The WAWLI Papers No. 116...
ARE WRESTLERS PEOPLE?
(January, 1934, source unknown)
By Westbrook Pegler
Often, as I have sat at the ringside, watching the great hairy lumps of living meat spank, throttle and wring one another, it has occurred to me to wonder whether wrestlers love and are loved and whether they really suffer. Or are they, like the fishworm, incapable of emotion and insensitive to pain?
Perhaps I am wrong in assuming that the fishworm has neither sentiment nor senses but I do assume as much because it spares my conscience on those rare occasions -- the last one was in 1926 -- when I string him on the hook. I did have a twinge of misgiving some time ago when I read in a sporting-goods catalogue of a device for luring the fishworm from his hole in the ground. This was an electrical apparatus, something like a tuning-fork, which, being jabbed in the ground near the worm-hole, uttered a faint mooing note and brought the male, or bull, worm charging out of the soil with his neck arched and his pulses pounding in his veins.
It suggested that the fishworm might have depths after all and that we might all be mistaken in our easy belief that because he does not quack, bark or snarl, he doesn't know he is being ill-treated. Maybe he is just reticent. There are New Englanders like that but we call them canny.
It would be very unchivalrous, I think, to impose upon the most beautiful sentiment of all in any of God's creatures with the siren call of love to seduce him to his doom. This, moreover, is quite aside from the moral aspect of the matter. Sex is something which Nature has implanted in all of us and in its proper relation to life is a very beautiful thing. But I would call it most immoral to inflame the fishworm's passion by artificial means even though we did not string him on a hook but merely left him there, bothered, bewildered and breathing hard.
The wrestler is a strange organism. It has certain characteristics which must test the conviction of the most confirmed Fundamentalist, suggesting that 'way, 'way back in some rocky cave all of us were wrestlers. It walks on its hind legs, it can be trained to speak and understand and Mr. Jack Curley, the promoter of wrestling shows, once had one in his herd which could cook a good dinner. However it cooked only one dinner for Mr. Curley.
He was entertaining a party of friends at his home in Great Neck, Long Island, that night and his wrestler had cooked pheasant for them. During the meal, Mr. Curley remarked to the lady sitting next to him that his cook was a wrestler. "Oh, I would like to see it," the lady said and Mr. Curley, clapping his hands, cried, "Wrestler! Come heren sie!"
That was Mr. Curley's way of addressing this wrestler. It was a German. When he wanted the wrestler to go downstairs he said, "Wrestler! Down-stairsen sie" and when he wanted it to go upstairs he said, "Wrestler! Up-stairsen sie." The ablative, you know.
So when the lady said she would like to see the wrestler which had cooked the dinner, Mr. Curley clapped his hands and called, "Wrestler! Come heren sie!"
The kitchen door opened and the wrestler entered. It was wearing a pair of wool wrestling trunks and sneakers. Its hide and the fur on its chest were moist.
"Wrestler," said Mr. Curley, "dinner is very good tonight."
"Jah?" said the wrestler, puckering its face in an appreciative grin and blinking its knobby ears. "Fine. But boy is it hot in that kitchen. Look how the sweat runs off of me."
Many a night at the ringside I have heard laymen sitting in the forward rows explain to their ladies that the punishment which wrestlers inflict on one another really does not hurt them as they are used to it and cannot feel, anyway. This is of a piece with the assumption that the fishworm cannot feel. I am not sure that it is true.
The fishworm wriggles and squirms when it is put upon the hook and the wrestler trumpets terribly and whooshes and writhes when it is being twisted in the ring. This may only mean that some vague intuition, such as turtles possess, is telling the wrestler not to go over on its back. Yet the wrestler is so amenable to training that it is comparatively easy to teach it to recognize a signal and, in violation of a strong natural instinct, to roll over on its back momentarily after thirty or forty minutes of wrestling, while the referee gives its adversary a slap on the shoulder signifying that it has won the contest.
The word contest, of course, is merely a trade term. Most of the minor politicians who constitute the various prizefight commissions and supervise wrestling do not authorize its use in connection with wrestling bouts. They insist upon calling them exhibitions and the newspaper boys who cover them call them mockeries or make-believes and refer to that thirty or forty minutes of action which precedes the fall as the squirm.
Wrestling is the one hazardous occupation in the sport department of journalism because wrestlers are vindictive in a dumb way and one never can tell when one of them will pick up another and throw it at a correspondent sitting at the ringside. Moreover, after one has seen a few squirms one has seen them all and consequently one is likely to doze off during that time when the wrestlers are putting on the squirm. One learns to gauge these cat-naps and come out of it just in time for the signal.
But the wrestler may resent this as an affront to its art and retaliate by heaving 250 pounds of moist and rather smelly weight, usually foreign matter, into the journalist's lap. I have seen as many as six journalists mown down by one wrestler thrown in this manner and had a very exciting evening myself once when I made a mistake at ringside.
One wrestler was sitting on top of another and, with the dumb concentration of a trick baboon untying a shoelace, was twisting a large, bare foot.
"Hey, wrestler!" I cried, in honest error, for they were badly tangled up, "you are twisting your own foot."
At that the wrestler let out a loud howl of "Ow-oo," thinking that if it was twisting its own foot it must be hurting itself, and let go. But it happened to be the other wrestler's foot after all and when the first one let go the other one jumped up.
This enraged the wrestler who had been twisting the foot and six times that evening it threw the other one at me with intent to inflict great bodily harm. But, fortunately, though it had plenty of swift, its control was b ad. So nothing happened to me, although the New York World-Telegram was hit twice and the New York Times's typewriter was smashed.
The fact that wrestlers utter sounds of apparent anguish does not necessarily prove that they really feel pain. They are trained to that, too. In former times they wrestled without sound effects and these were introduced in recent years by Mr. Curley who hired an expert in bird-calls and animal cries to instruct the members of his herd. At first the wrestlers made some ludicrous mistakes and one sometimes heard a wrestler twittering gaily when it was supposed to bleat piteously.
As to whether they love and are loved I just have no way of knowing. Maybe so, though.
MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL CARDS FROM 1941 (Jim Melby)
January 7, Minneapolis
Bronko Nagurski beat Rudy Strongberg (COR), Cliff Gustafson beat Jack McDonald, Orville Brown beat Jim Wright, Earl Wampler beat Bob Foster
January 13, Duluth
Ray Steele beat Rudy Strongberg (NWA title match), Walter Podolak beat Andy Moen
January 14, Minneapolis
Ray Steele beat Hans Kampfer (NWA title match), Cliff Gustafson beat Andy Moen, Joe Pazandak beat Sammy Feeback, Steve Brody drew Charles Harben
January 20, St. Paul
Hans Kampfer beat Ras (Seelie) Samara, Cliff Gustafson beat Earl Wampler, Rudy Strongberg beat Jack McDonald, Stan Mayslack drew Charles Harben
January 21, Minneapolis
Dick Raines beat Walter Podolak, Cliff Gustafson beat Seelie Samara, Orville Brown beat Jack McDonald, Stan Mayslack drew Earl Wampler
January 28, Minneapolis
Maurice Tillet (French Angel) beat Dick Raines, Rudy Strongberg beat Alf Johnson, Joe Pazandak beat Jack McDonald, Andy Moen drew Earl Wampler
February 4, Minneapolis
Cliff Gustafson beat Rudy Strongberg, Ali Adali drew Hans Kampfer, Joe Pazandak beat Earl Wampler, Stan Mayslack drew Charles Harben
February 11, St. Paul
Ray Steele drew Hans Kampfer (NWA title match), Rudy Strongberg beat Joe Dusek, Andy Moen drew Walter Podolak, Joe Pazandak beat Stan Mayslack
February 18, Minneapolis
Cliff Gustafson beat Walter Podolak, Orville Brown beat Jack Hader, Rudy Strongberg beat Ray Schwartz, Earl Wampler beat Charles Harben
February 26, St. Paul
Bronko Nagurski beat Rudy Strongberg, Walter Podolak beat Jack Hader, Ray Eckert drew Jim Wright, Earl Wampler beat Gaius Young
March 4, St. Paul
Cliff Gustafson beat Ray Eckert, Hans Kampfer beat Walter Podolak, Jim Wright beat Andy Moen, Jack Hader beat Charles Harben
March 11, Minneapolis
Bronko Nagurski beat Ray Steele (NWA title change), Ralph Garibaldi beat Stan Mayslack, Rudy LaDitzi beat Andy Moen, Jim Wright beat Rudy Strongberg (8,000)
March 21, St. Paul
Bronko Nagurski drew Lou Thesz (NWA title match), Rudy Strongberg drew Jim Wright, Ralph Garibaldi beat Walter Podolak, Stan Mayslack beat Charles Harben
March 25, Minneapolis
Lou Thesz beat Rudy LaDitzi, Cliff Gustafson beat Rudy Strongberg, Don McIntyre beat Jack Hader (dec), Earl Wampler beat Steve Brody
April 8, Minneapolis
Bronko Nagurski beat Lou Thesz (NWA title match), Jim Wright beat Ralph Garibaldi, Don McIntyre beat Stan Mayslack, Jack Russell beat Earl Wampler
April 15, Minneapolis
Cliff Gustafson vs. Jim Wright, Don McIntyre vs. Earl Wampler, Ralph Garibaldi vs. Stan Mayslack
April 22, Minneapolis
Bronko Nagurski beat Ray Steele (DQ) (NWA title match), Jim Wright beat Don McIntyre, Jack Russell beat Jack Hader, Steve Brody beat Charles Harben
April 29, Minneapolis
Iron Talun beat Jim Wright, Abe Coleman beat Jack Russell, Andy Moen beat Jack Hader, Earl Wampler beat Cy Berres
May 6, Minneapolis
Bronko Nagurski beat Iron Talun (COR) (NWA title match), Everett Marshall beat Abe Coleman, Bill Lee beat Jack Russell, Earl Wampler beat Gaius Young
May 13, Minneapolis
Bronko Nagurski drew Everett Marshall (NWA title match), Bill Lee beat Joe Dusek, Jim Wright beat Rudy Strongberg, Don McIntyre beat Stan Mayslack
May 20, Minneapolis
Cliff Gustafson beat Dick Raines, Bill Lee beat Jim Wright, Rudy Strongberg beat Don McIntyre, Earl Wampler drew Dobie Osborne
May 27, Minneapolis
Cliff Gustafson beat Everett Marshall, Dick Raines beat Jack Russell, Bill Lee beat Seelie Samara, Stan Mayslack beat Dobie Osborne
June 3, Minneapolis
Maurice Tillet (French Angel) beat Hans Kampfer, Dick Raines drew Rudy Strongberg, Bill Lee beat Abe Kashey, Alf Johnson drew Earl Wampler
June 6, St. Louis
Sandor Szabo beat Bronko Nagurski (DQ) (NWA title change)
June 10, Minneapolis
Bronko Nagurski beat Bill Lee, Orville Brown beat Rudy Strongberg, Hans Kampfer drew Joe Cox, Earl Wampler beat Steve Brody
June 17, Minneapolis
Cliff Gustafson beat Bronko Nagurski, Orville Brown drew Joe Cox, Hans Kampfer beat Benny Rosen, Stan Mayslack beat Jack Hader (8,000)
July 1, Minneapolis
Sandor Szabo drew Cliff Gustafson (NWA title match), Orville Brown beat Joe Cox, Rudy Strongberg beat Jack Kennedy, Steve Brody drew Stan Mayslack
October 7, Minneapolis
Sandor Szabo beat Joe Savoldi (NWA title match), Dick Raines beat Rudy LaDitzi, Mark Hosely drew Rudy Patek, Alf Johnson beat Alvin Britt
October 17, St. Paul
Sandor Szabo beat Dick Raines (NWA title match), Mark Hosely drew Earl Wampler, Alf Johnson drew Rudy Patek, Stan Mayslack beat Bob Foster
October 21, Minneapolis
Sandor Szabo beat Al Lovelock (NWA title match), Dick Raines beat Rudy Patek, Mark Hosely beat Bob Foster, Earl Wampler beat Johnny Seals
October 23, Minneapolis
Bronko Nagurski beat Dick Raines, Orville Brown drew Mark Hosely, Benny Rosen beat Earl Wampler, Andy Moen beat Al Lafoon
November 16, Minneapolis
Cliff Gustafson beat Al Mills, Orville Brown beat Alf Johnson, Rudy Patek beat Jack Kennedy, Earl Wampler drew Stan Mayslack
November 25, Minneapolis
Orville Brown beat Mark Hosely, Dick Raines beat Rudy Patek, Abe Coleman beat Earl Wampler, Andy Moen beat Ron Etchison
December 2, Minneapolis
Orville Brown beat Joe Savoldi, Al Mills drew Abe Coleman, Alf Johnson beat Jack Hader, Andy Moen beat Gaius Young
December 9, Minneapolis
Orville Brown beat Abe Coleman, Al Mills drew Joe Savoldi, Andy Moen drew Earl Wampler, Stan Mayslack beat Pete Sherman
December 16, Minneapolis
Orville Brown drew Cliff Gustafson, Bill Bartush beat Alf Johnson, Abe Coleman drew Rudy Patek, Stan Mayslack beat Johnny Seals
CRASH FINISHED SEATTLE MAN'S CAREER ON MAT
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 1985)
By Ken Turetzky
FORT WORTH, Texas -- For Johnny Valentine, the wrestling arena remains the one place where life makes sense.
He loves the arena not necessarily because that was where he crushed opponents with his trademark "elbow," but because it was where he came alive.
Valentine, 56 and a Seattle native, doesn't often visit the arenas anymore, and he rarely watches professional wrestling on television. Shut out of the ring by injury, he is not a patient spectator.
He once was one of the meanest, most athletic, and most successful wrestlers, earning an annual income in the six figures as a main-event attraction around the world.
But the show stopped for Valentine in 1975 when the chartered plane taking him and fellow wrestler Ric Flair from Charlotte, N.C., to Wilmington, N.C., ran out of gas and crashed five miles short of its destination.
The pilot eventually died. Flair was badly shaken up, but later returned to the ring and is reigning National Wrestling Alliance champion. Valentine, then 47, suffered a broken back, foot, and hand.
It has taken a decade of therapy for Valentine to reach the point where he can drop his metal crutches and take 22 steps supported only by leg braces.
But while he displays no real bitterness about his condition and has developed other interests over the years, he's not prepared to put aside the one-time passion of his life.
"I never gave up the fact that I'd wrestle again. I'm still not sure I've given up," Valentine said from the sunlit front room of the two-story, 19th-century house on the north side of Fort Worth that he shares with his wife of 13 months, Sharon.
Through regular workouts at the health club, he has maintained his muscular upper body. Valentine's blond hair -- which provided his nickname, "The Blond Bomber" -- remains moderately long and his face, though creased at the brow, is unlined.
If he could walk he could wrestle, and would. "The only time I ever really enjoyed life was my hour in the ring. There I was king, you might say," Valentine said.
"It was the only time I felt really complete. It didn't matter about the (world) championship (which Valentine never won) or what the people thought. I knew in the time I was in the ring that I was better than anybody else. It's a good feeling knowing that you're doing something nobody else can do as well."
He was born John Wisniski, the son of Polish parents. While in high school at Hobart, 30 miles east of Seattle, Valentine boxed as a semipro with the idea that he would turn professional.
But that was before Stanislaus Zbyszko, a world champion wrestler in the 1920s who came to prominence by beating such opponents as Ed (Strangler) Lewis and Jim Londos, found Valentine, then 15, in a Seattle gym.
"Zbyszko sold me on wrestling," Valentine said. "By the time I looked in all his old scrapbooks, I was very interested." Valentine told his parents he was leaving ("They weren't too pleased") and moved to Zbyszko's Missouri farm, where he trained for three years to become a wrestler.
Valentine was 19 and weighed 190 pounds when Zbyszko sent him to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1947, for his first bout against Karl Nowena.
The bout did not go well for Valentine. "I just remember he (Nowena) was an old guy. He looked like nothing, but he gave me a hard time," Valentine said. "He started my education -- my real education that appearances are deceiving as far as how tough a person is."
Although Valentine won many titles, beginning with the Cuban championship in 1949 and winding up with the Japanese championship in 1972, he drew or lost more than 100 matches for the world championship.
He did, however, beat 10 world champions from 1953 to 1975.
He succeeded without a true "gimmick," other than the elbow or the double leg-lock for which fans came to know him. Never a hero ("babyface," in wrestling vernacular) or villain, Valentine won't deny that he was nasty.
"I never took it easy on an opponent. I punished everybody I wrestled," he said. "Nobody ever had a night off with me." His "coup de grace" was the elbow, which the discerning observer might say never really nailed its victim as appearances would indicate.
"Once I had (the opponent) on his back," Valentine said, "I'd leap up in the air and drop my full weight on his throat or face. He got the full force."
However, "I didn't worry whether people liked me or not. I drew money, attention, and crowds. I was a winner and (fans) never came to my matches without seeing a good fight."
In that way, Valentine was secure in his profession. He views himself as an honest wrestler. "I would have felt real uncomfortable as a hero or a villain, playing a part somebody gave me."
He doesn't care for "good guys," particularly the currently popular Von Erich brothers, or their father and one-time Valentine nemesis, Fritz Von Erich.
"I don't think there's a good guy I know of who is legitimate," he said. "I think you'll find more good guys in the bad guys' dressing room. You get a bunch of good guys in the dressing room, all they're doing is walking in front of the mirror and posing. Sometimes the bad guys show their muscles to aggravate the audience, but the good guys are in the dressing room sneaking looks at themselves."
He had planned to wrestle until age 60, but said he probably would have kept going until 70. That wouldn't be so unusual, however. Lou Thesz, now 72 (sic), still wrestles occasionally.
In wrestling, Valentine said, "you don't get tore up like a football player. You don't get punch-drunk like a fighter.
"A wrestler is usually at his best after 40. There's so much to know. I don't think I was real tough until I was 40."
Valentine also sells his book, "Power Play -- 25 Wrestling Holds for Fun and Profit," ($5), and runs the "Johnny Valentine School of Wrestling," ($50 by correspondence), which he said has about 500 students.
And Valentine retains the dream he will wrestle again. "I miss it," he said. "I was good at it."
The WAWLI Papers No. 117...
THE GRUNT AND GROAN BUSINESS
(Canadian Business, January, 1948)
By Andy O'Brien
For better or for worse, the hilariously maligned science of Grunt & Groan has been parlayed into big business in Montreal. Local enthusiasts there contributed more than $300,000 to wrestling during 1947. This all-time record box office gross, amassed during 40 shows at the Forum and exceeding even the previous turnstile feat of $240,264 in 1946 at the same Forum, has firmly entrenched the Canadian metropolis as wrestling mecca of the world and a reformed Boston taxi-driver as Pachyderm Promotional Peer.
Executives of more prosaic business enterprises are often surprised to learn that Grunt & Groan Inc. operates more by guide than by guess.
The combination of cauliflowered cavorters' sweat, blood and tears and Promoter Eddie (Vesuvius) Quinn's violent showmanship has swollen attendance to 15,000 in Montreal while his Ottawa Auditorium sideline has seen Bytown boomed from a $600 town to one grossing $5,500. All in all, his array of some 150 wrestlers now appear in a chain of 35 clubs extending from Ottawa to Halifax, over which Quinn beams as Muscle Mahatma for a ten per cent cut from all shows. He schedules the talent and takes in the checques without ever having to go near the minor spots.
As this issue of Canadian Business goes to press, Quinn expects to be in Paris to work an international exchange deal with ex-Montreal mat idol Henri Deglane, who now rules the Palais des Sports. French Canada has always gone for French grapplers in a big way, as three $20,000 gates testified in recent years in Montreal. Quinn feels he definitely can do with more of same "if some guy will only put me straight on this dollar mix-up. My wrestlers won't go over there if they can't take the francs out."
Mahatma Quinn is pressed for the secret of his success -- evidenced by his $30,000 home in the Town of Mont Royal, a half-acre of Cadillac, ownership in the $100,000 El Morocco night club and a net yearly income of approximately $50,000 -- but will tell you: "Mob hysteria on a mass production basis does the trick."
If you attempt to insinuate that this very tactic tends to remove wrestling from the sphere of legitimate business, Quinn will forthwith light a fuse.
"Whattayoumean?" he will bark. "Even the National Hockey League relies on mob hysteria whenever it has a chance to use same. Just look at the rhubarb kicked up by hockey executives last season Canadiens' Elmer Lach was allegedly felled by a Toronto player. The only difference is that wrestling doesn't wait for the old mob appeal to be injected by chance. We create M.H. by insisting on slam-bang thriller shows for every card."
A prime example of mob hysteria in action is a histrionic meanie, Henry (Kulky) Kulkovich, who earns almost four times the salary of a Canadian Senator simply by being hated.
"I owe my $15,000 annual income," Kulkavich once told me, "to the general repugnance with which the sporting public regards me."
The fact that he lost or tied the vast majority of some 8,000 (sic) bouts fails to create an inferiority complex in this matdom Bad Man.
Note that this professional crowd-disaster is not only superb company personally but a man of considerable intelligence and impressive background. By losing three bouts and drawing one in one week for a $135 fee in Montreal, $75 at Ottawa, $75 at Quebec and $150 as headliner at Burlington, Vermont, he feels the average fan places himself in the role of the hero and the more decisively he, Kulky, is beaten, the happier the fan will be. That's good business because the fans will insist Kulky be brought back again to be defeated some more.
Meanwhile, entirely unhappy about her son's success, Mrs. Kulkavich enjoys social prestige at Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. She keeps Henry in the doghouse on a more or less permanent basis, releasing him only during visits home -- occasions on the infrequent side because this year he added movie-making in Hollywood to his United States, Canada and South America wrestling engagements.
And, still talking about business, I was once asked by Kulkavich not to mention the fact that he had served with the U.S. Navy. The unusual request came as a result of my hearing that the wrestler had won a "served with distinction" tag for anti-submarine action in the Caribbean.
"This might be hard to understand," he shrugged, "but being detested means money in the bank to me. In fact, it's the only way I can make such money and have so much travelling fun, because I'm not the classiest wrestler in the world and could probably never get to the top on my mat ability alone. So being hated gets me bookings. Once the public learn I was a sailor and did a fair job in the war, nothing I do in the ring will make them made at me.
Instead of shrieking that I'm a heel, they'll grin and say: 'That gob sure is a tough baby.' Actually, the only time I wrestle cleanly is on service fund shows."
Whereas you and I treasure little trophies of triumph -- a silver spoon from bowling, a little statuette from golfing, a college letter, an illuminated address from admiring co-workers -- the professional baddie Kulkavich points with pride to the pop bottles, ladies' shoes, men's rubbers and canes, tons of paper programs and even a pair of false teeth that have been tossed by raging customers.
"I try to tell the indignant ones that if justice hasn't triumphed this week it might do so next week, so why in hell are they getting all het up?" he says.
Does all this make wrestling a racket?
Most of us sport writers have taken so many cracks at the game that perhaps it would be more interesting to hear how Big Business Man Quinn answers the charge.
"We admit there's showmanship in wrestling," he says. "By showmanship I mean that one wrestler may be able to beat another in ten minutes but it takes him twenty to do it. Yet is that so different from horse racing, where the best horse doesn't go out front and stay there all the way? No, a smart rider often tucks his oatburner into place position and lets somebody else set the pace to the stretch, when he comes in with a winning burst of speed."
If you have an hour or so to spare, the Mahatma will expound this theme at length, stressing that you'll find "experts" on Wall Street and in the newspapers who are still convinced World War II wasn't on the level.
"Besmirch the wrestling profession as much as you like," desk-thumps Quinn, "but what other form of sporting entertainment gives as much to its fans? There have been 26 wrestlers -- including Stan Stasiak, Jim Browning and Charley Hanson -- who died from ring injuries. Mike Romano's collapse in a ring at Washington caused a riot as fans shrieked: 'Fake!' After they carried him to the dressing room, the medicos found Mike was dead.
In the same ring in Washington in 1937, Montreal's spectacular Yvon Robert called it quits after seven minutes of wrestling with Cliff Olson, the toehold king. As he was carried out of the ring the fans hissed him, one shoved a lighted cigarette into Yvon's back. X-rays showed Yvon suffered a quintuple fracture of the left leg. The same wrestler suffered a broken back, two fractures of the arm and . . ."
This could go on to the end of the article but the showmanship argument plus the entertainment provided cannot be disputed.
Quinn has been undeniably shrewed and has established himself not only in Canada but through affiliation with the International Wrestling Association down as far as St. Louis, by avoiding ice cream, smelt and mud matches. He abhors freak spectacles, stressing wrestlers who at least act like athletes. Even Primo Carnera and "The Angel" went about Montreal shows a la wrestler.
Whenever there are signs of waning enthusiasm in the gentle art of gouging, poking and heaving opposition out of rings, the Montreal public has had bigger spectacles tossed at them. The result has invariably been bigger business. For instance, Quinn introduced team wrestling -- two wrestlers versus two others -- a couple of years ago. The Forum was quickly sold out. Then Quinn apparently decided to make those who hadn't tried to get tickets feel they had been very foolish indeed. He added ex-heavyweight world's boxing champion Jack Sharkey as referee. Then, as an apparent afterthought, he 'confessed' to the newsmen that he feared even Sharkey couldn't instil law and order into the impending battle. So he added Jack Dempsey as co-referee. The fact that Dempsey and Sharkey would be appearing together in a ring for the first time since their one million dollar fight years ago and that they had been alleged enemies ever since, needled the public into a frenzy. For the first time in local history, wrestling tickets were being scalped along Peel Street. And subsequent shows boomed.
The custom of importing a 'name' referee, whether or not he knows any more than Mother Machree about wreslting, is in itself rather slick showmanship. It is designed primarily to give waning publicity a shot in the arm. If, during the course of mat action, an ex-world's boxing champ hangs a brisk right hook on the chin of a particularly obnoxious pachyderm, that's also all to the good for subsequent publicity. As long as the fan's concept of justice rules, everybody remains uproariously content.
Financially, all wrestlers on the major circuits do all right for themselves, largely because they have little or no overhead beyond a few pairs of shorts, a dressing gown and ring shoes.
They don't have to worry about bookings or cutting in managers on their earnings.
Take, for instance, a team match of a year or so ago in which Montreal's French-Canadian favorites, Yvon Robert and Larry Moquin, were sent in against the storm Dusek brothers from Omaha. Sharkey was pressed into service as referee.
About 50 per cent of the gross gate was divided among the grapplers. Robert, whose income hits the $40,000 bracket and Moquin, a former $12-per-week RCA Victor handyman and now garnering $25,000 per annum, achieved increased local prestige as well as $1,750 apiece by winning over the notorious Riot Squad of Wrestling. Sharkey drew $800. After paying the Forum rental, supporting performers and publicity expenses, Quinn took home a few thousand for his own efforts.
Last September on Old Orchard Beach I met a knarled old-timer emerging like a graying walrus from the frigid Atlantic where, at the ripe young age of 73, he had just done his daily three-mile swim. He was Stanislaus Zbyszko, who was a world's wrestling champion in the days when they made 'em one at a time instead of by the gross.
A veteran of 3,000 bouts all over the world, he admitted that he still feels the terrible strength of Strangler Lewis's crushing holds. It was 26 years ago, when he was 46 years old, that Zbyszko took the title from Lewis but lost to him the next year. In 1925, a few months later, Wayne Munn trimmed Lewis and the same year Zbyszko tossed Munn to regain the crown, only to lose it for the last time to Joe Stecher.
In forty years of mat warfare, Zbyszko told me he had grossed over two million dollars and had managed to retain a goodly slice of it. He has a farm up north, a home on the beach at Old Orchard and lots of pleasant friends. It made one wonder how many major business executives could say the same, if any of them live to 75. Even if they do, how many could romp into the cold Atlantic for a marathon swim daily?
"There was a day when wrestling was honorable, before the comics overran it. However, I honestly believe the sport will come back."
But if it does come bazck, there is every reason for suspecting wrestling won't be the Big Business it is today. Without the stress on showmanship, it is hardly likely that Montreal, for example, would support the game as it does. Whether it's funny or phoney, rugged or riotous, seems beside the point. The emphasis is now on entertainment and wreslting is just that, in a frenzied sort of way. Without a rule book, such goings-on are possible and entirely plausible financially.
ROBERT BEATS WATSON, TAKES EMPIRE TITLE
(The Herald, Montreal, Thursday, January 26, 1950)
Yvon Robert is British Empire wrestling champion, today, but there will be great outcries in Toronto.
Robert won back the title from the Queen City's Whipper Watson, last night, by virtue of a count-out by referee Arthur Paquette, which ended a match replete with fast falls.
Robert took the first fall, lost the second in 25 seconds when Watson rushed from his corner, knocked Robert through the ropes with a drop-kick, yanked him back, and flattened him again.
In the third tussle, Watson threw another drop-kick that knocked Robert through the ropes. As the big Hab got himself erect on the ring apron, Watson threw a flying leg-scissors across the ropes, in an effort to drag Robert in. Both wrestlers were thus outside the ring, and when Watson refused to break his hold, the referee started to count. Robert then pitched Watson loose, the Toronto wrestler fell on the floor outside the ring, and Robert scrambled back through the ropes at the count of "7." Watson didn't make it, and Robert was declared the winner, over the wild protests of Watson.
It was a whirlwind battle, crowded into some 20 minutes of actual wrestling time, but all action.
Robert took the lead after 17 minutes of the fastest wrestling seen here in a long time, as they moved from grip to grip at top speed, with little to choose between them. Robert finally got his short-arm scissors fastened on, and though Watson fought to get out, he couldn't break the hold, and had to concede the fall after being bumped heavily around the ring.
Watson evened up with a whirlwind drop-kick attack that won him the second fall in 25 seconds, and just over two minutes had elapsed before the third fall was decided by the referee's count-out. "It was cold-blooded robbery," said Watson. "My body was inside the ring, even if my feet were out when I put that head-scissors on Robert. Anybody who thinks he can beat Robert here with that kind of refereeing is crazy."
Meanwhile, Robert has claims on the world title, and gets recognition here as world champion. That claim is challenged by Bobby Managoff, who sent a challenge, read in the ring, to meet the winner for that honor.
The three Baillargeon brothers, members of a family of six whose grocery bills you would hesitate to under-write, made their debut in a Montreal ring, all three won, and in so doing, showed a good deal of wrestling talent, plenty of bulging muscles, and a great deal of physical strength.
Brother Jean gavea fine display in beating tough Les Ryan, of Boston, using a head-hold which prompted Ryan to say "Uncle" or reasonable facsimile of same. Brother Adrien had too much power for Joe Christie, of Detroit, and pinned him with a body-press in 16:24.
Mayes McLain, the former All-American, a big, rugged chajp, gave the family most trouble.
He wrestled Paul, who has a head of hair like Samson possessed before Delilah clipped him and is a fine looking lad. They went at it hammer and tongs, Paul seeking continually for a body-scissors. When McLain got real tough, Paul gave him the old heave-ho right out of the ring and McLain landed with such a jolt that he couldn't beat the count back to the ring.
The three brothers are likely to be seen in action here again, soon.
KOWALSKI DRIVES PRIMO TO DEFEAT AS 13,000 WATCH
(The Globe and Mail, Toronto, Friday, February 27, 1953)
By Al Nickleson
Killer Kowalski, as a mat butcher, fully realizes the high price of beef. Last night, he attempted to rustle a month's supply by galloping off with Primo Carnera's leg. (This is a leg?) He didn't succeed, but he did force the Italian strongman into conceding the main maul at Maple Leaf Gardens.
There wasn't a doubt but what most of the 13,000 fans -- representing one of Canada's largest wrestling crowds -- were in the corner of the one-time world heavyweight boxing ruler. But Carnera just couldn't cope with that foulness-filled fellow, Kowalski -- and neither could Referee Bunny Dunlop.
As nimble as a gazellephant, Da Preem, aided by a right-hand smash to Kowalski's face, kept knocking the mayhem out of the tyrant's head in the early going. Then, Kowalski began working on that right leg, as if he wanted it for cold storage, and the end came at 16:13 after a succession of leg drops followed by a toehold. carnera had that well-nigh useless leg doubled into a "V for Victory" sign when he admitted defeat from his prone position, with Kowalski on top.
The chill of the booing, and ear-splitting whistles, would have given pneumonia to a polar bear. Kowalski left the ring hurriedly, no doubt to start immediate preparations for his main bout here next week against Yukon Eric, the barrel-chested bear he partially de-eared in a Montreal ring several months ago.
Carnera, actually outweighed by two pounds at a mere 268, was a victim of hair-pulling, hitting on the breaks, elbows in the teeth, and, in the late stages, some leg-kicking that weakened the massive underpinning for the crash.
There was a concerted chant of "Primo" at such times as the 46-year-old picked up his young opponent and threw him 10 feet, or when he smashed Kowalski's face five successive times in retaliation for some nasty goings-on. Once, from a fighting crouch, Carnera hit Kowalski as if he was a good fast ball, but the Polish giant refused to bounce any further than second base.
Sky Hi Lee was his usual dastardly, puffed-up self in the semifinal, but handsome Larry Moquin took over with enough finesse at times to earn a draw after 30 minutes. Lee, the big dope, fell for an old trick midway through the bout. Moquin had missed a drop-kick and Lee fell atop him. Quick-thinking Larry reached up and patted Lee's broad, milky-white back in the sign that referees give for victory. Lee arose and leered. Moquin arose, came up behind the guy who dwarfed him, and let go such a clout that Lee tumbled from the ring.
After all the dirty work that went on, a preliminary between Pat Flanagan and hairless Hardy Kruskamp was a pleasing peace conference by comparison. Flanagan, who has 51 more hairs on his noggin than the 46-year-old Kruskamp, ended the scientific crowd-pleaser with an acrobatic back-drop as the clock roamed around to near nine minutes.
Wladek Kowalski, 270, defeated Primo Carnera, 268, with knee drops and toe-hodl at 16:13.
Sky Hi Lee, 292, and Larry Moquin, 222, wrestled to a 20-minute draw.
Pat Flanagan, 230, defeated Hardy Kruskamp, 220, with back drop at 8:36 of scheduled 20-minute bout. Don Beitleman, 228, and Joe Christie, 234, wrestled to a 20-minute draw. Sammy Berg, 235, awarded referee's decision over Frank Taylor after 20 minutes.
VARIOUS MAT CARDS, WEEK OF JANUARY 18, 1960
January 18, Boston
Pepper Gomez beat Wladek Kowalski (DQ), Frank Scarpa beat Angelo Savoldi, Larry Moquin beat Mike Higgins, Rito Romero-Arnold Skaaland beat Boris Fabian-Manuel Torres
January 18, Fort Worth
Pete Managoff beat Cyclone Anaya, Nick Kozak beat Tosh Togo, Rip Hawk beat Enrique Guzman, Adnan Kaisy drew Duke Keomuka, Guy LaRose beat Frank Valois (DQ)
January 18, Detroit
Chris-John Tolos beat Guy Brunetti-Joe Tangaro, Dick Garza beat Ali Bey, John Smith beat Don Duffy, Bert Villard beat Johnny Gates
January 19, Little Rock
Kenny Ackles-Dan Hodge-Farmer Jones beat Red Berry-Soldat Gorky-Haru Sasaki, Dan Hodge beat Haru Sasaki, Farmer Jones beat Soldat Gorky (DQ), Kenny Ackles drew Red Berry
January 19, San Francisco
Mike Sharpe drew Enrique Torres, Don Joyce-Jack Laskin beat Tom Rice-Ben Sharpe, Joe Swiderski beat Steve Stanlee, Ron Etchison drew Clyde Steeves
January 19, Hamilton, Ont.
Don Leo Jonathan-Fritz Von Erich beat Yukon Eric-Whipper Watson (DQ), Bill Stack beat Bud Cody, Len Hughes drew Don Jardine
January 19, Queens, N.Y.
Antonino Rocca beat Bull Curry, Lou-Red Bastien beat Jerry Gordet-Skull Murphy, Amazing Zuma beat Tony Altomare, Bearcat Wright beat Miguel Torres, Enrique Romero beat Swede Hanson
January 19, Minneapolis
Stan Kowalski beat Verne Gagne (DQ), Butch Levy-Frank Townsend beat Wayne Bock-Tiny Mills, Thor Hagen drew Roy McClarty, Joe Pazandak beat Lou Whitson
January 19, San Diego
Ed Carpentier beat Al Costello, Roy Heffernan vs. Sandor Szabo (NC), El Gran Lotario beat Ted Christy, Joe Scarpa drew Bob (Legs) Wilson
January 20, Asheville, N.C.
Paul Anderson-Haystack Calhoun beat Two Ton George Harris-Duke Hoffman, Karl Von Hess beat Reg Parks, Danno O'Shocker beat Judy Jack Terry
January 20, Honolulu
Hard Boiled Haggerty beat Lucky Simunovich, Jerry Graham beat Angelo Savoldi, Lord Blears beat Taro Miyake, Toyonobori-Yoshimura beat Don Manoukian-Bill Savage
January 20, Bridgeport, Conn.
Skull Murphy beat Vic Christy, Mark Lewin beat Arnold Skaaland, Ricki Starr beat Bull Curry, Enrique-Rito Romero beat Swede Hanson-Fritz Wallick
January 20, Los Angeles
Ed Carpentier-Sandor Szabo beat Hans Hermann-Mr. Moto, Al Costello-Roy Heffernan (w/Red Berry) beat Juan Hernandez-Mighty Joe, Joe Scarpa beat Ted Christy, Gene LeBell drew Legs Wilson, Gino Garibaldi drew Art Michalik
January 21, Stockton, Calif.
Al-Enrique-Ramon Torres beat Tom Rice-Ben & Mike Sharpe, Don Joyce beat Bud Curtis, Ben Sharpe drew Enrique Torres
January 21, Toronto
Ilio DiPaolo-Whipper Watson beat Ivan-Karol Kalmikoff, Fred Atkins drew Sam Steamboat, Doc-Mike Gallagher beat Pat Flanagan-Tim Geohagen, Bernard Vignal beat Bud Cody, Len Hughes drew Tiger Tasker
January 21, Cleveland
Fritz Von Erich beat Billy (Red ) Lyons, Dick Beyer-Bobo Brazil vs. Dan-Ed Miller (NC), Don Eagle beat Waldo Von Erich, Sid Youngelman beat Baron Gattoni, Tony Marino beat Chief Chewacki (Len Montana)
January 21, Washington, D.C.
Donn-Mark Lewin beat Lou Albano-Chet Wallick, Lou-Red Bastien drew Iron Russians (Hans Schnabel-Lou Newman), Tarzan Kowalski beat Swede Hanson, Argentina Zuma beat Tony Altomare, Chief Big Heart drew Iron Russian
January 22, Long Beach, Calif.
Ed Carpentier beat Mr. Moto, Bob Wilson beat El Gran Lotario, Roy Heffernan drew Joe Scarpa, Al Costello beat Billy Darnell
January 22, St. Louis
Rip Hawk-Gene Kiniski beat Bill Longson-Whipper Watson, Red Scorpion beat Tommy O'Toole-Sonny Myers
January 23, Philadelphia
Wladek Kowalski drew Bearcat Wright, Gorgeous George beat Gene Marian, Amazing Zuma beat Tony Altomare, Ricki Starr beat Fritz Wallick, Bruno Sammartino beat Zebra Kid, Iron Russians beat Lou-Red Bastien
January 23, Tyler, Tex.
El Gordo Chihuahua beat P.Y. Chong (Tojo Yamamoto) (DQ)
FROM DAN PARKER'S COLUMN, N.Y. MIRROR, 9-25-63
. . . What happened to the injury, or whatever it was, that kept Buddy (Nature Boy) Rogers from appearing on the Garden's Virtually Honest Wrestling Show last week and which was to have kept him away from beloved mat for six months but doesn't seem to have prevented the New Haven Arena from advertising him to appear on its opening card Friday night? (None of the foregoing is intended to be construed as a snide allegation that wrestling matches are on the level! Did you ever see a convex, concave or slanted mat?)
The WAWLI Papers No. 118...
SZABO TOSSED BY LOPEZ AFTER LONG MAT MATCH
(Los Angeles Times, October 24, 1935)
Senor Vincent Lopez and Sandor Szabo, a couple of healthy young men who take their rassling so seriously that they require a whole evening to settle a question of supremacy on the mat, kept 10,400 grunt-and-groan fans up until way after bedtime last night at the Olympic.
Senor Lopez finally flopped his Hungarian foe, but not until after one hour, thirty-five minutes and thirty seconds of hectic activity that had the customers in what is technically known as a lather of excitement. And there's no telling how long the marathon match might have lasted if Lopez hadn't clipped Szabo from behind with a flying tackle that wrecked the Hungarian Adonis's shapely kneecap.
In football, the Mexican, who, by the way is recognized as champion by Luigi the Daro, the California Athletic Commission and everybody who ever sunk a tooth into a tamale, would have been penalized fifteen yeards, but this was rassling. So Senor Lopez hopped on and promptly mangled Szabo's wrecked knee, causing the Hungarian to give up.
A minute inspection of the injured member by Dr. Lloyd Mace disclosed the startling fact that Szabo was suffering from an acute attack of housemaid's knee, which only goes to show that a guy can't be too careful when choosing his companions of the evening. And amid the sobs of the feminine fans, who go for the Hungarian Adonis's bronzed torso in a big way, Szabo was carried from the ring, defeated but not disgraced, as the saying goes.
By their efforts last night Lopez and Szabo definitely established their claims as the outstanding marathon rassling team in these parts. Only last week they went an hour and twenty-two minutes before the good Senor asserted his superiority.
In the wildest match of the evening, Wee Willie Davis, a behomothic gentleman from old Virginia, won the semi-windup on a foul from Al Bisignano, the Italian favorite. Wee Willie and Al did a lot of nasty things to each other for twenty minutes and fifty-seven seconds, after which Senor Bisignano, to put it mildly, went nuts. Al started kicking, gouging and punching Wee Willie, but he wouldn't have been disqualified for just this had he not continued his tactics upon Referee Dick Rutherford.
Al got so mad when Rutherford interfered with his efforts to obliterate Wee Willie that he heaved the referee around with a couple of backward slams and treated the so-called arbiter something scandalously. Manhandling a referee is considered a distinct violation of the union rules, so Bisignano was disqualified, although it took a couple of cops to make Al cease his efforts to ruin both Wee Willie and Mr. Rutherford.
In the other matches Gino Garibaldi disposed of Abie Coleman with a body slam in 12m 26s; Mayes McLain, the big Injun, flopped Paul Boesch with a couple of salms in 8m 17s; Nick Lutze knocked out Pat Fraley with four right crosses and a body press, and Dr. P.A. Mullikan flopped Steve Strelich in 9m 42s with a stepover toe hold.
Among other things, Luigi Daro lost his voice, either from rooting for his champion, Senor Lopez, or from trying to call back the 3,000 cash customers who were turned away because there was no more room in the Olympic.
THE SPORTS PARADE: by Braven Dyer, L.A. Times
--Levin-Lopez Mat Match Nearest Thing to Title Bout Among Nation's Bone Benders
I suppose that ordinarily my reaction at a wrestling match, after watching a number of semi-nude giants pull and lug each other much after the fashion of that many playful puppies and with no more malice than the pooches, is that everybody is nutty but myself, although this may be the tip-off that the boys should ring up the ambulance with the steel bars and tell the officers to bring along a strait-jacket in case I become violent. I am bright enough to realize that modern wrestling is conducted in a spirit of good fun and "please don't keep it any cleaner than you have to, boys." I also know that a fall means no more in the lives and letters of the modern pachyderms than an assist to an Angel infielder or a stolen lap to a confirmed six-day bicycle rider. I know, too, from a rather ripened experience, that the slam, slug and slam boys, as a class, are sensible fellows with nice homes and most of them are good to their mother and their sweeties. On the whole, they probably rate as high in the social and conversational avenues as that many boxers, football players or what-have-you.
But the proof of the pudding, in the home of the sports presentation, is the eating thereof, and the way wrestling has gripped the cities and the countrysides, and has pushed other sports events into the side rooms and the smaller clubs, is surely pretty good proof that the customer can't be wrong.
You'll find that the customers will turn out to a Levin-Lopez match in just as large numbers as they would if Samson were taking on the whole Philistine army, either with or without the jawbone, and they could throw in an encore of the David-Goliath shindy as a semifinal and it wouldn't draw more at the gate than a Chewacki-Steinke joust in the same spot at the big match.
However, I must confess that the thing that gets my goat is the rasslin' champions galore, which goes to show, however, that the industry must be thriving. The world's champion market sort of went to seed when Jim Londos was ruling the blood-sweating behemoths, but it is certainly in full bloom at present. A conference of wrestling moguls a short time ago drew up an elaborate chart showing that there was only one champion, a certain Dave Levin, who makes the girls indulge in a yen to gurgle "mmm-mmmm's" and who is now blowing the whistle around here on the haughty Lopez. Right on the heels of that another opposition group set up Everett Marshall as champion without the shadow of a doubt. Last week, the Montreal commission named their countryman, Yvon Robert, after he had flattened Danno O'Mahoney, who sails for Ireland this week richer by many thousands of dollars, and it sure looks as if he had all the better of it as viewed by and large. Of course, the daro entourage scoffs at the claims of anyone but the Mexican idol, Vincent Lopez . . . and so it goes.
As far as I'm convcerned the claims of Mr. Yvon Robert are not worth the paper they're scribbled on . . . But I imagine Mr. Robert is some pumpkins with the fans of Canada . . .
That's the way it goes . . . One community recognizes their favorite bone bender and the next town may have a "champion" of an entirely different hue . . . Everett Marshall's claims receive serious consideration largely in the state of Colorado, which isn't surprising because this is Mr. Marshall's bailiwick . . . He used to be a fairish sort of a grappler . . . What he is now, I don't know, for he hasn't seen fit to exhibit his well-muscled torso in these parts for some time.
All of which brings us down to Levin and Lopez . . . Of all the championship bouts promoted within the last year I think this Wrigley Field fracas is more entitled to top billing than any of the others . . . Lopez is recognized by a flock of states and is a GOOD wrestler . . . Levin has the backing of eastern commissions and must have ability . . . I can't classify him definitely as I have never seen his undraped form in action . . . But those who have watched him say he has what it takes, both physically and from the histrionic standpoint . . . Picking the winner of a wrestling match is a harmless pastime, so I'll take a chance on Levin, bearing in mind the fact that even if the commission has barred a possible draw ending there are many other ways of concluding the match so that neither Dave nor Vincent will lose standing.
About $230 would buy the equipment of every scowl and squirm artist in the country . . . The greatest "take" in modern razzeling is $78,000 -- Lewis and Sonnenberg, in 1929 . . . but it doesn't touch the $90,000 return of Gotch-Hackenschmidt in 1908. We hazard a $27,500 guess for the Levin-Lopez wallow and wallop carnival Wednesday night . . . Wrestlers in India are like those of Japan . . . flabby men with vast paunches and unwieldly puffy limbs, but with unusual and quite unexpected strength . . . Remember when old Stanley Zbyszko made a trip to India for the purpose of wrestling Gama, the great India champion, before the Maharajah of Patialla? It lasted three seconds with Zyb nearly out of sight in the dirt and Game majestically sitting on top of him . . . Wrestling in Japan is traced back to the year 24 B.C., which is a fairish bit of tracery in any league.
Funniest match in Los Angeles was when Londos picked up that mountain of suet, Mr. Dean, heaving him out of the ring and missing Mae West's left ear by an inch. He fell so heavily that four bluejays, a colony of boll weevils, a pair of fledgling vampires and two cockroaches fell out of his beard . . . Chief Little Wolf today was Ben Tenario yesterday, proving that his press agent is full of innocent merriment . . . John Pesek and Joe Stecher staged a marathon wrestling match in St. Louis years ago. At 6 a.m. the next morning they were still "going" strong. The promoter served coffee to the fans. An usher tapped a weary customer on the shoulder: "Coffee, sir?" The fan rubbed his eyes, took the prooffered cup and replied, "What, no doughnuts?" . . . Ed Don George owns a flourishing dairy farm near Buffalo . . . Don't think Lou Daro will import many very high-class wrestlers from Japan because in that country an exponent of judo, their national sport, becomes an outcast if he performs for money . . . They say Chewacki strangles himself every time he looks in the mirror . . . A health journal advocates the use of a new "dry soup." I've seen it around here, too, usually on some of those preliminary rasslers' vests . . . Frank Gotch took part in 331 bouts and won 324 of them . . . Wonder has Gus Sonnenberg's heart healed yet . . . Jack Curley says that any of the present-day wrestlers would ahve made a monkey out of Gotch, but many oldtimers refused to subscribe to the statement . . . Danno O'Mahoney was born on the shores of Bantry Bay, famous in Irish song and story . . . Jimmy Londos has three-quarters of a million smackeroos salted away. He once earned 30 cents an hour as an artist's model . . . Don George counts to fifty quickly every time he sees a cat. And he'll got around a block any time to avoid having a black feline cross his path . . . Chief Little Wolf played halfback on the football team at Haskell Institute.
(ED. NOTE -- Vincent Lopez won the big match, taking two out of three falls, with Dave Levin exiting the ring via a stretcher. In the preliminary events, Billy Hansen flattened Howard Cantonwine in two of three falls, Sandor Szabo and Gus Sonnenberg went 20 minutes to a draw, Pat O'Shocker used a backbreaker to down Baron Ginsberg in 6m 47s, Babe Zaharias went over Myron Cox in 14m 49s with face locks, Ray Richards subdued Brother Jonathan in 3m 3s with a series of tackles and Jack McArthur polished off Rudy Skarda in 3m 29s with a body slam. The crowd was announced as 10,400.)
APRIL, 1953, CARDS FROM CHICAGO'S RAINBO ARENA
Leonard Schwartz, Promoter
Rainbo Arena, Clark at Lawrence, Prices: $1-$1.50-$2.50
Listen to Rainbo's own Vince Garrity, every day, Monday through Saturday, over WAAF 950 AM on your dial: Time, Temperature, Weather Reports, Rainbo Sports Results, 8-9 a.m.
SONNY MYERS VS. SKI HI LEE (Wednesday, Apr. 8, 1953)
Ski Hi Lee's vicious victories over his past opponents and his snarling manners in the ring have made him the most disliked wrestler in Chicago and fans would like to see this big French-Canadian get the trimming of his life. Sonny Myers asked for a chance to do this job and the popular Missouri matman is confident he will whip Ski Hi Lee. Myers demanding this match is typical of the spirit he has always displayed. Many a wrestler who would have preferred to sidestep this scrap against the seven-foot giant, but to Sonny they all look alike.
REGGIE LISOWSKI VS. MILT OLSON
WALTER PALMER VS. JOHNNY CARLIN
JACK MOORE VS. DON LEO JONATHAN
Australian Tag Team Match MEL DOVE and STAN HOLLICK versus JOHNNY GATES and JACK MOORE
DON JONATHAN VS. SKI HI LEE (Wed., Apr. 15, 1953)
BOBBY NELSON VS. GEORGE GALLAGHER
REGGIE LISOWSKI VS. FRANK THOMPSON
MEL DOVE VS. BULL ALLEN
Australian Tag Team Match STAN HOLLICK and BERT RUBI versus SHEIK OF ARABY and GOLDEN PIRATE
(ED. NOTE -- The results of these cards were as follows: April 8--Sky Hi Lee beat Sonny Myers, Mel Dove-Stan Holek beat Johnny Gates-Jack Moore, who subbed for Great Kadimier, Don Leo Jonathan beat Jack Moore, Walter Palmer beat Johnny Carlin, Reggie Lisowski beat Milt Olson & April 15--Sky Hi Lee beat Don Leo Jonathan, Stan Holek-Bert Rubi beat Sheik of Araby-Golden Pirate, Bobby Nelson beat George Gallagher, Reggie Lisowski beat Frank Thompson, Mel Dove beat Bull Allen
SHOW BIZ WITH GLOVES; PRIMO'S GUAM GAFFE
(Seattle Times, circa 1980)
By Vince O'Keefe, Times executive sports editor
The new boxing program coming to town, So You Wanna Fight, has a show-biz ring to it.
That figures. The main wheel in S.Y.W.F. was one of the first wrestlers to appear on television and has been putting his lessons to good use ever since. Sandor Kovacs came down from Vancouver, B.C., the other day to lay the groundwork for the September 26 round-robin tournament in Center Arena.
In the course of discussing the new venture Sandor reminisced about his 34 years in professional wrestling, as performer and promoter.
"I was just a kid wrestling around New York and Boston when they put me in a televised match with Gino Garibaldi in the Jamaica Arena in 1948. Dennis James was the commentator. Gino was an old hand and gave me a going-over.
"Those were REALLY the good old days. You could wrestle in different arena six nights a week and never leave New York."
The Happy Hungarian's mat travels ended in Vancouver in 1962. He was a grunt-and-groan promoter the next 17 years, dropping out of that field several months ago.
Like most veterans of the game, he is in good shape and of indeterminate vintage. He could be anywhere from 45 to 65. (One of his former associates, Dutch Savage, answered a query about his age on a TV talk show the other night: "I'm, uh, 43 going on 44.")
The big-money syndrome which plagues other professional sports has begun to take its toll on wrestling, says Sandor.
"It used to be, football players like Joe Savoldi and Gus Sonnenberg and Wahoo McDaniel loved the showmanship, the crowds, the physical contact. Now, the guys don't want to get hurt, they can get big money for playing football. They don't have the flair or desire for it (wrestling). Dutch Savage and Gene Kiniski are among the last of the old breed."
A high point in Kovacs' mat travels, he said, occurred one winter when he was booked into Honolulu. The late Primo Carnera was on the same card and was a big hit.
"The governor of Hawaii -- it was a territory then -- asked Primo to be his good-will emissary to the governor of Guam. If you remember, Carnera would greet new friends with 'Hi, Keed', shake with his right hand a throw a couple of playful jabs with his left. They were just love taps to Da Preem but not to the other guy.
"He was warned to be careful when he went to Guam. So what happens? They have a red carpet rolled out when he gets off the plane; he meets the governor, shakes hands, gives him the old pop-pop and the guy's false teeth fall out. That ended the reception."
Many fans never realized that wrestling was Primo's first love; he was heavyweight champion of Europe before he was old enough to vote. After an ill-starred boxing career, he went back to wrestling. The accompanying picture was taken when he wrestled in Seattle in 1952. This writer got the "Hi, Keed" greeting but the jabs missed -- probably because Primo was a foot taller.
Where were we? Oh, yes, So You Wanna Fight. The publicity handout says it is "open to all nonprofessionals, such as bouncers, bikers . . . and other tough guys who feel the urge to fight and pick up a few dollars. Each bout is for three 2-minute rounds."
Despite its obvious tent-show format, it has created a lot of interest here. For one thing, the $1,500 top prize in each weight division is considerably more than many an old-line pro receives for a main event.
What about ringers? Not to worry, says Kovacs. Entrants must furnish proof of age and undergo the regular State Athletic Commission physical exam the day before the bouts.
No Masked Marvels allowed.
(ED. NOTE--Sandor Kovacs was, for most of the 1970s, a partner with Gene Kiniski in the Vancouver, B.C., wrestling office, handling most of the promotional details and booking. His wrestling career took him practically everywhere in North America, seldom on top, save for his early days in and around the East Coast, but always a solid, mid-card performer who was popular with promoters and his colleagues alike. He is now in his late 70s, and still makes his home in Vancouver. The So You Wanna Fight promotion was a shortlived affair, albeit enormously popular, because jealous boxing promoters convinced the State Athletic Commission to yank the license on the grounds of it being "too dangerous" for the competitors.)
The WAWLI Papers No. 119 . . .
IN THE NAME OF SPORTS A MAN WAS KILLED!
(Seattle Times editorial, Saturday, March 2, 1940)
They killed a man at the Civic Auditorium last night! It might be more in the point to say that "WE killed a man!"
We, of Seattle, who have sat back and tolerated something in the name of sports that hasn't been a sport for years.
We, of Seattle, who have gone to an occasional wrestling program and have more than once said, "Some day they'll kill somebody."
Well, they did!
A referee was thrown against the ropes enclosing the ring. He was thrown with force enough so that when he fell to the floor he died within a few minutes.
Who threw him? Was it part of the horseplay that has been the only crowd-getting feature left in wrestling for these many years?
Was that horseplay rehearsed or planned in advance? By whom?
These things that have menaced lives before and now have claimed one -- these things don't just happen. Someone is directly responsible for them -- it's up to the proper authorities to determine who is responsible.
But we, of Seattle, are indirectly responsible for having tolerated these morbid spectacles. And we, of Seattle, are directly responsible for seeing that this sorry affair is not quietly shush-shushed.
And after direct responsibility for this death has been placed, we, of Seattle, must shake off our shackles of tolerance and see that this crime in the name of sports is never permitted again.
(ED. NOTE -- Russell McGrath, the longtime managing editor of The Seattle Times, was a lifelong hater of professional wrestling. For the longest time, he would permit not even the barest mention of wrestling matches in The Times' sports sections. One might guess he had a hand in this attempt to inflame the citizenry, even as the coroner's inquest determined a heart attack killed the referee, not the other participants for throwing him "with force enough" to kill him.)
CITIZENS DEMAND PERMANENT BAN ON WRESTLING
Inquest Called in Death of Referee; 'Mat' Exhibitions Not Sport, Says Athletic Chief, Ordering Temporary Curb; Sepp Denies Countenancing Rough Tactics
(The Seattle Sunday Times, March 3, 1940)
Professional wrestling in Seattle, under a temporary ban pending three investigations into the death of John Stevens, 50-year-old wrestling referee, must be eliminated permanently, Seattle citizens said yesterday.
Stevens died of heart disease Friday night in a Civic Auditorium dressing room shortly after he was thrown from the ring during a melee of wrestlers and their seconds. The fracas was one which has been repeated at professional wrestling "exhibitions" many times, and public officials and citizens were united in a declaration that the wrestling business should be subjected to a thorough investigation.
George Adams, secretary of the State Athletic Commission, yesterday announced all wrestling shows banned in Seattle pending a study of the situation.
Coroner Otto H. Mittelstadt announced an inquest into Stevens' death would be held at 10 o'clock Tuesday morning in room 356 of the County-City Building. Mittelstadt, who will be aided by Prosecutor B. Gray Warner, said the inquest would go into the crowd-luring "horseplay" which resulted in Stevens' death and would attempt to fix responsibility for the incident.
Adams predicted that if wrestling is permitted to continue, referees will be subjected to the same physical examinations as wrestlers.
"Wrestling shows have been staged here for seven years (sic) and this is the first time there has been a serious result from the 'acting,'" Adams said. "Wrestling is in no sense a real sport and we have never permitted it to be anything except a show or exhibition. It's simply a rough tumbling act, which a certain number of persons enjoy and demand."
In a third inquiry, Joseph Little, city building superintendent, tomorrow will study the report of W.J. Coyle, manager of the auditorium shows. Little indicated he might present the question to the City Council of whether the city should continue leasing its public buildings for this purpose.
August Sepp, promoter who staged the wrestling show, last night issued the following statement:
"I am not at liberty to discuss the situation at this time for I will undoubtedly be called at the coroner's inquest of Jack Stevens' death Tuesday morning. However, I don't think there is any person in Seattle who can say that I ever told any wrestler to go in the ring and use any rough methods whatsoever.
"I have spent eleven years of my life here, bringing my wife and family to Seattle, and intend to remain here for many years. The death of Stevens naturally grieved me for he was one of my closest personal friends. I have encouraged the wrestlers to use only clean tactics turing all the time I have been in the promotion business in Seattle and never have encouraged them to fight with the referees."
Mittelstadt said members of the Athletic Commission and city officials connected with the leasing of the public buildings to wrestlers would be subpoenaed to the inquest.
Stevens died in a dressing room shortly after he was pushed from the ring and his head hit a steel post. He had just awarded a bout to John Katan, Montral. The other wrestler, LaVerne Baxter, Monroe, Ore., protested.
Then followed a familiar scene. Wrestlers, their seconds and Stevens engaged in a tussle. A spectator tossed a bottle into the ring. Stevens was pushed to a corner, rolled under the ropes and fell out of the ring. After an autopsy, it was declared that Stevens had died of heart disease.
"This occurrence is most unfortunate," Warner said. "For the advancement of strenuous athletics as a whole, strict supervision of participants' condition should be maintained if these sports are to survive with public favor.
"There was a time when football became an unnecessarily dangerous institution because supervision was lacking with the result that physically unfit players were permitted to continue, often with fatal results. Football, then, did not have the universal public favor it now enjoys.
"This is true of all sports. The day was when boxing was little more than an invitation to manslaughter. As a result, it was outlawed in most states because of the pressure of public opinion. Today, under regulation, that public prejudice has been overcome to a large degree.
"It should be a condition precedent to any contest that the referees must be as physically fit as the contestants and subject to the same check, so tragedies of this type will not reoccur. In the final analysis, the continued existence of such sports depends on public favor. My office will do anything it can to clean up this situation."
"Baxter told me a beer bottle, thrown from the audience, hit him during the fracas after the bout was over," Mittelstadt said. The coroner declared he had forced Baxter, due to wrestle in Yakima and one other Northwest city this weekend, to cancel the matches and hold himself in readiness for the inquest.
"During the excitement, Baxter said he kicked at Stevens," Mittelstadt said. "At that moment, Stevens rolled under the ropes and fell from the ring, Baxter told me."
Meanwhile, Seattle's citizenry was thoroughly aroused. Many persons were frank in declaring that "wrestling must go." Others criticized a situation which permitted a referee of middle-age, in poor physical condition, to enter a ring and attempt to control the actions of large, powerfully built young men. Some of the comments follow:
Henry Foster, director of physical education at the University of Washington -- Many people have wondered for a long time why these affairs have been permitted in city-owned buildings. Certainly a referee in professional wrestling is just as much a participant as the wrestlers. He should be subject to the same examination as a wrestler. Professional wrestling is a vicious sport and appeals to mob hysteria. Our sports ought to be on a higher plane.
Mrs. Virginia Field, 4760 20th Ave. N.E. -- I've never thought much about the wrestling matches. Such a thing as this never has happened before, and probably won't ever happen again, but I think a man refereeing a sports event should be examined first. If that man had a weak heart he shouldn't have been permitted in any kind of sports at all.
George Kosmos, bowling alley concession operator -- I get to pretty near all the wrestling matches -- but I didn't happen to be present Friday night -- and I've done some wrestling myself, though not professionally. I know what a referee is up against, and he's got to be in good physical condition himself, as well as knowing about wrestling. It was poor judgment to let that man go into the ring if it was known he had a poor heart, and it WOULD have been known if physical examinations were compulsory, as they should be.
The Rev. P.A. Klein, pastor of the Dunlap Baptist Church -- I agree with every word contained in The Times' editorial and want to offer my support as well as the support of many others who feel as I do toward a campaign to clean up this sport. I certainly endorse your words wholeheartedly.
SPORT BOARD CRITICIZED AT INQUEST
(Seattle Times, March 6, 1940)
Chief Little Wolf Tenaro, 28-year-old professional wrestler, today "stopped" the coroner's inquest into the death of John Stevens, wrestling referee, by declaring that he "did not get these cauliflower ears answering telephones," then stripping to the waist and permitting a spectator to pummel him in the stomach.
Tenaro's appearance on the witness stand followed testimony yesterday that the "horseplay" of the wrestling "stage," which includes fisticuffs between wrestlers and referees, is prearranged in defiance of an order from the State Athletic Commission.
Tenaro, well-known in Seattle rings as one of the most colorful wrestlers, provided a highlight of today's inquest session when Coroner Otto H. Mittelstadt asked the witness to show the jury how well-developed a wrestler had to be. Smiling, and bowing an apology to the women on the jury, Tenaro slipped off his coat, brown shirt and white undershirt.
"You don't think a man has to be tough to be in this business? Tenaro asked, flexing huge biceps and tightening the muscles of his abdomen. Come on up here and take a punch at my stomach. Hit me as hard as you can. Come on. Hit me any place."
Harry Pittson, 4524 33rd Ave. W, a wrestling fan, stepped forward. Pittson swung hard blows with his right fist into Tenaro's abdomen. The wrestler smiled during the exhibition, shook hands with Pittson, then replaced his clothes.
Of a more serious nature, however, was Tenaro's statement that the State Athletic Commission should never have permitted Stevens, who had a weak heart, to enter the ring.
Stevens died in a Civic Auditorium dressing room Friday night (March 1, 1940) after LaVerne Baxter, Monroe, Ore., wrestler, staged "horseplay" fisticuffs with Stevens after the referee had awarded the bout to John Katan, Montreal.
"Nobody else is to blame but the State Athletic Commission," Tenaro, who wears his coal-black hair in long curls over his neck, said. "They never should have let him in the ring. When a wrestler gets funny with a referee, the commission should slap a heavy fine on that man. I couldn't get away with it in other states."
Under questioning by Mittelstadt and Prosecutor B. Gray Warner, Tenaro declared there is much horseplay in wrestling but insisted matches are not faked to any great extent.
"I've played all sports," the witness said. "You call it horseplay and baloney. I call it color. Max Baer, the boxer, has horseplay, only people call it color. "But when the going gets tough, you can bet I'm in there to win. If a wrestler is not on top, he doesn't make money."
The coroner asked if arrangements were made prior to bouts as to which wrestler is to win. "Never," was the indignant answer. "I punch them in the nose if they talk that way. You know, everybody thinks wrestlers are bums. They're all high-class men. Most of them are college graduates. They've all got nice homes. I'm known all over the world. I don't owe anybody a dime."
Tenaro said the pay wrestlers receive "depends on the house." Spectators, who filled the courtroom, laughed when he said sometimes he wrestled "for peanuts." In New York City, however, he sometimes is paid $5,000 a match, he said.
Tenaro declared he is not "controlled" by anybody, adding that "some promoters try to get funny, but I just walk out of town.
"Anybody who thinks wrestling is all hooey, doesn't know," Tenaro testified. "Wrestling is serious business."
First witness of the forenoon session was Mrs. Jack L. Zander, 175 Dravus St. She said she saw the match Friday night, her second visit to a wresling show. She insisted that Baxter was not engaged in horseplay when he struck Stevens, pulled his shirt off and kicked him when he fell to the mat.
"I stood on my chair and yelled that he was killing him because you could see that the referee was unconscious," Mrs. Zander testified. "I don't see how any man stand those kicks without injury, or death."
Asked if she thought the fisticuffs were not part of the regular wrestling horseplay, Mrs. Zander replied:
"That was no show. Baxter was so angry, he lost control."
A different view was taken by Everett Mathews, 4226 Brooklyn Ave., another spectator. Mathews, who said he saw many wrestling shows because he enjoyed them, declared Baxter's treatment of the referee looked like "part of the show." He said he did not see Baxter kick Stevens.
Gordon Hopkins, radio sports commentator, testified Stevens "had absolutely no business in the ring after awarding Katan the bout. Stevens met his death through "his own negligence,"
Hopkins, who broadcasts the matches, testified. Baxter's actions toward Stevens were not "malicious" but part "of the show," the witness said.
Hopkins compared Baxter's roughness to Prime Minister Chamberlain's umbrella and the underslung pipe of former Vice President Charles Dawes, all of them being "stocks in trade," according to the witness.
W.C.B. Fisher, 1611 Eighth Ave. N., member of the audience who has witnessed wrestling bouts for fifteen years, said he did not believe Baxter was angry when he hit Stevens.
Detective Lieut. James Lawrence said police investigation resulted in a report that Stevens died a natural death due to excitement.
Contrasting testimony was given late yesterday by Harvey Donaldson, wrestler's second, and John Katan, wrestler, Montreal. Donaldson frankly said professional wrestling is prearranged and the agonizing "grunts and groans" of wrestlers are faked. Katan, however, declared he did not know of prearrangements for the horseplay and that he did not know of predetermination of the winning wrestler.
Also featuring yesterday's afternoon session was the declaration by Dr. Gale Wilson, county autopsy surgeon, and Dr. Alfred L. Bailie, pathologist, that the 50-year-old referee died of heart disease and not from kicks and a fall he received in a crowd-luring tussle after officiating the match Friday between Katan and Baxter.
Although Katan was noncommital in response to most questions about wrestling "secrets," he declared that Ted Thye, Portland, Ore., wrestling promoter, arranges bookings for most wrestlers in the Pacific Northwest.
Typical of Donaldson's disclosure that wrestling is not a competitive sport but a show for the spectators was his use of the term "stage" for the wrestling ring. Donaldson, one-time national amateur featherweight wrestling champion, said he prevented a spectator from hurling a whiskey bottle at Baxter and Stevens in the after bout melee.
Donaldson said he told the spectator, "Don't get excited. It's only entertainment."
Prosecutor Warner asked Donaldson if the fisticuffs between referee and wrestlers after bouts is prearranged.
"Usually we do," Donaldson said. "We have orders from the commission not to do it, yet we do it to help out the show."
Donaldson, declaring the only place in Seattle to witness real wrestling is at the University of Washington team matches, said wrestlers often cry out in simulated agony but "are not getting hurt at all."
Howard E. Foster, attorney, had testified earlier that in two years of witnessing wrestling matches regularly, he had never seen anything other than clean, competitive wrestling except in two instances, yet Donaldson testified:
"I don't see how anybody could be fooled."
Millard Douglas, 23, Katan's second, said he was "not in" on any prearrangements.
ZANY ANDY TOSSES IN THE TOWEL
(New York Post, April 19, 1982)
Comedian Andy Kaufman says he's through with wrestling -- but that didn't stop him from getting into a verbal brawl near Lincoln Center.
Zany Andy, who's taken on a number of bizarre opponents in the ring, was dumped head first in a match in Tennessee this month by 235-pound Jerry Lawler. He was hospitalized briefly and now wears a neck brace. As the "Taxi" regular was walking by Scooterwear, a West Side clothing store, songwriter Chris Robison, who happened to be lending the store owner a hand, yelled, "Serves you right, Andy." Andy stormed over.
"He used every profanity in the book," Robison told PAGE SIX, "and threatened to return with bodyguards." Kaufman returned later, alone. Denied entrance to the shop, he let loose again, "yelling and screaming," said Scooterwear owner Toby Davidson. "I always knew he was a wild guy but this was obnoxious and venomous."
Davidson said Kaufman kicked in the door, but Andy denies that. He said his only kicks were verbal. Kaufman told PAGE SIX: "I admit I was wrong. I know I acted like a crazy person." Kaufman even concede that Robison had a point. "It DID serve me right -- I was foolish to get in the ring (in Tennessee). But why did he (Robison) have to taunt me?"
Sensitive Andy reported that his neck feels better but also told PAGE SIX he'll never wrestle again.
(ED. NOTE -- Of course, as regular WAWLI readers now may recall, this was not true. Kaufman kept going back to Tennessee in his relentless pursuit of "revenge" against the aforementioned Mr. Lawler, creating one of the great wrestling angles of the '80s and, as we have opined previously, maybe the last real "heat" seen in an American wrestling ring.)
The WAWLI Papers No. 120 . . .
WRESTLERS WARNED AS DEATH PROBE ENDS
(The Seattle Times, March 7, 1940)
After LaVerne Baxter, "villain" wrestler, testified the horseplay which figured in the death of John Stevens, referee, was partly prearranged and was not prompted by anger, George Adams, secretary of the State Athletic Commission, concluded testimony at a coroner's inquest today with a warning that "harsh" penalties will be invoked in the future against wrestlers who harm referees.
Baxter said he "pushed" Stevens Friday night at Civic Auditorium and kicked at him, but declared the kicks could not have harmed Stevens.
Other developments as a jury called by Coroner Otto Mittelstadt neared the end of its three-day hearing included predictions by Adams of new stringent professional wrestling regulations, and testimony by August Sepp, a wrestler promoter, that Stevens violated Sepp's orders not to mix with wrestlers in horseplay tactics.
Testimony was also given that Stevens was paid $3 for officiating in two bouts the night he died.
Baxter, tall, 225-pound farmer from Monroe, Ore., was dressed in black cowboy shirt, with white string laces, gray business suit and high, black cowboy boots as he strode to the witness chair and waived his rights by permitting Mittelstadt and Prosecutor B. Gray Warner to question him.
"A couple of weeks ago, Steve had asked me to rough him up at the end of a match to make him look tough," Baxter testified. "He wanted me to grab him by the hair and pull him about the ring."
"Did you?" Mittelstadt asked.
"I did," was the answer. "I took him by the hair and threw him around the ring and he went right on out. Then, last Friday, Steve asked me to throw him out into the second row of seats. I didn't think that was right. The referee is supposed to leave the ring right after a bout. I told him I wouldn't do it."
Baxter said he thought a false fall had been declared when Stevens awarded the bout to John Katan, Montreal, so Baxter kept on wrestling.
"Katan's second got in the ring," the witness said. "First thing I knew there was a scuffle and Katan's second's glasses flew off to one side. We all were on our feet. Stevens got a push of some sort. He started to roll toward the ropes. I kicked at him twice, because I thought it would be good color and might make good stuff for a return match if I protested at the decision.
"He couldn't get hurt on those kicks. I had nothing against that man. You could put anything between that kick and him and it wouldn't have broken."
Baxter told Warner he was not "incensed" at losing the bout. He said he did not intend to hurt Stevens.
Baxter said Stevens wanted to be "roughed up" by Baxter so that the crowd would get the idea that Stevens was a "hero being beaten up by the villain."
"Was this tussle a usual aftermath of bouts?" Warner asked.
"It was usual," Baxter said. "If you weren't rough and didn't give the people something satisfied to go home with the show wouldn't be any good."
Nevertheless, Baxter said, the horseplay with referees was contrary to orders given wrestlers by the state commission and by Sepp. Adams said the inquest had given him a "great opportunity" to learn about things that often had perturbed the commission. The commission, at one time, threatened to bar all wrestling, but learned, Adams said, that the public wants the "rough-and-tumble" sport, so regulated it on a basis of "exhibitions" and not competitive athletics.
"It never occurred to us that referees should be physically examined," Adams testified. "If he followed the duties set out by the commission, he would not be hurt, we thought.
"This case has brought things to a point where referees, in the future, will be examined regularly and there will be harsh penalties for wrestlers who lay a hand on referees. This is a sad thing, but I feel certain that in the future it will prove to be a benefit."
One of the last witnesses was Mrs. Helen Mildred Baxter, wife of the wrestler. Mrs. Baxter said she did not see the attack on Stevens, but did see a spectator about to hurl a whiskey bottle at her husband during the after-bout melee. She testified that her husband acts the part of a "villain" so that he "can make more money." She said his roughness was "not serious" and that she would call it "color or showmanship."
Testimony in the second day of the inquested ended late yesterday with Sepp declaring that Stevens violated Sepp's ban of fisticuffs with wrestling. Sepp testified: "I wouldn't say all the bouts are on the square." The promoter added that wrestlers must get "consent" of Ted Thye, Portland, Ore., promoter, before appearing in Seattle rings and that outcome of bouts often are predetermined by the matching of a superior wrestler with a poorer competitor.
Funeral services for the referee will be held at 11 o'clock tomorrow in the Mittelstadt Funeral Home, with the Rev. Homer L. Wilhelm officiating. Burial will be in Crown Hill.
Surviving are three daughters, Mrs. Virginia Hamilton, Washington, D.C., and Jeanne and Mary Ellen Stevens, New York City.
(ED. NOTE -- The aftermath of the incident led to a ban on wrestling in publicly owned buildings in Seattle for more than five years. This effectively curtailed the sport during almost all of World War II and amounts to one of the longest prohibitions of the sport in U.S. history, at least where a major city was involved. Not until a friendly city councilman, Al Rochester, went to bat for the wrestlers in the spring of 1945 was the ban reversed, leading to a resumption of the game on a regular basis and the first Seattle appearances of Lou Thesz, then stationed at nearby Fort Lewis.)
DR. BONICA WHIPS EX-GRIDDER AT CIVIC CENTER
(The Bremerton, Wash., Sun, Friday, April 13, 1945)
Dr. John Bonica, who has ingratiated himself with Bremerton rassle fans, last night proved more popular than ever when he came from a first-fall loss to take the next two and whip Cliff Thiede, 220-pound former University of Southern California football star, as a large audience howled with glee at Civic Center.
The army medico, considerably shorter than the ex-grid star, proved clever from the start and had Thiede guessing as to what grip to try in an effort to subdue the Ft. Lewis mat instructor.
Then somebody became angry -- perhaps both Thiede and Bonica -- and a few punches were landed to add oil to the flames. Thiede, who became the "bad boy" in fans' estimation, found the secret in a series of arm locks that practically paralyzed Dr. Bonica's left arm. Thus, after 15 minutes of having the arm worked over and bent like a pretzel, the doctor gave up for the first fall.
But he came back -- and how! First he threw Thiede out of the ring into the laps of the cash customers, just to show them that Thiede was still alive at that moment and to indicate to the footballer what was yet to come. Then the two started to slug it out, even giving Referee Hal Erickson some punishment only to have the hefty Swede dish out some of his own; but the opportunity Dr. Bonica had awaited came in a series of slams and he pinned the bemuscled Thiede to the mat for a three-count.
On the third fall, Thiede lasted only a few minutes in a rough go, the medico finally subduing Thiede in a series of slams and a climaxing body press.
Referee Erickson also got a bad time in the other main event between Lt. Bud Higgins and Frank Stojack, former Washington State College footballer. But three body slams and a press after 27 minutes of the one-hour limit bout gave Higgins the first fall. Then things began with a vengeance, Stojack kicking Higgins out of the ropes and into the throes of the ringsiders, but a forthcoming body scissors by Stojack forced Higgins to plead and lose the second fall.
Stojack won the third fall, too, by reversing the tables on Higgins when the latter made a flying body tackle and found himself bent over helpless.
In the opener, Urgel Rivard, pride of the P.S.N.Y. machine shop, lasted for 10 minutes and 20 seconds with experienced Bob Kruse, the "Oswego Cabbage King" from Portland. Kruse heaved Rivard out of the ring, but the X-31 favorite came back -- not quite as he left, however, and an arm bar and body press was what turned the trick for Kruse.
A profound silence fell over the large crowd last night when one minute's meditation over the president's death was observed. The next pro wrestling show will be held next Thursday night.
VINCE McMAHON: THE TRADITION LIVES ON
(from Wrestling World, date unknown, circa 1968)
By Lou Sahadi
It was still early and the place was empty. The main lights hadn't been turned on in the arena and the only signs of life were a number of wrestlers who began arriving one at a time. A couple of them stopped and looked around the new arena before heading for their respective dressing rooms.
Vince McMahon stood in the runway leading directly to the middle of the vast floor. His eyes were fixed at the ring and then he slowly gazed around the environs of the new Madison Square Garden.
Natilly dressed as always, McMahon appeared a bit concerned. He is a master craftsman as a promoter yet he couldn't help but wonder how many people would be lured into the $36-million emporium. No one could predict. This was the first wrestling show ever held in the new 33rd St. structure that rises majestically over Penn Station.
McMahon was pondering a number of questions out loud. How good are the acoustics? . . . Is the lighting sufficient? . . . Can the spectators in the far-off seats see well enough? . . . How will the fans react to a new arena?
The latter question offered concern. A few years back a rival promoter tried to run a number of wrestling events in the New York Coliseum, a modern edifice just a stone's throw from the old Madison Square Garden. The promoter took a heavy financial loss and oldtimers opined that the reason the wrestling fans did not accept the Coliseum was that it was a new building.
It's a strange paradox, but that is the nature of the wrestling fan. He associates himself with the old through habit and rebels against a vast physical change. He's used to going to the arena at a certain night in the month and sitting in his same seat show after show. It's almost as if he projects himself into the program. He'll cheer world champion Bruno Sammartino and he'll boo anyone he opposes. He wants to stand up and be counted.
McMahon himself is a throwback to the past. He was exposed to the serious business of promoting ever since he could remember. Now in his early 50s, McMahon still retains that boyhood charm that most Irish kids growing up in New York possessed in the 1920s. He runs a first-class operation that has earned him the respect of wrestler and fan alike.
His association with Madison Square Garden runs deep. His father, Jess, promoted the first ring attraction in the old place on December 11, 1925, a lightheavyweight championship fight between Jack Delaney and Paul Berlenbach.
Young McMahon played in the Garden as a kid of 11. He'd explore the catacomb level underneath the arena and end up sitting at the knees of fabled celebrities. This was the Golden Age of sports, and McMahon was exposed to it all as an Irish moppet, wide-eyed by it all in the excitement of smoke-filled arenas.
"My big charge came from seeing Ching Johnson of the Rangers come up the ice with the puck," reflected McMahon. "He was electric, shedding body checks like Bronko Nagurski shaking off tacklers.
"I remember the Garden being so jammed by fans waiting to see Reggie McNamara in the six-day bicycle races that my father and the Striblings had to sit on the steps in an aisle to make a bout. My father sat behind me with Pa Stribling, who managed Young Stribling, sitting next to me.
"Not many people know that Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney were booked to fight in New York, which turned it down because Harry Wills, a Negro, said that Dempsey was ducking him. That's why the fight went to Philadelphia instead. Dempsey was not ducking Wills. Jack Sharkey had no trouble with Wills before winning on a foul."
These were some of the memories that McMahon can easily recall when talking about promotions and Madison Square Garden. He's had pleasant memories and sad ones, like the time last January when McMahon staged the last ring show in the old Garden, which featured Sammartino against Taru Tanaka.
"I was just about the last person in the place," he remarked. "All the front doors were locked and I had to leave by way of the employee's entrance. I just sat around thinking back. It felt eerie, thinking about the things that I saw there in the 42 years since my dad opened it."
Jess McMahon wasn't one of the Damon Runyon type characters that made up the fight game then. First of all, he was a graduate of Manhattan College, and how many guys along Jacobs Beach could make that distinction? Then Jess ran a neat and proper office. His working hours were strictly from 9 to 5 and who ever heard of that among the cigar smoking, card playing characters who usually conducted their business in the back rooms of the many saloons along the way? McMahon himself didn't smoke and purposely kept proper hours in order to maintain a close family life in Far Rockaway.
In a tribute to his memory, the Garden moguls gave Vince the distinction of putting on the first ring show in the new Garden. McMahon came right back with Sammartino in the main event against Bull Ramos, a 325-pound Apache Indian. It was Sammartino's 55th main event appearance in five years in the Garden, and no athlete in any sport could come close to approaching such a milestone.
"He is the strongest man in the world," exclaimed McMahon. "He can do a pushup with two wrestlers on his back. Most people don't seem to know it but Bruno outdid Paul Anderson, the weightlifting champion, by 90 pounds in a tournament. Bruno began lifting weights in a Pittsburgh YMCA to build himself up after virtually starving during World War II when the Germans occupied his little town in northern Italy."
Although his office is located in Washington, D.C., McMahon's operations extend far beyond the eastern seaboard. He recently concluded a contract with Japanese promoters for a two-week tour by Sammartino. He also set up a longer tour of Australia for Gorilla Monsoon.
McMahon has also arranged for Sammartinto to appear in Canada, South America and Australia. He is constantly on the telephone at his office in the Franklin Park Hotel or from his home in a fashionable section of Washington. Even when traveling, McMahon makes liberal use of the telephone. He does over 90 percent of his business that way.
A number of years ago he promoted an outdoor show in Chicago's Comiskey Park. It was a fantastic succss. A crowd of 39,995 turned out for the program which still stands today as the largest crowd ever to attend a wrestling match.
McMahon maintains a humble ego in his performers. One night they could be headlining a television show, or appear on top in Madison Square Garden, before sending them off to such far off corners as Lewiston, Maine, to fulfill a contract with a local promoter.
Travel and television are some of the complexities that face McMahon and that his father never confronted. He has to serve as a behind the scenes producer of the television shows, matching the right performers who will provide the finest matches. Then, he has to arrange for a weekly schedule for a large number of wrestlers who appear in one city one night and a different one the next.
The schedule does have its headaches. Like the time a few years ago when Sammartino was scheduled for a matinee match in Pittsburgh and an evening appearance in Newark, N.J. In order to insure Sammartino's arriving on time at the Newark Armory, McMahon arranged for a police escort from Newark Airport through the busy streets of Newark. Sammartino made the committment with about three minutes to spare.
Usually, promoters do not foster a close relationship with wrestlers. They establish a good rapport but maintain a business relationship. However, it is quite obvious that McMahon is fond of Sammartino.
"He's the greatest champion in the game today," beamed McMahon. "He's had the belt over five years which should tell you just how great a champion he is. I'd venture to say he has received more fan mail than any wrestler in history and I mean ever since the sport became popular. He's known all over the world and promoters constantly are in touch with me seeking Bruno's services. I have turned down more requests than I have agreed to. It just can't be helped. It isn't humanly possible to fulfill all the requests he has received."
Along with his vast wrestling network, McMahon somehow finds the time to dabble in other promotional ventures. He currently possesses the promotional rights to one of boxing's hottest properties, lightheavyweight champion Bob Foster. He did so by a daring maneuver by guaranteeing then lightheavyweight champion Dick Tiger $100,000 if he would meet Foster in New York's Madison Square Garden. The match was made last May and Foster easily knocked out Tiger to capture the title.
"I may move Foster up into the heavyweight ranks," disclosed McMahon. "Why, there's nobody around in the lightheavyweight division who can come close to beating him. The way I see it, he can beat most of the heavyweights around right now."
Although he may get involved in any number of promotions, wrestling is closest to McMahon's heart. By his own admission, he'd rather promote wrestling than any other event.
Actually, it's more demanding and more challenging. That's what McMahon thrives on. It makes him go. It turns him on like an eight-day clock. Right now he's faced with his biggest challenge, selling out the new Garden in the same manner that he did the old one. If any one can do it it's McMahon. It'll take some masterful strokes, though.
There wasn't going to be a sellout this particular night. A crowd, yes, but not one that will completely satisfy McMahon in the manner in which he has sold out Boston and Philadelphia. That's about all that's left for McMahon to do. The smart money says he will accomplish it.
THE LAST SHOW AT THE OLD MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
January 29, 1968, New York City
Angelo Savoldi beat Wes Hutchings Earl Maynard beat Johnny Rodz Louis Cerdan (sub for The Sheik) beat Mario Fratarolli Dom DeNucci (sub for Kentucky Butcher John Quinn) beat Smasher Sloan Bull Ramos beat Antonio Pugliese Victor Rivera-Miguel Perez beat Luke Graham-Guillotine Gordon Edouard Carpentier drew Hans Mortier Bruno Sammartino beat Prof. Toru Tanaka Attendance -- 14,130
THE FIRST SHOW AT THE NEW MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
February 19, 1968, New York City
Miguel Perez beat Guillotine Gordon Little Beaver-Irish Jackie beat Sky Low Low-Little Brutus The Sheik beat Louie Cerdan (Gino Britto) Earl Maynard beat Luke Graham Toru Tanaka drew Dom DeNucci Victor Rivera beat Hans Mortier Virgil Butcher (John Quinn) beat Edouard Carpentier Bruno Sammartino beat Bull Ramos
Attendance -- 12,989
The WAWLI Papers No. 121 . . .
O'MAHONEY DOWNS MACALUSO; FANS AROUSED
(The Hartford, Ct., Times, Saturday, January 15, 1938)
By Bill Shea
That famous cheer which, according to history, was first sounded in the Bronx received a tremendous workout at Foot Guard Hall last night.
The recipients were Danno O'Mahoney, who at one time wore the crown designating him world's heavyweight wrestling champion, and Smiler Livingstone, Hartford's own "popular" referee.
Danno, by the way (copyright, 1892, by A.B. McGinley) won the bout in two straight falls over Len Macaluso, ex-Colgate grid luminary, who substituted for Ed Don George. The latter, according to medical reports, is incapacitated by an abscessed arm.
Danno last night assumed the role of villain. But he wasn't a very good one. He knew all the tricks, such as hair pulling, kicking, elbow battering, referee baiting, etc., but the performance in this strange role revealed crude and unconvincing style. It certainly looked as though he had been miscast.
Macaluso gave Danno more than the latter bargained for throughout the brawl. Danno's tactics aroused the crowd, as it was expected, and even many of his warm admirers joined in the thunder of boos which arose every time the husky Irishman decided to become unorthodox.
The boys started off fast, each clamping a series of headlocks on the other. When the going got rough, Danno would run away or crawl out of the ring. That would make any Irishman mad -- to see his own countrymen flee from a battle. It just wasn't cricket, to use a good old British phrase. The first fall went to the son of Erin with his famed Irish whip in 22 minutes.
But it was the second fall which caused all the trouble. Macaluso got Danno in a vise-like scissors soon after the start and by the look on Danno's face subjected the big Irishman to plenty of punishment. Danno squirmed and fought but couldn't break the hold. Finally Macaluso pushed Danno's shoulders firmly to the mat and kept them there for at least five seconds. No doubt Danno was down, but Smiler happened to be far over in back of the wrestlers and by the time he reached a position to see, Danno had swept up to his feet and with Len's legs still tightly wound around his middle, held his opponent so his shoulders were touching. Smiler didn't miss this one and Danno got the nod.
Pandemonium then broke loose. Hoots, catcalls and jeers filled the arena, as Danno ran to his dressing room. Smiler looked a little sad as his many constituents continued to give him the razzberry. They just couldn't understand.
In the semifinal, Stan Pinto, former "bad man" of the ring, threw George Gostovich, the so-called "Mad Russian," in the resin in 12 minutes with a body scissors.
Both of these grapplers tried something new in wrestling wardrobe style. Stanley appeared in a snow white robe which set off his profile in a lovely picture while the gentleman from Russia had the duckiest, gayest, gaudiest red satin piece trimmed with orange border very much like that of a Cossack dancer. It was a lovely colorful picture as these two gladiators strode into the ring, with the bright lights shining down on their upturned countenances and the hundreds of upturned faces just beaming with admiration at the fashion display. But the match was lousy.
Al Getz of Manchester whipped Billy Bartush in an elbow thumping match. Getz is an evident comer and he displayed marked superiority over his heavier but far slower opponent. The time was 23 minutes and 20 seconds. Bartush simply "collapsed" after absorbing "too much punishment."
In the opening number, Frank Judson pinned Harry Finkelstein of New York in 11 minutes and 15 seconds. He, too, used a scissors hold. Verily, it was a great night for the tailors.
Don Louis Thesz, a 22-year-old grappler who recently beat Everett Marshall and Danno O'Mahoney, will wrestle at Foot Guard next Wednesday night.
THE STORY THEY COULDN'T TELL ABOUT ED (STRANGLER) LEWIS (by the man who shared his secret)
(The Wrestler, Vol. 1, No. 2, February, 1967)
(ED. NOTE--The Wrestler was a shortlived publication with Jeff Collins listed as editor and Jack Riley and Red Stoner as assistant editors. It was published in Port Chester, N.Y., by Jalart House, Inc., a company that was fairly prominent in the field during the late '60s and early '70s. The following story about Ed Lewis is, for the most part, pure malarkey, with false dates and false history galore. It touches lightly on aspects of the Lewis legend, however, even though one never really does figure out what "the story they couldn't tell about Ed 'Strangler' Lewis" was . . . and there is no byline for "the man who shared his secret.")
The word "great" has been worked to death, cheapened by guys who write movie ads and TV commercials. Yet if anyone deserves to be called "great," in the true sense of the word, it is Ed "Strangler" Lewis.
The word belongs to him because men like Strangler Lewis may, if we're lucky, come along only once in five generations. And when a titan like the Strangler dies, as he did in a veteran's hospital in Muskogee, Okla., on the evening of August 7, 1966, you feel obligated to put him into true perspective so that those who didn't know him will understand why he was a monumental figure in sports.
Lewis lived a long life -- 76 years. And he was proud and happy to the very end, even though blind. He once told me: "I'll always consider myself the luckiest man in the world because I have more friends than anybody else."
He liked to divide his life into two parts -- the hell-raising part, which lasted until he was about 50; and the "golden" part, which began the deay he discovered God. The last 25 years of the Strangler's life were completely devoted to expounding the message of the Lord.
Ed Lewis was a brilliant speaker, the Billy Graham-type with an inborn talent to hold any audience spellbound. Once he kidded: "They sit out there and listen because they're afraid that if they don't I may get mad and put a headlock on them."
The headlock, as everybody knows, was what made Ed Lewis world famous. Some critics insisted that it was his ONLY hold. He never disputed the point. He didn't have to. His headlock was better than a hundred other holds because no man ever lived who perfected that hold to the degree of excellence that Lewis did. He knew he could easily kill a man with it. And sometimes, when he got mad, as he did against Earl Caddock and Jim Londos, he had to fight to retain his self control.
There are those who insist that Strangler lewis was the greatest wrestler who ever lived, even better than Frank Gotch and Joe Stecher and Jim Londos. But you don't have to take the experts' word for it. Just look at the record: The Strangler held the heavyweight championship of the world, on and off, from 1920 to 1932. And being heavyweight champion when Ed Lewis was The Champ had value and meaning.
Ed squeezed most of his opponents into unconsciousness by wrapping his enormous left arm around their skulls. Once he clamped on a headlock, the fans automatically reached for their hats.
And the fans came by the thousands to see him. His reputation was so enormous, and his drawing power so tremendous, that he commanded $125,000 for a single match -- at a time when the dollars was worth a hundred cents.
With a career as long as his, and with purses of $125,000 per match, you might assume that Ed Lewis would have been a multimillionaire. You're wrong. He spent his money faster than he earned it. But he never regretted spending it because he had a fabulous time doing so.
"Money is to spend," he once told me. "I do what I want no matter how much it costs." He loved excitement, and in the Roaring Twenties he got his biggest kicks in flying rickety planes held together with piano wire and animal glue. Presidents of the United States and European royalty were among his friends but he liked Enrico Caruso, the greatest singer who ever lived, better than he liked President Warren G. Harding or Calvin Collidge because, as he put it, "Caruso let me get a headlock on him. Harding and Coolidge didn't."
Unlike most wrestlers, Lewis kept a careful account of his ring record. After each bout he wrote down the date, opponent, place and result in a black, leather-bound book. Shortly after his last bout, in Honolulu in 1948, he counted up all the entries. They totaled 6,742 matches.
And of the lot, he had lost only 35. An incredible record? Strangler was an incredible man. "Ed Lewis" wasn't his real name. He was born Robert Friedricks. How he became Ed Lewis is probably the only commonplace episode of his life. Like so many other youngsters of his time who yearned for an athletic career -- particularly in wrestling or prizefighting -- 14-year-old Robert Friedricks ran into parental opposition. His father and mother, he felt, would disown him if they knew that his objective in life was to snap other men's necks.
One day in 1897, the postman delivered a book Bob had sent for. It was called "How to Wrestle." Its author: world famous wrestler Evan "Strangler" Lewis.
Recalling that incident in later years, Bob Friedricks said: "Had it not been for that book, I doubt very much that I would have become a wrestler. I was fascinated by the pictures of my heroes . . . Frank Gotch, Tom Jenkins, Farmer Burns -- even the Terrible Turk. They were all demonstrating their favorite holds in those pictures, with Evan Lewis giving his inside opinions of each man's ability."
Not only did the book fire the strapping youth's ambition, it also gave him the name which he was to make immortal. To keep the secret from his parents, at least until he might become famous, he lifted Evan "Strangler" Lewis' name, changing only the first part. But the Strangler part could not be lifted; it had to be earned -- with sweat and pain.
The seeds of Ed Lewis' immortality were planted in the small towns of Wisconsin, Minnesota and later in the Dakotas and as far west as Montana and Wyoming. Some of it was lumbering or cowboy country. It was all good fighting country because when men came off the lonely ranges and out of the forests after months of toil, they liked to let themselves go. First came the booze, then the women, and finally the real treat: bustin' heads.
There was always a carnival in range which offered a prize to anybody who could last a few rounds with the house fist-fighter, or five minutes with the house wrestler. There never was a shortage of takers. There were also hastily arranged elimination tournaments between cowboys or lumberjacks, either fist-fighting, wrestling or a murderous combination of both.
Ed Lewis liked to sneak into those tournaments: "I got to be able to act like a cowboy or a lumberjack good enough to fool them," he recalled.
It was in this primitive atmosphere that Ed Lewis learned his trade and perfected his headlock. Once he entwined his great arm around his opponent's skull, it was just a matter of how long Lewis wanted to keep on playing games.
There is little doubt that some victims were permanently injured by the enormous pressure of his hold. This came to light after Ed had become famous. A former lumberjack whose head had been yanked out of joint accused Lewis of having broken his neck in a carnival wrestling bout a few years before. The man demanded $100,000 in damages. Ed denied the charge and the claim was thrown out.
The thing that always puzzled people about the Lewis headlock was that Ed applied the hold ONLY with his left arm, despite the fact that he was righthanded.
But there was a logical explanation. Ed liked to look at himself as he practiced the various holds shown in Evan Lewis' book. Consequently, he studied himself in a mirror. In order to duplicate the illustration in the book, and have it appear "correct" in the mirror, Ed executed his moves in reverse. Soon, using his left arm for the headlock became instinctive.
Lewis' first big break came in 1911 when, in the ornate opera house in Louisville, Ky., he took on a man who was already a legend in his time, the fabled Dr. Benjamin Roller.
Lewis was 20 years old at the time. He weighed 187 pounds and his experience consisted almost entirely of lumberjack and carnival head-cracking. Roller, on the other hand, had had 14 years of legitimate arena experience -- much of it against the finest wrestlers in the world.
No, Lewis did not score an earthshaking upset. In fact, Roller, a scientific wrestler who weighed 236 pounds, won the match after a little less than an hour. But it was Lewis who got the cheers and the eternal respect of the man who beat him. Said Roller, with the class that has always been associated with his name: "This young man, Ed Lewis, has more potential as a wrestler than anybody I have ever known at a similar stage of their careers. His execution of the headlock rates, in my opinion, with Frank Gotch's execution of the toehold."
This glowing tribute made Lewis an important name overnight. But Ed more than lived up to Roller's accolade. And, showman that he was, Lewis realized immediately that it was his headlock that set him apart from the pack.
"Whenever I went into the ring," Lewis once said, "my whole strategy was aimed at getting a tight headlock on my opponent. It was what the people paid to see and I knew that the only way I could be successful was to satisfy the people."
He was right. All they wanted to see was the Strangler apply a headlock and squeeze until his victim's body went limp.
The Lewis legend was further beefed up in 1932, when a noted doctor branded the Lewis headlock "extremely dangerous." The doctor pointed out that Ed applied the hold with his arm clamped around the center of the victim's head "over the ears." And that he applied pressure with incredible power, "draining the blood from the head." If this pressure was continued beyond a certain point, the doctor warned, "death would result."
The good doctor unintentionally proved to be the Strangler's best publicity agent.
Immediately after the story was published, there weren't enough seats in the nation's arenas to accomodate the crowds. "They're coming," Lewis quipped before a bout in Chicago, "to see me kill somebody."
His assumption was correct, as any pyschologist will verify. But Ed never killed anybody. He seemed to know the exact moment when to cut the frightening power in his huge (22-inch bicep) left arm. Of course when he let up, the victim already had lapsed into unconsciousness.
Lewis first won the world championship in 1920 when, in a mammoth New York City armory, he defeated the great scissors king, Joe Stecher. Up until 1932, when he was beaten by Gus Sonnenberg, Lewis defeated every important wrestler in the world, winning and losing the title no fewer than five times. During this period, his weight ranged from 200 to over 300 pounds.
He didn't retire after losing to Sonnenberg, despite the fact that he was long past his prime and suffering from the dread eye disease, trachoma.
Not even old age or disease could dim the magic in the name Ed "Strangler" Lewis. The crowds continued to turn out, still hoping, perhaps, to see the Strangler kill somebody.
Lewis' career stretched over almost half a century -- 44 thrilling years. Asked in 1947 how much he had earned, Ed said: "A little over five million dollars." That incredible figure was later verified by an accountant who had examined some of the great man's records. If this was true, it makes Ed Lewis the highest paid athlete in history.
As we said before, Ed had an inborn flair for showmanship. He took great pride in promoting himself. Look what happened on the night of March 6, 1916, in Madison Square Garden: Lewis had agreed to throw four wrestlers in less than an hour or forfeit $500 to each of them.
But the management raised the number to seven (because they figured it would attract more customers). The Strangler disposed of the lot in 22 minutes.
The first to fall was Hans Fuerst, who lasted 2 minutes and four seconds. Albert Miller came next. Albert was on his back three seconds after the bell rang. Five others -- Vogel, Nelson, Schilling, Farmer and Bailey -- followed, and Strangler cut them down as fast as they came into the ring. Bailey made the best showing of the lot. It took Lewis all of 5 minutes and three seconds to stretch him out with a body scissors.
In April, 1920, Lewis challenged heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey through the sports editor of a Louisville, Ky., newspaper. He backed up his challenge with a certified check for $5,000 which he agreed to forfeit if he (Lewis) withdrew. The mixed match, which would have filled the largest stadium in the country, never came off because Dempsey's manager, Jack Kearns, didn't like the idea. But it made headlines, which was Lewis' main purpose, although he always insisted that the one thing he regretted most was not getting the chance to "hug Jack Dempsey."
In later years, as his sight grew weaker, Lewis lent the magic of his name to promote young wrestlers. Lou Thesz was one, Bronko Nagurski another. For this he was paid small sums, enough to keep him going. And some old time promoters -- who never forgot that had it not been for supermen like Ed Lewis they might never have reaped the payday by inviting him to act as golden harvest -- gave the old man "guest" referee stints.
But he was blind, and had to be helped in and out of the ring. The real referee was Ed's "assistant." Lewis was led to a side of the ring, and his hand placed on the top rope. He never moved from that position all during the match, although once in a while, when he instinctively knew what was happening, he would growl in his deep voice: "All right, now. Break it up!"
In a way it was a pathetic sight. But it had value, too, like the night in Amarillo, Texas, in 1959. As Lewis was helped into the ring, a man seated in the third row leaned over to his son and said, "Look at that old man. Pay no mind to the wrestlers. Just look at that old man. I want you to be able to tell your children that you once saw Ed 'Strangler' Lewis."
The WAWLI Papers No. 122 . . .
ED (STRANGLER) LEWIS: THE EARLY DAYS IN NORFOLK
(Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and the Norfolk Landmark, Feb. 13, 1916)
By Pickwick Club Press Agent
A wrestling bill which presents the feature of the one which will be put on at the Colonial Theatre next Thursday has not been seen in Norfolk in a long time; in fact, there has never been one here in which the acknowledged catch-as-catch-can champion of the world appeared.
The match will be staged at the Colonial for two reasons. First, the theatre has a larger capacity than Pickwick Hall, and secondly, this capacity permits of popular prices. It will be under the promotion of the Pickwick management and will not differ the least bit from those at the Pickwick. Ladies will be admitted and quite a number of the fans, who apparently talk wrestling when at home, have reserved seats for their wives as well as themselves.
While there will likely be a preliminary and a semifinal, the big novelty, of course, will be the finish match between the Masked Marvel, the unknown masked wrestler and late sensation of the New York tournament, and the sensational young world's champion, Ed (Strangler) Lewis.
The Marvel's manager demands that any time his man wrestles, he must be permitted to appear just as in his pictures, completely masked. Under no other conditions would he consent to the Lewis-Marvel bout. The Marvel's manager also writes that his man is now training privately with a few of his close friends and reports from his quarters are that he is rounding into great condition.
The Marvel is known as one of the cleverest wrestlers in the game as well as one of the strongest mat men now before the public. Many of his holds he invented himself and with them has won many a contest. The local fans know that Lewis, who won the world's catch-as-catch-can championship in the last tournament, can take care of himself, so that with both men in good condition the fans are bound to see some sensational mat work next Thursday when these two great wrestlers clash in their finish bout.
Reservations for reserved seats will be on sale at the Pickwick and not at the Colonial Theatre. General admission seats will be on sale at the Colonial on the day of the match.
Reservations made by telephone must be taken up by 2 o'clock on Thursday. Time will be called at 8:30 o'clock.
LEWIS TAKES SEVENTY-TWO MINUTES TO BEAT MARVEL
(Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and the Norfolk Landmark, Feb. 18, 1916
With amazing swiftness, Ed (Strangler) Lewis, the world's catch- as-catch-can champion, got a crotch and wrist lock on the Masked Marvel, the sensation of the recent tournament in New York, and slowly but surely brought his shoulders to the mat at the Colonial Theatre, ending a conflict of seventy-two minutes of wrestling.
As the bout started it was evident that Lewis was the stronger, but the deftness of the Marvel and his uncanny way of getting out of bone-breaking holds thrilled the large audience and made the finish of the match uncertain. Time and time again did Lewis get a hold on his opponent, but each time he broke the hold just as his shoulder was a few inches from the mat.
After wrestling for over half an hour the Masked one threw Lewis over his shoulder, as they came down Strangler threw the mysterious one over his back and got a body lock which could not be broken even by the strength of the Marvel, who succumbed to the hold after trying with the last ounce of gameness that was in him to throw the champion off.
When they started the second round the champion went after his man in a way that showed he meant business, but he found that he was against an adept in his line and one of the greatest wrestlers in the country. The speed with which they worked was remarkable. Both men weigh well over two hundred pounds.
The popularity of the game and the men, whose fame stretches from one coast to the other, was demonstrated by the enthusiasm manifested.
LEWIS VS. ROLLER: FINISH MATCH TONIGHT
(Advertisement in Virginian-Pilot, February 23, 1916)
What promises to be the greatest match ever staged in Norfolk is that between Dr. B.F. Roller, Norfolk's favorite, and Ed (Strangler) Lewis, the world's catch-as-catch-can champion.
In the recent tournament in New York it took Lewis more than two hours of gruelling wrestling to defeat the doctor, but he promises that this time there will be a different story. Although Lewis is a wonderful wrestler Dr. Roller has fully demonstrated that he is one of the foremost wrestlers in the country and whenever he appears a thrilling and scientific match is assured, and Roller is Norfolk's favorite just because of this fact. He wrestles for the pure love of the sport and he always tries to win. Lewis is determined to retain his title and will not give it up until forced to do so by a better man.
There are many here who think that Roller will turn the trick, but a match of the fiercest kind will be fought before either man is returned as the victory.
Dr. Roller said last night, "I am determined to wipe out my previous defeat. I was not in the best of condition then, but now I have trained faithfully and I am sure that I will not disappoint my many Norfolk admirers, whom I have found to be among the best sports in the country. They may rest assured that I will try my hardest to beat Lewis, although he is a wonderful wrestler."
LEWIS WINS IN TWO FALLS WITH GREATER STRENGTH
(Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and the Norfolk Landmark, Feb. 24, 1916)
"Strangler" Lewis proved his mastership over "Doc" Roller in the wrestling game before more than a thousand people at the Colonial Theatre last night. Lewis, who defeated Roller in the recent New York tournament, won in two straight falls last night, 43 and 23 minutes.
Youth and sheer strength as combined in Lewis' burly form were too much for Roller's science and quickness. Four times during the match Roller had toe holds which nearly all other grapplers would have found unable to break, but Lewis knew how to use his powerful arms and shoulders to the best advantage.
The bout was fast and clean, little time being given to preliminary work. While the men were not rough, they went at each other with plenty of vim and dash, so the crowd seemed well pleased with their work. Lewis won the first fall with a body scissors, head and arm lock. The second and final fall came about through Roller's effort to toss the other's 228 pounds about as he would a sack of meal. Roller picked Lewis up, tried to spin him around and throw him to the floor. The effort proved too much for the lighter man's strength and when the grapplers fell to the mat Lewis rolled over on top of the other and before the physician-grappler could exert himself, Lewis pinned his shoulders to the canvas.
Roller's best offense was the toe hold, but he did not essay to use the pedal clutch until after 30 minutes of the first round had gone by. From then until the end of the bout he essayed it time and again, but Lewis' strength proved too heavy a handicap.
Roller's weight was announced as 220 by Referee Harry Ward and that of Lewis as eight pounds more. Preceding the main bout was a 15-minute preliminary between two local lightweights. It ended in a draw.
Scattered about the crowd were a number of women who seemed just as much interested in the match as the men fans.
HOW STRANGLER WON THE TITLE HE CLAIMS
(Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and the Norfolk Landmark, March 16, 1916)
By Pickwick Club Press Agnet
With interest at high pitch everything is in readiness for the bout between "Strangler" Lewis and Antone Irsa, the "Bohemian Perfect Man," at the Pickwick tonight. A preliminary will be staged between two of the best known local grapplers and the demand for reserved seats indictes that the largest crowd of the season will be witness the match.
Ed "Strangler" Lewis became champion catch-as-catch-can wrestler of the world January 17, 1916, after a series of the roughest battles in the annals of this ancient sport. Lewis won decisions from Wladek Zbyszko, Dr. Roller, Sula Hevonpaa, Ivan Linow, Pierre La Caloose,
Johnson, Lundin, Christiansen, Mohl, Vogel, Wagner, Schilling and many other wrestling stars. Lewis won the championship at the great international tournament which was staged in the Manhattan Opera House, New York City. More than 50 of the world's best wrestlers competed, and Lewis carried off the honor of the catch-as-catch-can championship. Some of his experiences in lfattening the big specimens on their backs were among the most thrilling in the history of the wrestling game.
The best of the European stars was Zbyszko. It was in New York on January 17 that Lewis met and defeated Zbyszko after a sensational match lasting nearly an hour and thirty minutes.
Strangler Lewis, who is booked to appear in this city tonight, is a fanatic on the wrestling game, and he is constantly studying it with the idea of perfecting new holds. He announces that he has a brand new one to spring, sort of a crotch and half-Nelson to be used in connection with his famous headlock, using his leg to secure the crotch hold He calls the new hold the "grapevine and headlock" and believes it will prove a winner..
Lewis, so far as strength is concerned, is sort of superhuman. He has the arms of a Hercules, the chest development of Fitzsimmons and the brawn of a John L. Sullivan. This is a formidable combination but it is an accurate description of the prowess of the Kentucky Strangler. He has beaten the best in the game and is always willing to take on all comers.
Lewis is always in good condition and when he goes after a man he never seems to tire. It is because of his wonderful strength and endurance that Lewis is the most feared heavyweight wrestler on the mat today. Leading experts declare Lewis to be the perfection of physical power and wrestling science and possessing a marvelous endurance, carrying 225 pounds that is every ounce vigor.
Zbyszko was rated a wonderfully strong man. Lewis dazed him with the rapidity of his attack. He thought and acted quicker than the slow-thinking Pole could follow. The wrestler that beats Lewis will not only have to be possessed of wonderful strength and endurance, but he will also have to possess quickness of perception and ability to execute the messages of his brain.
ANTONE IRSA EASY FOR ED LEWIS TOE HOLD
(Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and the Norfolk Landmark, March 17, 1917)
The question arose last night in the match between Ed "Strangler" Lewis and Antone Irsa, the Bohemian giant, whether a man is allowed to expectorate while in the ring. "Sure," said "Strangler" Lewis, "if he wants to take the consequences." Irsa was still counting the stars, so no opinion could be obtained from him except a few guttural remarks.
The second round had been under way about 20 minutes and both men had worked pretty fast, so Antone thought he would take out time enough to water the canvas. Thereupon Lewis made a flying tackle and floored the Bohemian perfect man so forcefully that his head hit the mat with enough push in it to let him hear the twittering of the birds and remind him of that dearl old Bohemia. Lewis won the fall easily with a body hold and was hissed by the large crowd until he made a speech and explained his action.
The match was a good exhibition of two good fast men, but they were not well matched. Irsa is a Greco-Roman wrestler and Lewis is an exponent of the catch-as-catch-can style. They worked with exceptional speed, but Lewis finally won the first fall with a toe hold, the bogie of all foreign wrestlers, in 41 minutes.
TOE HOLD TO BE BARRED IN LINOW-LEWIS MATCH
(Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and the Norfolk Landmark, April 24, 1916)
By Pickwick Club Press Agent
There is one ambition that Linow, the Cossack, is determined to realize and that is to defeat "Strangler" Lewis. The "Russian Man Eater" is a burly, impetuous athlete and is wrapped up in the wrestling game. His matches in Norfolk have shown him to be always an aggressive, sincere grappler with the one object of winning in view from the time he starts a bout until the finish and there is no limit to the physical power and skill that he does not put into his work to vanquish his opponent.
Besides his wonderful aggressiveness, the Cossack is a remarkable defensive wrestler and can stand no end of punishment. That is why he is regarded as a match for one of the best men in the game.
Norman Hofheimer has arranged a match between Linow and the "Strangler" for Wednesday night at the Pickwick. The only condition of the finish bout is that the toe hold is to be barred and that the winner is to take the big end of the purse.
As the toe hold is not to figure in the match between Lewis and Linow Wednesday night, many of the Cossack's friends here in Norfolk are taking his end, and are expressing confidence in his ability to put Lewis' shoulders to the mat. There are others who believe there is no man living with the possible exception of Joe Stecher who can turn the trick.
Since the match with the "Strangler" was arranged last Thursday, the Russian has gone into hard training, and declares he will be in the finest shape of his career when he meets Lewis in the Pickwick next Wednesday night.
Reserved seats for the bout will go on sale at the Pickwick this morning, and as the number is limited, it is expected that the demand will be heavy from the time the list is opened. The match will begin at 8:30 o'clock.
LINOW HURT WHEN THROWN FOR ONLY FALL
(Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and the Norfolk Landmark, April 27, 1916)
Before a crowded house at the Pickwick club last night Strangler Lewis and (Ivan) Linow wrestled for an hour and fifteen minutes before the Strangler got a fall. He used the flying mare and Linow struck the mat on his head. It was announced that Linow had hurt his neck so that the match could not go further, and this was the only fall secured.
During almost the entire match Lewis employed rough tactics. Before he succeeded in getting the one fall he tried repeatedly the hold by which he finally succeeded in throwing the Russian, and sent his opponent hurtling through the air over his shoulder. A physician was called, and after a few minutes Linow was able to leave the ring. Apparently he was dazed by the force of the fall.
The toe hold was barred, but there was no lack of rough work about which those who are fond of that sort of wrestling could complain.
FREBERG FALLS PREY TO LEWIS FLYING MARE
(Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and the Norfolk Landmark, March 1, 1917)
At the Pickwick last night "Strangler" Lewis, claiming the world's championship, was hard set to hold that distinction and several times dangerously came near losing it. A little bit of quicker wit, a trifle more severe determination, and Lewis would undoubtedly have lost to (John) Freberg, a wrestler weighing quite twenty pounds less than his tremendous opponent.
The first -- and what proved the final -- round went an hour and seven minutes and was won by Lewis on a full body lock, developed from a flying mare which had been immediately preceded by two others in lightning succession, in the second of which Freberg was hurt and fell an easy victim in the third. It was just this fierce, relentless and immediate following up of an advantageous condition that won for Lewis.
Referee Harry Ward announced that Charles Cutler, of national fame, had been secured to meet Lewis at the Pickwick next week; to be followed the following week by Roller and Americus, the latter a number that is likely to bring the crowds by train.
CUTLER HAS ALREADY DEFEATED ED LEWIS
(Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and the Norfolk Landmark, March 4, 1917)
By Pickwick Club Press Agent&127;
When Referee Ward announced last Wednesday that Charlie Cutler and Ed Lewis would wrestle next Thursday night in Pickwick Hall he omitted the fact that Cutler threw Lewis about three years ago and that this coming bout will practically be a return match.
For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Cutler's record it may be said that if the six best wrestlers in American would be eslected from the entire number then Cutler would be with the six: He has been styled the "American Hercules" and the "Apollo of the Wrestling Ring." He weighs 240 pounds and has thrown any number of the best heavyweight grapplers including Linow and others who are known here.
Like Freberg, Cutler is best known throughout the west. He has a degree of science and strength which can be compared only with that of Lewis, Zbyszko and others of that class. Moreover, his tactics are of a nature to please Norfolk audiences for he can be as spectacular and aggressive as any when occasion requires.
Another big guarantee was necessary to bring Cutler and Lewis together in Norfolk and as a consequence the prices will again be $1.50 for ringside and $1.00 for bleacher seats. The match will take place on Thursday in Pickwick Hall at 8:45 o'clock as usual. No agreement regarding the use of the toe hold has yet been made.
FANS TAKE NO CHANCES GETTING BLEACHER SEATS
(Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and the Norfolk Landmark, March 7, 1917
By Pickwick Club Press Agent
Except to those who ere a part of the large crowd in Pickwick Hall last week it would be difficult to explain the advance rush for bleacher seats at the wrestling bout tomorrow night between Ed "Strangler" Lewis and Charlie Cutler. The fans who witnessed the bout between Lewis and Freberg are taking no chances on being late and being barred out from the hall tomorrow night as well as the ringsides are going with a rush.
Another cause for the unusual demand is the fact that the time of calling the preliminary has been changed to 8:30 o'clock. This earlier hour is made at the request of the patrons of the sport who come from a distance and who naturally want to leave at an earlier time.
The fans who are acquainted with Cutler's record are boosting him to the limit for they are well aware of the fact that, excepting Cutler no stronger opponent than Stecher or Zbyszko could possibly be brought against Lewis. That the match will be equally as exciting as the of last week seems an assured fact and Cutler being the heavier man has an advantage that Freberg lacked. The bout really should have been staged in the Colonial Theatre if the caliber and standing of both wrestlers are taken into account.
LEWIS IN TWO FALLS; REFEREE WARD UNPOPULAR
(Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and the Norfolk Landmark, March 9, 1917)
It was not only a disappointed but a rather angry crowd which objected at the Pickwick Hall when, during the second round of the wrestling contest between "Strangler" Lewis and Charley Cutler, he made the latter release a deadly and fatal arm lock on his opponent and return to the center of the ring, whereupon almost immediately Lewis secured the identical hold and was awarded the decision, having previously gained the first fall in 41 minutes with a terrific flying mare clinched and riveted to a full body fatality.
No one acquainted with Mr. Ward would for a moment doubt his integrity as a referee, but the large majority of the spectators firmly believe he went wrong in his decision, for they distinctly saw -- and many heard -- Lewis yield the fall, as he was clearly in peril of a broken arm.
It was truly a contest of giants, with both men in the 225 pound class and equally matched in strength. Cutler came to the platform with the reputation of having thrown Lewis, and many who witnessed his performance last night are still of the opinion that he is at least as good as the redoubtable "Strangler."
While the match last night was of a very meritorious and exciting character it lacked the sensations and thrills of that of last week when Freberg wrestled Lewis.
The management announced that there would be no match until the great engagement between Dr. Roller and Americus at the Colonial Theatre on March 21, concerning which full particulars will appear in Sunday's Virginian-Pilot. Tickets for this exhibition will be on sale next Monday noon.
The preliminary between House at 150 pounds and Mercer 145 pounds was a rattling good affair. Referee Futrell awarded the decision to Mercer.
The WAWLI Papers No. 123 . . .
SELECTED MAIN EVENTS FROM PICKWICK HALL
(Wrestling in Norfolk, Va., was presented by matchmaker Norman Hofheimer, auspices of the Pickwick Club, in Pickwick Hall. Most of the top names of the period visited this thriving naval center.)
January 12, 1916 Norfolk, Va.
Ivan Linow beat Tom Draak, 2-1
January 20, 1916 Norfolk, Va.
Dr. B.F. Roller beat Tom Draak, 2-0
January 27, 1916 Norfolk, Va.
Americus (Gus Schoenlein) beat Jack McGrath, 2-0
February 2, 1916 Norfolk, Va.
Ivan Linow beat Wilhelm Berner
February 10, 1916 Norfolk, Va.
Dr. B.F. Roller beat Ivan Linow
February 17, 1916 Norfolk Va. (Colonial Theatre)
Ed (Strangler) Lewis beat Masked Marvel (Mort Henderson), 2-0
February 21, 1916 Newport News, Va. (Chamber of Music)
Dr. B.F. Roller beat Wilhelm Berner
February 23, 1916 Norfolk, Va. (Colonial Theatre)
Ed (Strangler) Lewis beat Dr. B.F. Roller, 2-0
March 1, 1916 Norfolk, Va.
Ivan Linow beat Jack Perrelli, 2-0
March 9, 1916 Norfolk, Va.
Ivan Linow beat Fritz Mohl
March 16, 1916 Norfolk, Va.
Ed (Strangler) Lewis beat Antone Irsa, 2-0
March 23, 1916 Norfolk, Va.
Alex Aberg beat Antone Irsa (Aberg defends world Greco-Roman championship)
April 19, 1916 Norfolk, Va.
Dr. B.F. Roller beat Ivan Linow
April 26, 1916 Norfolk, Va.
Ed (Strangler) Lewis beat Ivan Linow, 1-0 (CNC)
January 3, 1917, Norfolk, Va.
John Olin beat Tom Draak, 2-0 (Olin claims world championship from disputed December bout in which Joe Stecher was unable to continue)
January 10, 1917, Norfolk, Va.
John Olin beat Fred Pilakoff
January 17, 1917 Norfolk, Va.
Americus (Gus Schoenlein) beat Heracle
January 24, 1917 Norfolk, Va.
Ivan Linow beat Fred Pilakoff
February 7, 1917 Norfolk, Va.
Ivan Linow beat Tom Draak
February 22, 1917 Norfolk, Va.
John Olin beat John Freberg, 2-0
February 28, 1917 Norfolk, Va.
Ed (Strangler) Lewis beat John Freberg, 1-0 (CNC)
March 8, 1917 Norfolk, Va.
Ed (Strangler) Lewis beat Charley Cutler, 2-0
April 5, 1917 Norfolk, Va.
John Freberg vs. Paul Martinsen
April 12, 1917 Norfolk, Va.
Ivan Linow vs. John Freberg
April 19, 1917 Norfolk, Va.
John Freberg vs. Paul Martinsen
April 25, 1917 Norfolk, Va.
Charlie Cutler beat Carl Schultze
December 3, 1919 Norfolk, Va.
Wladek Zbyszko beat Ivan Petroloff
December 10, 1919 Norfolk, Va.
Joe Stecher beat John Olin, 2-0
December 17, 1919 Norfolk, Va.
Jim Londos beat Mike Youska, 2-0
December 24, 1919 Norfolk, Va.
Ivan Linow bgeat Ivan Petroloff
December 31, 1919 Norfolk, Va.
Jim Londos beat Yusef Barza, 2-0
January 7, 1920 Norfolk, Va.
Jim Londos beat Ivan Linow, 1-0 (CNC)
January 14, 1920 Norfolk, Va.
Jim Londos beat Cyclone Burns, 2-0
January 21, 1920 Norfolk, Va.
Earl Caddock beat John Olin, 2-0
February 4, 1920 Norfolk, Va.
Jim Londos beat Ed (Strangler) Lewis (forfeit; Lewis failed to throw Londos three times in two hours; in fact, there were no falls in the bout)
February 11, 1920 Norfolk, Va.
John Pesek beat Mike Howard
February 25, 1920 Norfolk, Va.
Jim Londos beat Charley Cutler, 2-0
December 3, 1941 Norfolk, Va. (City Auditorium)
Swedish Angel drew Bobby Bruns, Elvira Snodgrass beat Gladys Gillem, Les (Red) Ryan beat Tiger Joe Marsh (DQ) (Ed Lewis, referee) (3,000)
STRANGLER LEWIS TO WRESTLE TIGER MARSH
(Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, December 7, 1941)
The greatest wrestler of modern times, Ed "Strangler" Lewis, four times world's heavyweight champion, comes back to Norfolk next Wednesday night to wrestle Tiger Joe Marsh in a special match of another outstanding card to be presented by Promoter Bill Lewis at the Auditorium. It will be a one-fall bout. Lewis refereed the Marsh-Ryan match here last week.
A two-out-of-three fall match between George Zaharias, most famous of the four wrestling Zaharias brothers, and Bobby Bruns will climax the mat card, with Chief Little Beaver and Pete Baltran hooking up in the opening bout.
It will be George Zaharias' first appearance in Norfolk. He is one of the very few men ever to hold Jim Londos to a draw and is also the husband of the great girl athlete, Babe Didrickson, who is expected to accompany her husband in Norfolk. The Zaharias- Bruns match is likely to go down as one of the greatest seen here, in a class with the Savoldi-Londos match of last season. Certainly the men are stars in the game and are rated among the best.
So many fans apparently desire to see Lewis wrestle again that Bill Lewis feels he can afford to pay the old master his $500 guarantee money and has completed his arrangements.
Ed had a bit of a run-in with Marsh last week and had to clamp a headlock on the Chicago bad boy. This time, if he clamps it on, it will be in an earnest effort to win the match. If Marsh gets as tough as he does for some bouts Ed may have to extend himself to win.
BRUNS WINS IN CLEVER MATCH, TOSSES BARTO HILL
(Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, December 11, 1941)
(ED. NOTE: Due to the oubreak of hositilities between Japan and the United States, George Zaharias scooted home to the West Coast and was unable to appear in the main event. Sailor Barto Hill substituted.)
By Mike Robertson
Bobby Bruns, 219, Hollywood, defeated Sailor Barto Hill, 230, Portsmouth, two out of three falls, in a snappy main event on Promoter Lewis' wrestling card at the City Auditorium last night before 1,100 fans.
Hill, the leg-lock master, and Bruns, a fine all-around wrestler, put on the finest scientific exhibition of grappling witnessed here this year. Both were very evenly matched and up until the last second the outcome was in doubt.
Bruns won the first fall with a roll-over drop kick at 30:42. Hill came right back to take the second, employing three flying tackles and his octopus hold. It was the shortest fall here this season, lasting exactly 23 seconds. Bruns was the ultimate victor, though. Poor Hill missed a flying tackle, sailed through the ropes and was stunned upon landing in row one. Referee Miles counted him out at 11 minutes of the third go.
The results of the other matches:
Preliminary -- Chief Little Beaver, 236, pinned Michele Leone, 218, with a knee kick to the side and three rights to the jaw.
Special event -- Ed (Strangler) Lewis, 290, used a headlock to beat Joe Marsh, 225, after eight minutes.
Ringsiders seemed to agree that it had been a long time since two wrestlers had put on such a fine show here as did Bruns and Hill last night. Hill, who knows how to do it, went for Bobby's legs right off with some of his famous leglocks. He got a leg spread first, then a semi-octopus, but Bruns managed to get away. Hill was charging in with a flying tackle when Bruns got him with the drop kick that won him the first go.
Hill was a one-man blitz in that second. He came charging out at the bell, leaped at Bruns, and, catching him off guard, felled him with three flying tackles. Barto then clamp;ed on the octopus, and Bobby was through.
It took a break to win for Bruns. It came when Hill missed a flying tackle after having Bobby in a bad way. He floated through the ropes with the greatest of ease and fell on his neck. Out, he was through for the night.
BOBBY BRUNS GIVEN DECISION; JOY FUND GAINS $438
(Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, Thursday, December 18, 1941)
The Joy Fund is $438 richer today as the result of a bangup wrestling show staged at the City Auditorium last night. The charity event, promoted by Bill Lewis, attracted an overflow crowd of 2,500. Several hundred fans were turned away from the door even before the matches got under way.
While helping the Norfolk Newspaperws to carry out a more successful Christmas campaign for the needy, the fans were treated to some excellent wrestling. In other words, they got their money's worth.
Much to the delight of all, the popular Bobby Bruns was awarded the main event over the Swedish Angel. Referee Buck Miles gave the bout to Bruns after the Angel employed foul tactics in the third fall.
The Angel won the first fall after Bruns missed a dropkick and knocked himself out. Then the avengeful Bruns came back and took the second fall with a bonecrushing display that had the Angel groggy.
In the third fall, the Angel got out of control altogether. He locked Bobby's head between the ropes and left him there gasping for air. When Miles interfered, the Angel took the referee to the other side of the ring and locked his head between the ropes, too. And there they were, Bruns and the referee, nearly strangling. The fans roared in protest as the Angel bounced around in triumphant anger. But through the assistance of some ringsiders, Miles and Bruns managed to free themselves from their unpleasant positions in the ropes.
Immediately, Miles walked over and raised Bruns' hand in victory. The Angel voice disapproval, but received no encouragement from the spectators. The verdict was popular.
As expected, Mildred Burke, who claims the women's championship of the world, lightweight division, won over Mae Young in a pleasing bout.
And it took the famous Ed (Strangler) Lewis less than 10 minutes to conquer Chief Little Beaver, using, as you may have guessed, a headlock to finish his foe.
In the opener, Sailor Sam Sims scored over Tiger Joe Marsh.
NORFOLK CARDS PROMOTED BY BILL LEWIS, 1945-46
(The following bouts were held in the USO Auditorium; promoter was Bill Lewis, who also promoted Richmond, Va., at the time.)
September 5, 1945 Norfolk, Va.
Roughhouse Jack O'Brien beat Fred Carone, Ernest Johnson beat Davey O'Brien (DQ), Mystery Man (J.D. Turner) beat Charley Harben, Black Panther beat Chief Saunooke
September 12, 1945 Norfolk, Va.
Chief Saunooke beat Charley Harben, Ernest Johnson drew Davey O'Brien, Red Carter beat Mystery Man (DQ), Black Panther beat Jack O'Brien
September 19, 1945 Norfolk, Va.
Davey O'Brien vs. Jack O'Brien (NC), Chief Saunooke beat Jack Steele, Ernest Johnson beat Chief Chewacki (DQ), Black Panther beat Mystery Man (unmasked as J.D. Turner)
September 26, 1945 Norfolk, Va.
Sailor Sims drew Ernest Johnson, Davey O'Brien drew Don Lee, Jack O'Brien beat J.D. Turner, Chief Saunooke beat Chief Chewacki
October 3, 1945 Norfolk, Va.
Sailor Sims beat Chief Chewacki (DQ), Tommy O'Toole drew Chief Saunooke, Jack O'Brien beat Ernest Johnson, Mae Young beat Violet Valentine
October 10, 1945 Norfolk, Va.
Ernest Johnson beat Eddie Pope, Sailor Sims beat Jack O'Brien (DQ), Mae Young beat Elvira Snodgrass, Tommy O'Toole beat Chief Saunooke
October 17, 1945 Norfolk, Va.
Tommy O'Toole beat Scotty Dawkins, Joan Blevins-Elvira Snodgrass beat June Byers-Evelyn Wall, Jack O'Brien beat Ernest Johnson, Chief Saunooke drew Mike Kilonis
October 24, 1945 Norfolk, Va.
Jack O'Brien beat Mike Kilonis, Dummy Gomez drew Eddie Pope, Harry Finkelstein drew Sailor Sims, Tommy O'Toole beat Ernest Johnson (DQ)
October 31, 1945 Norfolk, Va.
Tommy O'Toole beat Jack Singer, Harry Finkelstein drew Ernest Johnson, Mike Kilonis beat Scotty Dawkins, Joe Savoldi beat Jack O'Brien (Ed Don George, a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, was introduced at ringside)
November 7, 1945 Norfolk, Va.
Ernest Johnson beat Jack Singer, Jack O'Brien beat Mike Kilonis, Ray Villmer beat Harry Finkelstein, Tommy O'Toole drew Joe Savoldi
November 14, 1945 Norfolk, Va.
Ernest Johnson beat Harry Finkelstein, Ray Villmer beat Mike Kilonis, Blimp Levy beat Jack Singer, Tommy O'Toole beat Jack O'Brien
November 21, 1945 Norfolk, Va. Sailor Sims beat (New) Black Panther (DQ), Ernest Johnson beat Eddie Pope, Jack O'Brien beat Mike Kilonis, Tommy O'Toole beat Jack Singer, Mildred Burke beat Mae Young
November 28, 1945 Norfolk, Va.
Wally Greb drew Ernest Johnson, Sonny Myers beat Eddie Pope, Black Panther beat Jack Singer, Tommy O'Toole beat Joe Savoldi
December 5, 1945 Norfolk, Va.
Bill Canny drew Jack Singer, Wally Greb beat Jack O'Brien (DQ), Sonny Myers beat Ernest Johnson, Tommy O'Toole beat Black Panther
December 12, 1945 Norfolk, Va.
Sonny Myers beat Wally Greb, Tommy O'Toole beat Jack O'Brien, Mattie Bell beat Nell Stewart, Sailor Barto Hill beat Black Panther (unmasked as "Ed Bogucki, Chicago" (?))
December 19, 1945 Norfolk, Va.
Sonny Myers drew Ed Bogucki, Bill Canny beat Eddie Pope, Mattie Bell beat Joan Blevins, Barto Hill beat Tommy O'Toole
December 26, 1945 Norfolk, Va.
Sonny Myers beat Jack LaRue, Eddie Pope beat Eddie Banks, Nell Stewart won girls' battle royal, Jack O'Brien beat Barto Hill
January 2, 1946 Norfolk, Va.&127;
Tom Mahoney beat Jimmy El Pulpo, Mike Kilonis beat Ivan Micheloff, Jack O'Brien beat Sonny Myers, Barto Hill beat Ed Bogucki
January 9, 1946 Norfolk, Va.
Jimmy El Pulpo beat Mike Kilonis, Golden Angel beat Tom Mahoney, Sonny Myers beat Ivan Micheloff, Barto Hill beat Jack O'Brien
January 16, 1946 Norfolk, Va.
Mike Kilonis beat Jack Singer, Jack O'Brien beat Sonny Myers, Sailor Sims beat Jimmy El Pulpo, Golden Angel beat Barto Hill
January 23, 1946 Norfolk, Va.
Ernest Johnson drew Jimmy El Pulpo, Barto Hill beat Mike Kilonis, Golden Angel beat Sonny Myers, Babe Sharkey beat Jack O'Brien (DQ)
January 30, 1946 Norfolk, Va.
Jack O'Brien beat Chuck Ross, Tom Mahoney drew Ernest Johnson, Johnny Long beat Mike Kilonis, Barto Hill beat Jimmy El Pulpo
February 6, 1946 Norfolk, Va.
Jimmy El Pulpo drew Tom Mahoney, Ernest Johnson beat Mike Kilonis, Jim Wallis drew Barto Hill, Jack O'Brien beat Johnny Long (DQ)
February 13, 1946 Norfolk, Va.
Ernest Johnson beat Jim Wallis, Barto Hill beat Jimmy El Pulpo, Dick Shikat beat Tom Mahoney, Jack O'Brien beat Johnny Long
February 20, 1946 Norfolk, Va.
Johnny Long drew Ernest Johnson, Eddie Pope drew Eddie King, Jack O'Brien beat Abe Stein, Dick Shikat beat Barto Hill (CNC)
February 27, 1946 Norfolk, Va.
Barto Hill beat Chuck Ross, Ernest Johnson beat Abe Stein, Eddie Pope beat Eddie King, Jack O'Brien beat Dick Shikat (DQ)
March 6, 1946 Norfolk, Va.
Johnny Long drew Tiger Joe Marsh, Dick Shikat beat Ernest Johnson, Babe Sharkey beat Barto Hill, Jack O'Brien beat Bill Middlekauf
March 13, 1946 Norfolk, Va.
Barto Hill drew Tiger Joe Marsh, Johnny Long beat Bill Middlekauf, Ernest Johnson beat Jack O'Brien (DQ), Babe Sharkey beat Dick Shikat
March 20, 1946 Norfolk, Va.;
Tiger Joe Marsh beat Bill Middlekauf, Ernest Johnson drew Jim Stefanou, Jim Coffield beat Abe Stein, Jack O'Brien beat Johnny Long
March 27, 1946 Norfolk, Va.
Tommy Poole beat Ernest Johnson, Jim Coffield beat Tom Mahoney, Tiger Joe Marsh beat Don Lee (former Black Panther No. 2 in these parts), Jack O'Brien beat Johnny Long
April 3, 1946 Norfolk, Va.
Tommy Poole vs. Jack O'Brien, Johnny Long vs. Don Lee, Tiger Joe Marsh vs. Tom Mahoney, Ali Baba vs. Jim Coffield
The WAWLI Papers No. 124 . . .
(ED. NOTE: The following article, posted to the Web not too long ago, goes a long way in describing Wrestling As We Liked It -- performed in squalid, grim, smoke-choked halls, a business comprised of wrestling fiefdoms, with a different set of esthetics, ethics, an altogether different essence, with an emphasis on the sports element. Alas, all these terms are used in a pejorative sense in the article. It used to be a cult, admits Vince McMahon Jr., but he changed all that. Now it's a TV cartoon for pre-pubescent children and a sort of rough-and-tumble Disneyland show for arena presentation. Excuse me, Sports Illustrated, but you went too far when you referred to WAWLI as "a sleazy pseudosport." The sleaze began piling up only recently.)
WRESTLING WITH SUCCESS; VINCE McMAHON HAS TRANSFORMED PRO WRESTLING FROM A SLEAZY PSEUDOSPORT TO FAMILY FUN
(Sports Illustrated, March 25, 1991)
By William Oscar Johnson
IN 1954 THE FRENCH PHILOSOPHER ROLAND BARTHES produced a learned essay about the "mythology" of professional wrestling. Among other things, he wrote, "The virtue of wrestling is that it is the spectacle of excess. Here we find a grandiloquence which must have been that of ancient theaters. . . . Even hidden in the most squalid Parisian halls, wrestling partakes of the nature of the great solar spectacles, Greek drama and bullfights: In both, a light without shadow generates an emotion without reserve."
Which brings us directly to WrestleMania VII. For in the latest of the World Wrestling Federation's annual editions of mad, mad, mad myths-on-a-mat, we will indeed experience another spectacle of excess -- unfortunately, however, minus the prescribed "light without shadow." The event will take place indoors in the Los Angeles Sports Arena this Sunday before a sellout crowd of 16,000. Originally, Spectacle of Excess VII was scheduled to unroll in all its absurd glory on the sun-drenched floor of the Los Angeles Coliseum before some 100,000 spectators. Due to the Gulf War, the attendant fear of terrorism and the necessity of a complex (and expensive) security
" . . . in the course of obtaining this near monopoly, (McMahon) has made radical changes in the esthetics, the ethics and, in effect, the very essence of pro wrestling as the world had previously understood it."
system to guarantee everyone's safety, a decision was made in late January to move the show into the Arena, and everything has been reduced in scale from gargantuan to pretty big. It is a shame, for revenue expectations at the Coliseum had been marvelously gross: a live gate of $3 million, novelty purchases of $1 million, food and beverage purchases of $750,000. These are totals that have been exceeded by no other Coliseum attractions save the 1984 Summer Olympics and the Super Bowl, which also happen to be the only other major sports spectacles pretentious enough to use Roman numerals to keep track of which is which. In the Arena, the gate for Wrestlemania VII will be about $750,000, novelties about $150,000 and edibles $100,000. However, audiences tuned in elsewhere are expected to produce $25 million in pay-per-view TV (at $29.95 per set), $500,000 from closed-circuit theater locations and $3 million from videocassettes.
Be it myth, sport, spectacle or simply wretched excess, pro wrestling has in recent years emerged from squalid halls and remodeled itself -- up to a point. The current WWF version retains the classic mythical images of wrestling -- what Barthes called "the great spectacle of Suffering, Defeat, and Justice." But there is another kind of myth on display, an American business myth that has sprung from the brow of a huckster/genius who excels at the non-Greek arts of marketing, television production, merchandising and a unique type of cross-media promotion that combines comic-book hype with hard-core hokum to produce a showbiz package so flamboyant that it makes the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade look like a Russian funeral procession.
The man who has given birth to this garish package is a tall, bulging bodybuilder named Vincent K. McMahon, 44. To fans of the WWF, he is well known as one of the often clownish TV announcers who -- in their hoarse efforts to describe what is going on in the ring -- seem to sweat, bellow and suffer even more than the wrestlers themselves. But there is nothing clownish about Vince McMahon the businessman.
In 1988, Forbes estimated that McMahon was "easily a centimillionaire," and he has gotten even richer since then. The umbrella corporation that McMahon formed over WWF and its subsidiaries is called TitanSports, Inc. WrestleMania VII is only the iceberg tip of this unique $500 million corporate empire. TitanSports competes successfully in a wide variety of industries -- including live entertainment, syndicated TV, pay-per-view TV, videocassettes, magazine publishing, catalog merchandise and children's toys. The corporation employs more than 300 people scattered throughout three different buildings in downtown Stamford, Conn. Next month, TitanSports will move into its brand new $10 million, four-story corporate headquarters, with the Stamford address of 1 Titan Tower: The facilities include a day-care center and a company restaurant.
The single most essential, and most amazing, reason for McMahon's success is that he not only has moved wrestling out of the grim, smoke-choked environments of its past but he also has turned it into high-gloss family entertainment. These days, WWF wrestling shows compete for audiences with the Ice Capades, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the Harlem Globetrotters and Walt Disney Productions.
Steve Allen once joked while broadcasting a wrestling match in the late 1940s, "Leone gives Smith a full nelson, slipping it up from either a half nelson or an Ozzie Nelson." And this is exactly what Vince McMahon has done: He has lifted this ugly old game to the top shelf of American niceness and launched it into its Ozzie Nelson Age.
If anyone was born to be a wrestling promoter, it was McMahon. His grandfather Jess was the boxing matchmaker at Madison Square Garden during the era of Tex Rickard and later worked as a wrestling promoter in New York and Philadelphia. His father, Vincent J., controlled wrestling over much of the northeastern U.S., from the 1950s until young Vince bought him out nine years ago.
Nat Frank, a language-busting old-style sports columnist for the Philadelphia Observer, wrote this paean to the elder McMahons in 1964: "It was Jess McMahon who held the unique distinction of having put together the initial series of punchfests marking the opening of the then new New York City's Madison Square Garden, the mecca of pugilism. After several seasons in Philadelphia, the powerful and idolized Jess McMahon returned to the Great Fight Way to
" . . . on a scale of one to 10, McMahon gets a 9.5 for hype, music, presentation before the match. But after the bell rings, his shows don't rate above zero. He has raped wrestling." -- Lou Thesz
continue his interest in staging the clouting cards. However, he added the sport of wrestling to his promotions. His chief aide was a son, Vince, who handled all of the details, made the rounds with his father. There was noticed the willingness of the McMahon offspring to learn more and more about the bone-bending art. He made mental notes, thought some of the ideas didn't quite jell with his opinions; but then and there he vowed he would go places in the grip-and-get-gripped field. To make a long story short (because of space limitations) this very same Vince McMahon is the recognized top man in all grappledom."
The young Vince admired the elder McMahons, too. Says Vincent K.: "In a game full of misinformation, my grandfather always told the truth. He was college-educated and he kept office hours like a banker. He did business with some pretty tough customers, such as Frankie Carbo, but kept his integrity. My father did some boxing, too, and was more or less New York-based, then opened up in Washington and did wrestling and some rock 'n' roll back when that was first starting. He founded the WWF in 1963. My dad was a fabulous human being, fair and warm."
But times have changed and so have the McMahons. Vince went to East Carolina University, then worked for his father as a wrestling commentator on cable TV. In 1979 he bought the Cape Cod Coliseum in Yarmouth, Mass., which included a 5,000-seat hockey rink, where Atlantic Hockey League teams played in winter and rock bands played in summer. Ambitious and smitten with a then radical vision of marrying rock 'n' roll to rasslin', Vince bought out his father's stock in the WWF in 1982. Vincent J. died in 1984, but by that point his only son had declared war on the entire structure of American professional wrestling as it had been nurtured and loved by promoters since the turn of the century. "Had my father known what I was going to do, he never would have sold his stock to me," says Vincent K. "In the old days, there were wrestling fiefdoms all over the country, each with its own little lord in charge. Each little lord respected the rights of his neighboring little lord. No takeovers or raids were allowed. There were maybe 30 of these tiny kingdoms in the U.S. and if I hadn't bought out my dad, there would still be 30 of them, fragmented and struggling. I, of course, had no allegiance to those little lords."
In 1982, McMahon launched his first massive attack -- not with a slogging ground war to capture live audiences from enemy arenas but with the cold, airborne eye of television. "My major step was television on a local basis," he says. "We already had our network in the Northeast and we started selling these shows to stations in other fiefdoms. In Chicago, in Los Angeles, the WWF brand of wrestling was something new. We had better athletes -- more upscale and more charisma. The local guys were lazy. They weren't listening to the marketplace. We were so consumer-oriented. We never lifted our ears from the ground. We gave the public what it wanted. We broke the mold."
McMahon's brilliant application of TV in all its forms --broadcast, cable, pay-per-view -- was exemplary and ruthless. To place his shows regularly on important local stations in enemy territory, he used wads of money for ammunition, paying stations to carry WWF events, sometimes as much as $100,000 a year. It was expensive and risky, but once McMahon bought his way onto the local tube, the public began to respond to the WWF's jazzy shows.
Today, TitanSports has 300 television affiliates across North America, which amounts to the largest syndicated TV network in the world. Some 20 million viewers watch regularly. WWF's weekly syndicated shows -- WWF Superstars of Wrestling, WWF Wrestling Challenge, and WWF Wrestling Spotlight -- rank third in audience draw behind Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. TitanSports does 185 localized versions of each of those syndicated shows, which are dubbed in seven languages and sent to 40 countries. An NBC late-night show, Saturday Night's Main Event, is broadcast six times per season and is favored by fraternity men and yuppies.
WWF's use over recent years of pay-per-view television for its quarterly extravaganzas -- the WrestleManias, Royal Rumbles, SummerSlams and Survivor Series -- is the envy of the TV sports world. Those four shows have consistently succeeded better than all other pay-per-view programs, with the rare exception of superstar boxing matches with Sugar Ray Leonard or Mike Tyson. In 1989, four of the top eight pay-per-view shows in the U.S. were Titan productions, and last year Titan had four of the top five.
In the decade or so that U.S. pay-per-view programming has been available, no single program has ever been sold to a million homes. But WrestleMania IV (at $19.95 per view) drew 909,000 homes and WM V (at $24.95) drew 915,000, while WM VI (at $29.95) drew 825,000. Lesser WWF extravaganzas for the past three years have averaged over 500,000 (at $19) per show. Recently, however, there have been signs that the frenetic fascination with pro wrestling is fading. Still, with prices per home at an average of $23, the payoff on even the lowest-priced, least-popular WWF event has been well over $8 million. The take from each WWF pay-per-view program is split among the local cable outlets and the WWF, which ends up with 50% of the pot.
Pay-per-view is potentially the richest TV treasure chest ever. Television people see it as the great money machine that might be able to finance big-time American sports in the coming years, after the networks' sports divisions have gone broke paying billion-dollar rights fees. Sports columnists have predicted for years that each of the 40 million houses tuned in to the Super Bowl will have to pay $50, and the NFL will reap $2 billion in one afternoon. The arithmetic is there, all right, but so far, the politics are not. Nor is all the technology. Nor is there a public willingness to pay big bucks for what has so long been free.
Even as his TV empire was growing fatter with every match, McMahon was also running a complex national network of nightly live events. With a peripatetic troupe of some 60 wrestlers, eight referees and 10 publicists, the WWF put on in 1990 alone a total of 663 separate live events, spread over 191 different cities ranging from Yuma, Ariz., to Lake Charles, La., to Duluth, Minn. To add another dimension to this logistical labyrinth, the WWF also uses its syndicated national TV shows to promote its local live events by inserting individualized promos into the tapes of the syndicated shows. This means that whenever a syndicated WWF Superstars of Wrestling show appears on Utica's Channel 33, it contains promos touting whatever WWF live card is coming to Utica next. Some 1,000 such tapes are sent out each month from the WWF's state-of-the-art TV production facility in Stamford.
Basil DeVito Jr., senior vice-president of marketing for Titan, says, "We are a hybrid -- national in scope, but local in impact. The same TV stars you see on the tube come right to your hometown. Vanna White doesn't come to Peoria. The NFL doesn't come to Peoria. But Hulk Hogan comes to Peoria, in person! And unlike big league stars, WWF wrestlers are never in an off-season. Those guys are performing 350 nights a year."
The WWF's relentless warfare has all but destroyed its serious competition. Ted Turner has continued to operate the National Wrestling Alliance in Atlanta, to help fill time on his superstation WTBS. McMahon speaks of Turner's operation with undisguised condescension: "Ted has trouble with the wrestling genre. This is a highly specialized product -- unique -- requiring skills not available in normal marketing situations. Our competition is not from Ted, it is from the National Basketball Association, from big rock concerts, from Disney."
So we acknowledge McMahon as a master strategist who has conquered just about every bit of territory in grappledom. But in the course of obtaining this near monopoly, he has made radical changes in the esthetics, the ethics and, in effect, the very essence of pro wrestling as the world had previously understood it.
"The difference between Dad's and Granddad's day and my day is pure presentation," McMahon says. "There was too much emphasis on the sports element and not enough on entertainment in the old days. Now we call it sports entertainment. We don't want to de-emphasize the athleticism of wrestling; these are great athletes with great charisma. But in the WWF, entertainment is the key."
As everyone knows, the WWF's idea of entertainment is an often tasteless explosion of high-camp fun starring costumed buffoons the size of zeppelins who ride into an arena on waves of hilarious hype and deafening rock music. It is a unique mix of entertainment, ranging from Saturday morning cartoons to MTV and from Greek drama to bullfights.
Wildly popular as this form of wrestling has come to be, old-timers do not see WWF-style presentations as examples of the bone-bending art at its best. Lou Thesz, 74, who retired from active wrestling in December, after a 55-year career during which he held championship belts in many different fiefdoms, is critical of the WWF. "McMahon's wrestlers aren't wrestling, they're putting on tumbling acts," he says. "On a scale of one to 10, McMahon gets a 9.5 for hype, music, presentation before the match. But after the bell rings, his shows don't rate above zero. He has raped wrestling."
Even more troubling to many old loyalists and purists is the fact that the WWF declared publicly in February 1989 that pro wrestling is not a true sport. In a statement delivered by the WWF to the New Jersey Senate as it was about to vote on a bill that would remove wrestling from the jurisdiction of the state athletic commission (which levies a 10% surtax on profits from sports TV revenues), the WWF said that, henceforth, professional wrestling should be defined this way: "An activity in which participants struggle hand-in-hand primarily for the purpose of providing entertainment to spectators rather than conducting a bona fide athletic contest."
This admission was not big news to most people. As Roland Barthes put it so lucidly some 35 years ago: "The public is completely uninterested in knowing whether the contest is rigged or not, and rightly so; it abandons itself to the primary virtue of the spectacle. . . . This public knows very well the distinction between wrestling and boxing; it knows that boxing is a Jansenist sport, based on a demonstration of excellence. One can bet on the outcome of a boxing match: with wrestling it would make no sense."
True enough. Yet, predictably, the WWF's stance -- pragmatic as it was -- was very disturbing to old-fashioned wrestlers and wrestling aficionados. Art Abrams, 68, a longtime wrestling photographer and currently the treasurer of the Cauliflower Alley Club, a Los Angeles-based organization that has 1,400 wrestling-oriented members, says: "A lot of our people don't like what Vince McMahon has done. They think he went against the code. They think he destroyed the mystique. Sure, these guys all admit in private that it's show business, but they have remained loyal to the credo that you never admit that openly. They all feel you lose the gladiator glamour when you call it entertainment only." Maria Bernardi, 65, a former women's champion who wrestled competitively for 26 years, says, sadly: "I never considered it anything but a sport. To call it entertainment alone is to take away the pride we once had in being wrestlers."
Lots of people rushed to tell McMahon after the New Jersey confession that he had effectively bankrupted the WWF because the world would now reject his shows and return to promoters who continued the fiction that it was all real mayhem. "The doomsayers were everywhere," recalls Steve Planamenta, WWF's media director, "but we did better business for the rest of that year than we ever did before."
In fact, McMahon's most sensitive critics, the men and women who book WWF events into America's stadiums and arenas, have only praise for his decision. John Urban, director of the Family Entertainment Division of Madison Square Garden, which puts on eight or 10 WWF cards every year, says: "Once Vince moved past the big question -- Is it real or not real? -- they shook off the last vestiges of the old pro wrestling image. It became more respectable than ever. It used to be a cult -- you either loved it or you despised it. People used to think, pro wrestling, ugh, Ice Capades, great. No more."
Peter Luukko, 31, until recently general manager of both the Los Angeles Coliseum and the Los Angeles Sports Arena (the Arena also puts on eight or nine WWF cards a year), says: "Wrestling always produced strong crowds, but it was often a very rough night -- mostly males who were beer-drinkers and had a tendency to get into a lot of fights. That was as recently as seven or eight years ago. Vince not only called it entertainment, he made it over into real entertainment -- rock music, hype, stars, lights -- and that brought fans out of the closet from every age and economic group -- teens, children under 10, film stars, attorneys, bankers and the blue-collar people who came before."
So attractive is the WWF approach that last year Luukko whipped up a formal -- and very flattering -- bid to convince McMahon that WrestleMania VII should come to the Coliseum. "We told him that we considered WrestleMania , the Olympics and the Super Bowl as equally great events," says Luukko. "And it wasn't just a sales pitch, we meant it."
Moving the big show from the Coliseum into the L.A. Sports Arena was a great disappointment. Luukko says that 16,000 tickets had been sold two months before the event: "That was an outstanding sale at that point. Now we are really in a bind, because the whole world wants tickets and we were just able to squeeze in the ones we had already sold for the Coliseum." At the time McMahon made the decision to move into the bunkerlike Arena, the Gulf War was scarcely two weeks old and fears of terrorism were much sharper then than they are now. Also, the press was heavily critical of the WWF's current villain-champion, Sergeant Slaughter, who used to wave an Iraqi flag in the ring and employed an ostensible Iraqi loyalist, one General Adnan, as his manager. Some writers thought that Sergeant Slaughter's flagrantly unpatriotic behavior might create a dangerous atmosphere at WrestleMania VII, where he was slated to meet Hulk Hogan, the consummate American flag-waver.
Well, no one knows. But, as we have said, what goes on in Los Angeles this Sunday will be actually but a small portion of McMahon's vast enterprise. WWF realizes $200 million in annual sales of its own merchandise plus licenses. It has over 80 videocassettes on the market, and they have produced more than two million sales over the last five years; six cassettes have gone platinum (meaning 120,000 sales). Nonvideo items include WWF lunch boxes (licensed to Thermos); ice cream bars (Gold Bond); children's vitamins (Solaris Marketing Group, Inc.); and a great variety of video and board games and toys, including Wrestling Buddies (Tonka), which was the third-best-selling toy of the 1990 Christmas season. The WWF Magazine, a slick monthly publication given over entirely to hype, has a paid circulation of 350,000.
And there is more to come. McMahon is moving into bodybuilding. He has formed the World Bodybuilding Federation, the newest subsidiary to TitanSports, and he is prepared to move in with typical flair and grandeur. "We are defining bodybuilding in a much broader way," he says. "If you run or exercise or if you simply take a vitamin every day, that is bodybuilding. This is the market we are focusing on, and it is a big one. Also, the formal competitions are quite dull, and we intend to do them on a much grander, much more glamorous scale. TV and marketing are the keys."
Nevertheless, whatever flamboyant upheaval McMahon may visit on the hitherto arcane sport of bodybuilding, it is wrestling that he knows best. Having conquered the U.S. on almost every front, he is now eyeing the rest of the globe. The WWF has sent its various hulks, warriors and earthquakes on a number of successful foreign tours, and the time could be right for a major international expansion. "Anyone in any country can understand wrestling," says McMahon. "There is no rule book to master. It's not like hockey or soccer. It is as comprehensible in China as it is in Canada. Children love it. Our guys are role models for kids everywhere. These are guys you can take home to mom, even mama-san in Japan or mumsie in England."
Barthes concluded in his famous essay that there was a quasidivine quality to the grip-and-get-gripped set. "In the ring," he wrote, "wrestlers remain gods because they are, for a few moments, the key which opens Nature, the pure gesture which separates Good from Evil, and unveils the form of a Justice which is at last intelligible."
Vince McMahon would certainly agree that wrestlers are universal symbols. Indeed, his vision of the future does not even stop at the boundaries of the planet. "Who knows?" he says. "Someday we may hold WrestleMania on the moon. Full moon, full house. I can see it now."
The WAWLI Papers No. 125 . . .
THE WRESTLING SEASON: PROMINENT AMERICANS DUE
(Australian newspaper clippings, April 23 & 28, 1930)
After a tour extending over several months in search of wrestlers and boxers to appear under the management of Stadiums Ltd. during the winter season, Mr. R. Lean, general manager for Stadiums, returned to Melbourne on Saturday. He had left Australia at the end of last year, and had a commission not to spare expense in obtaining the best talent available to appear in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane. Mr. Lean expressed himself as satisfied with the engagements which had been made, and looks forward to many exciting struggles at the Dudley street Stadium.
Probably the most important contract signed was that for the appearance for the first time in Australia of Edward (Strangler) Lewis, who held the title of champion of the world for seven years. Lewis was, he said, a big drawing card in America, and was wrestling two and three times a week during the season there. He was stated to be receiving the largest income of any wrestler in the United States, and a very big guarantee had to be forthcoming in order to secure him. When the proposition was first brought under his notice, Lewis said a spell on the water and the opportunity of seeing Australia and New Zealand appealed to him, and that was a big factor in his arriving at a decision.
Lewis has only been defeated twice since he lost the world's championship to Gus Sonnenberg. He is of huge physique, weighing 18 stone, and has a normal chest measurement of 50 inches . . . Mr. Lean will open the wrestling season at the West Melbourne Stadium on May 10 or 17.
"Wrestling as a ring sport is attracting much more attention in the United States than is boxing today," said Mr. Lean. "The chief attraction on my engagement list is undoubtedly Ed Lewis, former world's champion . . . He is a man of remarkable personality, and is a wonderful wrestler. Sonnenberg, the present champion, has defeated him three times with the Rugby football "flying tackle" but no one else can handle Lewis effectively. Second in importance among the visiting wrestlers will be Joe Stecher, of Nebraska, a remarkable leg-wrestler and a young athlete of exceptional looks and physique. John Pesek will return to Australia in June, and at 14 stone he will be the lightest of them all. The others range from 15 to 17 stone. Ad Santel, if he can make the tour, will rank with Pesek in the weight class. George Kotsonaros, a Greek heavyweight, is a larger edition of John Kilonis. He will arrive with Harold (sic) Cantonwine, a graduate of Yale University, in a fortnight. Dr. Sarpolis, Charlie Hanson, a Swedish Canadian, and Bob Krine, who wrestled here two years ago, will come later. Two men have already arrived. They are Charlie Stack, who represented the United States at the Olympic Games of 1924 and 1928; and George McLeod, the "flying Scotsman."
Interesting meetings with former Stadium lightheavyweights were recalled by Mr. Lean. With Mrs. Lean and their daughter he was the guest of Mr. and Mrs. R. M. (Mike) Yokel at their home in Wyoming, where Yokel, as game warden, arranged a spectacular drive of 1,000 elk in the snowclad foothills. Ted and Mrs. Thye also entertained them at Los Angeles, where Thye, having retired from the ring, is amassing further wealth as a promoter of wrestling events.
STRANGLER LEWIS HAD IT ALL MAPPED OUT
(From the Australian publication "Referee," August 19, 1937)
Ed (Strangler) Lewis, mastodon of the mat and five times heavyweight wrestling champion of the world, is due in Sydney at the end of the month. Lewis is under engagement to Stadiums Ltd.
According to our old friend, Ted Thye, the "Strangler" is engaged in a campaign to uphold the supremacy of the white race in roly poly ring activities.
When he leaves Australia Lewis will invade Mother India, and fling down the gauge to the famous Gama. After defeated Gama (Thye is optimistic), the "Strangler" will journey to England and put the kybosh on Tiger Daula, a big Indian at present busily engaged in breaking the bones of Pukka Sahibs in London.
After that, we presume, the much-travelled Mr. Lewis will return home to settle down on a chicken farm and roam no more.
"Strangler," engaged in the wringing of a rooster's neck, would be a sight for the gods.
ED (STRANGLER) LEWIS CLEANS UP WRESTLING
(Australian Ring Digest, August 1950)
During the past month professional wrestling continued to gain in popularity throughout the world and attendance records are being shattered in all countries where the mat sport is promoted. In fact, at the present time, wrestling is in the middle of a boom that has been unsurpassed in the history of the sport.
Although the major part of the credit for this must to go to Ed (Strangler) Lewis and those others who have worked so hard to clear up the world heavyweight championship this does not satisfactorily account for all the new fans that are lending their support to wrestling bouts these days.
The reason for all the new fans is due to a new type of wrestler who has sprung up in recent times and that is the "sensation" wrestler. People who heard of the deeds of such men as Gorgeous George, Lord Leslie Carlton, Nature Boy, the Golden Superman, Sky Hi Lee and the Leopard Boy came to see these grapplers in action.
However, on the same programmes they saw dyed in the wool wrestlers of the caliber of Louis Thesz, Whipper Billy Watson, Wild Bill Longson, Bronko Nagurski, Joe Pazandak, Ruffy Silverstein and Butch Levy.
Having seen these stars of the mat display their talents those people who had come out of idle curiousity, instead of leaving with their curiousity satisfied returned week after week to their local arenas to see the top ranking wrestlers in action against first class opposition.
In this way the "sensation" wrestlers are a decided asset to wrestling and are doing their part to help turn professional wrestling into one of the highest paid sports in the world. There is yet another type of matman who also does his part to make wrestling outdraw nearly every other form of indoor sport -- the masked wrestler. The masked matman who runs up a string of victories is a great drawcard as terrific crowds flock to the arenas in the hope of seeing the unknown grappler defeated and his identity disclosed.
In Boston there are two masked matmen, the Phantom and Phantom No. 2 who, besides taking part in individual matches, also team together in tag contests. They are thought to be brothers but to date have not been beaten. Fresno has the Red Phantom, Nashville the Green Hornet, Visalia the Masked Marcel, and some of the other mystery grapplers campaigning throughout the United States are the Masked Unkown, the Mystery Man and a hooded wrestler known only as the Mask. In England are the Ghoul, another masked man who has won over three hundred contests without dropping a decision.
Also in that part of the world is Count Bartelli who is thought to be a local wrestler but has defied the efforts of all his opponents so far and his identity will remain a secret until he is defeated.
Last year Hawaiian fans witnessed a masked man known as the Bat engage in several thrilling battles before he was unmasked by George Pencheff, the Australian dropkick star.
Masked men in wrestling are not a recent innovation as, in 1915, Mort Henderson, a first class wrestler hailing from New York, found that he was being sidestepped in favour of foreign wrestlers much the same as the local men in Australia are being sidestepped by the promoters today. Henderson donned a mask and as the Masked Marvel met and defeated many of the leading wrestlers of the day.
Next to don the disguise of the Masked Marvel was Peter Sauer, a youthful California matman who, in this guise, clashed with the leading wrestlers in the country and established himself as a formidable contender for the world championship.
Sauer then discarded his disguise and after wrestling for a short time under his own name, changing his ring name to Ray Steele.
Until his death last year Ray Steele was recognized all over the world as one of the most scientific mat stars the sport has known.
Another who gained fame and fortune as the Masked Marvel was Johannes van der Walt, the powerful South African wrestler. Like Steele, the South African was unable to get matches in his own country so he also donned the Masked Marvel disguise and challenged the imported wrestlers. Those who accepted the challenge of the mystery man were downed in quick time by his powerful mule kicks.
The success of the unknown wrestler captured the imagination of the South African fans who attended his matches, in ever growing numbers. After defeating all the imported wrestlers, van der Walt removed his mask and revealed himself as a local wrestler who had proved to be more than a match for the overseas performers.
>From that time South African wrestlers have received wholehearted support in their country and stars of today like Willie Liebenberg, Manie Maritz and Bull Hefer have the late Johannes van der Walt to thank for their chance to make good.
Van der Walt was a foremost challenger for the world title until his death during the war. There have been many wrestlers since those days whose identity was hidden by a mask but none have risen to the heights in wrestling attained by Mort Henderson, Ray Steele and Johannes van der Walt.
WORLD WRESTLING ROUNDUP -- THE UNITED STATES
(Australian Ring Digest, August 1950)
Louis Thesz, National Wrestling Alliance world heavyweight titleholder, remained the top wrestler in the United States during the past month.
The St. Louis Hungarian had a very active month and turned back Danny McShain, Johnny Balbo, Rito Romero, Gorgeous George, Albert (Mr. Murder) Mills, Ruffy Silverstein and Seelie Samara among others.
Closely following Thesz comes 27 year old Antonino Rocca, the current sensation in the United States.
The catlike South American Italian who, to this writing is undefeated, downed Sandor Kovacs, Lord Leslie Carlton, Babe Zaharias, Kenny Ackles and Baron Michele Leone with his own version of the dreaded backbreaker.
Although the South American possesses one of the best dropkicks in the game, he uses his form of attack only at such time as he has the opposing wrestler softened up.
Then comes the standing backbreaker and the match is all over with another win to add to his already phenomenal string.
Apart from Louis Thesz, Rocca is the only wrestler to defeat Primo Carnera, the Italian giant who has been doing very well since turning his tremendous strength and size to the wrestling mat.
An oldtimer who recently made a comeback to wrestling was Hans Steinke, the German who was rated the strongest wrestler in the world when in his prime. Steinke caused a major surprise in Chicago on 7th February, 1924, when he defeated Stanislaus Zbyszko of Poland.
HACKENSCHMIDT -- REMEMBER HIM?
(Sydney, Aust., Morning Herald, December 30, 1950)
By James Holledge
George Hackenschmidt, the greatest wrestler of the classic school in modern times, has become a philosopher. At the age of 74, "Hack" spends his time in a small London flat meditating not on his past t;riumphs, but on his own ideas for composing the problems of mankind.
To his callers the bald-headed ascetic known as George Hackenschmidt attempts to expound a philosophy that has been described as "an all-in system of physiology, psychology, and philosophy that makes existentialism seem like 'Reading Without Tears'."
He is not impatient at the lack of comprehension that is usually evident on their faces. Many others have experienced difficulty in understanding what he is driving at!
Even Bernard Shaw, after a long and intricate session with him, was forced to admit that although he personally could not quite follow his reasoning the man was certainly no fool.
Hackenschmidt appeared before thousands all over the world from Stockholm to Sydney. His name has endured for more than half a century.
Born in 1876 in the Estonian town of Dorpad, which was then part of the Russian Empire, he is perhaps best known by his nickname of "The Russian Lion." He was the greatest wrestler -- in the Greco-Roman style -- the modern world has ever known.
A professional at 18 he went to England in 1902 as the acknowledged European champion. His unsurpassed physique and the ease with which he defeated his opponents revived a sport that until then had been virtually dormant.
"The whole country went wrestling mad," says that shrewd showman, C.B. Cochran, who wasted no time in getting Hackenschmidt's name on a contract.
Then just as "Hack" was running out of competition, and audiences were tired of seeing him slam down his innumerable opponents almost before they had got properly settled in their seats, the promoters' prayers were answered by the timely advent of Ahmed Madrali, an enormous, hirsute ex-stevedore from Marseilles who answered to the name of "The Terrible Turk."
One night at the Canterbury Music Hall, where Hackenschmidt was appearing in a weight-lifting act and one or two exhibition bouts, there was a sudden but no doubt not entirely unexpected commotion in the stalls.
Two wildly gesticulating and shouting "foreign gentlemen" (as one paper described them next morning) were pushing their way to the stage.
One was recognised by some of the fans as Antonio Pierri, a veteran wrestler known in his prime as "The Terrible Greek." In quaint broken English he announced that this was his protege, "The Terrible Turk, the Sultan's favourite wrestler," on whose behalf he challenged Hackenschmidt.
Press and public clamoured for the match, and Cochran arranged what was then the biggest wrestling contest ever staged in England. The purse was 1,000 pounds for the winner and 500 pounds for the loser. Even in boxing that sort of money was big news in those days.
It took place at Olympia on January 30, 1904. Pierri had proved himself an astute publicity man, for Madrali emerged as the popular pick. Many good judges were so bemused by his propoganda that they were already proclaiming that "poor old Hack" would be massacred.
Even "The Russian Lion" himself seemed to be affected. Cochran says he had such a bad attack of nerves in his dressing room that Eugene Corri, the famous boxing referee, gloomily stated, "He's licked already!"
But he was a different man when he emerged and bounded confidently down the aisle to the ring. Probably not one of the thousands in the audience had ever seen a better physical specimen. Hackenschmidt was not tall and he then weighed not much more than 14 stone, but he carried "the smooth rippling muscles of a greyhound."
His opponent was a giant who logically assumed that no wrestler living could give him two stone in weight, a foot in height and a beating as well. The public had similarly reasoned, "A good big 'un'll beat a good little 'un any day."
It took "Hack" exactly 44 seconds to prove them wrong. He lifted the "Turk" bodily, high above his head, then slung him down on the other side of the ring, where he lay inert and groaning. The "favourite of the Sultan" was finished for the evening, with three broken ribs and a broken arm!
Hackenschmidt went on his way unbeaten. World-wide tours were undertaken but not one wrestler could be found to extend him. Lack of competition forced him onto the vaudeville stage to earn his keep.
Harry Rickard imported him into Australia to appear at the Tivoli at the highest figure ever paid to a performer in this country at that time.
In 1908 and again in 1911 the world was astounded to hear that Hackenschmidt had been defeated by an American wrestler named Frank Gotch.
On both occasions "Hack" was forced to withdraw because of an injured leg, caused by his frantic attempts to overcome a strange toehold Gotch had perfected. Even today he will not say much about it, but many believe the hold was unfair and should have been illegal.
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