In the often-shady world of boxing, where double dealing and deception are typically the rule rather than the exception, Marty Feldman’s word was his bond.
That alone made him different.
“You don’t find too many people in boxing who are loyal and trustworthy,” said longtime Philadelphia promoter J. Russell Peltz of Feldman, who died Feb. 14 at the age of 83 after a long battle with dementia. “When you’d shake hands with him on a deal, you didn’t have to worry. It’s rare in life. Certainly rare in boxing.”
For a man who never had it easy, often having to work two or three jobs while raising two sons and a daughter as a single father after his ex-wife, Dawn, was paralyzed, integrity was paramount.
“One thing I’ll really miss most is talking about the values he instilled in us,” David Feldman said. “My dad said there was no such thing as 99 percent loyal. It was 100 percent or nothing at all.”
For the better part of his life, Feldman was a trainer and later a boxing promoter. Among those he trained were Frank “The Animal” Fletcher, “Prince” Charles Williams, Augie Pantellas and Dave Tiberi. He soon became known as someone who’d do everything possible for his fighters, even let them live in his house or hire lawyers to keep them out of trouble.
“He was a true character,” said WCHE 1520 AM talk show host Bill Werndl. “If you were going to portray a boxing trainer, he was the guy. He’d take care of his fighters. Marty was well-respected in the boxing community. He shot straight from the hip, which is what I liked about him.”
What few knew about Feldman, however, was the importance of his faith. While Feldman kept his Judaism to himself and chose not to instill it in his children, he wanted a Jewish funeral.
“With my mother paralyzed when I was 8 years old, it was tough for him to train fighters and still get us involved with the Jewish faith,” David Feldman said. “But it always came up. He told us he once taught Hebrew, so in his heart he was always a Jewish person.”
And he was a pretty good boxer himself before becoming a trainer.
Born in Paterson, N.J., the 5-foot-10-inch, 160-pound Feldman went 37-2 as an amateur, winning the 1952 New Jersey Amateur Athletic Union middleweight title. He turned pro shortly after that, going 23-2 with 19 knockouts from 1953 through 1962.
He got the nickname “Hebrew Hammer” because of the power in those fists.
“He’d watch boxing and say, ‘These fighters couldn’t hang with any of us who fought back then,’” said David Feldman, a promoter himself. “He once was roommates with Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, because they grew up in the same city.”
Eventually, Marty Feldman came to the Philadelphia area, courtesy of his manager, Sam Margolis, who also managed then-heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. He settled in Broomall, while continuing to train fighters.
“I didn’t know him as a boxer,” Peltz said, “but as a trainer he was as good as anybody I’ve seen in my 47 years. He knew old-school techniques and knew how to bring a fighter around if he got sick and how to cut weight in the correct way. He was a big part of my life. For 30 years, we were close as brothers.”
After retiring from the ring, Feldman trained both men and women at the Feldman Fitness Center, better known as Ladies Tone Up in Springfield, Delaware County. He was inducted into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame both as a boxer and trainer in 2006.
Marty Feldman is survived by his sons, David and Damon; a daughter, Jennifer; seven grandchildren; and his younger brother, Gary. Gifts in his memory may be made to the Alzheimer’s Foundation at alzfdn.org.
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0729