Watch the early 80s
opening of "Cowboy" Bill Watts'
"Championship Wrestling" (5 pm Saturdays on KOTV) was the greatest. Skandar Akbar was really a guy from Vernon, TX whose real name was Jim Wehba (a cousin of old KOMA/WKY Dale Wehba). There were other bad guys like Carrol Krauser and Nikita Mulkovich, you mentioned Sputnik, there was Oni Wiki Wiki, a barefoot Hawaiian, Handsome Ronnie Reed, Red McKim, of course the great Danny Hodge.
They also got one of the many versions of Gorgeous George on there, Spider Galento and some of the other nationally known wrestlers of the time. Some version of The Great Bolo wrestled in those shows which were taped in the WKY-TV studios in Oklahoma City. I was always intrigued as to how LeRoy McGuirk could be such a great commentator when he was blind. Guess that was my first clue wrestling was fake. Watch out for flying chairs!
How many people know that LeRoy McGuirk was a graduate of Central, and was an outstanding wrestler there before World War II? A dim memory tells me that he went on to Okla. A&M and wrestled there, but Im not sure about it. He was Jr. Heavyweight wrestling champion for a long time. I remember hearing the name of LeRoy McGuirk when I was in grade school.
After he was totally blind, Sam Avey made him the promoter of the wrestling matches at the Coliseum. Whether that was a title in name only or if LeRoy actually performed this function, I dont know. I have no reason to think that he didnt do it.
Avey would come down to KAKC at about 5 or 5:30pm the night of the matches, and would do a 15 minute program, talking about the upcoming card later that evening. Frequently, there would be one of the participants with him, particularly Danny McShain. LeRoy McGuirk was there only on one occasion with Avey.
When Avey and McGuirk were out of sight, some of the announcers would do a cruel simulation of a radio broadcast of the matches. Leroy was supposed to be the color man. The announcer would say, Well, how do things look to you, LeRoy? (Silence.) Well, I notice that Duke Kiamuka bit McShain in the ear. Did you see that, LeRoy? (Silence.)
Nikita Mulkovich: "Russ-ia!"...Red McKim was a Native American, I believe...the Great Bolo, a masked man "from parts unknown"...Oni Wiki Wiki, a Hawaiian barefooter...Here's a really obscure one that must not have worked out: The Hippie ("Jim, he's got that wild look in his eye!)...
I see that Danny Hodge starred in a movie called "One More Shot"(unfortunately, no longer available at Amazon.com). He is so strong that he can squeeze and bend a pair of tempered steel pliers with his bare hand, and does so frequently on request. Tulsa World sports writer Jimmie Tramel said of him on 12/18/2005 : "Hodge is what Roy D. Mercer wishes to be."
How about Dandy Jack Donovan and Mrs. Donovan? The various "Nature Boy" characters (Rogers, Landell, Flair) with bleached hair; there's irony as subtle as a flying mallet. And how about announcer Danny Williams, still working in OKC?
Somehow, I had the feeling that Skandor Akbar's command of idiomatic English was a little too good for him to be foreign-born.
One of the first live events I saw at KOTV, after I was hired in June of 1957, was "Live Wrestling."
At that time, an elevated ring was set up in the North end of the studio. There were a few rows of metal chairs set up around the ring.
There was an area along the west wall that served as a dressing room. It was only about five feet wide and ran almost the length of the studio. This is where the wrestlers would plan out their routines.
I can't remember any of the wrestlers' names except for Danny Hodge. There was a fellow who referred to himself in interviews as "A Cadillac and diamond ring man."
It was all pretty primitive. I do remember that they couldn't do the routine where they get up on the ropes and dive off on someone, because...at that height, they would be up in the lights; or, the cameras (B&W) would have to shoot into the light and that was a BIG no-no.
I can't even remember how long that lasted. I don't think KOTV carried it very long.
Another Tulsa pro wrestler: Angelo Savoldi. They traveled on a circuit. Angelo was a bad guy in Tulsa, but the hero guy when they were back east (somewhere in PA I think, where there were a lot more Italians).
When we first moved to Tulsa, we lived in next to Tulsa Country Club in "The Apartments", that huge complex in Osage County built at the end of WWII when housing was short. (A lot of Douglas and AA people lived there, but also oil company people, lawyers, etc..)
The Savoldis and several other pro wrestling families lived down the street (Mario Savoldi was a friend of mine from Osage Elementary School days). I remember going down the street to watch the wrestlers practice their routines. They had a whole apartment fitted out for practice, floor and wall pads.
My dad got tickets to the big "Baby's Milk Fund" benefit matches every year at the Fairgrounds Coliseum, and he and I would go. He would tell my mom "...because it's for charity !"
In reading the rasslin' section, I saw the name of my old Bell Jr. High football coach mentioned, Oni Wiki Wiki.
Oni's real name was Wallace Lam Ho. I went to school with his son Lee.
I heard recently that Oni had passed away. He was a great coach and friend.
(from Guestbook 65) Emmett Mathis said:
No one mentioned Irish Mike Clancy. I heard he opened up a pub somewhere around Tulsa (Clancy's Pizza Parlor in the Rosewood strip center at the northwest corner of 11th and Mingo) . I always loved how he would get his head opened like a melon and take a beating for 10 minutes and then he would always wipe his forehead and look surprised and then angry and then beat the snot out of his opponent. Just day dreaming after a day in the desert.
Each year, St. Patrick's Day always brings the focus on Arnie's Bar, but for me personally, it takes me back to my time working at "Irish Mike Clancy's" back in the early to mid-seventies.
St. Patrick's Day was always a huge yearly event at Clancy's. Mrs. Clancy began preparing the traditional corned beef and cabbage a few days before. To this day I can still remember the smell of it cooking. Of course there was also the green beer. We went through many a keg on this day! The celebration always lasted well past midnight and usually spilled out into the parking lot due to the large crowd inside.
The Clancys were a wonderful family to work for. I cherish the time I spent working at Clancy's.
The Clancys were also great neighbors. We lived 3 houses down from their corner house. The yards in our neigborhood were not large; especially for a group of boys wanting to play a game of football. Since the Clancys were on the corner their yard was substantially bigger...and that is where our games took place. Unlike a lot of people who would not like a group of kids showing up in their yard, the Clancys welcomed it.
My brother and I watched wrestling every Saturday morning. Some of the ones I remember were Dick Murdock, Bruiser Bob Sweetan, Yellowbelly Buck Robely (out of Waxahatchie TX), Skandor Akbar (of course. Who could forget his secret igniting powder?), Porkchops Cash and Argentina Zuma (A little guy who did cartwheels all around the ring) and of course the many Von Erichs.
Championship Wrestlers: Cowboy Bill Watts, Sakurada, Fritz Von Erich, Haystack Calhoun, Andre the Giant, Dr. X...Big Cat Ernie Ladd, Dr. Death, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Hacksaw Butch Reed, Exotic Adrian Street
It's hard to recall which ones were local as wrassling started getting big on cable and the talent toured to various markets.
Of course, Cowboy Bill Watts wound up taking over from Leroy McGuirk as promoter.
This might be considered a fine point, but I believe you are right that Mr. Calhoun's Christian name was indeed originally singular, but mutated over time into "Haystacks". Have you ever known someone who acquiesed to a popular mispronunciation of their name, and changed it?
(from Guestbook19) John Hillis said:
As always, Broo's too modest...I remember a classic bit he did with the late André the Giant (before André's tragic demise, as one particular CNN anchor would say), as well as Wrestling 2, and some others who would come around from time to time trying to plug the big Saddiday matches at Turley High School.
As has been noted in some of the Jesse Ventura stories, back in the 60's and 70's, the regional circuits tended to swap grapplers, so when a big guy's charms were wearing thin in one spot, he'd reappear cross-country. (and sometimes cross-cast--"good guys" like Cowboy Bill Watts would become "bad guys") Watts worked the Louisiana-Mississippi circuit for a while, and a lot of the Southwest Championship Wrestling guys you saw in Tulsa turned up on the Carolina circuit, I found when I went to WRAL in Raleigh, where that show was taped. My regular Wednesday dinnertime was to take the brown bag to the deserted announce booth overlooking the big studio and watch the tapings, complete with live audience. You couldn't get out for dinner anyway because the girl fans blocked the parking lot. Superfly Jimmy Snuka was one of the big names.
A regular technique was the plastic bag of fake blood cupped in the fist. Smash it on the opponent's noggin, break the bag, and blood everywhere as the crowd goes wild. That and what the announcers always delicately-and inaccurately-termed "the boot to the midsection."
Later on, when I was at CNN, the rasslers taped upstairs Saturday morning at the WTBS studios (the genesis of WCW came, I'm sure, on some Saturday when Ted Turner came into the office do some work). The thuds from the ring in the studio above were loud enough to be picked up on CNN microphones down in our basement lair.
Compared to the big PPV dollars all today, this was all very small time and minor league. Venues were often high school gyms in one-horse towns, with one weekly stop in a place like OKC or Raleigh to tape the tv show, complete with "interviews" for each market in which the show aired, promoting the matches in that region.
(from Guestbook 19) Mike Miller said:
Like Bill Hyden, I remember Leroy McGuirk. My dad (Lew) used to take me to wrestling when I was growing up. My favorite was Lou Thesz, but boy he liked to fly through the air with head scissors.
My first experience with TV wrestling occurred in the late 50s when I was at TU (but an intern floor crew cameraman at KTUL-TV.) Something happened that caused to suspect it might be fixed.
In those days, Channel 8 had live wrestling I believe on Saturday nights with a studio audience. During my first match, I was totally shocked to hear the director inform me in my headset to cue the referee. Give him one minute, the director ordered. I complied. Thirty seconds, the director said. Again, I curled my finger at the ref. Ten seconds. I held up both hands. Then as if by magic, one of the wrestlers was pinned and we went to a commercial.
I met three professional wrestlers during my radio career, two of whom I interviewed on the KRMG Newsmobile in 1957. Each was a memorable occasion.
The first one I interviewed was Gorgeous George when he was at the height of his career. As I understand it, after writing his doctoral dissertation on professional wrestling for a psychology degree, George decided that he could really take advantage of his new knowledge.
He was the first to invent the bizarre school of wrestling. Before he would enter the ring, he had a valet who would spray disinfectant in the ring, followed by bursts of perfume. Next, rose petals were dropped around the wrestling mat. George then would make his dramatic entrance, wearing long, glittering, expensive robes, and looking like Liberace if we all had been on LSD. He had long, curly, blonde hair, which he had "done up" perfectly before the match. George was a villain who also could be cowardly. People hated him. All this made him famous and rich.
Jeff Archer, who wrote the best book on professional wrestling"Theater in a Squared Circle"tells me that "George was the FIRST wrestler to identify television as the future for wrestlers creating a persona and becoming household names. According to world famous legendary wrestler Killer Kowalski, Because of his antics, most people did not realize the Gorgeous George was one great wrestler. There were few who could match him in wrestling skills. Kowalski attributes all the notoriety he and others received to Gorgeous George putting wrestling on the TV map."
Because I was almost always scrambling for subjects to present on the KRMG Newsmobile, I decided to go out to the fairgrounds and interview Gorgeous George before the matches, which would start in about two hours. He was not the friendliest guy in the world, particularly after I asked him before we went on the air if he preferred to be called Gorgeous, or Mr. George, or a combination of each. After an introduction about the matches later in the evening, I asked him when he was going to get his hair done. His eyes flashed lightning. "It already IS done!" he snapped. The interview didnt last for much longer.
The next wrestler I interviewed was the opposite of George. It was "Farmer Jones." He was a good-natured man from Arkansas who wore overalls with only one strap holding him in. He was an awesome sight: He was huge---well over three hundred pounds. Jones was so big that he couldnt fit into the front seat of the VW Microbus to do the interview. I had to open the sliding side door so we could sit inside the vehicle with our feet resting on the ground. I sat down first. When Farmer Jones followed, the poor Microbus tilted so precariously that I had visions of the Titanic and Lusitania.
But it didnt faze the jovial Jones. He said, "I shore love to scramble with the boys"---his term for wrestling (or "rassling" as it generally was known, to differentiate the "grunt and groaners" from the legitimate high school and college wrestlers). "Once I git on top of em, they aint goin far."
My first contact with a professional wrestler occurred in 1952 at KAKC when I was doing my night disk jockey show, "Music for Listening." It sometimes could get a little lonely and a bit scary down in the basement of the Coliseum all by yourself, with nothing to keep you company but the sounds of your music, your voice and the scrambling of the rats on the other side of the wall behind you. During such a moment I heard the buzzer from the front door. I looked through the control room window and the large studio and down the long hall to the door. I could press a button and let the door be opened, if I chose. A huge figure in a long, black overcoat was pressing the buzzer. I didnt recognize him, and continued to look at him while trying to decide whether to let him in. He then started to bang on the door. That convinced me.
He strode toward the control room with the confident steps of a man who was used to getting his way. As he threw open the door, I saw an enormous man with menacing eyes and black, bushy eyebrows. He had very large hands which looked like they could snap anything in two. But the most impressive thing was his neck, which was larger than his ample head. There was no flab.
"WHERE'S SAM AVEY?" he roared in a deep, cavernous voice. (Avey was the wrestling promoter and owner of KAKC.) It was eleven oclock at night. Not only would Avey certainly not be at his piddling radio station at that hour of night, he didnt even have an office down here. This is what I was thinking. I merely told the man that Avey was not there and I didnt know where he was.
"Well," he said, fixing me with a look which could make you incontinent on the spot, "When you see him, tell him that Ed Strangler Lewis is looking for him!"
With that, he turned and strode out of the control room, through the newsroom, and down the hall. A sonic boom accompanied his closure of the front door.
I felt my body to make sure that I was all there, and checked all my orifices to see if any further action was required. I felt lucky to be alive, having survived this encounter with the man who for many years was the terror of professional wrestling in the heavyweight class. His nickname was his signature; his technique very simple. Although he had retired, he looked like he could handle anyone, anywhere. All these images about this man are still so clearly engraved in my mind. Ill never forget those menacing eyes, that fear-instilling voice, and particularly that enormous neck.
Just to elaborate on Frank Morrow's remembrances of "grapplers," as the newspapers frequently called wrestlers:
Gorgeous George started hitting the bigtime in the late forties and early fifties. I recall him being interviewed at KAKC in 1950, attended by the ever-present valet, and sending the girls into fits of giddiness by presenting them with his trademark "Georgie Pins" which held his curls in place.
Ed Lewis, or "Strangler," was one of the most talented wrestlers ever to have entered the ring. He was probably the last true wrestling champion in the sport, holding the title for many years. At the time he became world champion, heavyweight wrestling was nothing like what it has become. He and another top-notcher named Joe Stecher had several memorable bouts. Lewis was immensely strong in the arms and his headlock usually prevailed, but Stecher had even more powerful legs and if he got an opponent in a scissors, it was more than likely the end of the game. In those early days, the match would continue until someone was pinned or unable to go on. In one legendary match, Lewis and Stecher wrestled for something like six hours in an outdoor ring, with automobiles being brought alongside the ring as the sun went down so that the battle could be illuminated by their headlights. If memory serves, the match ended in a draw.
For a few years, Ed Lewis lived on South Cincinnati, in Tulsa, with his wife and daughter. I passed his house every day to and from school at Horace Mann Junior High. One day, I saw him on the porch and ventured a timid "hello," to which he responded with a great smile and a pleasant greeting. His wife saw that I was unsure about what to do next and asked if I'd like a Coke. I accepted, went inside, and became instantly accepted.
One day, while I was hanging out with chums outside Quaker Drug Store, on 18th Street, Strangler and his wife showed up. He was in a sweat suit and had been running in Boulder Park. They greeted me and he put his arm around my shoulder and we talked for a minute or two before they walked away. All the guys were round-eyed at this apparition and couldn't wait to find out who the "monster" was.
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