Saturday, December 15, 2018

Unmasked! -- Wrestlers who lost their masks in Toronto : Gary Will's TWH

Masked wrestlers in Toronto date back to the first appearance of the area's first Masked Marvel in 1932. More than 20 wrestlers lost their masks in the ring in Toronto:

DATENAMEUNMASKED ASUNMASKED BY
36/06/18   The UnknownHal RumbergJim McMillen
38/09/29Masked MarvelTed CoxMayes McLain
41/11/27Masked WolfJohn GrandovichThe Angel
43/08/12Red ShadowLeo NumaWild Bill Longson
44/01/05The CzarDick LeverBobby Managoff
48/01/08The MummyPedro MartinezMasked Marvel
49/01/27Mr. XEarl McCreadyMasked Marvel & tag partners
49/02/17Masked MarvelLew ReynheerWhipper Billy Watson
51/02/22Masked ManagerMayes McLainWhipper Billy Watson
51/08/30Masked MarvelLou NewmanThe Zebra
51/11/29The ZebraGeorge BollasWhipper Billy Watson
52/12/26Masked MarvelFrank ValoisRed Mask
53/06/11Red MaskDutch HefnerLou Thesz
59/06/04Great BoloAl LovelockWhipper Billy Watson
61/05/25Black TerrorLaverne BaxterWhipper Billy Watson
64/01/16The DestroyerJoe ChristieJohnny Valentine
64/05/06Mighty Herculesnot identifiedJohnny Valentine
66/07/10Masked Yankee DandyBob StanleeWhipper Watson/Bulldog Brower
66/07/10Masked Yankee Doodle   Moose EvansWhipper Watson/Bulldog Brower
71/07/11Masked AssassinGuy MitchellThe Sheik
74/04/07The CrusaderDewey Robertson   The Sheik
80/05/25Masked Superstar #2John StuddBlackjack Mulligan
84/04/15AssassinRay HernandezJimmy Valiant


Four Masked Marvels were unmasked in Toronto, but the first one -- the one from 1932 -- never was. It was said to be Al Getzewich, who was unmasked later that year in Ottawa by Strangler Lewis.

The later versions of the Masked Marvel were sometimes called The Mask, as in the ad at right. That's for the August 30, 1951 show where Zebra unmasked The Mask and revealed him to be Vancouver's Lou Newman.

The Mighty Hercules from 1964 was said to be Bobby Graham in the papers, but he was the only one who was not formally identified after having his mask removed.

-by Gary Will 






A Brief History of Pro Wrestling in Toronto: Gary Will's TWH

Originally written for the program for the "Titans In Toronto" Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame Dinner 
-held September 18, 2004.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the launch of weekly professional wrestling shows in Toronto in 1929, and the city's wrestling heritage extends many years earlier.

The most famous wrestler of the 19th century, William Muldoon, made a stop in Toronto in 1883 and in the years immediately following the turn of the century, some of the biggest names in the business made appearances in the city. Frank Gotch, George Hackenschmidt, Stanislaus Zbyszko, and women's champion Cora Livingstone all wrestled more than once in Toronto.

Mickailoff turns Toronto into a wrestling city
But while modern era fans know Toronto as one of the world's top cities for professional wrestling, it wasn't always that way. Despite these occasional visits by all-time legends, the sport had largely been a minor attraction in the city until promoter Ivan Mickailoff boldly moved -- in the face of a lot of skepticism -- to bring world-class wrestling to Toronto on a weekly basis in 1929.

He ran shows at Arena Gardens, the original home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and from a slow start built the sport within a few months to the point where Toronto became a regular Thursday night stop for top-flight professionals. Strangler Lewis, Jim Londos, and Gus Sonnenberg were some of the names Mickailoff brought to town in his first year.

Jack Corcoran takes control
After Mickailoff had paved the way with his success, competition followed in Jack Corcoran, who had promoted boxing in the city. Corcoran started running pro wrestling shows on a regular basis in November 1930. His first show -- at Massey Hall -- was a disaster, but Corcoran aligned himself with the right people and by the time he won the right to promote wrestling at the new Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931, he had surpassed Mickailoff to become the city's top promoter.

In 1939, Corcoran passed the reins to his assistants, the brother combination of John and Frank Tunney. Older brother John Tunney was the head matchmaker, and quickly signed Wild Bill Longson, Lou Thesz, and Bronko Nagurski to make their first Toronto appearances.

The Frank Tunney era begins
But just a few months after becoming promoter, John Tunney died suddenly at age 32. From that tragic beginning, the Frank Tunney era in Toronto was born. Taking over from his brother at age 27, Frank controlled pro wrestling in the city for the next 43 years and became one of the most successful and respected promoters in the world.

Whipper Billy Watson arrives
Tunney had been head promoter for less than a year when he brought in a 25-year-old East York native who had been wrestling in England for the last four years. When he left in 1936, he was known as Bill Potts. He returned in 1940 as Whipper Billy Watson and would go on to be the greatest star in Toronto wrestling history.

Within seven months of his Maple Leaf Gardens debut, Watson was being pushed as Tunney's top star, and for the next 30 years he would rarely be in any match in Toronto but the main event or the semi-main event. His most notable feuds were with Nanjo Singh and Gene Kiniski, and he had memorable matches against the two men he would beat for the world title, Longson and Thesz, and Gorgeous George, whose head would be shaved in the ring following a loss to Watson at the Gardens in 1959.

The 1950s: The golden era
The 1950s were a golden era for Toronto wrestling, as TV introduced Tunney's stars to a national audience, and Gardens fans witnessed two NWA title changes: Watson defeating Thesz in 1956 and Dick Hutton also taking the title from Thesz the following year. Toronto fans were treated to regular appearances by future world champions Hutton, Kiniski, Pat O'Connor, and Buddy Rogers.

Wrestlers from Southern Ontario and other parts of Canada were also developing rapidly. Along with Kiniski, the 1950s saw the Gardens debuts of Billy Red Lyons, Chris & John Tolos, Waldo Von Erich (who received a brief babyface push as Wally Sieber), Mike Valentino (the future Baron Mikel Scicluna), the bear-wrestling Jacques Dubois (later known as Wildman Dave McKigney), Don Jardine, and George Cannon.

The trend continued into the 1960s with the Gardens debuts of future stars Stan Stasiak and Rocky Johnson, among others. But while they all wrestled in Toronto early in their careers, many of these Canadians had to become stars in other territories before getting a push locally.

The 1960s: Looking for new stars
With age, Watson's star power was beginning to fade in the 1960s and Tunney pushed several new wrestlers into main events, including Bruno Sammartino, Johnny Valentine, and Bulldog Brower, along with Canadians Johnny Powers and Tiger Jeet Singh. Lou Thesz won the NWA title from Buddy Rogers at the Gardens in 1963 and followed it up a couple of months later with a victory over Sammartino in the only match the two legends ever had with each other. Kiniski's three-year run as NWA champion from 1966-69 saw him defend the title many times in Toronto. In 1965, Tunney moved the shows from Thursday nights, where they had been from the beginning in 1929, to Sundays, where they remained for the next 30 years.

The Sheik takes over
A major turning point for Toronto wrestling occurred in 1969. Tunney brought back The Sheik, one of the all-time great heels who had caused a stir in the city in 1964-65. Sheik, with his manager Abdullah Farouk, took over wrestling in Toronto and was the city's dominant star for the next eight years, regularly drawing over 10,000 fans to the Gardens, at least for the first few years.

After his first match back, Sheik only wrestled in main events (or co-main events if the NWA champion was booked on the show) and didn't lose a match for over five years, wrestling in Toronto about twice a month, compiling a record of 100-0-27 before losing by disqualification to Andre the Giant in 1974. No single wrestler has ever dominated Toronto wrestling the way The Sheik did in this period.

Tunney beats back challengers
Through the years, there were never any serious threats to Tunney's position as ruler of pro wrestling in Toronto. Several promoters ran shows at smaller venues in the area, often with Tunney's blessing or indifference. But in the 1970s, there were two notable attempts by other promoters to run big-venue shows in Toronto.

Dave McKigney, a successful promoter outside Toronto and at smaller sites within the city, tried running a show at Varsity Arena in September 1971 with Tony Parisi booked in the main event. Tunney quickly scheduled a Gardens show directly against it. Parisi was a no-show and began working for Tunney the following week. According to the newspapers, the McKigney show drew 700 fans while Tunney got 15,500 at the Gardens.

History repeated itself five years later. George Cannon and Milt Avruskin had built strong awareness of their promotion in Toronto through a TV show broadcast on Global and taped at the Global studios in Don Mills. They tried to parlay that visibility into running a big-venue show at the CNE Coliseum, but once again Tunney moved quickly to book a Gardens show on the same day. The Toronto Star reported that only 600 people showed up for Cannon's show. The promotion moved to Montreal not long after.

Farewell to the Sheik
Meanwhile, at the Gardens, Harley Race took the NWA title from Terry Funk in 1977 in the fourth and final time the belt would change hands in Toronto. The Sheik's act had grown stale after an amazing run and fans were ready for something new. The Tunney-Sheik partnership ended in 1977, and for the next year Toronto fans saw a mix of AWA and WWWF stars performing in the main events -- sometimes with both world titles defended on the same show.

Ric Flair revives Toronto wrestling
The stars of Jim Crockett's NWA-affiliated Mid-Atlantic promotion were added to the mix the following year, as Tunney went into partnership with Crockett and his booker, Hamilton native George Scott. The first Gardens card with Crockett's talent in 1978 featured a match between Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat, both making their Toronto debuts. For the first few years, AWA and WWWF stars also continued to perform in the city, including a historic meeting between AWA champ Nick Bockwinkel and WWWF titleholder Bob Backlund in 1979, with Flair vs Steamboat also on the card.

New local heroes
Along with presenting top wrestlers from the U.S., Tunney also launched the Canadian title in 1978 and used it to turn Dewey Robertson and Angelo Mosca into local babyface heroes and main event stars.

Death of Frank Tunney
By 1983, rivalries between the various promotions made it difficult to bring talent from different factions together. And it was right at this time that Frank Tunney passed away at age 70, leaving his piece of the Toronto promotion in the hands of his son Eddie Tunney and his nephew Jack Tunney -- the son of John Tunney.

Toronto joins the WWF
The next-generation Tunneys quickly moved to align themselves with Vince McMahon's WWF. Crockett had begun sending his B-team to Toronto and attendance at the Gardens was plummeting. Toronto became one of the first of the former NWA strongholds to jump to the WWF, starting a trend that would continue through the 1980s.

After a 34-year run, the NWA title -- which had made its Gardens debut in January 1950 --made its final appearance in the building in May 1984. Whatever nostalgic feelings long-time fans had for the old days, the McMahon-Tunney alliance and Hulkamania captured a whole new audience, attracting sell-out crowds to the Gardens and drawing over 65,000 people to Exhibition Stadium in 1986 and 68,000 to SkyDome for Wrestlemania VI in 1990 to see Hulk Hogan lose the WWF title to the Ultimate Warrior.

Rivals take a run
With the Gardens locked up by the WWF, the AWA held a show at the CNE Coliseum in December 1989 that drew what remains the smallest crowd ever in the city for a show from major promotion -- just 200 people. WCW, which evolved out of Crockett's Mid-Atlantic promotion, ran three shows at the Coliseum in 1990 with better results, but not good enough to keep Toronto on their schedule. WCW came back in 1993 and drew about 4,000 to SkyDome, and then made a big return to Toronto with two well-attended shows at the Air Canada Centre in 1999 before the promotion fizzled out.

End of the Tunney era, and Maple Leaf Gardens
McMahon ended his relationship with Jack Tunney in 1995 and the 64-year affiliation of pro wrestling and Maple Leaf Gardens ended in September of that year. The WWF has continued to run shows in Toronto ever since. It drew another 68,000 back to SkyDome for Wrestlemania X8 in 2002, with Hulk Hogan vs The Rock in what was generally seen as the main event. That card made Hogan the main event performer in the top-drawing Toronto show of the 1980s, the 1990s, and (so far) the 2000s.

In 2003, Toronto was host to just three major-league pro wrestling shows, all from the sole surviving big-name promotion, Vince McMahon's WWE.

- by Gary Will



Thursday, November 29, 2018

Andy Robin : The Scottish Bearman: Classic Photo

Andy Robin was a Scotsman who wrestled here in 1964-65. He was mostly an undercard guy at MLG but saw some main events in the smaller towns, He even won the first annual Tournament of Champions held in Oshawa in 1965. 

While here he wrestled Dave McKigney's (Jean Dubois at this time) bear Terrible Ted and when he returned to Scotland he raised his own bear Hercules to wrestle. 

As usual I asked our resident expert Roger Baker about him. Roger covered Andy for a mag story and followed him to Hamilton for some photos. Also notable is his opponent, long time area regular Joe Christy who wrestled as the Destroyer for a time before being unmasked. First photos I have seen of him. Ref is Joe Gollob. Thanks Roger ! 











Thanks to Roger Baker

Monday, November 19, 2018

Top drawing matches, year-by-year, 1929-1977: Gary Will's TWH

These are the main events of the cards reported to have been the largest draw each year from 1929 to 1977. There are two problems with this list 1) not all cards had an attendance figure reported and 2) the reported numbers weren't always accurate.

I think it's likely that the biggest crowd of the year would be mentioned, so if there was no attendance reported, it was likely not the biggest draw of the year. But there's no guarantee of that, and after 1974 the attendance reports become highly infrequent. The inaccuracy of the numbers could be a bigger issue. Usually the figures in the papers made sense, but sometimes there would be a huge number out of the blue, and occasionally different papers would report completely different crowd sizes, sometimes separated by thousands. But this is the best information available.

Whipper Billy Watson was in the top drawing match 21 times. The Sheik is next with 10.


1929Gus Sonnenberg vs Dan Koloff (9,000)
1930Gus Sonnenberg vs Stanley Stasiak (9,600)
1931Jim Londos vs Gino Garibaldi (15,800 - first Maple Leaf Gardens show)
1932Jim Londos vs George Zaharias (14,350)
1933Jim Browning vs Joe Savoldi (11,000)
1934Jim Londos vs Joe Savoldi (11,000)
1935Dan O'Mahony vs Jim Browning (16,000)
1936Dan O'Mahony vs Ray Steele (9,000)
1937Dan O'Mahony vs Dean Detton (7,000)
1938Masked Marvel (Ted Cox) vs Vic Christie (10,000)
1939Elimination Tournament, won by Vic Christie (6,000)
1940The Angel vs Jerry Monahan (11,000)
1941The Angel vs Masked Wolf (10,000-)
1942The Angel vs Strangler Lewis (10,000)
Whipper Billy Watson vs Wild Bill Longson (10,000)
1943Whipper Billy Watson vs Jack Claybourne (11,000)
1944Whipper Billy Watson vs Hard Boiled Hannigan (12,000)
1945Whipper Billy Watson vs Frank Sexton (10,000-)
1946Whipper Billy Watson vs Wladyslaw Talun (14,000)
1947Whipper Billy Watson vs Wild Bill Longson (15,000)
1948Whipper Billy Watson vs Nanjo Singh (13,000)
1949Whipper Billy Watson vs Masked Marvel (14,000)
1950Whipper Billy Watson vs Yukon Eric (13,000)
1951Whipper Billy Watson vs Lord Athol Layton (14,000)
1952Hans Hermann vs Yukon Eric (13,000)
1953Al Mills/Tiny Mills vs Whipper Billy Watson/Yvon Robert (16,000)
1954Al Mills/Tiny Mills vs Ernie Dusek/Emil Dusek (13,000)
1955Whipper Billy Watson vs Antonino Rocca (13,000)
1956Whipper Billy Watson vs Lou Thesz (15,000)
1957Whipper Billy Watson/Yukon Eric vs Gene Kiniski/Dick Hutton (15,000)
1958Whipper Billy Watson vs Al Bunny Dunlop (13,000)
1959Whipper Billy Watson vs Gorgeous George (14,000)
1960Whipper Billy Watson vs Gene Kiniski (10,000)
1961Bulldog Brower vs Yukon Eric (10,000)
1962Buddy Rogers vs Bruno Sammartino (14,000)
1963Buddy Rogers vs Lou Thesz (11,000)
1964Whipper Billy Watson vs The Beast/Martino Angelo (11,000)
1965Johnny Valentine vs The Sheik (7,000)
1966Masked Yankees vs Whipper Billy Watson/Lord Athol Layton (7,500)
1967Tiger Jeet Singh/Fred Atkins vs Whipper Billy Watson/Mighty Igor (7,500)
1968Ivan Koloff vs Edouard Carpentier (10,000)
1969The Sheik vs Gene Kiniski (15,000)
1970The Sheik vs Whipper Billy Watson (17,000)
1971The Sheik vs Tiger Jeet Singh (18,000)
1972The Sheik vs Carlos Rocha (18,000)
1973The Sheik vs Andre the Giant (18,000)
1974The Sheik vs Andre the Giant (16,000)
1975The Sheik vs Abdullah the Butcher (12,000)
1976The Sheik vs Mark Lewin (8,000)
1977The Sheik vs Tiger Jeet Singh (7,000)

-by Gary Will 






Saturday, November 10, 2018

Wrestlers who made their Toronto debuts in main events, 1930-1989: Gary Will's TWH

Starting From The Top: Wrestlers who made their Toronto debuts in main events, 1930-1989

Whipper Billy Watson didn't do it. Neither did Hulk Hogan, The Sheik, Buddy Rogers, Lou Thesz, Bruno Sammartino, Ric Flair, or even Andre the Giant. In fact, very few wrestlers did it after the 1930s -- made their big-venue Toronto wrestling debuts in a main event.

It was easier to do in the 1930s because the weekly shows only began in 1929, so more wrestlers were making their debuts. And the undercards were much shorter, so a greater percentage of wrestlers on a card were in the main event.

These lists are in chronological order.

1930s: (31)
Cyclone Ress
Bill Demetral
Jack Winters
Jim Browning
Jack McCarthy
John Pesek
Glenn Wade
Jack Sherry
Joe Wagner
Ed Don George
Pinky Gardner
Lee Wykoff
Jim McMillen
Jim Clinstock
Dick Shikat
Casey Berger
Vanka Zelesniak
Abe Kashey
George Godfrey
Lionel Conacher
Sammy Stein
Jack Brown
Young Angelo
Dan O'Mahony
Ali Baba
Frank Sexton
Dave Levin
Vincent Lopez
George "Dazzler" Clarke
Cliff Thiede
Bronko Nagurski
1940s: (2)
Golden Terror
Gorgeous George

1950s: (5)
Lord Athol Layton
Lord James Blears
Antonino "Argentina" Rocca
Reggie Lisowski
Art Neilson
Nikita Kalmikoff

1960s: (1)
Mighty Igor


1970s: (5)
Harley Race
Jack Brisco
Abdullah Farouk
Terry Funk
Nick Bockwinkel

1980s: (3)
Assassins
Buzz Sawyer
Tonga Kid



- by Gary Will



Monday, October 29, 2018

Indie show with Terry Yorkston, 1972: Gary Will's TWH



This poster went up for sale on eBay in early 2003. If it hadn't been for Terry Yorkston's name in the opening match, I might not have given it a thought. Yorkston was a prelim wrestler for Frank Tunney in the 1970s who went on to be a referee for Maple Leaf Wrestling. He had been wrestling for years before coming to the Gardens, including a good mid-card run in Quebec. He had just come off a stint in the Maritimes before arriving in Toronto in 1972.

(A few years later, he also worked under a hood for George Cannon. Somewhere in taped-over video heaven is a Cannon TV show with a scrawny teenager in the fourth row yelling "Hey! Terry Yorkston!" all through one of his matches. It took a couple of minutes to solve the puzzle, but I recognized him as someone I knew as soon as he came to the ring.)

 I don't know much about the show on the poster, but I was able to track it down. It was held on August 30, 1972 at the York Centre Ballroom -- south of Eglinton and east of Dufferin -- just a couple of months after Yorkston had made his Maple Leaf Gardens debut for Tunney (as a sub for Chris Colt).

Pat McMahon would go on to become Shillelagh O'Sullivan, who got a brief push at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1973. Andy Martin, from the main event, would make his first Gardens appearance in December. Pat Scott made it to Carlton Street for two matches in 1973. Ernie Schwaab (name misspelled on the poster) had done a job for Killer Kowalski at the Gardens in December 1971. There was a Golden Boy Apollo who wrestled at the Gardens in 1974, but I don't know if it's the same guy. The other names don't ring any bells.

I couldn't find any other shows at the Ballroom advertised in the Star, which is where the ad above is from.

-by Gary Will




Hercules Angelo Mosca?, 1970: Gary Will's TWH

This column by Jim Proudfoot appeared in the Toronto Star on August 1, 1970. It's a nice story about the success Angelo Mosca was having as a pro wrestler -- particularly his work for Roy Shire in Northern California as Hercules.

The only problem with the piece is that I can't find any record of a wrestler named Hercules working for Shire at the time.

The late Ron Valim kept detailed records of Shire's shows in San Francisco and other cities in the territory, and there's no Hercules to be found.

So was he using a different ring name with Hercules as a nickname? I don't see any likely candidates in Valim's results. Other than a few prelim guys, the workers Shire was using at the time are all well-known wrestlers. I don't see anyone who could have been Mosca.

In Proudfoot's column, Mosca is quoted saying the shows could draw 30,000 people to the Cow Palace in San Francisco. That's about double the actual maximum (the annual battle royal in November 1969 drew 15,974 and that seems to be the biggest crowd of the year).

Was the whole thing made up?

-by Gary Will



























































"The Sheik causes wrestling revival," 1970: Gary Will's TWH

Another Jim Proudfoot column from 1970 (see Hercules Mosca? for the other column). This one was published in the Toronto Star of February 21 and discussed the city's new wrestling boom -- driven by the return of The Sheik.

The Sheik had previously wrestled in Toronto in 1964-65, and had memorable matches against the top two babyfaces in town: Whipper Billy Watson and Johnny Valentine.

He came back four years later in February 1969 and the houses at Maple Leaf Gardens immediately and consistently shot up to 9,000 to 15,000. There had only been one show in 1968 with a reported attendance of 10,000, headlined by Ivan Koloff vs Edouard Carpentier, but with the Sheik on top, that was just an average gate.

The last show of 1969 drew a reported 16,500 to see a Texas death match between Sheik and his arch nemesis, Bobo Brazil. That was followed by three more shows with 15,000 or more in attendance, including the show that was run the day after this column appeared -- with Sheik vs Lord Athol Layton in the main event, with Gene Kiniski as special referee.

Proudfoot mentions that promoter Frank Tunney was hoping that the Sheik would fill the Gardens and set a new Toronto attendance record. That did happen, although not until exactly one year later. On February 21, 1971, more than 18,000 people turned up to see Sheik take on Tiger Jeet Singh.

-by Gary Will









































Whipper Watson's fifth decade in wrestling, 1970: Gary Will's TWH


This Globe & Mail story ran on March 5, 1970 and is a look back at the career of Whipper Billy Watson, who had just started his fifth decade as a pro wrestler.

The story doesn't try to hide the unhideable -- that the 54-year-old Watson's career is winding down and he can no longer go more than once or twice a week. Even so, he would continue to wrestle for nearly two more years until an accident put an unwavering end to his career in the ring.

In the story, Watson says that when he returned to Toronto in 1940 after a lengthy stay in Britain, promoter Frank Tunney wasn't all that enthusiastic, although Tunney says he saw something in Watson right away. There's no question that Watson got the home town boy push from the start.

The writer of this story, Louis Cauz, went on to become a well-known figure in the Canadian horse racing world. He has been the managing director of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame and the archivist/historian for the Ontario Jockey Club. In 1978, he wrote a book on the Toronto Blue Jays called Baseball's Back in Town. He also wrote a book on the King's/Queen's Plate that was published in 1984.

-by Gary Will







































































Toronto ring announcers, 1929-1986; Gary Will's TWH

For almost 60 years after the first weekly wrestling shows began in Toronto in 1929, there were only four men who worked as ring announcer at Arena Gardens and Maple Leaf Gardens. There may have been some temporary fill-ins over the years, but just four guys held the job in all that time.

Most of the years listed here are approximate since the newspapers weren't in the habit of reporting on ring announcers in much detail.

Bill Smith, 1929-1950
The longest serving ring announcer, Bill Smith was born in the United States and moved to Canada as a boy. He announced boxing and wrestling matches in Toronto and, according to his obituary, he didn't miss a single show in 25 years until suffering a heart attack in May 1950. That would mean he was the announcer at the original Arena Gardens shows in 1929 and continued through the move to Maple Leaf Gardens. The first show he missed was on May 11, 1950, headlined by Yukon Eric vs Wild Bill Longson. Smith died two months later at age 68.


Frank Ayerst, 1950-1955
Frank Ayerst was working as an assistant to promoter Frank Tunney when Smith's illness propelled him into ring announcing. Ayerst was primarily a PR man who had previously worked as an assistant to Leafs owner Conn Smythe and as a sports reporter for the Toronto Star. He joined Tunney in 1947. Ayerst bowed out as announcer around 1955, but continued to work in the office with Tunney into the mid-1960s. In the late 1950s, his face was seen every week in an ad for the wrestling shows that was designed to look like a newspaper column. His byline also appeared in the programs sold at the wrestling shows. Ayerst went on to work for the provincial government after leaving wrestling.

Jerry Hiff, 1955-1973
I don't know much about Jerry Hiff or Gerry Hiff, as his name was sometimes spelled (I believe his real name was Gerald). He also announced boxing matches, both at the Gardens and at a venue called Palace Pier in the late 1950s. Hiff's day job in the late 50s at least was managing what was described as a "religious goods store." He appeared on broadcasts from St. Michael's Cathedral every other Sunday.


Norm Kimber, 1973-1986
Norm Kimber began working for Frank Tunney in the early 1950s while still in his early 20s. He eventually took over the PR duties that Ayerst performed and also became the Maple Leaf Gardens ring announcer after Hiff retired. I believe he had been performing as ring announcer on the TV tapings before taking over at the Gardens. Was pushed out as announcer in 1986 after Jack Tunney and Eddie Tunney had taken charge of the office and joined the WWF. Later that year, he briefly worked for Angelo Mosca's NWA-affiliated shows in opposition to the Tunneys.



-by Gary Will


Frank Tunney's 30th Anniversary, 1969: Gary Will's TWH

There were several anniversary shows at the Gardens in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Some were anniversaries of the first Gardens show in 1931. Others celebrated Frank Tunney's years as a promoter. Those were always tricky since there were three different years that could be used -- the year he started working for Jack Corcoran, the year Corcoran passed the promotion along to the Tunneys (1939), or the year John Tunney died, leaving Frank the main promoter (1940).

Tunney's 30th anniversary show was held on May 18, 1969 and featured a rematch between The Sheik and Whipper Billy Watson and the Toronto debut of NWA world champion Dory Funk Jr. The show drew 13,000 fans, making it the highest reported attendance at a Toronto card in years.

The writer of this retrospective piece from the Globe, Jim Vipond, went on to become Ontario Athletics Commissioner -- he's the unnamed guy in Jim Freedman's book DRAWING HEAT who's accused of being a friend of Tunney's and a thorn in the side of Dave McKigney.



-by Gary Will

*note the picture used in the paper was taken by Roger Baker, there are a couple of photos from that event elsewhere on the site




Monday, October 22, 2018

Dan O'Mahony headlocks King Clancy before Toronto debut, February 21, 1935: Gary Will's TWH



Future world champion Dan O'Mahony -- billed in the U.S. as Danno O'Mahoney -- made his Maple Leaf Gardens debut on February 21, 1935 to much fanfare. The wrestler was brought to North America by Boston-based promoter Paul Bowser to add some fresh blood to the wrestling scene ... and attract the huge Irish crowds in Beantown. Toronto also had a thriving Irish community, which included promoter Jack Corcoran.

The community also included Toronto Maple Leafs' all-star defenceman King Clancy, who was in the waning years of his hall-of-fame playing career. Clancy gave his support to O'Mahony as a legitimate Irishman, and posed with the wrestler -- billed as 6'2" -- for this picture in the Toronto Star.

In his column the day of O'Mahony's Toronto debut, Star sports editor Lou Marsh described pro wrestling as "sportive entertainment," foreshadowing the term that would be popularized decades later by Vince McMahon and the WWF.

-by Gary Will





CARTOON: Henri DeGlane by Chuck Templeton, April 12, 1934: Gary Will's TWH



This cartoon is more of interest for the artist than the subject. Chuck Templeton was still a teenager when he drew this cartoon featuring Henri Deglane. He had been been hired by the Globe as a sports cartoonist in 1932 -- his first job in media. He quit in 1936 to become a very successful evangelist, which ended when he became an agnostic. Templeton later became better known as Charles Templeton, one of Canada's leading journalists, broadcasters, and writers.

In his memoirs, Templeton wrote that Tommy Munns, who handled publicity for promoter Jack Corcoran, hired him to draw sketches of wrestlers for the programs sold at the events.

-by Gary Will



Grey Cup Preview: The 1952 Edmonton Eskimos: Gary Will's TWH




The Edmonton Eskimos played the Toronto Argonauts in the Grey Cup final in 1952. In its preview of the game, the Globe & Mail ran profiles of the Eskimos players, including three 23-year-olds who would go on to be pro wrestling stars:

The Argos won the game, 21-11. It would be their last Grey Cup victory for 31 years. Kiniski would make his Maple Leaf Gardens debut as a wrestler in 1956, Blanchard in 1957, and Snyder in 1958. Snyder and Blanchard didn't make many appearances in Toronto. The card at right, from March 6, 1958, is the only time they were on the same show. Kiniski went on to become one of Toronto wrestling's all-time greats.

One of their teammates was an all-time star player for the Eskimos, Ted Tully. Maybe that name stuck in Blanchard's head a couple of years later when his son was born.

There were reports in 1950 that Whipper Billy Watson was going to play for the Eskimos, but nothing ever came of it.

-by Gary Will







Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Parkhurst wrestling cards: 1954-1955

Parkhurst wrestling cards: 1954-1955

In the 1950s, Parkurst was one of the big names in hockey cards -- as well-known as Topps and O-Pee-Chee would be to a later generation of collectors (or Upper Deck and Score to an even later generation).

Parkhurst Products was based in Toronto and began making hockey cards in 1951. It faded from the scene in the mid-1960s (the brand has recently been brought back, but the original company is long-gone).

Since wrestling was so popular in Toronto and throughout Canada in the 1950s, it was a natural that Parkhurst would produce a line of wrestling cards. It made two sets -- a 75-card set in 1954 (numbers have a red background) and a 121-card set in 1955 (yellow background).

There had been many wrestling cards made over the years before Parkhurst got into the business, but they are the earliest Canadian cards that I've seen.

Today, the cards are frequently sold on eBay, and complete sets in good condition are highly sought-after collectors' items.

Because they were made by a Toronto company, there are several Maple Leaf Gardens regulars featured on the cards. Here are a few of the Toronto-based wrestlers who got their own Parkhurst cards

-Gary Will