Name: Bert Lytell (Calvin Coolidge Lytle)

Born: 24 January 1924 -  Victoria, Texas

Died: 26 January, 1990

Bert Lytell was something of an enigma in boxing circles. Reportedly from Fresno, California, Lytell was a genuine middleweight contender during the 1940s and one of the toughest fighters around. There was some confusion over who he was and where he was from and there is a dearth of information on this talented southpaw. Some reports have his real name as Calvin Coolidge Lytle from Oakland, California, and others that he learned his boxing in the Navy, where he had over 30 bouts in places like Panama, Cuba and the South Pacific. Other sources stated that he learned to fight in the Army and that he took his name from the silent-era movie star. West Coast fighter Chester Slider, who ended the career of Henry Armstrong, and his manager Harry Fine, who both hailed from Fresno, told inquisitive reporters that they had never heard of him around that town.

One particular story indicates that Lytell, after being honourably discharged from the navy, walked into Stillman's Gym and, after observing a couple of guys go at it in sparring, told Bernie Bernstein that he could beat either of them. After a quick look at Lytell, Bernstein passed him along to manager Sammy Aaronson, who must have been as equally impressed as he got Lytell his professional start against Artie Towne. Fighting as 'Chocolate Kid', Lytell lost that encounter, but was soon making progress in the middleweight division. Regardless of the confusion over his name and origins Bert Lytell was good enough to fight and beat many highly-rated middleweights and light- heavyweights during the late 1940s and early 50s. Lytell was often avoided by most of the top-ranked middles of the time and is another one of the good crop of fighters that Sugar Ray Robinson managed to avoid.

Since none of the white fighters, with the exception of Jake LaMotta (L10), and Walter 'Popeye' Woods (L10 x 2), were keen to fight him, Lytell fought almost all the top-flight African-American boxers of that time. Fighters such as Charley Burley (L10, W10), Holman Williams (D10, L12, W10, W12), 'Cocoa' Kid (3 wins with 1 KO), Aaron 'Tiger' Wade (L10), "Oakland" Billy Smith (W10 X 2), Charlie "Doc" Williams, (L10 X 2, NC10 and KO8), and Archie Moore (L10 X 2). Lytell was considered very difficult to beat and often would provide a torrid time to most of the middleweights and light-heavyweights ranked above him (he was ranked from time to time in the top ten, with his maximum rank being around number five).

Beside the dangerous contenders already mentioned Lytell also tangled with the likes of Art Towne, Sam Baroudi, Major Jones and other long-forgotten black fighters who were too tough and too good for their own good when it came to the ring.

In 1948 Lytell was involved with two exciting fights with the talented, but doomed, Jackie Dathard. "The Slicker" had over 30 bouts in his first two years as a professional and was ranked amongst the top 5 middleweights by the time he was 18. The first bout was declared a draw (though most had Lytell as the clear winner), but in the return Lytell scored a seventh round KO and Dathard never regained consciousness.

Despite his apparent success amongst the middleweights and light-heavyweights the Fresno southpaw would also fall short of gaining a title shot. In his final two years as a pro Lytell dropped decisions to Archie Moore, Atrie Towne (again) and finally (in October of 1951), to Julian Keene. World middleweight champion Randy Turpin used him as a sparring partner when the British fighter was defending his crown against Ray Robinson in New York (September 1951), but after the bout with Keene, Bert Lytell appeared to vanish from boxing almost as mysteriously as he appeared.

© (Harry Otty)


For more on Lytell check Springs Toledo's bio: "The Beast of Stillman's Gym" at The Sweet