The bantamweight boxing champion managed by Jean Cocteau

Panama Al Brown

“When the eminent French poet Jean Cocteau died last October at the age of 74, his obituaries noted that he had followed an astounding number of part-time careers as well—novelist, playwright, choreographer, film director, critic and artist. But Cocteau’s journalistic biographers overlooked the most bizarre of his avocations: he was once the successful manager of a world champion prizefighter.

“The fighter was Alphonse Theo Brown, better known as Panama Al Brown, born in Panama in 1902, a lean, spindly-legged, thin-waisted boxer who won the bantamweight title when he was 26 years old. With a scrupulous exactitude that was rare for him—he was one of the most tireless name-droppers in the history of literature—Cocteau insisted that he was not Brown’s manager in a professional sense, that there was no contract or financial arrangement between them. But, in fact, Cocteau got to know Brown when he was down on his luck, persuaded him to train, selected opponents for him, directed a masterly publicity campaign on Brown’s behalf and guided and goaded Brown back to the championship. Nor is the sporting significance of this feat to be underrated. Unlike America, where the heavyweight class has long dominated public interest-even as it does this very week—Europe has always revered the smaller fighters, from the middleweights down. A flashy Al Brown could be, and was, the talk of Paris.

“No professional manager could have done a better job than Cocteau did with Brown, and probably no one in boxing history ever had less preparation for it…”

—from Robert Cantwell’s introduction to a long excerpt drawn from Monstres Sacres du Ring by Georges Peeters, published in the March 2, 1964 issue of Sports Illustrated. Here are links to both:

The Poet And The Boxer by Robert Cantwell

How Cocteau Managed A Champion by Georges Peeters

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About Jay Babcock

I am an independent writer and editor based in Tucson, Arizona. In 2023: I publish an email newsletter called LANDLINE = Previously: I co-founded and edited Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curated the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was somehow listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. From 2010 to 2021, I lived in rural wilderness in Joshua Tree, Ca.

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