Norman Selby was born to ordinary parents in the ordinary rural township of Moscow, Indiana in October 1872. That, however, was about the last ordinary thing that would happen to this man for the next 67 years.
By nineteen his street fighting had become prize fighting and he began to develop a style never before seen in the ring. At 5”11 and 160lbs he was tall and thin, and so to compensate he devised a style that was both cerebral and often very underhanded.
This contrast is best demonstrated by a series of anecdotes about his fighting career. The first is the tale of his famous corkscrew punch. Perhaps the first ever signature punch in boxing the twisting shot was apparently inspired by a cat pawing at a ball of yarn, he used it to both hurt and cut his foes. His most famous use of this was in 1906 against former sparring partner and bully, Tommy Ryan.
A diagram of McCoy throwing the corkscrew punch
Ryan was a volatile and violent character with a penchant for badly beating up his sparring partners. To earn money the newly monikered ‘Charles Kid McCoy’ (Norman Selby didn’t grab headlines) was often at the end of such beatings. McCoy used his proximity to Ryan, as well as his pale and slender frame, to convince him he was ill, sickly and no threat. When the fight came however, McCoy sought revenge, brutally stopping Ryan in the 15th round, courtesy of his famous corkscrew punch.
His next great victory was for the middleweight title against Dan Creedon. Again playing fast and loose with the rules it is alleged that McCoy wrapped his hands in mounds of friction tape in order to more effectively lacerate his opponent. No wonder Creedon was forced to retire after sixteen rounds.
The final, and most cartoonish, example of McCoy’s in ring skullduggery took place on a tour of Australia and the pacific islands. Still a middleweight, weight 160lbs McCoy took on a 250lbs local man, who insisted on fighting in his traditional bare feet. The moment the fight started McCoy’s corner threw a handful of tacks into the ring causing his opponent to drop his guard and look down. Predictably, McCoy sprang and knocked the man unconscious.
Spurred by his success against bigger opponents he relinquished his middleweight title and began to take on heavyweights. Despite beating contenders Joe Choynski and Peter Maher he fell short in championship bids against Tom Sharkey and Gentleman Jim Corbett. It was during this time that the phrase “The Real McCoy” began to gain traction.
Although there are contrasting factual accounts of where the phrase originated the folkloric explanation remains the most pleasing. The story goes that McCoy was challenged to a bar room brawl by a man who didn’t believe the slight and well dressed McCoy could be a champion boxer. Upon awakening from his inevitable unconsciousness, the man remarked "My God, that was the real McCoy".
The Real McCoy
While most boxers slow in retirement, McCoy’s professional commitments almost seemed to speed up. Throughout the 1910’s McCoy began ingratiating himself with the brightest lights of the new Hollywood motion picture boom. Beginning as a drinking buddy for the likes of cinema icon Charlie Chaplin and acclaimed director D. W. Griffith, by 1924 he had appeared in nine Hollywood films. Most famously he had a staged bout with superstar Wallace Reid in the 1922 smash hit ‘The Worlds Champion’, reliving his most glorious days in the ring.
McCoy (Center) goofs with Charlie Chaplin (left)
Throughout his twin careers of acting and fighting, women were his true vice. McCoy was married a total of ten times, including three times to the same woman. He married and divorced Julia Crosselman three times between 1897 and 1903, a busy six years considering that time included his title bid against Corbett and most of his big heavyweight wins. His eighth wife was fellow film star Dagmar Dahlgren, who was a staple of early 1920’s cinema, but she’ll appear again later.
By 1924 though the picture for McCoy was very different from just two years earlier. The acting rolls had dried up and the social drinking had turned to alcoholism. His money mostly spent he had begun an affair with the wealthy Teresa Mors. Although the two had shared a whirlwind romance it very quickly turned sour as Mors divorce from her husband became increasingly volatile.
On the night of August the 12th this tension boiled over. The couple were at home when Mors told McCoy she was going to reconcile with her husband and leave him. The ensuing argument ended when McCoy shot and killed his mistress with a single gunshot to the head. The next morning, still in the same drunken rage he went to Teresa’s husband, Albert Mors, shop, Mors Antiques, still clutching his .45. When he found Albert wasn’t there he began a frenzied crime spree.
First he took 12 hostages, all of the shop's employees and several unlucky punters. Brandishing his revolver he started issuing increasingly strange demands. First he told all the men, customers and employees, to remove their shoes and pants and empty their pockets. Then he told the store's janitor to put on a jazz record to disguise the sounds of the robbery in case Mors returned.
The spree was cut short when one of his hostages attempted to free himself and escape the shop. McCoy shot and wounded him, when chaos erupted he emptied the chamber and injured two more. He fled out of the store and onto Westlake Park where he was quickly apprehended by police.
His trial would make the nation news as McCoy testified in his own defense claiming Mrs. Mors committed suicide. In an attempt to woo the jury he and his attorney Jerry Geisler reenacted the struggle McCoy claimed he had had with Mrs Mors to prevent the suicide. The prosecution had fewer theatrical flourishes, instead opting to use crime scene evidence, such as the fact that Mors, who was right-handed, had an entrance wound on the left side of her head and seemingly at more than arm’s length distance. After a record 78 hours of jury deliberation a compromise verdict of manslaughter was reached. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
McCoy (Center) outside the court
At 52 years of age it seemed a death sentence, but to die in jail would be far too ordinary a thing to happen to Kid McCoy. Originally posted to a chain gang San Simeon he was moved to San Quentin after he saved a pilot from the burning wreckage of his plane after it crashed nearby. He became well liked at San Quentin as both guards, inmates and the warden talked favourably of him, launching a “Free McCoy” petition.
Signatories included; Four state governors, a dozen members of Congress, numerous city mayors, War hero Douglas MacArthur, Hall of fame boxing promoter Tex Rickard, Oscar winner William Powell and even Vice President of the United States Charles Curtis joined in the cause. After just 8 years, in 1932, McCoy was released.
Although he was jubilant upon his release real life would prove too much for McCoy. He started work at the Ford Motor company and married again, this time to Sue Cobb Cowley, but happiness did not come with it. On the 18th of April 1940, at the Hotel Tuller in Detroit, Michigan, McCoy took his own life.
His suicide note finished with words that seemed to sum up the man more completely than any historian or pundit ever could, it simply said;
“... sorry I could not endure this world's madness.”
The world knew Kid McCoy but in his final
moment, he signed the note ‘Norman Selby’, the man behind the mask.
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