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

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

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

The Panther vs the Lion: A Hand-Drawn Ad, 1933: Gary Will's TWH

This is the only fully hand-drawn ad that was ever used for a wrestling show in Toronto and looks completely unlike anything used before or after. Jack Corcoran's show at Maple Leaf Gardens on January 26, 1933 featured the Utica Panther and the Balkan Lion and the artist put the feline references to full effect.

Bulldog Cox would later be better known as King Kong Cox. Dick Shikat was a no-show and was replaced by Frank Speers.

Joe Malcewicz W Dan Koloff (2-1)                 31:51
Sammy Stein W Gentleman Jack Washburn    19:06
Frank Speers WDec Herb Freeman                 30:00
Ted Bulldog Cox W George Hagen                 19:38
Earl McCready W Mike Romano                    15:10
Jack Riley W Cy Williams                               11:26

-by Gary Will

Two Leafs wrestle, rival promoters combine for charity: 1932: Gary Will's TWH

A charity show in 1932 saw two teammates oppose each other and two rivals work together.

There were two big-time wrestling promoters in Toronto in 1932. There was Ivan Mickailoff, who brought weekly shows to Toronto in 1929 and promoted shows at Arena Gardens, and Jack Corcoran, who booked cards at Maple Leaf Gardens.

The two promoters came together to benefit the 50,000 Club Unemployment Relief Fund. Each promoter provided two matches -- one preliminary and one featured event -- to a combined show at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Mickailoff's main bout was between Count George Zarynoff and Pat McGill, who had both worked main events for him in the past. Corcoran's featured presentation saw Ray Steele take on Joe Cox, with a strong preliminary featuring Gino Garibaldi and John Katan -- past and future main-eventers, respectively.

Rounding out the card was a match between two notable members of the Toronto Maple Leafs: team captain Clarence "Happy" Day and penalty leader Reginald "Red" Horner -- both future hall-of-famers. It was the only time in Toronto history that members of the Leafs got involved in a wrestling show. When the match was announced, Montreal Maroons defenceman Lionel Conacher -- Canada's greatest all-round athlete -- offered to take on both Day and Horner simultaneously (two weeks later, Conacher made his pro wrestling debut with Mickailoff).

The show, held on Monday April 25, 1932, drew only 4,500 -- about half of what had been hoped (each promoter drew bigger crowds for his next show).

Apparently, Day and Horner were pro wrestling fans and were able to mimic moves popularized by real grapplers. About the match, the Globe reported that "It was expected that this would be a farcical bout, but the athletes crossed the guessers and made it an honest-to-goodness struggle, with nearly all the modern tactics on display."

William Hewitt at the Star (father of broadcasting legend Foster Hewitt) wrote, "This act was a knockout and the fans got a great kick out of it. ... The hockey players showed the fans a lot of new holds and contortions and displayed surprising speed and agility on the mat."

After the match, Leafs owner Conn Smythe said he'd never let his players risk injury like that again.

Ray Steele W Joe Cox                                    24:05
Count George Zarynoff W Pat McGill      26:50
Hap Day D Red Horner                                  10:00
Tony Catalana W Ali Hassan                         12:39
Gino Garibaldi W John Katan                        17:13

-by Gary Will

The First Weekly Show: May 4, 1929: Gary Will's TWH

Professional wrestling existed in Toronto long before 1929. Frank Gotch, George Hackenschmidt, William Muldoon, Stanislaus Zbyszko, Yousouf the Terrible Turk, and B.F. Roller were among the big-name wrestlers who had previously appeared in the city. Local talent included Bob Harrison and Artie Edmunds.

But it wasn't until 1929 that a promoter was successful in bringing top-ranked professional wrestlers to town on a regular basis. The promoter was Ivan Mickailoff, a former wrestler (his name was spelled many ways, but he used this spelling in his own ads).

Others had tried before Mickailoff and failed. Toronto wasn't known as a wrestling town -- "wrestling has never been a popular sport in the Queen City," said the Globe -- and there was skepticism when he announced his plans to run weekly shows at the Arena Gardens on Mutual Street, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs. But Mickailoff made it work and started Toronto on the path to becoming one of the world's dominant pro wrestling cities.

He ran his first show in front of a small crowd of 500 on Saturday May 4, 1929.

Headlining the show was Canadian champion Jack Taylor, who would wrestle on most of Mickailoff's shows until suffering what was reported to be a broken leg in a match in August.

Also appearing on the first show were former world title claimant Wladek Zbyszko -- the less-heralded younger brother of Stanislaus Zbyszko -- and Henri Deglane, who would claim the world title himself in another couple of years. Taylor, Zbyszko, and Deglane all won their bouts.

Lou Marsh of the Star -- who occasionally worked as a referee for wrestling matches -- found the show to be entertaining, but made sure his readers knew that these bouts were not legitimate contests.

After four shows, the Globe reported that Mickailoff was drawing bigger crowds every week and at the end of the month, it said wrestling was becoming increasingly popular in Toronto.

-by Gary Will