Mad Men Episode, David Remnick on Ali and Liston

David Remnick's book gives the backstory on the first Ali-LIston fight.

Last night’s Mad Men episode marked the season’s halfway point, and it was a doozy.

Several of the recaps have focused on the show’s drunkenness, the fight between Don Draper and Duck Phillips that evoked Tony Soprano’s conflict with Bobby Bacala, and Don’s learning that Anna, the one person who loved him for himself, had died of cancer.

The show also included the 1965 heavyweight championship rematch between the former Cassius Clay, who by then had changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and the bruising, brooding Charles “Sonny” Liston.  Lasting barely a couple of minutes, the fight led to one of the most famous images in sports history and Liston on the ground after being struck by what many called a “phantom punch.”

Yesterday's Mad Men episode included a radio account of this fight.

New Yorker editor David Remnick wrote King of the World about the first fight between the two pugilists, before Ali had changed his name.  Then a brash upstart, the book opens with Ali, according to Remnick, feeling fear in the ring for the last time of his life.

Ali has been one of the most chronicled people of the past half-century-there has been a seemingly endless stream of movies, biographies and picture books about the man-yet Remnick brings the early part of his career to life, showing the young Clay in his brash, brilliant and yet somehow underrated phase before he had become champion, converted to Islam and given up his title for his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War.

The Mad Men episode ends with Phillips having beaten Draper, Don and Peggy having forged a deeper understanding, Don having weathered the new of Anna’s death and Liston prone on the canvas for so long that Jersey Joe Walcott called the bout.   Remnick’s book will take longer to absorb than either the fight or the show, and is worth the time.


2 responses to “Mad Men Episode, David Remnick on Ali and Liston

  1. Thanks so much for the pingback, and for this excellent post. Before this episode, I knew very little about the famed fight between Clay/Ali and Liston. The background you provided me here, gives me a better appreciation of the references to the fight made during the show.

    I also really like the comparison you drew between Don’s and Duck’s drunken brawl during the last half of the episode, and the historical fight that occurred on the same day — particularly in terms of the “phantom punch.”

    Although I can’t really imagine comparing the sniveling Duck Phillips to Muhammad Ali in any way, I can definitely see the relationship between Don and Sonny Liston. Both of these men were tops in their field, but were ultimately broken and defeated, by things and people they initially considered to be beneath them.

    Who would have thought that random line in the show made by the awful Stan, “Sonny Liston would make a good ad man,” would have so much resonance throughout the rest of the episode?

    Thanks again for introducing me to your insightful, and well-written blog.

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks for your kind comment and thorough episode recap. I hear you about Duck! 🙂

      Good luck with your studies and blogging.


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