Muhammad Ali and John Steinbeck, Together, in This Week’s Hollywood Reporter

Image of Muhammad Ali: "I am the Greatest"

John Steinbeck boxed when he was in college, but he disagreed with Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer of a later time, about America’s intervention in Vietnam when that war became controversial. At their peak the two figures were alike, however. As fans will be reminded when they read this week’s Hollywood Reporter, each man was the greatest in his field, and both displayed courage under fire for convictions that made others angry. The online edition of the magazine leads with an item about John Legend and Andra Day’s new arrangement of “The Greatest Love of All,” a song originally written for The Greatest, the 1977 movie about Muhammad Ali. The next piece on the page looks back even further, to the heyday of the Garden of Allah, the Hollywood hotel with the famous pool where actors, writers, and musicians went to hook up and get wet in the 1930s and 40s: “George S. Kaufman, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and Dorothy Parker all flocked to the Garden for its permissive (read: alcohol-soaked) atmosphere and smart, starry clientele.” This association of Muhammad Ali and John Steinbeck may be accidental, but Steve Hauk, the writer of fiction based on John Steinbeck’s life, recalls meeting Ali for real in a telling true-life story—“The Day I Met Muhammad Ali”—published here for the first time.

About Administrative Team

The Administrative Team at Steinbeck Now includes international volunteers, collaborators, and developers working to augment and support the authors, contributors, and users at Join us today.


  1. Wes Stillwagon says:

    “The world today hangs by a thin thread, and that thread is the psyche of man.” C. G. Jung, M.D., Ph.D. from “Four filmed interviews by Richard I. Evans, Conversations with Carl G. Jung.

    The administrative team’s conclusion about Steinbeck and Ali, “At their peak the two figures were alike,” because they both were boxers evidences a naïve understanding of the individual human psyche. I suggest that many of the world’s problems would be reduced or eliminated with a simple improvement in the general knowledge of the structure and dynamics of the psyche.

    As I stated elsewhere on this site, John Steinbeck was an Introverted sensation thinking type with sensation his primary function and thinking the auxiliary. This accounts for his lucid analysis and descriptions of characters and events. This type may be the best at being able to stand back or separate themselves from events and remain coldly observant, picking up details that the rest of us may miss..
    Muhammad Ali was an introverted thinking type with intuition the auxiliary function. This type functions with the belief that all life experiences good and bad are sources of lessons provided to build knowledge and skill. What other type would have the fortitude to pursue and achieve three world championship after two failures that would have discouraged other types.

    I thoroughly enjoy reading Steinbeck and earnestly suggest that a simple understanding of the individual human psyche, as Steinbeck knew it, enriches the reading experience by a considerable measure. Or the reader may prefer reading accepting such things as all boxers are alike.
    Questions, challenges, and correspondence welcomed.
    Wes Stillwagon
    Clinton, North Carolina

  2. Wes Stillwagon says:

    I’d like to add that both Ali and Steinbeck were at level four of evolvement or adult maturity; that is, they no longer identified exclusively with their selfish egos and correctly witnessed the world holistically in themselves(they were introverts). They both were here to teach us how to live responsibly in our portion of tide pool. Early in life they both experienced Ed Ricketts’ breaking through– Ali when he converted to Islam and Steinbeck, I think, on his mother’s death, and the break from Carol.
    Wes Stillwagon
    Clinton, North Carolina

  3. Herb Behrens says:

    Some observations about boxing and boxer.

    I would have been a good boxer. I have the build and the speed, but my uncle talked me out of it. He kept reminding me how it would feel to be pinched and pulled at by sportswriters and trainers, to be on the platform before a bunch of telling fans, and to have to sacrifice my personal privacy.
    – Conversations with John Steinbeck. Interview. John C. Rice, 1939, 15

    I’m a reasonably self-satisfied and self-sufficient bloke. Don’t need much, handy, can take care of myself, cook, sew a little, quite content to read a lot and do my work. And if necessary, which it isn’t, I can still lift a fairly accurate left and counter with a neat, tucked-close right hook. And if worse came to worst, I guess I could rumble somebody who would find me tolerable-you know. My own man.
    – Steinbeck: A Life in Letters. John Huston and Gladys Hill. 3/2/65, New York, 812.

Speak Your Mind