ED "STRANGLER" LEWIS
Facts within a Myth
by Steve Yohe
Back in Wisconsin
The local Elks Club of Grand Rapids WI, knowing Friedrich's reputation and hearing he was home, offered him a match with Fred Beell of Marshfield. Fred Beel was one of the greatest pound for pound wrestlers in history and the last man to ever beat Frank Gotch.
The match took place in Grand Rapids WI on Jan. 3, 1911. The young Friedrich couldn't do anything with Beell, who played with him. After seven and a half minutes, Beell choked him out using what was called a reverse headlock. The second fall saw Beell pin Bob in twenty-two minutes. Friedrich was glad when it was over. Beell gave a speech saying that Bob would one day be champion. Bob received $25 plus a neck with no muscular control for two weeks.
Bob then barnstormed the area with matches through out Wisconsin. During this period he beat Walter Miller, Dave Sharkey and his trainer Albert Abel. He positively was involved with the pro wrestling business and his days of only thinking about "shooting" would seem over. To be a "pro" meant knowing how to "work".
On September 4. 1911, Friedrich traveled to Chicago for a few days to watch the great Frank Gotch defend his title verses the first true world champion, George Hackenschmidt. The match itself was a disappointment but drew over 20,000 fans and $87,000 to Comiskey Park. As with most of Gotch's matches he blew off his challenger in a stinker of a match, and the fans went home so unhappy that Chicago would remain dead to pro wrestling for a number of years.
Gotch, a discovery of Farmer Burns, had been the dominate wrestler of the early 20th century. In bring the world's title to America, he became one of the country's first sport's star. Only the heavyweight boxing champion was bigger, but by 1911 he was rich enough to be thinking about retirement. Promoters knew their futures were dependent on the creation of a new star and champion. A problem was that every time they develop someone, Frank would come out of retirement to beat him. Gotch was great for Gotch, but he was beginning to kill the business.
On the north/east corner of Iowa was a small city located on the Mississippi River across from Wisconsin. This town, Mc Gregor, was connected via riverboat with Lansing Iowa, 30 miles north of it. Joe Zimmerman, a wrestling manager and hotel owner, offered Bob work and matches in Mc Gregor. After a match in the town, a DeForest Wolfe offered Bob a job cleaning chickens during the day and operating a movie projector in a small movie house at night. While living in Mc Gregor, Bob was making $4 a day and feeling pretty good about himself.
Friedrich started thinking of ways to make even more money. On April 15, 1912, the world was shocked by the sinking of the Ocean Liner Titanic off the coast of Newfoundland and it wasn't long before people were attempting to make money off the public interest in the disaster. On May 14, 1912 a film called "Saved From The Titanic" premiered 29 days after the event. A Dorothy Gibson, who was one of the lucky rescued after the sinking, wrote and stared in the movie. The movie was filmed in less than a week and was 10 minutes long. This was 1912 and movies were still a new art form.
Friedrich and DeForest Wolfe, after a trip to buy a copy of the movie and a new projector, remodeled an old store in Lansing into a theater (named The Princess Theater). With in two weeks of the idea, they were showing "Saved From The Titanic" to packed crowds. Most movie tickets cost 10 cents in 1912, Bob and Wolfe were charging 25 cents to see the smash hit.
One problem the two hadn't thought about was the Dunlevey family who controlled and pioneered the movie business in Lansing. The Dunlevey went to the town newspaper and revealed that the Titanic movie, being shown by their rival, was not from the actual sinking, but a reenactment with actors playing parts. In 1912, this blew the minds of the mid-west public, and Bob's theater was soon out of the business.
In Lewis's unpublished and unfinished biography written around 1947, Lewis compared his movie experience to pro wrestling. He said that just as people of 1947 have trouble believing the "Saved From The Titanic" story with the 1912 public believing the film was reality…so will the people in 50 years find it hard to believe that wrestling fans once thought that they were watching "bona fide athletic contest", when they were actually being entertained by a carefully prepared theatrical spectacle.
Friedrich was unable to renew this license to run the theater because of the expose by the Dunleveys, who not only ran the movie business in Lansing but the mayor's office, the postmaster and the newspaper. Bob lost his temper and in a rage tore up the newspaper office and pushed a lot of people around. Bob was convicted of disturbing the peace and fined $50. It seems the Dunleveys weren't very popular, because the incident made Bob a local celebrity and his fine was paid by Dunlevey's opposition and he may have even got his license renewed.
There was another girl in Lansing. A banker's daughter named Meta. Bob got along with the mother, but the father wasn't interested in seeing his daughter married to a wrestler.
In Iowa, we have a record of Bob meeting Helmuth Preuss, Ed Prior, Jack Little, Joe Carr and a man named Avery. The spelling of Bob's name, as early as the Zbyszko match in 1910, is Bob Frederick. So it seems to have been his first ring name.
>> Continue to CHAPTER 4