Sheldon "Shelly" Arthur Saltman (born August 17, 1931 in Boston) is a promoter of major sports and entertainment events including the worldwide promotion of the Muhammad Ali / Joe Frazier heavyweight championship boxing matches, creating the Andy Williams San Diego Golf Classic, helping to arrange the independent NFL Players Association games during the 1982 NFL season Strike, and bringing cellular phone technology to the former Soviet Union. In the eyes of the general public he is perhaps best known as the man that Evel Knievel tried to beat to death with a baseball bat.
Saltman has created, written, and produced shows for television such as Pro-Fan, Challenge of the NFL Cheerleaders (an early "reality" show), and the movie Ring of Passion about the fights between American boxer Joe Louis and German champion Max Schmeling in the years leading up to World War II. He is also the author of various books including EVEL KNIEVEL ON TOUR, with Maury Green, and FEAR NO EVEL: An Insider's Look At Hollywood with Thomas Lyons.
Shelly Saltman grew up during the Great Depression years as the child of Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Jewish parents in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father, Nate Saltman, was very involved in Boston area politics and Shelly's godfather, his father's best friend, was Tip O'Neill, who went on to become Speaker of the House in the United States House of Representatives. The visitors to the homes of Saltman's parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles included Massachusetts Governor James Michael Curley, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, Madame Chiang Kai-shek of China, and Éamon de Valera, the first Prime Minister of Ireland.
Saltman's father and an uncle, Louie, both played football for the Boston Braves (today, the Washington Redskins); another uncle, Eddie, pitched for the Boston Braves baseball team; and his uncle Miltie played for the Philadelphia Athletics (today, the Oakland Athletics). Saltman spent much of his childhood playing sports, attending Boston Red Sox and Boston Braves baseball games, and attempted to play professional basketball.
Saltman became a professional sportscaster and play-by-play announcer under the name of "Art Sheldon" with a career that included stints as a basketball coach, a baseball umpire, and a boxing ring announcer. He is among the founders of several professional and amateur sports organizations including the Phoenix Suns and the New Orleans Jazz basketball teams, and he was the first President of Fox Sports.
Saltman handled the worldwide promotion of the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier boxing championships, was co-creator of the 1970s "Challenge of the Sexes" TV shows, a key promoter and business partner in the failed Snake River Canyon rocket-cycle jump by motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel, and for a time managed the careers of such sports stars as Canadian NHL hockey player Wayne Gretzky and American boxing champion Thomas Hearns.
After serving in Japan as a sports announcer and radio broadcaster for the Far East Network of the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Saltman came home to the U.S. and began a career working for the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. He went on work as an executive for WBZ-TV in Boston and WJW-TV in Cleveland, making his mark as a promoter by doing such things as holding a press conference in a submarine underneath Boston Harbor for the TV show The Silent Service, picking up the press in helicopters to promote the show Whirlybirds, and broadcasting the world's first "live birth" on television from a hospital in Cleveland, an act which brought him national attention.
From Cleveland he moved on to a position as a Vice President for MCA in New York, working for what was then the largest and most influential talent agency in America. While there, he promoted such shows as the network music/dance hit The Lloyd Thaxton Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, and created a sensation by promoting "cheapskate" comedian Jack Benny's comeback by hosting a press conference in a coin-operated Automat lunch cafeteria. He also worked promotions for the syndication of Leave It To Beaver, Mr. Ed, and in his early years organized major charity fundraisers to raise money for blindness, public polio vaccine programs, and cancer research.
Saltman left MCA and New York after several years, accepting an offer from the Los Angeles talent agency of Bernard, Williams, and Price to focus his talents on promoting the international career of singing and recording star Andy Williams. While in Los Angeles, he worked as a public relations consultant, promoter, and/or manager for numerous performers including actor Jack Albertson, Wilt Chamberlain, and Roger Miller, and worked as the first national publicist for The Osmonds.
As a business entrepreneur, Saltman has worked in 52 countries around the world including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, England, Japan, the Philippines, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Russia, Bulgaria, Panama, Chile, Guatemala, Belize, Venezuela, and Zaire. He has represented significant innovations in modern technology, participated in the development of the world's first plastic credit cards (the original credit cards were made of metal and cardboard), brought the first American-style infomercials to Japanese television, and helped to spread cellular phone technology to much of the third world, during which time he dined with kings, presidents, and military dictators.
In the mid-1970s, Saltman was one of the principals in a company called Invest West Sports. His company was contacted by boxing and sports promoter Bob Arum to invest the money necessary to fund and promote the Snake River Canyon rocket-cycle jump by motorcycle stuntman Evel Knievel. Saltman's company agreed with the condition that Saltman would head up the media promotion.
During the months of promotion, Saltman carried a cassette-tape recorder with him in order to record the elements of the promotion for an upcoming book. Knievel, Arum, and many others involved in the promotion were daily featured on the recordings and Saltman claimed they were aware of his intention to write about his experience.
Three years later in late 1977, Dell Publishing released Saltman's book under the title Evel Knievel on Tour, which included information about Knievel, information that Knievel claimed damaged his image and was misleading to the public. Knievel was outraged because he claimed the book misled the public about not only himself, but his family as well.
A few weeks after publication, Knievel went onto the lot of 20th Century Fox Studios, where Saltman was a Vice President. One of Knievel's friends grabbed Saltman and held him, while Knievel attacked him with an aluminum baseball bat, declaring, "I'm going to kill you!" According to a witness to the attack, Knievel struck repeated blows at Saltman's head, with Saltman blocking the blows with his left arm. Saltman's arm and wrist were shattered in several places before he fell to the ground unconscious.
When the news of Knievel's assault on Saltman was broadcast on national television, Saltman's elderly mother had a heart attack. She died three months later. Knievel received a sentence of six months in work furlough for his assault on Saltman. A civil lawsuit was then filed; the civil court judge called Knievel's acts "cowardly" and awarded Saltman $12.75 million in damages. Knievel declared himself to be bankrupt and none of the civil award was paid.
In 2007, Saltman released a second book entitled Fear No Evel: An Insider's Look at Hollywood in which he told his side of the Knievel attack, as well as his involvement in American sports and media.
After Knievel's death in late 2007, Saltman announced he would be suing the estate for the unpaid award from the civil suit, which he claims now amounts to over $100 million US dollars with interest.
Saltman was married for almost 51 years to Mollie Heifetz, who died on July 1, 2007 after suffering from cancer and kidney disease. The couple had two children.
Saltman is currently involved in numerous business and charitable activities, including new business ventures in Japan, charitable work in Los Angeles, and lecturing on entrepreneurship at the University of California Riverside/Palm Desert Campus. With his friend David Salzman, he helped to put together the Tour of California, a 700-mile bike race, and both sit on the Board of the race. The race was a new annual event that Sports Travel Magazine hailed as the most exciting new event of 2006.
Shelly's volunteer efforts have included positions on the Boards of Directors for:
- International Volleyball Association
- President's Council on Physical Fitness
- U.S. Olympic Committee Advisory Board
- John Mackey Youth Foundation
- Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation
- Santa Monica Police Activities League
- Vikki Carr Hispanic Scholarship Fund
- Children's Asthma/Research Institute
- General Assembly International Sports Federations