Georges Carpentier (French pronunciation: [ʒɔʁʒ kaʁ.pɑ̃ˈtje]; January 12, 1894 – October 28, 1975) was a French boxer, actor and World War I pilot. He fought mainly as a light heavyweight and heavyweight in a career lasting from 1908 to 1926. Nicknamed the “Orchid Man”, he stood 5 feet 11 1⁄2 inches (182 cm) and his fighting weight ranged from 147 to 175 pounds (67 to 79 kg). Carpentier was known for his speed, his excellent boxing skills and his extremely hard punch. The Parisian Sports Arena Halle Georges Carpentier is named after him.
Born in Liévin in Pas-de-Calais, Carpentier began his career by progressing up through the weight divisions, fighting in every division from welterweight upwards. After making his first professional bout at age 14, he was welterweight champion of France and of Europe in 1911, middleweight champion of Europe in 1912, and light heavyweight champion of Europe in 1913. On June 1, 1913, he beat “Bombardier” Billy Wells in Ghent, Belgium to become heavyweight champion of Europe. He defended his title in December against Wells, in January 1914 against Pat O’Keeffe and in London on July 16 he beat Ed “Gunboat” Smith to add the “White Heavyweight Champion of the World” to his European title. The white heavyweight title bout sported a purse worth 9,000 pounds sterling (equivalent to approximately $1,079,704 in today’s funds).
Carpentier was also a referee during the early stages of his career, supervising a number of fights including the world title bout between Jack Johnson and Frank Moran in June 1914. Carpentier was a French Air Force aviator during World War I and was awarded two of the highest French military honors, the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille Militaire. This served to heighten his already exceptional popularity, not only in France but in the United States and England as well.
Carpentier defended his title twice again in 1919 before dropping down a weight class to challenge Battling Levinsky for the light heavyweight championship of the world. The fight took place on October 12, 1920, in Jersey City and Levinsky was knocked out in the fourth. Carpentier’s attempt at the heavyweight Championship of the world came on July 2, 1921, again in Jersey City, when he faced Jack Dempsey in front of boxing’s first million dollar gate (approximately $14,000,000 today). Carpentier was badly beaten around before suffering a knockout in the second minute of the fourth round. Carpentier never fought again for that title. He lost his world light heavyweight title and his European heavyweight and light heavyweight titles the following year, on September 24, 1922, in a controversial bout with Senegalese fighter Battling Siki. His last truly noteworthy fight was on July 24, 1924, with Gene Tunney at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, New York City. Carpentier lost the bout by TKO after fifteen rounds. He retired from the ring after a final exhibition bout in 1927.
Following his retirement from boxing, Carpentier spent a number of years as a vaudeville song-and-dance man, mostly in England and the US. He is the author of a boxing novel, Brothers of the Brown Owl: A Story of the Boxing Ring published c. 1920 by Cassell and Company (being a volume in the uniform Cassell’s Empire Library). He also appeared in half a dozen motion pictures, starring in both silent films and talkies. He made three films in Hollywood, one for director J. Stuart Blackton in England and two in his native France. His last screen appearance was in 1934. Soon after, he became proprietor of an upmarket bar, Chez Georges Carpentier, in a chic Paris neighborhood. In several different locations, this is the profession he would exercise until shortly before his death.
From the time they boxed together in 1921, Carpentier remained close friends with Jack Dempsey. They visited each other in New York and Paris, got together to commemorate the anniversary of their famous bout and exchanged birthday greetings.