Wearing Out The Green
Danno O’Mahoney, or “Danno Me Bye,” as Worcester’s Jack McGrath called him, came from Balleydhob, a whistle stop in the south of Ireland. Only the most fortuitous circumstances brought him into the American wrestling game.
Bowser had commissioned Jack McGrath to travel to Erin’s Isle, and there endeavor to persuade Doctor Patrick O’Callahan, Erin’s representative in the Olympics, to forsake medicine and to cast his lot with the American pachyderms.
“We have a big Irish population, not only in Boston and New England, but throughout the Americas,” Bowser told his partners. “The biggest drawing cards in American athletics have always had Irish names. If we can get O’Callahan and make him champion, we may have the Londos houses restored.”
So off to Dublin journeyed McGrath, only to have his overtures to O’Callahan met by rebuffs. The good doctor possessed enough money so that he needed not American shekels and made it plain to McGrath the best move he could make would be to return to the States on the next ship.
Considerably downcast, McGrath repaired to a tavern where he assuaged his thirst and wept copiously in the “arf and arf.”
He had become pleasantly immersed in his cups when his reverie was disturbed by a loud shouting outside the tavern door. Possessing all the curiosity of a Boston born Celt, McGrath rested his stein on the bar long enough to permit him to poke his head through the inn door and view the scene without.
He saw a raw boned Irish lad clothed in the uniform of the Free State Army, well over six feet, and weighing in the neighborhood of two hundred pounds, putting the shot, the while admiring Gaels cooed and aahed every effort.
McGrath turned to the bartender, who was also viewing the lad’s exhibition of prowess. “And who,” he asked, “is that lad?”
The barkeep smiled joyfully, raised his eyes piously to heaven and answered: “That is ‘Danno Me Bye.’ The best shot putter in the Irish Free State Army.”
“Is he married?” asked McGrath.
“That he is not,” replied the booze dispenser.
“Do you know him?” was McGrath’s next question.
“And that I do,” answered the Celt, “fir isn’t he my own sister’s child by her marriage?” It was enough for McGrath. He sought an introduction to the athletic hero and before the day was over, Danno O’Mahoney had agreed to obtain a furlough from the Free State Army and try his hand in America as a bonecrusher.
“Though I’ve had no experience wrestling, I think the remuneration is sufficient to be interesting,” Danno told his intimate friends. “I’m now receiving fifteen dollars monthly in the Free State Army. This man McGrath says I’ll make a fortune in America, and if I do as I’m told, I’ll be able to win the championship.”
With only a rudimentary knowledge of wrestling, such as he had obtained in the Free State Army, Danno was taken to London, and there in a ring at Albert Hall, in December of 1934, met “Strangler” Lewis. “Big Ed” had agreed to the match without first viewing his opponent. In fact, he stepped right off the gangplank and into Albert Hall, without waiting for his sea legs to wear off. He was treated to the most amazing sight of his career.
“I expected to see a Hercules,” Lewis said later. “But when this fellow slouched into the ring and onto the mat, I was afraid to clamp a hold onto him for fear every bone in his body would crack. He swayed like a reed bent before a tornado. I had intended to wrestle a draw with him, but instead I threw him after twenty minutes of tugging. I just couldn’t carry him through to a draw, he was so terrible looking.”
McGrath was satisfied with the aptitude Danno had shown in his bout with Lewis, and early in 1935 the Irishman was launched upon his American bonecrushing career. He caught on at once in Boston.
Bowser and his partners fed him the best “workers,” and the Irish-American public, with another hero to worship from afar, such as John L. Sullivan, Jimmy McLarnin and Roy Neal, flocked to the wrestling clubs where he appeared.
Almost at once, after Danno’s Boston debut, the wrestling gates soared back to the oldtime highs that had been Bowser’s pleasure when Sonnenberg was champion.
Rudy Dusek, his brothers, Ernie, Joe, Emil, Scotty MacDougall, Ray Steele, Jim Browning, “Strangler” Lewis, Sonnenberg, McMillen, Little Wolf, Joe Beaver, George Zaharias, they and many more worked with and lost to “Danno Me Bye” before huge houses.
There seemed to be no stopping “The Wild Irish Rose.” Crowds followed him through New England and Canadian towns. Against Londos in Boston, on June 27th of 1935, he drew a record house of nearly seventy-five thousand dollars, and won Londos’ claim to the championship, a feat which cost Bowser seventy-five thousand dollars, for he had to guarantee Londos not only the fifty thousand dollars which he and his partners had posted as a guarantee of faith, but the Greek pretender demanded another twenty thousand before he would let his claim to the title change hands. Ed Don George then fell before the Irishman on July 27th, 1935, with heavyweight champion Jim Braddock acting as referee, and proving sufficiently adept at the art of being arbiter to enable Bowser to rematch George and Danno several times in various cities.
With Danno the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, the mat moguls looked for bigga and betta wrestling gates, but their hopes were dashed with cold water.
Danno had no sooner won the title than new trust busters appeared upon the horizon. Jack McGrath, who traveled with the Irishman and fronted as his manager, spent worrisome nights foiling efforts to double cross the Celt and grab his crown.
It had been years - not since “Strangler” Lewis had been in his heyday - since there had been a single undisputed title holder, and Billy Sandow, back in the picture with Everett Marshall, was challenging the Celt crown-wearer in every major city of America.
With the seventy thousand dollars invested in a title holder, Bowser needed protection aplenty and the job of covering up for Danno became a costly one.
There were rumors that Serge Kalmikoff, bewhiskered Russian importee, was going to double cross the trust and throw Danno during a Philadelphia bout. Only the prompt work of “Toots” Mondt foiled this scheme.
Out in Chicago, on the windy shores of Lake Michigan, Ed White eyed Danno’s crown with covetous eyes, realizing that if one of his men defeated the Irishman, White would be back in the driver’s seat.
On the Pacific Coast, where “Toots” Mondt was drawing record grappling gates with Man Mountain Dean, Vincent Lopez, Dean Detton, and Little Wolf, Mondt foresaw the possibilities of Danno being “hooked” and had Vincent Lopez, Utah-Mexican-American, declared champion by the California Commission. When his partners protested this move, Mondt answered: “You can never tell when the Irishman is going to get clipped. Londos and Ed White are working to double cross him. The Greek got the seventy thousand dollars, and would now like to get the title back again, but he’s not going to pay for it. He’ll wait until he can trap Danno with some stooge.”
The partners learned later how correct “Toots” was to be in his deductions.
Sandow allied himself with Al Haft of Columbus, and Everett Marshall continued baiting Danno. Ed “Strangler” Lewis was shoved into the breach wherever a policeman was necessary, but even the redoubtable Lewis couldn’t be with Danno every night to protect him.
When, in the early part of 1936, Danno toured through the South, he narrowly averted two defeats, one by “Toots” Bashara in New Orleans in February, and the other by Ed Civil, known as “Daniel Boone Savage,” the “Wild Man” in Houston.
The works were in again for “Danno Me Bye” in Galveston, with Juan Hemberto as his opponent, but the prompt work of Charlie Rentropt, Memphis promoter, who was traveling with Danno and McGrath, as referee, prevented the Irishman from being hooked.
Rentropt adopted the expedient of having O’Mahoney show up in Galveston on the night of the contest and report that he was too ill to wrestle.
The fight over such a synthetic bauble as a mat crown may seem small potatoes to the reader, but to wrestling promoters the possession of the heavyweight title puts the manipulator in the driving seat. No sooner had Danno won the crown, than every small time promoter began figuring ways and means to outsmart Bowser and grab the title without paying for the privilege of owning a championship.
“Doctor” Karl Sarpolis, veteran grappler, made desperate and vain attempts to have the Texas Commission reverse the Houston decision of Referee Paul Jones (a Bowser-controlled wrestler who grappled with Danno many times) given in favor of the Irishman and have Ed Civil, so-called Wild Man, declared champion.
Sarpolis is said to have offered various officials and politicians twenty-five thousand dollars to change the decision and have Civil declared champion, but to the credit of the Lone Star State satraps it must be said that his offers met with refusal.
It has been said since, that these attempts to “hook” Danno during his southern tour were the direct results of Jim Londos’ undercover plotting, but later developments led many to suspect Rudy Dusek.
Before hooking up with the eastern wrestling picture, Dusek had been the big time mat master mind through the South. His chief lieutenant was Leon Balkin, brother-in-law to Shreveport, La., promoter, Julius Siegel, and Houston promoter, Morris Siegel.
On the night when Referee Paul Jones had protected Danno against the Ed Civil double cross, Sarpolis, who had not as yet shown his hand, Jack McGrath, Rentrop, Danno and Jones, held a conference in a room at the Auditorium Hotel in Houston. McGrath suggested that Siegel phone New York and relay news of the various happenings to Leon Balkin. According to later reports, the following conversation took place in substance:
Siegel: “Hello, Leon, is there anyone with you in your room?” Evidently Siegel received a negative reply, for Siegel said: “I have a room full of people here, so I’ll tell you the news in Yiddish.”
Thereupon, Siegel conducted a twenty-minute phone conversation with his brother-in-law in Jewish.
Said McGrath later in reporting to Paul Bowser.
“We were all Christians in the room except Siegel. None of us but Siegel knew Jewish. We all knew, however, about the attempted double cross, and none of us suspected any of those present at the time. Now what need was there for Siegel to talk to Balkin over the long distance phone in Yiddish, unless Balkin was in on the plot?”
While Bowser did not have an immediate answer to this riddle, it came much later.
Danno returned from his southern tour considerably sullied, but still champion. The bombshell burst in the wrestling business on the night of March 2, 1936, in Madison Square Garden.
Richard Shikat, taciturn Teuton, sauntered into the Garden Ring, and in a bout sanctioned by the New York State Athletic Commission as a title match, he made O’Mahoney quit with a simple arm and double wristlock, easiest of holds for an experienced wrestler to break.
When Referee George Bothner patted Shikat on the back in token of victory, his gesture precipitated the opening of a wrestling war which may not end for years to come.
Beating O’Mahoney in the Madison Square Garden ring was a master stroke on Shikat’s part. With every big wire service covering Madison Square Garden events, Shikat knew he was in a position to secure world wide publicity. He knew, too, that although Ed Lewis, Jack Curley, McGrath, and other partners were on hand, George Bothner was a referee who would call the bout the way he saw it.
Within a few weeks there were to be more crosses in the wrestling business than one could find in the soldiers’ graveyards of France.