Rift In The Lute
After Lewis’ defeat of Stecher it seemed that nothing would halt the Gold Dust Trio’s onward march to further riches. Sandow was still planning a new champion, and while Lewis wanted to rid himself of the tiresome honors just as much as his partner was anxious to have him do so, yet both Ed and “Toots” insisted upon a champion on top who could wrestle. Came 1928, and a rift between Sandow and Mondt gave the enterprising Billy the opportunity he sought.
Max Bauman, Billy’s brother, had long been agitating against the power and scope of Mondt. The latter sensed the affair would shortly come to a point where either he or Baumann would have to leave the organization. Toots went to Billy and demanded a showdown. Sandow refused to curb his brother and invited Mondt to leave the combination.
Toots accepted the invitation. Lewis strung along with Sandow, and from that point onward Sandow’s star began to set.
The activities of Mondt and his part in the wrestling picture will be covered in another chapter. Let’s go on with Sandow.
The year of 1929 brings us up to “Dynamite” Gus Sonnenberg, former Dartmouth football star, who had been brought into wrestling by Bill Cunningham, sports writer of the Boston Post. Sonnenberg was a great favorite around Boston and was packing them in through the turnstiles for Paul Bowser, Bean City promoter.
Sandow and Bowser decided that Sonnenberg would be a great attraction if he had the wrestling crown to add to his color. So on January 4, 1929, Lewis and Sonnenberg met in a title bout in Boston and “Dynamite Gus” won the crown.
It has been said that Bowser posted seventy thousand dollars with “Nekoosa” and “The Brain” as a guarantee that Lewis would regain his mat title when Sonnenberg had outlived his box office attraction.
Sonnenberg proved the transfusion needed to restore life blood in the fading wrestling pulse. As champion, he brought the college element to professional wrestling matches, and a better class of people generally became interested in the sport.
Wrestling gates, with Gus Sonnenberg as the star attraction, zoomed to dizzy and undreamed of heights. Lewis and Sandow being the men behind the Sonnenberg throne, saw to it that “Dynamite Gus” was sufficiently protected. Sonny and Lewis met again on July 10, 1929, and sold out Boston’s Fenway Park.
Wherever a wrestler ran berserk and challenged Sonnenberg’s ability, Lewis was thrown into the breach and the rebel was promptly and efficiently subdued.
It was “Dynamite Gus” who brought the flying tackle into prominence and inspired so many college football stars to turn to the mat for a livelihood.
While Sonnenberg didn’t last long as champion, his name goes down in history as the man who put bone crushing in the collegian class. In his heyday he drew bigger average houses than any other matman up to that time.
Sandow, Lewis and Bowser, were, of course, pleased. Mondt, who had gone south to work with Rudy Dusek, a small time mat manipulator, sought revenge.
Sonnenberg wrestled the same opponents as many as twenty-five times. Dan Koloff, a wrestler, and Sonnenberg’s chief “policeman,” met and was defeated by the champion as many as fifty times.
The use of different names for the same opponents and the fact that the big wire services, such as the United Press, Associated Press, International News Service and Universal Service, cared so little about wrestling matches that they failed to report the results to member papers throughout America, also helped Sandow, Bowser and Lewis to put over their title holder.
The shekels rolled into the coffers of Lewis, Bowser and Sandow. All was serene on the horizon until a Greek wrestler named Jim Londos and a German strongman named Richard Shikat appeared on the scene.
Shikat had won recognition in Pennsylvania as World’s Heavyweight Wrestling Champion, by virtue of a victory over Jim Londos. Both men were partners in a clique composed of Joe “Toots” Mondt, Ray Fabiani, Jack Curley, Ed White, Rudy Miller, Jack Pfeffer and Tom Packs.
Sonnenberg was making too much money to satisfy the “outlaws.” Shikat, Londos, Rudy Dusek, Ray Steele and Hans Steinke, instigated by Mondt, began parading the country baiting Sonnenberg, wherever possible, and hurling challenges.
Mondt’s annoyance campaign of Sonnenberg even went to the extreme of advertising another Gus Sonnenberg, through the territory where there were no State Athletic Commissions to stop him, and having the synthetic Sonnenberg thrown every night in the week. Marshall Blackstock was the pseudo Sonnenberg who took considerable wind out of the real champion’s sails.
Just how great a wrestler was Gus Sonnenberg, you might gather from a little incident that occurred in Los Angeles while “Dynamite Gus” held the wrestling title. Pete Lajimmi, a second rate welterweight wrestler, who had a fancied grievance against Lewis, Sandow and Bowser, ran into Gus on the street one afternoon and beat the luckless champion into insensibility. Sandow forgot himself sufficiently to have Lajimmi arrested, and the public was treated to the spectacle of a heavyweight wrestling champion, weighing two hundred and twenty pounds seeking redress from the police for a beating received at the hands of a one hundred and forty pound opponent. This incident, while it served to tarnish Sonnenberg’s reputation only a trifle, nevertheless, gave the public an idea of the man’s wrestling ability.
The hand of the sly “Toots” Mondt was working well.
Lewis and Sandow seemed unable to stem the adverse tide. Then, on December 10, 1930, out of a clear sky, without consulting Lewis or Sandow, Bowser switched the heavyweight wrestling title to Ed Don George, former Olympic champion. This move angered Lewis and Sandow, but they awaited an opportunity to even matters.
It came the next year in Los Angeles. Bowser, believing he had placated Lewis and Sandow, matched Lewis with George for the heavyweight title. The pair met April 14, 1931, drew one of the biggest gates in the history of wrestling, and one of the greatest upsets in matdom occurred when Lewis threw George to regain the title.
Bowser, needless to say, was enraged, but had to make the best of an unfortunate occurrence. He bided his time and began laying plans to get the title away from Lewis. With the skilled “Strangler” once again in possession of the mat crown, Londos, Shikat and their cohorts quieted down.
Wrestling gossip says Sandow and Lewis held Bowser’s $70,000 forfeit, which the Bostonian had posted when the title originally went to Sonnenberg.
Two weeks after the double cross of George in Los Angeles, Bowser met Sandow in Chicago and after a lengthy conference, persuaded Sandow to return fifty thousand dollars of the seventy thousand dollar forfeit money.
“I figure fifty thousand dollars is all you deserve,” said Sandow, his old time confidence and ego restored. “Now we’ll work with you, Paul, and give you a break, but don’t try any of your funny stuff again.”
Bowser promised to be good.
Though Jim Londos had been established in Pennsylvania and New York state as champion, Lewis and Sandow regained some of their old time prestige with the return of the title from Ed Don George, but the fires of resentment burned deeply within Bowser’s Dutch breast.
His opportunity to get even came in Montreal, Canada, in 1931, the same year Lewis had double crossed and defeated George.
Lewis was booked there to lock grips with the Frenchman, Henri De Glane, just a fair opponent. Dan Koloff, one of Bowser’s many henchmen, was sent to Montreal for the alleged purpose of managing De Glane, and aiding Sandow in the ballyhoo for the match.
De Glane won the first fall, Lewis the second. Both wrestlers went to their dressing rooms for a brief rest (as is the Canadian custom) between the second and deciding fall.
Upon their return to the ring, Lewis and De Glane locked grips and fell to the mat. The action on the mat was fast, and to spectators the contestants appeared a tangle of arms and legs.
Suddenly, the air was pierced by screams. The spectators stood on their chairs to see the ring. The screams continued. They were issuing from De Glane’s throat.
The surprised Lewis released his hold and sprang to his feet. De Glane rolled about the mat holding his breast and screaming. Pulling De Glane to his feet, the referee managed to quiet the noisy grappler and inquired the trouble. De Glane pointed to a wound on his breast, accusing Lewis of biting him.
The referee examined the injury, while Lewis protested, then awarded the third and deciding fall and the title to De Glane on a foul.
It was afterwards charged by Lewis that between the second and deciding third fall, while De Glane was resting, Dan Koloff took De Glane into a washroom, bit De Glane on the breast, then instructed the wrestler how to act when he tangled with Lewis for the final fall. Bowser had finally revenged himself upon Lewis and Sandow.
As for the Damon and Pythias twins of wrestling, they quarreled, decided to part, and divided up the profits of many years’ accumulation. Sandow allied himself with the Londos faction, Lewis’ long standing arch enemies.
The “Strangler” found himself a capable wrestler unable to secure work. Needless to say, Lewis’ defeat and the split of Sandow and “Big Ed” was pleasant news to the Londos group.
The members of that combine felt that a dangerous combination had been put out of the way when Sandow and Lewis parted.