THE GOLDEN BOY REVISITED : Once Upon a Time, Art Aragon Was King of L.A.; He Really Misses Those Days

Share via
Times Staff Writer

The Golden Boy, at 60:

Art Aragon is at his desk in his Van Nuys bail bond office, the one next to the tattoo shop. Through sunglasses in the dark office, he stares through the window at passers-by on Victory Boulevard.

The phone rings.

“HelloAragon,” he mumbles.

He listens briefly, then mumbles again, “Sorry, no collect calls,” and abruptly hangs up.

A visitor asks who it was.

“Some guy in jail,” he says. “He’ll call back.”

Seconds later, the caller is back on the line--his nickel.


“What’re you in for, Danny?

“Possession of a controlled substance, huh?

“What’s your booking number, Danny?

“How old are you?

“What’s your address, Danny?

“That sounds like a trailer park. It is? That’s bad, Danny. You could haul that trailer out of there one night and disappear on me and I’d get awful mad.

“You got a job, Danny?

“A roofer? How about this Danny: I get you outta jail, you fix my roof. How’s that sound?

“OK, Danny, I need $260 from someone who knows you well and who owns property. How about your girlfriend? OK, how about your boyfriend? Your Mom? That’s great, Danny. What’s her phone number? OK, stay by that phone. I’ll call you right back.”


He dials.

“Hello, Mrs. . . . ? This is Art Aragon calling. Did you know your son is in . . . You know me? From where? Jerry’s Bar? Oh, yeah. From years ago. Sure I remember you. Real sexy, right? Yeah, I remember you. Hey, Mama, you were so beautiful in those days you were dangerous. They shoulda put you in jail years ago, Mama.

“Hey, I’m a bail bondsman now. Your son’s in jail. You want me to get him out or what? You don’t? OK, suit yourself.”

But the woman decides that she does want to bail her son out, and makes an appointment with Aragon.

The visitor asks Aragon if the woman really was beautiful.

“Yeah, she was,” he says. “Hey, in those days, I didn’t drink with bums, pal.”

Aragon breaks into a wide grin.

And you know that, behind the sunglasses, he has winked.

Always, the mouth. He was the fighter they loved to hate. Arrogant Art, they called him. They booed when he won. They booed when he lost.

Recently, he was asked what he missed most from the 1950s, when he was the owner of Los Angeles.

“Nothin’!” he retorted, almost snarling.

“I hated it! Boxing’s a horrible sport. Getting whacked in the head, managers and promoters stealing my money, all that road work, tryin’ to make weight . . . Whaddya mean, what do I miss?


“Let me tell you something--I got brain damage from boxing, you know that?

“Well, OK, I do miss one thing.

“The broads.

“And I miss the boos, too. Walking into the ring at the Olympic, 10,000 people there, wearing that gold robe, hearing all those boos, yeah I miss that. You ever get booed by 10,000 people? It’s exciting.

“I liked it even better when I beat the . . . out of some guy the crowd loved and then I’d look out at ‘em, give ‘em a big smile, and the boos would be even louder. I loved that.”

Art, about brain damage . . .

“Well, sometimes I slur my words, right? I didn’t used to sound like this. I’ve been to doctors. Like I say, boxing is a horrible sport. People like Don King and Burt Sugar make lots of money and there’re all these fighters out there whacking each other in the head.

“Let me tell you something, I did more damage to myself my last two years in boxing than I did in the previous 14 years combined. The fighter is always the last guy to figure out when it’s time to quit.”

In his 60th year, the Golden Boy wins a paternity suit.

In court, Aragon’s attorney has a doctor on the stand, who says to the judge: “Your honor, it is not possible for Mr. Aragon to have been the father of this woman’s child.”

Aragon stands up and says: “Your honor, I want a second opinion.”

The Golden Boy. In the 1950s, before the Dodgers arrived, Art Aragon was the king of Los Angeles.


Take a look at the pictures on the walls at Golden Boy Bail Bonds. Hey, isn’t that . . . ? You bet it is. It’s Marilyn Monroe and the Golden Boy. And is that . . . ? Yep. Jayne Mansfield and Art. And there he is with Mamie Van Doren. And there’s Bob Hope, Joe Louis . . . Between 1950 and 1953, Aragon fought 23 times at the Olympic Auditorium and his bouts drew $626,442. No one knows how many times his fights sold out the old arena, but he’s the acknowledged record-holder.

He fought for his biggest purse against Carmen Basilio in 1958, at old Wrigley Field. Aragon earned $104,000--and took the worst beating anyone at ringside that night had ever seen. “When I started fighting in 1944, I was broke,” Aragon said. “When I fought Basilio, I made $104,000 and owed my ex-wives $200,000. What sense does that make?

“Hey, in the 1950s, I owned this town. Ask anyone who was around then. And then those . . . Dodgers came to town. I had to start booking my fights around Dodger games. I hate ‘em. When I get up in the morning and see they’ve lost, it makes my whole day.”

Aragon was born in Belen, N. M., on his parents’ humble cattle ranch, in 1927. He was the 6th of 13 children. When Papa Aragon realized he had more kids than steers, 2-year-old Art was packed off to an aunt in Albuquerque.

He wound up in East Los Angeles, and was a 1946 graduate of Roosevelt High School. But he’d already been boxing as a professional, under an assumed name, since 1944.

“My heroes then were Boston Blackie and Tyrone Power, so I fought under Blackie Powers,” Aragon said.


“In high school, I worked at the Knudsen creamery. I got in a fight one day there, and the boss wouldn’t stop it. He liked the way I was whackin’ this guy. So I became a fighter, and the boss, Lee Boren, became my manager.

“For six months, I was in his back yard and he taught me how to throw left hooks, jabs, stuff like that.

“I had 13 amateur fights, then I turned pro. But turning pro then, it’s not what it’s like today. Today, you can turn pro and get a title fight before you’ve had 10 fights. In those days, there must’ve been 10,000 fighters in L.A.

“I mean, L.A. was a real fight town. There were fights every night, someplace. Monday was Ocean Park in Santa Monica. The Valley Garden Arena in North Hollywood was Tuesday. The Pasadena Arena was Wednesday. The Olympic was Thursday. Friday was Hollywood Legion Stadium . . .

“I fought 4-rounders for two years. I used to get paid $27 for 4-rounders. Here’s how it was: You had 12 or 15 prelim fights and had to show you were ready for semi-mains, or 6-rounders.

“My God, to get a main event, you had to be really good. You had to win all your semi-mains. I didn’t get a main event until 1948.

“Eventually, I got up to $10,000 for just about anytime I wanted to fight. And the more I made, the broker I got. I’d get $10,000, see, then two months later I’d be broke again and I’d need another fight.


“Hey, I kid myself a lot about my career. And I’m not sayin’ I was great. But I must’ve been pretty good, right?”

There probably has never been another Los Angeles sports figure who could fill up newspaper library envelopes or photo files the way Arthur Anthony Aragon did.

The photo file: There’s Art, leaving a courtroom with one of his former wives. There’s Art, in a denim jacket with “L.A. CO. JAIL” stenciled on the breast. There’s Art, emerging from a police booking office the morning after a drunken brawl. There are almost as many pictures of Aragon with lawyers as there are boxing pictures.

And the clipping file:

“Wife Sues Aragon Names 15 Women”

Said Aragon: “My first wife named 15 women. My second wife divorced me and named 9 women. My third wife divorced me and named 2 guys.”

“Aragon, Salas in Wild Cafe Brawl”

That 1951 clipping reports that Aragon and Lauro Salas, a prominent lightweight at the time, had engaged in an epic fistfight at a Sunset Boulevard Mexican restaurant. Witness accounts had the brawl lasting from 15 to 45 minutes.

“I was in a bad mood,” Aragon said in recalling it. “It was New Year’s Eve, and I walked into this joint by myself, if you can imagine that. To begin with, I didn’t like Salas. He was ugly. And the first guy I see is Salas, with a big grin on that ugly puss of his, with two of the most gorgeous women I ever saw.

“Right away, I’m hot. I wise-cracked him, called him ugly or something. I take off my jacket so I can really pop him one and the . . . waits until my arms are hung up in my sleeves, then he starts whacking me on my head. When I finally got my coat off, I beat him up good.”


Later, the two met in the ring, and it was billed as the cafe rematch. Aragon won.

“Aragon Wins Dismissal of Fight-Fix Charges”

Aragon, in 1957, was charged with trying to fix a fight against an opponent named Dick Goldstein. After a trial, he was sentenced to five years in prison. Later, on appeal, the sentenced was overturned and all charges dismissed.

Aragon’s explanation: “I signed for a fight in San Antonio with Goldstein for $3,000. I said to him: ‘Now listen, if I knock you down, don’t be an . . . and get up.’ He took that as a bribe attempt.

“The next thing I know, he’s testifying at a (boxing) commission meeting, and I’m in court. I did nothing wrong, and it cost me thousands to get out of trouble.”

“Aragon Calls Cohen ‘Bum’ ”

Mickey Cohen was a Los Angeles gambler, thought by many to have mob connections. He went to the fights a lot, and liked being photographed with boxers. Including Aragon.

“I’m in court for something in downtown L.A. and Cohen’s in court the same day,” Aragon said. “Cohen was always hanging around me and he made me nervous. I was afraid of him.

“So some newspaper photographer wants me to pose with Cohen, and I told him I didn’t want him photographing me with that bum. He scared me to death.


“So the next day, there’s that headline. I nearly died. Cohen sees me the next day in the courthouse hallway and whispers to me: ‘You bastard, in the old days I’da cut your heart out.’ ”

Even at the end, at his last fight, when he was beaten badly by Alvaro Gutierrez at the Olympic one night in 1960, Aragon sent everyone home laughing.

As Aragon lay bleeding on his dressing room table, surrounded by trainers and sportswriters, a sheriff’s deputy came in and dropped a summons on Aragon’s chest.

Aragon lifted his head, looked at the blue document, and dropped his head back.

“That’s Art Aragon, for you,” he said. “One hundred and 15 fights and 116 summons.”


“What’re you in for, Mama?

“Prostitution? I’m sorry, Mama, I don’t issue bonds to prostitutes. Let me give you a number of a guy to call . . . “

Art, how is it you don’t bail out prostitutes?

“I don’t bail out prostitutes or bad-check artists,” he says. “People like that have no addresses. They don’t own anything. They live in their cars. They’re on the run all the time. They’re runners.

“Prostitutes have cost me a lot of money. I got a soft heart.

“One time a prostitute jumped bail on me, and I had to go look for her. I found her in some crummy apartment. She had a baby, and no money. Not a dime. She’d already cost me $500, see. So she starts crying. She tells me her story, then I start crying. So I gave her 50 bucks and left.


“Soft-hearted, right?”

Art, who are the best risks?

“Bookmakers and narcotics peddlers,” he says.

“Bail for a bookmaker is the cheapest in town. See, a bookmaker has to be out by the next race. I’ll get a bookmaker out on his wink--or for a good tip on a horse.

“Narcotics guys, they need to get out immediately . For narcotics pushers, time is money. They need that time on the streets. And if he runs, you just go find the addicts. They always know where their source is.”

Art, back in the ‘50s, where did you hang out?

“A place called La Zamba, a little strip joint at Seventh and Alvarado. It was a great place. They had a little stripper there who, I swear, was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

“Her name was Lotus Wing. She was a Mexican girl, but looked Chinese.

“One night, I did a dumb thing. I took my wife, Georgia. The lady who owned the place was named Betty. So I introduce her to Georgia, and Betty says: ‘Oh, but didn’t I just meet you last night here?’ ”

What about Art Aragon, the fighter?

“I was a ‘tweener,’ when I fought. I was too big to be a lightweight and too small for welterweight. They didn’t have all those junior divisions then. Today, I’d have been a junior welterweight, instead of a junior schmuck.

“Making weight was murder. I hated that more than anything. For my second fight with Jimmy Carter, I had to make 135. I was the first fighter in the history of the sport who had to be carried into the ring.”

Aragon, in a 1951 upset, beat Carter, the lightweight champion, in a non-title bout at 142 pounds. But in a rematch for the title, at 135, Aragon ran out of gas and lost a decision.


The Golden Boy’s reign in Los Angeles came to an end the night Carmen Basilio came to town, Sept. 5, 1958.

The headline said it all:

“Basilio KO Finishes Aragon as Big-Timer”

“In the corner, after the seventh round, my manager says to me: ‘Art, if you don’t start punching back, I’m going to stop it in the next round.’ I said: ‘Why wait?’ ”

That fight drew 22,500 who paid $236,000, a Los Angeles boxing record at the time. The former record had been set at Wrigley Field three weeks earlier, when Floyd Patterson beat Roy Harris in a heavyweight title fight.

Reporters covering the Basilio-Aragon fight described Aragon’s handlers carrying his battered body to the dressing room, and carefully laying him on the trainer’s table.

“Oh, I think I’m gonna be sick,” Aragon moaned.

Then, seeing sportswriters in the room, he said: “Hey, can one of you guys get me a beer? I haven’t had a beer in three weeks.”

Despite the beating, the interview was on.

Reporter: Art, do you want a rematch with Basilio?

Aragon: Sure, if they let me use a gun.

Reporter: Art, what did you say to the referee when he stopped it?

Aragon: I said: ‘How come you’re stopping it? I got a no-hitter going.’

The other day, in his office, Aragon remembered Basilio.

“I ran into Basilio about 10 years ago and I said, ‘Hey, you’re a good guy but, damn it, you gave me brain damage.’ ”


“Basilio said: ‘Whaddya talking about, Aragon. You never had a brain to begin with.’ ”

A year after the Basilio fight, when Aragon finally retired, Sid Ziff, sports editor and columnist for the old Mirror News, asked Aragon about his plans.

“I’m going to open a big liquor store, play lots of golf, insure myself for plenty, and get held up twice a year,” he said.

Of Ziff, Aragon said: “Poor old Sid. You know how dumb he was? He thought I was a great fighter.”

In 1953, Elmer Beltz was a marvelous young prospect, a flashy welterweight with a knockout punch. After he had scored six straight knockouts, his handlers decided to throw him in with the Golden Boy.

By 1953, almost everyone hated the Golden Boy. This would be the end of Arrogant Art, many predicted. Our guy Elmer, he’ll wipe that sneer off his face.

A few days before the fight, Aragon predicted that he would knock out Beltz with one punch in the first round.



Fifty seconds, into Round 1, Aragon hit Beltz on the chin with a right hand and knocked him out.


When Jimmy Lennon raised Aragon’s hand, Aragon waved at the angry Beltz fans, and sneered.


Aragon said in the locker room: “I’d feel sorry for Beltz, except for one thing. There was money at stake.”


Said Beltz’s manager, Bill Gale: “The thing that really gripes me so much is that the . . . did just what he said he would.”


Aragon, on being an old fighter:

“My last fight (Jan. 21, 1960, at the Olympic) was against Alvaro Gutierrez. My legs were so far gone I was useless.

“In the first round, I gave Gutierrez my best shot, a right hand right on the chin, and I went down. He beat the hell out of me that night.

“Thank God the referee stopped it in the ninth, because I might have been killed in the 10th. You know, I was dizzy for a year after that fight.”

At Golden Boy Bail Bonds, a nervous, distraught woman--not the same woman who knew Aragon when--arrives to bail out her son.


“Sit down, honey,” Aragon says. He pulls out a tablet of bond forms.

“I’ve got some serious questions here. What is your name?”

He writes the woman’s name on the top line, then sets his pen down. He locks his fingers, stares solemnly at the woman and says: “How long have you been a member of the Communist party?”

Thunderstruck, the woman is speechless. Then Aragon grins and she begins to break up.

Aragon says: “Just try to relax, honey. All we’re doing here is getting your boy out of jail. No big deal.”

Unpopularity can be lucrative.

Art, how come folks hated you so much?

“Because I beat Enrique Bolanos, on my way up,” he said.

“Bolanos was an idol to the Mexican community in Los Angeles. He was a really good fighter, too, and he was an idol of mine when I was coming up. But I beat him bad twice, and they didn’t like that.

“I didn’t like it much, either. But then I started noticing that the more people hated me, the more they’d pay top dollar to come boo me.”

Aragon’s record stretches over three columns in the Ring record book. Between 1944 and 1960, he had 115 fights (one was later changed to no decision). He won 97 of them.

In 1951, he fought somebody named El Conscripto.

Art, who was El Conscripto?

“He was some bum from Tijuana somebody dug up, gave him a fancy name. He was supposed to be the champion of some island in the South Pacific. He was just a bum. I knocked him out.


“See, in those days, the idea was to build up the Golden Boy. Make the Golden Boy look good.”

Aragon is going through a divorce, his third. Billie Dallum, who owns Aragon’s answering service, was divorced two years ago. They’ll be married when Aragon’s divorce is final.

Billie, how did you meet Art?

“My business is a block away from Art’s,” she says.

“He signed up for the service and I sent him a notice, telling him that I required the first month’s charge in advance.

“Art is not the greatest bookkeeper. He didn’t send a check. A month later, I sent him a notice that said payment had to be received in one week or the service would be shut off. A week went by, and I shut him off.

“He called me up and yelled at me over the phone, called me terrible names. I didn’t know him at all, and of course I thought he was a horrible man.

“Every time I drove by his office and he saw me, I’d stick my tongue out at him.

“I bought out another answering service, and I was studying the roster of clients and right at the top was Aragon, Art. I sent him a notice saying I would not provide him with service.


“Out of the blue, he walks right into my office one day, sits down and says to me: ‘All right, is it money you want or my body?’

“Well, I nearly fell out of my chair. Then he said he wouldn’t pay his bill unless I had coffee with him. We became great friends immediately. He’s such a funny man, you can’t help but like him.”

Aragon starts talking about the memories, and his eyes glisten.

“You know, what I remember even more than my fights and all the boos when I fought, was the nights I’d go to the Olympic with some broad, just to watch a fight.

“Remember, in those days, I owned this town. It was just me and the Rams then. And all I had to do was just walk down the aisle to my seat. Right away, the boos would start coming down from the balcony.

“By the time I’d reach my seat, they’d have to stop the fight until everyone settled down. The entire crowd would be on its feet, booing.

“I loved it. I do miss that.”