Johnny Dawes in Thrust Magazine
Johnny Dawes in Thrust Magazine in never before seen photos

Bijou Video shows him at this versatile best in Knockout, originally released by Pan Pacific Productions. Touted as the “only homoerotic boxing film,” Knockout reveals the intense world of boxing, where a sport of knocking out merges into knockout sex. Johnny Dawes plays the previous boxing champion, and he joins Eric Stryker, playing the new lightweight boxing champion David West, and David's trainer, Mark, played by Andrew Ryan, in a three-way jack off. Johnny returns to fuck Eric on a bed; the ex-champion thus shows his real dominance by deftly topping the new champion in this scene.
 

Johnny Dawes wearing boxing gloves

Jack Deveau filming
Johnny Dawes and Eric Stryker in Knockout

Other Bijou Video classics he appears in are Games, where he plays a swimmer who fools around with Mike Davis in a locker room, and Bad Bad Boys aka Bad Boys, directed by Tom DeSimone (Mustang), where he plays a runaway who seeks solace in the company of a street gang called The Red Devils, undergoing an intense sexual initiation as well as rebelling against the gang's evil boss (and Dawes shows his acting chops here).
 

Mike Davis and Johnny Dawes in Games

Johnny Dawes rimming Mike Davis in Games
Mike Davis and Johnny Dawes in Games

Poster for Bad Bad Boys

And speaking of acting chops, according to the January 1990 edition of Manshots, he acted in the Los Angeles production of Night Sweat; he was a documentary filmmaker (A Dance with Death) and, most interestingly, an opera historian. He wrote an article on the Jewish-American soprano Alma Gluck, who sang at the beginning of the last century, for Opera Digest.
 

Jack Deveau filming

Wow! An embarrassment of riches; so much talent in that lithe yet sculpted body (not to mention his aesthetically pleasing cock, a shiny pole of power). Overall, in his performances, he manages to combine vulnerability with an easy, confident masculinity.
 

Johnny Dawes nude

Brian Lee aka Johnny Dawes died of AIDS-related complications on July 25, 1989.

He performed this finely crafted poem in the AIDS play Night Sweat, four years before his untimely death from that disease:
 

Robert Chesley book Hard Plays Stiff Parts featuring Night Sweat

Oh, let night speak of me for day
Knows not how breaks with woe my heart,
Knows not how I mournful stray,
Weeping for thee, so dear thou art.
The sad night weeps with me, and lays
His tear wet cheek against my own;
Although I walk in sunlit ways,
Still doth my heart in darkness moan.
The night shall speak of me and say
All things to thee I dare not show,
And to thy dreams my love display,
Till thou art melted by my woe.

 

Johnny Dawes black and white photo
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