IN A ROOM OFF A NARROW hallway on the forty-second floor of mid-town Manhattan’s Four Seasons hotel, heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman is talking to Ben Kinchlow, the dapper and urbane host of The 700 Club, the religious news and talk show. They touch lightly on matters of faith and George’s penchant for naming many of his children George, but mostly they talk about fighting. Like nearly everyone else, Kinchlow doesn’t call him Champ or even Mr. Foreman. One handshake and he’s “George”—at 46, he brings that out in people. From his homes in Houston and Marshall, George has come to New York this third week of December to host Saturday Night Live and to move along an autobiography now in rush production at Random House but he’s plenty in demand elsewhere. The National Father’s Day Committee wants to declare him father of the year. Gumbo magazine wants him as its gumbo marshal. A magazine in France wants to interview him on the subject of poise. Life magazine wants him to pose with a ballerina from the New York City Ballet (the hook is fitness and weight control). George’s agent boats that these days George commands a larger speaking fee than Norman Schwarzkopf. Since his knockout of young Michael Moorer in early November, the world has beaten a path to his door.
Both George and Kinchlow have deep, rich voices. They laugh a lot. But it’s hard to hear too much of their conversation because bedlam has broken loose in the hallway. Certain hotel guests are allowed to register their dogs, and at this moment three Labrador retrievers are baying, snarling, throwing their chests against a door. The dogs are vexed because their owners are out, and for half an hour a camera crew from a South Korean TV network has been muttering and moving gear around in the hall. A hotel security chief steps off an elevator with a look of polite, intense displeasure. He wants those cameras to disappear—now. The Koreans acknowledge that they understand him but stand their ground: Their boss, a correspondent whom George’s handlers know only as Mr. Soo, is in there with George and Kinchlow, and he has just struck his head outside and told them to be ready.
The door opens and George ambles out, grinning. He is nattily attired in a size 50 extra long sport coat. The man is vast—six four, about 250 pounds—but it is not the bigness of obesity. He has an odd, slow gait, as if his feet hurt. Over his shoulder he remarks to his courtly publicist, Mort Sharnik, that Kinchlow looks like a movie star. The grin vanishes when George hears the howls of the dogs and their hard thumps against the door. Then, to the horror of the hotel security chief, the hall is ablaze in TV lights. The Koreans crowd into an elevator with George, shooting all the way. Pressed into a corner, towering over six men, George goes stiff. Beads if sweat pop out on his shaved head. “Please,” says Sharnik. “Sorry,” replies Mr. Soo, and the lights go out.
Down on the seventh floor, in a room reserved by Mr. Soo, George takes a chair and offers a few pleasantries as the harsh lights reignite and the camera rolls. Mr. Soo suggests a prayer. Everyone bows his head. “Heavenly father,” Mr. Soo begins, “we thank you for the time to interview Mr. Foreman,” and the conversation warps off from there. Mr. Soo commends George for his missionary work and for his practice of fighting on Saturday night and flying back to Houston to preach the next morning. “Preaching is my profession,” George responds, smiling. “I just moonlight as a boxer.” Mr. Soo says that it has bee reported in the North Korean press that George will fight nect in that country against a prominent Japanese wrestler. “Oh, I don’t know about that,” says George, after a slight pause. “But I’ve always wanted to go to Korea.”
“ Norss Korean?” cried Mr. Soo.
One can tell that George would like to slip his publicist a pleading look. “I just know it’s one big beautiful country,” he says gamely. “Always wanted to go there. And the food! I just love the food.”
Mr. Soo leans forward, greatly pleased, and in a torrent of Korean wants to know what delicacies have teased his palate. George is running now, praying for the bell. “What’s that soup?” he says. “Something about sparrows?”
“Sparrow?” says Mr. Soo. He reels off the names of several soups.
“Yeah,” says George, trying to remember. “Like…saliva of the sparrow.”
At the end of the interview, George shakes hands all around and strides through the door and down the hall with lights and a camera three feel from his shoulder. In the elevator he turns and faces to orb of yellow glare, and Mr. Soo takes a long lateral step, centering himself. Just before the doors, shut, Mr. Soo’s head plummets forward, and he bows at the waist.
On, then, to the thirty-fifth floor, where George is doing a public-service spot for Martin Luther King Day. George has been asked to join actor Edward James Olmos, singer Tony Bennett, and model Lauren Hutton in a campaign that will, at Coretta Scott King’s urging, attempt to redefine the holiday as an occasion for public service. All George knows is that he’s supposed to say something about the importance of doing good. But now a starched young federal bureaucrat is asking him a long list of complex questions about the value, message and meaning of King’s life.
Though the smile popularly associated with George’s big round face comes to him easily, it’s not his continuous pose. The casual look is now a glower either, but it suffers no fools, or anybody who might take him for one. George studies the bureaucrat a moment, then interrupts him, “Have you got a script?”