Name: Fidel LaBarba
Birthplace: Bronx, New York, USA
Died: 1981-10-02 (Age:76)
Hometown: Los Angeles, California, USA
Height: 5′ 3″ / 160cm
Reach: 66″ / 168cm
Boxing Record: click
Manager: George Blake
Fidel LaBarba Gallery
Early Family History
Fidel LaBarba was born September 29, 1905, at 452 Robbins Avenue, the Bronx, New York, to Domenico and Palmina (Cianci) LaBarba. Fidel eventually had four brothers and two sisters: Louis, born 1889; Ted (who would become a boxer, fighting as Ted Frenchie), 1899; Tony, 1902; Joe, 1903; Mary (sometimes spelled "Maria"), 1908; and Anna, 1912 (born in California). He also had five uncles who scattered from Italy to all over the world. According to a January 1927 published interview with Fidel, the only uncle to become "successful" was the one who had gone to South America.
The LaBarba family had come from Abruzzi, Italy. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1910 to be near Fidel's first cousin, Danny Tullio (originally "DiTullio," but changed to "Tullio" at Ellis Island). Danny's parents, Corinto Cianci and Rocco DiTullio, were fruit peddlers in New York. Palmina LaBarba was Corinto's sister. The Tullios had lived next door to the LaBarbas in the Bronx, but moved to Los Angeles. The LaBarbas later followed sometime before 1912, in hopes of finding better job opportunities in California. Domenico worked as a construction laborer and at railroad yards, sometimes up north at Bakersfield, keeping him away from home much of the time. In 1914, Fidel's mother died. Thus, the five boys were left to fend for themselves. The two sisters had been sent to a Los Angeles convent to be raised until they each reached age twelve.
LaBarba became a newspaper boy for the Los Angeles Express. "They would find a corner where the guy wouldn't handle our paper, only the Herald," he said. "Then they would let me out of the truck; the guy was always bigger than me. When a customer walked up, I would rush in with my paper, pushing the other guy back. The pushing match ended with me 'Bingo!' knocking him down. After that, the guy would leave us alone. This went on and on. They gave me $3.00 a week, plus the money I received from the papers."
LaBarba's Start in Boxing
LaBarba began boxing around age 12 or 13 in little amateur cards held weekly at places such as the Elks Club, which were promoted by Carlo Curtiss, who had been one of World Heavyweight Champion Jess Willard's managers. "Sometimes we would have nude women at these events," he said. The first known mention of "Young Fidel" is September 18, 1920, by the Los Angeles Times, announcing a boxing/wrestling show at the Italian picnic the next day at Selig Zoo. Eventually, Central Junior High School boxing instructor Bob Howard saw his potential. According to an interview published January 28, 1927 in some United States newspapers, LaBarba mentioned that he defeated a boy named Dave Mariney (a.k.a. Marini) for the high school championship. Based upon this win, his friends suggested he join the amateurs, which he did. By this, he likely meant he joined the A.A.U. LaBarba found it ironic that his first "official" amateur opponent was none other than Dave Mariney. This was at a semi-monthly boxing show sponsored by the Los Angeles Athletic Club (L.A.A.C). "It looked like a crime to match the two," reported the Los Angeles Times November 4, 1920. LaBarba was about four feet tall, and his opponent a foot and a half taller. "But Barba [sic] soon showed he knew how to take care of himself."
George Blake reportedly was the referee at that fight. He and Charles Keppen ran these L.A.A.C. shows. Blake had come to Los Angeles from Chicago in 1904. He had been a United States Army boxing instructor during World War I. By the early 1920s Blake was a well-known referee for boxing venues such as Jack Doyle's Vernon Arena, and would become the regular referee at the soon-to-be-built Hollywood Legion Stadium. He was much-respected, and known as a man of impeccable character. Blake took an interest in the young and talented Fidel LaBarba, and asked Bob Howard to have him come down to the club. " I was asked four or five times, but was embarrassed to go," LaBarba explained. He owned only one pair of torn tennis shoes. He finally mustered the fortitude to go see Blake; thus started a very long relationship. LaBarba continued to have many amateur bouts. "We would receive a gift worth $35.00," he noted. "Later, they would give us a gift certificate to buy clothes at places like the Broadway, or Sears."
Meanwhile, LaBarba attended Central Jr. High School, and then Lincoln High School--both in Los Angeles. He enjoyed playing basketball, baseball, and especially football. He was the quarterback for the "lightweight" (midget) football team. While in high school, he sometimes worked nights until midnight, racking pins at a bowling alley, then sleeping on a cot in back of the building. In the morning he would grab a bite to eat at the local restaurant, then head off to school about a mile away.
By 1924 LaBarba had lost only one bout after some 30-plus recorded contests. George Blake took eight of his L.A.A.C. boxers to Boston June 1924 for the Olympic trials, and LaBarba qualified. The young flyweight boxer won the Olympic Gold Medal in Paris that July. After the Games, Blake arranged an amateur card at Doyle's Vernon Arena with all the American Olympic fighters, at which LaBarba finished out his amateur career.
Professional Boxing Highlights
Fidel LaBarba turned pro later in 1924 while still attending high school. In only his third pro bout, LaBarba dropped a close decision to future hall of famer Jimmy McLarnin, whom he would face twice more, earning a draw and dropping a 10 round decision. Later, in 1925, LaBarba won the American Flyweight Title with a dominating decision over Frankie Genaro. Two years later, LaBarba claimed the World Flyweight Title, which had been vacant with the death of Pancho Villa in 1925, by a decision over Elky Clark.
The following year LaBarba retired as champion, never having defended his title, to attend Stanford University. Returning a year later as a bantamweight, LaBarba was back in great form. He would split two decisions with Kid Chocolate before moving up to featherweight to challenge champion Battling Battalino. In a close, tough bout, Battalino took a hard fought decision over 15 rounds.
While in training to meet Chocolate for the New York State Featherweight Title, LaBarba seriously injured his eye but fought Chocolate anyway, losing a close decision, despite his obscured vision. La Barba retired from boxing in 1927 to enter Stanford University. By that time, he said he had made $400,000. He saw most of it slip through his fingers in the stock market crash and subsequent years of the Depresssion. He returned to the ring in 1928 and fought through 1933.
LaBarba pursued a career as a professional writer. He had begun to write articles for various magazines, such as Colliers magazine, even before he quit boxing. By the late 1930s, he was working for the 20th Century Fox motion picture company, directly under studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck, whom he had met while playing polo near the studios. While at 20th Century Fox Studios, LaBarba co-wrote the 1939 movie Susannah of the Mounties, starring Shirley Temple, and 1942's Footlight Serenade, with Victor Mature and Betty Grable. (The story loosely paralleled his life.) LaBarba took a break from this work to serve as a Staff Sergeant in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. He met Luisa in Naples, Italy, in 1944. She became his third wife in 1945. (He first married in March 1928, to Marian De Beck--the ex-wife of noted cartoonist William De Beck, who is credited with coining the American slang terms "heebie-jeebies" and "hotsy-totsy." She later married actor Charles Ruggles. The LaBarbas divorced after two years. According to the Nov. 23, 1937 Tacoma News Tribune, a Ms. Betty Lou LaBarba had filed for divorce; they had married in 1935.) A daughter, Vicki Marie, was born in late 1945 to Fidel and Luisa. Their son, F. John, was born 1953 in Santa Monica, California. LaBarba returned to work for 20th Century Fox until around 1949. From 1949 to 1960 he was a sports writer for the Santa Monica Outlook.
LaBarba worked various jobs after 1960, including a position with the California State Athletic Commission as an inspector--weighing in amateur boxers and wrestlers at the Olympic Auditorium, for example. He retired from the Athletic Commission after suffering a heart attack in 1966.
LaBarba died of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles October 2 (not the 3rd, as is often recorded), 1981, and is buried in Plot 4 0 1607 of the National Veterans Cemetery in Riverside, California, where his wife Luisa, who passed on Dec. 29, 1998, also rests. La Barba was survived by his son Fidel Jr.; daughter Victoria and a sister.
Amateur Boxing Record
- Sep 19, 1920: Battling Bennie @ Selig Zoo, Los Angeles, CA Scheduled: Result not reported
- Nov 4, 1920: Dave Mariney @ L.A.A.C , Los Angeles, CA W-3
- Dec 17, 1920: Trifa Distarse @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA KO-3
- Jan 20, 1921: James Piela @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA W-3
- Jul 13, 1921: Fred Kremis @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA Scheduled: No results published
- Jul 28, 1921: Fred Kremis @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA Scheduled (no results)
- Sep 29, 1921: Benny Marks @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA W-3
- Oct 20, 1921: Benny Marks @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA W-3
- Nov 21, 1921: Benny Marks @ Hollywood Legion Pavilion, CA D-4
- Nov 29, 1921: Benny Marks @ Foresters Hall, Los Angeles, CA W-3
- Jan 19, 1922: Joe (James?) Piela @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA W-3
- Jan 26, 1922: Young Joe Rivers @ Doyle's Arena, Vernon, CA W-3
- Feb 9, 1922: Benny Marks @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA W-3
- Mar 9, 1922: Al Pimenthal @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA TKO-2
- Apr 27, 1922: Mike Marijo @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA W-3
- May 25, 1922: Rudy Ricco @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA TKO-1
- Jul 19, 1922: Mike Marijo @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA W-3 (Southern California Amateur Tournament Preliminary -- George Blake, Organizer)
- Jul 20, 1922: Benny Marks @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA W-3 (Southern California Amateur 112-pound Championship)
- Aug 26, 1922: Young Joe Rivers @ Doyle's Pavilion, Vernon CA W-3
- Sep 14, 1922: Mike Avita @ L.A.A.C., Los Angeles, CA KO-3
- Oct 7, 1922: Joe Lizer @ Newsboys Club, Los Angeles, CA Scheduled
- Oct 25, 1922: Joe Cooper @ Newsboys Club, Los Angeles, CA W-3
- Nov 9, 1922: Johnny Conroy @ L.A.A.C., Los Angeles, CA TKO-2
- Jan 11, 1923: Rudy Ricco ("Reco") @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA W-3
- Mar 8, 1923: Johnny Conroy @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA KO-3 (Southern California Amateur 112-pound Championship)
- April 9, 1923: Samuel Williams @ Boston, MA W-3
- April 9, 1923: Harry Brown @ Boston, MA W-3
- April 10?, 1923: Joseph A. Lazurus @ Boston, MA L-3 (National AAU Tournament, per the Los Angeles Times, Oct. 2, 1924.)
- May 23, 1923: Sailor Reyes @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA KO-2 (Semi-final for Pacific Coast Amateur Flyweight Championship)
- May 24, 1923: John Conroy? @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA W-3? (Wins Pacific Coast Amateur Flyweight Championship.)
- Sep 6, 1923: Henry Garcia @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA KO-1
- Sep 20, 1923: Sailor Rosenbaum @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA Canceled (Bout called off when Rosenbaum, champion of the U. S. S. Nevada, could not get shore leave.)
- Nov 8, 1923: Sailor Mullens @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA KO-2
- Nov 29, 1923: Mike Salvint @ Newsboys Club, Los Angeles Scheduled (For the Newsboy 112-pound Championship)
- Dec 6, 1923: Sailor Navarro @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA TKO-1
- Dec 13, 1923: Buddy Riggs @ Newsboys Club, Los Angeles, CA Canceled (LaBarba refused to fight when Riggs could not produce an A.A.U card. LaBarba did not want to jeopardize his amateur status.)
- Jan 10, 1924: Cecil Taylor @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA TKO-3
- Feb 7, 1924: Maurice Jafe ("Jaffe"?) @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA KO-1
- April 3, 1924: August Gotto @ L.A.A.C, Los Angeles, CA W-3
- May 8, 1924: Harry Paza @ Doyle's Coliseum, Vernon, CA KO-1 (Southern California Olympic Try-outs)
- May 19, 1924: William G. Randeo @ Boston, MA W-3 (National AAU Flyweight Tournament and Olympic Trials; LaBarba-Randeo opened the tournament.)
- May 20, 1924: Petey Sarron @ Boston, MA W-3 (National AAU Flyweight Semi-final & Olympic Trials; LaBarba's opponent incorrectly reported as ?Phil Goldstein" by the Los Angeles Times. Source here: The New York Times.)
- May 21, 1924: Ray Fee @ Boston, MA TKO-3 (Referee stopped bout.)(National AAU Flyweight Championship; LaBarba qualifies for American Olympic Boxing Team)
- Jul 15, 1924: Ernest Warwick (England) @ Velodrome d'Hiver, Paris, France W-3 (First Round)
- Jul 16, 1924: Gaetano Lanzi (Italy) @ Velodrome d'Hiver, Paris, France TKO-2 (Second Round)
- Jul 18, 1924: Stephen Rennie (Canada) @ Velodrome d'Hiver, Paris, France W-3 (Quarter-Final Round)
- Jul 19?, 1924: Rinaldo Castellenghi @ Velodrome d'Hiver, Paris, France W-3 (Semi-Final Round)
- Jul 20, 1924: James McKenzie (G.B.) @ Velodrome d'Hiver, Paris, France W-3 (Final: Wins Olympic Flyweight Championship -- Gold Medal)
- Sep 18, 1924: Pat Pringle @ Doyles's Coliseum, Vernon, CA KO-1 (Final amateur bout. The Pat Pringle bout is almost universally but incorrectly recorded as LaBarba's professional debut. It was not. The Frankie Grandetta bout was his first.)
Source for all bouts: The Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle & The New York Times.
Virtually all of the above biography (from information provided by LaBarba's son, F. John LaBarba), and all of LaBarba's amateur record, is courtesy of Ric Kilmer: Member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO) and BoxRec Editor, from his article in IBRO Journal Issue No. 78, pp. 71-81 (June 22, 2003)(with updated edits).