Rediscovered: Tad Dorgan

The other day I mentioned how I casually had looked Tad Dorgan up online and noticed his connection with boxing — “a hard-boiled cartoonist, no less,” wrote I. Hey, little did I know. A day or two later Terry Zobeck popped me a link which reports that Tad is credited with coining the term “hard-boiled” — come on, he coins both hot-dog and hard-boiled? And a ton of other terms?

I figured this called for The Return of Brian Leno, first ever Guest Blogger on this site, who holds down a regular spot over on Two-Gun Raconteur — Brian has emerged as the major authority on the early boxing world that so intrigued author Robert E. Howard. The world of boxing before 1936, and long since. Brian was telling me that the just deceased Joe Frazier came into the gambling den where Brian works (ultra-noir) — a really nice guy, but he didn’t seem to like Ali — he conceded that Foreman had beaten him, but not Ali. Brian decided, uh, he wasn’t about to argue the point. Here’s Brian:

Thomas Aloysius Dorgan, better known simply as “TAD”, was a giant within the sport of boxing during the first three decades of the twentieth century. He was an observer at many of the historic bouts, one of the most notable being the Jack Johnson-James J. Jeffries affair in Reno, Nevada in 1910, and if he wasn’t occupying a ringside chair he was probably in his office drawing cartoon-style renderings of important fighters of the period, or he was making the rounds with fisticuff friends like Battling Nelson, Jack Johnson or Jack Dempsey.

Truly a man who seemingly didn’t need rest he was familiar to readers of the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Journal, and The Ring Magazine, the self-styled “Bible of Boxing.” The artistic and inventive genius of Tad is readily apparent when we view the many new words and expressions he introduced to the English language, terms like “cheaters” and “drugstore cowboy” and “hard-boiled” being only a few of the many that are still used to this day. As neighbors he rubbed elbows with James J. Corbett — the man who conquered John L. Sullivan — and Ring Lardner, well known American author of one of the greatest sports books ever penned, You Know Me Al (1916).

Not only could a reader find Tad’s work in the three periodicals already mentioned, he would also have come across this cartoonist’s distinctive art style in many boxing books of the era — two examples being The Life, Career and Battles of Battling Nelson (1908) by Nelson himself, and Jack Dempsey: The Idol of Fistiana (1929) by Nat Fleischer, editor of The Ring Magazine. An announcement of Tad’s death comes in a 1929 issue of The Ring, and Fleischer does not hold back in his praising of a colleague. He relates the story of Tad’s accident in a machine shop at an early age, how he lost “most of the fingers of his right hand” and yet still developed, using his left hand, as one of the most important cartoonists of his time. Tad’s mishap is well-known, and every site on the internet that tells his biography justifiably mentions it. Battling Nelson, in his autobiography, gives us a bit of a different story, relating that “As a mere strippling [Tad] befell an accident to his right arm, rendering that wing paralyzed” — still, whatever the scope of the tragedy, it greatly changed Tad’s life.

It’s obvious that while Tad was no stranger to adversity, his lively sense of humor can still be shared by anyone who reads his “Tad’s Tidbits” or “Just an Earful,” two columns he ran in Fleischer’s magazine. A funny tale probably not found in The Ring is in Geoffrey C. Ward’s Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. Those familiar with
boxing know that Johnson had an eye for the ladies, and the girls weren’t exactly bashful around the world’s first black heavyweight champion. Tad evidently spent part of a day watching women going in and out of the fighter’s room — he said he made it seven in twelve hours, and then he added that this was “not counting repeaters.”

Tad’s brothers, Dick and “Ike” were also of the world-class variety, and any blog post dealing with Tad has to likewise make note of their accomplishments. Dick, just like brother Tad, was a very skilled and well thought of cartoonist, and ably assisted Ring Lardner with his comic strip “You Know Me Al” which dealt with the adventures of the busher Jack Keefe.

Ike Dorgan was involved with the sport of boxing probably to a greater level than even Tad. Ike was with The Ring Magazine from the very beginning, being listed in the very first issue as “treasurer and business manager.” At one time he managed Frank Moran who fought twice for the heavyweight title — in 1914 against Jack Johnson and in 1916 against Jess Willard, losing both times. Ike served as press agent to “Tex” Rickard, the man who promoted the million dollar gates for Jack Dempsey when the Manassa
Mauler was the king of the division.

Reading the story of the Dorgans is an absolute necessity for anyone wishing to understand the “golden age” of boxing. Those boys left some pretty big footprints.

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