Before the steroids and the outlandish characterizations there were the wrestlers. I hear a lot of talk about how different things were in the "old days". And it's true, the athletes of today are bigger, faster, more dedicated to cardiovascular training and so on. But some things never change - to be successful in the business you have to be tough, you have to have heart, you have to learn from experience and you have to use your head.
In fact the first wrestler I want to show you practically originated the use of odd costumes and and outrageous characterazation - he set the trend in motion - he was the original...
Gorgeous George (pictured above) popularized the sport on TV in the early 50's as the wrestler we all loved to hate. The young man helping him off with his robe in this scene, and the previous photo is Bob Hope. Here he wrestles in a charity event against another familiar figure, actor Burt Lancaster. Note that this match is taking place in a circus ring. Here he demonstrates to the ref how he had just hit his opponent Chief Don Eagle with the heel of his hand, and not the fist as had been alleged. Eagle got his revenge by putting George into a Indian Deathlock to win the match.
Baron Leoni was somewhat of a Gorgeous George wannabee - but he had his own style. He would mime to the ref "Shall I toss this ruffian into the eight row?", meaning his opponent of course, the answer was always "No!"
Killer Kowalski, lives up to his nickname against Argentina Antonino Rocca in this scene from around 1958. Kowalski runs one of the best wrestling schools in the US nowadays.
Here Rocca secures his signature hold, the "Snake" on a hapless Benito Gardini. In this scene, Rocca puts the big hurt on Johnny Valentine (father of Greg "the Hammer") in the form of a back-breaker.
"Mr. America" Gene Stanlee ties up Kola Kwariani in this scene.
Karl Von Hess (on the right) doesn't know what to make of the effeminate antics of Ricky Starr in this scene from 1956. Starr wore ballet slippers into the ring and spent most of his matches clowning around, much to the annoyance of his opponents. Von Hess was a prime heel. Although actually French-Canadian by birth, his character was that of an un-reconstructed Nazi.
Here are two well known names in todays version of the "King of Sports". "Iron" Mike Sharpe, the father of the WWF jobber who goes by the same name tries to squeeze the head of Hawaiin Heavyweight Champion Sam Steamboat (Richard Blood, though no relation, later took the name Ricky Steamboat in tribute to this great Hawaiin star) in this scene from around 1958. Although he was the smaller competitor, Steamboat more then holds his own against the big Canadian. Sharpes superior size and killer instinct nearly won him the match, but in the end Steamboat prevailed.
Edouard Carpentier gets ready to face Killer Kowalski in this scene from 1957. In this earlier match against Mike Valentino he showed of his handsome physique during the ring introductions. Here he ties Valentino up in a hammerlock. In the end he used a bridge to pin his opponent.
The incomparable Verne Gagne (seen here on the right) faces off against "Butcher Boy" Henning in this scene. Henning was clearly overmatched in this encounter. Gagne could be vicious when the occasion called for it as he demonstrates here. Henning was a durable opponent, but he even he couldn't withstand the master's surf-board. Gagne stands ready to receive the accolades of the crowd.
Lou Thesz was another consumate wrestler who could brawl with the best of them. Here he contributes to the cauliflower ear of Vic Christy.
Joe Blanchard, the father of Tully, hooks it up with the Great Bolo in this image from around 1959.
Bruno Sammartino, aka the "Italian Superman" winds up for a haymaker on Magnificent Maurice in this shot.
Here are scenes from one of the most famous matches of all time. Pat O'Conner, puts his NWA World Title on the line. In Komisky Park, Chicago, on June 30, 1961, NWA World Heavyweight Champion, Pat O'Conner, defends his Title against the then US Champion, the original "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers in front of a crowd of over 50,000 + a television audience of several million. The hard-fought battle went the full three falls and was dominated by O'Conner for the most part. In the end Rogers won two out of three falls by the skin of his teeth to become the new World Champion. Roger's characteristic response to winning the Title was to say, sounding not unlike his modern counterpart, "To a nicer guy it couldn't of happened!"
Moose Cholak used to enter the ring wearing a Moosehead! Later in the match, Fred Atkins bulls Moose into the corner in this shot.
Bobo Brazil, one of the first black Television stars, takes it on the forehead as he is firmly grasped in the clawhold of the dasterdly Baron Von Raske in this shot from 1974. Here he is about to smash that forehead against the head of "Handsome" Johnny Barend in this match from the late '50's. Later in the same match he downs Barend with a drop-kick.
Here is some more Bobo. This wild 6-man tag match happened at the Chicago Coliseum in 1963 and featured Brazil, "Seaman" Art Thomas and Dory Dixon against Buddy Rogers, Barend and the Magnificent Maurice. In this shot, Bobo grasps the "Nature Boy" in a vicious bearhug. Dixon is shown in the background. In this scene, Brazil releases a head scissors and rolls away just in time to allow Maurice to stomp on his own partner, "Handsome" Johnny Barend. Moments later Barend repays the favor by delivering a forearm shot on Maurice as Brazil steps away from a full nelson. Art Thomas is in the extreme left of this shot. Maurice then threatens team captain Rogers who has just suggested that the mistake was Maurice's fault! Eventually a brawl erupted after the Rogers team was disqualified.
Another match from the same card saw a battered and bloody Larry Shane controlling his much larger opponent, "Moose" Cholak. Here he bounces off the massive "Moose". Not intimidated at all, Shane monkey-flips his opponent. Earlier in the match, Shane attempts to gain an advantage by tying Cholak's shoes together! Note the amateur wrestling headgear worn by Cholak.
The Sicillians menace the announcer in this scene. The standing figure was later to become famous as manager extraordinaire, "Captain" Lou Albano!
Boxing great Rocky Marciano (facing the camera) was the guest referee in this match between "Whipper" Billy Watson and the future Texas promoter, Fritz Von Erich. Later in the match, Watson puts a sleeper hold on his opponent but the wily Fritz gets to the ropes. The suited figure in the background at ringside is Gene Kinisky, who later came into the ring during this match and had his suit torn off!
Here's the original Nicolai Volkoff. Not the one who used that name years later in the WWF. Here his aptly named partner, Johnny Kase, brains his opponent Luis Martinez with a briefcase! The addled Martinez was out on his feet, but nonetheless was declared the winner.
Hans Hermann was called the German Giant and at 6'7" the moniker was descriptive. He wasn't much of a wrestler though and was handily defeated in this match by the diminuitive Miguel Perez.
Here's the Mighty Atlas with a headlock on "Seaman" Art Thomas. Atlas liked to refer to himself as the "world's strongest wrestler" but was outpowered in this one by Thomas.
The "Crusher" Lisowski exhibits his impressive physique as he holds Karl Engstrom in a headlock. Moments later, Engstrom tries to return the favor but was promptly thrown off.
Angelo Poffo, the father of Randy Savage and Lanny Poffo (aka the Genius) was a very aggressive athelete both in and out of the ring. Here he confronts Karl Engstrom (at right) during an interview. Here he is applying a front face lock on Jose Betoncourt that looks suspiciously like a choke. Later an enraged Betancourt backs Poffo into a corner. Here he throws a low-flying drop-kick. Moments later, he gets the win.
Advertised as being "over 600 lbs", Haystacks Calhoun was my favorite wrestler as a boy in L.A. He combined tremendous strength and size with surprising agility for such a large man. (I wish I had images from his heyday - but they are mostly on Kiniscope) Here he takes on "Killer" Tim Brooks around 1974.
Back to Solie's Vintage Wrestling This page is a personal tribute and is in no way connected to any of the wrestling promotions mentioned on it. It is dedicated to the Dean of Wrestling announcers, Gordon Solie.
Copyright 2005 Jump City Productions