Jake LaMotta dies: When ‘Raging Bull’ punched up Palm Beach County

UPDATE, Sept. 20:Jake LaMotta, the middleweight champion immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s brutal boxing masterpiece, “Raging Bull,” has died at a Miami area hospital. He was 95. Here is a story that ran in May about LaMotta’s appearances in Palm Beach County:

The late 1950s were not good years for boxer Jake LaMotta.

As anybody who’s seen Martin Scorsese’s masterwork film “Raging Bull” can attest.

In that 1980 film, Robert De Niro played the volatile middleweight champion from his brutal determination to win the crown in the ’40s to his disreputable fall a decade later running a nightclub on Miami Beach’s Collins Avenue. De Niro’s weighty and unforgettable transformation, where he gained some 60 pounds to play a flabby LaMotta in Florida, won him a Best Actor Oscar.

But who knew that in the same year that began with LaMotta jailed on a vice charge — remember the movie scene where he is pounding a Miami cell wall with his fists, screaming “I am not an animal” — would end with him facing another charge in a Palm Beach County courtroom?

And acting in a play on Clematis Street, too?

LaMotta’s legal problems began in 1957 when he was making headlines all over Miami Beach. Newspapers reported that he was charged on two counts of prostitution for allowing a 15-year-old to “ply her trade” in his club. He also got stopped for two speeding violations, including one where an officer was forced to pull his gun when LaMotta grabbed him and reared back his fist, newspaper accounts said.

In another incident reported breathlessly in the press, “a lissome 18-year-old blonde” hurt her elbow when she was “catapulted” out of his car early one morning on Miami Beach. By the end of the year, LaMotta had been convicted on the vice charge, sentenced to six months in the lockup and fined $500.

When he was released in May 1958, newspapers took notice that LaMotta had lost 57 pounds in the joint and now weighed a svelte 156. A Miami Herald headline read: “Slim Jake’s Rarin’ To Go Again.”

He was rarin’ to go to West Palm Beach, apparently.

One day before Christmas, an ad in the Palm Beach Post trumpeted that LaMotta would star in a stage revival of the Broadway classic “Born Yesterday” at the new Laroc Theater, at 413 Clematis St. (where the city library and Palm Beach Photographic Centre is today.) The advertisement said LaMotta would be backed up by an “all-star cast.” Tickets ran from $1.20 to $2.40.

On Dec. 30, three days after the opening, The Post reviewed LaMotta’s role as “chief racketeer and ace con man Harry Brock,” calling his performance “outstanding and impressionable.”

He had one more performance to give: The next day, New Year’s Eve, LaMotta showed up in the criminal court of Judge Edward Newell. On Dec. 13, LaMotta had been stopped again for speeding, this time going 80 in a 65 mph zone on Florida’s Turnpike.

The Post reported that LaMotta “didn’t try to fight” the charge, forfeited a $50 bond and the case was dropped. LaMotta wasn’t there at the time of the proceedings, but the Post reported that he “appeared some time later, unnecessarily, after court was recessed.”

This wouldn’t be the last time the “Raging Bull” saga would have a Palm Beach County connection. LaMotta’s ex-wife Vikki, played in the movie by Cathy Moriarty, would eventually move from Miami Beach to Hillsboro Beach in Broward. After escaping a stormy marriage, she became famous in her own right for establishing a cosmetics company based in Boca Raton and posing nude at age 51 in ‘Playboy’ magazine.

She died Jan. 25, 2005 at Boca Raton Community Hospital. She was 75, and had undergone heart surgery months earlier. In their later years, Vikki and Jake got along socially and at the time of the Playboy spread, he told the Miami Herald that “She’s a lovely lady. She’s my friend.”

But he admitted it took a long time for the old rage to subside. “Thirty years ago, I would have killed her” for posing nude, he said.

Jake LaMotta is still alive at age 95, and appeared on Broadway a few years ago. He married his seventh wife in 2013. She was 62 at the time and told The New York Post about their immediate post-wedding ceremony plans: They were going to take a nap.

This story was compiled from reports by The Palm Beach Post, the Miami News, the Miami Herald, the New York Times and Wikipedia. 

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