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 - Daren Gleason  


Is the mask about to make a serious comeback in North American professional wrestling? Quite possibly. With all of the recent WWE hype surrounding the UNmasking of Kane, the success of Rey Mysterio and the arrival of Ultimo Dragon, hope springs eternal for the resurgence of one of the major elements which helped give wrestling it's (ahem) "identity" with fans throughout the latter half of the 20th century. After all, you never saw any masked boxers, basketball players or chess masters now did you?  

The end of the kayfabe era simultaneously ended the era of masked men as major players on this continent for a very simple reason: nobody can keep a secret anymore. With the proliferation of behind-the-scenes newsletters and  Internet sites posting angles before they hit TV or even the arenas
themselves, all the mystery and intrigue surrounding the real identity of the  man under the hood was ruined. And since that was more often than not the
main payoff for any angle involving masks in the first place, there was no more point. During the dying days of WCW, even the Mexican luchadors - whose
real identities weren't even a central issue - did not escape losing their beloved hoods due to an ill-conceived (to say the least) management notion
that masks were an impediment to showcasing personality. Not only was that move an affront to lucha history (not that anybody in WCW other than Mike Tenay really cared about that), but it also completely missed the point that the mask WAS the luchador's personality to begin with. Compare Mysterio's popularity with and without his mask and the reality becomes more solidified.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. 

It is generally believed that the history of the masked wrestler can be traced as far back as 1873 in Paris, France where a hooded man appeared in an
attempt to help create some buzz for the matches. For some reason the clever gimmick really never made it over to this continent until a full 42 years
later in 1915 when a "Masked Marvel" showed up for a tournament in New York City and was the talk of the town. But in an era where straightforward,
credible grapplers like Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt were the true superstars, masks were generally dismissed and relegated to nothing more than side attractions if even utilized at all.

The wrestling scene in Montreal was pretty much the same, eschewing gimmicks in favour of no-nonsense mat work. That formula changed, at least aesthetically, when Eddie Quinn took over the promotional reigns in the late 1930's. In fact, Quinn tried an early experiment by not only reviving the Masked Marvel character but actually having him win the AWA Montreal title from Vic Christy in a June 9th, 1938 match in Toronto. He dropped it a little over three months later (September 14th) to Yvon Robert back in Montreal but the fan response was encouraging, especially for the re-match.  

Despite that initial dry run, the first really major influx of masks into the Montreal scene coincided, not surprisingly, with the dawn of the television era in the 1950's. Quinn, now armed with a weekly French-language live television show from the Forum, found fantastic success using a number of variations on the old Masked Marvel moniker. For about a 10-year period, solid workers such as Tony Lanza and Omer Marchessault performed under the Marvel hood. Later in the decade, the Marvel even showed up with a manager sporting the clever in-joke nickname "Boris K.Fabian". The last known Marvel was unmasked by Johnny Rougeau at the Montreal Forum in 1959, revealing a young Domenic DeNucci under the cowl.  

A cynic might observe that the utilization of masks was merely a cheap promotional ruse to foist inferior talent on an unsuspecting public. That was most certainly the case with many of the fly-by-night operators who skulked in and out of the Quebec scene during the tumultuous late 1970's. But it wasn't the case at all with a true professional like Eddie Quinn. During the 1950's, Forum cards were so stacked with top-notch wrestlers from all over the world that it was extremely difficult for promising local workers (and there were plenty back then) to break into the upper card. Donning the mask provided an up-and-comer like DeNucci with a ready-made gimmick and an opportunity to audition against main event talent to see if he could keep up.
And if things didn't work out, Quinn just put someone else under the hood to see if the next guy could cut it. 

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