Until 1920, boxing was mostly outlawed in New York state. A loophole allowed fights to take place in athletic clubs. So, many bars became on-the-fly athletic clubs in order to host matches. One of these bars-turned-clubs was Sharkey’s, a saloon on Columbus Avenue near West 67th Street. Owned by heavyweight fighter Sailor Tom Sharkey, it’s the setting for this famous 1909 painting by George Bellows. Bellows had a studio close to Sharkey’s; it was in the Lincoln Arcade building, then on Broadway and 65th Street. “Stag at Sharkey’s” remains one of his most popular works.
Famed wild west lawman Wyatt Earp was the third man in the ring when Tom Sharkey squared off against future World Heavyweight Champion Bob Fitzsimmons on December 2nd, 1896. Earp ended up playing a big role in the outcome as he disqualified Fitzsimmons in the 8th round and awarded the victory to Sharkey.
Even though they engaged each other in two of the most brutal contests in boxing history, Tom Sharkey and James Jeffries went on to become the best of friends. The above photo shows them together later in life as they traveled around the country re-enacting their two classic battles.
Sailor Tom had a life-long fascination with the Texas Rangers (the law enforcement agency...not the baseball team). Here he is shown later in life posing for a photograph in an official Texas Rangers uniform.
In 1916, 43 year old Tom Sharkey married 19 year old film actress Rita Gardner. In the December 1st, 1916 issue of San Jose's "The Evening News", Sharkey was quoted as saying, "It's great business, this movie game. I never thought I'd care for it, but - well, the wife, she's a star now and I kind of like to hang around and watch her act. Then, I guess no guy'd try to get fresh with me on the job. I've still gotta punch or two left." Tom's wife, or Miss Gardner, was employed with the Rosa Photoplay Co., the first film producing organization is San Francisco.