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Champion


Updated 19 January 2006

Publishing History | Summary | Characters | Criticism

 

 


 

 

 

"He went on with Smiley Sayer and stopped him so quick that Smiley thought sure he was poisoned."

"She could talk, too--probably better than the fish."

"The result of this bout was so nearly a foregone conclusion that even the experts had guessed it"

 

 

   
Publishing History Metropolitan 44 (October 1916):  14-16. 62-64. HTWSS, RU.

How to Write Short Stories, 1926.

Round Up: The Stories of Ring Lardner, 1929.

{Portable Lardner, 1946

Best Short Stories, 1959

Haircut and Other Stories, 1961

Ring Lardner Reader, 1963

 

 

   
Summary Setting: Various cities across the United States; Chicago, Milwaukee, New York, New Orleans, etc..

Time: 1910s

Story:  The first quarter of the story sets up Midge's character and takes place before his boxing career begins.  He enters his house and sees his crippled brother with some money (which he received for almost getting hit by a car)..
When his brother refuses to give the money over to him, Midge hits him, knocks him down (his first knockout), and then kicks him in his bad leg for good measure. When his mother asks him about the incident later, he knocks her down as well.

On the way out of town, he tells a friend that he needs to leave because he is always getting picked on at home. His version of the previous incident has the
brother stealing from him, hitting him with his crutch, and his mother coming at him with a chair.  Midge's actions were pure self-defense.

Next, the story finds Midge in Milwaukee, where he has just earned $12 in his first fight--his first official knockout.  After his first fight, he drinks shot after shot and brags how he would and could kill all opponents.  His chief listener at the bar,  Lou Hersh, admires Midge, becomes his meal and booze ticket, and finally introduces him to his sister, Emma.  

Midge's next fight is a fix.  He dickers with the fighter's manager to get $80 to take a fall, and fall he does:  "Midge was stopped in the second round by a terrific slap on the forearm." 

Four months later, Midge decides to move on again because he can't get any good bookings after taking the fall.  On his way out of town, he is stopped by some friends of Emma's mother who demand he stay until he does right by Emma.  Uncharacteristically, Midge doesn't beat up the men.  Instead he stays, marries Emma, and leaves on their wedding night.  Thoughtful Midge, though, gives his new bride the gift of a whack on the head before leaving town on a fright car. 

The story flashes forward two years.  Midge has become a successful boxer under the tutelage of his manager, Tommy Haley.  Haley explains to his brother how he brought the young boxer from rags to riches and how loyal the boxer is to him.  Haley has been deceived by Midge, of course.  He believes that Midge doesn't drink, that Midge's mother is rich, and that Midge was unfairly thrown out of his house.  We soon learn he was also wrong about the loyalty.  

When Midge enters the scene to get money from his manager, he is wearing a "diamond horse-shoe tie pin, his purple cross-striped shirt, his orange shoes and his light blue suit."  Midge is a flamboyant man about town. 

Shortly thereafter, Midge is set to fight in a championship matchup with "The Dutchman" (and is expected to win, since the Dutchman is past his prime). 
Before the fight, Midge gets three letters.  The first, from Emma, still his wife, is a tale of woe, in which she describes the health problems of the baby, and asks only for the money she loaned him. Midge yells that everyone is just after his money.  The second is from his mother: she explains that Connie hasn't been out of bed in years, that his health is bad and that they have no money. She says that Connie wishes him well and that they are both following the bout. She says to send money if he can; but they would be just as happy just to hear from him. Midge sees this as further proof that everyone is out for his money.  The third is from a woman, Grace, who asks for a "couple hundred" to tide her over. She also says that after he is champ he can get rid of Haley. Midge complains about money again, then tells Haley to send her the money.

After winning the championship, Midge goes to vaudeville. In Chicago, Grace tells him it is time to get rid of Haley. He does. Haley cannot believe it. He
blames "the woman." 

Two weeks after deciding not to have a manager anymore, Midge hires Jerome Harris, previously a musical manager. Back in Milwaukee defending his title (in a fight no one reports), Midge and Grace meet Mrs. Harris. Grace doesn't like her; Midge does--a great deal.

Midge is visited after the fight by Lou Hersh. After asking for money for his sister and baby, he is knocked down by Midge, who says to bring that back to his
sister. He says it is Hersh's fault anyway since it was him that set him up with his sister.

After a few weeks of parties and witnessing Midge's obvious attraction to Mrs. Harris, Grace confronts Midge, demanding to get married. He tells her he can't--that he doesn't want to and besides, he is already married. He gives Grace the address of his wife. He says he is leaving town and she needs to stay. He then runs away with his manager's wife.

The last scene takes place three days before a big fight in New York City. A reporter, Joe Morgan comes to get a story. Midge is doing "roadwork," so he gets the "dope" from his new manager, Wallie Adams. The story is told: Midge is a non-violent, tea-totaler, who has a wonderful family in Canada, and a widowed mother in Chicago. His brother is an up and coming fighter himself. Midge is devoted to all of them. He sends money to his mother after every fight, and, in fact, will buy her a new house after this fight.

The story runs and is enjoyed by all--except three readers: Grace, Tommy Haley, and Jerome Harris (who, of course, recognize the lies). His mother and wife don't read it, because they don't know of the paper, and couldn't afford it if they did.  The narrator speculates that an article that told the truth about Midge would have never made the papers anyway.  No one wants to hear bad things about a champ. 

 

 

 

 






Characters Michael "Midge" Kelly:  the champion. 

Connie Kelly: Midge's crippled brother, who despite being frightened of Midge and beaten by him, seems to idolize his more physically able and successful brother. 

Mrs. Ellen/Hellen Kelly: Midge's long-suffering mother; works at Faulkner's Steam Laundry; discovers Connie when he is knocked out by Midge; confronts Midge and is knocked down; later she writes a letter to Midge asking for money, or at least a letter. 

Dr. Ryan: treats Connie after he is knocked out by Midge; tells Mrs. Kelly what happened and that he suspects Midge is at fault.

Mrs. Margaret Dorgan: hears what happened to Connie and goes to the Kelly house to help.  Both he and the doctor are used to show how the common people know the truth about the brutish behavior of Midge.

Happy "Hap" Collins:  talks to Midge after he is first leaving town.  He is the device used to show Midge's distorted version of the truth.

Demon Dempsey: 1st knockout in the ring for Midge in Milwaukee; Midge wins $12 for beating him.

Lou Hersh: Young man in his early 20s; runs into Midge at Duane's bar in Milwaukee after Midge's first fight; buys him shots
and becomes his companion; sets Midge up with his sister, Emma, whom Midge marries (after threats).  After Midge has become successful, Lou visits him, asking for money.

Emma Hersh: sister of Lou Hersh; she marries Midge; is abandoned by Midge on their wedding night (and beaten by him); suffers alone in poverty with Midge's baby; writes him to get back the money he borrowed from her years before.

Doc Hammond: matchmaker at the Star Boxing Club in Milwaukee.  He sets the fixed fight in motion and later explains to Midge that he doesn't have much chance to make it in Milwaukee because of the earlier thrown fight.

Tracy: the second official fight for Midge. Tracy's manager arranges for Midge to throw the fight for $80; after Midge moves from Milwaukee, he beats him three times in legitimate fights.

Tommy Haley: Midge's first manager, who brings him the title.  Haley supports Midge when Midge has no money, and brings him from obscurity to the championship.  He believes Midge is loyal, and, despite the obvious signals to the contrary, believes that Midge has given up drinking as he has ordered. 

Dan Haley: Tommy's brother; discusses Midge with Tommy.  In the story he is simply the vehicle for exposing his brother's naiveté and Midge's deception.

Bud Cross, Smiley Sayer:  boxers.

Jerome Harris: a former musical manager; Midge hires him two weeks after firing his long time manager Tommy Haley; loses his wife to Midge.  

Joe Morgan:  A sports reporter tasked with getting a human interest piece on the champion, Midge Kelly. 

Wallie Adams:  Midge's final manager.  He tells the reporter, Joe Morgan, what a fine person Midge is. 

 

   


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