Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Jack Johnson Remembers

One thing that surprised me when I was putting together the blog post Jack Johnson and the Cartoonists was the discovery that Johnson had paid his respects at Tad’s funeral of 5 May 1929. Dorgan was unusually tolerant for the times; he had two adopted Chinese children named Duck and Spensi. Jack Johnson on the other hand was one of the most hated men in America. When he had a championship bout with a ‘Great White Hope’ the promoters had to frisk the audience at the gate for guns. In 1929 a retired Jack Johnson wrote a newspaper series under the title Jack Johnson’s Own Story. The last column was a tribute to his old friend and mentor Tad Dorgan.

Jack Johnson’s Own Story,

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix,
8 May 1929.

In concluding this series of 18 articles which have given me a great deal of thorough pleasure, the pleasure that any veteran would get from probing his memory and jotting down the reflections that come to the surface, you will pardon me if a tear comes to my eye at the passing of one of the grandest fellow I ever knew, Tad, the one and only T. A. Dorgan.

Day after day, through the earlier installments of this life story, I would call Tad on the phone and ask his advice and opinion as I laboriously constructed my thoughts and whipped them into newspaper shape.

He liked this series immensely because he felt as I felt that the old time fighters were greater than the present day performers. I am sorry that he missed the last articles that I wrote. He asked me to show him all of them at once but I wouldn’t do it. “You read the next one tomorrow.” I’d kid him and he did. I wish now that I had let old Tad go all the way through them.

Tad Dorgan was a great fellow and a loyal, fearless friend. He either liked you or didn’t want any part of you and it was fortunate that he and I always hit it off in fine style. He was the writer who first called me “Li’l Artha.” And he was the one writer who always asked for a fair deal for me. He gave me credit for everything I did and although many men tried to split us apart, Tad always stuck to me. His loyalty was wonderful and I have never forgotten all the nice things he did for me.

Sporting writers of the present school should find a moral in Tad Dorgan’s whole life.

He never had to turn to cutting remarks to make his point. He was gentle-humored and he accomplished more with sugar than any writer has ever accomplished with vinegar. I commend similar loyalty and similar good humor to the youngsters who have taken the typewriters of the men who wrote in my day.

Above all, Tad neither indulged in self-pity or took himself too seriously.

Nationally noted and nationally respected, he was as easy to approach as the youngest writer. The bigger they are the easier they are to approach, and Tad proved this to be a fact.

He wrote stirring stories and made great cartoons of game fighters and yet none of the fighters he pictured was half as game as the gallant fellow who, facing death for ten years, went along calmly, thinking up situations and remarks to make other people laugh.

I had intended to make this last installment a complete review of the old and the new in the ring but “Li’l Artha” does not feel in the mood to do that now. I have lost one of the finest friends I ever had and in the presence of death, Tad’s death, you must excuse me while I go to my scrapbook and thumb the pages which Tad adorned for me.

May the gallant Tad Dorgan find the reward he is entitled to. May he rest in peace!


*See HERE for more on Tad Dorgan, HERE for Johnson's 1910 Fight of the Century.


  1. Tad was one of the only major sports writers of the era who saw that Johnson was the superior boxer before the Fight of the Century. He might have been the only one. Tad also penned an intro to a Johnson autobiography. Does anyone know if either his adopted sons are still alive, or if either of them went on to have children who might still be around?

  2. Hi John, I have been a fan of Tad's work for as long as I can remember now, having learned of him as a teenager way back when. I am blessed with half a dozen of his originals including a Sunday For Better or For Worse from 1924, IIRC it's title. I did not know he was buds with Jack Johnson. Thanks for posting this.

    Robert Beerbohm