Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Wrestling Boom of the 1950's - Beyond Tunney

    
  While there were few threats to Frank Tunney's promotion throughout the 40+ 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. He was seeing 200-300,000 fans a year through the turnstiles at MLG alone through much of the 1950's for the weekly cards.

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

    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 his brand of mayhem 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.

Red Garner and the Middleweight Circuit

Garner (pictured) card 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 in Richvale. He started promoting cards in the 1940's and was going strong by the 1950's.

    Using fast and exciting mostly middleweight wrestlers he had a strong fan base around Richmond, Hill, Thornhill, and Aurora.

    His wrestlers mostly had an amateur background but it was a pro style. The lighter grapplers didn't pose much of a threat to Tunney who ran frequent shows in and around Toronto and out to many of the smaller towns in Southern Ontario.

    1952 was an especially good year for Red and company. They were doing brisk business with youngsters including Baron Waldo Von Sieber (later Waldo Von Erich), Jacques Dubois (McKigney), and Toronto born Gori Ed 'Killer' Mangotich who would find great success in the UK. Mike (Baron) Scicluna and Bull Johnston would also spend their formative years on Garner's circuit.

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.
*Note: an item said that the top stars had issue with the fact that Dempsey received a hefty $225 to appear in Barrie. A 'very expensive proposition for Tunney.'

Wrestling Returns to Barrie 1954 - with Northland Wrestling

   Wrestling would be absent from the two towns through 1953. In 1954 Barrie announced a new summer wrestling season would kick off 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 its popular live TV Studio wrestling, one of the early studio shows in North America.

    Kasaboski would run Barrie on Tunney's former Tuesday night while Tunney countered in Collingwood on Wednesday's.  At the end of the month Kasaboski ran a card featuring the very popular little person 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 former Olympic star Maurice Mad Dog 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 and 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 East of Barrie.

1954 sharing the page, Tunney ad taking 2nd place

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.

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 of the cast They would also go into 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 Scotty 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. Red would retire for good in 1964 and went on to drive the Bookmobile (library on wheels) in North York and was later the head of Woodview Library. He passed away in 1994.

    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. The great story of Northland Wrestling (if you can find it) as told by Gary Howard in  'The Rassler From Renfrew' is a great read - and my favorite wrestling book.

    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.
-AC

For more on Red Garner and the CCWA see
Red Garner: The Pride of Langstaff
mapleleafwrestling.com: CCWA *Back soon