When Ben Gazzara Boxed with Whitey Ford and Joe Louis

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Actor Ben Gazzara died Friday from pancreatic cancer. He was 81 years old, and by all reasonable metrics led a full life. It was still extremely sad news. To call Gazzara a risk-taker or movie mainstay is to in some way diminish his accomplishments. He was one of the best film actors ever, at home in everything from wrenching Cassavetes dramas like Husbands and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie to straight genre work like Anatomy of a Murder to over-the-top ridiculousness like Road House. No matter the subject or style, he delivered a lived-in performance, with each character unique yet clearly a product of the same artist.

Gazzara's most loved performances have little to do with sports—apart from the general concept of masculinity in crisis—but he did once brush shoulders with some athletic legends. In 1959, Gazzara starred in a seemingly unnecessary TV movie of Body and Soul (only 12 years after the John Garfield film) with noted character actors Neville Brand and Martin Balsam. To promote the movie, Gazzara appeared on I've Got a Secret to tell host Garry Moore how he trained for the role. So he brought out two of his supposed sparring partners: Yankees ace Whitey Ford and boxing god Joe Louis. No one much wanted to fight the Brown Bomber, but Gazzara and Ford trade a few punches in a not entirely friendly way. (Also, this photo shows Gazzara getting tips from Jack Dempsey on the movie's set.)

Watch the clip above, if only to see when one the best pitchers in baseball was allowed to box on TV without his employers going apeshit. And then make plans to watch a great Gazzara performance, because there's no way you'll regret it.

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