ED "STRANGLER" LEWIS
Facts within a Myth
by Steve Yohe
The New York City War of 1932 and 1933
NWA world champion Jim Londos had continued to draw big crowds in the last part of 1931 and the beginning of 1932. He beat Ray Steele in Madison Square Garden on May 1, 1931 with 12,000 and $33,000. He drew a crowd of 9,000 to the Bronx to see him defeat Renato Gardini on May 8. In the Garden on May 25, he drew 12,000 and $33,000 in beating Sandor Szabo. Londos was rematched with Ray Steele for the big Summer show in Yankee Stadium on June 29, 1931. Some papers gave the attendance at 30,000 but the real figures were 21,000 and $63,000. He wrestled Rudy Dusek in Washington DC on July 17 with a crowd of 12,000. On July 23 he pulled in 11,234 in the Bronx wrestling Herb Freeman. On July 30, 1931 Londos drew a crowd of 11,000 to Coney Island for a match with an ex-Boston Braves pitcher named Al Pierotti. A rematch with Rudy Dusek in Washington DC drew 15,000 on August 12. The next night, August 13, he pulled in 10,000 in beating Kola Kwariani on Coney Island. On September 18, he and Ray Steele worked out doors in the Philadelphia Phily's Ball Park drawing 15,000. 22,000 St Louis fans watched Jimmy beat German Hans Kampfer on September 30. His number was 17,000 on November 16 as he beat George Calza in Madison Square Garden. On November 19, 1931 he brought in 15,800, a Toronto indoor sports record, against Gino Garibaldi. A rematch with George Calza drew 15,000 to the Garden on December 7. And another 15,000 return to the Garden to see another Londos/Steele match on another December 21. 1932 started with another crowd of 17,000 in Toronto for a January 14 match with fellow Greek George Zaharias. Londos drew against every type of opponent, in every city, and didn't lose a fall all year.
Around early 1932, Londos' contract with the Curley group became void. For three year everyone in Curley's office was getting a percentage of Londos' purses. For being pushed in New York City and being made champion, Londos kicked back a major porsion of his pay checks to Jack Curley, Rudy Miller, Jack Pfefer, and "Toots" Mondt. He had the same type deal that Mondt had in later years with, Primo Carnera, Antonino Rocca and Andre The Giant, but Londos was smart about everything and very, very tight with money, so the idea of splitting gates from cities outside of New York City bothered him. So he broke his contract, either through the courts and commission, or it just ran out.
This upset the Curley office and they were worried that Londos would break away to form his own promotion in New York City using their world title. They wanted the title off Londos, so they asked the Greek to drop the belt back to Dick Shikat. He refused.
Toots Mondt had grown powerful in the time spent away from Billy Sandow. He worked for Ray Fabiani for a short period in Philadelphia and then moved on to the Jack Curley promotion. Curley was a major promoter of many different things. I think he used pro wrestling and varies charities, such as the Milk Fund, to make contacts with upper society. It was the way to find moneymen who could invest and finance his different projects. The big money wasn't in pro wrestling, so by 1930 he was mainly a figurehead used in promotion. The real wrestling minds in the office were Toots Mondt, Jack Pfefer, and Rudy Miller. Toots has taken credit for the creation of Jim Londos and just about everything else that was right with the sport during this period, so it's hard to tell what the truth was.
In late 1931 or early 1932, Toots Mondt visited his old friend Ed Lewis and persuaded him to leave Sandow and accepted a large contract (some say $50,000) to join the Curley's group. Billy was Ed's friend but Lewis knew what he was doing was small time compared with what was happening on the East Coast. Ed also knew that, at age 41, it was his last chance to stay at the top of his profession. He also needed money. With everything adding up, he accepted Toots offer and dumped Sandow.
Toots had plans, but, at the time' I don't know if everything was figured out. He felt that Strangler Lewis, even with his age and lack of conditioning, was the ideal opponent to bring into New York to battle Londos, because of his ability to actual wrestle and his many past wins over the little Greek. Lewis hated Jimmy and Londos respected and feared Ed. Ed had a famous name and the respect of the public after years on top. Lewis could win a PR battle and drive the little champion out of the city. Shikat couldn't do that. He had already lost twice to Londos and his ego made him as "thick as a brick". If a wrestling war started between Curley and Londos, Strangler Lewis was someone Mondt wanted on his side.
Lewis began working for Jack Curley in late January 1932. Mondt didn't want to scare Londos, so he kept Lewis out of New York City. He put Lewis on the road, working the schedule of a 1932 pro wrestler, to get him in condition and see if he could handle the work load at his age. Wrestlers didn't perform the long matches, like champions of Lewis' days, but they worked almost every night, with a lot of travel. Ed worked harder in 1932 than at any time in his career. Toots put a lot of pressure on Lewis to lose weight. By the time he got to the big city, he was under 240 pounds. But for five months, Lewis work for Curley in Boston, Toronto, Cleveland, St Louis, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Newark, and Los Angeles.
Lewis never stopped taking about and challenging Londos. The champion couldn't be interview by anyone without being asked about Strangler Lewis. The match develop into the biggest rivalry since Lewis/Stecher. Fans of 1932 didn't remember all the past matches between the two, and all the great battles Jim had given Ed, all they knew was that the Strangler had won 14 straight times. Even if it was another Lewis lie.
One of Curley's new stars was Sammy Stein. Curley told Londos that he planed to use Stein for the big outdoor show they ran every summer. Sammy Stein was a good looking performer who was capable of drawing a good crowd but not someone the Greek was worried about, so Londos liked the idea of wrestling him. Curley said he first wanted to build Stein up by having him beat ex-champ Dick Shikat in New York City. He wanted to promote it as a contender's match, with the winner getting a big title showdown with Londos. He asked if he could use a storyline that had Londos agreeing to meet the winner. Londos and his manager Ed White thought the winner was going to be Sammy Stein, so they said yes. Later the New York Athletic Commission had Londos sign legal agreements to meet the winner.
So on March 14, 1932, Sammy Stein wrestled Shikat in New York City. Dick Shikat won and received the contract for a title match with Jim Londos.
Ed White, Londos' manager, went to the commission to try to get out of the match, but they wouldn't budge. White then tried to work on Mondt, but was told that Londos would have to go through with the match and that Shikat was going to get the title back. Londos then quit the promotion, probably around the end of April 1932.
Over the next year and half, a bitter war raged in New York between the Curley group, which consisted of Curley, Mondt, Pfefer, Miller, Shikat and Lewis, and the Londos group, which still had promoters Ed White, Tom Packs, Ray Fabiani, John (Doc) Krone, Jimmy Johnson, and Lou Daro. A lot of Tom Packs' major talent also left Curley. All of this ended Curley's long feud with Paul Bowser and the two began working together.
Lewis began touring, outside of New York City, in February 1932. He was pushed very hard and was given wins over many of the stars of the promotion including Jim McMillen, Jim Clinstock, Taro Myake, George Zaharias, Sandor Szabo, Matros Kirilenko, John Maxos, Rudy Dusek, Hans Kampfer, George Hagen, Renato Gardini, Jack Taylor, Kola Kwariani, Earl McCready, Leo Pinetzki, Tiny Roebuck, and Gino Garibaldi. The only match he didn't win was a 90 minute draw with Londos' policeman Ray Steele on February 24 in Boston, which was billed as a "shoot" match.
Lewis was not billed as world champion, but his title claims were mentioned in interviews. His weight was announced at 238, but he looked to be carrying more poundage. His chest drooped and there seemed to be layers of flesh around his waist. He also looked slow and unsure of himself. In just about every city he was called an old man and given terrible reviews. Like the old gray mare, Lewis wasn't what he used to be.
Lewis was brought into New York City in June and, right away, was booked into a contenders match with Dick Shikat on June 9, 1932 in Long Island City's (Queens) new Madison Square Garden Bowl. The winner would get a title match with Londos.
Shikat was the favorite and most fans thought he was being groomed for Londos' title. The card was the annual show for the Hearst Free Milk Fund. Curley announced a crowd of 25,000 and a gate of $65,000.
Shikat dominated the early minutes of the match. He put the burly Strangler into hold after hold, only to see Lewis break free. Shikat, in turn, broke a half dozen of Ed's headlocks. Shikat had a wide repertoire of holds while Lewis' offense center around headlocks. After an hour Shikat slammed Lewis with two body slams, but Ed seemed unhurt and countered with three headlocks that were too much for Shikat to take. Shikat was pinned at the 1:06:07 mark. As a result of the win, the State commission ordered Londos to defend the title against Lewis in September or loss his claim in New York State.
Shikat received $20,000 from Lewis for doing the job. It was to be returned after a rematch and title switch back to Shikat. Lewis didn't have the money, so he borrowed it from his manager, Toots Mondt, who transferred the money to Shikat's manager, Toots Mondt (yes you read that right). For Lewis, it was better that way, because he had no intention of ever losing to Shikat. After Ed signed off on a new five year contract to be managed by Mondt, the rematch agreement was forgotten by everyone but Dick Shikat.
Jack Curley and Toots seemed to have Jim Londos right where they wanted him. In late June, the New York Commission ordered Londos to sign for a Lewis match by October 31, or be stripped of the title. On July 8, 1932, Londos was ordered by the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission to defend against Lewis with in 60 days or the title would be vacated. Londos continued to refuse, saying he didn't want to injury an old blind man.
The Curley group did everything they could to abuse the Greek's reputation, as Lewis continued to wrestle nightly. The more Ed wrestled, the smaller the crowds became. The New Yorkers wanted Londos back and until then, they were staying away, uninterested in an old fat man.
Even with the bad publicity coming out of New York, Londos continued to draw across the nation. Working out of Los Angeles, he broke attendance records in San Francisco and San Diego. On July 18, 1932 a Londos/Steele draw drew 12,000 to Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. Londos even met with President Herbert Hoover on June 2 in Washington DC. He returned to Washington DC on June 23 to defeat Fred Grudmeier in front of a crowd over 10,000. At the September 21 convention of the NWA, the organization put out a statement saying that Londos would continue as their world champion.
In late July, it seemed certain that Lewis would be getting the championship, so Ed was sent to his summer home in Wisconsin to train, much like he always did before winning major title. For six weeks he chopped wood and worked in the forests around his farm.
On August 21, 1932, Toots Mondt was involved in a traffic accident. Driving a Cadillac sports car, a little passed midnight, Toots, while speeding around a corner collided head on with a car going in the opposite direction. In Toots' car was his brother Ralph and a woman who calmed to be a dancer. A woman in the other car, Theresa Luccioni, was killed and four others were injured. Toots was arrested and charged on September 2 of manslaughter and criminal negligence. On November 11, Toots was found guilty of criminal negligence by the supreme court of Barrie, Canada and sentenced to a year in jail. Mondt's lawyers appealed and the conviction was overturned in February 1933. Mondt was also sued by the dead girls mother, the dancer (who lost earrings and suffered), and even his brother Ralph. (319)
Mondt was involved in another auto accident around September 27, 1932. It was a four car collision in New York City near 116th Street and Riverside Drive. Sandor Szabo was the driver. Toots Mondt suffered a broken right wrist. Dick Shikat was also in the car and he broke his right arm and was forced off the mat for the rest for the year.[319a]
So it can be said that Toots Mondt may have started the war with Londos, but for the last part of 1932, he was AWOL.
On September 30, 1932, the New York Commission stripped Jim Londos of the world title, and ordered Ray Steele and Jack Sherry to wrestle on October 10 in Madison Square Garden, with the winner to meet Strangler Lewis for the title. The mark commission didn't seem to understand the problems this created. Both Steele and Sherry were major hookers that were known for working for promotions at odds with the Curley. Getting Jack Sherry for the match wasn't really that difficult since Paul Bowser and Curley had ended their long war and were working together. But Ray Steele was Londos' number one contender and policeman. Putting Steele in the same ring with Lewis was trouble and if it did happen, it would have to be a shoot between the best true wrestlers of two warring promotions. It was a situation very rare in pro wrestling.
Steele refused the match with Sherry, but sent word he'd be willing to wrestle Lewis at a later date. The commission then ruled that Lewis would meet Jack Sherry on October 10, 1932 and the winner would be recognized as world champion in New York.
The match drew 5,000 and a gate of $7,200 to the huge Madison Square Garden. Jack Sherry showed up on orders from Paul Bowser but, at 220 pounds of pure muscle and a true wrestler with a ego to match, wasn't sure if he wanted to do the job. Curley, Lewis or one of the others in the promotion promised him that if he did the job that night, he would later get a rematch with Lewis that would be a true "contest".[319b] Sherry agreed, but never got the second match.
For the first hour, the match was all stand up. They tugged, mauled and pushed each other without any form of "show" holds that the fans were used to. Some reports claim that Sherry refused to work and wanted to shoot for the first hour. The few fans in the arena hated all the standing around and started taunting the two giants. Right after the hour mark, Sherry came out of his defensive shell and Lewis started bouncing him around the ring. When they were on the mat, there was little action and one reporter thought Sherry had fallen asleep. After a series of headlocks, Lewis pinned Sherry in 1:23:30.
Everyone, but RING MAGAZINE, thought the match was terrible. Many of the fans had left before the end. The match was so bad that THE RING publish a story defending it, saying the fans were fools and it was a throw back to the real wrestling of Gotch's era.
Jack Sherry never got his rematch and I don't think he ever had another major match in America. Always looking for a "shoot", he ended up in England claiming the world title. Most of his career, if he had one, is unknown.
So Lewis had the New York world title to go with his California and Illinois titles. Actually I think by October 1932, California had been convinced to recognize Londos as champion and Illinois had quit worrying about the title, viewing pro wrestling as type of joke they didn't want to laugh at anymore.
Almost as soon as Ed was crowned, Jack Curley offered Jim Londos $50,000 for a title unification match. Jimmy never called him back.
On November 21, 1932, Lewis headlined a Madison Square Garden card beating George Calza in front of another small crowd. A lack of Jim Londos was one factor in the drop in attendance, but the under cards were also weakened by a lack of talent. At that point Curley was using the same old Paul Bowser wrestlers to fill out his cards.
The commission still required Lewis to wrestle Ray Steele, and the match was made for December 5, 1932 in Madison Square Garden. Steele had had a good year in 1932, and unlike with Jack Sherry, he was a major national star. At the time he was on a win streak with a list including Jim McMillen (Sept. 7), Hans Steinke (Sept. 28), Joe Stecher (Sept. 14), and Bert Assirati (Nov. 9). He was known for doing major jobs for Londos but in his last match with the Greek he worked a draw at an outdoor card in Los Angeles' Wrigley Field (July 18). He also had given Lewis a working over in their 90 minute draw at Boston. Steele, like a few other performers like Billy Robinson and Dick Beyer, had the ability to make true wrestling entertaining, and he was a major draw country wide.
Steele was very good friends with Londos but he was a great guy who made friends whereever he went. Jack Curley and Lewis both liked and respected him. Unlike with Sherry, he was a hooker who played the game and was willing to put people over. Ray enjoyed life and didn't worry much about being the world's greatest wrestler. Unlike John Pesek, he never was known for hurting people, but when challenged, he may have been the equal of any hooker.
Most people considered Steele to be Londos' policeman, but I don't know if he considered himself to be such and I'm not sure if he liked the idea doing a shoot in public. I think Curley, Mondt and Lewis took the match with him because they were used to working with him and knew him well. I think they trusted him and figured they could work some type of match that would satisfy everyone. As to the people on Londos' side, insiders, and any type of smart fan….they were sure the bout would be a shoot.
On December 5, the garden drew a crowd of 8,000 ($11,000) which were divided by the Curley fans and many supporters of the Londos group. Lewis was seconded by his trainer John Evko. Steele used an Indian wrestler called Tom Marvin, who was actually a retired boxer, as his second. The match started slow and stayed slow. Steele stayed away from Lewis and Ed followed him around the ring. It seemed that Steele's plan was to keep the old 240 pound champion moving and to attack his eyes. Steele kept forearming Lewis in the face around the eyes. Everyone knew about Ed's bad eyes and the salty perspiration from both men also clouded his vision. Lewis kept trying to get Steele into a bear hug (probably his pinning body lock), but Ray was able to break every attempt. For 32 minutes the crowd was bored to death, then they came alive as Steele started hitting the old Strangler with more elbows to the head. Three elbows had Lewis groggy, when his second Evko leaped into the ring to protest. A second entering the ring should, under the rules of 1932, result in the wrestler being disqualified. Lewis yelled at Evko: "Get out of here. You have no business in this ring and you have nothing to do with me. Out! Out! Out!" Lewis then pushed Evko through the ropes. The referee Eddie Forbes ordered the wrestlers to resume. Steele immediately started where he had left off by driving his elbow into Lewis chin. The Strangler reeled back into the ropes and Ray let him have it again. Referee Forbes told Steele to stop, ignoring the fact that elbows were legal in a normal wrestling matches, and warned Ray that he would be disqualified if he hit Lewis again. Steele did just that thing and without hesitating, Forbes stepped between them, waved them to their corners and raised Lewis' arm as the victor. They announced Steele as the loser on a foul.
The crowd was in an uproar, yelling, screaming, stamping and throwing things all over the place. Jack Curley had words with Steele's second Tom Marvin and the boxer threw a punch at the promoter. The blow glanced off the promoter's head, as the police jumped on Marvin beating him into insensibility using their clubs. They then dragged the boxer to the dressing room. Fights broke out all over the arena between Lewis and Londos supporters. Riots only stopped with the start of the last match of the night.
After the bout, Steele said, he had nothing to say except, and that what happened in the ring was enough evidence in itself to establish the fact that he was Lewis' master. Steele's people claimed that after a half hour Lewis realized he could do nothing with Steele and gave the signal from his second to jump in the ring and complicate the affair. The reporter also claimed the blows to the head were legal in most states and there were bouts on the under card with wrestlers throwing punches and elbows, and none of them were disqualified.
The story Ed Lewis would tell is that Steele realized that he couldn't beat Lewis, so he started throwing punches to get himself disqualified, bypassing the humiliation of being pinned.
Years later, Ed would claim that Jim Londos had told Steele to wrestle the match in bare feet, and they had become so blistered that Ray didn't want to continue. In the two accounts I've read in newspapers, there is no mention of bloody feet. And Londos wasn't in New York that night.
Of course, it's the Lewis story that has lived on through the years.
On December 6, the New York Athletic Commission announced that Ray Steele was suspended for 60 days and John Evko and Renato Gardini (who jumped into the ring) were suspended indefinitely. The commission was unable to punish Tom Marvin for punching Curley, because he had no license in New York to revoke.
Lewis was still upset over the $20,000 he had given Dick Shikat. A meeting was called with Lewis, Mondt, and Shikat present. Shikat was told that if he returned the $20,000 and added another $12,000, he would be given a rematch with Ed and the title. Shikat agreed and forked up the money. He was recovering from his broken arm from the car crash, but once he returned he would once again be king of New York wrestling. The title match never happened.
Lewis and Curley attendance continued to bomb. A December 19 handicap match drew 5,000 to Madison Square Garden. On December 15, Lewis traveled to St Louis to beat Sandor Szabo. The match drew a gross of $326, which didn't pay the expenses for the trip. The fans in New York wanted their Jim Londos back and rejected Lewis completely.
In late 1932, the commission agreed to allow Londos to wrestle in the city if he would not bill himself as world champion. Tom Packs and Ray Fabiani then joined with the Johnson brother, Charlie and Willee Johnson to bring Londos back to the city. They needed a good wrestling man to book, so Rudy Dusek, who was promoting the South for Curley, also joined the group.
Londos returned on January 11, 1933. In the small St Nick's Arena, Jimmy beat Abe Coleman in front of a sellout 6,000 with over another 1,000 turned away. The fans, who couldn't get tickets, rioted outside the stadium, breaking windows in an attempt to get in. The riot police had to be called to clear them out. But the economic depression had peaked in the city in 1933 and ticket prices dropped. Some tickets sold as low as 40 cents. The gate was $9,600.
By the beginning of 1933, any hope of promoting Ed Lewis as champion was over. The only problem for Curley, Bowser, Mondt, Pfeffer, and Miller was finding a new champion. Their pick turned out to be a Bowser mid-card wrestler named Jim Browning. Browning had been around for years and had wrestled just about everyone, but had never been pushed as an unbeatable champion. He was long, lean and powerful in the gym and a match for anyone. Why he was pushed to the top in 1933 is hard to say, but he was a very good worker and a major shooter and he probably caught the eye of Mondt and Lewis. In fact he had been around so long, that they all were old friends. Browning had also developed a flashy finishing hold called the airplane scissors. He would put wrestlers in a leg scissors, pick them up just using his legs, spin them around and then crash them into the mat for the pin. As a hooker, he idolized Joe Stecher and was the same type of leg wrestler, working everything around the leg scissors.
On January 23, 1933, Lewis defended the title against Jim Browning in Madison Square Garden drawing 7,000. Browning out wrestled Ed during the match and seemed to have the champion beaten but the Strangler turned things around just when it looked the darkest and surprised everyone by pinning Jim. Locked in the scissors, Lewis stood up and power bombed Browning for the win in 34:52.
Lewis headlined the Garden the next month on February 6, drawing less that 5,000 in beating Dr. Fred Meyers.
On February 10, 1933, Henri DeGlane returned from France to defend his AWA world title against ex-champ Ed Don George in Boston Garden before a crowd of 12,000. As champion, DeGlane had defended the title against George four times in Boston and Buffalo. All four were draws. They may have wrestled in Paris a few times but we have no record of it.
Champion DeGlane won the first fall with a side hiplock in 17:24 but had taken a beating in doing so. George pulverized Henri with a series of flying tackles to win the second fall in one minute and 54 seconds. In the third George swarmed all over DeGlane hitting him with tackle after tackle. After the fifth one, DeGlane couldn't get up. Henri had a broken collarbone, so referee Sam Smith awarded the victory and AWA title to George.
The rematch between Lewis and Jim Browning took place on February 20, 1933 in Madison Square Garden with the New York world title on the line. The attendance was once again a very disappointing 5,000 with a gate of $5,000. Browning was the aggressor throughout the match. He was on top of Lewis most of the time and used a wider, more punishing and effective repertoire of holds. Only once was Lewis able to apply a headlock & it was broken after about a minute. At 57:50 he was pinned after one of Browning's airplane scissors.
Browning was a surprise winner and the crowd gave him an ovation that lasted over five minutes.
This was the first title loss by Strangler Lewis that didn't have some screw finish tied on to it. After a four month reign that ranked as the worst in wrestling history, I think Lewis and all the promoters knew it would be Ed's last major title. He was through as a champion, but fans were still interested in seeing him lose, so he was much more valuable as a challenger, who could lose and give credibility to a champion. The idea of quitting on top wasn't for Ed. He spent his money too easily and would always need a job or go broke.
Dick Shikat was upset when he found out that Browning was the new champion, but Lewis calmed him down by telling him that Browning had double crossed him. Shikat then wanted to break Browning's neck. The story told in FALL GUYS is that Lewis and Mondt received $42,000 for dropping the title (considering that the match drew $5,000, I find all these figures hard to believe.). Shikat found out and realized, after 4 years, that his manager was a rat and started protesting. Curley, Mondt, Pfeffer, and Lewis invited him up to Toots' room at the Hotel Warwick for a conference. Shikat went and got into an argument, calling his partners crooks, which they seemed to be. Lewis punched Shikat and a fight started. Lewis couldn't take care of the German, so Toots jumped in and the two of them beat up Shikat, "giving him the trouncing of his life." Shikat was later treated for his injuries at the Polyclinic Hospital.
I don't know if the FALL GUY story is true, but it would explain Shikat motives that resulted in events three years later.
A Lewis/Shikat match did take place as the semi-main event on a March 6, 1933 Browning/Stein card at the Garden. The match was billed as a finish match but was stopped after an hour because of the New York curfew and ruled a draw.
Jack Pfefer's job with Jack Curley was to handle the finances and take care of the books. He also promoted for Curley and brought talent to America from Europe. He had a brilliant wrestling mind but the worms of greed had eaten hole in it and he wanted to run things on his own and be the man who promoted the big Madison Square Garden shows. In early 1933, he jumped from the Curley office to the Londos group. Both companies were doing poorly in New York, but Londos was still the star and drawing as usual outside of the city and it seemed the stronger side. Pfefer dumped Curley and started booking the New York clubs for Londos with the promise of being the top promoter in New York once the war was over. Pfefer then talked his partner Rudy Miller into jumping over to the Londos side.
On March 20, 1933, Lewis had his third Garden match with New York champion Jim Browning. The title change had brought new interest to the fans of New York and the match drew 15,000 with a gate of $16,500. Lewis could do no better and was pinned after being given a ride in the airplane scissors in 59:58.
Toots Mondt had been trying to discredit Londos for over a year with no success. Londos was too smart and knew all the tricks. But on April 7, 1933, Londos was booked to defend the title against Joe Savoldi on an outdoor show at Chicago Stadium. The referee was Bob Managoff, the old friend of Lewis who took Ed's Bob Fredrick name in 1912 forcing him to take the Strangler identity. Savoldi had been trained by Lewis when the young footballer had worked for Billy Sandow in Los Angeles. Sandow had raised a stink when Savoldi jumped to Lou Daro's promotion, but in hindsight he may have been a plant. Londos had no fear of the non-wrestler Savoldi but he over looked the damage a paid off referee could do. After about 26 minutes of wrestling, Londos had Savoldi locked into a Japanese arm bar, with Savoldi standing. They were in the ropes, so when referee Managoff broke the hold Londos thought they were just going to the middle of the ring for a restart. Managoff then pulled one of the most famous double-crosses in ring history by declaring Savoldi the winner and new champion. Managoff claimed that in applying the arm lock, Londos had pinned himself. In 1933, the three count wasn't counted aloud nor were they asked to slap the mat. A pinfall was just the referee's judgment.
Londos went nuts and got his story into the press. He claimed his shoulders were not on the mat and they were raped up in the ropes anyway. Most of the fans present that night, couldn't see anything or they agreed with Londos' story. Outside of New York City, the story was written up like Londos' had been double-crossed. The stories in the papers over the next week had Savoldi signing with Joe Corcoran, a money man in the Paul Bowser office and a co-promoter with Toots Mondt in the Queensbury Sports Club of Toronto, Savoldi's wife divorcing him, and referee Bob Managoff signing to officiate Savoldi's matches in Canada. It wasn't hard for the Londos group to prove their point.
The Illinois Commission backed up Managoff's decision and the win by Savoldi but said that the commission didn't recognize anyone as champion in the state, so the match was a non-title match. The NWA also ruled that Londos was still champion. Savoldi was also suspended by the NWA for missing dates in Indiana.
The Illinois commission, aroused by all the talk of "double-crossing", once again banned the sport of pro wrestling in the state. This backfired on Mondt because Chicago promoter John "Doc" Krone had booked a Browning/Lewis rematch for April 11. The commission stated that the show was cancelled but a court order got the show reinstated at the last moment. The fans were left confused so only 800 showed up producing a tiny gate of $1,100. Browning then beat Lewis using his airplane scissors in 1:03:32.
On April 20, 1933, Doctor Benjamin Roller died from pneumonia in New York City.
Before and after Chicago, Lewis had been visiting his home and wife Elaine in Glendale, California. He then worked some dates in Seattle and Vancouver and returned to Los Angeles through San Francisco. In Oakland he beat old Ad Santel on April 28. He defeated Oki Shikina in San Diego on May 9, before flying back to New York for a date in the Garden.
In New York City he met Joe Savoldi, the conqueror of Jim Londos, at the Garden on May 15, 1933. Savoldi was not billed as world champion but his title claim and win over Londos was being build up in the city. Commissions in Pennsylvania and Illinois had ordered Savoldi to meet Londos in a rematch and Curley, Bowser, and Mondt knew it was going to be hard to keep the non-wrestler away from getting double-crossed by Jim Londos' or anyone else. To get the commissions off Savoldi's back, they had Lewis defeat Savoldi by count out (after missing a dropkick, Savoldi fell out of the ring, injured). With Savoldi's title claim resting with Lewis, it ended any noise by Londos or his commissions. A rematch was booked back in Madison Square Garden a week later on May 22, 1933.
But before Lewis could dump his new title claim back to Savoldi, he wrestled Ed Don George for the Paul Bowser AWA world title in Boston on May 17, 1933. This was billed as the rematch of Lewis' title win over George and Ed's first shot at the title he lost to DeGlane by foul. The Savoldi title claim in the possession of Lewis also added importance to the match. Smart fans knew he was always a threat. So you could never predict when he would pull a double-cross of his own and steal the title.
The Boston Garden match saw George win the first fall in 22:05 with a crossover toe hold after he had floored Lewis with a couple of flying tackles. The second fall went to Lewis in 7:39 when he broke away from another toe hold and clamped George in a bearish headlock. Another toehold gave Ed Don George the third fall and match in 3:45. The attendance was 10,000. The result complicated any Londos plan to get his title claim back. George was a young fine wrestler, and someone Londos would have to talk with before attempting a match.
Curley still had plans for Joe Savoldi in New York City, so on May 22, 1933, he defeated Lewis at Madison Square Garden. After getting thrown around by Lewis headlock, Savoldi made a comeback pinning the Strangler after two perfect dropkicks. Time was 43:07.
Lewis left New York that night and flew into Chicago where he beat Sammy Stein two out of three falls on May 23. He followed that with a trip to Milwaukee, where he did a job for Gus Sonnenberg (May 24). He then flew home to Glendale and to be near Elaine who was feeling sick.
Lou Daro, at The Olympic Auditorium, jumped promotions again Leaving the Londos group for Jack Curley and Paul Bowser. New York world champion Jim Browning had defended his title against Nick Lutze at the Olympic on May 17 billed as New York world champion. On May 28, Daro announced he has signed Browning to wrestle ex-champ Strangler Lewis at the Olympic on June 7, 1933.
In the week leading up to the match, Lewis trained before the public in Idyliwild while Browning training head quarters was at Crystal Pier. I thing Browning saw this time as vacation because Curley and company had been working him hard, defending the title, nightly all over the west coast. Browning was treated more as an employee than a star with a huge ego. Lewis spent most of his time trying to perfect his headlock which had been losing its effectiveness. The three defeats to Browning had been one fall matches, Lewis felt he would have a better chance against the champion in a two out of three fall match.
That idea didn't work out. Browning won the first fall in 31:02 with the airplane scissors. Lewis took the second fall after a series of headlocks in 11:11. The third fall saw Lewis forearm Browning into a corner and then put him into a full nelson. Browning then raised up his feet and pushed off the ropes. Both men fell backward with the champion on top, getting the pin. Time was 11 minutes. The match drew 9,000.
Browning then returned to New York City for an out door card with Joe Savoldi at Yankee Stadium on June 12, 1933. The gate was hurt by two factors, it rained, and Savoldi had been shot on by a nobody named Sol Slagel on a Staten Island card. A referee saved Savoldi from defeat after overlooking about 10 pin falls. The Browning/Savodi match went to a 1:58:05 draw and the attendance was 6,000 in the huge stadium.
Gus Sonnenberg had been on the June 7 under card and, considering all the wins he had scored over Lewis as champion, was upset that Ed had gotten the title match. This build up led to a contenders match between Gus and Lewis at The Olympic on June 21, 1933. Sonnenberg won two out of three falls, both falls won with the flying tackle. Sonnenberg then defeated Sammy Stein on June 28. Browning and Sonnenberg were then matched at The Olympic on July 12, 1933 with the California Commission recognizing the winner as champion in the state. Browning won the match and the title.
The semi-final of the July 12 card was a two out of three fall match between Lewis and Sammy Stein. Stein made a fierce comeback to pin Lewis in the third fall using a flying tackle and a cross body block. This win gave Stein an outdoor title match with Jim Browning at Wrigley Field (LA version) on August 28, 1933.
On August 3, Lewis went to Canada to wrestle Jim Browning again, this time in Vancouver. Ed did the job and returned home to Glendale. I believe Lewis had expanded his number of restaurants to three. The new one being located in Pasadena.
On the under card of the Wrigley Field Browning/Stein match (Aug. 28), Lewis beat old Marin Plestina in 5:24. The workhorse Browning took two out of three falls from Stein in a good match. The card drew 14,000.
Fred Beell, who the dominant wrestler in Wisconsin during Lewis' early years and the last man to defeat Frank Gotch, retire from pro wrestling in 1919. He returned to working his farm in Marshfield, Wisconsin, about 41 miles North-west of Nekoosa. Beell also worked as a relief officer for the Marshfield Police force under Chief of Police William Paape. On August 5, 1933, Beell was shotguned in the face and killed by a gang of criminals robbing the Marshfield Brewing Company. Beell was 57 years old and had been with the department for twelve years. He is buried at the Hillside Cemetery in Marshfield. He remains today as the only Marshfield police officer to be killed in the line of duty.
On August 29, Lewis and Browning had a match in San Diego. Lewis got a draw with the champion in front of a crowd of 4,000.
STREET & SMITH'S SPORT magazine June, July, and August, 1933 published Strangler Lewis' life story in three parts. Some of it was true.
The rematch between Browning and Savoldi in Madison Square Garden took place on October 2. Browning defeated Savoldi in 36:51. The attendance was 10,000.
Browning drew a lot better than Lewis in the Garden, and a few of his match grew as much as 12,000. But he was fair from the draw that Londos was in 1931. The war between Curley and Londos had dragged on too long and both sides were losing money.
Lewis stayed on the West Coast for most of the rest of 1933 working small arenas in San Diego and going north at times for cards in Portland and Salt Lake City. In September he filmed a short bit in the movie THE PRIZEFIGHTER AND THE LADY, which stared Myrna Loy and Max Baer as himself. The big scene was a fight between Baer and the actually heavyweight boxing champion, Primo Carnera. The director Howard Hawks wanted Baer to win the fight, but Primo refused, so it ended in a draw. The next year would see Baer defeat Carnera for real and become world boxing champion. Lewis played himself, being introduced before the match, with buddy Jack Dempsey. The film became a big hit when release on November 10, 1933.
In October, Lewis accepted a tour of Texas and New Orleans, but was called back when his wife Elaine Tomaso Friedrich died at her home in Glendale on October 27, 1933. She had been suffering from a pulmonary illness for many months.
At the end of August, Jim Londos left for a six week tour of Europe. On October 22, he defeated Kola Kwariani at Athens, Greece in front of a crowd said to be 110,000. (Film of this match has also popped up on the computer, and the crowd looks huge, but many historians think the real attendance to be around 65,000 due to the size of the stadium. Any uncynical minded fan, who saw the film in 1933, might very well believe 110,000.)
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