ED "STRANGLER" LEWIS
Facts within a Myth
by Steve Yohe
Another marriage as Ed thins his contenders
Lewis wrestled Stanislaus Zbyszko again on February 26 this time in Chicago. Lewis won the first fall using the headlock in 24:29 while Stan took the second with a short arm scissors in 7:30. In the third, Stan kept tying the champion up with arm locks until Ed reach up and punched Zbyszko. The Pole fell backward and his head hit the mat with a thud. Lewis then jumped on him for the pin. Referee wrestler Pat McGill ruled that Stan wasn't punched but "heeled" and Lewis was declared the winner. The fans then went nuts over the verdict and both Lewis and referee McGill had to be escorted to the dressing room by police. Fans were so upset by Lewis that the city commission rules that Lewis couldn't wrestle in Chicago until Zbyszko got a rematch. Promoter Joe Coffey and Ed White were happy to provide one.
The rematch drew 12,000 fans and a gate of $23,000 on March 25 at Chicago's Dexter Park pavilion. Zbyszko used a wing lock secured in a standing position, and took Lewis down to pin him with a reverse body lock in 32:05. Lewis came back with vengeance in the second, and after injuring Stan, pinned him using a toe hold in 8:40. With Stan injured, Lewis used a double toe hold to win the match in 9:15. After years without doing a job, Stan Zbyszko then had seven straight loses to Lewis and other losses to Stecher, Mondt, Pesek and Hans Steinke.
After Ada Scott Morton and Princess Maria Traivaska , Billy Sandow claimed that he had a rule written into Lewis' contract, witch the two always claimed was unwritten, that Ed could not get married again. So on March 27, 1924, Sandow was locked in his hotel room while The Strangler married his second wife, Miss Bessie McNear of Kansas City. The photos I've seen of Bessie show a nice looking girl who seemed the type to like "fun". Sandow was upset and claimed "it was the first time Ed ever double-crossed him" but he got over it. It all was probably just storyline anyway.
Londos' size stayed the same but in 1924 his push kept getting bigger and bigger in St Louis. On April 1, he got another title match with Lewis. Ed won the first fall with his third headlock in 1:02:00. Londos came back to take the second fall with a stepover toe hold in 22:35. The Strangler then took the deciding fall, after escaping another painful toe hold, by knocking Londos out with a "knee thrust". Jimmy was unconscious for fifteen minutes and had a "tumor" the size of a walnut below his left ear. The match took place in front of one of the largest of the season.
Philadelphia got its first title match under its state commission on April 8, 1924, when the Stan Zbyszko coached Renato Gardini wrestled Lewis to a two hour draw. They split two falls and Gardini worked Ed over during the last 24 minutes but the bell saved the champion. At one point Lewis broke a hold by going to the ropes, and then refused to come to ring center to wrestle for a half minute. The pro Gardini crowd went crazy throwing junk and even a knife into the ring. A hard piece of glass shattered in the ring, and the match was held up until and the junk was removed from the ring. After the match, it took two men to carry the champion out of the ring. It sold out the Philadelphia Adelphia and set the gate record for the city. Promoter Aurello Fabiani had been in Philadelphia for six months and had been using fellow countryman Gardini to bring Italian fans to the arena. If there was a Philadelphia Hall of Fame today, Renato Gardini would have to be in it.
It seems strange, considering how many times they wrestled from 1914 to 1920, but once Lewis took control of the title he never wrestled Wladek Zbyszko. In 1924, it seemed Wladek was going to get his shot when he was matched with the Paul Bowser wrestler Stanley Stasiak in Boston on March 13, with the winner to meet Lewis for the world title. Well Wladek never got his match because Stasiak beat him.
I don't know a great deal about Stanley Stasiak, but I envision him as a big brawler with a boxer background. Bowser was giving him a huge push in 1924. Stasiak wrestled in other areas of the country, but I don't consider him a national star. That being said, he was over huge in Boston. On April 13, Lewis agreed to meet Stasiak, after Bowser offered a larger bid or purse over a bunch of major promoters in a fake auction. The match took place on May 8. Some of the promoters mentioned in the auction were S. E. Avory (St Joseph), George "Farmer" Bailey (Battleboro, VT), Charley Donnell (Norwood), Joe Turner (Washington DC), Jack McGrath (Worcester), Ed White (Chicago), Tom Law (Wichita), and even Jack Curley. Farmer Bailey, was said to be ready to offer $10,000. The "big" surprise was that Paul Bowser won by giving Lewis and Sandow a $12,000 payday.
Lewis wrestled Mike Romano four times in Chicago during 1924 and all the matches drew well and were major battles in the city. Romano wasn't what I'd call a major star, more of a mid-card worker who did some main events, and these 1924 title matches with Lewis seemed to be the high point of his career.
A first match took place on January 15 and Lewis won, but they worked some type of gimmick finish, so the rematch drew 10,000 on April 30 at the Chicago's Coliseum. Mike Romano used the headlock and the match was billed as a battle of finishing holds. After being punished by Romano's headlocks, Lewis won the first fall in 41:20 with a vicious toe hold. Romano limped around but Lewis had to be carried to the dressing room during the rest period between falls. Romano threw Lewis around the ring in the second fall using Ed's headlock and pinned him in 12:50. Before Lewis, championship wrestlers did not go to the ropes to break holds. It was considered unsportsmen like behavior and you could get disqualified doing it. The old rule used to be that, after a rope break, the two wrestlers had to return to the center of the ring before restarting the match. In the third fall, Lewis was still suffering from the punishment given in the first two falls and he started hanging on to the ropes. Romano, with victory in sight, grabbed Lewis around the waist and tugged hard. Ed let go and Romano fell backward landing on his back with Lewis on top. It was ruled a pin fall win for Lewis. An uproar followed and the crowd rioted, howling and breaking up chairs. The police had to be called to disperse the rioters.
This finish has been used a million times sense 1924 and maybe it had been done before, but Sandow/Lewis were getting more and more creative in keeping defeated rivals strong. Toots Mondt, who didn't travel with Lewis, may have played a part in creating ideas, but other than him taking credit, we have no proof.
On May 1, Lewis, Billy Sandow and his new wife arrived in Boston to set up a training camp with Joe Alvarez at the Tyler Street Gym for the May 8 match with Stanley Stasiak. Lewis' now famous $10,000 belt was displayed in the window of a local jeweler to build interest in the card. On May 3, Lewis and sparring partner George "Farmer" Bailey got into bare-knuckle brawl during a work out. Bailey was fired and I wonder if the argument had anything to do with the Farmer being connected to Jack Curley.
Stanley was giving public work outs at Combination Park at Medford. Some of the work- outs were drawing crowds of 2,000.
On May 5, Lewis traveled to Rochester to defeat Toots Mondt when he won the only fall before the time limit ran out. The Julies Bauman card drew 3,000.
The Lewis/Stasiak match took place at Boston Arena on May 8, 1924 and drew 9,000 fans, which was a city record. Stasiak won the first fall in 49 minute using a body scissors and wristlock. In the second fall, Lewis resorted to choke holds and also landed a punch to the jaw. Stasiak retaliated by head-butting and kicking Lewis. The ring exploded in pandemonium as the referee, seconds, managers, police and even ushers rushed into the ring to break them up. Referee Sam Avery of St Joseph disqualified Stasiak. The crowd went nuts and booed the decision, as they were doing at all of Lewis' matches. A rematch would be needed.
Lewis returned to Philadelphia on May 21 to defeat Renato Gardini when the Italian was unable to continue. The match drew 6,500.
A third match in Chicago with Stanislaus Zbyszko took place on May 28 at the Coliseum. Lewis won the first fall with the head lock in 24:05. In the second fall, Stan head butted Ed knocking him down. Then he picked him up and slammed him and got the pin in 12:55. The Strangler took the third in 9:50. The champion out wrestled Stan and beat him decisively. Chicago and Stanislaus was running out of steam, with the newspaper calling him "poor old Stan". The attendance was down to 5,600 and the gate was $9,500. It was at least Lewis' eight straight win over Zbyszko and he seemed to have proved his point.
Lewis beat Jim Londos in St Louis again on June 12. Jimmy won the first fall and lost the last two with the head lock and Ed's extra 30 pounds being the difference. The gate was $14,410. The crowd was hostile, but Lewis seemed unmindful of the taunts and boos. Londos was game and had The Strangler in trouble many time but some thought the champion was holding back.
Lewis and Sandow then returned to the East Coast for a Toots Mondt rematch for Billy's brother Julies Bauman in Rochester. On June 26, while training at Conesus Lake, Lewis and Sandow had the first of a series of car accidents when their auto skidded on a wet road and landed in a ditch. Damage was minor and no one was hurt. Sandow seemed to be driving. On June 28, the champ defended the title in Rochester beating Mondt. (you wonder if Toots also was in the car.)
A rematch with Lewis, was set up by having Stanley Stasiak beat poor old Stan Zbyszko in Boston on June 12. Lewis defeated Stasiak in Boston on July 1, 1924, winning the last two falls of the title defense. The victory was booed by those in attendance and Ed was attacked by several fans as he left the ring.
After beating Mike Romano in a Chicago rematch on July 11 in two straight falls, the Sandow troop of wrestlers left for new territory, the west coast and Los Angeles.
Lewis in Los Angeles (1924)
Lou Daro was a side show strong man and pro wrestler who went under the name The Great Daro. By 1921 he had turned promoter and was running cards in Boston for Jack Curley. He came out second best in a wrestling war with Boston's George Tuohey and set out for himself in 1923 to develop Los Angeles into a wrestling empire. By 1923, Daro was running weekly cards in Long Beach, California using Jim Londos, Ray Steele, and Bull Montana. He had lease problems and by 1924 was concentrating on working in Los Angeles.
For an Arena, Daro used the Philharmonic Auditorium, an impressive building at 5th and Olive Street. It was a nine-story Gothic building built in 1906, that at one time, was the largest concrete building in America. A lot of it was office building but the arena section held 5,500 for wrestling. It was the home of classical music in Los Angeles and beginning in 1920 was used for concerts by the Philharmonic Orchestra. At times it was used as a movie theater and in 1915 held the world premiere of D. W. Griffith's film THE BIRTH OF A NATION. An occasion remembered for the long line of Ku Klux Klan members riding horses in the streets of downtown Los Angeles. It overlooked Pershing Square and was across the street from the Biltmore Hotel, which was build in 1923, becoming the major hotel in town. A hotel where presidents and foreign royalty stayed. The first Academy awards took place there and it was labeled "Hotel California" on a famous Eagle's Album. After the Music Center was built in 1964, the Philharmonic Auditorium lost it's purpose and was torn down. Today it is an expensive parking lot, that I pass on the way to do wrestling research at the downtown library.
Before Daro, the pro wrestling activity could only be found at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. It was a gym, and social club for prominent rich men and threw the early year had infrequent wrestling and boxing cards. The gym had a wrestling section and many famous pro wrestlers coach there. Dan Mc Leod held the position in 1912 and Walter Miller, Middle-Weight champ, worked at the club for years. Late in his career, Lewis would work there as a coach and greeter. Many famous pro wrestlers have worked out there, including Frank Gotch, Joe Stecher, and Antonio Inoki. Gus Sonnenberg was once mugged on a street a block away. The Athletic Club played a major role in bring sports to the city and for years owned The Olympic Auditorium leasing it to the local wrestling promoters, like Lou Daro, Cal Eatons, and Mike LeBell, for very little rent. The gym is still a great looking building located south of Pershing Square.
Stan Zbyszko was the first of Sandow's wrestlers to reach the West Coast, working in both San Francisco and Los Angeles. On July 9, 1914, Lou Daro ran a show at The Philharmonic with Zbyszko beating Yussif Hussane, drawing a crowd of 3,500. Daro then drew a "large" crowd on July 23 for Toots Mondt winning a handicap match over Zbyszko.
Lewis was in the area and on July 29, drew the largest crowd in San Francisco sense Stecher/Santel, for a win over Stanislaus. The report was kind of a comical review but it said that Lewis had travel across the country by car.
Hollywood was in its prime, with great weather and parties every night. To the rest of the world, Los Angeles seemed like the great place to live in 1924. Newspapers and movie theaters across the country were filled with photos of beaches and beautiful people. Everyone wanted to move there and the population was growing by the day. Ed Lewis and Billy Sandow loved the place, but it needed a money making wrestling promotion.
The storyline was that Ed was training for an August 13 title defense against his major rival Toots Mondt, but on August 11, he, Mrs. Lewis and his brother-in-law C. B. Glenn were having a good time in Tijuana, Mexico. On the drive back, Lewis crashed into a car driven by a Mrs. Daisy Haynes. Daisy was very upset and forced Lewis out of his car so he could inspect the mess he had made out of her auto. Words went back and forth, some of which were insulting to Daisy. These remarks were resented by Charles Haynes, her son, so Lewis punched him out. Then Ed punched another son, Leo Haynes, and the last guy in Daisy's car Charles Fatherios. Daisy got roughed up too because her clothes were torn and she later showed black and blue marks on her arm. Lewis and his party drove away, but later in the day, the highway patrol pulled him over for speeding. Ed refused to get out of the car when ordered, so "back up" was called. With two more state traffic officers present, Lewis was arrested and charged by the San Diego Justice Court with four separate charges of battery and one of disturbing the peace. Lewis pleaded not guilty and was released on $500 bail.
But Lewis made it to the Philharmonic on August 13, defeating Toots Mondt by winning the only fall in a two hour match. Mondt looked fit while Ed seemed fat and had a bad eye. Except when Lewis came alive to win the fall at the 90 minute mark with a head lock, the match was dominated by Toots. Reporter Braven Dyer of the TIMES claimed both grapplers had shed gallons of sweat. "Had the perspiration lost by both giants been tanked and shipped to the orange belt, region ranches wouldn't have to worry about irrigation water for the next six months." The arena was sold out with 5,500 in the building and over 2,500 fans turned away. Daro was very happy, but he was thinking that Los Angeles needed a bigger arena.
Daro drew another sellout (5,500) on August 27, with Lewis defending (again) against Stanislaus Zbyszko. Lewis won the first fall after a series of headlocks in 21 minutes. Stan took the second with a toe hold in 14 minutes. In the third both wrestlers fell to the mat but Ed was on top. The referee, ruled a pin (4 minutes) and Lewis was the winner. Zbyszko went crazy, claiming there was no pin, and the crowd was in a rage. The police had to be called to restore order. Everyone loved the show and claimed it was the best in the history of the city. The newspapers all praised Daro.
On September 2, Lewis beat Pat McGill in San Francisco. The headlock knocked McGill out at the end of the first fall and the challenger had to spend the night in the hospital. After the match, Lewis was served a warrant charging him with speeding through the town of San Juan.
On September 3, 1924, a report came from Boston that a newspaper man named Arthur Duffey had reported that Ed "Strangler" Lewis would soon retire from active wrestling due to eye trouble. It was claimed that due to his eye infections (trachoma), he had been near blind for most of 1924.
Everyone in Los Angeles thought Stan Zbyszko deserved a rematch with the champion and Lou Daro gave it to them on September 4. The match was to a finish and fans were told to bring there own food because the Philharmonic refused to allow Daro to set up a hot dog stand in the lobby. A condition set forth in the contract stated that the match had to take place in a roped ring, and not just on an unenclosed platform. That rule makes me think that September 4, 1924 was the first time a normal roped wrestling ring was used in Los Angeles. Zbyszko won the first fall with a flying mare in 24:01, but Lewis proved the Pole's master winning the next two falls in 39:45 and 4:17 with the headlock. It was an easy win for the champion. Once again Daro sold out and it was called the greatest crowd in Los Angeles wrestling history, but it was also written that Daro cried over the several thousand paying customers turned away.
On September 25, Daro promoted a Lewis/Mondt rematch at the Philharmonic. It was another great show that sold out at 5,500. The two hour time limit ran out with both men having won a fall, so the match was called a draw.
A rematch was booked for October 13, 1924. Daro was fed up with good customers being turned away, so he rented the Washington Ball Park to house the event. The storyline was that Lewis was wanted back East and didn't like the idea of a finish match, so Daro had to offer him a purse of $17,500 to wrestle. Mondt got $2,500 or 15% of the gate.
A lot of smart fans were hearing the reports and thinking that Strangler Lewis' time as champion was coming to a close. Some of them felt Toots Mondt had been picked to replace Ed. He was five years younger and Lewis was getting fatter by the week. So an out door show in Los Angeles would be a good place for the title change.
Lewis was shown in the newspaper with his biggest fan and mascot. Billy Sandow Jr, the four year old son of his manager, who had been present, with Mrs. Sandow, at all of Lewis matches all over America and Europe. A photo of Lewis and the kid was shown in the newspaper. I never heard anything about Junior again.
On October 13, 10,000 fans filed into the Washington Ball Park and paid $31,000 to watch a brutal battle. Mondt won the first fall in 34:09 with his jack knife scissors. Photos of the finishing move make it look like a rolling short arm scissors that end with cradling his foe for a pin. Lewis had to be carried from the ring by two seconds during the 10 minute rest period, but he came back fighting. The second fall was brutal, and at one point the two exchanged punches in the middle of the ring. Lewis overcame a lot of punishment to reverse the jack knife scissors and made Mondt submit after a Lewis' toe hold (41:51). Mondt returned injured and Lewis finished him with another toe hold in 4:19. Reporters agreed, the next day, that the superior wrestler was Strangler Lewis.
As late as the 1970's, promoters have always believed and stated that there was only 10,000 real wrestling fans in Los Angeles. They may not have known it, but that belief may go back to October 13, 1924 and this record crowd. It may also explain why Los Angeles built Lou Daro, in 1925, an Olympic Auditorium that held 10,400.
With all the major contenders beaten and used up, the Sandow company headed back to Chicago. Lewis had two matches in Chicago in late October 1924 and then seems to take the month of November off. On December 1, it was announced that Lewis was going to tour Europe, starting on December 16 and lasting for six months. On December 18, the story was changed to Ed sailing on January 16, 1925. Sandow claimed that Lewis was going to make $30,000 a week meeting all comers.
On December 11, Lewis defeated Hassalin O. Giles in two straight falls in Kansas City. The only thing that makes this match note worthy were the rules. There were none and there was no referee in the ring. Lewis won both falls with the strangle hold. The attendance, for what seemed like a death match, was estimated at 10,000.
December 16 saw Lewis finish off Mike Romano in Chicago. Ed won two out three falls on a card that drew 11,000.
After two weak years,business had pick up for the Sandow group in 1924. They had drawn very well in Kansas City and Chicago, and other cities like St Louis, Boston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia were taking form as major wrestling promotions. But the center of the wrestling world, New York City was dead. Sandow's champion, Ed Lewis, had become a famous sports celebrity due to radio, improved sports sections in the newspapers and the public's new obsession with professional sports, but Ed was 34 years old, fat and losing his desirer to train. His eyes were so bad that he was almost blind at times, and his performances were getting worst as a result. He was the first truly heel world champion, and some of that was because of planning, but the plan may have been needed because he really wasn't liked by fans. As an actual person, he got along great with the press and other insiders…. and he dressed and looked like a true champion… but Lewis really wasn't popular in any of the major cities. He had no home base. Boo's and riots followed every match.
>> Continue to CHAPTER 19