Monday, April 25, 2016
Dulled by clichés, haunted by hacks, and compelled by debts, the first autobiography of legendary boxer Joe Louis, My Life Story, would seem to deserve its obscurity. Published in 1947 when the aging champ faced a waning career and mounting bills, My Life Story might be dismissed as a facile attempt to exploit his fame in order to raise sorely needed cash. Louis also received "editorial aid" from Chester Washington and Haskell Cohen, two sportswriters whose involvement might cast the value of the boxer's official story into doubt, insofar as they compromise the authenticity of the narrative. Moreover, the book resulting from this collaboration hews closely to the banal conventions of celebrity autobiography, portraying Louis as ordinary and modest, hardworking but lucky. This up-by-the-jockstrap tale of the boxer's rise from poverty to prominence disappointed reviewers in both the mainstream [white] and black press who expected something "that would reveal a little more of the man" (Dulles 36). One reviewer grumbled, "there is hardly a passage that couldn't have been written by a well-informed sports writer assigned to ghost the story of Joe Louis" (My Life Story 99); another complained that My Life Story neglected the boxer's "early years—a portion of Joe's life which might make fresh and interesting reading" (Fay B14); another regretted that the book "falls short of giving an adequate picture of the man who did this fighting" (Martin 15); and yet another panned the book as "trite and unrevealing to the point of inanity" (Lardner 235).