Primo Carnera: The Ambling Alp

Italian-American pugilist Primo Carnera (1906-1967) stood at 6’6″, and was advertised as an inch taller. Widely regarded as a giant in his day, although he wasn’t technically one, he stood around a foot taller than the average male, earning him the nickname “the Ambling Alp”. Originating in Sequals, Italy, near Trieste, Carnera began boxing professionally in 1928. In 1930 he moved to the U.S., where he reigned as World Heavyweight Champion from 1933 through 1934. Known for winning most of his bouts by knockout, he finally got a taste of his own medicine when Joe Louis K.O.’d him in 1935. Carnera stayed in the fight game until the mid ’40s, when health problems forced a retirement, at which point he became a professional wrestler.

But this is a show biz blog! And fortunately, like many boxers, Carnera went into the movies. In 1931 he co-starred in a Vitaphone comedy short with Little Billy Rhodes called The Bigger They Are. He was third billed in the 1933 feature The Prizefighter and the Lady with Max Baer and Myrna Loy. He made an appearance in Ed Sullivan’s 1933 Mr. Broadway, and had a great turn in the horror classic Mighty Joe Young (1949), in which he actually attempts to fight the giant ape. You can also see him in Prince Valiant (1954), the Bob Hope comedy Casanova’s Big Night (1954), A Kid for Two Farthings (1955, a British comedy with Diana Dors), and the Steve Reeves flick Hercules Unchained (1959). Of his two dozen or so motion pictures, nearly half were Italian films made in Rome.

Some think Rod Serling’s Requiem for a Heavyweight is partially based on Carnera’s life, though the real life boxer had a lot more going for him than Serling’s down-and-outer.

To learn more about show biz history consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous