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ED "STRANGLER" LEWIS
Facts within a Myth

by Steve Yohe

CHAPTER 11

World War I

On April 6, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson ended his policies of isolationism and the U.S congress declared war on Germany. The government quickly passed the Selective Service Act, which required all males between the ages of 21 and 30 to register for military service. This affected most of the major wrestlers in 1917, including Lewis and Stecher, but none more than the new champion Earl Caddock.

The world champion Caddock was a true patriot, who did everything he could to join up. In May 1917, he joined a civilian training camp, similar to basic training, to prepare himself for enlistment. On Aug. 4, Caddock appeared before a military draft examination board at Atlantic, Iowa. Three physicians determined that he was unfit for military service due to an infection caused by previous tonsil surgery. He also needed dental work.

The Army had given him an out, but Caddock didn't want it. He was twenty-nine years old, the World Wrestling Champion, one of the most famous athletes in the country who was at his peak as far as making money, but Earl Caddock wanted to fight Germans.

September saw him in Rochester, MN at the famed Mayo Clinic receiving treatment and further surgery on his tonsils under care by Doctors Charles and William Mayo. On Oct. 5, the U.S. Army accepted him. On December 26, 1917, Caddock entered the U.S. Army and was stationed at Camp Dodge, Iowa.[57]

All of this, of course, caused a major problem for wrestling promoters. Caddock wasn't just playing soldier for public relations, he had every intention of leaving the country and taking an active part in the fighting, which was killing and mutilating much of the young men of Europe. It was apparent to everyone involved with pro wrestling, that the title had to be taken off of him before he left for war.

Both Lewis and Stecher felt the public pressure to join the war, but both, unlike Caddock, took their time and didn't join the effort until July 1918. Wladek Zbyszko was drafted in 1917. He attempted to get an exemption because of a sister and mother in Austria, but it was refused. He even appealed his case to President Wilson, only to fail. On Oct. 25, 1917, Wladek became a member of the National Army, Maine contingent, 303rd Heavy Artillery located at Ayers, Mass. But he was soon discharged because his cauliflower ears were affecting his hearing.

In late October, Lewis and Sandow accepted a date to wrestle Wladek Zbyszko in Houston, Texas for promoter Frankie Edwards. Promoter Edwards had a grand idea to bring big time pro wrestling to Houston and had made his bookings through Joe Coffey of Chicago. He paid transportation money of $200 to Lewis/Sandow, Zbyszko/Curley, and big time referee Ed W. Smith (Sports Editor of the Chicago American Newspaper). Lewis got to Houston early, but the two days before the match date November 1, 1917, Charley Cutler walked into Edwards' office, telling him he was a replacement for Zbyszko. Wladek couldn't get a furlough from his heavy artillery unit and wasn't coming.

Edwards pre-sale of tickets made him think he was going to break all attendance records in Houston, but once he made the announcement, fans began asking for refunds on their $5 tickets and then buying a $1 general admission. By the night, he still had a $1,000 gate in the house but Billy Sandow and Lewis had been promised $1,000 each for the match, and they refused to wrestle for anything less. The 2,000 fans stayed in there seats until 10:00, when they realized something was really wrong and in groups of three's they headed for the door or, worst yet, the long refund line.

Edwards left the arena for his hotel room but someone filed a report with the police and he was picked up by detectives. At the police station, he stated that he planed to reimburse everyone, but he had advanced expenses for the two wrestlers, a referee and had paid $250 rent on the building. He also had paid $252.68 to the war tax and would have to ask for the money back from the United States District Attorney. Edwards was quoted, "I've had hard luck with my matches. I have never made a penny in Houston and I have brought the best wrestlers in the world here. Can any wrestler, or any wrestling patron, point out a single instance where he lost money through one of my matches?" He again promised to refund everyone's ticket prices.

Charley Cutler was interview back at the arena, standing in the doorway of his dressing room, watching the crowd rush for the door. "A raw deal for Edwards" he said scornfully, "What does Lewis think he is, a prima donna? I guess he thinks he doesn't owe something to the promoter who takes all the risks to put on the bout. If it weren't for the promoter where would the delicate little wrestler be? You don't see me laying down do you? I am dressed ready for the match. I was ready to go on tonight on any terms that would help. The usual guarantee to a substitute wrestler is 25% gross, but if Lewis is so dead set on taking the lion's share, why didn't he take me on at winner take all?"

Billy Sandow claimed he could not afford to have Lewis go on without his guarantee. "Any week I can't make $1,200 with Lewis is a poor week. When Edward said he didn't have $1,000 in the house, we simply refused to go on. What is a guarantee worth anyway?"[57a]

Jim Londos's pro wrestling career began in Oakland California in February 1914. He actually was from Greece and migrated to San Francisco around 1910. No one knows how to spell his real name but it was similar in sound to Chistopher Theophalus.[58] After a few matches mainly in Oakland and San Francisco, he left main stream pro wrestling and joined a vaudeville show as part of a acrobat act. By the end of 1915, he had an act of his own, in which he stared billed as a weightlifter, wrestler and classic poser. Londos was intelligent and so industrious that he probably had his life planned from the time he arrived in America. He was a fantastic athlete, who trained as a wrestler, gymnast, bodybuilder and weight lifter. In 1916 he returned to wrestling and worked out of Sioux Falls, North Dakota. He was pushed from his first match, billed as the world light heavyweight title holder. One of the most handsome men in the world with a perfect body, he was huge draw. He was an excellent worker and a hooker. His only draw back was his small size. Early in his career he weighted in around 190 pounds and never in a career, that lasted over 40 years, weighted much more than 200. In July 1917, Londos moved his home to Canton Ohio where he hoped to take advantage of a large Greek population.

On October 8, 1917, Lewis was in Canton to watch Londos defeat Ed Schultz. He must have seen the potential in the young Londos and there seemed to be a plan to match the two. Billy Sandow booked Lewis to wrestle Alan Eustace (a famous shooter and Kansas farmer) in Canton on October 29. On the day of the match, Sandow cancelled because Lewis had a major match in Houston on November 1 (see above), and couldn't take a chance on a long match with Eustace. Londos replaced Ed and wrestled Eustace to a draw that almost lasted three hours. On October 19, the two wrestled again with Londos getting a match with Lewis by beating Eustace two out of three falls.

The first ever match between Strangler Lewis and Jim Londos took place in Canton on November 29, 1917. In defending his Olin world title, Lewis won the match but looked like a loser. Londos out wrestled him for almost two hours. During the match, Ed was able to get less than a half dozen holds on Londos and the Greek had counters to all his moves. Lewis was only able to break holds by pure strength and use of his 35 pound weight advantage. At one point Londos stopped the match to allow Ed to tie his shoe. At the one hour and 57 minute mark, Londos also bent to tie his shoe lace but Lewis, unlike baby face Jimmy, jumped on him like a tiger and flipped him to the mat using his headlock. Ed really cranked on the hold as the Greek was pinned. Londos's neck was injured and he was unable to return for the second fall. Most of the fans present felt that Londos was the better man, and there was a huge demand for a rematch. So Lewis beat Londos, but in allowing the young performer to save face, the Greek remain someone to promote and make money with in the future.[59]

Caddock was scheduled to enter the Army on December 26 and no one knew if he'd be able to continue wrestling or even how much time he had left in the states. In December 1917, Jack Curley promoted another major tournament in New York City at the Lexington Theatre (Dec. 3 to Dec. 22). Curley's power was increasing and I think this was an attempt to influence the national storyline and resolve the title problem. He probably overestimated his influence at the time.[60] The tournament was in the Catch style and the winner was to be billed as world champion in the state of New York. Wladeck (managed by Curley) and Lewis were both entered with other names being Ben Roller, Youssif Hussane, John Freberg, Tom Draak, and even Frank Leavitt (who in 1934 took on new life as Man Mountain Dean). Earl Caddock was to make his debut in the city during the tournament. Arriving in the middle of the month.

On December 14, 1917, Caddock had his first match in New York, thrilling the biggest crowd of the tournament, beating Dr Ben Roller with a head scissors and crotch hold in 40:59.[61] On the next night (Dec. 15, the day before Frank Gotch's death), he beat John Freberg. Caddock then left the tournament and was inducted into the Army base at Fort Dodge on Dec. 26. I believe Curley had planned on Caddock jobbing the title to the winner of the tournament, probably Wladek Zbyszko (who was managed by Curley and rid of any draft problems).

Caddock's manager was Gene Melady, who was a rich sportsman that promoted most of the major cards in the mid-west and probably the most powerful man in the sport after the fall of Farmer Burns and Gotch. I think he saw Curley as competition, and didn't like the deal that was offered, so he refused to have Caddock drop the title. He probably knew that the Army would allow Earl to continue wrestling while in camp waiting for orders to leave for Europe, and had ideas of promoting title matches of his own in the next year.

On the undercard or co-main event of Caddock/Freberg, Lewis and Zbysko worked one of their draws. This set up a major finish match the next night.

On December 17, in front of a sold-out 3,000, Lewis defeated Zbyszko in 1:21:33. At first Ed's headlock had little effect but, with each one, Wladek weakened. The finish saw Zbyszko wave to give up, but in those times the object of defeat was being pined and submissions were rare, so the referee, George Bothner, didn't stop the match. Wladek's manager Jack Curley stepped on the mat and the match was stopped. It was the equal of a boxing manager throwing in a towel, but it may have been considered a DQ, but the newspaper called it a submission loss. The report claimed that the match ranked with the best ever held in the city.[62]

Both suffered no more losses and met in the tournament final on December 22, 1917. After a long one fall match, Billy Sandow started an argument with a wrestler in Wladek's corner, claiming the man was coaching his wrestler illegally. Lewis turned his head to watch the argument, and Zbyszko leaped in to pin Lewis with a scissors and a body hold. Time was 1:47:37 and it was a sellout with many turned away. Lewis wrestled under a handicap as his headlock was not allowed. Lewis showed superiority and would have been given a decision if he hadn't gotten himself pinned.[63]

Wladek Zbyszko was presented a belt by the state of New York and claimed the world title. It would be the only title belt ever awarded a wrestler by the New York Commission. Nothing was said about Lewis's Olin world title and it seemed to not have been at stake. Whatever, as he always did, Lewis continued to claim the world title.

>> Continue to CHAPTER 12

FOOTNOTES

  • 57 EARL CADDOCK: THE MAN OF A THOUSAND HOLDS by Steve Yohe
  • 57a THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE, November 1 and November 2, 1917
  • 58 This is an example of just some of the different versions in spelling of Londos's real name. See THE JIM LONDOS RECORD BOOK (Note section) by Steve Yohe, Don Luce, J Michael Kenyon and members of the International Historian Club (IHC).

    Different spelling of Jim Londos's real name:

    Diaspora: Jim Londos The Golden Greek by Steve Frangos—Christos Theophilou
    Oakland Tribune (2-24-14) first match—Chris Theopulus
    Oakland Tribune (10-23-13)--Theophelus
    New York Times Obit by Michael Strauss (8-21-75)—Chris Theophelus
    New Times Obit by Red Smith (8-24-75)—Christopher Theophelus
    AP Obit (8-20-75—Chris Theophelus
    LA TIMES (1-27-69)—Theophelos
    NWA Wrestling Mag---John Contos by Bob Allison—Christopher Theophilus
    FALL GUYS-- Christopher Teophelus
    FROM MILO TO LONDOS by Nat –Chris Theophelo
    Marriage Certificate-- Christ T. Theophelos
    San Diego HOF-Chris T. Theophelos
    Wikipedia--Christos Theofilou or Christopher Theophelus
    Time magazine--Christopher Theophilus
    Boston Globe (7-16-34)—Christopher Theophelou
    L A Times (10-31-34)—Christopher Theophelous
    Associated Press (6-28-35)—Christopher Theophilo
    Also-- Theophalus? Theopolus? Theophilis? Theopholis? Theopolis? Theopelos? Theopphilus? Theopulus?

    Historian Steve Johnson: "According to Londos' daughter, he spelled Theopolus about five different ways when he was alive, so it's probably too much to hope for consistency."
  • 59 THE CANTON REPOSITORY November 30, 1917
  • 60 We have a copy of the cover of the Tournament program. On it we see photos of Stecher, Caddock, Zbyszko and Lewis standing in a row with Frank Gotch (who was on his death bed and dies at the mid-point of the tournament Dec. 15) looking down on them all. It would seem that Curley planed to have all of the big four engaged in the out come, but Stecher never makes an appearance and Caddock leaves.
  • 61 NEW YORK TIMES December 15, 1917
  • 62 NEW YORK TIMES December 18, 1917
  • 63 NEW YORK TIMES December 23, 1917


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