Monday, March 8, 2010

Fall Guys Chapter 11

The James Boys Were Pikers

We have said before that the day in 1928 when Joe “Toots” Mondt left the Sandow-Lewis-Mondt combine, and began fighting his erstwhile pals, then did the star of Sandow begin to set on the mat horizon. It took time for “Toots” to kill off his one-time buddies, but he did the work well and effectively.

He found a willing ally in Ray Fabiani of Philadelphia, who was promoting wrestling in the Quaker City, and was politically powerful.

Starting with Richard Shikat, virtually an unknown matman to American fans, Mondt, in a short space of one year, 1928-1929, had received for Shikat recognition as World’s Heavyweight Champion in the states of Pennsylvania and New York, and had driven Sandow, Lewis and Bowser from those two states.

The groundless threat and fear of fixed officials and Sandow’s timidity when faced with a crisis permitted Mondt to eventually secure the upper hand in wrestling, and eliminate Sandow as an important factor in the wrestling picture, a dominance Mondt still enjoys.

An indefatigable worker, Mondt contacted the disgruntled promotorial elements who were not benefiting from the Sandow-Bowser-Lewis alliance and welded them into a combine that wrecked the new trust, which had been formed when Sonnenberg became champion.

As related by Jack Pfeffer, small time New York promoter, in a story published in the New York Daily Mirror, Ray Fabiani of Philadelphia, Jack Curley and Rudy Miller of New York, Rudy Dusek, who ruled south of the Mason and Dixon line, Ed White of Chicago, and Mondt decided that Shikat lacked the color necessary to lure the big wrestling gates, and a new champion should be proclaimed in Pennsylvania. Here’s Pfeffer’s own story of the manipulations which made Jim Londos World’s Heavyweight Champion claimant, and a never to be forgotten figure in wrestling:

Londos had been thrown fourteen times by “Strangler” Lewis, six times by Wladek Zbyszko, three times by Stanislaus Zbyszko, and also by Renato Gardini, Jack Sherry, George Calza and Ed Santel. He was colorful, though, and appealed to the women fans.

Ed White, Londos’ manager, came to New York to meet me, Rudy Miller, “Toots” Mondt and Jack Curley. “People are tired of the situation that exists in wrestling. What we need is a new champion; one who has color. We’ll make Londos champion and we’ll all get rich,” White said.

Rudy Miller, Jack Curley and myself were to get five percent of Londos’ earnings. Mondt, who was already cutting Londos for 25 percent as a partner of Tom Packs, Ed White and Londos in the St. Louis faction, was to continue to split up with these three, sharing equally in the profits after the others in on the jackpot had been taken care of.

Besides our 15 percent, the kitty was to be socked for 7% percent for Ray Fabiani, the Philadelphia promoter, who was to put on the match that was to make Londos champion; and 5 percent was to go to Hans Steinke, who was Londos’ policeman.

The agreement reached, Londos and Shikat wrestled in the rain in Philadelphia, June 8, 1930, and Londos was crowned champion. That ushered in a new and prosperous era in wrestling. In 1930 we had a big boom and everyone who was cutting in on Londos made lots of money. The champion wrestled Ray Steele, Jim McMillen, George Zaharias, Gino Garibaldi and Karl Pojello dozens of times in all the larger cities, always winning. If Londos engaged in a shooting match in all that time, he did it without my knowledge. He refused to meet anyone but these same stablemates.

Money, they made indeed. By Mondt’s own admission to the writer, he, Jack Curley, Rudy Miller, Ed White and Jack Pfeffer split a total year’s earning which gave them ninety thousand dollars each in the New York promotions alone. Figure that in addition, Mondt was cutting in on the wrestling earnings of several wrestlers besides, and you have a fair idea what this “Barnum of Bounce” was making. Actually, you may ask, “What manner of man was, and is, this fellow, Jim Londos?” To the wrestling insiders he is known as “Trimmer Jim,” a picturesque sobriquet hung upon the Golden Greek’s brow years ago by the always alert Joe Marsh. Years ago, prior to the World War, a Greek dish washer, Christopher Teophelus, toured the west as “The Wrestling Plasterer.” With his "stock troupe," consisting of Peter Sauer (Ray Steele) and others, he would appear in a town, begrimed with plaster, and at the proper moment, climb into a wrestling ring where Sauer or some other stooge was scheduled to wrestle, and issue a challenge which was usually backed with the money of some unwary local sucker.

It was the old carnival come-on again, and many a hapless Greek restaurant owner backed Londos (”The Wrestling Plasterer”) against some mat stooge, only to see his savings go flooey.

Even the suckers finally get wise, and so, shortly before the Armistice, Christopher Teophelus, “The Wrestling Plasterer,” inspired by Jack London, famed novelist, changed his name to Jim Londos, taking London’s last name and substituting an S in place of the last letter, N. Though he changed his name he couldn’t forget his old tricks.

One of the South’s leading newspapers, The Memphis Commercial Appeal, in a dispatch published on January 24,1927, reported:

LONDOS HELD FOR FRAUD

Jackson, Tenn., January 23.—Attorney General T. J. Murphy announced that Jim Londos, the Greek wrestler, was held in Memphis, in connection with a pre-arranged bout and will be returned to Jackson for trial. Londos, the Greek wrestler, was arrested on charges of larceny, deception, fraud, scheming and trickery. Late last night he was trying to post $25,000 bail. The warrant was issued (instead of obtained) at Jackson, Mississippi, by Mike Kassaras, who charged Londos with fraud.

Nice stuff, eh, keed? Well, “Trimmer Jim” had no easy time of it. For on January 24 the Memphis papers sent out a wire story reading:

LONDOS IN PRISON

Jim Londos, the Creek wrestler, was held in prison here on charges of fraud, and larceny, chicanery, scheming and trick. What one of the victims despoiled by Londos, the Creek wrestler, says:

Mr. Doc Hottum,

Memphis, Tenn.

Dear Sir:

Please pardon me for taking the liberty of writing to you, but I have received a letter from an acquaintance in connection with the crooked affair of Jim Londos, in which a man advises me to write to you about it. I have been defrauded of thousands of dollars through Jim Londos, who has ruined me. Since then, my wife and children are suffering. I have, in addition, lost my health. My friend in your city seems to believe there may be an opportunity for me to get my money back. If there is (such an opportunity), please advise me what, in your opinion, would be the best thing for me to do. I know that Londos is in trouble with a man in Jackson, Tenn., and his trial is scheduled for March 4th. I thank you for the trouble I have given you, as well as for any information you may give me. Trusting to hear from you soon, I am wholly yours,

James Psaris,

104 Market Ave.,

North Canton, Ohio.

Evidently sucker Psaris wasn’t content with writing letters, for on March 19, 1927, the following affidavit was filed:

State of Ohio,

Stark County, S.S.

Affidavit of James Psaris.

Before me, the undersigned Notary Public for Stark County, in the State of Ohio, there appeared personally, James Psaris, who deposits and says under oath, that: He is a resident of the City of Canton, Stark County, Ohio; that during the last few years he has been living here; that in 1917 and 1918, he became acquainted with one named W. H. Barton and one named Jim Londos, and with a third party named “Doc H”; further states that during that time, W. H. Barton, was business manager of Jim Londos, who was a professional wrestler; that during the Spring of 1918, W. H. Barton advised the complainant to go to the city of Peoria, Illinois, where a group of people, his manager, Barton and the one called “Doc” were giving a series of wrestling performances, and at the same place, W. H. Barton, obtained from the complainant the sum of Fifteen Hundred Dollars ($1,500.00) under false pretenses and fraudulently, falsely representing and promising to him the said amount would be returned to the complainant in a few days.

This sum of money, however, has never been returned and Barton, Londos, “Doc” and the others constituting the clique, disappeared suddenly from Peoria, and later Barton, Londos and “Doc” appeared in Detroit, Michigan. Information reached the complainant regarding the whereabouts of Barton and “Doc” and he says that these people were taken under warrant to Canton, where a preliminary hearing was held before the local examining officer, and that Barton and “Doc” were arraigned before a superior court.

At the preliminary hearing, which was held before Squire Charles Hemminger, it was proved that the fifteen hundred dollars ($1,500.00) supplied by the complainant was divided between W. H. Barton, Jim Londos, and a third person named “Doc,” and, who, according to the following information given by the complainant, was connected with W. H. Barton.

When the said Barton and “Doc” were imprisoned, in the prison of Canton, Stark County, Ohio, the said Jim Londos approached the complainant and offered to settle the controversy with a promissory note for five hundred dollars ($500.00), payable in installments, and one hundred dollars ($100.00) in cash; that the complainant agreed to the proposition and received the sum of one hundred dollars ($100.00), together with the promissory note for five hundred dollars ($500.00), signed by W. H. Barton and Jim Londos. The note, says he, was not paid in accordance with the agreement, and the signers disappeared, and, according to the information of the complainant, the said W. H. Barton died in the city of Three Rivers, Michigan, a short time ago.

On February 2, 1926, this complainant obtained a judgment for the promissory note, filed under No. 46290, at the Court of Common Pleas, Stark County, Ohio, against W. H. Barton and Jim Londos, for the sum of seven hundred and thirty dollars ($730.00).

The note is now due and the sum of seven hundred and thirty dollars ($730.00) with interest at the rate of six per cent (6%) from February 9, 1926, is owed to the complainant. Nothing was stated by the complainant further.

Signed

James Psaris.

He signed under oath (Sworn to) March 19,1927. Certified, T. H. Drunkenbrod,

Notary Public.

“Trimmer Jim” managed to wriggle out of his legal difficulties, however, and went his merry way until the summer of 1927, when his wily methods again got him into trouble. The Monroe (La.) News-Star of Saturday, July 16, 1927, said:

A fair gate at the Forsythe baseball park last night was thoroughly disgusted with as big a wrestling farce as has ever been pulled in the local arena. Not even the admitted “Lie-down” of George Vasell to Rudy Dusek in their last engagement here some time ago, excelled in obvious fakery the stunt of last night.

Jim Londos, 195 pound Greek Champion, was supposed to wrestle Count Zarynoff, 195 pounds, Russian champion. Instead, they put on a fifteen minute exhibition match, with the Count taking the aggressive. When the timekeeper called fifteen minutes, at Londos’ request, Londos grabbed Zarynoff and threw him in two minutes, making seventeen minutes total for the first fall. It was nearly train time.

To avoid lengthy description, suffice it to say that Londos scored the second fall in twenty seconds, and then, according to the Monroe (La.) News-Star;

Jim Londos arrived at the Missouri Pacific depot almost immediately after the match. Was Jim fully dressed? No, he wore his ring togs, a bathrobe and a straw hat. He was so intent on catching his train he couldn’t stop to dress. Jim passed through Monroe between trains and made two hundred and fifty dollars. He worked on the theory Barnum extolled. The Count and Jim Londos came to Monroe on the same train. They have “worked” in matches before.

Now about promoter Bobby Manziel. He admits the two wrestlers meshed him up. He admits something went wrong. He refunded money to several patrons as they passed out of the park last night. Manziel authorized the statement that he would never card either of the two men again. He had tried for months to get Londos here, but the Greek contender did not regard Monroe as more than a stop-over between trains, for which stop-over he raised his guarantee on the day of the match to $250.00.

Catch on? “Trimmer Jim” taking the country bumpkin promoter for some easy money with a wrestling partner in town. Into the town and the bout ends in time for the principals to catch the last train out.

Quoting the State Athletic Commissioner, the News-Star continued: The deputy commissioner said he would not say the match was crooked or framed, but that he could say the two men did not give their best services, and that he believed the match had been fixed so Londos could catch the 9:15 train.

Kind of convenient for a contest to end just at train time, eh?

On Thursday, August 25, 1927, the same paper published a letter from J. C. Marsh, the Joe Marsh of the Plestina days, in which Marsh said:

Friends of mine in the east sent me clippings regarding the so-called wrestling match which Jim Londos and Count Zarynoff pulled in your city. They are old playmates and have pulled their brother act many places. Several months ago, at Evansville, Indiana, these two birds met in what was advertised as a wrestling match. The match was promoted by Joe Varga, another of their kind. Zarynoff won the first so-called fall in seven minutes. Londos won the second so-called fall. Then Zarynoff claimed he was hurt and refused to come back. I have a letter before me now from Mr. Loren H. Kiely, county attorney of Evansville, telling me these facts. Zarynoff and Londos have pulled their stunts all over the country, and I am glad to see they got nailed in one of them. I mean the one they pulled in your place.

Londos is wrestling in this city (Los Angeles) now. They have a commission in this state, also, but Londos seems to be okeh. I mean meeting his buddies and getting away with it.

If you want more data on Londos and Zarynoff, write Doc Hottum, Memphis, Tenn. That will reach him. He will give you some of their performances around there. Mr. Loren Kiely, No. 6, Furniture Building, Evansville, Indiana, can also give you plenty of what these two pulled in Evansville, Indiana. I, myself, can also give you plenty.

I do not live here. I am out here on a trip. I live in Chicago, but will be out here for a couple of months yet. My Chicago address is 300 West Adams Street, Suite 829, Chicago, Ill. Hoping you keep the fakers out of your state,

Very truly yours,

J. C. Marsh.

It was, of course, the old trust buster trying to bust Londos and his growing power, but Marsh always had his data correctly and at his finger tips.

As one wrestler once expressed it, “Londos is so crooked, four guys were in a Turkish bath with him and when one of the fellows dropped a ten dollar bill, he was afraid to stoop over to pick it up because Londos was behind him.”

Londos was exploited by Mondt, Curley, Pfeffer, Miller, et al, as the “Golden Greek,” “The Greek Adonis,” “The Statuesque Athenian,” etc.

But during his “golden” era there was many a town he dared not appear in because of those early escapades.

Perhaps no greater betrayer of a people ever appeared before the public than Jim Londos, and this was the man who brought the fans to the box office by grace of Joe “Toots” Mondt’s high pressure publicity during the Londos championship reign.
Sandow had shown skill in building up attractions, but Mondt far outdid the mighty Billy. Every kind of a freak imaginable was introduced to the wrestling rings of New York and Pennsylvania, and the country at large. There was big necked Ferenc Holuban, Fritz Kley, Serge Kalmikoff, long armed Leon Pinetzki and big footed Ivan Poddubny. Though wrestlers were frank in saying that none of them could wrestle, the freaks brought the crowds into the arenas.

These wrestling freaks were mere “palookas,” but one after another, the men of greater ability served as fodder so that they might be built into attractions worthy of providing Jim Londos with a Roman holiday in Madison Square Garden.

Londos drew tremendous crowds into Madison Square Garden and other arenas in the states of Pennsylvania and New York when the freaks were his opponents.

The fans read the publicity concerning these mat mastodons and went to see for themselves. Londos always won. The freaks were shipped to other parts of America and Canada until their popularity was played out.

Then the stars who had previously bowed in defeat before these heteroclite opponents were matched with them again. This time the stars won. The oddities were therewith shipped to their native heaths.

There were occasions when the fans got wise too quickly as to one of the imported minotaur’s abilities. Ivan Poddubny is a case in point.

Ivan Poddubny, billed and circused as the Russian Cossack, won fame in American wrestling rings by virtue of his handlebar Von Hindenburgs and big feet.

He was sixty years of age when Jack Pfeffer brought him to America. So powerful and effective was the publicity ballyhoo, Poddubny became one of matdom’s wonder men overnight. It took the great Joe Stecher one hour and forty minutes to beat Ivan on a supposed fluke, February 1, 1926. (The old finish stuff again).

A few nights later the Poddubny myth was accidentally exploded. Pfeffer permitted the aged Ivan to enter the ring with a second rate wrestler named Tommy Draak. The latter wouldn’t have lasted with Stecher more than five minutes in a shooting match. Draak double crossed Pfeffer. He threw Poddubny in twelve minutes.

The inference is apparent. It took Stecher almost two hours to subdue Poddubny, while a second-rater managed it in twelve minutes. The combination shipped Poddubny back to Russia in a hurry.

Another peculiar incident caused the gullible fans to speculate a trifle. Londos met and defeated Jim McMillen in a match at Madison Square Garden. Next day the news got into the papers that during the bout with McMillen, Londos had suffered a broken leg. Londos didn’t wrestle again for several months.
Narrow minded and probing persons began asking themselves and each other why McMillen hadn’t been able to throw Londos when the New York champion had broken his leg.

It seemed to the curious, and rightly so, an almost physical impossibility for a wrestler to win with a broken leg.

Years before, Cutler supposedly had been forced to concede defeat to Stecher because of a sprained ankle. Why, if McMillen was as skilled as press and promoters declared him to be, hadn’t he seized the opportunity and beaten Londos? For the reader’s information, the jury is still out on this problem.

Wrestling became so popular during the Londos era it threatened to engulf all other professional sports.

In cities like New York, Philadelphia, New Haven, Chicago, Baltimore and Washington, fans stormed arenas where the statuesque Greek pretender to the wrestling throne appeared, and police emergency squads were frequently called out to prevent the fans from breaking down the doors.

Londos met his hand-picked opponents in bouts night after night, sometimes locking grips with the same wrestler four times in one week, in different cities of course.

The number of times he “wrestled” Ray Steele, Rudy Dusek, Gino Garibaldi, Sammy Stein, Karl Pojello, and Jim McMillen in “matches” advertised for the title runs into the hundreds.

The gates for these bouts totaled thousands of dollars. In fact, after meeting Steele in some sixty-eight “contests,” Londos “wrestled” the latter in an open air “match” at the Yankee Stadium, New York. The bout drew close to seventy thousand dollars, a new high for wrestling gates in New York, a record never since equaled in the New York metropolitan area in money or gullibility on the part of meat tossing enthusiasts.

Night after night, Londos wrestled, with the fans never seeming to question his ability to engage supposedly tough opponents in punishing matches for the title. So bold was Londos he booked two bouts for one night, throwing a man in Jersey City, then rushing by cab to Bayonne, New Jersey, a nearby town, to engage in another “defense” of his “title.”

Matmen were supposedly punished beyond human endurance, were knocked senseless and suffered untold tortures during their bouts, but the next night found the same bonecrushers appearing in other cities.

Barnum certainly knew his stuff when he said, “The American public likes to be fooled.” He must have foreseen Jim Londos and the new wrestling era.

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