Several years back I was a dedicated MTA bus rider. I spent countless hours wandering back and forth from Silverlake to my job in Century City where, believe it or not, I worked for a law firm. One afternoon I was sitting in the back staring out into space when someone leaned over past me and tapped the knee of an older man sitting next to me. Hey, this guy told the old man, you’re Art Aragon. Sure enough sitting next to me was none other then LA’s original "Golden Boy,” the legendary and flamboyant Hall of Fame Boxer. This past week Art Aragon died at the age of 80 from the effects of a stroke. And though he never won the world title he was one of boxing’s biggest draws during the 40’s and 50’s.
Born in Belen, New Mexico in 1927, Aragon grew up in East Los Angeles and began boxing in 1942. His first professional fight was in May 1944, against Frenchy Rene at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. He ended his career with a 90-20-6 record, including 61 wins by knockout. He fought many of the stars of the era like Tommy Campbell, Jesse Flores, Carmen Basilio, Don Jordan, Billy Graham, Chuck Davey and Chico Vejarand. Sadly, Aragon had only one title shot in his career, losing to lightweight champion James Carter in November 1951. Aragon, who often struggled to make his weight class, said afterward that he was weak from having to lose seven pounds in the few days before the bout.
Though he was never a world champ, in 1990 Aragon was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame. And while he had a great fight career, it was marred by allegations that he fixed a few of his fights. In February 1957, Aragon was convicted of offering a $500 bribe to welterweight Dick Goldstein to take a dive in their scheduled San Antonio bout the previous December. The fight was called off at the last moment when Aragon became ill. Eventually though, the conviction was overturned on appeal.
He was married four times and was romantically linked to Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Mamie Van Doren and other Hollywood starlets, Aragon reveled in the glamorous Hollywood scene. Sportswriter Jim Murray, writing for Sports Illustrated on Aragon’s fight with Carmen Basilio, wrote: “When he met Basilio at the weighing in, Carmen asked him idly how things were going. ‘Not so good,’ groaned Art. ‘Both my wife and my girlfriend are here.’ ”
After retiring from the ring in 1960, Aragon was a bail bondsman in Los Angeles. He also acted in a handful of Hollywood films, including Off Limits, a comedy starring Bob Hope; To Hell and Back, the true story of the World War II hero Audie Murphy; and Fat City, a film directed by John Huston, in which Aragon played a punch drunk trainer.
At the turn of the last century people used to proudly say “shake the hand which shook the hand of The Great John L. Sullivan”; well, I’m from L.A, and I shook the hand of Art Aragon!