Requiem for a Heavyweight

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Requiem for a Heavyweight was a teleplay written by Rod Serling and produced for the live television show Playhouse 90 on 11 October 1956. Six years later, it was adapted as a 1962 feature film starring Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason, Mickey Rooney and Julie Harris.

The teleplay won a Peabody Award, the first given to an individual script in television, and helped establish Serling's reputation. The broadcast was directed by Ralph Nelson and is generally considered one of the finest examples of live television drama in the United States, as well as being Serling's personal favorite of his own work. Nelson and Serling won Emmy Awards for their work.[1][2]

American television version[edit]

"Requiem for a Heavyweight"
Playhouse 90 episode
Episode no.Season 1
Episode 2
Directed byRalph Nelson
Teleplay byRod Serling
Produced byMartin Manulis
Original air date1956
Running time90 minutes
Guest appearances
Jack Palance
Keenan Wynn
Episode chronology
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List of episodes

Jack Palance portrays Harlan "Mountain" McClintock, a once-promising but now washed-up boxer who faces the end of his career after he is savagely defeated by a younger boxer. Keenan Wynn portrays McClintock's manager Maish; Keenan's father Ed plays McClintock's cut man, Army.

McClintock is suffering from Dementia pugilistica or "punch drunk syndrome"—brain damage caused by his career. A fight doctor refuses to certify McClintock for further boxing, saying that another rough match could blind or even kill him. Boxing is all McClintock has ever known, and he's both terrified of trying something new, and intensely loyal to Maish, who has nurtured him from his youth. Maish has troubles of his own, however: he owes money to the Mafia and tried to raise funds by betting that McClintock would be knocked out early (instead, by gamely and bravely taking a beating and refusing to go down, McClintock cost Maish a fortune).

Kim Hunter portrayed Grace Carney, an employment agency worker who tries to help the boxer make a transition to a new career. Maish persuades the boxer to turn to professional wrestling, though McClintock is proud that he never had a fixed fight and is uncomfortable with the staged, predetermined wrestling match.

Army disapproves of Maish's plans and refuses to be a part of them. Just before he is scheduled to go into the wrestling ring in a humiliating mountain man costume, McClintock learns of Maish's betting against him, and parts ways with his manager and mentor. Though he feels that boxing can ruin men's lives, Maish finds another promising young boxer to train. McClintock takes a chance on working with children at summer camp.

Because Serling and Palance were both experienced boxers, they brought a level of authenticity to Requiem for a Heavyweight, although there was very little boxing depicted in the broadcast. Requiem for a Heavyweight was the beginning of what became one of the new medium's most successful creative teams, writer Rod Serling and director Ralph Nelson.

Requiem for a Heavyweight rod serling.jpg


British television version starring Sean Connery[edit]

BBC Television in the United Kingdom screened a version of the play in their regular Sunday Night Theatre anthology strand on March 31, 1957. Sean Connery, five years before portraying James Bond, starred as McClintock,[3] while Alvin Rakoff produced and, with Serling's approval, also wrote some new material to cover costume changes that took place during commercial breaks on US television, but could not do so on the non-commercial BBC.[4] Co-starring with Connery were Warren Mitchell and Rakoff's future wife Jacqueline Hill, who had recommended Connery for the leading part.[4] Michael Caine was featured in a small role in a new scene written by Rakoff.[4]

This production was reviewed in The Times newspaper the following day, which gave it a generally positive assessment, with some reservations. "It is unfortunate that Mr. Serling has allowed a saccharine romance to intrude into this self-sufficient and wholly masculine situation. Otherwise his touch is sure. Although physically miscast as the fighter, Mr. Sean Connery played with a shambling and inarticulate charm that almost made the love affair credible."[5] This version has not survived,[6] although the discovery of a complete recording of the soundtrack was announced in 2014. It had been in possession of Rakoff, who had made a recording at the time of transmission for posterity.[7]

Dutch television version[edit]

In 1959 Dutch television adapted the story as Requiem voor een zwaargewicht.


  • Ko van Dijk as Malloy
  • Ton van Duinhoven as Manager
  • Jan Blaaser as Verzorger

Yugoslav television version[edit]

In 1974 Radio Television Belgrade adapted the story as Rekvijem za teškaša.


  • Bata Živojinović as Harold "Brdo" Maklintok
  • Bora Todorović as Mes Lumis
  • Jovan Janićijević as Armi
  • Neda Spasojević as Keri
  • Slavko Simić as Lekar
  • Eugen Verber as Pareli
  • Miodrag Andrić as Foksi
  • Miroslav Bijelić as Gost u kafani
  • Mida Stevanović as Arnold
  • Božidar Savićević as Barmen Čarli
  • Bogdan Jakuš as Drugi gost u kafani
  • Đorđe Jovanović as La Plant
  • Ivan Jonaš as Hansonov poverenik
  • Radomir Popović as Službenik
  • Melita Bihalji
  • Ras Rastoder
  • Branislav Radović
  • Nebojsa Bakočević

Film version[edit]

Requiem for a Heavyweight
Requiem for a Heavyweight film.jpg
Directed byRalph Nelson
Written byRod Serling
Produced byDavid Susskind
StarringAnthony Quinn
Jackie Gleason
Mickey Rooney
Julie Harris
CinematographyArthur J. Ornitz
Edited byCarl Lerner
Music byLaurence Rosenthal
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • October 16, 1962 (1962-10-16)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.1 million[8]

Ralph Nelson also directed a film version in 1962 with Anthony Quinn in the role originated by Jack Palance, Jackie Gleason and Mickey Rooney in the parts portrayed on television by Keenan Wynn and his father Ed Wynn, and social worker Grace Miller was portrayed by Julie Harris.

Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, appears as Quinn's opponent in a boxing match at the beginning of the movie, a memorable sequence filmed with the camera providing Quinn's point of view as the unstoppable Clay rapidly punches directly at the movie audience with breath-taking speed. Afterward, Maish (Gleason) is confronted by bookies who threaten his life. If he fails to repay them for their losses, based upon the sure thing bet (he urged them to wager upon) that his fighter, Mountain, would go down in a certain round of the match. Maish's deal with them had been that they should deduct from their winnings (due to their betting against Mountain, as Maish had advised them to). The vast sums of losses that Maish's betting (and losing) had run up with them.

The film version is somewhat darker in its plotline than the original teleplay. Mountain Rivera (Quinn) is to interview for a counselor position at a children's camp, arranged by Grace Miller, but Maish, hoping that Mountain will forget about the job interview, takes him to a bar, where they both get drunk. Army (Rooney) arrives at the bar to remind Mountain about the appointment, but Rivera embarrasses himself at the hotel where the interview is to take place, behaving drunkenly in plain sight of the camp owners. After this episode, Grace confronts Maish in tears, condemning him for controlling Mountain and ruining his chance to make a new life for himself.

In the film version, Maish responds forcefully and eloquently to Grace Miller's accusation that he's been over-controlling of Rivera, cares nothing for him, for his best interest or for his future. He tells Grace that she must stop daydreaming and recognize that her idealized conception of Louis Rivera is as false and damaging to Rivera as is Maish's alleged mediocre management of Rivera's pro boxing career, and that her so-called "vision" for Rivera's post-boxing future as a counselor at a children's summer camp is as naïve and pathetic as it is improbable.

To pay off Maish's gambling debts, Mountain agrees to perform as Native American wrestling persona "Big Chief Mountain Rivera." Just prior to entering the ring for his first match, an overwhelming tide of humiliation sweeps over Mountain, causing him to change his mind. Maish blurts out that he bet against Mountain in the fight against Clay, and as Rivera attempts to leave the locker room, "Ma" Greeny and her thugs enter, threatening Maish. However, Mountain changes his mind and agrees to wrestle, thereby allowing "Ma" to be paid and saving Maish's life. In the epic final scene of the film, Mountain enters the ring amidst jeering ridicule to face "Haystacks Calhoun", a grappler from Arkansas billed at 601 lbs.


Broadway version[edit]

In 1985, it was adapted into a short-lived Broadway version at the Martin Beck Theatre starring John Lithgow as Harlan and George Segal as Maish.[9]

The Man in the Funny Suit[edit]

In 1960, Ralph Nelson wrote and directed The Man in the Funny Suit, a dramatic account of Keenan Wynn's travails in helping his father, comedian Ed Wynn, play such a serious role on live television in Requiem for a Heavyweight.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Primetime Emmy Awards (1956)".
  2. ^ "Primetime Emmy Awards (1957)".
  3. ^ Gallagher, William (March 31 – April 6, 2007). "On This Day... 50 Years ago, 31 March 1957". Radio Times. 332 (4329): 85.
  4. ^ a b c Lloyd, Spencer. "Requiem for Two Heavyweights". Retrieved 2007-03-27.
  5. ^ "BBC Television: "Requiem for a Heavyweight" by Rod Serling". The Times. 1957-04-01. p. 5.
  6. ^ "Missing episode in programme Sunday Night Theatre",
  7. ^ Geoghegan, Kev (2014-06-02). "'Lost' Sean Connery play recording unearthed by director". BBC News. Retrieved 2014-06-03.
  8. ^ E. A. (Aug 29, 1962). "'NO STRINGS' SOLD TO FILM COMPANY". New York Times. ProQuest 116252463.
  9. ^ Requiem for a Heavyweight on the Internet Broadway Database

External links[edit]