PNW #31 Page #2

Herb 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.....)  

March 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 main event.   

Herb 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.  (Barry Owen)   

Herb dies in 1942.  Don Owen takes over the company at that time.  (This is pre-NWA) (Mike Rodgers)

 1944 --  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. (Mike Rodgers)

The 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. (Barry Owen)  

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)   

1953 – 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).  

In 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.  

This 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)  

However, 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 internet).   

It 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.  

1960's – 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)  

Kurt 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.  

Dean 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.” (Dean Silverstone)  

Dean 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.“  

 The Owen family promotes some matches in the Coliseum and has a good run there with good crowds. (Mike Rodgers)  

1966 -- Wrestling comes back to back to KPTV (now channel 12). (Mike Rodgers, Gordan White)  

1968 – Don Owen buys and renovates a bowling alley, which eventually becomes the Portland Sports Arena.   

1970's – 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)  

Lonnie Mayne dies in a car accident in August 1978.  

1979 –  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)  

1980's – 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.   

In 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)  

The 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, Barry Owen)   

Billy 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.)  

Vince 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.  

1987 -- The Grappler becomes booker in the PNW.  

1990's – 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)  

Art 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)

1991 – 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 Owen)   

1992 – 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)  

1993 – 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. 


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