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Apr 9, 2018 4:36 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Jeffrey Sussman Releases His Most Recent Boxing Book, 'Rocky Graziano: Fists, Fame, And Fortune'

Apr 10, 2018 9:09 AM

When Jeffrey Sussman was 12 years old, his father, Robert, afraid his smaller-than average son would get bullied in school, brought home a pair of boxing gloves, a jump rope, and speed and heavy bags, setting it all up in the family’s basement to prepare young Jeffrey to defend himself. He later set up 10 boxing lessons from a middleweight at the famed Stillman’s Gym in New York City and, at that point, Sussman was completely hooked on the sport of boxing.

But it wasn’t until recently that Sussman, a part-time East Hampton resident and author, was able to share his love of the sport with readers. Sussman wrote the 2017 best seller “Max Baer and Barney Ross: Jewish Heroes of Boxing,” published by Rowman & Littlefield, and recently released his latest book in a series of boxing write-ups, “Rocky Graziano: Fists, Fame, and Fortune,” also published by Rowman & Littlefield, on March 10. Both books can be found at bookstores such as Barnes and Noble and online at Amazon.com.

In “Rocky Graziano: Fists, Fame, and Fortune”—the first biography of Graziano in more than 60 years—Sussman tells the rags-to-riches story of Tommy Rocco Barbella, who later became known as Rocky Graziano. Raised by an abusive father, who was a failed boxer himself, Graziano took to the streets and soon found himself in reformatories and prison cells. Drafted into the U.S. Army, Graziano went AWOL but was eventually caught, tried, and sent to prison for a year, where he started to perfect his pugilistic craft. After his release, Graziano went on to have a string of wins in the boxing ring and ascended up the pyramid of professional boxing. In one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the middleweight division, Graziano beat Tony Zale and became the middleweight champion of the world. He retired from boxing after he lost his crown to another boxing legend, Sugar Ray Robinson.

Graziano went on to have a successful acting career in two acclaimed television series, which Sussman dives into in his book. Rich and famous, Graziano was no longer the angry young man he once was. In his post-boxing life, Graziano became known for his good humor, witty remarks, and kindness and generosity to those in need.

Along with being obsessed with boxing, Sussman found a connection to Graziano at a young age, which led to the writing of his most recent book.

“I always had this childhood interest in Rocky Graziano. He was a very colorful person,” Sussman explained in a conversation at the East Hampton Library on March 31. “When I was growing up and had an interest in boxing, I had read Rocky Graziano’s autobiography, ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me,’ and I was very taken by it. I was going through a period in my own life where I was very rebellious—my parents were worried I’d turn out to be a juvenile delinquent—and I just identified with Rocky’s kind of anti-authoritarianism and rebelliousness.”

Previous writings on Graziano only go through the boxer’s life up until a certain point, such as his autobiography, “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” which only goes through to Graziano’s middleweight championship. There are little to no books, up until now with Sussman’s book, that talk about Graziano’s post-fighting career.

“The difference between from when he was young to when he was older was night and day. The rest of his life was absolutely fascinating to me,” Sussman said. “There was a boxing promoter in Philadelphia named Russell Peltz who knew of [Graziano’s] boxing career but didn’t know of his post-boxing career. He found that part of my book fascinating.”

Sussman did a lot of research for both of his boxing books at the East Hampton Library. He took the time to acknowledge Steven Spataro, chief reference librarian of the library, in the beginning of his book.

“I’d ask him to help me find newspaper and magazine articles, or to order books out of state that I needed to research, and he was terrific,” Sussman said of Spataro. “He was better than any big library in New York City, just wonderful. It was fabulous so I felt really indebted to him and I wanted to acknowledge it.”

Sussman will be conducting an Author Talk at East Hampton Library on Saturday, April 21, from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Those interested can call (631) 324-0222 extension 3, can stop by the Adult Reference Desk, or can visit eventbrite.com. Books will be available for purchase and signing.

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