|Red circa early 1940's|
Red's story goes back to about 1932 when he started showing up on Toronto's busy local amateur boxing and wrestling scene. At 17 years old and 126 lbs 'Red' as he was known, would learn the ropes out of the Premier Athletic Club. The city was busy with youths learning boxing or wrestling at the many athletic clubs across the city.
At this time in Toronto, Maple Leaf Gardens had been open for about a year and Jack Corcoran was running the Pro Wrestling cards there while Ivan Mickailoff was still holding shows at the Arena Gardens/Mutual St Arena. There were others promoting either Amateur or Professional side as well. Phil Lawson would get into the promoting side with an initial show at the Canadian Legion Hall under the auspices of the 'Toronto Wrestling Club' in 1933. Lawson would help many young mat stars get into the game, most notably a young Bill Potts aka Whipper Watson.
Around 1933 Red began wrestling on shows for the West Toronto Wrestling Club out of Mavety Hall (later West End Theater) at Mavety and Dundas St. Up to 150 lbs Red would start moving up the ladder to the main event bouts leading into appearances on the cards at Mutual St.
The Wrestling scene, in addition to being competitive was pricey too. In those days it was 500$ for a license to promote and you needed to put up a surety of 5000$. That's about 7 k and 70k in todays dollars. Many of the shows were billed as 'Amateur Contests', presumably to get around the licensing part of it. Red, while not promoting his own shows outright until the late 1940's looks to have been learning the business side as early as the mid 1930's.
Ted McKinley who had some involvement with the Oshawa Wrestling Club became one of Red's early allies. McKinley was a regular on the Amateur scene in the early 1930's (and Pro side later) earning a Silver medal in the 1934 Commonwealth Games in the Bantamweight division. McKinley was usually billed as Canadian Champion and will be the subject of a future story on this site.
In 1937 Red suffered a bad injury with a dislocation of a neck vertebrae and there was a benefit card held for him at the Mutual St Arena. The main event that night was McKinley vs another regular on the side circuit Ernie Hughson. Others appearing included Sam Gotter, Eric Lake, Tim Timoskym and Earl Grant.
Red would join the Canadian Army in 1940 and train soldiers in the athletic side. He would still appear locally on weekly shows for the Crawford A.C. held at Foresters Hall at College and Yonge. Others appearing on the Foresters Hall shows included Jim Gray, Howard Martin, and Bert Maxwell 'The Little Flower Of Uxbridge' who would serve as a referee at MLG for many years.
In 1946 Red traveled to Mexico. He would spend nearly a year there and shows up in a Welterweight Tournament held at La Arena Coliseo, site of many Lucha Libre events over the years. The following year he appeared on several shows in Oshawa, ON for Promoter Pat Farrell who pre-dated Pat Milosh as head of the Oshawa scene. Others on those shows including McKinley, Hughson, and Milosh, were Jim Allen and Harvey Stanfield.
The promoting side for Garner looks to have become a regular thing in 1948. Red would start with shows near his home at the Richmond Hill Arena. As was the case with the amateur/pro cards some shows would be sponsored. One cites the East Vaughan Ratepayers Association, and shows would be held every Tuesday evening.
At this time the big Maple Leaf Gardens shows, now with Frank Tunney promoting, were held on Thursdays and during 1948 the feud between Nanjo Singh and Whipper Watson was in full swing. Red looks to have been doing ok on those shows as he would expand out to other locales as the years progressed.
As the early 1950's began Red would hold shows at the Weston Arena, Lakeshore Arena, and again close to home at the Newmarket Arena. Shows at Richmond Hill were billed as "Professional Light-Heavyweight Wrestling - coolest spot in town - Wrestling On Ice". Other wrestlers now appearing on these cards included The Black Knight, Juan Lopez, and Roy Hassan/Hassan Bey (Georgio Stefanides - later a referee at MLG).
Garner would also travel a bit up the road to both Ottawa and Montreal and other towns in Quebec before coming up with a new angle to help himself get over.
Friends had told him he looked Oriental so he took up Sumo and studied the style and costumes of Japanese Wrestlers in order to turn into Mr. Moto, dreaded Japanese heel. In his new persona Red would speak in broken English and made up a phony story about his Japanese ancestry. The first appearance of Mr Moto was in Ottawa in 1952. The gimmick would work well and Red as Mr Moto would face the -on the verge of stardom- Buddy Rogers in Montreal that same year.
Around this time Red would set up a gym in his garage in Richmond Hill and start to train wrestlers to use on his cards. Joe Greenfield, Norm Alexander, Bill Clubine, Harold Van Dyke, Stoney Brooks were all trainess that worked on the local scene. Al Korman, later a ref at MLG and Mike Scicluna aka Baron Von Scicluna were said to both train under Red. Notably both young Wally Seiber and Dave McKigney were two of his early disciples and the two newcomers would each make their own impact on the Ontario Wrestling scene.
With his look Wally would be billed on those early cards as Baron Von Seiber. That persona would get over well as Seiber progressed, first into Waldo Von Seiber, then later teamed up with Fritz Von Erich as Waldo Von Erich. McKigney too would create his own legacy by using a Wrestling Bear as early as 1957 and then morphing through numerous names to become The Canadian Wildman. At this time McKigney would be billed as Jean Dubois the Flying Frenchman or the French Strongman.
Along with McKigney and Seiber, others on the cards along with the trainees included soon to be Garner regulars, Ed 'Gori' Mangotich, Ron 'Wildcat' Osborne, Tom Sullivan, Al Wallace, Ivan Klimenko, Jack Flicker 'The Aurora Madman', Billy Foster (Georgetown Lacrosse Star), and Les Lyman.
|Tied in the ropes circa 1952|
Lyman also promoted some spot shows around Toronto including one at Scarborough Arena a day after one of Garner's Lakeshore Arena show and looks to have shared talent and resources, if not an actual partnership. One of Red's trainees 'Jumping' Joe Greenfield would also emerge on the scene and become family when he married Ed's daughter Phyllis in 1953
In the late summer of 1953 Red along with Ed Mangotich and described as 'the biggest Toronto villains' were invited to Quebec to wrestle on shows for Promoter Sylvio Samson. Samson, similar to Garner, was promoting shows in competition with the big players in Quebec, Eddie Quinn and others. Garner would see action alongside Dr Jerry Graham, the Lortie's Bob, Donald, and Ray, as well as the Quebec version of the Wrestling Bear, Gorgeous Gus (handled by Billy Fox).
Waldo Von Seiber would also make some of the shows with partner Kurt Von Seiber as would Joe Maich. Maich promoted for many years in Brantford and area, and Red would show up on his shows from time to time in Simcoe, Delhi, and the other spots Maich would set up cards. Garner would return for some shows in Granby in the summer of 1954.
Back in Ontario and using the name Canadian Wrestling Alliance, Red would expand out into the smaller towns across the Southern part of the province. Stoufville, Georgetown, Port Perry , Cobourg, Peterborough, and Lindsay were all popular stops. Former wrestler Toar Morgan is listed as the Arena Manager in Lindsay at that time and he would also promote some shows in that area. Locally the troupe would fill Lakeshore Arena for weekly shows in the mid 1950's and other spots like East York Arena, and Scarborough Arena would see shows. More weekly shows would start in 1955 on Monday evenings at the Aurora Arena.
It truly was a family affair for Red. Along with son-in-law Joe wrestling and refereeing, Joe's brother Pal and Ed's son Ed Jr would truck the ring and bear trailer around to the different venues. Ed Jr billed as 'Red Jr' would also wrestle a bit on his Dad's shows. Red's daughter Phyllis (Joe's wife) would help man the box office. One night Red got into it with a fan and Phyllis hit the guy over the head with the moneybag and it split open sending cash all over the Arena floor. Another daughter Betty was married to wrestler Stoney Brooks. Brooks, a regular on the circuit for many years passed away in 1983
Joe's son (and Red's grandson) Edwin remembers when he was a kid that the ring was set up in Garner's backyard for the wrestlers to work out and train for the upcoming shows.
In the summer of 1955 Red promoted a series of cards at the Port Perry Arena. Baron Von Sieber would headline most of them with other names such as 'Langstaff Jumping Jack' Tommy White, Irish Jack Phelan, Sylvain Richard, Calvin Cosburn, along with regular Joe Greenfield, billed here as 'Langstaff Scissors King'.
Garner would also feature the Fabulous Midget wrestlers who were very popular in those days. A two card series in Stoufville in 1957 featuring the midget stars would draw 3,000 people over the two cards. Red would also run weekly shows in the winters at the Thornhill Farmers Market between 1955-1958.
In the mid 1950's Red would also be visible in his local area as Manager of the Langstaff Bantam minor hockey team. His son-in law Joe would serve as coach. Red (and Joe) would continue that involvement through the 1960's and when mentioned in the hockey news section was usually preceded with 'Well known Wrestler Red Garner...'.
In 1956 Red would make it to Maple Leaf Gardens using his Mr Moto persona. He would team up with a Mr Hito (Mamoru Noguchi), both using a sleeper hold as a finisher, and would prove very successful in taking on the teams of the day. Bouts against the Lewin Brothers Mark and Donn, Pat Flanagan and Billy Stack, and the Brunetti Brothers Guy and Joe would ensue.
On Oct 4 1956 Moto and Hito would interfere in then NWA champion Whipper Watson's bout vs Mighty Ursus to earn the wrath of the new champ. Hito was up first the following week only to lose via dq, then both Moto and Hito were to take on Watson in a handicap bout. Both would end up disqualified but they had earned their success at the top. Moto would get his shot at Watson alone also only to lose by dq after both Hito and Whipper's pal Tim Geohagen interfered in the bout.
|As Moto (right) 1956|
On the Oct 25 card they would beat the Brunetti's by dq and appear to take the Canadian Open Tag Team Titles. The brothers would argue that they can't lose the belts via dq (many belts were lost by dq in those days) leaving both teams claiming the titles. They would meet in a re-match a few weeks later which ended in a draw. It appears the earlier dq win was discarded as the Brunetti's kept the titles until losing to the Miller Brothers (Dan & Bill) in Feb 1957.
On Thursday Nov 8 1956 Red as Moto would again face Watson with Wee Wille Davis appointed as special referee. Watson would win the bout clean and Red would earn another spot in history as being Whippers last opponent as NWA champ. The next day Watson would lose his belt to Lou Thesz in St Louis ending his reign.
The success at MLG that year and into 1957 would lead Moto and Hito to travel. In Winnipeg they would face other heel teams, Fritz Von Erich and Karl Von Schoberg and the Kalmikoff's. One bout in Montreal pitted the two against the star pairing of Edouard Carpentier and Verne Gagne while another put them up against Dick The Bruiser and Killer Kowalski. Red would make his last appearance as Moto at MLG in Jan 1957 but continue to show up elsewhere through 1958, solo and with Hito. The Moto character, sometimes as the Great Moto would continue into the late 1950's on Red's shows around the area.
I asked Writer and Photographer Roger Baker if he had ever attended any of Red's shows.
"I did see one of his shows in Toronto back around 1957-1958, he had it staged in an old Toronto movie theater called 'The Runnymede' this was down on Runnymede Street near the intersection of Runnymede and College. It was the first time that I got a to see how a small 'Indy' promotion was staged. Garner wore many hats that evening, including being the announcer, as well as the referee, and wrestling with the mask on as well. He was very adept in all his roles that evening.
Can remember only the name of one wrestler who worked on that show, his name was 'Killer Joe Conroy'. Several years prior I was invited to second some wrestlers who appeared on a show in Scarborough, one of those wrestlers was 'Killer' Joe Conroy, and I can recall him telling me that he was going to live up to his moniker that night. being a young guy at the time and not having been clued in, this big brawler had me on edge."
The intimidating Killer Conroy would return on Red's shows under several aliases including Mr X, The Masked Marvel, and bearded 'Russian' Ivan Volkoff. Conroy who retired around 1970 later was the doorman at Kelly's bar at Shuter and Dundas.
|Kudo on the mat 1960|
Another promoter coming on the scene by the name of Gus Marmon would put on shows under the name Olympic Wrestling Club. Marmon appears to have had a partnership of sorts with Garner, hitting many of the same towns with many of the same wrestlers as was appearing on Red's shows as well as Red himself. Red at this time had taken a job with the Toronto Library and started to wrestle under a mask to avoid being recognized. This may have had something to do with him teaming with Marmon.
A 1960 Cobourg ad mentions 'Channel 11 in Kingston for a new ‘Live Wrestling Show starting June 11 Featuring International TV Stars, Ali Pasha, Cowboy Carlson, Danny Shayne, The Blonde Bomber, Kudo'. I am unsure if that ever got off the ground but the promotion would continue.
Along with the smaller towns in Ontario Marmon would hold some shows at the Lansdowne Theater in Toronto in 1961. Along with 'Killer' Conroy, others on these cards included The Jennings Brothers, Tony Manousos, and Garner regulars Orlando and Osborne. Headlining these shows was The Great Kudo.
The new masked persona for Red - The Great Kudo - although masked he would wrestle barefoot ala the Japanese stars. Kudo would make his debut around 1960 on the circuit shows before showing up at MLG in February 1962.
After a few bouts Kudo would be matched up against the newest Toronto star Bruno Sammartino and the two would get embroiled in a lively feud. At one bout Kudo's manager Sam Sullivan would get involved with Bruno outside the ring and a near riot would ensue.
|As Kudo vs Bruno MLG 1962|
Roger Baker was at ringside and taking photos on that night.
'As I recall it was a very rough match and both wrestlers got involved with some rowdy ringsiders who tried to beat up Garner's manager for this appearance".
Bruno would go on to win the WWWF title and when he made his first Toronto appearance as champion, his opponent again would be Kudo.
Red would hang up the boots soon thereafter as the ring was taking it's toll on both his body and his family life. In an 1981 article he remarks 'I was too old, too tired, and it was too hard to keep in shape', and how he 'wanted to spend more time with Dorothy and the kids'. He would work up to Chief Librarian before retiring in 1980. In 1981 he would become restless and take on a job driving the kids favorite, the Bookmobile.
Red would pass away in 1994 and while most remembered in the Wrestling community as the trainer of Waldo and Dave among others, he certainly had a major impact on the local scene and likely inspired McKigney to branch out on his own when Dave started promoting in the early 1960's, filling in where Red once filled the arenas.
Thanks to Edwin Greenfield for his help and for allowing the use of his family photos as well as Roger Baker for his help and photos