The Barnums Of Bounce
Wrestlers are men who should be put under observation instead of contract.
Their ring pirouettings not only indicate a more than slight cerebral swelling and concussion, but without question prove to the mothers of the world that birth control should be vested in the Margaret Sangers of the Universe.
Though they draw huge crowds to stadiums and perform upon the mat multifarious deeds of daring, these childlike bonebreakers are problem children to the promoters throughout the world.
They may be underhanded and intriguing pachyderms in their own business, but once divested of matters grappling, they become fit subjects for a psychopathic ward.
The greatest of all the catch-as-catch-can practical jokers is Ray Steele, a harlequin hoyden from Glendale, California. It took an idiot to measure Steele’s capabilities correctly.
Steele visited a former wrestler at the California asylum for the insane at Paton. After a few minutes of what Steele believed to be cheering conversation and good, riotous fun, the lunatic fastened a soulful look upon his visitor and suggested:
“Ray, you ought to come in here and join me. I think you’re sick, too.”
For once even the usually gabby Steele was at a loss for an answer to this appraisement of his intelligence quotient.
The inrush into the United States of foreign bonecrushers brought about a new high in the dizzy dalliances of the muscle stretchers.
One of the most notable and laughable freaks who tickled the risibilities of the matmen was big-necked Ferenc Holuban of Hungary, advertised as “The Man Without a Neck.” Holuban wore a twenty-two-inch collar, stood a little over five feet five inches, and couldn’t, if he had been required, wrestle his way out of a bunch of bananas. It didn’t take long for the wily “Toots” Mondt to circus this monstrosity sufficiently to draw sellout houses with Jim Londos, Ray Steele and other top-notch meat tossers.
If the fans could have been let in on the backstage scenes they would have found that these scarecrows were more laughable away from business than their arena antics indicated.
In the Saturday Evening Post of December 14, 1935, Milton MacKaye related several amusing anecdotes concerning Holuban and others of his ilk. According to MacKaye, the Holuban side-splitter was related to him by New York Promoter Jack Curley himself.
As MacKaye tells it, Holuban spoke no English and so he was entrusted to the care of a Hungarian journalist, who brought him through the customs and established him in a boarding house. Curley had arranged, for seven o’clock the following evening, a dinner of welcome, one of those hands-across-the-sea affairs at which the Hungarian consul, newspaper men and as many celebrities as could be conveniently corralled were to be guests.
Unknown to Curley, the Hungarian journalist went through Holuban’s wardrobe the day of the dinner and discovered that the wrestler had no dinner jacket. Indeed, he discovered that Holuban had only one suit to his name, a light brown affair that seemed in doubtful taste.
This dismayed the journalist; he told Holuban that the American custom demanded that in the absence of dinner clothes, he must at least provide himself with a dark suit. This was an apparently insuperable difficulty. It was quite impossible to fit Holuban, who weighed several hundred pounds more than he had any right to, in a ready-made suit. The journalist finally hit upon a solution—the brown suit could be dyed. The dinner guests convened that evening at seven.
At 7:30 Holuban had not yet arrived. At 8:15 Curley ordered the dinner served and sent couriers to find the guest of honor. They found him at his boarding house, shaved and pomaded—and in his underwear. His brown suit was still at the dyer’s; the color had been changed, but the garment stubbornly refused to dry.
One of the couriers rushed to the tailor shop, snatched the suit from the drying room, took out the dampness with a borrowed electric iron. Three hours late, Holuban arrived at his dinner, conservatively clad in black.
Reporter MacKaye, who from necessity had to depend upon the veracity of Promoter Curley’s own historical memoirs, however, missed many of the freakish and unrelated sidelights of these foreign mastodons.
The evening of the Holuban dinner, which was given in Madison Square Garden’s swanky millionaire’s club, with such Manhattan notables as Damon Runyon, Tammany District Leaders Mike Kennedy and Harry Perry present and a goodly assortment of Fourth Estate freeloaders enthusiastically guzzling gratis booze, beer and food, Holuban was seated between this reporter and Grantland Rice.
The latter and your chronicler noticed Holuban’s huge appetite. Before the banquet was well under way, Holuban had devoured ten sirloin steaks. Rice mentioned this to the Hungarian interpreter. That worthy relayed the comment to Holuban. Without looking up from his eleventh steak, the mat freak shrugged his shoulders rather soulfully and muttered some unintelligible comment.
The interpreter turned to Rice, “Mr. Holuban says,” he stated, “that he’s hungry, of course, but he can’t eat too much food here with so many watching him. His mother always taught him that when he was out in company he should eat and drink sparingly.”
Reporter MacKaye interestingly covered, however, the pogo-stick-like antics of Serge Kalmikoff and other freaks whom Mondt had Jack Pfeffer bring here at his behest.
Ivan Linow, great Russian who later became a movie actor of considerable villainous note, and Kala Pasha, another bearded mat terror who changed his name from Patrick Murphy and garbed himself as a roaring Turkish terror, were the first of the hirsute brigade whom Mondt, Sandow and Lewis had praise-agented during the days of the “Gold Dust Trio.”
When Mondt was on his own and fighting his old partners, “Toots” stopped at little or nothing to get the shekels into the box office. Kalmikoff, a former tailor on New York’s East Side, had wrestled under his own name, Serge Orlov. It was Pfeffer who called him Kalmikoff, but Mondt made his former East Side tailor protege grow a beard and coached him in the art of theatricalism.
Kalmikoff was in the United States on a worker’s permit, and so fast did the money roll in, despite the various cuts Pfeffer made into the purses, that he soon became intractable and wanted to return to his homeland. Mondt was never one to spare the feelings of “those furrin lice,” as he described them in his own colorful Colorado patois.
Reverting to Reporter MacKaye again, he says it was “Kalmikoff’s habit to roar like a lion in the ring and to stand twirling his whiskers as his opponent charged. Since that time beards have become almost standard equipment. No show now is complete without at least one set of Dundrearies or a challengingly neat Vandyke.”
Kalmikoff talked very little English, but he knew well the crowd-pulling value of his beard. After his first tour here, he became engaged in a quarrel with Mondt.
During his angry conversation with Kalmikoff, ignorant of the fact that Curley had signed a contract to bring back the Cossack the following season, Mondt outlined succinctly what he considered to be Kalmikoff’s weaknesses as a wrestler and as an individual. The Cossack walked out in a fury. Forty-five minutes later he returned. He kicked open the door to Mondt’s office. Kalmikoff’s lace curtains were gone; the bountiful harvest of crisp black foliage had been denuded and there was only a powdered, shorn chin to show for the years of careful culture. Kalmikoff enjoyed Mondt’s horrified glance a moment. Then he spoke. “Ya-a-a-a-h!” he said derisively, and dashed for the boat for Europe. Mondt was not at a loss for a Kalmikoff substitute, however. A former Miami, Florida, policeman, who had lost his post because of his over-friendliness with Al Capone, had been hanging around Mondt’s office begging for a chance to exhibit his wares.
Mondt called his press agent, Alex Sullivan, into his office and commanded:, “Go to work on Frank Levitt.”
“What can I say about him?” asked Sullivan.
“Say,” commanded Mondt, “he is ‘Man Mountain Dean’ from Norcross, Georgia. He’s managed by his wife, Dora Dean. He’s one of those back-in-the-hills tramps that has had no experience in professional wrestling, but when he gets on the mat he tears his opponents to pieces. He weighs three hundred and fifty pounds and when he lands on a sucker the guy knows he’s been landed on.”
Sullivan seemed startled out of his usual sang froid.
“You’re not talking about Solder Levitt, the fellow who was in the A. E. F. and then came home and fought a while and was a real tanker, are you?” he asked Mondt.
Mondt was calm.
“Now, Alex,” he replied, “you may be talking about him, but I’m talking about the Georgia Hill Billy, Man Mountain Dean. He’s out growing a bushy beard and five weeks from now he won’t even know he was born in the same Tenth Avenue tenement house as George Raft and Jimmy Cagney.”
Sullivan obediently set to work, and within a few months Man Mountain Dean was the sensation of the mat moguls. Sell-out houses greeted his every appearance, and in bouts with Jim Londos, Vincent Lopez, “Strangler” Lewis, Ray Steele, et al, he established records that still stand.
Dean made one error in judgment that cost him considerable pain both financially and physically. In 1935 he met and defeated Ed “Strangler” Lewis in St. Louis.
En route by train to Philadelphia, the “Georgia Hill Billy” boasted to admirers of the ease with which he beat Lewis. The word got back to big Ed.
Lewis, Dean and Mondt were stopping at the Penn Athletic Club in Philadelphia. One morning Lewis came down to the lobby searching for “Toots.” Only Dean was in evidence and Lewis inquired of Mondt’s whereabouts.
“He’s over in Ray Fabiani’s office,” replied Dean. “Come with me and I’ll take you there.” Going out the front door, Lewis courteously stepped aside and permitted his late opponent to go first. As they reached the pavement, Dean turned to Lewis and said, “Ed, I just now thought how tings has changed for me and you. Ten years ago I usser folly you out them doors and now you folly me. I guess you better grow a beard if you want to keep in my class.”
Furious, but cautious, big Ed merely smiled and awaited his chance to get even.
It came weeks later in St. Louis, where Lewis himself had arranged to meet Dean in a return match. Dean entered the ring, believing he was going to win. His hopes were soon rudely dispelled. Lewis gave him the worst beating any man had ever received in five minutes in a wrestling ring, and after polishing off the crippled synthetic hill billy he finished with the remark: “Frank, you were right at the Penn A. C. Hereafter you go back to following me through the doors. For guys like you Emily Post is just a piece of fencing.”
Love, too, plays an important part in the bonecrushing scheme of life. One of the most notable episodes concerns a prominent wrestling promotional figure who fell in love with the wife of a catch-as-catch-can friend. This big-eared Don Juan kept matters arranged so that the wrestler’s spouse remained in New York City while the grappler filled dates at far-away points.
Christmas time was approaching and the mat promoter decided he would like to buy a nice present for his married sweetheart. He conveyed the information to the faithless matron.
“It would break my husband’s heart,” she said, “if he knew I was cheating on him. I would like a mink coat for Christmas, but he would know I was unable to pay for it out of the money he gives me. If you can figure some way to get around it so that I could have the present, I’ll take it.”
The wrestling manipulator meditated for a time and then arrived at a happy solution. A week before the husband was to return, he and his wedded concubine selected a $5,000 coat at an expensive New York fur shop. The mat prompter paid cash for the garment. Then he said to the errant wife, “Now I’ll take the coat and pawn it for $20.00, and when your husband comes back to New York I’ll give him the pawn ticket and suggest he redeem it.” This plan met with the wife’s approval, and the details were executed.
When the husband returned to New York, the wrestling manipulator handed him the pawn ticket, saying, “I found this ticket on the street. According to the notation $20.00 was borrowed on a woman’s fur coat. Why not go down to the hock shop and redeem the coat? Maybe it is good enough to give your wife for a Christmas present.”
Weeks passed and the wife reported back to her sweetheart that she had not received the coat. When the pachyderm husband returned from one of his many trips, the manipulator met him and asked, “What did you ever do with that pawn ticket I gave you?”
The wrestler said, “I redeemed the coat, and it was a swell mink and I gave it to a girl of mine in Chicago.”
The mat manipulator soon learned, however, the name of the girl who had benefited from his generosity. Some months later he visited the home of his parents in Chicago and there was his $5,000 mink, gracing the form of a married sister.
One of the most laughable love episodes in a grappler’s life was exposed by one of the more prominent bonecrushers. Together with a pal whom he was wrestling in Houston, Texas, they called upon a sweetheart in the Texas city.
After a short visit with the girl, both wrestlers left her home and en route to the Hotel Rice, the mat grappler told his “best” friend, “I am going to marry that girl, and she is madly in love with me. After we wrestle tomorrow night and you win, I want you to go to Memphis with us and be the best man at the wedding.”
This information seemed to interest his wrestling buddy. “Does she know anything about our business?” he asked.
“No, she ain’t wise to wrestling at all,” replied the swain.
The next day, the about-to-be Benedict decided to call again on his intended. When he arrived at her home he found the door ajar and entered her apartment without knocking. He was startled to find her and his wrestling friend in a fond embrace. After denunciations, she attempted to explain her wandering from the straight and narrow pathway.
“You don’t appreciate what I’ve been doing for you,” she said. “I knew you were going to wrestle here tonight, and that we were going to be married in Memphis tomorrow. I wanted to make sure that you would win your bout, so I only submitted to Earl’s advances so as to weaken him and make him easy for you to beat.”
Like schoolboys completing the fourth grade are the modern mat mastodons. Ray Steele, Ernie Dusek, Ted and Vic Christie and Jack Humberto, all have their little tricks which to them are the most amusing of pranks.
Dusek carries a small twine cutter’s knife and uses it effectively to sever neckties from unsuspecting conversationalists’ throats. Humberto, George Zaharias, the Christies, Jack Reynolds, and various others are devotees of a powder that makes luckless persons itch and scratch, or resort to the well known Mickey Finn, often used by saloon keepers to calm recalcitrant patrons.
Steele, it was, who kept the country yokel, Fred Grubmier, in subjection for months, during the latter’s first New York City visit, by compelling “Grubby” to pay a supposed gangster tribute of ten cents per floor penalty each time the Iowa yokel used the Hotel Lincoln elevators, and it was Steele, too, who had an overly garbed feminine-like male pursuing the embarrassed “Grubby” through hotel lobbies and into wrestling club dressing rooms, with proposals of “marriage.”
“Hell’s fire,” commented the flustered “Grubby,” “she was dressed just like a woman, and good lookin’, too, and only the fact I have a fine wife kept me from fallin’ for her an’ acceptin’ her proposals. An’ then one of the boys tells me she’s a man and I give her the gate. But it wasn’t without a struggle.”
Hans Steinke scores with his experience when first he tangled with Jim Clinkstock, one of “Toots” Mondt’s rug peddlers, whom the redoubtable “Toots” made into a wrestler and garnered for him a fortune of fifty thousand dollars.
Clinkstock was wrestling Steinke, who wristlocked him.
Evidently Hans put on more pressure than intended, for Clinkstock howled with anguish. Slowly Hans’ immense rear end began settling in Clinkstock’s face. With a roar of anguish, Jim brought his face in contact with the seat of Steinke’s tights and bit. When we say bit, we mean hard. With a yowl, Hans released his hold.
Later in the dressing room Hans shouted at Clinkstock: “Whyfore you bite me in the pants like a dog when I’m in the ring with you?”
“Whyfore,” replied Clinkstock, “did you hurt my wrist?”
The late Honorable Marion Zioncheck, the dizzy Congressman from the state of Washington, may have startled American citizens with his daffy deeds during the Spring and Summer of 1936, and the Dean Boys, Dizzy and Daffy, baseball pitchers deluxe, have had reams of newspaper print devoted to their peccadilloes, but theirs were motivated publicity seeking stunts.
The wrestler, like the famed Jimmy Walker line, “can match his private and public life with any man’s,” and the bonecrushers will defy any man to equal their private lives in the comparison.
Westbrook Pegler, excellent reporter of the United Feature Syndicate, says: There are two distinct types of goofiness—the genuine and the imitation.
The late Rube Waddell, the left-handed pitcher, was a nut at heart, and ate animal crackers in bed in the dark, proving that he was goofy on or off.
Battling Siki, the Senegalese prizefighter, also erstwhile, was even goofier than Waddell, and once caused a riot by giving away $20 bills—a prank which the Hon. Dizzy Zioncheck was not likely to imitate.
I believe Chief Chewaki, the Indian wrestler from Poland, whose correct name is Czewalski, also can be classed as a true nut. Chief Chewaki is the one who hit upon the idea of dusting his wrestling tights with sneeze powder, and clamping his mighty thighs over the head of his opponent, who would then succumb in a spasm of sneezes. He also had a trick of hiding a loop of baling wire, like a dog-catcher’s snare, in his corner and reaching for it in critical moments to strangle his adversary.
Chief Chewaki, or Czewalski, was ejected from various rings by indignant referees, menaced by angry crowds, and fined by prize fight commissions on numerous occasions for soiling the fair escutcheon of sport, but I never heard of his turning square.
In commenting upon sports figures, and wrestling nuts in particular, Pegler only scratched the surface, however. He forgot Texas Dick Raines, who used to bang his head against steam pipes to toughen himself. He omitted the name of George Koverly, lover of dogs, whose own pet canine eats, sleeps and guzzles beer and booze with his lord and master.
Matman Gino Garibaldi thinks it rare sport to startle house guests with firecrackers, stink bombs or table candles that shoot fireworks high in the air.
Collapsible chairs, folding toilets, breakdown beds and imitation horse manure placed in bedrooms are other pranks indulged in by the mat marvels while they rest between the acts.
Reverting to Steele again, he leads the pack in dizzy didoes.
At a hunting lodge in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, his place is one gag after another. Luckless, indeed, is the person who feels the call to nature and must rush madly to the little back house behind the Steele hunting lodge.
The door closes and the guests in on the fun gather round. The luckless victim of another Steele prank relaxes comfortably on the toilet seat and then the humor starts.
For the pressure of his behind causes the wall of the little back house to collapse outwardly, and there, revealed in a primitive pose, is seated the surprised guest.
Little Joe Bever, synthetic Indian, thinks it’s great advertising to order and consume a roast dog. Joe Marvin startled even his own goofy cohorts when he sued a young woman for breach of promise, studied aviation, and graduated from a detective school with a diploma, a badge, and a complete set of disguises.
Steele’s nuttiness has often been tinged with rare humor, however.
There was the evening in Jack Corcoran’s Toronto wrestling club when a friend confided to Ray that he had dated two society girls to make the rounds with them that night after the matches.
“They are Canadian society girls,” confided the Pal, “so be nice and polite to them, Ray. When we meet don’t get fresh with them. Start easy. Talk about painting, travel, society, banking, books, and golf, then work around to other things.”
“Don’t worry about me, Pal,” assured Steele.
Ray and his Pal were hardly seated in the cab which was to take the society girls and their escorts to a night club, then Steele turned to his girl companion and asked:
“Have you ever been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City?” “No,” she answered.
“Have you ever been to Russia; met Mrs. Vanderbilt; had a father who is a banker; read the Congressional Record or played golf?” continued Steele.
“Nope,” replied Steele’s feminine companion.
“Then,” said Ray hopefully, “Whatta ya say we go to my hotel room and get right down to business?”
“By God,” earnestly commented Steele’s wrestling Pal, “I’ll say one thing for you, Ray. You kept your word and first talked about the things I asked you to, before you propositioned her.”