Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Wrestling Boom of the 1950's - Beyond Tunney

While there were few threats to Frank Tunney's promotion throughout the 50+ years he controlled Toronto and the outlying towns. it did happen a few times. As it was Frank enjoyed the jewel of the territory, Maple Leaf Gardens, of which he had the exclusive wrestling rights and was seeing 300,000 fans a year or more for the weekly cards of the 1950's.

Amidst the wrestling boom of the 1950's Tunney and his affiliate promoters were also busy promoting the towns around southern Ontario. They were running Niagara Falls, Hamilton, Kitchener, London, Barrie, and Oshawa who all had regular seasons, and others that didn't. He had his trusted partners in place in these cities. Pat Milosh, Sammy Sobol, John Katan, and Tommy Nelson but a few.

Some others like the Maich brothers (Joe and Don) in Brantford on a smaller scale and Larry Kasaboski in Sudbury on a larger one ran their own show but kept an amiable relationship with Tunney going back to their wrestling days. Kasaboski's TV Wrestling frequently featured Tunney stars 'Straight from MLG!' Dave McKigney (The Wildman) would start promoting in the mid 1960's but at this time he was a young middleweight working on Red Garner shows.

Garner and Kasaboski were both promoting shows in Tunney's backyard and we will look at them here.

If you are not familiar with Ontario have a look on Google maps at Barrie Ontario and use the zoom 'two time's' to zoom out. That's the small area where many of the towns listed below are located.
Google Map - Barrie, Ontario


Red Garner and the Middleweight Circuit

Garner (pictured) show 1951 
Edwin 'Red' Garner, a former amateur standout was based in the small town of Richmond Hill just North of Toronto. He ran a small circuit using mostly trainees from his gym set up near his home. He started in the 1940's and was going strong by the 1950's.

Using fast and exciting mostly middleweight wrestlers he ran 'real' type pro wrestling and had a strong fan base in Richmond, Hill, Thornhill, and Aurora.

His wrestlers all had an amateur background but it was a pro style. The lighter grapplers didn't pose much of a threat to Tunney. He ran frequent shows in and around Toronto proper also and branched out to Guelph, Stoufville, and other small towns in Southern Ontario.

1952 was an especially good year for Red and company. They were doing brisk business with youngsters including Waldo Von Sieber (later Waldo Von Erich), Jacques Dubois (McKigney), and Toronto born Gori 'Ed' 'Killer' Mangotich who would later find great success in Europe.

New Action In Stoufville

Despite Garner's success, in early 1953 Stoufville Arena announced a change for it's second Wrestling season (the arena opened in 1952) with a move to 'Southern States wrestlers.' Said to be the same stars from the Grapefruit states which were shown on Toronto's film TV shows. The wrestlers eventually featured were not household names. Irish Michael O'Toole,Steve Zaboski, Wes Glazier, a 'Red Demon.' Don Ireland of Oshawa, Ted Swift from Niagara Falls and others from the area.

That outfit ran a few shows and one report claimed it to be the 'best wrestling show that has been offered here since it was introduced here over a year ago.' The only local 'name' that appeared was 'Killer' Jim Conroy (as Bert 'Killer' Conroy.

By 1954 though Garner was back in to Stoufville kicking off the season at the beginning of April with Von Sieber against Mangotich. Garner's matchmaker Roy McMahon (yup) offered a money back guarantee if you weren't happy with the show

Back in 1952 while Garner was filling out the arenas on his circuit Tunney was running Barrie -using famed sportsman Max Hurley as promoter - and Collingwood  (60km away). With his regular stars and guests like Boxing great Jack Dempsey in as special referee, they were regularly drawing 1000 fans to the small arenas. Tunney's shows ran from 75c to $2.50 for ringside while Garner had lower prices of 65c to $1 for ringside.

Wrestling Returns to Barrie 1954 - with Northland Wrestling

Come 1953 wrestling would be absent from the two towns. In 1954 Barrie announced a new summer wrestling season would kick off on May 25, this time with shows promoted by Northland Wrestling Enterprises headed by Kasaboski. Northland was enjoying a huge upswing at the time due to it's popular live TV wrestling, one of the first Studio shows in North America.

Kasaboski would run Barrie on Tunney's former Tuesday night while Tunney countered in Collingwood on the usual Wednesday night.  At the end of the month Kasaboski ran a card featuring the very popular midget stars as the main event and filled the arena. Tunney would send his biggest stars of the day alongside Whipper. The Mills Brothers, Fred Atkins, Yukon Eric. etc.

Kasaboski 1954 Tuesday Night Aug 10 

Tunney 1954 Wednesday Night Aug 11

A July main in Barrie had upcoming Olympic star Maurice Vachon vs Bobby Ford while Tunney followed with Whipper vs Sky Hi lee in Collingwood. Dory Funk and Don Evans would also appear that summer, many U.S. stars would come up over the years and enjoy the Ontario North. Kasaboski was regularly drawing 700-1200 to the shows. Tunney's attendance was not reported .

At that time Kasaboski's circuit was vast. He was running shows in over 30 towns from La Sarre in Northern Quebec across to Wawa, Ontario, working his way down as far as Brockville on the Canada/U.S. border. He would also run Orillia a few minutes to the East of Barrie.

1954 sharing the page

Tunney Fights Back 

At the 1954 NWA convention Tunney, who had been elected as vice-president, complained about Kasaboski going into his towns and under-bidding him to promoters. Kasaboski was not a member of the NWA so Tunney may have been looking to stop some of the Southern U.S. stars from heading.up.

Tunney takes Stoufville 1957 
In 1956 Tunney would move into Stoufville bumping Garner out with regular cards featuring Dick Hutton, Fritz Von Erich, Whipper, and the rest. They would also run other towns that Garner ran including Newmarket and Bradford. Garner would continue to run Thornhill (Summer Market) and Richmond Hill on alternate days to the Tunney cards. Tunney would promote with 'Big Name Stars' prominent on the ads.

In Sutton (across the Lake from Barrie) in July 1957 Tommy Nelson (Tunney) drew 1,500 fans for a main of Whip vs Kiniski. It was said to be the largest draw at the Sutton Arena for any sport over the past several years.

It's unclear if Tunney had any grievance with Garner who wasn't the same threat as Kasaboski was.

Somewhere along the way Kasaboski and Tunney settled up as some of the names crossed over. One Kasaboski card in September 1958 was set to have a main of  Fred Atkins (billed 'from Frank Tunney's Toronto circuit') vs Bobo Brazil, who were both current stars for Tunney. Bobo no showed forcing Atkins to face Thompson. It said the 'incident will not go unaccounted. Northland promoter Larry K who brings in the Toronto men through his friendly connection with Frank Tunney, is sure to find out the reason why.'  The recap for that bout claimed Thompson made Atkins 'work, probably harder than he has in many bouts.'

Somewhat related was that the Barrie Fair that same month had originally scheduled wrestling (Kasaboski). It was said the OAC said it was illegal to put on wrestling at the fair so the card was cancelled. Have to wonder as many fairs in Ontario at the time had 'exhibition' wrestling.


Northland Winning The Fight

A column in the Barrie Examiner in Sept 1958 looked at the past season and determined the best wrestling was ....Northland.

'While the Northland wrestlers were although a mite smaller, proved far more schooled in the science of the game. They were faster, and did more than hold their right arms up, claiming victory.'

Added was 'Best Villain - Maurice Vachon' and best supporting cast of Bill Curry, Sandy Scott, Louis Papineau, and Frank 'Scotty' Thompson.
Tunney heads North 1958

Tunney would in turn head North into Kasaboski's area promoting some shows at the Bracebridge Community Centre.

Bracebridge -100km North of Barrie, 200km north of Toronto - is the gateway to the North and further than Tunney had gone previously. For two successive shows they ran Yukon Eric vs Kiniski mains.

In 1959 Ricky Starr missed a Tunney show in Barrie. In a column titled 'Bad Feelings' Barrie Sports Editor Steve Jonescu kicked off with 'Francois Tunney, wrestling promoter at Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto doesn't have too many friends among the wrestling crowd in the Barrie area.' He reminded readers of the Bobo no-show the previous year but said that Starr hadn't drawn very many anyways - as they weren't advised of the substitution until they entered the arena. Again it was said 'Northland Wrestling Enterprise was quite upset...'

Garner Still Going Strong

All this time Garner wouldn't miss a beat, filling them in at the Thornhill Farmers Market summer shows and in his home base of Richmond Hill. One of Garner's stars Stoney Brooks was from Campbellford in the eastern part of Ontario and they would run shows in the region including Cobourg and other towns. Kasaboski would also occasionally drop south of his usual circuit and run Perth and other towns in the Eastern area.

No Hard Feelings

Both Garner (as Great Kudo) and Kasaboski would return to wrestle at MLG in the early 1960's. Garner was slowing down and would retire soon after but not before a WWWF title shot vs Bruno Sammartino. Larry K would wrestle for Tunney in 1958 and again in 1960. He would come in for a last time in 1964 to face newcomer The Sheik who spent the better part of the 15 minute bout 'chewing on his victims left ear.' Maybe Tunney got his revenge after all.

Epilogue

Garner would team up with Gus Marmon and The Olympic Wrestling Club in the early 1960's for a time and they would have a short run TV show shown in Eastern Ontario. He would retire for good in 1964 and went on to drive the 'Bookmobile' (library on wheels) in North York and later was the head of Woodview Library.

Kasaboski would continue to promote the North through 1975 but wasn't down in the southern part of the province very often after his initial run in the 1950's.

Tunney celebrated the 50th Anniversary of MLW in 1981 and passed on in 1983 after 42 years at the helm. The rights passed to nephew Jack and son Eddy and as far as I know no one else ever had rights to promote at MLG before it closed in 1999.


For more on Red Garner and the CCWA see
MLW.com : Red Garner
MLW.com: CCWA