Seeing Stars Before The Fight

Posted: June 28, 1988

ATLANTIC CITY — Since last night's Fight of the Decade lasted only 91 seconds and surprised no one except Milton Berle and the unfortunate Michael Spinks, let's cut right to the stuff you and I really care about: Don and Ivana Trump's celebrity- choked four-hour Pre-Fight Party of the Decade at Trump Plaza.

"I predict that if it goes beyond six or seven rounds," Milton Berle is saying, "Spinks will win by decision. Of course, I also predicted that Zsa Zsa Gabor would become a nun."

Berle, who turns 80 this week and receives an honorary degree from Temple next March, says that as a kid he boxed for the Professional Children's School in New York. "I was 14, 15 years old then, weighed maybe 136 pounds. Now my derriere weighs 136 pounds."

At 6:25 p.m., Jack Nicholson enters with pals Warren Beatty and Paul Simon. Seems like every strobe light in the civilized world explodes. And then explodes again.

Whereupon, Beatty looks extremely uncomfortable and Simon wants to leave immediately. But Nicholson breaks into his great satanic sleazeball grin, freezes it on his face and keeps it there for the next 30 minutes, talking only to Beatty and to sports artist LeRoy Nieman, who is sitting on his right and sketching him.

Nicholson wears brown tinted shades, a black shirt and black binoculars. Three beautiful, braless black women in gold lame miniskirts and bolero jackets with high, outer-space collars appear as if by magic and practically glue themselves to his back.

Turns out they are a singing group called Michael's Angels, looking for a photo opportunity.

Nicholson sips champagne from a tall glass, chain-smokes his filter tips, becomes aware that gold lame strangers are brushing braless chests against his back, turns around, grins and says, "Gimme one of these black broads." The girls panic and scatter.

Nicholson turns his grin on a TV crew and says, "Turn that goddam light off." The TV crew scatters.

Nicholson's left hand wanders toward the black satin-covered butt of a cocktail waitress. The waitress scatters, but not before, transfixed by the Nicholson grin, she hesitates just a pinch too long.

"Excuse me," Nicholson says, grinning like a serial killer. "I'm terribly sorry about that. Really, I am."

Pause. Then, to himself, "I'm so great at this, I don't believe it."

He moves his shoulders and chair, dances to the rhumba coming from the trio on the stage right in front of him.

A waitress asks if he'd like her to bring him a plate of stuffed lobster and sirloin. "Baby," he tells her, "I wouldn't dream of eating in here."

Channel 6 comes over to interview Beatty. Like Nicholson, Beatty is refusing all interviews. "Where are you from?" he asks the reporter. "New Jersey?"

"No," she tells him. "Philadelphia."

She tries to sneak one past him, asking him, on camera, why he's going to the fight. "Because I want to be near Philadelphia," Beatty replies, deadpan. "That's why I came here."

She gives up.

At 7:03 p.m., Nicholson runs his hands through his famous thinning hair. At 7:05 p.m., he and Beatty leave. The quiet, shy Simon, alone at the dessert buffet, admits that if he had known it was going to be Media Hell, he wouldn't have come. "I was naive," he says sadly. "I usually stay as far away as possible from this kind of thing, so I can be as normal as possible."

Comedian Jackie Mason, a less retiring type, remembers having eight, nine fights as a teenager. "I won every fight until the last one. He laid me out on the floor. I was so low, I thought I was in the rug business."

Mason, who is doing his one man show on Broadway to sellout crowds, says it's a good thing they held the Tyson-Spinks fight on a Monday night.

"It's my night off. If they held it any other night, this joint would be empty. All these people would be at my show."

Jesse Jackson walks in at 7:28 p.m., orders a plate of ribs and digs in. He and Don King, who is sitting next to him, are the only celebs who actually eat. Trump joins the table, prompting a reporter to ask Jackson if he's heard that Trump came out and endorsed George Bush. Without hesitating, Jackson places both of his hands on the startled Trump's forehead and shouts, "Heal! Heal!"

Pausing with comic timing that would do Berle and Mason credit, Jackson says he believes he has healed Trump of those thoughts.

The gold lame Michael's Angels are working their braless magic on Jackson's back. Unlike Nicholson, Jackson does not scare them away. They sing to him. He embraces them. Don King is rambling on about the epitome of life.

Shortly after 9 p.m., everybody wanders over to the Convention Hall. Couple hours later, after every celeb from Madonna to Muhammad Ali is introduced at ringside, Tyson epitomes Spinks in 91 seconds.

When last seen long after midnight, the gold lame Michael's Angels are following Michael Spinks out the door. King is still talking epitomes. No one is listening.

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