Monday, March 8, 2010

Fall Guys Chapter 22

Smoke Got in Their Eyes

Jack Pfeffer gloated in his new-found glory of parading Richard Shikat around the newspaper offices as the man who broke the nationwide wrestling trust.

He found the champ a willing sporting stooge in his campaign to blow the whistle on the machinations of the bonecrushing industry.

Though extremely ignorant as to the background and motivation in wrestling, sports scribe Dan Parker managed to maintain a certain note of authority in his columnistic revelations because of Pfeffer’s willingness to supply information with just a modicum of truth in every statement he gave the New York Mirror’s reporter.

Too, Dan Parker had another source of confidential information in “Chick” Wergeles, master of espionage, who, while working for the Curley office as a press agent, garnered gossipy tidbits concerning the inside of the wrestling business and relayed them to Parker, who printed the information in his column.

Failing in their efforts to do business with Richard Shikat, the mat trust dug up a managerial contract held by Joe Alvarez, Boston matchmaker for Bowser, and sued in the Federal district court of Columbus, Ohio, to restrain Shikat from wrestling for the Haft-Sandow-Weismuller combine.

Ray Fabiani, Joe Alvarez, Leon Balkin and Jack Curley journeyed to Columbus for the legal joust.

On Friday, April 23, 1936, the Columbus Citizen, in recounting the various moves in the Federal trial to curb Shikat, said:

Wrestling is on the level.

Jack Curley, for 40 years one of the leading sport promoters of the country, swore to that today on the witness stand in Judge Mell Underwood’s federal court, at the opening of the hearing of Joe Alvarez’ request for an injunction against World’s Champion Dick Shikat wrestling for anyone else but him.

Mr. Curley was the first witness offered by Attorney Fred C. Rector, acting for the plaintiff.

Mr. Curley had conveniently forgotten his revelations to Robert Edgren, New York World sports scribe, to whom he had revealed the various machinations of the wrestling business back in 1911, after the sorry Gotch-Hackenschmidt affair in Chicago.

Continuing, the Columbus Citizen said:

Just before noon recess, Attorneys Rector and John Connor for the defense engaged in a heated argument over admissibility of a photostatic copy of an agreement purported to be signed by Curley, Paul Bowser of Boston, Ray Fabiani of Philadel­phia, Ed White of Chicago, Tom Packs of St. Louis and “Toots” Mondt of New York.

According to Mr. Connor, this copy, if admitted in evidence, will show the existence of a signed agreement between these men, splitting up the eastern half of the United States in a wrestling combine or trust.

Mr. Curley admitted on the stand that such an agreement existed, and vouched for his signature on the agreement.

Mr. Curley was called to the stand after Judge Underwood had dissolved the temporary restraining order, forbidding Mr. Shikat to appear in any matches except for Mr. Alvarez.

The hearing then swung into a request for a permanent restraining order.

In response to a question from Mr. Rector, Mr. Curley said he had never participated in the fixing of a wrestling match, nor had he ever known of one being fixed.

Curley’s testimony at this juncture, it might be pointed out, was in direct contradiction to Jack Pfeffer’s various statements published in the New York Daily Mirror.

Quoting the Citizen again:

In the opening statements the two attorneys presented sharply contrasting pictures of the case.

To Mr. Rector it was merely a case of Mr. Shikat signing a contract with Joe Alvarez, and enjoying Mr. Alvarez’ help and cooperation in getting to the top, and then deciding he’d no longer cut Mr. Alvarez in on the earnings.

To Mr. Connor it was a dramatic story of a German coming to this country as a stranger, and finding he had to ditch Rudy Miller, his original manager, and sign up with a manager named by the “trust” before he could get any matches.

Then, according to Mr. Connor, came days when the trust demanded that he put up a deposit of $18,000 with the so-called trust, to guarantee he’d follow instructions, even to the extent of losing when instructed to lose.

After following instructions, Mr. Connor said Mr. Shikat asked for the return of his $18,000 deposit, and the return was refused.

Then came instructions to sign with another manager, also in the combine, and a period of two years of trying to get the deposit back.

After that, according to Mr. Connor’s opening statement, Mr. Shikat was signed to meet Danno O’Mahoney in New York City.

After the O’Mahoney match, according to Mr. Connor, representatives of the trust offered him his deposit back and $25,000 in addition, if he’d go in and meet Mr. O’Mahoney again and lose to him or to another wrestler named Robert.

Mr. Shikat, according to Mr. Connor, indignantly refused, and came west to join the stable of Al Haft, Columbus impresario of grunt and groan.

The Columbus State Journal said:

Charges that a wrestling “trust” exists in the eastern half of America, and that grapplers are forced to “win or lose or draw,” according to order, or lose huge forfeits, whirled through federal court yesterday.

Indications were that the testimony would be completed Saturday, only two of more than a score of witnesses reaching the stand yesterday.

The two were Jack Curley, New York promoter, and Garrett L. Smalley of Kansas City, chairman of the Missouri State Athletic Commission.

In addition to Shikat and Haft, who is co-defendant in the suit, and friends of Haft and Curley, Ray Fabiani, Philadelphia promoter, was an interested spectator, and probably will be a witness when the hearing is resumed at 10 o’clock this morning.

The preliminary restraining order which stopped Shikat from appearing in any matches was dissolved by Judge Underwood at the morning session, after a brief exchange between John Connor, attorney for Shikat and Haft, and Fred Rector, counsel for Alvarez. As a result, Shikat may appear in any match until the hearing is concluded, it is understood, and he is supposed to appear in Detroit tonight.

Smalley said he believed all contracts filed with the Missouri commission had borne Alvarez’ name as manager. He said he had no documentary support, since all contracts are destroyed soon after matches.

Connor asked him who was paying his expenses to Columbus, and Smalley replied no one had paid them yet, but he expected Tom Packs of St. Louis would do so. Packs is a member of the wrestling “ring.”

From Smalley’s testimony it is only too evident to the reader as to which corner the Missouri State Athletic Commission was working in. Contracts destroyed, and a trust paying a public servant’s expenses for favorable testimony. Truly a strange condition of affairs.

Quoting the Ohio State Journal again:

Jack Curley testified that he had known Alvarez for some years and that wrestling as it is conducted today in the United States, is strictly “on the level.” He denied vigorously that he had asked Shikat to “take a dive” in his match with O’Mahoney, and also declared false an implied assertion that he had tried the same thing again in trying to induce Shikat to agree to a return match with the Irishman.

The eastern impresario of exhibitions and athletic shows seemed to resent Attorney Connor’s revelation that his former name was Armand Jacob Schmul, which he changed 35 years ago in Chicago, to his present name.

Sports scribe Bob Beach of the Ohio State Journal, commented:

Lawyers must practice taking surprises without showing any shock. There is no doubt that the appearance in the court of a photostatic copy of the contract among Curley, Mondt, Bowser, Packs and Fabiani and White was like a bomb in the midst of the plaintiff’s staff of attorneys. But Rector didn’t show it. Neither did his colleague, Mr. Sterling, Curley’s Philadelphia lawyer. Curley himself, however, on the witness stand at the time, couldn’t conceal a trace of amazement.

While Shikat was purportedly in the employ of Alvarez, and allegedly under “contract” to him, all the vouchers with which he was paid, which were introduced by the plaintiff, bore the signature of Curley.

Back to the court trial as again recounted in the Columbus Ohio State Journal:

After the O’Mahoney match, Connor said Shikat was called into Curley’s office, where several members of the “ring” confronted him and asked him, “Why did you double cross us like you did last night?” But this also was denied by the wit­ness.

Then the offer to Shikat for a return match, with the stipulation to “take a dive” was made, Connor said, but the title holder merely smiled and refused.

Curley said he had been engaged in the promotional game for years, and in response to his attorney’s questions, said he included in his management, Annette Kellerman and the Vatican Choir “direct from Rome.” He also said he had managed the tour of William Jennings Bryan in 1901-02.

He professed ignorance of most of the details of his promotional enterprises, asserting the details were left to his assistant, Leon Balkin. He admitted signature of checks to Shikat.

At the afternoon session the contract between Mondt, White, Curley, Packs, Bowser and Fabiani, and others, in which they agreed to split 60 percent of the proceeds of all their matches was introduced.

As Bowser, whom Shikat’s attorney claims was the real manager and not Alvarez, was one of the signers, Curley admitted that he would participate in the earnings of the champion, not only as a partner, but also as a promoter.
The wrestling trial was becoming heated and partisan, when on Friday, April 24, Lew Byrer, Sports Editor for the Columbus Citizen commented:

Mr. Curley affirmed and reaffirmed that he had no interest in the case other than seeing the right prevail.

He kept reaffirming even after admitting on the stand that he had signed the so-called trust contract along with Messrs. Bowser, Fabiani, Packs, Mondt and White.

Never did John Barrymore quiver a more disdainful nostril than did Mr. Curley in voicing his emphatic denial. Never did John’s sister, Ethel, give a more vivid portrayal of righteous indignation.

One member of the mat trust spoke frankly, however, while the fireworks were going on in Columbus, Ohio. Tom Packs of St. Louis, in a statement given out to the National wire services, said:

“That a ‘promoters’ agreement’ had been formed, but that it was junked after a 30-day trial.

“Promoters throughout the country,” Packs said, “were trying to outbid each other for important matches. We found we were giving practically all of the profits to the wrestlers.

“We formed an association pooling profits and dividing equally. This agreement was not considered satisfactory by Curley, Bowser and Fabiani, so we decided to operate independently.”

At least Packs was using his head and keeping it above water.

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