ED "STRANGLER" LEWIS
Facts within a Myth
by Steve Yohe
Lewis/Sonnenberg January 4, 1929
On November 14, 1928, President Calvin Coolidge pulled a switch in the White House that turned on the lights in the new Boston Madison Square Garden. The publicity stunt signified the completion of the arena construction. It opened to the public three days later. The Boston Garden was built and designed by Tex Rickard and it was created to be a show house for boxing, but over the years it became known mainly as the home of the Boston Celtics and their many NBA championships. In the 1930's, it was second only to New York's Garden as the biggest and most profitable wrestling arena in America. None of this helped Tex Rickard, he died January 6, 1929 at Miami Beach, Florida from complications following an appendectomy.
In December 1928, Paul Bowser booked the new building to hold the second Lewic/Sonnenberg title match on January 4, 1929. The loss to Lewis had done very little to stem the East Coast enthusiasm for Gus Sonnenberg. Most of the tickets were sold in advance and the event was a sure bet to set the all time indoor gate record. (There also was more betting that night than for any wrestling bout ever staged in Boston.) I wonder how many of those fan realized they were paying admission to see the end of a era in pro wrestling and the last match in which Strangler Lewis would ever have a claim to the undisputed world title.
As in most major matches, both Lewis and Gus trained in the area for a week leading up to the match. Sonnenberg had the flu and there was some thought given to canceling, but it was pro wrestling so no one thought much of the idea. Both wrestlers agreed that Leon Burbank, the same official that worked the Lewis/Munn match would be referee.
On January 4, 1929, 20,000 fans crammed the new Garden with thousands turned away. Many felt that it would have broke the al-time gate record if only the Garden was bigger. More than 150 police officers were on crowd control and there were three arrests for selling tickets without a license. Massachusetts Governor Frank Allen, his wife, mother-in-law and his secretary watched the match from a draped box almost directly behind Sonnenberg's corner. The mob was filled with the rich and famous of Boston.
Lewis' experience and skill counted little against Sonnenber, who was a raving, drooling maniac, determined to win the championship. Everyone present felt that Gus gave an exhibition of rough and tumble wrestling that was as exciting as any bout in the city's history The first five minutes was slow as they felt themselves out, but after that it was all action. Lewis attempted to counter Sonnenberg's tackles by turning sideways as he circled the ring, always along the ropes. This took away the "goat's" target and stopped any pinning attempt. Three times Sonnenberg tried ramming into Ed but all he could hit was Lewis's back. Gus's few actual wrestling holds were broke by Lewis without much problem. At one point Lewis kicked Sonnenberg in the head and applied his headlock. Ed shook Gus's head like a cocktail shaker, roughing and mauling him along the ropes while the crowd booed. When Sonnenberg broke the hold, Lewis put on another. Gus broke out again using his legs but the sleeper effects of the headlocks were wearing him down. Lewis beelled Sonnenberg across the ring and, confident of victory, opened his arms in an attempt to put on the finishing headlock. Through the daze, Sonnenberg saw his target, hitting Ed with a flying tackle and then mounted him for the pin. Time was announced as 29:46.
At the end of the first fall, Sonnenberg looked more used up than Lewis, but, when the two returned, Sonnenberg looked fresh and it was Ed that looked like an old men. For the next 8 minutes and 20 seconds Sonnenberg butted Lewis all around the ring. Ed clung to the ropes in an effort to save his title, then Gus' tackles sent the feared Strangler flying out of the ring. Twice he hit the floor and once Ed landed in the ringside press box. After the third time, referee Leon Burbank told Ed he was going to start counting. After seven flying tackles, Lewis laid on the apron, then got to his feet but couldn't make it back into the ring before the count of 10. Burbank then awarded the match to Sonnenberg on a "count out" but the press called the finish a "disqualification".
Billy Sandow jumped into the ring yelling at Burbank saying that Lewis had his foot in the ring and shouldn't have been counted out. Many photos show that Ed had his head and shoulders thought the ropes but both feet were outside the ring.
Sonnenberg jumped out of the ring and headed for the dressing room but was called back by promoter Paul Bowser. Gus was announced as new world champion and presented the "Ed Lewis belt". In Boston they used a set of rules, since the early 20's, called AWA rules. Perhaps Bowser had created a fictional commission called the AWA, but whatever, Sonnenberg's title line would, after this match, be called the AWA title.
Some reports say that Lewis and Sandow were paid $50,000 for doing the job and dropping the title to Gus (who made $8,000, at least in the newspaper). Why did they do a "screw" count out finish? Well Lewis never dropped his titles clean but it was also Paul Bowser's style of booking to have a "screw finish" in title changes and to save the clean finish for the rematch. Bowser did it all the time. I think Lewis also realized that regardless of how many clean jobs he did later to the new champions, all that was remembered, and talked about, was the title change. This match was filmed and shown in theaters across America and Europe.
Post Title 1929 and 1930
There also is a story told in the book FALL GUYS that says Sandow and Lewis were promised the title back at some point by Bowser. I don't believe it. Lewis would have been 40 years old and no promoter would want a 40 year old fat champion. Lewis had great value as a challenger, but making him champion again is hard for me to believe with Jim Londos and Gus around.
I think the plan in 1928 was for Lewis to go into semi-retirement in Los Angeles and only wrestle major matches, like rematches with Sonnenberg. This, with time, would lead to a true retirement in a year or so. Lewis had moved into Glendale, California to be near his new girlfriend and investments. He had plans to co-own a restaurant, but the depression kicked in during 1929 and everyone was worrying about money. So, from the results, he actually seemed to be more active in 1929 and the following years. Air travel probably made a difference, but he also didn't have to spend 5 days to a week before important title matches, training and doing interviews and other PR duties. Pro wrestling was in a new age with more cities and promoters running more cards, so Lewis was always in demand.
Lou Daro had booked Lewis into a Olympic Auditorium match on January 23, but Lewis cancelled when Paul Bowser wanted Ed for a series of match on the East Coast, including a return to New York City's Madison Square Garden. Daro replace Lewis with none other than Joe Stecher.
In 1929, the depression's first major "hit" in the country was the farm industry. By the end of the year, farmers were being offered less for grain than they paid for seed. That and money lost in the stock market forced Joe and Tony's return to pro wrestling.
During Stecher's return, he was more interested in making money, than regaining fame. Joe no longer had ideas of winning titles or controlling wrestling. Stecher joined the Paul Bowser company in late January 1929.
So Joe was brought into Los Angeles to replace Lewis on January 23. He beat Paul Jones at The Olympic drawing 8,000 fans. Bowser then had Stecher return to Boston to resume his 1927 feud with Joe Malcewicz. Joe Stecher then did a clean job to Malcewicz on February 21, 1929 drawing 6,500. This loss set Malcewicz up for a major title match with Sonnenberg and the job by Stecher showed good faith to Bowser and any other promoter who would think about using him. The sign was out to promoters, "Joe Stecher would play ball" and was willing to put people over. On April 17, Lou Daro booked Stecher in a rematch against Malcewicz in Los Angeles. Joe beat him and all the talk was about another match with Strangler Lewis.
Lewis rested for two weeks following the title loss, then beat Jim Clintstock in Philadelphia on January 18. On January 26, 1929 Lewis headlined the new Madison Square Garden (#3) beating Renato Gardini in front of 6,000. That big of an attendance would seemed good in any other arena, but the new Madison Square Garden held room for 20,000 and the rent was high. Still Ed drew a bigger crowd that any other of Bowser men in the arena.
Madison Square Garden, the third New York City arena to be given that name, was opened for boxing on December 11, 1925. Paul Bowser (or a front man using his talent perhaps Stan Zbyszko), still at war with Jack Curley, began using the building in November 1928. Seems he was losing money. The November 26, 1928 card drew 1,500.
On January 25, 1929, a Elaine Tomaso of Glendale, California gave an interview announcing she was going to be marring Ed Lewis very soon. This took place in Chicago where Elaine was visiting relatives with her mother and sister. Her plan was to meet with Ed before his match with Marin Plestina on January 29 and make wedding plans. She was 25 years old, tall and athletic looking with a degree from Northwestern University School of Music.
Lewis arrived in Chicago soon after, beating Plestina in two straight falls. Plestina had become someone that Lewis would beat in just about every town on the wrestling map.
The crowning of the new champion got off to a poor start with other promoters when Tom Packs cancelled a card on January 24 that was to headline an Sonnenberg title defense, because Bowser refused to have Gus wrestle anyone but one of his own contract performers and he also wanted to use his own referee. Pack did book Sonnenberg on semi-final non-title exhibition match (main event was Mondt verse Dick Daviscourt) with an unknown named Frank Jorgenson on January 29. Gus' tackling ability got good reviews but his actual wrestling ability seemed to be weak. He pinned Jorgenson in three minutes and fifty-five seconds and the card drew 4,000. The fans didn't mind Sonnenberg but Pack had another champion he wanted to use, and it would be the last St Louis would see of Sonnenberg as champion. On February 3, Sonnenberg beat Harold Cantonwine in his Madison Square Garden début but got a lot of heat from the New York press for only drawing 3,500.
Things pick up with champ Sonnenberg beating Stanley Stasiak in Memphis on February 13 in front of "big crowd". In Chicago Gus drew 8,000 and $16,000 in beating Stasiak on February 25. On April 3, Gus beat Stasiak in what would become his home away from home, Los Angeles, before an almost sold out Olympic Auditorium. Hollywood loved little Gus because they loved stars and that's what Sonnenberg gave them…star power.
Lewis was keeping busy. On February 13 he returned to St Louis and beat the national favorite Nick Lutze in an hour and four minutes. The card open with a comedy match between two eleven year-olds. "Young Dynamite Sonnenberg" wrestled a draw with "Young Strangler Lewis". Lewis would also beat Jim Clinkstock (March 5) and Nick Lutze in a rematch (March 22) in St Louis. On February 25, Ed drew 7,000 in New York City beating Kola Kwariani. In Chicago he beat Kola Kwariani (March 11), Joe Malcewicz (March 26), Renato Gardini (April 16) and Matros Kirilenko (April 27).
Lou Daro booked the first ever Lewis/Stecher match in Los Angeles for May 1, 1929 at The Olympic Auditorium. Stecher had challenged Sonnenberg to a title match but was told to beat Lewis first. The Strangler was willing, but he wanted Joe Stecher's famous $10,000 belt to be on the line. After the title change, Lewis had his own belt in St Louis and the Stecher belt wasn't passed on to the new champion. So the major angle and stipulation for the match, was that the winner would get the Stecher belt. It was also billed as a "winner takes all" match.
Stecher was the aggressor in the match. He got rough with the Strangler on numerous occasions but Lewis hung on and was able to out rough and out last him. Stecher got the scissors on and squeezed "Lewis' rather protuberant paunch" for over a minute before turning him over for the pin in 20 minutes and 51 seconds. The finish for the second fall had Lewis on the matt locked once again in the scissors, but this time through shear strength, Ed stood up with Joe still locked around him. Lewis then slammed Stecher to the canvas and pinned him. It was kind of like a 1929 style "power bomb". Time was 16:02. Stecher was still hurting and dazed at the start of the third fall and Lewis pined him using a headlock in 4 minutes and 13 seconds. The crowd was 10,395 and the gate at high prices was $28,540. A Lewis quote following the match was: "I ruined him at St Louis when I took the title away from him. He knows I can beat him now." So Lewis showed Joe who was boss.
As for the Stecher belt, the reports say nothing about it. So the stipulation seemed to have been forgot or never really followed through on. All we know is that Tony Stecher had the belt when he promoted in Minneapolis in the 30's and 40's and all of his champions were photographed wearing it. I would bet Stecher got his cut of the gate too.
On May 8, 1929, Ed Lewis married Elaine Tomaso of Glendale, California at the St Cecelia chapel in Riverside, California. The Rev. Samuel Hughes did the officiating, Miss Carla Tomaso (Elaine's sister) was the bridesmaid, and Billy Sandow was the best man. Thirty friends of the couple were present. The report had Elaine's age as 25. They claimed Lewis was 34 but he was very close to 39 years old. There were a lot of claims about a honeymoon, but Lewis was back wrestling at The Olympic on May 15. beating Dick Daviscourt.
On May 15, 1929, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission suspended champion Gus Sonnenberg for "wrestling unworthy opponents and refusing to met logical contenders".
Lewis, with his new bride, then traveled to Kansas City to beat Matro Kirilenko on May 20. Sandow lived in Kansas City and Lewis probably had stayed in the city for long periods after moving from San Jose. Lewis and Elaine then traveled to Tulsa for another big match up with Joe Stecher for promoter Sam Avey. I think Lewis had ties in Tulsa and probably wanted to show off his new wife. Stecher had set up their next match by beating Joe Malcewicz on May 13 in Tulsa.
The reports before the match claimed Lewis looked fat and every bit of 240. He also didn't train much, claiming he had been in the ring so much in 1929 that he didn't have to work out.
The match was the first wrestling event in the new Magic City Coliseum. Tickets were priced from $2 to $5, with 1,000 $1 seats going on sale when the doors opened. The match drew 6,000 fans.
Lewis was in poor shape for the match, forcing Stecher to do all the work. Joe won the first fall in 30 minutes with the scissor. Lewis won the second using the same "power bomb" finish from Los Angeles in 17 minutes. The third fall only lasted three minutes. Stecher broke his scissor hold because Lewis got to the ropes. In Tulsa, the rules usually were that wrestlers went to the center of the ring after a rope break, but not in this match. As Stecher turn to go to the middle of the ring, Lewis applied a double armlock and rolled backward to pin Stecher. Tony Stecher protested, to the referee, that the move was a foul, but Lewis and Sandow won the argument and the victory. Joe had been cheered through the match and out wrestled the booed Lewis in every way, but he was the loser.
Lewis then took off the first week of June for a trip to Nekoosa to introduce Elaine to his father and mother. On June 4, the two were present at a dinner party at the home of Mrs J. G. Gutheil. Lewis had owned a summer home or farm in Wisconsin for years. Lewis wrestled two matches in New York City in early June, so the honeymoon may have taken a short venture into the big city.
Paul Bowser had kept Lewis strong and undefeated for six months following the title loss. A lot of fans were used to Lewis and Stecher as champions and figured Sandow was working the same storyline as the Lewis/Munn matches, and that Lewis would get his title back in the rematch. In June Lewis signed to a third match in Boston with Sonnenberg. This time Bowser made sure no fan was turned away, by booking the match into Fenway Park. Both wrestlers trained in the city, and they were ready for a long two out three fall match.
25,000 fans filed into Fenway Park on July 9, 1929. Both the BOSTON GLOBE and the NEW YORK TIMES listed the gate at $90,000 which would have broken the record 1913 gate of Gotch/Hackenschmidt of $87,000 by 3,000.
Once again Sonnenberg was the aggressor, always trying to set up Lewis for one of his tackles. Gus took Lewis down with a sort of arm drag and worked the hold for a few minutes before it was broken. Gus hit his first tackle but it was on Ed's arm and the move only threw the ex-champ to one side. Gus then attempted a running Flying Tackle but Lewis, just like a football lineman, grabbed the incoming wrestler with his powerful arms and tossed him down with a twisting motion. Sonnenberg handed on his back. Lewis jumped on to the dazed champion and with his thirty pound weight advantage, pushed Gus' shoulders to the mat for the first pin fall loss in Sonnenberg's career. Time was 17:41.
In the second fall, Lewis had Sonnenberg dazed and on the verge of collapsing after three headlocks, but as Ed tried for a fourth, he was hit by a tackle in the stomach. Ed fell backward to the mat and as he arose the champion rushed in like a fullback hitting the line and sent Lewis flying. Lewis was helpless and pinned in 18:38.
Lewis had to be lifted from the ring and looked in bad shape on his return. Sonnenberg attacked Lewis with two tackles but on the third attempt Lewis stepped aside and Gus went flying. Sonnenberg should have flown out of the ring, but Gus caught himself in the ropes and saved himself a fall. Lewis attempted a headlock as Gus climbed back into the ring but the champion broke the hold, moved away, and then butted the Strangler over the heart. Lewis was pinned at two minutes and thirdly seconds of the third fall. Ringsiders and reporters claimed the match was thrilling and one of the greatest matches ever staged in Boston.
A 12 minute copy of the Sonnenberg rematch was shown in theaters all over America and Europe.
Except for two Chicago matches with Matros Kirilenko, Lewis was inactive until September. He was back in Los Angeles going through the process of buying a new house in Glendale, so Elaine could stay close to her family. He was also making a deal with an Earl Peyton to go into partnership in a local Glendale restaurant called Earl's Broiler, located at 707-709 South Brand. Once the deal was completed, the name was changed to E & E Broiler. The two would later expand to three restaurants. One of which was located at 5th Street and Main, in Alhambra. Lewis always claimed that he lost money in the restaurant business but his partnership with Peyton lasted a long time. Lewis' house seemed to have been on East Windsor Street, which probably was with in a half mile of the Glendale restaurant.
Billy Sandow followed Lewis to Los Angeles, buying a home in Brentwood Heights on the southern slopes of the Santa Monica Mountains. Sandow was the neighbor of Tom Gallery who was married to movie star and comedienne Zasu Pitts. Gallery was a minor actor who also became the boxing matchmaker at the Hollywood Legion Stadium during the 1920's and in 1933 at The Olympic Auditorium. He would become a member of the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
Sonnenberg was also in Los Angeles and on July 24 he defeated Joe Malcewicz at the Olympic Auditorium in front of 10, 700 with a LA record gate of $30,392.
On August 7, 1929, the Pennsylvania Boxing Commission stripped Sonnenberg of his world title for not meeting worthy contenders and not agreeing to meet the winner of a Jim Londos/Dick Shikat match. It then sanctioned the August 23 match between Londos and Shikat for the world title.
The August 23 match was the final of a tournament between Londos, Shikat, and Hans Steinke. Londos had defeated Steinke and Shikat, so on July 12 Shikat defeated New York #1 contender Steinke at Philadelphia in 1:04:29 to advance to a final match with Londos. Steinke had some sort of unofficial title recognition in the state of New York, so after his defeat, New York was brought into line with Pennsylvania and also sanctioned the winner of Londos/Shikat for the world title. This storyline was being followed closely in St Louis newspapers and Tom Packs, who controlled Londos (well maybe it's better said that Londos controlled Pack) seemed more that willing to join Curley and Fabiani in the promotion of a new champion.
On August 23, 1929 a crowd of 25,000 watched Dick Shikat, during a rain shower, defeat the big favorite Jim Londos in one hour and 15 minutes using two crotch holds (I think body slams under a old name) to pin and injury Londos.
Without a title, Londos had become pro wrestling's biggest draw and star. His only rival was the newcomer Sonnenberg, but Londos had been tested and proved to be the real thing. Why then did Curley, Fabiani, and Packs decide to go with Dick Shikat as their new champion? Londos had been working hard for some time all over the country and might have been looking for a major vacation before starting a major push in 1930. With his great conditioning, endurance, and ambition, Londos had been working an unbelievably hard schedule and even he needed time off. Londos, when messed with by promoters, was always willing to walk and leave for another territory, so perhaps his vacation could be seen as a protest to the Shikat crowning, but I've never seen that written anywhere.
Lewis was also being used by Bowser as a policeman for Sonnenberg. When ever challenged by someone they did not control, Bowser would tell whoever that he would first have to prove himself by beating Ed Lewis. Lewis, even at age 39, wasn't someone you wanted to face in a shoot. The Curley group believed that Shikat was a better match up with Lewis. Shikat was a very tough wrestler who was in his prime, unlike Lewis. Managed and trained by Toots Mondt, it's unlikely that Lewis would want to get in the ring with the big German in a shoot situation. So the Curley group wouldn't have to back down from anyone Bowser offered them, which also included Joe Malcewicz.
Londos was also damaged goods with a long history of lost title matches with Lewis and Stecher behind him. Unlike his reputation today, the Londos of pre-1929 was willing to do a lot of jobs to put other people over. He had losses on his record to Lewis, Stecher, Ray Steele, George Calza, Pesek, John Maxos, Dick Daviscourt, Gardini, and Malcewicz. He even had pull over Lou Daro at one point. Londos had also beaten most of those people in rematches and been undefeated for a couple of years, but he had a long history that could be used against him, and Lewis would do just that later.
Also a loss to Shikat didn't hurt Londos much. If Shikat had lost to Londos, it might have killed him. Some time as champion would build Dick into a star that could be used for years. So making Shikat champion probably was good thinking by the Curley group.
In September Lou Daro staged what was called an elimination tournament with the winner to meet Sonnenberg. I don't understand what happened in the tournament or how it was run, but the final had Lewis meeting Joe Stecher again at The Olympic Auditorium on September 4, 1929.
The match drew a near sellout of between 9,000 and 10,000. Lewis won the first fall in 23:34. Stecher used the scissors to win the second in 9:53. In the third fall, Stecher had Lewis locked into an ankle lock for few minutes. Lewis looked in bad shape but he finally escaped by kicking Stecher in the head. Joe fell back but got up dazed. Lewis jumped on him and got the pin in 19:11. The match was described as "workman like" with little emotion and Lewis did most of the work.
So Lewis won the right to meet Sonnenberg for the title on September 18, but his ankle was so damaged from Stecher's ankle lock that he had to refuse to take the match. Stecher replaced Lewis in the title match.
Sonnenberg defeated the ex-champ Stecher on September 18, 1929 in front of 10,400 and a Olympic Auditorium gate of $35,000, which was, if everyone was telling the truth, a Los Angeles record. After the match it was announced that Lewis would get his title match with Sonnenber on October 23.
Jim Londos was vacationing in Long Beach California during September and October of 1929. He was training and running daily on the beach. Londos being Londos, he was also working dates for good friend Pete Sauer (Ray Steele) in Phoenix. It was Steele's home town and it had just opened a new arena called the Phoenix Madison Square Garden. Londos, Steele and Dick Daviscourt were engage in a three man feud and they were drawing well in matches against each other.
On October 4, 1929, Lewis went out of his way to work for a small time rival promoter named Billy Hunefeild in Phoenix. After beating George McLeod, Lewis posted a $500 bond with Phoenix commission for a match with either Jim Londos, Pete Sauer (Ray Steele) or Dick Shikat. He stated he would increase the amount to $2,500 if any of the three accepted the match. Lewis claimed no conditions were attached and would wrestle the match for any promoter, at any time or place… or even wrestle the match in private with only the commission, Phoenix mayor, or city council and newspaper reporters present. . This was an obvious grandstand play to make Londos and Steele look bad and take heat away from their feud.
On October 15, Lewis posted a $250 forfeit with the Missouri Athletic Commission as a challenge for a match with Richard Shikat. No action was taken.
On October 22, Gus Sonnenberg left the Los Angeles Athletic Club after a workout and was walking along a busy down town street. He was stopped by a small time wrestler named Pete Ladjimi (Pete Ladjone in the report) on the corner of Broadway and 7th street. Ladjimi pestered Sonnenberg for a match. Gus told him that he wasn't the local promoter, and he should go see Lou Daro. Witnesses claim that Sonnenber started to turn away as he was head butted under the chin by Ladjimi. Gus fell backward to hit his head on the sidewalk. The Police then took Ladjimi into custody, as Sonnenberg charged him with assault. He later was released on $100 ball. Sonnenberg was left with a cut lip and a bruise nose. The report appeared the next day in newspapers across the country. On November 13, 1929 Ladjimi was convicted of assault and battery by a Municipal Court Jury and sentenced to 30 days in jail. His lawyer appeal and Ladjimi was released under a $1,000 bond. In later year Pete Ladjimi would be connected to the Londos group and many people feel this was the Greek's attempt to get back at Lewis, for Phoenix, through his weak champion, Sonnenberg.
The day the report hit the newspapers, Oct. 23, 1929, Sonnenberg and Lewis wrestled for the title at The Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium in front of 10,000 with a gate of $31,000. Sonnenberg took a beating during the first fall but won with a surprise flying-tackle in 23:33. Lewis won the second fall with a series of headlocks in 14:37. Lewis continued applying the headlock in the third and Sonnenberg was being throw around the ring. Suddenly the champion attempted another surprising tackle but Ed stepped aside and Gus sailed through the ropes, landing on his head among the chairs in the front row. Sonnenberg seemed hurt as he slowly crawled toward the ring. At the count of 15, his head appeared above the matt and he started climbing into the ring. All of a sudden, Doc Mullikan, the chiropractic rassler who was seconding Gus, jumped into the ring and started pulling Sonnenberg through the ropes. Referee Don McDonald pushed Mullikan away from the fallen champion, then Jim Charblis, a Lewis second in the corner with Billy Sandow, scrambled into the ring with Sandow pulling at his coat tails. With the timekeeper at the count of 20, Sonnenberg was half in and half out of the ring. With the referee being yelled at by two seconds, a manager and a crazed crowd, Sonnenberg woke up and hit Lewis, who had been standing around watching the events, with another flying tackle. McDonald looked around and saw Gus pinning Lewis, so he gave Ed a three count and raised Sonnenberg's arm. More yelling followed with the referee agreeing that interference should have disqualified both men, but the pin over ruled everything else. Of course, Lewis getting ripped off was grounds for another sold out rematch.
With Strangler Lewis attempting to move into retirement, Billy Sandow went looking for another wrestler. He found one in a former cowboy and amateur wrestler from La Junta, Colorado.[270a] It was never stated in a newspaper but I believe that Sandow, living in Los Angeles, had taken the position as booker for Lou Daro at The Olympic Auditorium. It's either that or he bought into Daro's promotion. On the undercard of the October 23 Lewis/Sonnenberg match, Sandow had Marshall defeat Don DeLaun for his first win in town of what would turn into a major push.
The California Commission ruled a rematch would take place on November 13, 1929 with all seconds and managers not allowed ringside during the match. There also was a rule saying that after a wrestler left or fell from the ring and returned, both wrestlers would met in the center of the ring.
The Olympic was once again filled with 10,800 and a gate of $31,000. Sonnenberg won the first fall in 24:45 with the flying tackle. Lewis used his headlock to pin the champion in 13:33. In the third, Lewis dominated Sonnenberg until he missed a headlock and got hit by a tackle. So Ed was pinned in 3:05. Everett Marshall wrestled on the undercard.
On November 16, 1929, Lewis appeared in La Junta, Colorado to help Sandow's new wrestler and lost a handicap match to Everett Marshall in his home town.
Another match with Joe Stecher took place in Kansas City on November 19, 1929. Attendance was more than 4,000. Stecher won the first fall with his scissors in 53:05. Lewis won the second fall in 8:32 and the third in 3:00, both with headlocks. Stecher was the more popular wrestler and Lewis was booed in his own home town.
Lewis then headlined in the upper East Coast and appeared in Toronto on December 9, beating Dan Koloff. He finished his year, on December 16, 1929, in Tulsa. Getting another title shot, Sonnenberg beat him in two straight falls.
Lewis seemed ready to go into semi-retirement in 1930. I believe his Trachoma had become so bad that, at times, he could only see shadows. Ed spent much of his time working in his Glendale restaurant, but he still would wrestle one or two times a week in small territories like Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Portland, and the minor western areas of Canada. Two of his sisters married and moved to Washington, so over the coming years Lewis would spend a lot of time wrestling in the Seattle/Portland area.
Everett Marshall got a major push in Los Angeles headlining the first five cards of 1930. He was given wins over Malcewicz, Stasiak, Dr. Karl Sarpolis, Cantonwine and Nick Lutze. Everett Marshall was a blond youth with good looks and some wrestling ability. Newspapers were comparing him to Earl Caddock. In fact, Marshall had good character, intelligence, and a fine attitude. All Marshall really wanted from wrestling was a good farm. His lack of ego made him easy to work with and he turned out to be a good investment for Billy Sandow. He lived in Glendale near Lewis, so Ed must have been training him. On January 22, Lewis wrestled the semi-main event under Marshall, beating Dick Daviscourt while the two drew 10,000 to the Olympic.
Marshall's string of Olympic main events was broken when Daro booked Lewis to meet Gene LaDoux on March 19, 1930. Lewis won two straight falls and drew 8,500 ($13,000).
Paul Bowser booked Lewis into some matches in late March including a major match in Madison Square Garden, so on March 31 Ed flew to Kansas City to work a draw with Henri DeGlane. In New York's Madison Square Garden on April 2, Ed performed in front of a poor crowd of 4,000, beating old Marin Plestina.[273a] The next night Lewis beat a feared hooker in Jack Sherry at Boston.
After Everett beat Nick Lutze a second time (drawing 9,000), he had beaten just about every performer in Paul Bowser's stable of contenders but one…..Lewis. So Lou Daro made the match on April 16, 1930, with the winner to get a title match with Sonnenberg in Wrigley Field on May 5.
During the 1920's Strangler Lewis' jobs were few. The only loses he had were to Stan Zbyszko, Stecher, Wayne Munn, and Sonnenberg. Before this match, the word was out that he might do another job and the match got national attention in all the newspapers. Marshall went so far as to fly in his family from Colorado to see the match.
Lewis gave Marshall his first lost in the first fall, pining him after a headlock in 32:16. In the second fall, Lewis began head locking Marshall all over the ring until Everett, in desperation, suddenly picked him up for the backward slam and pin in 10:21.[273b] Lewis was groggy at the start of the third fall and Marshall jumped on him to win in 33 seconds. With that, Everett Marshall became a national star and the super match with Sonnenberg was set.
Back on January 11, 1930, The National Boxing Association president Stanley M. Isaacs decided the organization was going take control of pro wrestling and legitimize it…like it had pro boxing. The group had taken control of boxing from a large number of under funded state commissions (it claimed to rule 31 states) and thought it was powerful enough to extend its domain over wrestling. Its first step was to create a tournament of leading contenders and champions, with the winner being crowned NBA world champion. The men named were Sonnenberg, Shikat, Pesek, Jim Londos, and Pete Sauer (Ray Steele).[274a] They were all asked to post a $5,000 forfeit bond. The only two who didn't ignore the NBA was Londos and Pesek. Well to be fair, Steele lost a match to champion Shikat at Memphis on January 16 to lose his spot on the list. On February 18, Columbus promoter Al Haft won a bidding war for the match and scheduled it for April 9, 1930.
On March 21, John Pesek announced he was withdrawing from the match due to injuries after a fall from horse. The truth was that the injury was a fake. Pesek had learned he was going to be the one losing the match, and he didn't want to job to Londos.
By April 1, the NBA president was fed up with pro wrestling and wanted nothing to do with it. The chairman of the wrestling committee, Col. H. J. Landry, announced it was going to ban all heavyweight wrestlers from NBA territories. A lot of state commission then started to drop out of the NBA and I think Landry changed his mind (and probably took the money he was offered from Londos promoters).
There were other "mark" commissions also making trouble for promoters. In Chicago, Columbus promoter Al Half appeared before the Illinois Commission asking for Sonnenberg to defend the title against John Pesek. Pesek, claiming the title for himself, posted a $10,000 certified check saying that he could pin Sonnenberg three times in one hour. Then Half presented world welterweight title holder Jack Reynolds, who post $10,000 for a 2/3 fall match with Sonnenberg. The old student of Farmer Burns (Reynolds) then stated "This Sonnenberg is only a palooka, who in my opinion, does not know how to wrestle. Honestly, I don't believe he even knows how to put a half nelson on correctly, not to mention the other tricks of the game. This flying tackle stuff, he has been exhibiting, is all hooey---hippodrome blah put on for the benefit of the rag tag and bob ends who love to see roly-poly stuff. My money is up and money usually talks."
The Illinois commission decision was to stage there own tournament. On January 17, 1930 it announced that Londos, Steele and Steinkle were to wrestle and the winner was to meet Sonnenberg in a final match. Of course, everyone named refused. Lewis, Plestina, Stasiak and Malcewicz all put up $2,500 forfeits. The commission then suspended all pro wrestling in the state until Londos and Shikat joined the group.
On April 8, 1930, the New York State Athletic Commission got wise and ruled that all wrestling cards had to be billed as wrestling exhibitions and should be classified as theatrical. The commissioner was old time GR wrestling champion, William Muldoom. I think it was the New York Commission that broke the news to the NBA that wrestling was "fake"!!!
You would think a ruling like that would kill pro wrestling in New York City, but it really wasn't anything normal fans didn't know and by the end of 1930 wrestling was drawing bigger than ever in the city. It became the golden period in the sport's…well exhibition's…..history.
After a huge build up, the Gus Sonnenberg/Everett Marshall match in Wrigley Field drew 17,580 and a gate of $69,745.50 on May 5, 1930. With the depression taking effect and ticket prices dropping soon after this date, it would remain the Los Angeles and California gate record until broken by the Lou Thesz/Baron Leone match in 1953. The numbers are probably very close to the actual (true) numbers of the Fred Blassie/John Tolos card at the L.A. Coliseum on August 27, 1971.
Lewis was ringside and announced before the start of the main event. Marshall was able to avoid the flying tackle during the first fall and won with an airplane spin in 31:13. In the second fall, Marshall broke a Sonnenberg headlock by throwing him to the matt. Gus showed his ring coyness by pretending to be on the verge of collapse. Marshall took the bait and walked in unprotected to be hit in the abdomen by one of Sonnenberg's tackles. Three more tackles followed and Everett was pined for the second fall in 11:55. Marshall claimed he had been fouled by a tackle that had landed low in the groin area. The last fall saw Sonnenberg pin Marshall in 1:22 after three flying tackles.
On the under card was Paul Bowser new super star, Ed Don George, who beat Dan Koloff. George was a well-known Amateur wrestler from at the University of Michigan. He won the AAU wrestling title in 1927 and represented the United States at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. He beat another future pro in Earl McCready to get to the final but lost to another future pro in J. C. Richthoff. His real name was Edward Nye George but he was billed early in his career as Don George. He protested and as a compromise the name was changed to Ed Don George. He actually graduated from the University of Michigan in 1929 with a Mechanical Engineering degree. He worked before and during his career for the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. Ed didn't wrestle as much as some because of this job outside of wrestling. He was good looking and most reports say he was a fine wrestler. His idol was Ed "Strangler" Lewis. His first pro match took place on November 21, 1929 in Boston. By the time he got to Los Angeles he was well on his way to 50 straight wins. So he was another new star that got a major push by Lou Daro. He beat all the Bowser wrestlers, including Stasiak, Lutze, Lee Wycoff, Malcewicz, Plestina, Bob "Bibber" McCoy and Don De Laun (later billed as Brother Jonathan, the father of Don Leo Jonathan).
Jim Londos returned to the East Coast where he continued to draw large crowds. Dick Shikat was an OK draw but he wasn't in Jimmy's league. Shikat was also home sick and planning a trip back to Germany. Talk like that was a sure sign of a "title change".
Shikat and Londos were booked to meet on June 6, 1930 in Philadelphia's Phills'Ball Park. It was to be for Shikat's Pennsylvania and New York world title, plus, because of Pesek dropping out of the Londos match, the NBA world title recognition.
In the rain, it drew a total crowd of close to 15,000 with 13,115 paying $43,622.20. Londos won the three titles in over an hour and 23 minute. After injuring Shikat's leg with a Japanese toe-hold, Londos then grabbed a half-nelson and the uninjured leg and rolled the weaken German into a three count. The crowd loved the idea of Londos being champion, after all the years he had been trying, and a party was held at the Philadelphia Ritz-Carlton until early in the morning. The only person not in a good mood was Shikat.
Ed Lewis must have also hated the idea of the little Greek, he created, being elevated to a champion level at the same time he was being put out to pasture.
After watching the Sonnenberg/Marshall match, Lewis did a another job for champion Sonnenberg in Kansas City on May 20. He then made a short tour of the East Coast before returning to Glendale.
On June 11, 1930, Lewis got a rematch with young Everett Marshall at the Olympic. The winner of that match would get to travel to Seattle for a showdown with Joe Stecher.
The match drew around 9,000 with Lewis' old friend Jack Dempsey ringside. After eating four headlock, Marshall surprised Ed with a airplane spine that dumped the Strangler on his head. As he tried to get up, Lewis got hit by a Marshall rabbit punch and pinned for the first fall in 31:15. Billy Sandow jumped into the ring to complain about the foul. Sandow was managing both wrestlers but it wasn't known by the public. This is the first time I've found Sandow name mentioned in a report of an Everett Marshall match. So if sides were taken, Billy was still with Lewis.
In the second fall, Marshall was in the process of using the "backward body slam" when Ed reach between his legs and upset Everett who fell back on to the mat. A headlock then finished Marshall in 18:24.
The two went at each other hot and heavy in the third fall with both going for headlocks. Ed got thrown out of the ring but returned just before 20 was counted. He then headlock Marshall three times and pinned him in 8:37. Lewis got his ticket to Seattle and his win back from doing the job to set Marshall up for the Wrigley Field match.
In Seattle, it seemed like a Lewis employee was doing the PR, because the newspaper claimed there had been six matches between Stecher and Lewis, of which Ed had won five. It actually was the 15 match between the two and the record showed, after Joe had been working for Bowser for a year, seven Lewis wins, five Stecher wins, and two draws. Wrestling fans seemed as ignorant of wrestling history in 1930 as their grandchildren were in 1995. The newspaper also wrote that Strangler Lewis was the "most outstanding grappler since the days of Frank Gotch". Lewis was only too happy to write Joe Stecher out of the sport's history.
The match in Seattle was under European rules that had them wrestling under an eight round system. To win, a wrestler needed to take two falls, if no one was able to pull that off, the referee would make a decision. Lewis won a fall in the fifth round with his headlock, before Stecher ended the match by pinning Ed with a scissors in the eight. In Europe, a round ends whenever a fall takes place, so the Stecher's pin ended the match. The referee then made his decision and ruled Lewis the winner. Tony Stecher jumped into ring protesting the idea as "a shower of programs, empty cartons, and everything possible except the ringside seats" came flying into the ring showing that the crowd agreed with Tony. The reporter claimed it was a very close match, which could have gone either way.
On June 18, Lewis wrestled Sonnenberg in Milwaukee. I don't know the result, but I have a strong feeling that he lost.
Lewis returned to The Olympic Auditorium on June 25, beating Plestina in the semi-main event on a Marshall/Wycoff card.
Marshall continued to be pushed following the Lewis loss, beating Wycoff, Malcewicz (twice), and on July 9, 1930 he was giving a win over Joe Stecher. This set him up for another match with Gus Sonnenberg for the title. On October 1, 1930, Sonnenberg again defeated Everett Marshall, this time at a sold out Olympic Auditorium (10,400).
Gus Sonnenberg turned out to be a huge draw. In Los Angeles, at the time, no one in history could touch him as a draw in the city. Londos had always been big but, with the title, he became huge box-office. I think everyone in wrestling, including Bowser and Curley, realized they were presented with a unique situation with two massive drawing cards. A super match between the two, promoted right, outdoors, could shatter all gate records. Even if the result was a draw. The thought of the money involved was worth a temporary truce between everyone.
On October 1, 1930, Londos' manager, Ed White, appeared before the Illinois Athletic Commission in an attempt to secure a unification match with Gus Sonnenberg, who was suspended in the state. He offered $10,000 to anyone who could book the match. On October 3, the Commission lifted its ban on heavyweight wrestlers and dropped the suspension of Sonnenberg. Local promoters Doc Krone, Joe Coffey and Ed White were all interested and talking about the unification match. I think the Illinois commission realized the idealistic theory of shoot wrestling wasn't worth losing all the tax money pro wrestling was making for others cities across the nation.
Lewis and Joe Stecher agreed to travel to Australia in September 1930. We know that there were four matches between the two. Stecher defeated Lewis at Melbourne on September 6. Two draws followed September 13 in Melbourne and September 15 at Sydney. On September 20, Lewis got his loss back by beating Joe in Sydney. These are the only details of the tour that we know, other that Abe Coleman was with them. These bouts were the last recorded matches between Stecher and Lewis. Joe later would draw well in putting over old friends John Pesek and Jim Londos. He remained a respected figure in the sport and his loses were only to a few major wrestlers.
Lewis took Elaine with him to Australia, traveling on a different liner than the Stechers. The trip was seen as a vacation more than a business trip.
When Lewis returned to Glendale in October, he had Billy Sandow waiting for him. The two hadn't spent much time together over the last year and a half, and Lewis was once again thinking about training and losing weight for a major comeback. Sandow must have warned Ed that there wasn't much of a market for 40 year old wrestling champions, but Lewis' eyes were better and he was getting the old feelings back. Lewis knew he was old, but with Stecher in line, he didn't feel there was a modern performer who could beat him in a real match. It very well may have been wishful thinking by a washed up old guy but there were many expert insiders and reporters who agreed with him. Anyway, Lewis was willing to throw his hat into the ring.[284a]
Ed Don George and Marshall continued to be the major local favorites in Los Angeles but Paul Bowser also sent him another wrestler he wanted pushed. Henri De Glane (Born June 22, 1902) was a French wrestler who had won the gold medal in heavyweight Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. At age 16, De Glane worked as a truck driver during the war, delivering wine to the soldiers. After the Armistice, he became a member of the Paris Fire Department, which was a semi-military organization with a fine training school in modern athletics. Heni was proficient in wrestling, winning many tournaments, which lead to him being selected to represent France in the 1924 Olympics. After winning the medal, Deglane toured in vaudeville with boxing champion George Carpentier. He later opened a school of physical culture and attempted to promote pro wrestling with little success. Henri also toured Europe and all the leading centers of wrestling on the continent. He was famous in his home country but it wasn't making him rich. Lucien Riopel, Paul Bowser's promoter, in Montreal, brought him to Canada and later he moved down to the USA and Boston. De Glane was a good wrestler, once he learned catch style wrestling, but he was in his late 20's and lacked the star appeal that Sonnenberg, Marshall, Londos, and George had for American audiences. Still Bowser saw great promise for him in Montreal and he was also planning a move into France.
On October 29, 1930, Gus Sonnenberg defeated Ed Don George in a title match at The Olympic Auditorium. By this time the sport was filled with ex-football players and just regular wrestlers using Gus' Flying Tackle. After splitting two falls, George seemed to have Sonnenberg beat but both attempted flying tackles and they met in the middle of the ring in a head on collision. Both were out but Sonnenberg woke up first and pinned George. Fans and promoter wanted a rematch.
On that card was a Mexican wrestler named Jose Dominguez. Lou Daro knew that if he could ever find a major Mexican wrestler to push, he'll make a ton of money in the city with the largest Mexican population, outside of Mexico City, in the world. He seemed to be working hard on Dominguez, even giving him a win over Joe Malcewicz.
In a semi-final to 2:03:30 draw between Everett Marshall and Henri De Glane at The Olympic on November 12, Strangler Lewis made his come back defeating Jose Dominguez in two straight falls. Los Angeles would have to wait for a Mexican star.
Lewis must have been steaming when he read in the Los Angeles papers that Jim Londos and Jack Curley had returned to New York's Madison Square Garden on November 17, 1930 selling out with over 20,000 fans in attendance (including Mayor Jimmy Walker) as the Greek beat Gino Garibaldi. This was the same building that Lewis had drawn 4,000 on April 2.
Lewis was always willing to tell anyone who'd listen that he had beaten Londos 14 straight times and that got him a lot of press and put pressure on Londos, but at the beginning of Londos title reign he was well known for putting people over. So Curley, Fabiani, Ed White, Packs and Londos himself agreed that, as champion, he wouldn't do jobs of any type. He wouldn't even drop falls to contenders. It wasn't a problem on the East Coast because they booked one fall matches, but in the mid-west, where two out of three fall matches prevailing, it took some creativity to keep people strong and promote rematches. Still 1930 was filled with new stars and Londos was in the process of becoming wrestling biggest drawing star in history. He could and did work every night, filling arenas in every city. There seemed to be no limit to how much money Jimmy could make for himself and the promoters.
On November 26, Lewis wrestled another semi-final at the Olympic, wrestling Henri De Glane to an hour draw.
The rematch for the title between Gus Sonnenberg and Ed Don George was booked for December 10, 1930. It drew 10,000. Sonnenberg won the first fall with the flying tackle in 14 minutes and seven seconds. George won the second with a combination head scissors and double wrist lock. In one of wrestling biggest upsets, George submitted Sonnenberg using a Japanese arm-lock (a standing head scissors with a arm-bar, George's finishing hold in 1930) in 12:52. Gus had been locked in the hold for over five minutes before quitting. The win gave Ed Don George the world title.
The book FALL GUYS by Marcus Griffin has a story saying that Bowser booked the George/Sonnenberg finish with out telling Sandow or Lewis. The placing of the belt on George supposedly angered both Ed and Billy, because Lewis had been promised in 1929, at some point, to get the title back. The story is only a theory and I have one of my own. Gus Sonnenberg was a huge draw, even without the title. I think Bowser & Daro had plans to run cross promotion matches with Gus and Jim Londos in Los Angeles and a John Pesek/Sonnenberg match in Boston. I think these big money matches were going to be draws or have some screw finish tacked on to them, but he didn't want the title on Gus in case something when wrong. The title on George was good for George's career and with him as champ you didn't have to worry about a double crosses….at least that's what Bowser thought. But George was a real wrestler and young who would be willing to step up if challenged by Londos, Shikat or Steele. Another factor may have been that Sonnenberg had a drinking problem and was becoming an out of control drunk.
Lewis returned to the Olympic on December 22, destroying a Joe Stocca in two straight falls in the semi-main event to De Glane beating Nick Lutze.
As the year came to a close, Londos grew more headlines drawing 22,000 (19,715 paying $44,878) on December 29 at Madison Square Garden in beating Ferenc Holuban. This came three days after selling out in Philadelphia against Tiny Roebuck (10,000 $20,213).
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