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

































Tunney-Crockett partnership approved, 1980: Gary Will's TWH

Tunney-Crockett partnership approved, 1980



After Jack Tunney's death in 2004, there was some discussion of whether North Carolina-based promoter Jim Crockett was ever a partner in the Toronto office. Crockett and Frank Tunney worked together from 1978 to Tunney's death in 1983, and Jack and Eddie Tunney continued to work with Crockett for several more months until switching their allegiance to Vince McMahon and the WWF in 1984.

In Canada, during most of the 1970s and the early 1980s, there was a law called the Foreign Investment Review Act (FIRA) which regulated the foreign ownership of Canadian companies. In November 1980, the Canadian Press reported that the government had approved the creation of a new business called Frank Tunney Sports Promotion, which was co-owned by Frank Tunney Sports Ltd., Jim Crockett Promotions Inc., and 410430 Ontario Ltd., said to be based in Hamilton.

The owner of the numbered corporation wasn't identified (it would be a matter of public record, but you have to pay a service charge to access Ontario corporate records), but Hamilton native George Scott is thought to have been the third partner. He continued to own a part of the office after the affiliation with McMahon and is said to have received a large settlement after he was pushed out of that partnership

- Gary Will











Ivan Mickailoff: "The man who made wrestling in Toronto": Gary Will's TWH

Frank Tunney is remembered -- and rightly so -- as Toronto's greatest wrestling promoter, but the man who established Toronto as a wrestling city and paved the way for Tunney has been largely forgotten.

There was a lot of skepticism when Ivan Mickailoff announced in 1929 that he would be running weekly shows at Arena Gardens. While top-name pro wrestlers had made occasional stops in Toronto -- and there was even an effort made to stage the Gotch-Hackenschmidt rematch in the city (more about that another time), no one had ever run regularly-scheduled shows with top wrestling stars. "Wrestling has never been a popular sport in the Queen City," wrote the Globe (see separate story on the first show for the clipping).

Mickailoff -- called "Mike" in Toronto -- was a former wrestler who claimed to have been born in Siberia and spoke English with a thick accent. Many of the biographical details I've come across are suspect. He was said to have been an Olympic champion in 1908, which is false. He was also said to have worked as some kind of secret agent in WWI and to have served in the Russian Imperial Guard for nearly four years, attaining the rank of colonel. He was a tall man who ejoyed cigars and reportedly liked playing card games, particularly pinochle and hearts.

His name occasionally comes up in match results from the 1910s. For example, he opened the 1915 wrestling season in Montreal losing to John (Giovanni) Perelli on November 5 ("there was little excitement," said a report in the Toronto Star). Just over a year later, on November 27, 1916, Mickailoff lost in straight falls to Dr. B.F. Roller in Springfield, Mass.

I don't have any details for the years before he launched his Toronto shows -- he later claimed to have promoted wrestling in Miami -- but somewhere along the line he hooked up with Boston promoter Paul Bowser, who was one of the dominant forces behind pro wrestling at the time. He apparently also had some ties initially to Toots Mondt, who wrestled on four of Mickailoff's first five shows. Mondt would later be allied with Mickailoff's opposition in Toronto and would even own a piece of Jack Corcoran's office.

After a slow start, Mickailoff's shows grew from attracting hundreds to drawing thousands, leading to an appearance in October of Bowser's world champion, Gus Sonnenberg.

"Taking loss after loss without a murmur, he built the game up within a short space of time." -- GLOBE, October 31, 1929
"By staging bouts that were highly satisfactory, matchmaker Michailoff gained a large following for wrestling here." -- GLOBE, January 17, 1930

"When Ivan Mickailoff commenced promoting wrestling shows in Toronto the attendance figures were around the 200 mark. He has built the game to the stage where it is now numbered among Toronto's major sports." -- GLOBE, May 30, 1930

"He came to Toronto a year ago last spring, and astounded an amazed public when he announced that he would stage wrestling shows at Arena Gardens. Old-timers smiled. They had seen this venture tried before, and didn't think that Mickailoff would make headway. It did require considerable time to convince Toronto that here was a sport worth while supporting, and there were lean days, but Mickailoff and his associates shouldered their losses, and refused to be dismayed. The money eventually began to roll in, and now others would emulate Mickailoff." -- GLOBE, October 20, 1930


Mickailoff was soon popular enough to be used as a spokesman for Buckingham Cigarettes from Philip Morris & Co. Ltd. (see ad at right). The ad used a photo of what was said to be Mickailoff in his Russian Guard uniform.

After having the city to himself for a year-and-a-half, Mickailoff faced his first competiton when Jack Corcoran and his Queensbury Athletic Club were granted a wrestling license in 1930. They held their first show in November and it was a colossal flop, but Corcoran quickly learned the tricks of the trade and rebounded strongly. After about a year, Corcoran had taken over as the top promoter in town, and that position was cemented when he arranged to be the matchmaker for shows at the new Maple Leaf Gardens, which opened in November 1931.

After competing head-to-head with Corcoran for two years, Mickailoff was put out of business by the Ontario Athletic Commission, which decided not to renew his wrestling promoters license when it lapsed at the end of October 1932. Commission secretary James Fitzgerald told the Star that the decision was made "for the good of the sport." Instead, it granted a license to the Shamrock Athletic Club, which had previously promoted boxing.

Mickailoff immediately made plans to relocate to Winnipeg and booked what was billed as his farewell show for October 26, 1932. It was to feature Bowser's world champion, Henri Deglane defending his title against Bibber McCoy, another of Bowser's boys. The show drew 9,000 fans, but neither of the wrestlers booked in the main event appeared that night.

Deglane claimed that Bowser never told him that the show was on a Wednesday and not Thursday as was the custom in Toronto. McCoy was sent on his way to Toronto at a time that guaranteed that he wouldn't be able to make it for the official weigh-in, and he ended up not getting to town until the show had already started.

There was speculation at the time that Bowser -- for whatever reason -- had deliberately sabotaged Mickailoff's final show.

Mickailoff followed through on his plans to go west and in 1933 promoted shows in Winnipeg, Calgary, Regina, and probably other towns. He wasn't very successful. Mickailoff was said to have lived in the Ivan Apartments on River Ave. in Winnipeg where he shared his apartment with wrestlers who would drive in for shows.

Mickailoff was again turned down for a licence by the Ontario Athletic Commission in 1933, but the following year he reappeared in Toronto as the matchmaker for the Metropolitan Racing Association -- the horse racing people -- which decided that its federal charter enabled it to run wrestling shows without a license from the province (a long story, and one that had significant repercussions, that will have to wait for another time).

The MRA quickly found out that pro wrestling was a dirty business. Unable to book the wrestlers they wanted, they made their first show a free event at the Exhibition Coliseum on December 13, 1934. It drew a reported 10,000 people (see ad at right -- featuring a photo of Mickailoff), but it was the only show they ran. The president of the MRA later said that he learned through this experience not to mess around in other people's areas of business.

Mickailoff did make a comeback in 1935 as the matchmaker for the Arena Athletic Club -- one of three groups awarded a license that year, and the only one that didn't operate out of Maple Leaf Gardens. They ran their first show at the Mutual Street Arena on November 22 with names that were well below the standards being delivered at the Gardens.

It was pretty slow going for Mickailoff until May when he booked the Toronto debut of world title claimant Ali Baba, which drew an impressive 5,000 fans. A similar crowd came to see Baba's next match in June, and Mickailoff was suddenly outdrawing Corcoran's Gardens shows. A main event in October between Baba and new world champion Everett Marshall drew 5,100 to the Mutual Street Arena. It was right around that time that Mickailoff learned that his license was again being threatened.

According to figures provided by Corcoran, the gate receipts from pro wrestling through the 1935-36 season were almost half of that from the previous year: $75,374 vs $144,585. The number of shows declined from 42 to 29 (there were actually more than that, but these are the numbers he provided). He blamed that outcome on the existence of three wrestling promoters in the city.

The OAC decided to renew all three licenses in 1936, but Corcoran threatened to appeal the decision to Ontario premier Mitch Hepburn. Hepburn said he had no interest in hearing an appeal, and Corcoran dropped his complaint. Mickailoff told the Star that the wrestling interests controlled in the U.S. were putting on the pressure to try to force him out of business.

He remembered the times years earlier when he had helped Corcoran. "I telephoned Boston for permission to let the men work for Corcoran. Now he doesn't want me to have a license."

The 1936-37 season got off to a very slow start, and in December, Mickailoff and Corcoran both only attracted 1,300 fans for their shows.

Corcoran bounced back to become the clear winner in the promotional battles in 1937, but Mickailoff would occasionally draw some stong gates himself, including a reported 8,000 who turned up to see the Masked Marvel take on Strangler Wagner in March 1938, with 6,500 returning to see Marvel wrestle Lou Plummer in April and 6,000 on hand for Marvel against Ed Don George on May 12 (see ad at right).

But that would turn out to be Mickailoff's last show in Toronto. He received a license to operate in 1938, but decided not to run any more shows and asked for the return of his $5,000 license fee from the OAC.

"I'm sorry to see Mike go," said Corcoran to the Globe. "I like competition. While he and I had our differences some years ago I have found him quite ready to cooperate during the past two years."

He was reported to be moving to Florida, but almost ten years later, there was a report in the Globe that Mickailoff was promoting shows in Providence, Rhode Island.

-by Gary Will