The WAWLI Papers, page 1


The Wrestling News, June 1983
by Doug Chambers

The life of Jack Wentworth has often seemed to resemble a "Boy's Own" adventure; an epic athletic existence with elements of high drama played out on the wrestling rings of the world.

Born in Lancashire, England, in 1907, and christened Alfred Hodgson, he was brought to Canada two years later when his family settled in the village of Stoney Creek, Ontario, seeking a better life.   Young Alfred was educated in local schools and in his late teens went to work for the Firestone Comapny.   Hodgson was already deeply involved with sports and besides being a powerful swimmer and a soccer player under the auspices of the firm's sports club, he was an amateur wrestler at the YMCA.   To this day he cherishes a sterling silver medal won in the Ontario light-heavyweight division.

Hodgson married Winifred Chappel in 1930 and over the next few years they had a son, Robert, and a daughter, Audrey.   The Great Depression was ravaging the world economy, but he firmly decided to try and enter the ranks of professional wrestling, insecure as it may have seemed in those financially troubled times.   Hugh Lennox ran a sporting club that trained young boxers and wrestlers and it was there under the watchful eye of seasoned pros that Alfred learned the professional techniques and worked at building strength.

Later that year, 1932, he engaged in first paid matches for promoter Sammy Sobel -- at $5 per bout.   Eager to establish his reputation and earn more money, Hodgson decided to journey to England and break into the well established overseas circuits.   He and fellow grappler Archie Smith paid thirty dollars each to a shipping outfit for the "privilege" of being allowed to work their way to Southhampton on one of the firm's vessels.

In London, he made the acquaintance of promoter Irving Berlinger, who quickly gave him an opportunity to prove himself.   Britain was in dire economic straits so it came as a pleasant surprise to the eager young wrestler to earn five pounds for his first match (nearly $25 -- or the equivalent of a week's wages if you were lucky enough to have a job).   The British circuits were thriving and the fans somehow scraped together their pennies to see the matches, ensuring crowds of 2,000-3,000 at halls throughout the land.

Noticing that Hodgson was a very common surname in Britain, Alfred took the name that he was to become known by for his entire career.   Wentworth was the name of the county where his Canadian home was situated, so in late 1932 the wrestling posters started carrying the monicker of Jack Wentworth.   He was then about 175 pounds on a solid, five-foot-8 frame, with powerful legs and great stamina developed from his soccer and swimming days.   He favored armlocks and headlocks, and he often finished off an opponent with a painful stepover toehold.   The endurance came in handy because when asked how often they wrestled at that time, Jack smiles and says, "We often wrestled nine times a week.   Every night and also matinees on Saturday and Sunday."

It was an exhausting schedule but they earned the tidy sum of around 45 pounds weekly, and battled in cities and towns throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.   Jack was now established and brought his family over to join him.

He continued on the circuits for another four years and has fond memories of meeting some prominent people at the hall in Blackfriars.   Music hall entertainer and film star George Formby was a fan and often went back to the dressing rooms to visit the matmen.   Douglas Fairbanks Sr.   once visited the arena and Jack recalls being introduced to the famous actor.   Some of the British, Commonwealth, and continental wrestlers appearing in these years included Jack Pye, Clem Lawrence, Al Angus, Jack Dale, Tony Baer, Tiger Tasker, Bert Assirati, Whipper Billy Watson, Pat Flanagan, Hans Lagren and Spider Harvey, a prominent referee of the time.   Wentworth even found time to train his brothers George, Jim and Bert to enter the pro ranks.

In 1937 he used his British connections to book a tour to South Africa.   In this era before the jet plane it was a three-week voyage from Southampton to Capetown.   South Africa accorded touring grapplers a celebrity status in those days that astounded them; at very stop the press would interview the men and take photos for large spreads in the newspapers.   Jack has numerous clippings that not only showed posed photos, but often action shots from the arena matches.   It was a pre-television time and the fans turned out in droves no matter where they appeared, which always assured a healthy gate.

"In my first big match against the South African champion, Johannes Van Der Walt, I was paid 165 pounds," he recalls, "and I thought I was rich.   I went straight back to the hotel and tossed the money into the air and watched it flutter onto the bed."   The fight went six rounds and Jack lost when the rugged Afrikaaner scored the only fall.

He got settled, then brought his family to Capetown.   Using Capetown as a home base, Jack wrestled throughout South Africa, Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia, Windhoek, Mozambique, and the Belgian Congo.   By now he was a barrel-chested powerhouse of nearly 225 pounds, and with close to 1,400 matches under his belt was a seasoned veteran ready to face anyone.   And face them he did, as he met not only the top local men, but also went in against visiting greats such as Everett Marshall and Ray Steele.

After the grind of Britain, the African schedule seemed almost idyllic.   Because of the great distances to be covered they wrestled no more than two or three times a week, and the promoter covered their expenses and put them up at the best hotels.   This sojourn into sunshine and prosperity was about to end as it was now 1939 and war was imminent in Europe.   Jack had been hoping to travel on to Australia and New Zealand but the outbreak of hostilities ended those plans.   Passage was arranged on a ship headintg to England but he and his family got back from the interior too late to board her.   It was a providential occurence because the ship was torpedoed and sunk with heavy loss of life.   They nervously boarded another ship and managed to arrive in Southampton safely.   Wentworth, at 33, was still within conscription age, but the troops needed entertainment and he continued on the English circuits for another six months.   At this time wrestling posters carried the notice that servicemen in uniform were admitted for half-price.

In 1940, the family returned to Canada and Wnetowrth appeared in Montreal, Ottawa, Detroit, and all the cities and towns in between.   The next year he moved to New York and went to work for the famous promoter Toots Mondt.   Working the major cities of the northeastern U.S.   for this promotion, he also appeared at the old Madison Square Garden.   One evening while wrestling at the old Boston Garden, the promoter from Chattanooga, Tennessee, saw him and liked his style neough to extend an invitation to the South.   It was the start of a lot of touring over the next few years that took him through Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Florida.   In Florida he would travel to the Bahamas every week alternating between bouts in Freeport and Nassau on consecutive weeks.

Through the war years and into the late 1940s Jack continued to wrestle in Canada and the United States.   His America visa would expire every six months and it would mean a return to Canada to renew it.   In 1946 he took out landed immigrant status which allowed him to reside in Birmingham, Alabama.   His regular pattern emerged as his wife and two children soon joined him.   He had held the Canadian lightheavyweight title and he quickly challenged Mike Chacoma for the Southern junior heavyweight championship.   They engaged in a series of bruising encounters until Jack added this title to his list of accomplishments.   Over the years a number of local and regional belts also had come his way in England and Canada.

Eighteen months later, the family moved to Amarillo, Texas, as Jack made his debut in the Southwest.   They enjoyed the Texas hospitality for a year as he campaigned throughout the Lone Star state plus Oklahoma and New Mexico.   The Wentworth clan spent the summer of 1949 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before heading home to Ontario.   Around this period there was very nearly another member of the family in the business.   Daughter Aubrey was an excellent athlete skilled at many sports, and the women's champion Mildred Burke offered to train her and get her started in the game.   However, Audrey was only seventeen and Jack decided she was too young for the rigors of life on the road.

The '50s loomed and Jack had nearly two decades as a professional.   The advent of televised wrestling suddenly made the sport a growth industry, and a wrestler Jack knew on the circuits as George Wagner suddenly became a star as "Gorgeous George," with bleached blonde hair and sequined robes.   It amused Jack to remember how Wagner was often telling the other grapplers that he planned to change his image, and how nobody else saw the potential for mixing showbiz, television, and wrestling.   Jack claims that George Wagner even offered other wrestlers -- including himself -- a chance to dye their hair and join him as a tag-team partner.   Nobody was intersted, but then nobody realized that television was going to launch Gorgeous George on an unbelievable career and earn him huge sums.

Over the years Wentworth had trained his brothers and several other young men to help them take that first step into the paid ranks and in 1953 his son Bob was old enough to take the plunge.   After going through rigorous conditioning Bob and several other young rookies accompanied their mentor on a tour of Britain in 1954.   From there they

went on to France where Jack introduced tag-team wrestling to the French.   It had originated in Australia and spread to other countries but it was new to the Parisians and enthusiastic crowds in excess of 15,000 per show turned up for the cards at the Palais des Sports.   Wentworth (billed as being from Chicago) headlined one card with Eddie Brush as they turned back the local duo of Francois Miquet and Yvar Martinson.   They also embarked on a brief tour of Germany.

The career just kept rolling along and in 1958 Jack opened a wrestling school in temporary premises at Hamilton, Ontario.   That same year he made another tour of Britain with his young wrestlers.   It was a busy schedule as they fought throughout the south for promoter Bert Assirati, then headed north to work for George Relwysko.

Two years later they got their own building on Queenston Road in Hamilton and for the next 12 years the Queenston Health Studio trained hundreds of young men in conditioning and bodybuilding, and wrestling for those with an aptitude.   The school eventually turned out 60 men who joined the touring professional ranks, and when Jack was working on other circuits the training was conducted by his brother George and son Bob, who had long since decided not to put up with the hard travleing and frequent injuries incurred in the sports.

In the '60s Jack stayed closer to home with his touring and devoted more time to the training at his school.   Finally, after 35 years as an active professional, Jack Wentworth had his final match at the age of sixty.   He wasn't ready to call it a day, though, as he continued to referee for a further five years, often for Larry Kasaboski in northern Ontario and Cowboy Luttrall in Florida.

Though never wrestling them himself, Jack remembers appearing on the same cards and having the honor of meeting the immortal Ed (Strangler) Lewis and Jim (Golden Greek) Londos.   And then there were the champions he faced in the ring, before, during, and after their championship tenures; magic names such as Wild Bill Longson, Everett Marshall, Ray Steele, Bronko Nagurski and Lou Thesz.   Other big names that he went in against in those days include Baron Leone, Dick Raines, Dory Funk Sr., Hans Schmidt, the Swedish Angel, Nanjo Singh, and "The Weeping Greek from Cripple Creek," George Zaharias.   The memories just tumble out and to even attempt to go beyond scratching the surface would take more pages than this magazine holds.

These days Jack and Winifred enjoy their retirement years.   They have been married for 53 years and it has been a happy and productive life.   Every winter they spend a few weeks in the Florida sunshine.   Jack, in his blue blazer and tie, could pass for a retired businessman if it weren't for the telltale marks of the longtime pro; a nose broken several times, a slightly cauliflowered ear, and the still powerful heavyset chest.   He is gracious, and surprisingly soft-spoken.   It is hard to believe this man is a veteran of several thousand wrestling matches.   His comment on the integrity of the sport that earned him his livelihood for so very long:

"In all my years in the sport I never signed a contract with a promoter.   The crooked guys were soon driven out of business.   With the others their word, or a handshake, was the only contract they needed."

At a recent dinner for Jack's 75th birthday, his son Bob proposed that the group in attendance make it known that they want the city to set aside a room in the proposed new Hamilton civic arena to honor the many matmen who came from the city.   Jack, and a roomful of former and current wrestlers, gave their approval.

It seems that anything connected to the sport he loves will still draw a positive reaction from Jack Wentworth.

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