HBO Sports Begins Production on "Joe Louis: America's Hero...Betrayed"

NEW YORK, Dec. 10, 2007 – HBO Sports has begun production on JOE LOUIS: AMERICA’S HERO…BETRAYED, a documentary on the legendary boxer and his tremendous impact on segregated America, it was announced today by Ross Greenburg, president, HBO Sports. The special will reveal how the grandson of slaves became one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, served as an iconic figure in World War II, and later carried himself with dignity and class through numerous setbacks. JOE LOUIS: AMERICA’S HERO…BETRAYED debuts SATURDAY, FEB. 23 (8:00-9:15 p.m. ET/9:00-10:15 p.m. PT) during Black History Month, exclusively on HBO..

“Joe Louis had an astonishing career,” said Greenburg. “Retaining numerous knockout records to this day, he was a pillar of democracy and strength in a tumultuous period. In the mid-‘30s, years before Jackie Robinson’s arrival in Brooklyn, this boxing champion challenged preconceived notions of race and class. We will also examine how the government and IRS turned their backs on this hero and drove him into a desperate state at the end of his boxing career and life.”

Born May 12, 1914, in LaFayette, Alabama, Joseph Louis Barrow – who became known as the “Brown Bomber” – was America’s first true crossover athlete. As the first black sports star worshipped by both black and white fans, he was respected not only for his boxing talents, but also for showing the world what a person of color could do if given the opportunity. When he fought, the world stood still.

Louis’ record-breaking career began in 1934. Winning his first 27 fights, all but four by knockout, he dominated opponents. Louis held the world heavyweight title 11 consecutive years, successfully defending his title a record 25 consecutive times; his career record of 68-3 makes him one of the greatest heavyweights ever. “No human body can take the punishment that Jolting Joe dishes out once he goes after his prey,” wrote Nat Fleischer in the April 1939 edition of The Ring magazine.

JOE LOUIS: AMERICA’S HERO…BETRAYED underscores his importance during a critical time in America’s history. From the Great Depression through World War II and into the 1950s, Joe Louis was the poster boy for the American way of life. In 1938, when Louis defeated Germany’s Max Schmeling, his victory was interpreted as democracy’s defeat of Nazism, boosting public morale and transforming him into a true American hero.

After spending four years in the U.S. Army and working for the government to raise money for the USO and the war, Louis found himself in financial trouble. Ironically, he was harassed by the IRS as soon as the war ended.

Once called “a credit to his race — the human race” by sportswriter Jimmy Cannon, Joe Louis inspired a reverence accorded few other Americans. He died in 1981 in Las Vegas, four years after suffering a stroke. Louis posthumously received a Congressional Gold Medal and was given a full military funeral and burial in Arlington Cemetery.

The high-profile list of interviewees who discuss Louis’ impact in the documentary includes: his son, Joe Louis Barrow, Jr.; former President Jimmy Carter; poet Maya Angelou; actor-comedian Jerry Lewis; comedian-activist Dick Gregory; Pete and Louis Marciano, brothers of boxer Rocky Marciano; writer Gay Talese; congressman Charles Rangel; and other notable writers, biographers and historians.

The executive producers of JOE LOUIS: AMERICA’S HERO…BETRAYED are Ross Greenburg and Rick Bernstein; produced by Joe Lavine; edited by Ultan Byrne.

Article posted on 10.12.2007

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