Melania Trump Club

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Muhammad Ali, My Father and Me,Photographic reminder of Muhammad Ali’s kindness to my father

My father, Jack Achilles, was the head chef at Isow’s restaurant in Brewer Street, Soho, when Jack Solomons, a regular customer, promoted the fight in 1963 between Henry Cooper and Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay. Ali stayed in Piccadilly and frequently went to eat at Isow’s.

Knowing as much about food as Ali knew about boxing, my father got on well with his most appreciative diner. Ali trusted that he would feed him whenever he was in London, and especially before his fights. From then on a telegram from Ali would arrive to let my father know when to get the Aberdeen Angus steaks ready.

He would go to choose the meat and supervise the butchering, to make sure it was fit for a king. In turn, he was singled out by Ali in the press conferences and generously included in many of the photocalls that were routinely held at Isow’s. One afternoon, in 1963, our entire family went, at Ali’s invitation, to the East End to watch him sparring before the fight with Cooper. My father was also given tickets to the fights. In simply acknowledging the important part my father played in feeding him so well, Ali was a giant among men.

“When we decided to put Ali on this month’s cover, we wanted to show him in safari costume carrying an elephant gun, perhaps the only foolproof weapon against George Foreman. Ali turned down the gun on religious grounds — as a Muslim minister, he says, he is forbidden to carry arms — but was happy to pose as a great white hunter.

“Once he climbed into the safari outfit — provided for Sport by Abercrombie & Fitch — Ali assumed the role completely. ‘Look out, George,’ he hollered, ‘I’m coming to get you, and I’m the baddest hunter in the whole world.’

“After he finished posing for Carl Fischer’s cover portrait, Ali calmed down for a family portrait with his three daughters and 2-year-old Muhammad Ali Jr.

“Then Ali playfully landed a few punches on the jaw of my 3-year-old daughter . Each time Ali hit her, she laughed.

“He’ll have to hit harder against George Foreman.”

I certainly was too young to grasp, at the time, the subversive brilliance of staging Ali in the costume of one of the most famous archetypes of white privilege and power, given his unapologetic identity as “a race man,” his potent pride in his blackness. I wish I could remember more about that day, but after more than 40 years, the memories have inevitably faded. I recall it now in a softly spectral way: I somehow knew, even if I wouldn’t have said it this way at the time, that I was in the presence of a great human, who was also very funny, and who took the time to play with children and seemed to enjoy it. I remember his physical presence, so vast compared with my toddler smallness. My mother once explained to me that the reason my legs are bare is that I’d been horsing around with Ali’s kids before the shoot, and tore up my nice woolen tights so badly she had to remove them.

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