Phil Lawson

    Phil Lawson is mostly known as Whipper's trainer and manager but he was a real powerhouse in the city running shows and training upstarts for many years. He had come from Byng Inlet to Toronto in his youth and was an accomplished amateur himself. He won both City and Ontario championships after starting at the YMCA as a kid around 1910. In 1921 he won the noted Provincial Light Heavyweight Title in boxing, and in 1926 the Canadian Lightweight Championship in Wrestling. 

 Lawson took over training for the YMCA in 1926  and started working with Whipper as early as 1931. Officially he became Whip's manager in 1940 but he had already being using his specialized training regimens from the time a teenaged Watson had first found the sport.  By the 1930's he was solidly entrenched in the sporting scene for both wrestling and boxing. Besides Watson, Lawson trained Oshawa favorite Billy Stack and worked with many others that frequented the MLG cards. Lawson was also very tight in the wrestling/boxing office of Jack Corcoran prior to- and after -the Tunney's taking over. He was later described as 'the eyes, ears, and sometimes mind of Tunney' as they built a modest start in wrestling to one of the most successful on the continent. 

Lawson had a lot of influence within the office, and was helped by his outgoing personality. He was once described as 'an outgoing character, confident and aggressive, bouncing off the walls in the office, and sometimes volatile.'  He was a health nut who preached clean living and vigorous exercise. Said to charge at everything he did, 'if he went out for coffee he banged doors as he went and he dog-trotted to the bistro.' 

Phil & Whip in The Hanger 1942
The local scribes frequently reported on the strange workout sessions that Lawson was putting his star through. Lawson would have Whipper carry him on his back up the Scarborough Bluffs and other unorthodox regimens. One of the strangest is 'The Hanger' a noose like contraption that was to strengthen the neck muscles. It must have worked, Whipper bumped up his weight by 40lbs from his amateur days.

When Frank Tunney introduced the ramp in 1948 to protect Nanjo Singh from the fans, Lawson was right in the middle of it. Tunney had announced there was to be a ramp set up from the entrance way to the ring. An ‘escape hatch’ as described, it served exactly the purpose for which it was created. After Watson was declared the winner and new British Empire champ, Singh attacked Lawson trying to rip his tailored suit off. Watson saved his manager and Singh then hightailed it across the ramp, now safe above the heads of the surging ringside crowd. 

Lawson as an in ring manager got pulled into the action a fair bit for the times. He could take the bumps and would really fly when tossed by one of Whipper's foes.

In May 1949 Lawson died unexpectedly at the age of 48 after having recently suffered some heart trouble. He was memorialized as an 'imaginative man, with a lovely wit.' It went on to say that the local scene 'has been struck a shrewder blow than anything (Fred) Atkins ever presented the Whipper.' His passing certainly left a void in the local scene. As a result Whipper himself took on an increased role alongside Tunney as the promotion moved into the boom of the 1950's. 

'Few men in the sports scene will be more sincerely mourned than the likeable chattery voice of Tunney enterprises...' - Daily Star May 31 1949

-AC

Lots to fill in on Phil's story...more on Whip & Phil and the early days at The Myth of Whipper Watson

Nostalgia mapleleafwrestling.com collection 

Oshawa Wrestling History: Whip and Togo set Oshawa on fire


 'Used to be a time when people were happy to see three good fights. I remember three shows 
at the old Oshawa Arena where Whipper Billy Watson and The Great Togo brought 
in 10,000 people and boy was it hot in there...you couldn't breathe'
Pat Milosh 1985 reflecting on Oshawa wrestling history 

   In the summer of 1953 Whipper Watson & Great Togo start a feud that revitalizes the Oshawa wrestling scene. The two set attendance records helping to make it the most successful season in the towns rich wrestling history. The first bout set it on fire. The feud - not the arena. In fact the Oshawa Arena did burn down that season, right before the last card of the year a few months later. The feud may have had something to do with it.


WHIPPER WATSON GOES BERSERK, OSHAWA ARENA 
Headline June 24 1953

 Whipper was well into his long tenure as the British Empire champion while Togo had previously starred at MLG performing pre-bout exhibitions of strength and breaking bricks and planks with his bare hands.

 The first bout set the tone with the often (though not always) rule-abiding Whipper going berserk and attacking Togo with a chair. This was after the two had upset the announcers table and brawled into the first rows of the crowd. The chair shot opens a huge cut on Togo's head that later requires stitches and it sets off a mini-riot. Amid the chaos the police, ushers, and even young promoter Pat Milosh battle to separate the two and to keep the fans away from Togo.

 The following week saw Togo matched with Timothy Geohagen whom he dispatched quite easily sending Geohagen in for medical attention. That card drew 2,500. A week later the re-match for Whipper-Togo II has the eager fans lined up outside. 3,000 of them, a new record. The previous reported high had just been set earlier that month when Gorgeous George's visit drew 2,750 fans to see him take on local favorite Pat Flanagan.

 Average attendance in those years was 500-1,300 a week with occasional spikes. It started picking up in 1952 and by the 1953 season 21 cards drew almost 50,000 fans. Don Leo Jonathon, Bobo Brazil, and a hot tag scene including Canadian champs Plummer & Raines and the Lords, Layton & Blears helped fill up the seats.

THIS TIME IT'LL BE MURDER: THE WHIPPER SEEKS REVENGE 
Headline July 6 1953

 Whipper and Togo end their second bout much like the first one, with the fans on the verge of rioting. Whipper is disqualified after slugging ref Bert Maxwell and doesn't take the loss well. Either do the fans. This time Milosh had extra police in place and they, along with the ushers, Milosh, Bobo, and Geohagen, got it under control.


 
GET YOUR RESERVED TICKETS EARLY! 
Ad for Aug 18 1953

Milosh gets into the action
 For the third bout a week later they again break the attendance record, somehow cramming 3,300 fans into the Arena. That holds until 1956 when 4,600 packed the outdoor Kinsmen for Hardboiled Haggerty vs Yukon Eric. And that one wouldn't be broken until the WWF years in 1985 with 5,000 at the Civic to see Andre, Bravo, Hart/Neidhart, and Randy Savage.

 Special referee Geohagen was assigned and the OAC (Ontario Athletic Commission) Commissioner Merv McKenzie was in attendance surely to monitor the proceedings. After a rough bout with each taking a fall they took the fight outside the ring where it ended, the winner unclear but the fans happy.

 The red hot Togo tears it up all over the circuit with mains in many of the towns. A battle in Niagara Falls vs Ilio DiPaolo ended with the fans tossing chairs and the police again having to separate the wrestlers and keep the peace. 

 In Oshawa in the coming weeks he faced Geohagen again and then Don Leo Jonathon in a wild battle that had both on the arena floor fighting up the aisle as they were counted out. Togo pictured in the paper the next day with another huge cut in his head. Milosh ran another Watson-Togo series at the end of the summer with a high of 3,000 in attendance.


OSHAWA ARENA GUTTED 
Headline Sept 16 1953

 The season had been one of the hottest since the first pro card in Oshawa in 1929. So it was somehow fitting that on the morning of the last card of the season, the Oshawa Arena burned to the ground. Promoter Milosh is relegated to start the 1954 season at the Bowmanville Arena just east of Oshawa, before moving the cards to the Kinsmen baseball stadium directly adjacent to the old Arena.

 Togo returns again that year too, soon with brother Tosh in tow. They team up vs Whipper & Flanagan and despite the rain on many of the outdoor nights, drew well again (1500+). The Togos go on to have a good run on the main circuit in Ontario holding the tag titles and facing all sorts of teams including the rough Lisowski's and the strength of Claybourne & Lindsay.

-AC

Photos & nostalgia mapleleafwrestling.com collection

Smiling John: The forgotten Tunney: Gary Will's TWH

Frank Tunney was Toronto's greatest wrestling promoter and one of the most successful and respected promoters in the world.

But if it hadn't been for a fluke illness, he may never have had the chance to rise to that level. When Tunney took over the wrestling operations of the Queensbury Athletic Club -- the main Toronto booking office -- from Jack Corcoran in 1939, he was the junior member of the new promoting team. The head matchmaker was his older brother, John Tunney.

It isn't clear exactly when the Tunneys started to work for Corcoran. Frank would say in later interviews that he was working in the office as a teenager at the time of the first Maple Leaf Gardens show in 1931. A story in the Star at the time said the Tunneys became involved in 1933. But whatever the date was, John and Frank spent years helping Corcoran behind the scenes.

Corcoran was reported to have caught pneumonia in March 1939, and Toots Mondt -- who was or had been a partner in the Toronto office (more about that another time) -- came up to run the Gardens show on March 16, which featured a world title bout between Jim Londos and local star Vic Christie.

 The following week, it was announced that John Tunney had become the head matchmaker. Attendance through the rest of 1939 averaged 3,000-4,000 per show, and John brought in Wild Bill Longson (an immediate hit), Bronko Nagurski, Frank Sexton, and Lou Thesz for their Toronto debuts in the fall of that year.

According to the attendance figures in the Globe, John Tunney's biggest show was on Thursday January 12, 1940. The main event was Longson vs Jumping Joe Savoldi with Gus Sonnenberg on the undercard. It drew 6,000. It would also be John's final show at the Gardens.

He started feeling sick the next day, but -- against the advice of friends -- decided to work through what seemed to be a bad cold. On Monday, he made the drive to Ottawa to oversee a show there. "Upon his return, he was ordered to bed by the family physician and his condition was not considered even remotely serious," reported the Globe.

Tunney remained at home -- his house was near Danforth and Woodbine -- but things took a sharp turn for the worse on Thursdsay, the day of his next scheduled Gardens show. He died early that morning at age 32. The Star said it was influenza and the Globe added that he had suffered a heart attack. The Gardens show that night was cancelled.

"The entire sports community is prostrated by this blow which took away one of its youngest, most pleasant and most promising promoters," wrote the Star.

Tunney's wife had given birth two weeks earlier to their fourth child and was herself in the hospital suffering from complications. Among the couple's other three children was their oldest son, Jackie.

John Tunney was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery. Frank immediately became Toronto's head promoter. John's son, Jack Tunney, would go on to work for his uncle Frank starting in the early 1950s and took over the business with Frank's son Eddie Tunney after Frank's death in 1983.

-by Gary Will


MLG Footage 1948 Whipper vs Longson


Clip of a 1948 Longson-Whipper World Title bout from MLG. Whipper's manager Phil Lawson is there in the opening frames. He was a constant companion in the ring and around the office but passed on just a year later. 

Ref is The Little Flower of Uxbridge Bert Maxwell, perhaps Roger's second favorite ref... Great find to go along with the 1957 Footage.

At right Whip & Phil, Bert & Bill..


Thanks to Gary who had posted this link some time back at the MLW Archives group on Facebook.
'Not quite as old as the Angel footage (here on Youtube - MLG 1940 footage), but this is a rare look at Whipper Billy Watson in his prime, wrestling for the National Wrestling Association world title at the Gardens against champion Wild Bill Longson on April 22, 1948. This drew a reported 11,000. Watson had been the champion the year before. The National Wrestling Alliance -- the one that we all came to know (there had been an earlier promotion with that name) -- was formed three months later but it would take almost another year-and-a-half before Tunney joined in late 1949.' - Gary Will - Facebook

Buyout Footage Historic Stock Footage Archive  *Buyout Footage Historic Stock Footage Archive  

Frank Tunney: The Early Days


A look at the early days of the promotion under the Tunney's.Not a definitive history. Intended in a respectful manner to add info that is not readily available. For corrections please contact me. More in depth issues such as Tunney's involvement in the NWA can be found at other sources, notably the Legacy of Wrestling site linked on the left sidebar.

Tunney Family

The Tunney family originated from Ireland. Frank's great-grandfather Peter Tunney immigrated to Toronto sometime prior to 1849 when he married Bridget Potter in St Pauls Church in Toronto. Peter and Bridget had 7 children. First born Hugh in 1851 married Ellen Quigley in 1873 in Newmarket, ON living life as a farmer before retiring in 1919. Hugh (d. 1931) and Ellen (d. 1933) had 3 boys including first born Thomas Peter in 1875 or 1876 in the township of Whitchurch Stoufville.
with French Angel 1942

Thomas Tunney later settled on a farm in Hagermans Corners near 14th Ave and Kennedy Rd in the town of Markham. Thomas had married Markham born Annie Corcoran (born 1873) in 1901 and they had three children, the youngest of which was Frank.

We can note that Frank's mother Annie bears the same name as the Toronto Boxing and Wrestling promoter Jack (John Jr) Corcoran with whom Frank and brother John began working for in the 1930's. In the marriage announcement of Franks parents on Nov 8 1901 (date of marriage Nov 4) Annie is said to be daughter of one John Corcoran (d.1911).

Was there a family relationship between Frank's mother and his future employer? Corcoran was not an uncommon name but given the fact that Frank went to work for Jack it's quite probable that Frank's mother was related to Jack whose family also had ties to Markham. At least publicly there was no admission of a family connection between the two.

Thomas and Annie Tunney had three boys. First born John in 1907 (d.1940), Thomas Peter (Jr) in 1910 (d. 2000), and Francis Martin (Frank) in 1912. It is not clear when Thomas Sr settled on the Markham farm as both John and Thomas were listed as born in Scarborough. The Tunneys had first had a farm in the Milliken area (now Agincourt), while Frank is generally listed as being from Markham.

Main pic: Frank & Barry Lloyd Penhale in Tunney's office at MLG 1957

Frank Tunney

Frank, the youngest of the three boys was in later years described as growing up doing the usual farm chores. In 1927 when Frank was just a teen his father passed away at the age of 51. There was to be a fair amount of tragedy in Frank's family as the years went on.

In a Aurora Ontario newspaper report in August 1933, Frank, described as a former resident, son of Mr & Mrs Thomas Tunney, almost drowned at Harvey's pond north of Unionville. He was swimming with a friend when his friend got cramps. Frank grabbed his friend who was a not good swimmer and almost took him to the bottom of the pond. The friend managed to free himself and called for help. A young man jumped in and saved Frank and a Doctor on scene gave administered artificial respiration for over an hour, succeeding in resuscitating him. The young man who saved Frank later received a medal for bravery while the others received lifesaving certificates.

As a high schooler Frank was apparently quite athletic, he competed in football, sprints and high jump at Markham and was said to have won a junior championship. In a 1947 piece (bearing in mind -the usually tongue-in-cheek sports writer) Joe Perlove referred to him as the 'Markham speedball'. In that same article it says Frank started as secretary to Corcoran and later got brother John a job.

On Aug 10 1937 Frank married Edna Mary Layola Kirby at St Brigid's Church in Toronto, the best man is older brother Thomas. The couple honeymooned in Muskoka before returning to live in Toronto. They went on to have 4 children including Eddie who worked at the office (accounting side) in the 1970's and later officially as partner with cousin Jack after Frank passed away in 1983. Eddie also worked for Exhibition Stadium in the 1970's. The Stadium was the scene of several large wrestling cards over the years starting in 1977 and later including the Night Of Champions cards in 1983 and the huge WWF Big Event show in 1986

A 1944 article from the Stoufville Tribune states that due to physical ailments Frank was unable to join the army but that he was doing his part to ease the monotony of army life by bringing leading wrestlers to the various 'camps' without charge. As far back as 1939 it was noted in the Star that he (and John) were also bringing members of the military to Maple Leaf Gardens to watch Wrestling and Boxing on his dime and was said to have entertained '7 thousand' over the year 1939 alone.

Corcoran and The Tunneys
with Strangler Lewis 1942

In Toronto in the late 1920's the local wrestling scene was growing. Ivan Mickailoff had begun weekly shows in 1929 at Arena Gardens (later Mutual St Arena and then The Terrace, a long time roller rink, a great spot if you grew up in the 1970's) and in 1930 Boxing promoter Jack Corcoran and his Queensbury Athletic Club obtained a wrestling license.

Corcoran, who had been promoting boxing in the city since the early 1900's formed the Queensbury Club with Ed Rudd who ran the Rudd Athletic Club. Jack grew into the leading wrestling promoter in the city, arranging to be the matchmaker for shows at the newly opened Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931. Corcoran was said to have partners in Paul Bowser and Toots Mondt. His first card at MLG on Nov 19 1931 fell a week after Frank's 19th birthday.

Frank is placed in the office circa 1931 or sometimes 1932. He was initially described as a 'secretary' while brother John was later to be the 'matchmaker'. There is nary a public mention of brother John until March 1939 when he is described as taking over matchmaking duties for an ailing Corcoran for the March 23 card. Frank merits public mention earlier as both boxing promoter and secretary in 1938.

When John passed away suddenly soon after his 32nd birthday in January 1940, it said he had been handling duties for Corcoran for 6 years placing him in the office about 1934. It should be noted that Corcoran was still listed (publicly anyways) as 'Matchmaker' into 1939.

In a 1986 story on John's son Jack (who took over after uncle Frank passed away in 1983) it notes that 'Jack has been promoting since 1956', Frank and John 'since the Gardens opened in 1931'. By that time it was a long way removed from the 1930's. In various obits it put nephew Jack in the office as early as 1952. Other stories on Frank or MLG later in the 1970's and '80's generally refer to Frank having 'promoted since 1931'. While he may have been in the office at that time he didn't 'promote' officially until 1939-40

In a 1948 article on Frank, it says he came to Toronto to take a 20$ a week job. A later article put it at 15 a week. In his obituary in 1983 it placed Frank in the office around 1931 straight out of business college. In another article from 1980 with Frank's comments it says he hopped the local (bus) with his diploma from Markham Collegiate and took his first -and only -job at the Queensbury Club. He (Frank) mentions that he 'wasn't all that interested in the fight game, bit I liked the place'. He goes on to say 'I liked Jack (Corcoran), a very fine man, like a father.'

with Red Shadow and Manager 1943
In June 1951 Frank's 3 week old son died after being found in his crib with breathing difficulties. Another son Frank Jr passed away after a battle with cancer in 1978 at the age of 38. Both Eddie and Frank Jr. had made the Star paper in a 1948 photo of them play wrestling at the Tunney home with the visiting 'Wild' Bill Longson.

On Apr 16 1938 at the age of 65, Frank's mother Annie passes away at her home at 102 Oak Park Ave, Toronto. Services are held at St Brigids

In 1939, Jack Corcoran took ill and Toots Mondt came up to run a show while he was away from the office. There was a front page story not long after about an incident on Lake Simcoe where Corcoran and others almost drowned after his boat capsized on a day out on the water.

John & Frank Step Up 

Around that time John and Frank buy the now on-the-downside promotion from Corcoran. Other investors are said to include Paul Bowser, Jack Ganson, and Jerry Monahan while the boxing matchmaker is 'Deacon' Allen. Perlove states in a March 1947 bit that John and Frank had lost $2700 in the first 3 shows they put on after taking over. Perlove called John the 'hustler and scuffler of the outfit'. Corcoran was also promoting Ottawa at the time and John became matchmaker for those shows. Monahan, a former wrestler, was described as as Frank's right hand also promoted in Buffalo & Pittsburgh, PA. He was close with Frank but passed on after an illness in 1947. 

Jack Corcoran somewhat retires from the promotion soon after passing the reins to John & Frank. He does stay on in a limited capacity, mostly helping with the boxing side, and from all accounts was very well respected in the city. He sets the tone that Frank continues for many years. That of the unassuming anti-promoter type, not very common in the Wrestling or Boxing world of the day- and close with the media of the day.

While later articles refer to the Tunneys taking over for an 'ailing Corcoran' (in addition to the boat accident he also had a nasty bout with the flu early in 1939), Jack appears to have wanted to retire at that time to pursue other interests. He retired at the relatively young age of 47 and went go on to spend another 25 years in the city. The near death experience on the lake may have expedited his decision.

A 1941 story quoted Montreal Promoter Eddie Quinn as saying that Corcoran was still receiving 5% of the gate from Tunney's shows while he is referred to in the late '40's as 'retired from everything' and keeping a low profile. When noted athlete Lionel Conacher died in 1954 Corcoran was one of the guards of honor at the funeral, alongside Primo Carnera, Red Dutton (NHL Exec.), and others. He was active in real estate in Toronto since the 1920's owning several buildings including the Queensbury Hotel on Scarlett Rd as well as Nealon House on King. He was also involved in owning and racing thoroughbred horses from the 1930's up. He passed away in 1965 at the age of 73.

A June 1939 bit in the Ottawa paper mentions a 'New Deal campaign to bring fans back by eliminating the so-called champions, masked wrestlers, kicking, eye-gouging, hair-pulling, fights outside the ring and mauling of refs. Real old-fashioned wrestling with real holds is to be the vogue.' Said to include Promoters Paul Bowser of Boston, Tom Packs of St Louis, Jack Ganson of Montreal, John Tunney of Toronto, Jules Bauman of Rochester, and Hans Furst of Syracuse. A.E. Long, the Eastern Rep for the Ontario Athletic Commission gave his approval.
with Fred Atkins 1949

On June 5 1939 in Toronto under the byline 'King Kong Cox refuses to accept 'New Deal' bout, John Tunney announced the cancellation of the June 8 card with Dan O'Mahoney. Under contract he offered the bout to King Kong Cox on the condition he obey his edict and cut out the rough stuff. Apparently Cox refused to change his style and Tunney announced the bout was off and Cox would not be allowed to return until he was ready to wrestle instead of 'act like an enraged animal'. Seems quite comical now but the Athletic commission in those days was frequently involved, giving fines and such. They even reprised the idea on the smaller circuits later as 'real wrestling.' Suffice to say nothing much changed in the ways of the ring.

Though he had apparently already passed the reins to John and Frank by this point, in a Sept 4 1939 bit by Fred Jackson Sports Editor at the Star he reports 'business back as usual at the Queensbury Club. Corcoran back from his prolonged vacation and near fatal trip on Lake Simcoe, Deacon Allen back from California with Jimmy Webster, (and at the office) Frank and John and Phil Lisner.'

After a summer break the Oct 19 1939 show promoted as the first show of the season, Corcoran is still named. As of Nov 1 1939 he is listed as chair of Sports Service Leagues wrestling and boxing committee. At the end of the year on Dec 26th he is still named as boxing head at the office.

In Jan 1940 just a few days after his 32nd birthday John Tunney passed away suddenly. He left behind wife Fidelis Merrick (d.1969) and 4 children including John Jr. aka Jack who later joins his uncle Frank in the office.

We will note that when Fidelis passed away in 1969 she was listed as Thomas Tunney's wife. When Thomas died in 2000 it listed his first wife as Fidelis Merrick. We could assume if that is correct, that Thomas stepped in to help John's young family as was not uncommon in those days. Later family notices seem to confirm this.

In John's obit it says his father Thomas was second cousin to Gene Tunney boxer. There is nothing definitive to indicate that is true, many Tunney's purport to be kin to Gene although it is possible, both families following a similar path from Ireland. John as well as Frank and Jack did all bear somewhat of a resemblance to the champ at different times in their lives. Boxer Gene also had a famous son John, a long time US Senator.

Frank Takes Over

The card scheduled for Jan 19 was postponed and on the 20th Frank was said to have 'assumed matchmaking duties for the Queensbury Athletic Club' and was said to be 'brother and partner' of John. The obituary in the Ottawa paper described John as 'First Lieutenant' for Jack Corcoran, a 'genial soft spoken man, reputation for being sincere, a capable executive, a gentleman, and a good sportsman.'

In the 1940's in addition to Toronto, Frank was promoting Ottawa as well as shows throughout Ontario. Whipper especially was in high demand after beating Bill Longson for the NWA (National Wrestling Association) Title in 1947. He appear son shows across the province from Ottawa to Windsor where Bill Thornton was the promoter with Frank getting co-promoter billing on those shows. Whipper continued to have working ties to the office through to the early 1970's and branched out to promoting smaller shows (in alliance with Frank) in and around Toronto in the 1950.s and '60's.

Star of the 1940's Pat Flanagan also became a big part of the promotion on the inside. In addition to being one of the more prolific wrestlers (and referee) in Ontario from the 1940's to the late 60's, Flanagan worked as a type of booker for Tunney. Barry Penhale told me that Flanagan was the person who set up the outside towns as far as supplying the wrestlers to the local promoters. He formed close bonds with the area promoters such as in Oshawa with young promoter Pat Milosh.

In Oshawa at least, it ran with Milosh booking the arenas, doing the advertising, and running the shows. Part of the net proceeds go back to the office in Toronto. Frank frequently had Pat as a guest at MLG for parties and such. He appears to have maintained a close and very amicable relationship with most everyone he dealt with.

Along with Whipper and Flanagan, other former wrestlers formed the core of the office both during their wrestling days as well as after, some in non-official roles. Earlier stars including Al 'Bunny' Dunlop and Kenneth 'Tiger' Tasker stayed on for years as referees as did Bowmanville star Billy Stack. Fred Atkins, after a lengthy career later became a trainer and manager (said to have trained Dick Hutton prior to his NWA reign and also notably Tiger Jeet Singh and Giant Baba) and refereed right up into the 1980's. Athol Layton remained close to Frank while another former star Billy 'Red' Lyons became a TV commentator as his career finished.

With many of the other towns it appears to have been set up similarly where each town or area had a promoter who took care of the shows while working in tandem with the Toronto office. Along with Milosh, there was Joe Maich for Brantford and area, Sammy Sobol in the Niagara region, even the Northland group run by Larry Kasaboski often featured talent sent up by Tunney 'direct from Maple Leaf Gardens'.

It should be noted that 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 did try to make some inroads in the outside towns (Lakefield -north of Peterborough- for one) but never got close to Toronto that I can see. As with Tunney's on and off again relationship with Dave McKigney later the feuds appear to be few and far between. Whipper too promoted shows in alliance with Tunney in and around Toronto in the 1950's and also join Frank at the NWA conventions starting in 1954. Whipper himself  became a member a year later when he bought into the Seattle territory staying until 1956.

John Katan who had been a big star in the 1930's and '40's also played a big part in the Toronto history in those early days - in the Hamilton area. Katan became the promoter of the town and running it with Frank's help and wrestlers it became a major stop on the Canadian circuit. Hamilton was also the site for Tunney's TV for many years.

Although Frank wasn't one to get too involved on the wrestling side as far as angles with the wrestlers, in 1941 there was an alleged lawsuit by Whipper against Tunney in regards to a breach of contract. Supposedly Whipper claimed he had been signed to wrestle in the main event against Masked Wolf. When Tunney held an open tournament to determine the number one contender for the world title on May 1, 1941, Watson submitted a copy of his entry form to the Ontario Athletics Commission so that Tunney couldn't claim he didn't enter. He then won four matches in one night to win the tournament. That was the beginning of the 30 year run with Whipper on top.

To Frank's credit, especially as a young promoter in the position he was thrust into, in a 1947 story it was said that Bowser, Gannon, and Monahan had all been against the big push for Whipper. As the 'Pride Of East York' Watson became the home town favorite earning both the NWA (Association) title in '47 and then the NWA (Alliance) title in '56. The once National British Empire Title became Whipper's hometown title which was defended around the country again when Tunney had National TV in the 1950's. It proved to be the decision that saved Toronto wrestling.

In 1945 Frank makes what may have been his only appearance as a referee. He officiates a bout between Whipper Watson and Whitey Hewitt at the Coliseum on a mixed Boxing-Wrestling card for the Armed Forces.

An item in the Social section in Nov 1948 shows Frank & Mrs Tunney hosted a party at their home after the Loretto dance. Guests included Mr & Mrs Winnett Watson (Pat Flanagan), Joe Perlove, Franks brother Thomas, and a William Tunney and their wives. Also notable is a Miss Lorraine Henning who became Frank's second wife after Edna passed away on the last day of December 1969.

A 1948 article offers a peek inside the office. It reports 'he (Frank) and staff use 4 rooms and a basement in the NE corner of MLG. His private quarters are well secreted you peer through a little wicket at Frank Ayerst who does a Houdini under his deck. there is a click and presto, you are past the outer guardian or tiler and into a cubicle where nine times out of ten, Phil Lisner confronts you and shakes hands. No doubt Frank has to screen himself from tumultuous wrestlers who, like grizzlies, are playful.' It goes on to describe that office as 'overstuffed, its walls reeking with pictures of assorted fighters, wrestlers, and friends, which Jack Corcoran occasionally uses. The back office where Tunney resides behind a desk 'that wouldn't shame the untidiest editor in the business for the infinite variety of its charming disorder.'

The office once occupied part of the space that became the Hot Stove Lounge, site of many Tunney press conferences and parties. A large portrait of Frank hung on the wall there for many years (alongside one of Whipper) and when Frank passed on his friends and peers gathered there after his funeral.

Tunney also had points in the St Louis office starting in the 1940's. He had formed a relationship with then St Louis promoter Tom Packs and when Packs retired in June 1948 he (Packs) sold his interests in the World Title and offices to Thesz, Bill Longson, Tunney, and Quinn. A year later, Muchnick and the Thesz outfit formed a partnership and Frank followed. At the 2nd annual NWA convention in November 1949 Tunney was present representing Toronto. A later correspondence states that Tunney, along with Bill Longson, Bobby Manganoff, and Whipper Watson held about 34% share in the St Louis Office.

When Frank passed away in 1983 Sam Muchnick commented "I first met Frank 46 years ago, we were kids, working for big promoters, and we were witnesses at an anti-trust trial (to do with wrestling) in Columbus, Ohio. It was declared a mistrial -as good as a win- and even better, I acquired a friend for life."

Muchnick chuckled at the memory of Tunney's casual approach to business matters. "Frank had a piece of the action when I was running shows in St. Louis," he said. "I'd mail him a cheque every so often but lost of times years would go by before he'd cash one. The bank would call up to see if they were still any good. They'd have been buried in a pile of stuff on top of his desk. "One time he asked me to pull something out of the heap. It was a hydro bill from a year before. 'Guess that's why they shut off my power,' he said. I pulled again. It was an envelope with several $100 bills in it. He had no idea where that came from."

Boxing

In the early to mid 1940's there were several boxing promoters in the city alongside Tunney and Deacon Allen. Playfair Brown was the most active. Sam 'The Furniture Man' Keller was another promoting shows at the CNE Coliseum and at least one card at MLG back in 1937.

Lil' Arthur King a Toronto native and regular at the Massey Hall amateur boxing cards made his debut at MLG for Tunney in 1946. In the midst of a successful career King switched managers from Dave Yack to notorious Philadelphia mobster Blinky Palmero in 1948 and see his career suffer as a result. In 1956 Tunney helped arrange a buyback to bring King back to Toronto and King was forever thankful for it.

In 1956 Toronto native George Chuvalo turned pro and beat 4 opponents to win the 4th annual Heavyweight Novice Tournament run by Tunney and Deacon Allen in co-sponsorship with Jack Dempsey. Chuvalo went on to have many bouts at MLG under Tunney including a 1966 title bout vs Ali where he lost by decision. Afterwards Ali called Chuvalo 'the toughest guy I ever fought'. Chuvalo was managed by Deacon Allen up to 1964 when Chuvalo moved to Irv Ungerman

Frank with Chuvalo and Deacon Allen 1959

While the boxing side would bring some success, there were many problems from the start and on through the years. Illnesses and problems with the commission and other promoters took its toll.

Tunney worked with - and against - his counterpart in Montreal, Eddie Quinn. Quinn, like Tunney also promoted both wrestling and boxing. In 1945 the two combined to contribute to an Ottawa area boxing & wrestling (mit-mat) card with proceeds to Armed Forces. In 1958 Quinn offered Tunney 10% of the receipts to move an Archie Moore - Yvon Durelle bout from Montreal to Toronto to escape Montreal's Athletic Commission tax of 5% and the taxing of American Television coverage of the bout. Toronto's was only 2%. The bout and a subsequent one ended up being fought in Montreal.

Another dealing with Quinn in 1962 saw Tunney getting an injunction to stop a fight in Montreal between Archie Moore and Robert Cleroux after Cleroux had failed to abide by a contract to face Chuvalo in Toronto and had been barred. The fight was called off with Tunney commenting that Quinn had saved him further legal expenses in the matter. Quinn sees his boxing license suspended for his actions surrounding the booking and promotion of the bout and never promote boxing again, but still promotes a wrestling card at the Forum 2 days later. He subsequently loses the wrestling license too but regain it continuing to promote until he retired in 1963. Quinn dies soon after in 1964

Quinn also promoted wrestling in Ottawa (with Tunney moving out) starting in 1946. There was said to be tension between the two as Whipper Watson was being promoted by Tunney as Canadian Champion while in Quinn's realm of Montreal-Quebec-Ottawa his star Yvon Robert was regarded as Canada's best. Robert also worked for Tunney both in Ottawa and Toronto as both a Canadian and a world champ. After Quinn moved in to Ottawa, Tunney didn't return to the nations capital for another 30+ years putting on shows starting again in 1982.

Tunney also had issues with promoter Howard Darwin in Ottawa -also involving fighter Robert Cleroux. Darwin who was promoting both boxing and wrestling in Ottawa in the early 1960's was forced to cancel a proposed bout between Cleroux and Cecil Gray again because of the suspensions over the previous Chuvalo-Cleroux problems. Tunney threatened to take out an injunction to stop the fight while the OAC threated to pull both Darwins boxing and wrestling licenses. The bout eventually went ahead with Ottawa area alderman Robert Guertin stepping in as promoter.

In 1966 Tunney again got the better of Darwin when he was said to secure the Cassius Clay- Ernie Terrell bout at MLG ahead of second choice Hull (Hull is directly across the river from Ottawa). The bout was originally scheduled to take place in Chicago but was canceled after Clay made anti-war statements in the media. Other cities refused to host it also and when it was sanctioned in Toronto, Conn Smythe the builder of MLG and a veteran himself resigned as Director of MLG and sold all his shares in protest.

Harold Ballard, then Executive VP of the Gardens announced how the gate was going to be split up, a look inside the boxing side at the time. Clay receive 50% of the gate, Terrell 20% with the Gardens taking the remaining 30%. Tunney put a guarantee in excess of 96k while a full house of 17,500 paying from 10-100$ would net approx 195-225k. The fight did go ahead on March 29th but Clay's opponent due to Terrell backing out amid a contract renegotiation - was George Chuvalo. Tunney notably shows up at the glove ceremony with the wrong size gloves.

For Tunney, the wrestling side proves to be far more profitable and easy to manage compared to the boxing side. In 1969 on the occasion of his 30 years as Wrestling promoter Frank reflected on his time in boxing in a Jim Proudfoot article and summed it up as 'It got to be a joke after a while'.

In contrast to his often problematic dealings with others in the boxing game, Tunney had much more success on the wrestling side. Wrestlers and promoters alike had only good to say about the genial promoter. Along with St Louis head Muchnick, Frank was close with Vince McMahon Sr in New York and was well liked and respected by the others in the NWA membership. Many wrestlers over the years including Lou Thesz, Bruno Sammartino, and Gene Kiniski had nothing but praise for Tunney, both about his honesty in payoffs and his easygoing demeanor.

Frank with Whipper 1950

He was however not above a good rib, as was just part of being a wrestler in those days. He had a 'electric chair' in his office for many years that was hooked up to an electrical charge and once inviting the unsuspecting mark into the chair he would set off an electric shock. No-one was spared even Thesz who was said to have jumped the highest. One writer was remembered as having on long underwear under his suit and sitting through the whole shock with nary a response.

In the early days it was evident that the sportswriters in the city were in a quasi-working type relationship with the office. Joe Perlove in particular was almost an extension of the office and appeared to be close to Frank for many years. His creative and often humorous recaps of the bouts in the Star come off not dissimilar to what a good publicity director would put out. Frank was an astute promoter, he definitely knew the advantage of having the writers close to the office, first with Perlove then with Ayerst. Perlove also notably covered horse racing and was present at many of the 'clambakes' at the King Edward Hotel where much of the boxing and wrestling business went on in the old days, he passed on in 1966. Star sports editors Milt Dunnell and later Jim Proudfoot both had sidebar columns frequently covering wrestling with features and tidbits from behind the scenes.

In a interview in 1980 Frank had this to say about the scribes. 'That old Queensbury was a nuthouse and I loved it! And you know who the biggest crazies were? The Newspaper types...I don't know how they got away with it, hanging around all the time. And then there were the guys who had nothing to do but sit around reading the Racing News all day. They didn't even watch the workouts'. That last point is notable as Joe Perlove, Deacon Allen, Corcoran, and many of the others were all involved with Horse Racing in some respect, either writing, betting, owning, or all three!

A notice in the social section in Sept 1954 listed the marriage of Teresa Tunney, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Tunney with the reception held at the home of Frank Tunney. Jack Tunney, brother of the bride was an usher. 

By the 1950s Toronto had become one of the major centers in the wrestling world while Frank was recognized as one of the top promoters in the business. We will look at the 50s through the M-A era in a future piece.

-AC

Nostalgia mapleleafwrestling.com collection

Jack Corcoran: The Queensbury King

    On April 4 1922 Jack Corcoran promoted a bout between Johnny Dundee and Jimmy Gooderich at the new Civic Arena on the Exhibition grounds, Corcoran was said to be a 'well-known west end sportsman' and wanted a big attraction for his debut as a boxing promoter after Toronto had beat out Buffalo and New York City for the bout.

It attracted the largest fight crowd of the season with over 8,000 to see Dundee beat Gooderich in 10 rounds.

In March 1923 Corcoran refereed at the Canadian Trials at Toronto's Gayety Theater alongside Lou Marsh and was picked to to go to Winnipeg to oversee the national bouts later in the month. Corcoran also reffed on his own early cards, often with Marsh as a ref or judge. Marsh was a noted and well respected sportsman and writer and frequently wrote the results column for the previous nights card. He was also an early supporter of Corcoran and they ran in the same circles, hunting and fishing together.

When Marsh died in March 1936 Corcoran related several anecdotes including crediting Marsh with saving him when their canoe turned over on a fishing trip. Marsh was so influential and respected that the Star devoted all of its cover and most of its first 4 pages to him upon his passing.

The Queensbury Athletic Club is formed in 1923 when Corcoran joins with local promoter Eddie Rudd to run additional cards around Toronto. They held bouts at the Coliseum with some problems early on with cancelled bouts and such, but came back with strong cards. Rudd had promoted as early as 1922 on his own, around the same time Corcoran had put on his first card. They went on to run cards at the Standard Theater at Dundas and Spadina in 1924 and there was a mention of  'less than 3,000' paid for 3 consecutive cards held in January, though that number doesn't seem too bad for a small venue.

1922 Opener

An item on Feb 20 1924 looking at the upcoming Queensbury Boxing card mentions that Wrestling may be making a comeback in the city. Cards had been held at the Labor Temple with Jack Forbes, George Walker, and other notables of the day appearing.

In Nov 1924 the Ontario Athletic Commission -OAC -re-licensed the two clubs promoting boxing in the city, Corcoran's Queensbury AC and George Williams International AC. It was said that it was a vote of confidence that the two groups were bringing good cards to Toronto.

A Nov 4 1925 item in the Star has Corcoran buying the Tyndall Apartments on Tyndall Ave consisting of 12 suites in 2 buildings for a deal which included cash and an exchange of housing properties on Ossington Ave, Dovercourt Rd, Perth Ave, and Hillary Ave in amounts to $84,500. He also owned the namesake Queensbury Hotel on Scarlett Rd and Nealon House on King St.
1933

A May 22 1930 item refers to Corcoran buying one of the 'Seagram Stable' horses at auction for $100. A horse owned by Corcoran a 'Rundall' placed 2nd in a race at Long Branch in June 1930 and another 'Fire Girl' placed first in the first race a week later. He added more and kept a presence in the sport for many years. Often the races at Thorncliffe track in Toronto were named for sporting and local personalities including the wrestling stars and Corcoran himself. 

Due to the resurgence of Pro Wrestling in Toronto under promoter Ivan Mickailoff, on Nov 6 1930 Corcoran promoted his own first Wrestling show at Massey Hall. A write up prior suggested that with the principals on the scene nothing remains now for 'Corcoran to do but sit back and listen to the merry click of the turnstiles' of which would appear certain due to the large demand for tickets. It was added that 'despite the outstanding wrestlers in the main event, Corcoran has decided not to increase his prices and the same popular rates will prevail as at previous shows'. 

The main event was to feature Jim Browning vs Jack Rough-house McCarthy said to be a former sparring partner of Jack Dempsey.

A review by the Star's Sports Editor W.A. Hewitt said that 'Corcoran was handed a lemon for his first show. 'Rough-House' McCarthy turned out to be such a poor performer that the Queensbury Athletic Club reported him to the Ontario Athletic Commission. The crowd razzed the wrestlers in a good-natured way, and Jim Browning, a real good grappler, was also a victim, though he made short work of McCarthy in a very business-like manner. The show lacked color and action. Promoter Corcoran should make amends in his next show by bringing along some top-notchers that the fans are acquainted with instead of 'unknowns' of the mat game.'

Lou Marsh wrote in his column that Corcoran was double-crossed and alleges one of the main bouters (McCarthy evidently) was 'Pie-eyed' and the OAC may fine Corcoran the purse amount. Marsh suggests that Corcoran will not be successful until he brings in a 'rival gang of equal strength to the crowd which is operating here now - a crowd which knows what is all about' and adds 'Corcoran might be well advised to stick to the boxing end' as he 'knows his boxers, and he has the confidence of the local boxing public'.

Nov 6 1930
In the recap the card was referred to as 'a thorough flop'. 
Jim Browning over Jack McCarthey 2 falls
Joe Shimkus beat Jack Kogut
Chief War Eagle defeated Charles Monoogean

Prior to the Nov 19 card Lou Marsh wrote that 'it was openly charged that certain interested parties paid a couple of howlers to go to the first card and start the Bronx cheers and that the same parties fixed up a nice set of double-crosses for the show.'

For that second show Corcoran set up John Pesek vs Joe Shimkus as the main. Pesek wins and in the other bouts Jim Browning returned to beat Alan Eustace, and Frank Wolfe beat Jack Krogut in the opener. Marsh in his column the next day suggested that Corcoran and Mickailoff get together and set up a Pesek-Sonnenberg (Sonnenberg appearing on Mickailoff cards) bout.

Pesek returns in December and Marsh plays up a rivalry between Corcoran and Mickailoff.

Maple Leaf Gardens, Londos, Mondt

On Oct 23 1931 Marsh writes that Corcoran is moving his show to the Coliseum for the nights card. That he 'is probably trying to get the boys used to the wide open spaces; for the shows Corcoran runs in the future are going to be at the new Maple Leaf Gardens.' He adds that the MLG people have a boxing license and have hooked up with Corcoran for the wrestling end.

with Playfair Brown

The Oct 23 show draws over 7,000 to the Coliseum to see George Zaharias battle Mike Romano and Hewitt writes that 'when the Queensbury club stages its championship bout at the new Maple Leaf Gardens on Nov 19 a record wrestling crowd is likely to attend'. The 7,000 is to date one of the largest crowds to see pro wrestling in Toronto.

Corcoran brings in World champ Jim Londos for the Nov 5 card to introduce him to Toronto fans matching him with Romano. Romano is said to be runner up in the New York Tournament conducted to provide an opponent at Madison Square Garden for Londos and is sufficient indication as to the caliber of bout presented to fans here by the Queensbury club.

For the first MLG show on Nov 19 1931 reported attendance was 15,800 and Corcoran was off to a good start. Lou Marsh wrote that it brought in $13,000 from paid tickets as many more were invited guests. Another 2,000 more said to be outside unable to get in.

Marsh added that 'the brains of the Curley rasslin loop' Joe 'Toots' Mondt who wrestled Hans Bauer on the card was really there 'counting up the customers.' Mondt was in fact a partner in the Toronto office. 
Mondt, a year later, stood trial locally on a manslaughter charge due to a car accident that killed a woman and Corcoran was called to testify. *1


1932

On Jan 7 1932 it is written that Corcoran had added St Catharines to his loop and drew more than 1,600 on the 6th to the new stadium there to see Frankie Hart, Jack Kogut, Alex Kasaboski, and others. He also branched out to Niagara Falls, Hamilton, Brantford, and other towns around Southern Ontario for regular shows.

A Feb 29 1932 item says Corcoran is just out of the shadows after a bout with 'Kid Pneumonia'. He had been ill for ten days and word was held back from the sporting public. It adds that Foster Hewitt, sports announcer and Andy Taylor building manager of MLG were also out with the flu. Another item says Corcoran was gone from the office for nearly 6 weeks.

Expanding, Savoldi, Bribery

In March 1933 Corcoran is said to be promoting in Buffalo and Detroit. He also runs wrestling in Ottawa from 1932.

An Apr 12 1933 story says Corcoran 'who controls pro wrestling over the major portion of Canada' is after a contract with Jumping Joe Savoldi who had just pinned Jim Londos in Chicago to earn the claim as World Titlist. He ends up signing a 3 year deal said to be worth $100k.

Another item says it is Percy Gardiner doing the negotiating on brother-in-law Jack's behalf. Gardiner is noted to 'be financially behind the Queensbury AC man (Corcoran) since the beginning.' It goes on to say that it is likely that Gardiner is acting on behalf of the Bowser-Curley-Mondt interests in which Jack was a partner.

An item a year and a half later mentioned that at the time, everyone thought the man behind the money was 'screwy' to offer that much money. Savoldi, after beating Londos had passed that amount already just halfway into the 3 years making the deal a shrewd one.

In 1934 Corcoran made news as a part of the Ontario Athletic Commission bribery scandal. *2

In 1935 Corcoran published a 'Wrestling Guide'  (right) featuring sketches by Lou Skuce whose work was a regular fixture in the Star and included drawings of the wrestlers with facts about their careers. The book/pamphlet type was sold at newsstands and turns up occasionally on e-bay. 

In May 1937 Corcoran appeared before the OAC to settle a dispute with fellow Boxing Promoter Playfair Brown and agreed to work with his rival. Fellow rivals Jack Allen and Doc Cook were also present.

Close to death, the Tunney's, and a new lease on life

Corcoran had another nasty battle with the flu in March 1939 taking some time off to recuperate in Florida. Mondt supervises the March 16 card featuring Londos vs Vic Christie and for the Mar 23 card John Tunney is said to be taking over matchmaking in the absence of Corcoran.

In July 1939 Corcoran and 8 others including 6 children and a dog escaped serious injury after their boat capsized in Lake Simcoe. They spent over 2 hours clinging to cushions waiting to be rescued, eventually by two teens and said to be in the nick of time. The story made the front page in Toronto.

1939 Terror on the Lake
Corcoran later received a bronze medal from the Royal Canadian Humane society presumably for saving the life of the dog. The original incident article made note of the fact that Jack blamed a lot of the distress on the flailing of the dog in the water, and that the dog almost cost them their lives.

Its around this time Corcoran sells to the Tunney brothers. John Tunney was matchmaking and is now Promoter. His younger brother Frank, secretary of the Queensbury Club is listed as matchmaker and other partners include Paul Bowser, Jack Ganson, and Jerry Monahan.

Jack stays in the office handling some of the boxing but starts to retire away from the promotion. Frank takes over for his brother John when he dies suddenly in Jan 1940. Jack continued to be the Boxing Promoter through 1941 but by 1942 was retired from the office in an official sense. A 1943 charity mention referred to him as the 'Queensbury Hotel's Jack Corcoran'.

While later articles refer to the Tunney's taking over for an 'ailing Corcoran', Jack appears to have wanted to retire at that time. He left at a relatively young age and went on to spend another 25 years in the city. The severe bouts of the flu, the near death experience on the lake, and then the sudden passing of John (from the flu) may have expedited his decision.

A 1941 story said that Corcoran was still receiving 5% of the gate from Tunney's shows while he is referred to in the late '40's as 'retired from everything' and keeping a low profile. When noted multi sport (including a short stint in pro wrestling) athlete Lionel Conacher died in 1954 Corcoran was one of the guards of honor at the funeral alongside Primo Carnera, Red Dutton (NHL Exec.), and others.

In Dec 1957 a bit in the entertainment section reports that Corcoran a 'great-hearted Irishman who himself has done more for humanity in this time than many a group, was this week dragged out of mothballs (he's retired from even seeing his friends, it seems) and asked to talk about the infamous Red Ryan'. It goes on to describe a TV interview with Jack about the infamous bank robber and one time wrestler Ryan. *3


Portrait previously online at City of Toronto Archives


On Apr 12 1960 Milt Dunnell, in his sports column, reported that Corcoran was ailing at a Ft Lauderdale hospital. Jack - John Joseph 'Jack' Corcoran - passed away Apr 12 1965 at St Joseph's Hospital in Toronto. A sports page obit in the Star lists him as 73. It lists him as brother of Margaret, Ambrose, and Vincent. Earlier mentions of hunting trips and social events list other family members though un-clear on relation. He was a Jr. his father Jack Sr. had attended John Tunney's funeral in Jan 1940. Corcoran was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery as Frank Tunney was when he passed on in 1983.

Influence

In an interview in Frank's later days he remarked that Jack had been like a father figure to him. Easy to work for, and obviously an influence on the young Tunney who lost his own father at a young age. Frank, with ever present cigar in hand, just like Jack before him, would mirror his predecessor's easy demeanor and likewise earn the respect of the Toronto sporting community. Jack Corcoran definitely an underrated name from the Maple Leaf history.

-AC

Items mapleleafwrestling.com collection, Toronto Star, Globe, COTA.
Further reading