Douglas Century | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Douglas Century 

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Coming to Douglas Century's new biography, Barney Ross (Schocken/Nextbook), you might be forgiven for thinking, "Barney who?" You wouldn't be alone. Though his life was chronicled in lurid detail in the 1957 movie Monkey on My Back, "in this great blue-collar city where he was once one of the most famous of sportsmen," Century writes, "he is scarcely remembered." Born Dov-Ber Rasofsky in 1909 to European immigrants, Ross grew up fast in the rough Maxwell Street neighborhood. His father was murdered in a holdup when he was 13; his mother suffered an ensuing breakdown, and he and his siblings were scattered among relatives and an orphanage. Vowing to make enough money to reunite the family, he took to boxing in the city's fight clubs and went on to hold multiple professional titles simultaneously, becoming one of the most famous fighters of his time. But he battled out of the ring as well: gambling, alcohol, and women left him broke. Following his pugilistic career he enlisted in the marines and picked up a morphine addiction after being wounded at Guadalcanal, but ultimately kicked the habit and went on to become a militant champion of Zionism. There are some titanic bouts described here--a trio of fights with Irish-Canadian Jimmy "the Babyfaced Assassin" McLarnin are especially exciting--but the real drama lies in the arc of Ross's life. Century is here as part of Nextbook's "History, Culture, and Ideas" series. Thu 3/9, 7 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln, 312-747-4074 for info, 888-621-2230 or nextbook.org for tickets, $8, $6 students, 21+.

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