Dean Silverstone began his wrestling career in 1958, publishing and selling wrestling programs at arenas in the Northwest. In 1962, he began working as a referee. By 1965, he was running spot shows for the office and continued until the promotion closed in 1968. After six months of no wrestling in Washington state, Dean secured television rights and opened up Superstar Championship Wrestling, which ran until 1978.
The History of the Seattle Promotion
Seattle has always been a unique area in the world of professional wrestling. Being the most populous city in the Pacific Northwest, one would assume it always had its' own office, but in reality, that wasn't the case. Most of the time, talent came from two different offices -- Portland, Oregon, located 180 miles to the south, and Vancouver, British Columbia, located 130 miles to the north. The following is a brief recap of Seattle wrestling promoters who booked talent from Portland or Vancouver, or had their own offices in Seattle.
The uniqueness about the new promotion was that, for the first time since the '40s, the office was in Seattle. One or two boys were signed from the Oregon office, and one or two from Vancouver, but for very specific reasons, the rest of the talent came from the Mobile (AL) office. "Wrestling fans were tired of seeing the same crew over and over again," Dean said. "I wanted to bring in new faces that had never been there. I knew Lee Fields ran shows precisely as I wanted to run them (holds, programs, and believable things), so I flew to Panama City and booked eight boys to open Seattle. Only one of them, Arman Hussein, had ever been in Seattle before."
The combination of new faces and talent worked. The fans responded in record-breaking numbers and the TV show became a huge hit. In Yakima, where the show was taped, it earned 95% market ratings ... every 9 TV sets out of ten were watching the show during the hour it was on (Saturday at 6:00 p.m. and Sunday at 11:00 p.m.). Then the Seattle office closed, Dutch Savage ran shows there for the Oregon office, and it did quite well. But when Sandor Kovacs sold his interest to Al Tomko (Elroy Hirsch), the crowds began to fade. When the WWF entered the cable market, Seattle, like most of the other large cities in the U.S., went dark for good.
The largest crowd to ever witness a wrestling match in Seattle was in 1966 when Lou Thesz beat Gene Kiniski. Close to 15,500 fans filled the Coliseum. Close behind with some 14,000 in attendance was a series of seven bouts that Kiniski had with Don Leo Jonathan. The attendance figures are not known for modern day shows promoted by the WWF, although newspaper pictures covering the event showed a capacity house.
Promoters and the Microphone
The basic job of a professional wrestling promoter is to garner as much publicity and interest in each event as possible, and they use all the avenues open to them to do so (TV, radio, handbills/posters, newspapers, etc.), but when they receive an added boost from a completely unexpected avenue, it means nothing but added gate revenue, and that is the bottom line of wrestling.
Often, I've been asked the question, who was the best mike man in the business (a.k.a.: who was the best talker/interview man on television). This is really a lopsided question, because only the "rulebreakers" are given the freedom to get carried away during their three minutes of announcer-wrestler gab. The scientific wrestlers always must have a sense of composure about them, except for the few seconds when they promise to break their opponent's arm.
During the history of T.V. interviews there have been many talented talkers, but even non-talking talents were able to get their message over. For example, Abdullah the Butcher. He spoke only two words of English. "Me beat!" he would repeat this two word paragraph over and over again and his expressions were so meaningful that that's all he really had to say to get his point across.
Gene Kiniski was also at the top of the talking ladder, and who can forget those unequalled interviews with the Tolos Brothers. ". . . 'ain't that right Brother Chris?" ". . . that's right Brother John."
Of course, Tough Tony Borne talked more with his facial expressions than his vocal chords and Mad Dog Maurice Vachon didn't need to talk at all. He would just stare into the red light of the camera, and after three minutes, the viewer would swear they just heard the greatest interview of any wrestler on television.
A trio of rulebreakers hold top honors in my book. Ripper Collins was one of the greatest talkers there was from a promoters viewpoint. You would tell him 30 seconds before his interview about 20 upcoming spot shows and somehow he would be able to mention each town, each building that held the event, each date, and each opponent he was facing, without ever having to do a retake; and on the really big shows, he would even be able to recite the address of the advance ticket outlet.
Perhaps the greatest mike men I ever worked with were the California Hell's Angels, Chris Colt and Ron Dupree. Dupree, who broke into the business in Boston as Golden Boy, would usually just stand next to his partner and nod his head up and down to accentuate the points about splitting their opponents heads open; but it was Chris Colt, one of the most controversial wrestlers any promoter could ever book, when given free reign could fill up the Astrodome on a day that Bill Gates promised to give out free computers to anyone sitting in their car on the LBJ Freeway. Colt was indeed a nightmare, bordering on the uncontrollable side, but the cost of Excedrin was small compared to the house he could draw by talking on television. He worked for a lot of promoters (The Sheik in Detroit, Nick Gulas in Tennessee, Ernie Mohamad in Arizona, etc. etc.), and he learned from the top talent in each territory. When he was finally given the opportunity to administrate everything he had learned from all around the country, there was no one that was in his class.
Earlier I mentioned about unexpected sources of publicity. Lumberjack Luke was responsible for perhaps the biggist promotional surprise in Northwest history. While on a radio station in Yakima, Washington, he objected to having to wrestle in front of the local people, who for the most were common ". . . pig farmers." Now pig farming is a noble and important profession, but the tone of his voice and the way he referred to the local people as a bunch of pig farmers, was expressed in such a way that the listening public was outraged. They created such a commotion that Luke decided he had accidentally stumbled onto a good thing; a raw nerve that was like a keg of dynamite ready to go off. Naturally he used the "pig farmer" bit five times during his three minute T.V. interview. This wrestling show was seen in eight states and three western Canadian provinces each week; however, it was aired first on Yakima T.V. and then duplicate copies of the hour tape were bicycled to all the other stations in various markets. Again, his remark about pig farmers caused such anger from the viewers that the T.V. station, before sending out the tapes for the other stations, actually "bleeped" the words "pig farmer" all five times from his interviews. After the tape was played in each market, the viewing public was curious as to what had been said and apparently they swamped the television station and sports editors of newspapers to find out what that no-good bum had said.
"Lumberjack Luke calls us pig farmers." That was the headline in over 25 local newspapers and the lead news story on God knows how many local T.V. newscasts. All of a sudden, newspapers that before refused to even print wrestling results (although they gladly accepted our revenue to place an advertisement), and T.V. stations that earlier said ". . . televise wrestling, you must be joking", were reporting Lumberjack Luke's comments like he was solely responsible for the Watergate break-in.
Publicity in those days was a remarkable and unforgettable experience. And oh yes, then there was always Silento Rodriguez, but that's another story.
The Lady in the Boiler Room
It's the unusual experiences that stand out when recalling what now can be considered humorous, but at the time were disastrous, in the promotion of professional wrestling. The coupe de grace of all those experiences took place in Anchorage, Alaska, the night we actually misplaced a wrestler.
In 1976, an Anchorage boxing promoter contacted me wanting to run a series of wrestling shows in Anchorage and Fairbanks. He promised me 'X' amount of dollars, but said if I would bring lady wrestlers, too, he would increase the guarantee by $1,000. Apparently, most Alaskans are not only starved for live entertainment and sporting events, but they're really hungry for female events. I promised him a complete card, including two girl wrestlers, and he went to work locally touting the show that would feature a ladies wrestling match.
Living in Seattle, I had no trouble booking the boys, as talent was everywhere ... but for two girl wrestlers, I first called Judy Grable, who resided in her retirement in Bremerton, which was an hour ferry boat ride from Seattle. She was unable to perform for the full five dates we were contracted for, so I phoned Mildred Burke in Los Angeles.
Mildred put two lady wrestlers on the plane who would meet up with us at the Seattle airport. From there, the entire crew would fly on to Anchorage. Mildred sent Sandy Parker and another girl. (Unfortunately, I can't recall for sure exactly who it was. I think it was Jane O'Brien but am not positive.) Anyway, we arrived at the hotel about five o'clock p.m. for an eight o'clock show. It was snowing lightly and under 10 degrees, but the local promoter promised me the weather didn't effect Alaskans, since they were used to it.
I sent one crew (via cab) to one TV station and went with the other crew to the other TV station in town, where we were featured on a live news/sportscast. From there, I sent two workers per cab to the auditorium. I rode with Sandy Parker and the referee and we arrived at the arena around 7:00 p.m. I had Sandy Parker leave the cab first and I watched her walk into the building. When she was out of sight, the referee got out of the cab and entered through the same door. I followed close behind.
Once inside, I noted there were four dressing rooms, two for the male crew and one each for the girls. I did my thing at the box office, receiving the balance of the guarantee from the local promoter, then went on to one of the dressing rooms. At 7:55 p.m. five minutes before the first match, Jane O'Brien (or whoever the second girl was), came into the boys' dressing room looking rather frantic. "Sandy's lost. She's not here!" I figured she was joking, because I watched Sandy enter the arena with my own eyes from the cab, but upon entering her dressing room, I noticed that not only was she not there, but her bag wasn't there either. Apparently, Sandy had never entered the dressing room.
I didn't want to alarm the local promoter (especially since I had a handsome payoff in my pocket), so I got all nine of the boys on the card, including the ref, to search the building for Ms. Parker. In hindsight, it was a side-splitting sight watching these men all decked out in their gimmicks (lumberjacks, Lords, Indians, masked men, a cowboy, etc.) running around the building looking for a lost lady wrestler. We were all hoping nothing serious had happened to Sandy. We thought she might have fallen and hit her head or something. However, we all agreed the show must go on.
I thought about having one of the boys challenge Jane O'Brien to a male vs. female match. Jane was hesitant to participate in such an endeavor, and then the boys backed out when they overheard her yelling at me, "... if I work with any guy, I'l wipe the mat with him."
By now the first match was on, but the local promoter noticed I was a little nervous, and he must have sensed something was wrong. I finally had to confess, "I temporarily misplaced a lady wrestler, but if we can't find her, I promise I'll have a new one here for tomorrow's show." Obviously, I was close to being delirious. The local promoter, who I believe was named Joey Lopez, thought about it for awhile after hearing we had searched the entire building high and low. He offered some good advice. "You know ... about ten years ago, one of my boxers accidentally walked into the furnace room underneath the balcony. Once inside you can't get out. There ain't no door handle inside."
We rounded up the janitor and rushed downstairs. Sure enough, there was a door marked "Furnace Room - Keep Out". The door was made of metal ... quite solid, quite thick, and soundproof. Soundproof because inside was a huge oil furnace generating enough heat to keep the entire auditorium above the freezing temperature, since it was well below freezing outside. The janitor made about five tries before he found the right key to open the furnace room door. The instant it was unlocked, someone from the inside bounded out, arms swinging, feet kicking and mouth gushing out profanities like no Alaskan ever heard.
Indeed, it was Sandy Parker. She stank. I mean she really smelled. Her hair reeked from oil fumes, her clothes were full of soot. It was like she had been working underground in a mine shaft for a week. But above all that, she was mad. I've never seen any human being as angry as Sandy Parker was that night and it took five minutes to calm her down, then another ten minutes to get her to agree to go on. She must have taken a 30-minute shower that night, before her match with Jane.
As we rode back to the hotel together in the cab I remember exactly what I said to her ... "I missed the boat tonight. We should have had a coal miner's glove match."
"If You Wanna Wrestle, Learn to Speak the Language!"
If you wanna wrestle, learn to speak the language. This was a lesson learned the hard way by a worker back in the early 1970's.
Around 1974 or so, we booked Bobo Mongol (Bull Johnson) in Seattle, where we planned to use him well as one of the top bad boys. His first night in the territory was for a match at the Armory in Spokane in the opener against Jay Clintstock (Jerry Parquette), one of the more popular authentic Native Americans ever to work this or any other area.
I remember being in the Spokane dressing room prior to the start of the first match. Clintstock approached another wrestler who knew Bobo Mongol well. "I've never worked with Bull before," Jay said to Paddy Ryan (Earl Freeman), who knew him well. "Is there anything I should know about him?"
Bull was a short fire hydrant type build of a man who with his bald head except for a pony tail, bushy eyebrows, and his scarred up face, was really intimidating appearing, but the most unusual aspect about him were the size of his hands. His hands were nearly the size of Andre the Giant's.
Ryan advised Clintstock to go talk to Johnson, because Bull could be devastating if he threw a chop at you coming off the ropes. Clintstock disappeared for a few minutes, presumably to the other dressing room, and returned with a satisfied look on his face after his meeting.
The opener went on and I went to collect the gate receipts and returned to the safety of the dressing room to count the totals. My work was abruptly halted about ten minutes later when Clintstock barged into the dressing room, sweaty and teary-eyed, and in much pain. I immediately saw his serious injury. Smack dab in the middle of his chest was the imprint of a hand. The flesh around the handprint had already begun to swell and the red area in the center looked like it was on fire. It was so embedded into his body, it looked like someone had taken a paint brush and etched a hand imprint on his chest. But no, this wasn't the case. It was the real thing. He had been hit so hard you almost expected to see an exit wound in his back. It was obvious he would suffer a bruised chest for several months and there was a good chance the injury would never ever heal entirely.
If Clintstock hadn't been in so much pain and agony, he would have been a lot angrier, but believe me, he was angry. He was fuming, and I thought he was going to risk his life and everyone else's by attacking Johnson when he returned from the ring. I held my breath when the dressing room door opened, but it was only the referee. A temporary calm before the inevitable occurred. So many thoughts flashed through my mind. "What have I done? Did I book a monster? Was he a shill for the opposition sent here to really destroy my talent? Would he turn on me?"
But referee Johnny Dupree, who also was obviously shook up, set my mind at ease just a little. The ref whispered to me as he walked past, "It's the Indian's fault. I heard Mongol tell him to duck. He just didn't duck." You think Clintstock was mad. Seconds, later, Bobo Mongol crashed through the dressing room door swearing, fuming, and arms flailing every which way. He stormed right over to Clintstock, got nose-to-nose with him, and screamed, "What's wrong with you? I told you to d-iz-uk!" In a flash, Clintstock realized what had happened, and he responded with a line that none of us there will ever forget ... "And I told you, I don't speak carney."
Standing Seattle Ribs
The Seattle territory in the early 1970s had two ribs the boys would play on other boys who were new to the territory, and they worked every time with varied results.
Jan Paul, a six-foot, four, 300-pound weightlifter/bodybuilder, became a pro wrestler in 1960. In 1964 he also joined the Seattle Police Department, and moonlighted at night on the mat in various spot shows throughout Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. In 1968, the police department refused to let him wrestle, so he gave up the mat for full-time police work. Once every five weeks, he was assigned the 4:00 p.m. to midnight shift. It was during these times that he would pop into the weekly Seattle wrestling card just to say hello.
On one of these visits he walked into the dressing room in full police outfit (badge, blue uniform, gun, handcuffs, nightstick and boots). He looked like all four members of the Village People rolled into one. Of course, most of the boys on the card that night knew he was Jan Paul, an ex-wrestler, but one worker, who was brand new to the territory, didn't know anything about him. Crazy Luke Graham thought he was a real cop (which he was).
Jan Paul officially trotted over to Luke Graham and advised him he was being placed under arrest, as the parent of a minor female had sworn out an arrest warrant against him for molesting their child. Graham, of course, was speechless, but due to Jan Paul's size and his "working" knowledge, Luke stood up, placed his hands behind his back, and allowed himself to be handcuffed. As Paul led Graham out the door, the dressing room crew cracked up, and only then did Crazy Luke realize that something was fishy.
Jan Paul did this once every five weeks, and he "arrested" an unsuspecting newcomer to the territory every time. Two of his "arrests" stand out above all the rest. One time he "arrested" Bob Beadsley, and as Bob stood up to be handcuffed, he said, "You know, she told me she was nineteen." The boys cracked up so much we had to delay the start of the matches.
The second "arrest" that stood out was the night he came in to lock up Don Fargo. Don had been brought in to work as The American Dream (under a hood), in honor of the 200th anniversary of America. Fargo wasn't a newcomer to Seattle. He had worked there previously in the early 1960s as one of the Dalton Boys, but his path never crossed that of Jan Paul. Jan had "arrested" so many boys he had the routine down perfectly. He stormed into the dressing room, handcuffs in one hand, the other hand on his nightstick. He stormed over to where Don Fargo was sitting, and the other wrestlers knew what to expect.
"Is your name Fargo?" he bellowed. "I have an arrest warrant for you ..." Before he could finish his spiel, Fargo bolted out of his seat and headed for the back door. He later said, "I didn't come to Seattle to be arrested. I came to work." Before he could be told that it was all just a rib, we lost him. He fled the dressing room and never reshowed that night. It wasn't until the next night in Yakima, some 130 miles east of Seattle, that he resurfaced. Needless to say, he was outraged over the incident, but when I paid him anyway for showing up in Seattle for the show, he calmed down. That was the last time I allowed Jan to pull this rib, but it was fun while it lasted.
The other standing rib involved Lumberjack Luke (Beautiful Brutus). Luke used to travel with "Snively," a 14-foot boa constrictor. Luke always told me the snake was harmless, but I later learned he eventually had to euthanise Snively when he bit Luke. Most people shuddered in horror when they saw Snively. Luke carried him around in a Coca Cola cooler and kept him in the dressing room when not using him in the ring.
The television camera crew included an individual who, after taping over one hundred weekly shows, asked to join our staff and help with publicity. His name was Bruce, and he quit his TV job to go on the road for us doing publicity and helping with the ring. Bruce was also afraid of snakes. Actually, he announced he might pass out from fright if he ever had to take Snively back from the ring to the dressing room.
You can almost predict what was to come. The finish of this story took place one night in Spokane. Luke took Snively out of the Coca Cola cooler and put him on the floor in the back of the ring truck. This was, of course, where Bruce normally sat as they rode from town to town. The ring truck turned over on its' side in a ditch between Yakima and Ellensburg. All the chairs and bleacher seats were scattered over the highway, and the truck, while insured, sustained $2,200 worth of damage. No one was injured in the mishap, but you know ... we never heard from Bruce again. The last I heard, he was working in a restaurant in Pendleton, Oregon.
Memories of Ron Dupree
It’s with mixed emotions that I recall my working relationship with the late Ron Dupree ... mixed because I had the greatest respect and admiration possible for the man, but unhappily I never had the opportunity to really sit down and find out about the real Ron Dupree.
Ron’s work reminded me of a cross between Terry Funk and Johnny Valentine. When he took a punch, he went down but came right back up ready to take another bump. When he threw a punch, you could hear it in the last row of the bleacher section no matter how much noise was present.
What I knew about him included that he had started in the Boston area in the early 1950’s, perhaps as Golden Boy Dupree, although he may have worked under different names until he developed his own particular style.
In 1954, he was driving a car that struck and killed a young pedestrian, and Ron had his driver’s license lifted for life. Until the day he died, he never got behind the steering wheel of a car and continually paid trans to other boys, having to hitch a ride to every show he worked.
In the mid sixties, he approached the Sheik in Detroit and sold him on the idea of creating a team called the California Hell’s Angels. He teamed with Chris Colt, and together, the two of them became the Sheik’s primary attraction, selling out the Cobo on numerous occasions.
They became so hot, that during their run, the actual rep of the California Hell’s Angels threatened to "disassociate" their existance in life if they continued to use the name, but Ron and Chris (or so the story goes), ventured to San Francisco and actually introduced themselves to the Real McCoy. Ron and Chris lived their gimmick outside the ring, and their way of life, their philosophy of life, personal thoughts, and language were so close in resemblance to a "real" biker that the Hell’s Angels actually befriended them and allowed them to continue to use the name, as long as they dropped "California" and just went as the Hell’s Angels (after all, Colt was from Drain, Oregon, and Dupree was from Boston.)
Ron and Chris worked together off and on during the next few years, appearing throughout Eastern Canada, then Arizona, and finally Washington State.
Was Ron respected by his peers? Absolutely. Wrestler/manager/referee Johnny Mann took the name Johnny Dupree. Bobby Jaggers broke into the business as Bobby Dupree. Chris Colt was at one time Chris Dupree. But I think the highest tribute he ever received was one he never lived to see . . . it happened on the night of his death.
Ron and Chris were on top in the Northwest. It was a promoter’s dream ... just put two baby faces in the main event against them and you were almost guaranteed a sell out. I remember standing near ringside one night in Spokane when Ron came out for his match. When the ring announcer called his name, I heard the fan turn to his buddy and say "... now you’re gonna see some real wrestling."
Unfortunately, tragedy struck while they were on top. Ron fainted one night in Seattle and we took him to the hospital. The medical report was as bleak as they come. Without a heart transplant, he had a 50-50 chance of living six more months. Of course his days as a professional wrestler completely ended and I asked him what he wanted to do. Wrestling was all he knew and loved, so after his release from the hospital, he was kept on the payroll and became a ring announcer.
And then the last night of his life arrived. We were in Tacoma and it was time for the first match. The house was packed to the rafters and all the boys had their adrenalin flowing because they knew their pay-off for that night would be exceptional.
The first match was Ripper Collins against Paddy Ryan (Earl Freeman). Ron Dupree climbed in the ring and introduced the contestants. (We had turned him baby face after Chris Colt said he was bringing in a new partner to replace Dupree, who had turned soft and was a disgrace to the Hell’s Angels). Ron climbed out of the ring, fell to the floor and was pronounced dead minutes later by medics. We were later told it had been a massive heart attack.
In a "believe it or not" coincidence, Ron’s very first match back in 1952 had been against Roy Lee Collins. In 1974, the last words he ever uttered were the ring introduction of Ripper Collins.
We were all downstairs in the dressing room, sitting silently, waiting for the medical report, although Ryan and Collins both said it didn’t look good. About 20 minutes later, the attending doctor entered the room to tell us what we already knew. Ron Dupree was dead. We all sat there again in silence for what seemed like an hour until I realized where we were.
"I think we should cancel the show tonight ..." Before I was able to finish the thought, every wrestler in the room piped in and agreed immediately. "Yes." "Absolutely." "Definitely." I don’t know who said what, but all twelve wrestlers unanimously agreed that out of respect for Ron Dupree they would give up one heck of a pay-day. We refunded the tickets.
I hope those wrestlers on that card told Ron how much they respected and loved him, before he died. I know I did ... and I still do.
There are many reasons why Ruth and I throw a party for the boys each year, but four specific instances stand out in the birth, development and follow through of the concept of the Annual Wrestling Reunion.
My first introduction to pro wrestling took place in Seattle in 1958-59. After attending some house shows as a fan, my involvement expanded into production and sale of "programs" at house shows, allowing me to get to know the individuals involved with the sport, much closer than most people who just bought a ringside ticket and watched.
The first of the four incidents I refer to took place in 1965 at the East Wenatchee Gun Club Arena, a cozy "arena" in the middle of a grass field off a dirt road about 10 miles outside of Wenatchee, Washington, some 150 miles east of Seattle. By now, I was participating as a substitute referee and promoter of an occasional spot show in a few towns a lot smaller than Wenatchee. Assigned my duties in the make-shift dressing room of the Gun Club Arena, waiting for the first bout to go on, I was sitting in the dressing room, when in walked a face I didn't recognize. He turned out to be an ex-wrestler, long-retired, who was just visiting Eastern Washington.
His name was Earl McCready. I was sure this intruder was going to be tossed out on his ear. After all, it had taken me five years to be allowed in the dressing room ... but to my surprise, the entire group of wrestlers who were working that night, in addition to the promoter, all greeted this stranger like he was their long-lost, wealthy brother. I didn't learn much that night, but looking back on it, I realized that wrestlers share a wonderful camaraderie, that after they leave the environment, can only be duplicated by get-togethers with kindred people.
The second and third incident both deal with personal injuries and, while at the time they happened, I didn't realize what they meant, upon reflection, they were the motivation that propelled me.
In 1966, I was running a spot show in Port Angeles, Washington and used a part-time wrestler on the opening bout. After his match, as he was walking from the ring to the dressing room, his opponent sneaked up behind him and kicked him from behind on his lower leg. It was a dumb move, not only because no one in the house was able to see what he was doing, but because the part-time wrestler had no idea it was going to happen and wasn't able to defend himself properly. We had to carry this man back to the dressing room as he said he was in great pain.
I assumed he got a bad bruise that night and didn't think anything more about it until over one year later when I was at a dinner party and met a doctor. Upon casual conversation, he found out I was connected with wrestling and he told me about a patient of his who received a leg injury last year that has kept him off work and confined to a wheelchair for over a year. It was Bob Regen, a beer truck driver by trade, but also my part-time wrestler. Here was a man that suffered a disabilitating serious injury while working for me, yet never called to cry, complain, or say boo.
The second injury is pretty similar. In 1974, when I was promoting, I brought Dano McDonald out of retirement for a series of matches in Seattle. Here's an individual who started wrestling in 1943, quit in the '60s to become a full-time mortician, but loved the business so much he jumped at the opportunity to "work" again. He had half a dozen or so matches in '74 for me, before he said the next one would be his last, because he and wife Phyllis, who he married in 1941, were planning on driving to Reno. So I booked him one more time in Seattle, and I watched the match knowing it would be his last. As usual, it was great.
Five years later, I learned that Dano broke three ribs in that match when his opponent stomped on his stomach. I heard it not from Dano, but from another source, and when I phoned Dano to yell at him, he simply shrugged it off as if it were all part of some big game plan. These athletes taught me when to speak up and when to keep quiet and I don't know of any people I admire more.
The fourth incident took place in 1990. I had gone on to other business endeavors, having promoted my last match in 1976. In 1979, I met my wife, Ruth, and we were married in 1980. She had never been exposed to professional wrestling and knew only what the general public assumed. Having never met a wrestler or seen a match, I was her first link to this new world. She loved hearing stories I told her, about events and specific incidents, and although I didn't have to fabricate information, she found it incredible that this world existed. In 1990, we were vacationing in Honolulu and were guests at the Kahala Hilton where it is not uncommon to see people dressed in sports coats and ties just to go to the snack bar by the pool.
Ruth was about to meet her first real professional wrestler. Ripper Collins had worked for me from 1973 to 1975, and was retired and living in Honolulu. Over the phone, we had made arrangements to meet in Honolulu. We were close when he worked here and we hadn't seen each other since he left. I will never forget Ruth's expression when not only Ripper Collins walked into the lobby of the Kahala, but he brought another wrestler with him, a 310-pound man whose name I never knew or memorized, because when I knew him he worked as El Medico II under a mask. Collins, at a mere 265 pounds with bright, bleached blonde hair and loud 4x Hawaiian shirts and cut-offs, stood out in this upscale lobby where no one dares to wear jeans. I did not know for sure how Ruth would respond.
But there was not time. Within seconds, this magnificent personality with his flamboyant charm had won over not only Ruth, but everyone in the facility, from the wait staff to the administrative office who rushed over for autographs, " ... for their children," of course! The hour or so that Ruth and I spent talking with Ripper and El Medico II was the highlight of the vacation. After they left, I was able to tell Ruth dozens of more tales, because he had refreshed my memory and reminded me about hundreds of things I hadn't thought about in years.
Ruth casually mentioned something to the effect, "Dean, are there other ex-wrestlers like Ripper we can get together with?" I actually believe she was as eager as I was to find out.
I probably place too much emphasis on wrestling in my life, but I have been modestly successful in career choices, and I believe that everything I ever learned about business and how to deal with other people, I learned during my days in wrestling, and thus, I don't feel I'm going overboard when I often say everything I have I owe to wrestling. I'm sure wrestling didn't allow me to marry Ruth, but I know it didn't hurt when it gave us a mutual enjoyment ... to have reunions.
To see many dear old friends and co-workers reunite, and for a few brief hours, through the renewal of friendships and sharing "war" stories, the reunions become full of an energy that once sustained us all. It is indeed my way of paying back these men for all the bumps they took over the years, for all the injuries they sustain that no one ever hears about, and for all the education they can pass on if you look at the picture from a special slant, a very special slant.
Missed Date with Death
Pampero Firpo relates a story from when he was appearing in the Midwest in the winter time. He was still a sought-after attraction in the New York area, and made many special appearances from his new territory back to the East Coast.
One particular snowy December night, he was working near Milwaukee, and after the match, was booked by Vince McMahon Sr. to appear in Washington, D.C. the following night. To get to D.C., he had to catch a plane out of Wisconsin.
On his way to the airport, he recognized the ring truck that was stuck in a snowbank twenty yards or so from the highway. He stopped his car to see if the ring man needed help getting his vehicle back onto the road. He found that the driver needed more than he bargained for.
Apparently, the ring man driver had fallen asleep behind the wheel and crashed the truck into the snowbank. The driver was unconscious and appeared to be quite frozen from the bitter temperatures. Firpo physically carried the driver from the ring truck to his car, turned in the opposite direction, and headed for a hospital.
Upon arrival, Firpo waited in the relatives' waiting room while the doctors worked on the injured driver. It was over an hour later when he got his first report that the driver was going to be ok, but was suffering from hypothermia. Had he not been rescued when he was, he could have easily succumbed to the cold. Firpo left the hospital after hearing that his driver friend was going to survive, but realized that his flight to D.C. had departed thirty minutes ago.
The next morning, Firpo woke up, hearing the news on the radio that the flight he was supposed to be on had crashed due to inclement weather and there were no survivors. True story.
The Rib on Luke Graham
An amazing amount of "old-time" wrestling fans reading Scott Teal's web page have contacted me via e-mail, commenting on the wrestling promotions I worked with and ran in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. It's really nice to read a note from an ex-customer who appreciated what you did, and what your talent did. Almost all have been complimentary, and thanking us profusely for our contributions to what now their own sons and daughters watch on TV. Several have even described their turbulent childhood home life, and said that our wrestling shows were the only thing they looked forward to during the week.
They've asked many questions, some directed to the wrestlers about their recollections, but the ones directed toward me have inquired about the insights of the business aspect of the promotion, and how things were put togther.
One question in particular jogged my memory about a rib the entire crew played on Crazy Luke Graham. I haven't seen Luke since the early 1970s, but if he still has any hair left, I'm sure it's all white because of what we did.
Our territory was humming. The box office was good, all the talent was earning at least twice their weekly guarantee, spot shows were strong, and things were just generally brisk. We decided the time was right to reserve the big arena in Seattle for a special show. We planned to have a five night tournament, in and around the Seattle vicinity, so fans wouldn't have to drive too far if they wanted to see all five nights of the tourney, which upon completion, would result in a singles champion to take on a "national" name.
Before we could start, I had to arrange to borrow a well-known name from outside the area. My original idea was to book Bulldog Bob Brown, who was extremely well known here from his stint a few years earlier. So I phoned Bob Geigel in Kansas City to see if The Bulldog would be available. I remember how gracious and courteous Bob Geigel was, and he promised to talk to Brown to see if our dates would conflict with any of their plans. True to his word, Geigel phoned me back the next day and said Brown really wanted to do it, but the date we had reserved the Seattle arena for would conflict with one of their big shows.
I then phoned Tom Renesto, who at the time was booking Atlanta. He was just as gracious and courteous as Bob Geigel had been, and said the Seattle dates would not conflict with any Atlanta schedules. We offered a $700 guarantee for one boy to work Seattle Tuesday night, work a TV studio taping Wednesday at noon, and work a house show Wednesday night in Yakima. We would also pay his trans and fly him back to Atlanta on Thursday morning. Renesto gave us Crazy Luke Graham, and our five day tourney began. It was won by Eddie Sullivan, who was a very strong baby face at that time, after originally coming to the territory as a heel with partner Rip Tyler.
The day of the big match in Seattle, I sent someone from the office to the airport to pick up Luke Graham, and here's where the rib was born.
Graham casually commented to his ride that he left Atlanta in such a hurry he accidentally left all his money at home. He had three dollars in his wallet, and asked his ride if he could borrow ten bucks until after the match.
Later that day, the gofer told me he had loaned Graham ten bucks and that was all the money he (Graham) had. I told a few of the boys in the dressing room Luke's predicament, and I think it was Ripper Collins who started the rib when Graham arrived. Collins said something about having to pay the doctor twenty-five dollars for his wrestling license, and when Graham said he had no money, all the boys jumped in. "You know Silverstone pays a week after the show. You won't get a dime from the office until next Tuesday." At first Graham didn't believe the statement, but then all the boys backed him up. "Hey, it's office policy, no money until one week after the show ... no exceptions".
I was in the box office counting room when somebody told me how nervous and upset Graham was, and that he was afraid, ashamed, and embarassed to approach me for an advance. I gave instructions to get the word back to Graham, "no advances, no exceptions".
When we finally did communicate Tuesday night in the dressing room, it was easy to see that he wanted so much to talk to me about money, but I was quite unapproachable that night, and did my best to avoid a one-to-one conversation with him. Finally, I saw him borrow twenty-five dollars from the referee, but could tell he was nervous and highly uncomfortable. The next day at the TV station, I, of course, was so busy (for real), it was impossible for anyone to talk with me.
That night in Yakima, he had borrowed a buck or two from just about everyone on the card, and before he left for his bout that night, he did manage to corner me briefly when he said, "There's something I've got to talk to you about." I knew exactly what he was about to say, but I cut him off when the bell began summoning the main event participants. He was in a tag match that night, and one of his opponents, Paddy Ryan, told me after the match that Graham was so nervous he tripped over his own feet twice during the event.
I was in the Yakima Armory office, calling in the results of the matches over the phone to the Yakima "Herald-Republic" newspaper, when Graham knocked on the door. I motioned for him to come in, where he said, "I've got to talk to you about something." I gestured for him to be quiet while I was on the phone, and while I was giving the results to the sports writer, I handed Luke an envelope. He opened it and saw eleven $100 bills.
As I completed my phone call, I turned to Graham and said, "Now what was it you wanted to say?" Luke hesitated a moment, but then caught his composure and said "All I wanted to say was for you to let me know when you want me to come back."
He was driven to the Seattle Airport the next morning, and he gave the gofer back his ten dollars.
Memories of Bobby Shane
The name of Bobby Shane was responsible for the biggest work ever played on me. It happened in 1975 and I was ready to inflict injury on the offender. Today, in hindsight, it was choreographed so well that we still roll on the floor in laughter when bringing it up at wrestling reunions.
I guess the work actually started in 1962. That was the year I first met a newcomer to the business named Bobby Shane. Prior to our introduction, I thought I was a wrestling freak. If there was information to be found about wrestling, regardless of how trivial, I had to know about it. Wrestling was my life, so in my mind, I had convinced myself that it was important to know useless facts like what was the name of the timekeeper for the matches in Kansas City, or what company printed tickets for the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles.
Then I met Bobby Shane ... and I discovered there was another wrestling zealot besides me. Bobby Shane not only knew the name of the timekeeper in Kansas City ... he knew his wife's name. He knew not only the printing company's name that printed wrestling ducats for Los Angeles, but he knew how the Olympic numbered their seats and assigned names for sections.
Well, I guess you could say, the two of us hit it off. We would go on the road together (he wrestled, I either sold programs or reffed), but during the countless hours of road boredom all we talked about was wrestling. Shane left the area after awhile, but we kept in touch almost daily. When he returned to this territory, (a little higher up on the card), we continued our relationship where we left off, and this mutual admiration for us two peas in a pod continued for the rest of his life.
He helped me more than I helped him, giving me ideas and finishes for the territory I ran in the 1970s. He even helped me with talent, sending in people like Ricky Gibson and Eric Pomery to spruce up some of our cards. On the other hand, I did as much for him as I could on the publicity end of the business. When I finally had a small voice in the office, I was able to utilize his talent to the fullest by keeping him on top when he appeared in this territory for the last time.
So you see, I made a lot of friends in wrestling, but Bobby Shane, I guess, was my closest friend. We all have a "best friend" and I guess Bobby was mine. After his death in a small plane crash, I felt like a piece of life had left me. I was devastated to say the least and still recall our journeys together in several territories.
But back to the work.
In 1975, our territory was so protective that we wouldn't even allow the media in the dressing room. Unless you were a professional wrestler, you couldn't enter the dressing room - no exceptions - ever. And then I get a phone call from a "wrestler" by the name of Carl Best. Although I had never heard of him, he managed to say the right thing during his phone call.
"... I'm from St. Louis and was a close friend of Bobby Shane. Bobby trained me how to wrestle and he even gave me some of his ring robes."
Well, I was getting ready to bring in a new face, so when he claimed to have been a protege of Bobby Shane, the soft spot in my heart opened up. I said I could use him and he could start on such-and-such a date in Seattle.
The day arrived sometime in early 1975. I was in the dressing room with the rest of the boys when in walks Carl Best. He actually looked like a stout Bobby Shane. Same facial and hair features; same boyish look; same walk ... and to butter the whole deal, he came in holding the ring robe I saw Bobby Shane wear at the Omni in Atlanta.
I thought to myself that I was going to use this boy good and give him all the push necessary to bring out his talent. He was in the opener against Goldie Rodgers, a Canadian who was a good solid worker and always added credibility to the card. Goldie, Carl Best, and the referee, Johnny Dupree had our little talk and I went on to other pre-match chores.
Right at eight o'clock, which was match time, Referee Dupree came up to me and said, "Have you seen the new kid's list?" I had no idea what list Johnny was referring to, so I glanced over to the new guy and saw him standing there wearing Bobby Shane's boots and a gold robe. He had a piece of paper in his hand that he was reading. "Whataya reading Carl?" I asked with authority. When he showed me, I needed smelling salts.
It was a list of four or five things to do that night and he told me he was having trouble memorizing them. I still have the list:
Step 1: Walk to ring.
By the way, "referee" is my spelling ... he had it misspelled.
It was only a feeling that a promoter could get ... there was a good house (not a sellout), but a good house out there, and you were sending out a complete mark, some guy who obviously has never ever been in a ring in his life ... you were sending him out and he was going to win.
I assumed he didn't speak carney (and, of course, was right), so as Goldie Rodgers and Johnny Dupree left the dressing room to answer the opening bell, we at the very last second were able to "adjust" the program. Goldie beat him by throwing him over the top rope and he was counted out. Admittedly, referee Johnny Dupree made a "fast" 20-count, but he didn't have to ... Carl Best was still lying on the floor outside the ring nursing a banged-up elbow and knee he suffered in his first (and last) high spot for several minutes after the match.
And as I told Eddie Sullivan at the last Seattle reunion when he, of course, brings it up to ridicule me, I just say, "Bobby Shane, I still love you."
A note to Scott --
I'm really thrilled that you've lasted this long, because the type of thing that you do is so short-lived most of the time. The response you get from the boys must be very gratifying. Everyone seems to enjoy it so much. I'd rate Tinker Todd's column an A+. I think it was a rare tongue-in-cheek article about a rarely discussed subject, and I found the whole thing way more than humorous. It was laughing out loud material. — Dean
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