Natalie Cole at The Orleans Showroom

Boxing Awards Dinner in Los Angeles: Joe Louis, Martha, etc

In 1959, I was hired by United World Enterprise to help the Director of Public Relations promote some boxing events in Los Angeles, Ca.  Sam Snitzer, a former sports writer for a defunct Los Angeles newspaper (it was a daily printed on red paper I remember, I believe it was called the Daily News), would be my immediate boss. The man who was forming the adventure, along with some Los Angeles businessmen, was the former Heavyweight Champion of the World, Joe Louis.

Now the mystery. Why was I hired? I was 26 at the time, and was a Judo and Aikido instructor in Hollywood. I was also working part-time for a private detective agency to support my growing family. One day, I had an appointment with an attorney, Martha Louis, who was involved in a case I was working on. We met at her office, in downtown, Los Angeles.  As I was being ushered into her office, this giant of a man walked past me, and into the office. Of course, I followed and Mrs. Louis said, “Joe, this is Mr. Johnson.  He’s here to get some information on a case I’m involved with. Would you mind leaving us alone, please?” You could’ve floored me. It was the Champ! He reached out with his hand, and we shook hands.  ”Nice meetin’ ya,” he said softly. Little did I realize that my entire future had just been determined by a simple handshake.

Cassius Clay, his brother Rahaman and I sitting on my car outside Main Street Gym

After the official meeting was over, Mrs. Louis asked me some personal questions.  Then she said something completely out of left field. “How would you like to come to work for me?”  She then told me that her husband was forming a company to promote boxing in California, and that they were up for licensing in a few weeks. I could sorta be a “go-for” for her and Joe.  That didn’t sound too exciting to me.  So, I said, “I’d like to think it over.” On the way out of the office, this little man was standing in the outer office talking to Louis. He smiled at me.  I told Joe that I had been offered a job by his wife, but that I didn’t think I would accept it, stupidly I said, “’cause I really want to be a writer, and not running errands all my life.”

The next day, I called the office and informed Mrs. Louis that I could not accept the offer. She paused and said, “Norm, Joe wants you to come to work for his new company. You would be assisting Sam Snitzer, director of Public Relations. Sam was impressed with you yesterday, and thought you would make a good public relations man.” And, gang, that’s how it all started. That little man was Sam, and how he saw a future for me, I’ll never know.  Maybe he was “Paying it Forward.” Perhaps, someone had helped him once. Who knows. I worked for Joe until early 1963, until featherweight champion, Davey Moore, died following a title fight in Dodger Stadium. Moore was part of a three title fight promotion, that would turn out to be the last fight promoted by Joe Louis.

Joe Louis and my daughter Robin at a bowling alley promoting a fight

Most of the time, our meetings with Joe, would take place at his mansion in Hancock Park, an affluent, nearly all-white district in Los Angeles, just off Wilshire Blvd.  At the time, there was one other black family residing in Hancock Park, Nat King Cole, who had broken the districts’ color barrier in the late ‘50s, and who was a close friend of Joe’s.  It was a very exclusive residential area, with some very influential and famous people living in the district.  Joe and Martha would stage private parties in their home, and my wife and I would often be invited.  That’s when I first met Nat and his little daughter, Natalie.  So now you know where I’m going with this column.

Natalie Cole will be bringing her timeless classics to The Orleans Showroom for two shows, Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 23-24. I’m sure Ms. Cole won’t remember me, but I’m going to be there watching that little girl, who sat on the stairs at Joe Louis home one evening, and talked about how much fun it was to sing with her dad, and that one day she would be famous, just like her dad.

I forgot all about those little parties, until in 1991, when she appeared at Bally’s on the Las Vegas Strip. As a member of the media, I was invited to attend her opening night.  She was in comeback mode (after having suffered a collapse career wise, during the mid ‘80s). Natalie had an awesome hit song and video, singing “Unforgettable” with her father. I was among a crowd of media types who went backstage at the time, but never had the chance to talk to her directly. Maybe this time!

Me, Mona, Joe, Nick Adams and wife Carol Adams, on stairs at Joe’s home

Natalie Cole first rose to stardom in 1975 after releasing her album, “Inseparable,” which included her first No. 1 single, “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love).” The album garnered Cole two Grammy® Awards — “Best New Artist, and “Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.”  She went on to release another 12 albums before her biggest hit, 1991’s “Unforgettable…With Love.” The album spent five weeks at No.1 on the pop charts, earned six Grammy® Awards, including “Song of the Year” and “Album of the Year,” and sold more than 14 million copies worldwide. Cole’s “Still Unforgettable,” released in 2008, earned her two additional Grammy® Awards, “Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album” and “Best Instrumental Accompanying Vocalist.” She will be releasing a Latin-influenced record this year. In addition to her lengthy music career, Cole has acted in various television series including, “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Touched by an Angel.”

Natalie Cole

Showtime each evening is 8 p.m. Tickets are available starting from $64.95, plus tax and convenience fees, and can be purchased at any Coast Casinos Box Office, by calling 702.365.7075, or visiting

Well, gang, now you know a little more about my life, and the strange turns it has taken for me to get here, where I’m a happy camper. I’m outa here!

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