Meeting The Rock: Norman Giller interview

Paul Zanon
22/04/2018 10:00am

Paul Zanon speaks to author Norman Giller about his new Rocky Marciano book, and his experiences of meeting 'The Rock'...

Rocky Marciano once said, "I don’t want to be remembered as a beaten champion." Finishing his heavyweight professional career as an undefeated 49-0 world heavyweight champion, with 43 knockouts to boot, Marciano remained true to his word. He also firmly engraved his place in boxing history on a number of levels.

But what was the man behind the fierce ring persona like in real life?

I managed to catch up with Norman Giller to talk about his latest book 'The Real Rocky: Dial M For Marciano' (he’s written over 100!), which discusses his encounters with 'The Rock' and helps to shine a torch into a few corners of Marciano's career which have been previously overlooked or forgotten.

Giller firstly recalled his first encounter with the legendary heavyweight. “It was 1962. Here’s what happened. I was working at the Daily Herald, when Reg Gutteridge rang. Reg at the time was not only a boxing commentator but was also the Boxing Correspondent for the London Evening News.

"Reg knew I was a Rocky Marciano nut. He asked, ‘Do you want to meet the great man?’ ‘Are you joking?’ I replied. ‘I’m interviewing him at the British Overseas Broadcasting service in Kingsway in 20 minutes. Be there.'

“Twenty minutes later I turned up at Kingsway and there’s Reg in this tiny studio with this tubby gentleman called Marciano. It was like meeting the Pope. I was almost on my knees. Rocky said at the beginning of the interview, ‘Now Reggie. We can only talk boxing. Nothing but boxing,’ and for the next 15 minutes, it turned out to be exactly that. A beautiful boxing interview.

“Then we went downstairs to have a coffee and suddenly Rocky says, ‘Tell me again Reg, what’s the fee for this?’ Reg spluttered into his coffee. As you may know, Reg only had one leg and had to go all the way upstairs to the accounts department, while I’m there making small talk with Rocky, as this hero-worshipping fan. I was a bit tongue tied in all honesty, but thankfully I got a full interview with him in 1965, which is in my book.

Back to 1962. “Next thing, Reg comes hopping back and said to Rocky, ‘The most we can go to is 20 quid.’ Rocky replied, ‘Yeah. That’s fine. But it’s gotta be in cash.’ Off goes Reg again, hobbles all the way back up to accounts again and comes back down with 20 one-pound notes! He also brought a chip for Rocky to sign. Rocky picked up the 20 one-pound notes, folded them up, put them in his wallet and never signed the chip.

“Rocky always got paid in readies and paid in exactly the same way. He used to hide all his cash in various places and countries, and when he died in the plane crash in 1969, it was rumoured that there was around two million dollars hidden in everywhere from shoe boxes to hollow walls.”

Next are a few observations from Giller about Marciano during his meetings. “His hands were actually very small and he had very short arms. His handshake was not one of those where he was trying to get an advantage, it was just a good firm handshake as he looked you in the eye.

“By the time I’d met him, he’d had a specially tailored jacket to cover his bulk, because he was at least four stone over his fighting weight. The last time I met him in 1965, I’d say he was about 17 stone. He looked like Lou Costello by this time, but I certainly wasn’t going to tell him that!

“And his voice? Softly spoken. [Like] John F. Kennedy, but not as refined. They came from the same state of Massachusetts. Rocky wasn’t what I’d call a cultured man. He’d drop the ‘F-bomb’ in conversation quite regularly, but he was very engaging and much more intelligent than you’d imagine. His knowledge of boxing was incredible. He knew all the fighters and their records.

“I met Rocky four times and on two of the occasions I met with him, he had the actor George Raft with him, who was a well renowned Mafioso. In fact, it was well known that Rocky had a lot of Mafioso friends.”

Back to boxing. Marciano’s best known punch was in the thirteenth round against Jersey Joe Walcott for the world title. Behind on the scorecards, Marciano threw his big right hand; his 'Suzie Q' as he called it, and produced one of the most devastating one-punch knockouts in history.

Giller discussed the possible secret to his detonating success. “He said he’d shaped that punch under water. There was a very wealthy guy in Brockton, where he came from, who took a shine to Rocky very early on in his career and used to let him use his grounds for training, which also included use of his swimming pool.

"Rocky would throw that right hand under water again and again. With the resistance the water provided, that’s where he reckoned he got the power. Personally, I think he had that power anyway.”

One hundred and seven books deep, Giller explained the inspiration behind his latest offering about the 'Brockton Blockbuste'r. “I first tried to write it in 1955, when I was at Boxing News and the editor then, Tim, said, ‘Norman. I think you should leave it to people who have seen him box,’ which put me in my place in a nice way.

"Then I tried to write it in the 60s when I met him and asked his permission. [The response letter from Marciano is available to see in Giller’s book]. In the end, nobody got Rocky to write his book [referring to Marciano’s autobiography]. Everybody was after him as you can imagine. I even tried to see if he’d be interested about a book for European fans and he was half taken by it. The thing is, he didn’t want to give interviews about non-boxing material, because he knew they’d want to probe and ask about the Mafioso connections.”

Giller signed off with a reason why any self-professed Marciano fan will enjoy indulging into this 223 page offering.

“It’s boxing as we know it, in as much as they followed the Queensbury Rules... apart from Rocky. It was a different world back then. The time it took to leave the dressing room and get in the ring, took two minutes. Now it takes 20 minutes. Like Rocky, this book is no frills.”

There’s heaps more anecdotes, facts and stats about arguably one of the best heavyweights of all time in Giller’s offering.

‘The Real Rocky: Dial M for Marciano’ is available direct from www.normangillerbooks.com at the bargain price of £9.99