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Tragic End for Mat Stars

By Tiny Roebuck

*This article first appeared in the March 21, 1964 edition of The Body Press.

Wrestling generally is in a healthy condition. Many cities are having record high gates (sic) receipts. In spite of this there are two tragic exceptions: Chicago and Montreal.

Fred Kohler is the wrestling promoter in Chicago and his story of rags to riches and back again to rags is almost unbelievable. Two years ago he thrilled and excited the wrestling world by drawing the record gates of $145,000 for a match between Buddy Rogers and Pat O’Connor. Last week he drew little more than 2,000 people in the Chicago Amphitheatre (sic) which seats 12,000.

Kohler was born in Chicago. His father was a saloon keeper. Kohler became a wrestler but soon started promoting. He competed with the entrenched wrestling czar, Ed White.

He delighted the Chicago audiences by using junior heavyweight wrestlers. Soon White was out of business. Kohler suddenly zoomed to the heights when his show at the Marigold Arena was telecast into 65 cities on the DuMont network. Promoters in the 65 cities flocked to Chicago to secure the services of the wrestlers appearing on the network show.

Kohler soon had a vast stable of wrestlers. He booked them for a handsome booking fee all over the East and Midwestern United States. He took a management fee from the wrestlers and a booking fee from the promoters. He also derived a handsome sum from the DuMont network and his wrestling in Chicago prospered beyond his fondest dreams. Kohler is estimated to have made $300,000 to half a million dollars a year all through the 1950’s.

He sold wrestling calendars and wrestlers’ photos over the network and the money from the 65 cities used to be delivered to his offices in dozens and dozens of stuffed mail bags daily. With this great wealth and power, Fred Kohler was the greatest czar ever known in wrestling.

He lived like a movie star. His office was almost impossible to get into. He was walled off from the wrestlers and the promoters by a solid wall of sycophants and stooges.

When he walked into the dressing rooms of wrestlers at his matches, he never glanced to the left or right and hardly ever acknowledged the presence of the grapplers. Like all dictators he only listened to pleasant news, refused to develop new stars and finally when his television contracts expired and his business approached bankruptcy, he took the fatal step of signing Jack Pfefer to be his matchmaker. Pfefer gleefully imported the craziest collection of freaks with childish imitation names of the great stars into the Chicago area and that lasted almost a year.

Kohler is floundering now. His promotion is up for sale. Dick the Bruiser and Wilbur Snyder have toyed with the idea of buying Kohler out, but after weeks of negotiating apparently the deal is off.

Another tragic crash is the story of Eddie Quinn of Montreal. Quinn started promoting wrestling in his hometown, Waltham, Massachusetts. He was a carpenter’s helper and had been called in to repair a wrestling ring. This started him into the game and for several years he managed Yvon Roberte (sic).

Then, about twenty years ago, Quinn moved to Montreal and promoted matches at the Forum. He also promoted in 35 to 40 other towns in the Province of Quebec. When business was at its height the Canadian Broadcasting Company gave him $4,000 per week for the privilege of telecasting his matches the length and breadth of Canada. This went on for almost a decade. Quinn never made less than a quarter of a million dollars a year and often much more.

He spent money like it was going out of style. Each winter he would go to Miami. While there he had his secretary phone him from Montreal and read the ENTIRE contents of the Montreal newspapers to him over the phone. Quinn had the largest phone bill in the Province of Quebec for an individual.

He issued his phone credit cards to his friends as gifts. When he was a partner in the promotion in Boston in 1957, he shocked his partners by always turning in an expense account of $1,200 to $1,500 for a three-day stop at the Sheraton Copley hotel. His transportation was $400 for the round trip by train, Montreal to Boston. He actually spent this money. He was always surrounded by a large crowds of stooges who ate, drank, dressed themselves and phoned at Quinn’s expense.

Quinn became so swollen with his own ego he too departed from reality and lived in a dream world. He seldom attended the matches. He ignored the wrestlers and soon lost all idea of what the public wanted to see. With bad business, his health suffered. He had several strokes. He is almost completely out of the wrestling business.

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