Hall of Fame Class of 2017: Jimmy Lennon Sr.
JIMMY LENNON SR. WAS AN INSTITUTION LONG BEFORE HIS FAMOUS SON PICKED UP A MIC
Those who grew up listening to Jimmy Lennon Sr. know exactly where his son got his golden voice and graceful style. The elder Lennon was the gold standard, if you will.
Lennon Sr. worked nationwide but was known primarily as the ring announcer at the old Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles and other venues in the area for decades after World War II, his clear, commanding voice recognizable to all boxing and wrestling fans of his era.
He had a smooth, elegant style that reverberates through his son today. That includes his wardrobe: He wore a tuxedo every time he went to work, which is now standard in the business.
And he was a stickler for details, a prime example being his painstaking effort to pronounce tongue-twisting names correctly. “A man is entitled to the dignity of his own name,” he once told the Los Angeles Times.
The Times provided a wonderful anecdote in Lennon’s obituary (he died in 1992). The late Earl Gustkey wrote:
“Once, Lennon was hired to emcee a Greek-American awards banquet in Los Angeles. He gulped as he looked at the name on a trophy he was to present: Anastasios Honchopathadurkomontorogiotopolous. ‘There was only one way to do it,’ Lennon recalled years later. ‘I broke it down into syllables and then put it back together again.’
“He did, flawlessly. The man came to the podium, kissed Lennon on the cheek and told him: ‘You are the only person to pronounce my name correctly since I come to America.’”
Lennon learned to work hard out of necessity. He was 17, as the Great Depression was taking hold, when his father died. He had to help provide for the family, which included six brothers and a sister.
He did whatever odd jobs he could find and performed professionally when he could find the work. Having grown up in a musical family, he sang, he acted, he emceed at small venues, whatever it took to make a few bucks.
“He had to hustle all the time,” Jimmy Lennon Jr. told THE RING. “I was told about one time he was emceeing an entertainment show, I think at the Elks Club, when someone approached him and said, ‘You did a good job tonight. Have you ever announced boxing and wrestling?’ He said, ‘Yes, I have.’ Of course, he hadn’t. He just had to hustle for anything he could get. That’s how it was.”
Lennon Sr. announced his first boxing card at the Santa Monica Elks Club in 1943, after which he became an institution at the Olympic Auditorium and beyond, as well as a model for future announcers.
That includes Lennon Jr., who had no intention of following his famous father into announcing – “I went to UCLA and studied psychology and education,” he said – but spent a lot of time at the Olympic and other local venues and eventually gravitated into the business.
Now Lennon Jr. is a boxing fixture, a voice heard worldwide over the past 30-plus years. Junior had begun to announce high-profile fights by the time his father passed away, meaning Lennon Sr. was aware that his son would build upon his legacy.
That, the younger Lennon said, was a source of great pride for his father.
“That means more to me every year,” Lennon Jr. said. “I’m a father; I’m proud of my kids. I was told more than once that, ‘You could not have given your father a greater gift than to follow him and do a good job.’ That made me feel good.
“I knew how important it was to him. I know he was so pleased, so proud the last part of his life.”
Lennon Sr. would’ve been elated when his son was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2013, an honor that also meant a great deal to Lennon Jr. However, it was also awkward: The younger Lennon felt strongly that his father should’ve entered the Hall before he did.
Thus, the fact Lennon Sr. will be inducted in June has added meaning.
“I don’t want to be disrespectful to the Hall of Fame but I feel like this is a wrong that has been righted,” Lennon Jr. said. “I believe he deserved this many years ago. I also feel fantastic about it. I think years from now no one will remember when he was inducted. They’ll only see that he was recognized for his greatness.
“And I really think he’s the greatest ring announcer who ever lived.”
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