Yupsir, the first ever attempt to film a modern length full feature film was scheduled on a Friday, February 14th, a fight lover’s Valentine Day, 1896, over 121 years ago. The heavyweight title was in dispute after James J Corbett retired in a huff after a Dallas hotel lobby spat with Bob Fitzsimmons, thus the impetus for Thomas Edison’s attempt to film the first full length cinematographic feature in Langtry that Judge Roy Bean helped to put together as the “host” as it were. We could say thus began the love story over all things Langtry, Texas and Judge Roy Bean in Texas lore. You could read all about it here:
The fight was an unadorned, unapologetic, unrelentingly savage beating with percussive punches mixed in the roar of thousands of fans perched on the canyon rim echoing off the walls of the Rio Grande canyon. Never before nor after has such a magnificent natural theatrical backdrop been staged in boxing. Waged pillar to post in the middle of a spit island floating atop the Rio Grande river on one side, the Rio Bravo on the other, the fight could never last but 60 seconds before Fitz popped the cork on the game Peter Maher with a counter right hand.
Modern boxing poseurs, with a few notable exceptions like Manny Pacquiao who is as old school as they come today, they simply can’t compare to the oak twisted hardwood of ol’ timers like Bobby Fitzsimmons and Maher.
So, pray tell us what they did after the one minute knockout? Well, they did what sports from time immemorial have done, they threw the biggest party Langtry has ever seen. With an able assist by Judge Roy Bean who had set up a sort of tarp city with some complaining it was a trapped city, he packed it with local adult refreshments, mystery meat jerky vittles, and plenty of freshly grilled mystery meat offerings, jackrabbit being the most prevalent.
Unfortunately, the making of the fight was a political and logistic nightmare, compounded by the furious action under misting conditions, net result being that either the fight never got recorded before the 60 second KO, or the footage was lost. Yet it may still be possibly existent in someone’s collection of fight or cinema memorabilia, or just in a dusty box in the attic of ol’ grandpa’s meager possessions.
Thankfully a year later in March of 1897, James J Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons put together a fight under ideal filming conditions in Reno, Nevada that did get filmed in its dramatic entirety of the first ever recorded “Phantom” one punch knockout that got all the “boxing experts” of day boiling over in competing theories of the moment.
Such were the days and history of boxing and the US of A with cinematography now completely democratized internationally and as local as the girl next door with a plethora of video enablers like YouTube one example of dozens.