Detroit Intro Page #2

The commissioner asked me to use Blimp in little spots but not back in the Arena for six weeks or more. (Jack) Claybourne was a big hit in the semi-windup. I'd like him back with Zaharias on Dec. 8 he'd already made Krauser  the tournament winner, I think  and Zaharias for Dec. 1)." Meanwhile, Krauser (who had gone into the Feldman territory around October 1, was writing letters back to Jack and complaining that he wasn't making any money  $35 from a $455 house Sept. 29, $40 from a small house Oct. 6, $45 on Oct. 27, $64 bucks on Nov. 11 and the letters back and forth between promoter Feldman and booker Pfefer, like every letter  ever seen written by promoters and bookers, was nothing but lament. You'd think these guys never made a buck, to read their letters, while all the time almost every one of them was robbing the boys blind. After doing a "break even" $700 gross with his Dec. 1 show, Feldman finally wound up matching Krauser with The Angel Dec. 8 and claimed he did "a little over $600  It seems that the city was very much disturbed with the war news (Pearl Harbor was the day before) and they didn't turn out for a great wrestling match. Wound up paying both Angel and Krauser 40 bucks each."

By Dec. 17, Feldman was hollering foul at Pfefer because he'd finally figured out that Bamba Tabu was the same guy was Yaqui Joe, who had been an undercard performer off and on for a decade in Detroit. "I got a royal razzing from everyone when he came in as Bamba Tabu," he wrote. In a Dec. 20 letter to Pfefer, Feldman growled, "Why didn't you tell me the true story of Bamba Tabu? That he was a washed up wrestler whom everybody in this territory had beaten for the past ten years? When you sent him in here I didn't know that he was Yaqui Joe. You sure made a fool out of me when I tried to tell the newspaper men, commissioner and everybody else that he was a new star that I was bringing in and it wasn't until he was here the last time that I found out the true story. After that what else could I do? When I made you the promise that I did I didn't know all these facts and I think you should have told me."

By 1943, there were two regular cards a week in Detroit: Monday nights at the Arena Gardens and Tuesdays at Fairview Gardens, both buildings employing the same middleweights, light-heavies and junior heavies. Occasionally, the boys would put on special shows at various military bases in the area, including the Dearborn Naval Training Station. Rubi, Leo Wallick, Joe (Flash) Gordon, Eddie (Bad Man) Lewis, Paul (Tarzan) Orth and Lou "the Atomic Blonde" Klein were the 1942-43 winter headliners, other journeymen pros like Frankie Hart, Walter Roxy and Jack League were around, too.

When Ed (Strangler) Lewis moved in, getting his name up on the Arena Garden marquee instead of Markowitz, it was good enough to draw a crowd of 1,700 with Nanjo Singh and Farmer Jones on top. Ali Pasha, Rufus Jones, Morris Shapiro (later the Mighty Atlas), Roxy, Buddy (Hard) Knox, Maurice LaChappelle and Ivan Kalmikoff were other name performers, with Lewis putting himself over guys like Orv Brown and O'Mahoney in feature bouts. Lewis, as he kept claiming to gullible sports editors for years, would keep wrestling on a "more dignified" level. But the Detroit News, in covering his first promotion, pointed out that the only dignified thing about the show was Lewis, "dressed to the nines," standing at the front door greeting patrons while an organ band serenaded them to their seats. Afterward, the paper, noted, things tended to get somewhat more ludicrous in fashion. Like I noted, the Lewis promotional experiment only lasted as long as it took the Strangler to hook up with the USO and begin touring military bases, which he did for lengthy stints during 1943 and 1944.

Before the Korean War broke up the party, Harry Light was running regular Saturday night shows at Grosse Isle Naval Air Station Auditorium in 1949/1950. By this time, he had developed young Wladek (then known as Tarzan) Kowalski, enabling him to mix a heavyweight bout or two into cards that featured a variety of the legendary junior heavy stars (Al Szasz, Sockeye Jack McDonald, a young Larry Chene, Laddie Holek older brother of Stan, who would gain fame as the "other" Lisowski and "other" Neilson brother Frankie Talaber, Jackie Nichols, Orth, Johnny Gates, a young Farhat as The Sheik of Araby, Lou "the Atromic Blonde" Klein, Buck Weaver, The Unknown (Dick Wallis), Dan Ferrazza, Ruffy Silverstein, Rasputin, Al Tucker, Gene Stanlee, Ace Freeman, Al Warshawsky, Jan Gotch..

Joe Spieser was another promoter at the beginning of the '50s, operating out of the St. John Berchman's gymnasium, which was located where East Warren runs in Coplin.

A little bit of irony: Farhat (aka Sheik of Araby) sometimes tag-teamed with George Mansor, who had been wrestling's original Sheik, back in the '30s. Might have even picked up a few pointers from him about Middle Eastern mannerisms, too.

Periodically, and this is the reason that so many of the Detroit programs are in the Pfefer Collection at Notre Dame, the tireless Jack Pfefer would arrange to bring his troupe in to augment the local talent for several weeks at a time¦ so there came guys like Buddy Rogers, Billy Darnell, Jim Dobie, Zuma "Man From Mars," Bozo Brown (Frank Hickey), Chief Lone Eagle, Lord Pinkerton (Bob McCune), Ivan Bulba (Johnny Shaw), et al, to garner most of the top spots on the cards.

Light, in 1946, started calling his program the Detroit Wrestling News. (Giroux was still listed as the promoter for the Fairview shows.) He also booked shows around the state, for instance, the American Legion in Ypsilanti, Chesterfield in East Detroit at Gratiot & 10 Mile Road, Pontiac (promoter Mrs. Ruth Lockwood), and the Flint Arena.

Not sure of this, but I believe the so-called "North Bay promotions" (Ontario) of Larry (Babe) Kasaboski spun off from Light's office, with the latter helping with the booking, at least in the early days (summer of 1948). Special attractions always were coming along in that era, from refereeing appearances by Jack Dempsey and Jack Sharkey, to Primo Carnera, to Tuffy Truesdale and his wrestling alligators, most of them named Rodney.

This also was the beginning of TV wrestling in Detroit. Paul Williams, I believe, was the first announcer, doing live bouts over foundling WWJ-TV from Arena Gardens in the fall of  1947, featuring people like George Macricostas, Ivan Kalmikoff, Rubi, Bill Steddum, Walter Sirois, Joe Christie, Billy Kohnke, Knox, Klein, etc. The live bouts were still airing in 1951, typically with the first two bouts of the program going on the air, now from St. John Berchman's (February 3, 1951):  Bert Rubi vs Ted Perva, Sheik of Araby & Johnny Gates vs Larry Chene & Al Warshawsky.

Hope that gives you a little idea of how things were in the days when the lighter weights were still making money in wrestling. By 1960, of course, they were almost gone, or had been forced to pack on extra pounds to "look right" when thrust into combat with the "super" heavyweights.

We will also look at early Detroit Wrestling from the personal scrapbook of Lou Klein, which also includes major events in Detroit history dating from 1938-to the 1960's, events such as Gorgeous George and his visit to Detroit, before we get into the Flesar-Farhat era, and the promotional war between the Bruiser and the Sheik in the months to come.

I would like to thank Linda Klein, Percival Al Friend, George Steele, Mark Bujan,  J. Michael Kenyon, Max Levy and Vince Fahey for helping to get the Detroit/ Motor City Wrestling Board off the ground, and the moral support. Together we all can keep it alive.

I am not a professional wrestling journalist, nor do I profess to be. I am a child of the sixties who saw his first live card in 1962 at the age of six years old. Today Cobo Arena sits empty on the banks of the Detroit River, and I remember the was it rocked every Saturday night in the 1960's, we sent a tidal wave over to Windsor, Ontario,  Canada just from the foot stompin on the arena floor. So lets all band together and remember Motor City Wrestling as the way it was. 

There are many stories to be told as  the Detroit Territory was the true Wrestling Hotbed in the 60's & 70's running two promotions at Cobo and the Olympia with WWS  (World Wide Sports) and Wilbur Snyder & Dick the Bruiser's WWA promotion at Olympia Stadium, better known as the Ol' Red Barn, that competed for the fan's entertainment dollar, and in the months to come, we will look at both promotions, wrestlers, and the area on the whole, as Detroit made it's name in the annals of Wrestling history.


the Lou "Mr. Detroit" Klein Scrapbook

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