Cassius Clay in L.A.
“What she did, all that publicity, got me thinking — you’ve got to be colorful, and you’ve got to promote if you want to sell tickets. Mrs. Eaton taught me that and I’ve been campaigning ever since.” – Muhammad Ali
Before he became Muhammad Ali, Greatest of All Time, Cassius Clay had an important but largely forgotten period in Los Angeles that helped shape his public persona and transition him from amateur champ to international superstar.
Clay was a promising young heavyweight, on a roll after winning a gold medal in the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. Aileen Eaton was the impresaria of boxing and wrestling in Los Angeles, a tough and brilliant promoter and businesswoman nicknamed “The Dragon Lady” who had a knack for using whatever means necessary to sell tickets. She created Gorgeous George, the first wrestling superstar (way before Hulk Hogan and the WWE), promoted the bulk of Art “Golden Boy” Aragon’s fights in the 1950s, and ruled the West Coast boxing scene with an iron fist and velvet glove. Clay was talented and brash, but his promotional talent and presentation was still a little rough around the edges.