Interview with Edwin Pope

Tell me how you came to know Clay during that bus trip that you took.


For the second, ah, Ali-Liston fight which was scheduled for Boston, ah, about a year after Ali first dethroned Liston, Ali's people had this idea that it would help promote the fight to, for him to drive his own bus all the way from Miami to a little place called Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts where he would train. Well, little did we realize that, ah, Ali was going to actually drive the bus. So we went over to his house in northwest Miami. There were four White writers-myself, George Plimpton, Bud Collins of the Boston Globe and Mort Schernick of Sports Illustrated and, ah, the rest of them were sparring partners, trainers, ah, Jimmy Ellis, later to become champion was along. So we were all piled on the bus with a lot of fried chicken and, ah, soda pop and took off and Clay is behind the bus and, behind the wheel of the bus and had this terribly disconcerting habit of, while he was driving along 70 miles an hour, peering around to address everyone on the bus without looking at the highway. And everybody was constantly on the edge of their seats. Also, he would lean out the winder[SIC], the window at every opportunity and wave to people and announce that, ah, he'd say, "I'm Muhammad Ali. I'm the greatest and I'm driving this bus up to Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts where I'm going to kill that mean old Sonny Liston again. I'm going to take the gorilla's head away from him and bash him in it, bash him in the head with it." Ah, on that bus trip, I gathered a different perception of Muhammad Ali. Up until then I had saw- seen him as sort of a hostile, somewhat bristling person when you would try to approach him. On that trip it became very apparent that he was basically, enormously, sweet natured, very compassionate, very friendly, ah, altogether taken up with his new role as a Muslim. Ah, he would make a lot of jokes about everything but being a Muslim. We had a lot of things go wrong on that trip. The bus broke down outside of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Ah, he had to hire another bus. Ah, I recall as we drove away in the new bus with the old bus sitting there and pulled over to the side of the road with the, the, ah, tires caught on fire. And Ali leaned out the window and said, "Good-bye little red bus. I was too good for a little bus like you anyway." Um, but several of the fighters got sick on the road. We never stopped to stay in a hotel or anything. We just went straight from Miami to right outside of Boston for four days, and when we got there, none of us had bathed in four days and we'd just been eating in roadside places. We looked like a convention of chimney sweeps. But he would, when he wasn't driving, he would come back there and hunker down in the seat beside you and even though he was very slim and almost wiry at that time, he was still, had such a big frame, he would just squash you up against the side of the, of the bus and you'd be trying to type. And Ali didn't read very well. He was rejected from the army partly because he, he couldn't read very well. And he would look over at what you were typing and he would make comments, ah, make some editorial comments on your editorial comments. "I liked that." or "I don't like that." But actually, he really didn't know what you were writing. But he was a very empathetic, ah, just a nice person. And no matter what preconception you got on that bus with Ali with, it would have been absolutely impossible to get off disliking him.