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also brings in a young upstart named George Wagner, who creates his
wrestling persona, ‘Gorgeous George’ here in the Northwest. He also marries his first wife in the Ring before his match
in Eugene. (Mike Rodgers, Barry Owen.....I believe also a Dean
Silverstone story about George in his interview.....)
7th, 1940 – Kayfabe in the state of Washington takes a
brief backseat to reality when a referee named John Stevens is
accidentally killed in a wrestling ring after LaVerne Baxter of Monroe
Oregon “beats” him after a match.
The death is eventually ruled as accidental, and the plans to
outlaw pro wrestling in the state are dismissed.
After an investigation, promoter August Sepp told authorities
that wrestling isn’t as legit as it looks, saying that all Seattle
wrestlers must get the clearance of Ted Thye before working. He also
testified that “Not all the bouts are on the square.” Much to everyone’s chagrin, pro-wrestling is banned in
publicly owned buildings in Seattle for over five years. This killed the sport in the city of Seattle during World War
II. After the ban was
lifted, wrestling came back in a huge way, with Lou Thesz, who was
stationed in the area while he was in the army, participating in the
Owen brings in Jack Dempsy to box.
He liked to work for Herb, so he enjoyed coming to the NW.
Dempsy also refereed some wrestling matches thinking he could
make a living in wrestling, but decided to stay in boxing.
dies in 1942. Don Owen
takes over the company at that time.
(This is pre-NWA) (Mike Rodgers)
-- Elton Owen wrestled
during this year. It looks like he wrestled about 10 times including
going over Gorgeous George Wagner. Also during this year there were some
cards that featured ladies Mildred Burke wrestling Gladys ‘Killem’
Gillem. From this point ladies were banned in Oregon until around 1975
when Sue Green, Jean Antone, and Paula Kaye came in.
NWA is formed in 1947. Don
becomes a founding member, and has Oregon as his territory. According to Barry, there are no territories at this time.
The 1950's are a large boom in the industry. Wrestling is shown nationally on a new medium called ‘television’, and Gorgeous George, who left Portland to seek his fortune on national TV, is the biggest name on television for a few years. In fact, when George died, the Los Angeles City Council closed its doors for the day so everyone could go to the funeral. (Mike Rodgers and Don Owen interview I have on tape)
– An advertising agency brings Portland Wrestling to local TV.
KPTV (then channel 27) aired the show for two years.
In 1955, the show moved to KOIN and carried the show for roughly
12 years. (Gordan White).
the mid 1950's, the NWA was under investigation of the Justice
Department, and the FBI. The
story is a long complicated one, but the result changed wrestling
forever (at least in theory). The
basis of the investigation was the fact that the NWA had territories and
each promoter agreed to stay in their territories.
Any promoter who promoted against any other NWA member without
their permission could lose their NWA membership.
Also, promoters were known to blacklist certain wrestlers who
would run against them in their territory.
was considered to be against anti-trust laws, and in some ways
considered organized crime as the NWA actually had all this written in
their by-laws. After years
of investigation, the NWA voted to remove these rules from their
by-laws. The feds, happy
with this, dropped their investigation for the NWA and its members.
It should be noted that some of the investigators felt that
criminal and civil charges should be filed against some of the promoters
(mostly those from Southern California)
history has proven that nothing changed.
While the NWA members agreed to remove the specific wording, they
did a back room deal where they would all still recognize the dropped
rules. The investigation
did show that the NWA promoters didn’t get along much, and was filled
with back stabbing and many arguements amongst many promoters (as
opposed to the NWA today, who publicly blast each other on the
should also be noted that while many promoters owned their territory
(through their yearly membership fees) most of them kept to their
territories, and argued about details.
Wrestlers on the other hands usually just followed the money.
While some wrestlers stayed in a certain area because they liked
it, most of the wrestlers didn’t have a problem working in a so-called
‘outlaw’ territory if it meant more money for them.
However, some promoters had a chokehold on some talent, keeping
them from working for anyone other then them without a cut of the money.
– Business is still good here in the Northwest, and with the addition
of such people like Lonnie Mayne, Tony Borne, the Von Steigers, Luther
Lindsey and Stan Stasiak
(Dutch Savage, Mike Rodgers)
Von Poppenheim, a legendary wrestler, wanted to promote in Portland and
applied for a license. The
Oregon commission did not grant Kurt von Poppenheim a promoter's license
due to the objections from Tony Borne and Don Owen. Tony, at the time,
was handling the spot shows for Don, and (maybe rightfully so) convinced
the commission that opposition would cause Portland wrestling to suffer
at the gate. It really gave the late von Poppenheim a bad taste in his
mouth for Borne and Owen and it was something he never forgave them for.
On the other hand, Borne and Owen may have saved von Poppenheim a ton of
money, but we'll never know. Von Poppenheim allegedly was ready to bring
in big names to compete against Owen.
Silverstone told me, “My overloaded memory tells me it was around
1968. I had the opportunity to talk to Kurt von Poppenheim, in person,
many times at several reunions, but in 1996, we talked for several hours
about this failed venture and perhaps not many people realize the
national clout Kurt had earned. He told me a dozen names he had
scheduled to come in and work for him (most were top NWA boys) and he
told me about all the arrangements he had done to work this thing out.
The monopoly aspect of the business prevented him from going any
further, but had he been granted a license, Washington State would have
equaled Georgia when the Gunkel's et al were up against the NWA.”
continued, “In all fairness, especially for the "historical"
angle of this, it should be brought out that while Kurt von Poppenheim
did indeed tell me the names of the NWA workers who were ready to
perform for him, I never confirmed the accuracy with the talent he
named. Most of them are now dead, but the boys were loyal until someone
came along with more green. I've done it with some talent, and other
promoters have done it to talent that I thought were loyal to me.“
Owen family promotes some matches in the Coliseum and has a good run
there with good crowds. (Mike Rodgers)
-- Wrestling comes back to back to KPTV (now channel 12). (Mike Rodgers,
– Don Owen buys and renovates a bowling alley, which eventually
becomes the Portland Sports Arena.
– Business gets huge with the addition of Ripper Collins, Buddy Rose,
Rip Oliver, Ed Wiskowski, Roddy Piper, Jesse Ventura, Lonnie Mayne, and
others. Outlaw promotions
start running across the Northwest, with the most successful being Dean
Silverstone. Dean is
successful mostly due to his love for the business, as well as his
ability to promote (which most promoters think they have).
Dean stops promoting in 1977.
Dutch Savage buys into the PNW and promotes Washington.
(Buddy, Col., Dutch, Barry, Dean)
Mayne dies in a car accident in August 1978.
– KPTV started tape
delaying the show until 11:00. It wasn't until about 1972 that KPTV
started broadcasting Portland Wrestling in color. Even for a few years
after that, if KPTV broadcast another sporting event (Blazers, Ducks or
Beavers) on a Saturday night, Portland Wrestling would be in black &
white, as they only had one color broadcast truck. (Frank Culbertson)
– Business gets hot on TV. Lou
Thesz wrestles Gene Kiniski in a match at the Sports Arena that I am
sure was a treat for the fans. Wrestling
becomes the next big thing locally with the Billy Jack/ Rip Oliver feud.
Buddy Rose turns face. The
money is good for everyone. Dutch sells his shares back to Don, Barry
takes over Washington and other cites.
Elton dies. Barry takes over his towns.
Frank Bonama dies, Don Coss takes over as announcer.
1985, the 60th Anniversary Extravaganza show sells out the
Portland Coliseum. A feat
that Vince McMahon has yet to do. It
was an amazing show, representatives from the NWA (Ric Flair, Road
Warriors) were there defending their titles, AWA (Rick Martel) and WWF (Roddy
Piper). The show didn’t
presell well, but as soon as the gates opened for the day, they sold out
within an hour. It was one
of the highest attended shows in the history of the Coliseum to this day
(Barry Owen claims the highest event at the Coliseum for a sporting
event), and everyone in the wrestling world today still talks about it
as the Owen Family’s ‘Wrestlemania’
(Don Coss, Barry Owen, Buddy Rose, Ed Wiskowski, Rip)
commission forms in the late 1980s.
Prior to this, commissions were all over the state, and only
represented certain towns or counties.
Now, one commission over-sees the whole state. They start the
killing off of the shows by fining wrestling, starting stupid rules, and
giving promoters a hard time. Moondog
sits on the commission board for a time.
The end starts for the PNW... (Moondog, DeBeers, Buddy, Coss,
Jack leaves the PNW in an issue over money.
He joins the WWF thinking he would be a big star.
He ends up in the mid-card.
Billy Jack opens a gym in Oregon City.
The town practically closes for it, and the grand opening
(complete with Hulk Hogan signing autographs) is a complete success.
After refusing to job at a Portland house show, Billy is fired by
Vince McMahon. Billy gets the idea to start promoting. He finds an abandoned roller rink in Oregon City and starts
his promoting there. He has
a big money man funding everything, and steals a lot of talent away from
Don Owen including Rip Oliver, Brian Adams, Moondog Moretti, Mike Miller
and Coco Samoa with the promise of big money.
The first show was a fantastic success, making everyone happy. However, Billy soon finds that promoting is not as easy as it
looks. Despite his TV deal
with Channel 49, the house numbers start to dwindle down to less the 30
people a week at the shows. Billy
plays dirty by calling the commission and telling them that Don Owen’s
wrestlers are using drugs in the locker room.
This causes big headaches for Owen.
Billy eventually folds the wrestling promotion, after a few
months, leaving everyone with a bad taste in their mouth, and money
owed. Most of the wrestlers
went back to work for Don Owen, but Billy held out for a while.
Once his gym closed its doors, Billy was down to doing lawn work
for spare money. After a
while, Billy came back to Don Owen where he eventually turned heel and
had a successful run at that. Billy
cuts a chilling promo following the turn blaming the fans in the NW for
the folding of his gym. Some
say, it was a shoot. (Don
Coss, Barry Owen, Dutch, Rip, Rose and Col.)
McMahon’s large expansion runs everyone out of business.
The only original promoters to survive are Don Owen and the
Memphis territory. By 1987,
Don Owen is the only member of the original NWA group to have survived.
-- The Grappler becomes booker in the PNW.
– The business sees some sliding mostly due to the amount of wrestling
on TV. Don is offered a
broadcast deal on Fox Sports, but turns it down.
The talent starts to look a little more green, since the
territories aren’t where they used to be.
The real stand-outs were Art Barr and Scotty ‘The Body’.
(Barry, Buddy, Mike Rodgers)
Barr is accused of rape by a fan. Art
says it was consensual. Barr
gets arrested. Oregonian
writer Margie Boule writes a damning article about how he is still
allowed to work in Portland. Don
Owen says that you are innocent unless proven guilty, and until he is
proven guilty, he will work here. Art
plea-bargains down to sexual assault.
Don tells Art that he should leave the NW and seek his fortune
elsewhere, since the controversy is way too strong here in the NW.
Art also feels a little heat with his brother Jesse, who seems to
be a little jealous over Art’s wrestling ability, and Art also wants
to get out of the shadow of his father.
Art goes to Mexico, where he becomes one of their biggest draws
with his tag team partner Eddie Guerrero.
Art works for a time in WCW, until Margie Boule finds out and
starts a fax campaign into WCW. WCW
feels the pressure and releases Barr.
Barr committed suicide in his Oregon home shortly thereafter.
(Buddy Wayne, Col., Buddy Rose, Barry Owen)
– KPTV 12 cancels Portland Wrestling.
The last show was in December 1991.
The move was a complete surprise as the show was still the
highest rated locally produced show on Portland TV.
The show taking over the time slot; WWF wrestling.
Very emotional time for a lot of the wrestlers. (Don Coss, Barry
– Don Owen decides to get out of the wrestling game for good, selling
everything to Sandy Barr. At
this time, Don was the last of the original members of the NWA when it was
first formed. The Sports
Arena is eventually sold to a church (who remodels it, turning it into an
office building) and Sandy eventually has a run in with the commission and
has to promote in Washington. Sandy
ends up at the Bagley Center and has a good run there with great talents
like Buddy Wayne, Col DeBeers, Billy Jack, Jimmy Snuka, Matt Borne and
Bruiser Brian Cox. The
promotion is a moderate success, even though the only TV Sandy can get is
community access cable. He
eventually gets a time slot on KOIN, but it’s early in the morning, and
the time changes weekly by 15 minutes or so depending on what infomercials
are before it. It should be
noted that the shows didn’t draw much money, and is mostly funded by
Sandy Barr’s financially successful Flea Market.
Sandy eventually closes his promotion due to a depression of losing
his girlfriend (Buddy Wayne)
– Don Owen makes an appearance at Slamboree at the Omni in Atlanta
Georgia, live on PPV as a ’Legend’ along with Ole Anderson, Red
Bastien, Dusty Rhodes and Lou Thesz among others.
Don Owen died Thursday, August 1, 2002 of age related causes. His widow dies the following year.NEXT MONTH:
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