Monday, March 8, 2010

Fall Guys Chapter 14

Shylock Was A Spendthrift

When judgment day arrives for wrestlers, and the pearly gates are opened wide for the mat promoters, then will Jack Curley of New York and Ed White of Chicago, have their day in the celestial sun. White and Curley there, my friends, are two names that have figured prominently through the years in wrestling manipulations. White, slippery as the greased Gotch poor Hackenschmidt tried to grab, and Curley, combining all the histrionic talents of a Barrymore. At times belligerent, then plaintive or suave or even tearful. At the door of White is laid the unproven charge of being instrumental in the discharge of a prominent Chicago Sports Writer from one of the Windy City’s leading papers.

Though now dead, here’s the way the story was unfolded to the writer one night while the sportscribe in question and your historian (sic) were hoisting one last lager before the last train to Connecticut pulled out of the Grand Central Station.

When Billy Sandow, after the notorious Zbyszko double cross of Wayne Munn, decided to go ahead with the Lewis-Munn return match in Benton Harbor, Mich., it was White, working to accomplish his own ends, who engineered the discharge of the well-liked Chicago sporting writer, who at one time had borrowed one hundred dollars from him and failed to pay it back.

White had the canceled check, and when he could not persuade the sportswriter to attack Sandow, Mondt and Lewis through the sports pages of his paper, White’s next move was to reveal the scribe’s debt to the reporter’s editor.

The discharge then followed, and it wasn’t until the luckless journalist was broke, desperate, hungry and virtually shoeless, that he secured another job as press agent for Paul Bowser, one whom the discredited reporter had never befriended.

“What the hell was the difference?” asked Bowser once, when questioned as to his reasons for putting the scribe to work.

“He needed a job and I needed a fellow like him in my business. If he hit me below the belt it was because he was trying to befriend old man Levine (White’s real name). I don’t hold things like that against any newspaperman. Just because I may buy them a few drinks once in a while doesn’t mean I own them body and soul.”

Instances of White’s dealing from the bottom of the deck with his own partners and wrestlers who were fighting for his promotorial life would add long pages to the annals of wrestling history.

He held his sway over the business through the years of gangster and political rule in Chicago when Morris Eller, “Big Bill” Thompson and other machine politicians were ready to do his bidding for small campaign contributions.

White’s penny pinching proclivities with wrestlers and employees is best illustrated by an often repeated story of the office boy who went to him with a request for an increase in salary.

“Look here,” said White to the lad, affectionately draping his arm around the boy’s shoulders, “I want you to consider something. If I give you a raise, it means three dollars more a week added to your pay. For each month it means twelve dollars extra you’ll be getting. In a year you will be having $156 more in pay.” Here, White’s voice grew louder, according to the listener-in. “In ten years,” he continued, “you will have $1,560 out of my pocket, and in fifty, in fifty years, in fifty years”

At this point White beat his temples furiously and gazed wildly at the by now chastened and frightened lad.

“Think of it!” he yelled at the boy. “In fifty years with that money, plus compound interest, you’d have me bankrupt.”

Ed White it was, however, who brought Jack Curley into the wrestling business. He picked him up as a waiter in a south side Chicago cabaret, changed Curley’s name from Jacob Schmul to that of Jack Curley, because of the latter’s curly hair, and started him off in the wrestling racket.

Curley had had some experience in the fight game as a rubber of Tommy Ryan, oldtime middleweight champion. White schooled Curley in the inner workings of the mat manipulations, but within a short space of time the pupil was showing the professor tricks he had never before dreamed of.

Their first joint efforts to pool their talents came in 1911, when in company with Jack Herman, Joe Coffey and Isador Herk, New York burlesque producer, they staged the return match between Gotch and Hackenschmidt at the White Sox Ball Park.

Three weeks before the bout it seemed a certain sellout, with approximately eighty thousand dollars in the box office at that time. The sponsors were making good use of these funds for promotional expenses. Then came the rude awakening. Hackenschmidt broke his knee and informed the promoters the bout would have to be called off.

Pandemonium reigned in the wrestling promoters’ headquarters when “Hack” broke the news of his own particular “break.” The sponsors realized that the ticket money, already spent, would have to be returned unless the bout came off as scheduled. They went to the luckless “lion” and by glib talking persuaded Hack to announce to the press and public that he was perfecting a new hold to cope with Gotch, and thereafter would do his training privately and his road work at night in order to avoid the intense lake front late summer heat.

Hackenschmidt agreed to this, provided that Gotch would permit him to win a fall during the bout, and that Gotch would carry him along and give him a show. Gotch gave his word. Thereupon, a substitute approximately Hackenschmidt’s dimensions and general description did his night road work late every evening along the Lake Michigan beach while the promoters kept the curious from getting too close a view of the man going through the routine training paces.

The subterfuge was successfully passed off onto the public, and the day of the bout, September 4th, 1911, over one hundred thousand dollars had been paid by the eager fans who gathered to view the epic struggle between the great Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt.

The contest developed into the greatest fiasco ever perpetrated upon the American public. Hackenschmidt limped into the ring with his knees encased in splints. Gotch threw him two straight falls, and the enraged fans almost killed both participants and wrecked the ball park.

It would take pages to recount the infamy perpetrated upon Hackenschmidt by both Gotch and the promoters of the bout. The unsuspecting Russian proved to be no match for his American opponent. In the English Manchester News “Hack” recently said:

I knew Curley was loyal and generous. Whenever he spoke, sympathy and sincerity just streamed from him. When I reached Chicago I went into training at once with Jacobus Koch and Doctor Roller (Editor note—This is the same Roller who acted as Gotch’s policeman and toured Europe with Gotch. Read carefully and see what you make of the turn of events). Gradually I got into perfect condition. One day I was wrestling Roller in training. I jumped up to free myself from a position and this time he did not try to hold me. He went up with me. As we got on our legs his right foot struck my right kneecap. I dropped to the floor and laid there like a log for six hours. My friends could do nothing for me. To keep the injury a secret I laid on the gym floor until dark, when they carried me back to my quarters. They put me to bed. In the morning I was treated, the leg was bandaged by a doctor and I was taken home again. The doctor came twice a day and treated me, but my leg was terribly swollen.

I owed so much to the promoters I couldn’t give up without a struggle, so I was photographed by newspapermen and though my knee was tightly bound, it was impossible for me to bend it. A few days before the match I went into the gym again to try wrestling. The moment I put any strain on the knee I experienced terrible pain. It was hopeless. I went back to my quarters.

The day of the match, four strips of plaster were stretched on my leg from the hip to the ankle. The knee was then bound in over twenty feet of rubber bandage four inches wide. I put on a pair of long green drawers so as to hide my real condition from the public. Doctor Roller lent me the wrestling drawers.

Koch wanted me to call the bout off. I refused. I entered the ring and told the referee to call all bets off. He refused to do so and I told him I’d walk out of the ring unless he did so. Then he did as I wished. I stood on one foot and we wrestled. Though I was crippled, Gotch couldn’t get me down. I was in such poor shape I ended the whole dreary business myself. I went down twice but Gotch didn’t do it. I lost two falls and went back to my dressing room.

In a Ring Magazine story concerning the late Gotch, the late Ed Smith who refereed the notorious Gotch and Hackenschmidt affair said:

Frank Gotch’s mighty toe hold was dinned into foreign invaders. It was the first thing a foreign wrestler heard when he landed in America. In various languages and gestures this yellow flag was waved before the terrified foreign invader. It got to be part of the managerial ritual, this American juggernaut.

Most of the yarns were sheer figments of imagination. Frank Gotch never won an important match in his entire career with the toehold…the toehold made of Frank Gotch a brute, a type of relentless killer who delighted in mayhem…breaking ankles…twisting knees…while he chuckled high in glee as he gloated in their misery.

Smith goes on to say Gotch did not originate the toehold, it being as old as wrestling, and that the Humboldt Horror merely used it for feinting purposes to get an opponent into position. He further says:

Gotch received twenty thousand dollars for the bout and one thousand for training expenses…Hack got thirteen thousand five hundred dollars…That shell of a man who appeared in the afternoon for the bout wasn’t even a tough man…The first fall was fourteen minutes, the second five minutes, the bout ending in boos and catcalls.

After the leg injury came commands from the frantic Curley and his co-promoters, who were fingering a tremendous advance sale, a portion of it already spent in the advance promotion of the show. In his training quarters Hack fumed, raved like a crazy man, then went away by himself for hours. He would get out of bed at two in the morning to drag around the streets, in a fog…When he entered the ring on the day of the bout he limped…There was a gasp of astonishment from the crowd which, before the men started to wrestle, knew it was a fiasco…It was just a basket picnic for Gotch, with guava jelly and breast of partridge as luncheon bits. Immediately Gotch went to work on the injured leg. It’s too farcical to recount in detail. After the match the disgruntled crowd sifted out of the ball park.

In these pages we have spoken of Gotch many times and the part he played in present day wrestling. Smith knew Gotch intimately and in his Ring Magazine statement said:

There were several times during the many I observed Frank Gotch that the thought flashed through my mind he wasn’t one hundred per cent game. I saw absolute acts of cruelty on his part I didn’t like. Always, I think the really courageous man, no matter how ferocious, and filled with the killing instinct and eager to win he may be, is willing to let up on a beaten foe and not punish needlessly or wantonly.

Suffice to say the Gotch-Hack fiasco lead to a shakeup all around in Chicago. The police department was turned over because nothing had been done about the gamblers and pickpockets who frequented the park during the bout, and wrestling remained dead for many a day in that city.

After the Chicago debacle Curley sought other fields of endeavor and New York was decided upon as his oyster. So the merry game went on.

Surprisingly enough, though he has, by various ruses, managed to grab considerable chunks of money from his many combination partners through the years, Curley has been tolerated because of his alleged political influence.

He was shrewd enough when he began his New York promotions to cut prominent charities in on nearly every show. Inasmuch as the monies given to the funds did not come out of his pocket but were paid by the wrestlers working on the card, who believed these expenditures were necessary to keep wrestling alive, Curley in reality lost nothing by his generosity and received all the credit and the glory.

In the years that followed the Gotch-Hackenschmidt debacle, Curley joined the best New York clubs where he could make necessary promotional contacts and allied himself with Mrs. William Randolph Hearst’s Free Milk Fund for Babies, donating ten per cent of two huge promotions yearly to that charity.

This alliance helped him to hold his partners into line with the groundless threat that the Hearst newspaper chain would ruin wrestling all over the country unless he remained a partner in the combination.

Several times when his future appeared rocky and his partners were sharpening the ax for his head, Curley called upon the New York Hearst newspapers to jump to his defense and, though their efforts were only half-hearted, they were sufficient to quiet down any opposition to Curley within the camp.

During the varied years wrestling has boomed throughout the United States, Curley’s promotions have lost huge sums of monies according to the statements he submitted to his partners after each match. No matter how large the houses, Curley could usually find expenditures to take up the profits.

These defalcations of funds were tolerated by the mat master minds because of the publicity value of favorable wrestling stories emanating from New York, mecca of all America.

Of course, Mr. Editor and Mr. Publisher in many cases have social climbing wives who are affiliated with some pet charity which furthers their own cause in social progress. Curley never hesitates to call upon these same wives for aid if some truthful scribe gets out of line.

Sizable contributions toward political clubs, charity shows to support some politically powerful leader’s fresh air fund or off the street fund for children, with the wrestlers paying the freight and Curley getting the glory and credit, all add to Curley’s power and ability to hold the wrestlers into line.

Minor favors he can secure and whenever title difficulties develop he exhibits a surprising talent for protecting any combination which is willing to kick in with an extra sum as a bonus.

During the depression wrestling hit the depths all over the country. At that it was still a profitable promotion for Mondt, Rudy Dusek, Ray Fabiani, Ed White, Paul Bowser, Tom Packs, Ed “Strangler” Lewis, and Lou Daro - except in the New York territory.

In the summer of 1936, “Strangler” Lewis, Rudy Dusek, Fabiani, Mondt and Curley, partners in the New York territory, were to meet at the Hotel Warwick in New York City to balance their books. When Curley called the meeting to order Dusek was missing, but the ever adroit Jack went on with the proceedings.

“Gentlemen,” he is supposed to have sadly said, “business has been terrible this year past. We lost fifty thousand dollars by my way of figuring.”

Just at this moment the tardy Rudy Dusek entered the room.

“Where were you?” asked Mondt.

“Shooting craps,” replied Rudy.

“Did you win?” asked Lewis.

“Three bucks,” answered Dusek.

Curley beamed.

“Thank goodness, gentlemen,” he cut in, “as our partner Rudy has just made three dollars, I can now report that our deficit this year will only total forty-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-seven dollars.”

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