ED "STRANGLER" LEWIS
Facts within a Myth
by Steve Yohe
The war ends (for some)
While Londos was away, Ed White, Tom Packs, Ray Fabiani began negotiating with Jack Curley, Paul Bowser, Toots Mondt, Rudy Dusek, and Lou Daro. At one point a meeting was held at the Pennsylvania Hotel. A new wrestling trust was formed consisting of just about every major promoter, except for the Johnson Brothers and the two traitors, Jack Pfefer and Rudy Miller. With the war over, the new Trust would control pro wrestling from one coast to another. It was more of a merger that just an agreement. They were to be partners and all would share in everyone's gates and trade talent.
Jim Londos was not one of the partners. He took the position of world champion and would get his cut from resulting gates. Londos also had a contract that would give him $50,000 if he was beaten by anyone….even in a double-cross.
Londos took many trips to his home Greece over his career, it's funny how he always returned to America in a stronger position than when he left. When he came back to America this time, he found himself back on top of the world……everyone's world.
Jim had one other thing written into his new contract, a victory over Strangler Lewis.
When Pfefer found out he had been double-crossed by the new trust, he went nuts. He promised he'd "drink their blood." Pfefer was as smart as anyone and he was willing to destroy the sport to get back at the promoters who had back stabbed him and the one man he hated more that anyone else was Jim Londos.
Pfefer took on the methods of George M. Marsh (Joe Carroll or Ole Marsh), breaking kayfabe and revealing the inner workings of pro wrestling to any newspaper or reporter who would listen. Jack kept complete records on everything, and would give newspaper winners and losers before matches took place. He just didn't expose wrestling, as the worked sport it was, most knew that. Pfefer brought a cynicism to the sport that told fans and reporters that they were fools for being deceived by low life wrestling promoters. People who weren't wrestling fans, began looking down on anyone who enjoyed the sport. For years Pfefer would continue his vendetta against the major promoters, but mostly against Jim Londos. He would even send out a bulletin exposing the "sport" and discrediting wrestling insiders to all the newspaper who would pay attention. No one in the history of pro wrestling did more to hurt the art form than Jack Pfefer.
That being said, Pfefer had a brilliant wrestling mind and within a year was back in business in New York City promoting light heavyweights. He would be a major part of the business until the 1960's, booking and supplying talent to small territories and outlaw groups.
After taking care of the affairs of Elaine, Lewis returned to his wrestling career. On November 20, Ed wrestled a 20 minute draw with a young star named Sandor Szabo on the undercard of the Browning/Sonnenberg main event in Madison Square Garden. Lewis, except for a few trips to St Louis, remained on the East Coast for the rest of 1933.
On November 27, Lewis wrestled in St Louis against Roland Kirchmeyer for the Jackson Johnson Jr American Legion post. Lewis won but only drew 1,584 and $658.50, the smallest gate he had ever drawn in the city. This was a promotion working against Tom Packs. Packs was pushing Ray Steele and four days before the Lewis card (November 23) Steele had defeated John Pesek.
Lewis then moved on to Camden, where he was again defeated by champion Jim Browning on November 30, 1933. Lewis defeated his old rival Wladek Zbyszko in Newark on December 6. Lewis weight during this time was 264 pounds.
With the new trust in effect, fans were beginning to see "dream matches" in every promotion. The first such match in New York was a title unification match between State world champion Jim Browning and Boston's AWA world title holder Ed Don George. On the December 18 under card, Lewis wrestled a 20 minute draw with Gus Sonnenberg. Later that night, George and Browning wrestled to a 1:40:00 curfew time limit draw. The Madison Square Garden card drew 8,000 and $16,651.
On December 14, 1933, Tom Packs was in court being sued by a former referee Harry Sharpe for $25,000. Sharpe had been injured following a February 17 Jim Londos match, that may or may not have taken place in St Louis. Ed Lewis was present in the court room, the storyline was that he was a friend of Sharpe and his attorney, Robert Kratky and was going to be used as a witness. The state Commissioner, Seneca Taylor was also present and was scheduled to testify.
With Packs on the stand he was questioned by Sharpe's lawyer Kratky. Somehow the topic became the booking policies of the St Louis promotion. Packs was asked if he refused to use some wrestlers, naming Strangler Lewis as an example. Packs said he used would everyone included Lewis. He said all Lewis had to do was to step up and sign a contract.
The spectators were in a uproar as Lewis walked up the center of the aisle toward Packs and Commissioner Taylor to demand that he be signed up then and there. A blank contract was brought into the courtroom. Packs asked Lewis if he'd agree to wrestle Ray Steele or John Pesek. Lewis said he'd wrestle anyone, just so long as he got Londos if he won. Packs said he couldn't guarantee Londos, but he'd give him Steele and cancel his Pesek/Steele rematch if Lewis would agree to the match on December 20. Lewis posted a check for $1,500 as a forfeit with the commissioner and the match was made.
It's hard to believe that a judge would allow a wrestling promoter to use his courtroom to work a wrestling angle, but the newspaper highlighted the story the next day. With the new trust agreements unknown to the public, everyone, but insiders, knew the match had to be a "shoot" match. The papers were filled with the report of the Garden match and reported that the next match was going to be a true contest "to the finish". In it's time, this was the "grand daddy" angle of all time……well if it made money.
Steele and Lewis both stated that they would refuse any victory that was disputed in any way. The fans were told there would be no disqualification this time. The commission promised Lewis that all he had to do to get Jim Londos in the ring was beat Ray Steele.
The December 20, 1933 match drew the season's largest crowd of 9,288 and a gate of $9,357.85. The referee was not announced until bell time and it turned out to be Charley Rentrop, a former wrestler and Memphis promoter. Steele was the crowd favorite and Lewis got his normal boos. The early going was mostly stand up, with the two pushing each other around the ring. Steele attempted two weak side suplexs and Ed miss a few headlocks. At ten minutes, Steele took Lewis to the mat with a double wristlock but Ed freed himself with a headlock. Lewis tried several full body locks, but never succeeded in holding Steele for long. Lewis backed Ray into a corner and landed a terrific elbow under the heart. He then head locked and threw Steele to the mat with Ed's 255 pounds landing on top of him. It looked bad but Steele managed to get back on to his feet. Lewis kept the headlock on and seemed to be applying great pressure. Steele looked to be out but the referee ruled the hold a strangle and broke it. Rentrop kept Lewis away as Steele recovered by sprinting around the ring until his head cleared. Steele then nailed Lewis with an elbow to the jaw and followed with four front headlock throws. Lewis looked too big to be bothered by the throws and got up unhurt. In fact, Ed became the aggressor backing Steele into the corner while landing a number of elbows. Forced to break and move back, Lewis broke Steele's attempt at a front face lock. Steele was then stunned by a number of rabbit punches. As Lewis came forward, Steele hit him with a flying tackle. As Lewis got up, he was hit again. As he got back up to his feet again, Steele charged but change the move into a straight-arm blow to the jaw and the Strangler went down in a heap. Steele then picked Lewis up into the air and slammed him as the crowd stood cheering in anticipation. Steele laid across Lewis and Rentrop ruled Lewis pined. Time was 36:38. The pin was unnecessary as Lewis remained out cold for five minutes and had to be carried to the dressing room. Lewis' second, Toots Mondt, protested that Ed had been unfairly slugged prior to the slam, but the commissioner Taylor paid no heed. Steele's second for the night was once again Tommy Marvin.
Neither Steele or Lewis were being build up for a title match with Londos in St Louis in 1933. Steele had been defeated by Londos in Chicago on December 13. Lewis left St Louis for Philadelphia and on December 29, 1933 did another job for Jim Browning. Steele's next big match in St Louis was a 17 minute job for Gus Sonnenberg on January 10, 1934. It drew 7,000 but set up the real super match between Gus Sonnenberg and Jim Londos that drew 15,666 St Louis fans on February 2, 1934.
Lewis faced a lot of problems at the start of 1934. He had lost his third wife, he had expanded his restaurant business to three site but none were making him a lot of money, he was 43 years old, overweight (260 pounds), and had loss his ability and willingness to train. He also was addicted to cards and probably was starting to have a drinking problem. He no longer had any major promoters interested in pushing him to a championship. His pluses were his ability as a hooker and his famous name. He had some value as a contender, but if he continued to do frequent well know jobs, he faced being devalued into a mid-card has-been. Lewis' biggest advantage in 1934 was his feud and known hatred of Jim Londos. The fact that Londos need a big win over the Strangler gave Lewis something to sell. He also had the ability to talk and promote himself, and the public and most reporters still believed that the wrestling before 1921 was true shoots and that in a true wrestling contest, Ed Lewis could beat anyone in the sport……if he really wanted to.
By this time Lewis must have been told, that a condition given to Londos in the formation of the new trust was one or more wins over Lewis. Another condition may have been a Steele win over Ed too. Londos had many major storylines and feuds in 1934 but he and everyone knew he had to get his win over Lewis. I think Ed convinced the trust that they needed to promote the Londos/Lewis match and give it the spotlight it needed to draw a major gate. Lewis had done major jobs in New York City and Los Angeles, so it would have been a waste to put the match in either of those two cities. They decided to run the match in Ed's home city…..Chicago. The trust also understood that Lewis's record needed some big wins before he got in the ring with Londos. Lewis must have explained all of this with promoters, and it was a solid plan that would make money. So in 1934, Strangler Lewis went back to getting a major push.
In January 1934, Lewis worked small towns out of Glendale and then spent a few weeks in the mid-west. He returned to New York City on February 6, dropping a 30 minute decision to Rudy Dusek. He remain in the city and the areas surrounding it for the rest of the month, winning all of his matches.
Londos began what would be the greatest year any pro wrestler would ever have by drawing 16,000 in defeating Joe Stecher in Detroit on January 12. A rematch and another win over Stecher in Detroit drew 16,750 on January 26. The Chicago rematch with Joe Savoldi on January 31 drew 20,200. The Dream match with Gus Sonnenberg in St Louis drew 15,666 on February 2. A February 10 match in Philadelphia with Everett Marshall drew 15,000. Londos won the match in three hours, four minutes, and forty-five seconds.
Londos had his first match in Madison Square Garden in two years on February 5. Once again working for Jack Curley, Londos beat Ernie Dusek in front of 7,000 for a gate of $10,000. Lewis was ringside to challenge the Greek one more time.
Lewis returned to St Louis on February 15 to wrestle Joe Malcewicz to a 30 minute draw. The main event was AWA world champion Ed Don George beating Gino Garibaldi. The Bowser champion only drew 5,373 and $4,188.85 for Tom Packs.
Joe Stecher had his last match on February 21, 1934 in Chicago, losing a title match against the man who idolized him, Jim Browning. Joe announced his retirement soon after. He spent his time after that helping his brother Tony promote in Minneapolis. Joe, always quite and sensitive, developed major health problems. He had an emotional breakdown and suffered from uncontrolled depression. His wife left him, taking his children, and he was institutionalized in a Veteran's Hospital for the next 30 years; looked after by his brother Tony.
Lewis returned to the East Coast. Some of the people he beat in the first two months of 1934 were: Rudy Dusek, Matros Kirilenko, Chief Chewacki, Joe Cox, Abe Kashey, Dick Raines, Mike Romano, Hans Kampfer, Eddie Civil, George Calza, and Tiny Roebuck.
Dick Shikat was being pushed in St Louis to ready himself for a title match with Londos. Packs booked Lewis to a rematch with Shikat on March 1, 1934. Once again the winner was going to be given a match with Jim Londos, so all Ed had to do was win to have all his wishes come true. He lost. Lewis got disqualified for punching Shikat after 34:23 by referee Charley Rentrop. Lewis was upset by Rentrop, so he punched him too. Still upset, Lewis also punched the first arena guard to enter the ring. The police then jumped into the ring to restore order. Lewis was fined $100 and suspended by the Missouri Athletic Commission. Attendance was 6,051.
Shikat wanted a rematch so Lewis' suspension was lifted. On March 15 the two met again in St Louis but this time Lewis was pinned by Shikat in 34:36. Attendance was 8,219. For the win Shikat was given his match with Jim Londos on April 11. Londos pinned him in 1:10:33 drawing 11,727. Londos would beat Shikat again in St Louis on May 16, drawing 10,138.
On April 2, 1934, Lewis wrestled AWA world champion Ed Don George in his home town of Buffalo, and lost.
Lewis then returned to Los Angeles and beat Mike Mazurki on the undercard of a Browning title defense against Leo Numa at the Olympic on April 11.
On April 15, 1934, Lewis and Browning traveled to the Mexico City bullring to wrestle for the title. Browning took two out of three falls from Ed but the strangest oddity of the night was the Mexican fans cheering for Lewis while booing Browning. The card drew 12,000 and $10,000.
Lewis beat a Cowboy Jack Ray on a under card for a Browning win over Dick Daviscourt at the Olympic Auditorium on April 18. It was becoming the fashion to make fun of Lewis' fat, age and ability to sweat. The Los Angeles Times printed this review: "The "old man of the mountain….with most of the mountain centering around his mid-section, Ed (Strangler) Lewis, hardly worked up a sweat in flipping "Cowboy" Jack Ray on his back in 14 minutes" of the third match. Yes, you guessed it, the fall was scored with Lewis's favorite hold, the headlock."
In accepting the job to Londos, Lewis must have made some demands of his own and from that point forward the push got serious. In the first week of May Lewis defeated Rudy Dusek, George Hagen, Sandor Szabo, and Hans Kampfer.
On May 14, 1934, Lewis got another match with Ray Steele in New York City, this time at Jack Curley's Seventy-first Regiment Armory. Most of the fans were barely settled in their seats before the finish took place. After some preliminary tussling, Lewis hurled Steele to the mat a dozen times with alternate body slams and forearm punches. After 11 minutes and 7 seconds, Lewis pined Steele after one of his body slams. The attendance for the card, a rematch of two hall of fame wrestlers that had been the talk of the sport the years before, was 2,000. The small number shows how the war on Londos had killed the sport in the big city. On May 23, Lewis defeated Hans Steinke. Both Steele and Steinke were considered policemen for Londos these wins showed he was serious about beating the Greek.
On May 28, 1934, Lewis was involved in another dream match, this time in Montreal. It was a rematch of the famous "bite match" against Henri DeGlane. After negotiations that lasted years, the match was made by the decree of the Montreal Athletic Commission. In front of a crowd of 7,000, Lewis started slow, allowing DeGlane to lead the attack and the Frenchman won the first fall in 15:18. After that, Lewis asserted himself and started to rough DeGlane up. Little by little, DeGlane lost his strength and confidence. At 18:15, he was pined following a Lewis headlock. Lewis refused to release the hold after the fall was called and seemed determined to embarrass DeGlane, if not hurt him. After the rest period, Lewis pounded DeGlane with elbows, and punches before finishing him with an armbar in 3:50. Fans booed and threw things at Lewis as he returned to the dressing room. The reporter felt it wasn't superior wrestling that defeated DeGlane, it was Lewis' roughness that Henri couldn't handle. Fans wanted another match, with strict wrestling rules observed. This win seemed to be one of Lewis' demands for wrestling Londos.[412a] Lewis was also being build up for an Ed Don George match in Montreal that took place on October 1.
On June 5, Lewis sat ringside to watch Londos defeat Jagot Singh in Chicago. After the match, Lewis again challenged Londos for a title match. Londos didn't refuse.
The title unification match between NWA world champion Jim Londos and New York & California world champion Jim Browning took place out doors in the huge Madison Square Garden Bowl in Long Island on June 25, 1934. The match drew a crowd of 25,000 and a gate of $40,000. Londos spent most on the match on the defense but managed to pin Browning with a series of body slams after 1:10:10.
On July 6, Londos beat Shikat in Philadelphia drawing 10,000. July 18 in Fenway Park saw Londos and AWA champ Ed Don George wrestle to a 4 hour and 7 minute draw in front of 28,000 with a gate of $60,110. Victories followed over Everett Marshall (July 20-Washington DC), Gus Sonnenberg (July 21-Trenton), Sandor Szabo (July 24-Baltimore), and Joe Malcewicz (July 26—Rochester). Another draw with Ed Don George took place on August 1, 1934. This one lasted one hour and 30 minute with 14,700 attending. On August 22, Londos repeated his win over Jim Browning in Los Angeles drawing 9,500.
The 1934 Lewis/Londos Match and a New Gate Record
The super match between Lewis and Londos was signed on July 23 in the office of Arch Ward, sports editor of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. The match was booked outdoors in Chicago's Wrigley Field with the date being September 20, 1934. It became one of the heaviest promoted matches in history with the Chicago papers carrying some type of Londos or Lewis story every day. For most of September, Lewis trained in Chicago to help create ballyhoo. The match was billed as a shoot and both wrestlers signed affidavits in front of the commission guaranteeing it was a contest. The match had a 90 minute time limit with two judges, picked by the Illinois Athletic Commission, ready to make a decision if the time limit ran out. This ruling was made to stop the wrestlers from stalling in an attempt to tier out the other wrestler, while boring the crowd. Most felt it gave an advantage to Lewis because Londos was outweighed by 30 to 35 pounds. Of course, we know today it really didn't matter,,,because there was no chance it would ever be a true contest. There were only two wrestling matches on the card. The other major match featured Chicago favorite Jim McMillen wrestling Don George. The rest of the card was pro boxing with the best fight being King Levinaky verses Art Sykes.
The match drew 35,625 with a gate of $96,302 breaking the records set by Frank Gotch and Heckenschmidt in 1911 at Comiskey Park. Lewis was the aggressor for most of the match, but his headlocks were broken and he was worn out by 30 minute mark. After both fell out of the ring, Londos body slammed Lewis to the mat and applied a hammer lock and than added a three-quarter nelson to force the Strangler's shoulders down for the three count. The time was announced as 49 minutes and 27 seconds.
In the dressing room, Lewis said that Londos "wrestled a great match, better than I expected." His trainers Toots Mondt and Lou Talaber admitted the same. The long soap opera with Jim Londos was over. Lewis then joined his parents and two sisters, who had been ringside. He spent the next five days in Chicago with his family before returning to Glendale to check on his restaurants.
On August 27 Lewis had added to his win in Montreal over Henri DeGlane by beating young Yvon Roberts in 1:05:03.[413a] This set up an AWA world title match with Ed Don George on October 1, 1934. Lewis lost on a disqualification.
On October 5, 1934, Lewis booked passage on the ocean liner Ile de France for a tour of England, France and the rest of Europe. This tour got a big build up in RING MAGAZINE ,who claimed Lewis was pro wrestling's greatest ambassador. Lewis was said to have carried letters from several leading American citizens to both Adolph Hitler in Germany and Benito Mussolini in Italy and claims were made that he would visit them. Lewis's head quarters was in London. I think he was sent over by Paul Bowser for another rematch with Henri DeGlane. On October 29 he wrestled Kola Kwariani, November 5, 1934, Lewis defeated Charles Rigoulot and on November 11 he beat Ray St Bernard in Paris France. The match with Henri DeGlane was on November 19, 1934 and Lewis won the match. Some new reports have Lewis losing to DeGlane on December 7 (or December 10) at Paris.
1934 was the greatest year pro wrestling had ever had, but many of the promoters resented the idea of having their business's and storylines controlled by a performer, namely Jim Londos. Just about every promoter began a quest to find a new champion to replace Jimmy. They needed someone kind of dumb and naïve, who would be willing to work on a cheap salary and not make waves. Boston promoter Paul Bowser figured the best place to find such a man would be over seas, in a poor country like Ireland. Being a Greek immigrant had always been a major part of the Londos' attraction to his fan base and Bowser had been forever trying to create an Irish Londos in Boston. In 1934 Bowser turned his attention to a Dr Patrick O'Callaghan of Kanturk, Ireland, who had won the hammer event in the 1928 and 1932 Olympics. Bowser sent his friend and front man, Worcester promoter Jack McGrath, to Ireland with an offer for O'Callaghan. Turned out that O'Callaghan was the only man in Ireland with no need for American dollars, but he did know a young Irish soldier named Danno O'Mahoney that might be able to fill the position. After checking O'Mahoney out, McGrath liked want he saw. Danno was a good looking athlete, not too bright, but willing to learn how to perform as a wrestler.
In December 1934, Lewis was at the Stadium Club in London, England working out with the feared ripper Bert Assirati. McGrath brought O'Mahoney to England so Lewis could looked the kid over and perhaps teach him a few tricks. Lewis asked a young wrestler named Charles A. Young to go into the ring with O'Mahoney and beat him as fast as he could. Danno lasted two minutes with the unknown wrestler.
On Dec. 6, 1934, O'Mahony had his first official pro match versus Ed "Strangler" Lewis at London's Stadium Club. Lewis, a many time world champion and one of the most famous true wrestler in history, was supposed to carry the young athlete to a 60 minute draw, but found the task impossible, so he just pined Danno after five minute. O'Mahony did not return for the second fall, so under the English round system, it was ruled a draw. This setback made for a bad night, but after considering the boy's inexperience with the pro game and the ability of the man he wrestled, McGrath felt he had stood up well enough in a difficult situation and, in fact, had shown rare pose. McGrath and Bowser agreed to bring their new star to America. Once O'Mahoney was in the Boston, the PR story became that Danno won the London match the over Lewis and was the greatest new talent in pro wrestling sense Gotch.
Lewis returned to Glendale by the end of December. On January 2, 1935, he main evented Lou Daro's first card of the year, defeating the giant Hans Steinke at The Olympic in front of 7,000 fans.
Tom Packs had plans for a Londos/Lewis match in St Louis, so on January 4 Ed drew 7,466 in defeating Ray Steele.
In St Louis, Lewis heard stories of a sensational young wrestler working out in local gyms. The kid had major wrestling skills, with good looks that rivaled Londos, coupled with a great attitude and dedication to the sport. Tom Pack and the front office felt he was the future of St Louis wrestling. The boy was 18 years old, and Pack was in the process of booking him to a under card match, but wanted opinions on the boy's potential. Pack asked Lewis to work him out at a local gym and then relay his thoughts back to the office. The boy's name was Lou Thesz. Lewis was always interested in young talent and gladly followed through on the request.
At the St Louis Business Men's Gym, Lewis was introduced to the young Lou Thesz only to realized he had met him the year before in Des Moines. Lewis acknowledged Thesz and offered to give the young wrestler a workout. Thesz idolized Ed more that any other wrestler, but he had become cocky after beating many of the local pros. Looking at the fat old Strangler up close, Thesz thought he could beat him, so he was more than willing to get on the mat. The first move Thesz tried was a single-leg take down. Thesz was super quick, but Lewis countered the take down and got behind Thesz, where he stayed. Thesz tried everything to break loose but nothing worked. For 15 minutes, Lewis rubbed Thesz's face into the mat. Lewis then called time, picked Lou up, and slapping him on the back, told him he did "OK". Lewis thanked him for the workout and left.
Thesz was humiliated and so discouraged he packed up his gear and later quit.
Lewis actually was impressed by the young boys skills and guts, so he told Tom Pack that he was worth the planned investment. When he heard the hard workout had discouraged Thesz, Lewis called Thesz's father telling him that his son had every thing it took to make a lot of money as a pro wrestler. He convinced the father of Lou's future, and Thesz returned to Pack's office the next day. Lou Thesz never forgot Lewis's kind actions, and the two men remained life long friends.[415a]
Lewis then flew into New York City to wrestle for the AWA world title against Ed Don George. George won the match with a flying tackle and a double arm lock in 43:48. Lewis then had four wins in the Ohio area before stopping in St Louis for another victory, this time over George Zaharias before 7,489 (January 16).
During January, Lewis wrestled a few matches around Los Angeles and San Francisco. On the undercard of a Man Mountain Dean/ Chief Little Wolf main event at The Olympic (January 23), Lewis beat Jim Mc Millan on a foul after a third fall tackle landed in Ed groin.
Toots Mondt had become a partner with the brothers Lou and Jack Daro in Los Angeles. Mondt was booking talent all over Northern and Southern California and even up into the northwest and down into Texas. Toots' style was to stay in the background and never when out of his way to bill himself as the true promoter, but everyone knew him as a major power in the area. So it's very hard to tell just how many pockets he had his hands in by 1935. He moved west in 1934, after New York City wrestling went in to a slump, mainly because of Toots' problems with Londos. Toots' reputation was to destroy everything he created, but it would take him until 1939 to screw up Los Angeles for good.
In 1934, Daro and Toots had promoted Man Mountain Dean into the short term box office king of LA. He had three huge sellout matches with Jim Londos, all loses, but remained a fan favorite. In 1935, Toots new project was an Indian wrestler named Chief Little Wolf. On the January 23 card, Little Wolf beat Dean with an Indian death lock and was putting a lot of pressure on Londos for a title match. Also on the card was Bronko Nagurski, who was in town training with the Chicago Bears on Phil Wrigley's Catalina Island. Two other new stars on the card were Mexican Vincent Lopez and Dean Detton.
On January 25, 1934 Lou Daro filed a protest with the California Commission stating that Strangler Lewis had run out on a contract to meet Chief Little Wolf on January 30 at The Olympic. Two days later, Lewis replied in the press, that he was recovering from an injury suffered from the foul on the January 23. Jim McMillan, also in town with the Chicago Bears, took Lewis' place. That same day, it was announced that Toots Mondt had taken the position of Little Wolf's manager. This storyline was a complete work. Lewis had been working in San Francisco during the week and he was booked for another super match with Jim Londos in St Louis on January 31. (In fact, Lewis was in St Louis when he was reported to be in LA.) I think Toots and Daro was attempting to put the idea into the head of fans that major wrestlers didn't want to wrestle Little Wolf, because he planed to pull a little trick on champ Londos.
On January 31, 1935, Lewis drew 14,921 (and more than $15,000) in St Louis in another attempt to take the title from Jim Londos. He lost but had a good excuse with Jimmy beating him with a new hold that would later be called a sleeper. Many fans believed Lewis' story, that Londos had been given a "long count" by the referee near the end of the match, and felt the finishing hold was a choke, thus a rematch was ordered for March 6 back in St Louis.
On February 22, 1935, Lou Daro attacked Jim Londos in the press, noting that Londos was attempting to run out on an agreed match with Chief Little Wolf. Daro then stated that Londos would defend the title against Little Wolf at The Olympic on February 27, 1935 or the Indian would wrestle Gus Sonnenberg, with Londos being stripped of the world title in California. An international tournament would then be run in Los Angeles to find a new champion. The pre-match write ups made it known that Londos most likely would "no show" and Wolf would be wrestling Sonnenberg….and that's what happened. Wolf then beat Sonnenberg in front of a sold out Olympic Auditorium.
Soon after, Londos was suspended by the California commission and this led to Londos also being suspended in New York City….again…because some states had agreements to backed up other state commission's decisions. He also was suspended in Illinois. So Toots Mondt was once again putting the screws to the Greek. Londos called the whole mess a joke and threaten to wrestle in Europe.
Lewis had become a regular in St Louis and on February 14 he defeated Jim Browning in the city. This had to be viewed as a major win for Ed, after all the jobs he had done for Browning over the last year. Browning's stock dropped fast after losing his title and would spend the rest of his short career putting over others. To show the value of Londos as a draw, this match only drew 5,396.
The March 6, 1935 St Louis match between Lewis and Londos saw Jimmy on the defense in the early portion of the match, but at one point, he did apply the sleeper, but a new referee ruled the hold a choke. Lewis followed with three headlocks but Londos was able to keep his shoulders off the mat and break free. The champion then went into action, hitting Ed with a number of elbows, followed up by a couple rolling front headlocks and then a body block that resulted in the Strangler being pined. Time was 39:03. It drew 11,438 and a gate of $12,005 on a rainy St Louis night.
Lewis then headed for home, but first stopped in Atlanta on March 12 for a draw with another young star, Orville Brown. He then traveled through Texas and Arizona, before spending the last few weeks of March working out of Glendale. In San Francisco on March 26, he lost to Joe Savoldi.
Ray Steele was being built up for a Londos match in Minneapolis, and Lewis did a job for him on April 2. After the match, Lewis went nuts attacked the referee and his own second. Two nights later on April 4 in St Paul, Lewis defeated heel George Koverly in 27:00. Jim Browning defeated Lewis in Chicago on April 11.
Paul Bowser's investment in Danno O'Mahoney was paying off. In Danno's debut match in America, he drew 14,000 to Boston Garden to see him defeat Ernie Dusek. Two weeks later he drew 16,000 in defeating Rudy Dusek at the Garden. On February 18, he defeated Ray Steele in Madison Square Garden and then drew 10,000 winning from Rudy Dusek on February 22 in Toronto. On March 18, Danno returned to New York's Garden, defeating ex-champion Jim Browning in front of 7,500. He also headlined in St Louis and Chicago. Where ever there were Irish fans, Danno was a major draw. His in ring work was just passable and he actually couldn't wrestle a lick, but he was a good looking boy who worked hard to improve and did everything asked of him. He also had been given a cool finishing hold called "The Irish Whip".
On April 1, 1935, Jack Curley booked O'Mahoney back into the New York Garden to met Dick Shikat. Dick Shikat's attitude really hadn't changed much. He was still upset and hostile after all the dirt that had been shoveled on him by Mondt, Lewis, Curley and Jim Londos. He resented doing jobs for Londos, but putting over a young non-wrestler like O'Mahoney must have really burned him up.
6,000 fans watched Shikat dominate O'Mahoney in the early part of the match. Danno looked bewildered and pained. At one point, Shikat threw O'Mahoney into a corner and blocked his escape with elbows, arms, and hands. Danno, who did have boxing experience, lashed out with a punch that caught Shikat squarely on the nose. The Irishman looked apologetic as blood spurted from Dick's nose. Shikat followed with a series of illegal strangle holds, which had the crowd in an uproar, as referee George Bothner labored frantically to break the holds. Shikit then seemed to calm down as O'Mahoney when on the offense. Headlocks, hammerlocks and a flying mare followed. O'Mahoney then hit Shikat twice with feared "Irish whip." After the second, Shikat stood up, shook his head, and kicked O'Mahoney twice in the chest. O'Mahoney sank to the canvas, crying that his ribs were broken. With the kid unable to continue, referee Bothner disqualified Shikat and awarded the match to Danno. Standing, O'Mahoney looked unsatisfied, and feebly waved at Shikat to continue, something Shikat seemed more than willing to do. Bothner blocked his path, and Shikat was escorted from the ring by two policemen for safety's sake.
Putting the rookie in the ring with Dick Shikat had to have been considered a terrible mistake, but it was an error they would repeat.
O'Mahoney's next challenge would be Strangler Lewis himself. Lewis flew into Boston on April 20, 1935 and trained for a week in the city before the match on April 26. Part of the match storyline was the London match between the two, with both claiming victory.
The match drew a huge Boston Garden crowd of 20,000. O'Mahoney won the first fall using the Irish whip in 21:27. After the pin, Danno got up and walked to his corner. Lewis then got up and rushed at O'Mahoney swinging. Ed hit Danno and the boy fell through the ropes, but the Irishman scrambled up with blood in his eyes.
By that time, the ring was filled with police, seconds, and a few spectators. A battle royal ensued, with Danno rushing Lewis. Someone clipped Danno from behind and floored him. Standing back up, Danno popped an officer on the jaw, knocking him fat. Throwing people out of his way, he found Lewis in a corner surrounded by would-be peacemakers. Danno and Lewis pushed everyone aside, and exchanged blows, until Lewis was laid out, apparently unconscious in his corner. Danno checked his knuckles and walked coolly to his dressing room. Lewis was carried by policemen and attendants back stage. When the rest period ended, everyone was in the ring…..but Ed, who was unable to continue. The match was awarded to O'Mahoney.
Lou Daro's International Tournament to replace Jim Londos as champion started on April 24, 1935 with a large parade in the morning. With all the wrestlers in cars, they motored down Broadway Blvd from city hall to the Olympic Auditorium, with 100's of people lining the street to watch all the goofy wrestlers doing their acts. The actual tournament was the biggest and best since the famed New York City GR tournament of 1915. Over 60 major wrestlers were booked to participate and some were the best in the nation. It was a double elimination tournament, with three cards running each week.
Lewis and O'Mahoney were entered along with such major wrestlers as Chief Little Wolf, Man Mountain Dean, Vincent Lopez, Joe Savoldi, Jim Browning, Nick Lutze, Hans Steinke, Pete Mehringer, Kiman Kudo, Ernie Dusek, Joe Malcewicz, Marin Plestina, Felix Miquet, Mike Romano, Earl McCready, Dean Detton and many more.
Danno flew in to Los Angeles following their Boston match. With them was Paul Bowser who was part of the rules committee with Jack Curley, Ray Fabiani, Toots Mondt and Tom Packs. Bowser brought with him the famous "Ed Lewis belt", which had been used as the AWA title belt, but was now going to be presented to the winner of the tournament. Ed Don George either had another version of the Lewis belt, or was holding his trousers up by hand. (Perhaps the Rickard Belt was being used.).
Lewis didn't travel directly home, stopping for two jobs for AWA champion Ed Don George (Buffalo on April 29 and Montreal on May 6). On May 22, 1935, Lewis had his first tournament match at the Olympic Auditorium, beating Marin Plestina in 9:55. The newspaper claimed the veterans wrestled for the championship of the old folk's home.
Danno O'Mahoney was the early favorite with Chief Little Wolf, to win the tournament and he recorded wins over Howard Cantowine (May 1---8,500 with 4,885 paid & $5,100) and Man Mountain Dean (10,000 with 7,153 paid & $5,600).
Lewis was scheduled to meet O'Mahoney on May 29, but Danno dropped out of the tournament claiming a injury. Lewis was given a default victory and rebooked with the undefeated Pete Mehringer. Mehringer was an Olympic games champion, who was seemingly being developed into a major pro star. Lewis beat Mehringer in 27 minutes using a series of headlocks and a body slam. The joke in the newspaper was Lewis' age and ability to perspire. "Lewis sweat so much the boys in the first row were chanting "River Stay Away From My Door"." The loss was Mehringer's first as a pro.
The main event on the May 29 card had a minor upset. Toots Mondt's Chief Little Wolf, after driving Londos out of Los Angeles, and the tournament favorite, was beaten by the towns new star, Vincent Lopez, when the indian missed a flying tackle and was counted out of the ring in 6:11. The card drew 10,400 with 9,393 paying $9,200. Lou Daro had been looking for Mexican star for years and with the handsome Lopez he had found his man. Wolf's loss was his first of the double-elimination tournament.
On June 5, Lewis defeated the German wrestler Hans Kampfer at The Olympic in another tournament match.
Lewis then went on the road to Houston to wrestle Jim Londos on June 14 in another NWA title match. The event was held out doors at Buffalo Stadium in front of 9,000 spectators, that paid $12,000, a record for wrestling and boxing in Texas. Londos won the first fall in 21 minutes after ko'ing Ed with a punch during a break. Lewis won the second fall with a headlock in 14:37. Londos took the third fall using his sleeper hold, which the fans thought was a strangle. The crowd was also upset with the fact that Ed's foot was outside the ropes. A rematch was talked about, but the events that followed ended any chance of that happening.
Jim Londos signed for two major matches at the beginning of June 1935. The most publicized was a return to New York City's Yankee Stadium for a match on July 7 with the man who ran him out of Los Angeles, Chief Little Wolf. It was the annual Milk Fund card, which had the backing of the Randolph Hearst newspapers. The other match was the big showdown with the undefeated Danno O'Mahoney on June 27 in Boston's Fenway Park. Londos had continued being wrestling's biggest box office draw, but rumors were flying that he was getting ready to retire and pass on the title. Both of these matches had "title change" written on them. The great Londos was about to fall, and that was something no true fan could miss.
Lewis had his biggest match in the Los Angeles in a co-main event on June 19, 1935 against Vincent Lopez. By 1935, the idea of a long technical match with pacing was over. Fans were coming to arenas to have fun and laugh at the crazy wrestlers brawling and flying out of the ring. It was one big party most nights, and Lopez fit into the style of the time. He had been a amateur wrestler, but in the pros he was just a brawler, who's big finisher was a elbow or… punch to the face. So Lewis got punched out by Lopez and lost. After the match, Lewis got up and began slugging Lopez from corner to corner. When the referee and others finally separated them, Lewis was hooted and showered with programs and peanut shells as he left the ring in a huff. The other main event had Little Wolf defeating Sandor Szabo in 15:13 to set up another tournament match with Lopez.
Lewis' last tournament match took place on June 26, 1935, when he lost to Ernie Dusek after a right forearm and a body press in 7:27. The big story was the main event which had Vincent Lopez again beating Chief Little Wolf. The newspapers were filled with stories wondering why Lou Daro would book Lopez over Little Wolf, when the Indian was scheduled 11 days later to be in a New York City Stadium show, suppose to draw $100,000. The newsmen wondered why Daro would kill a Jack Curley event? Was the Curley Trust falling apart? They found out two days later.
On June 27, 1935, Danno O'Mahoney defeated Jim Londos in front of 25,000 fans at Fenway Park, winning the NWA/New York world titles. Londos didn't just lose, he made the young boy look like a champion. For over an hour, Danno threw Londos all over the ring. Whenever Londos applied a hold, O'Mahoney broke it using superior strength. At one hour and ten minutes, as he did in every match, Londos went on the offensive, hitting Danno with a series of super fast moves followed by body slams. But this time the Irishman countered with flying moves of his own. Not using the Irish Whip, Danno threw Londos into the ropes and caught the Greek with three flying mares. Londos was whipped into the ropes a fourth time, followed by O'Mahoney hitting him on the rebound with a flying body scissors. After he fell to the mat under the full weight of Danno, Londos was straddled and pinned. Danno had defeated the great Londos to become champion. It was Londos's first true job in six years and it was also the last one of his career. The time was one hour, 16 minutes and 50 seconds.
In the dressing room following the match, Londos claimed that Danno was the strongest man he had ever faced. His published quote was "I knew after the first five minutes I would have to be lucky to win. The Kid is green, but with his strength I believe he can beat any man in the world. And when I took the bout the New York people told me I had nothing to fear! I wish I knew as much before I signed….and this bout would have never taken place." Londos, having carried the kid to a good match, and dropped his world title clean in the middle of the ring only to praised the winner as the better man, took his fortune and when home.
Danno's comments were that Londos was "a really great wrestler" but not big enough. He then challenged Ed Don George the AWA World Champion, who was the real champion in Boston.
O'Mahoney then replaced Londos on the Milk Show in Yankee Stadium beating Chief Little Wolf (July 8, 1935). Without Londos or the threat of a title change, the show bombed, drawing 10,000 to the huge baseball stadium.
On July 10, 1935, back at The Olympic, Lewis defeated Mike Romano on the under card of Ernie Dusek's win over Sandor Szabo. Dusek's win awarded him $5,000 for finishing in third place of the Olympic Tournament.
On that night, a Mr. William Focher, an auto mechanic owed money by Lou Daro, attempted to collect on the debt. Daro and Focher had a misunderstanding and Lou directed the police to arrest the other man. Focher ran out of the Olympic Auditorium and soon after was shot to death by the Los Angeles police. When it was revealed that Focher had only been trying to collect money he was justifiably owed, Daro had a major scandal on his hands. On July 24, 1935, out of sympathy to the Focher family, Lou Daro created an account of $5,000 for Mrs. Ivy Focher. From this money, Mrs Focher could withdraw $25 a week. Daro also gave her $100, so she could take her son on a vacation trip to Catalina Island. This PR move, to counter the damage done to Daro's reputation, didn't really work and Lou's popularity in Los Angeles dropped. Over the next few years, Daro's involvement in pro wrestling at the Olympic, due to this incident and bad health, lessened. With Lou acting as a figurehead for the press, the office was run by Lou's brother Jack Daro and Toots Mondt.
The final of Daro's International Tournament was set for July 24, 1935 with Vincent Lopez taking on Man Mountain Dean. On July 9, Lewis wrestled Lopez in San Francisco, losing two out of three falls. The storyline put out by the Olympic was that Lewis ate lunch with Lopez on July 11. An agreement was made that Lopez would be managed and trained by Strangler Lewis. In the week leading up to the tournament final, Lewis trained Vincent, in front of the public, at the Olympic Auditorium. The storyline was that Lewis bought the contract of Lopez. It's my feeling that this relationship was basely just storyline. Lewis continued to wrestle and promote his own wrestling career outside of Los Angeles. At times the Olympic published Lewis comments as if he was inGlendale, when Lewis was in other parts of the country. Lewis did manager and second Lopez, when in town and wrestled on Lopez under cards in the north-west.
Vincent Lopez played football and wrestled at the University of Idaho. He was a good looking guy, who came from a well to do family, and gave off the air of a cultured man, much like Enrique Torres in the late 40's and Mil Mascaras in 1969. Lopez was the first true Mexican wrestling star to come out of Los Angeles. Lopez's wrestling style was brawling. I've seen film of him and basely all he could do, or attempt to do, is throw elbows and punches. He was a Mexican version of Danno O'Mahoney, who also was a brawler. Lopez was a good talker, in Spanish and English, so he was over in Los Angeles for a few years. I think Ed Lewis was used by the Daros & Toots Mondt to take the heat off of "babyface" Lopez. Lopez's brawling style might have turned him heel, if Lewis wasn't present to direct the heat on to himself.
On July 24, 1935, Ed Lewis seconded Vincent Lopez as he defeated Man Mountain Dean two out of three falls to win the International Tournament, recognition as California world champion, the "Lewis world title belt", and $15,000. The card sold out with 10,400 present, and a gate of $17,000 with another 5,000 people turned away.
A week later on July 31, 1935, NWA world champion Danno O'Mahoney wrestled AWA world champion Ed Don George in a title unification match drawing 40,000 fans to Braves' field in Boston. O'Mahoney won the match after referee and heavyweight boxing champion, James J. Braddock, counted George out of the ring. The win came as a result of the bungling referee Braddock, so a rematch was booked for September 11. O'Mahoney then claimed the undisputed world title. Danno didn't receive George's Lewis (AWA) championship belt because it was being used by California world champion Vincent Lopez.
On July 31, the UNITED PRESS published a note by Henry McLemore stating that Strangler Lewis had quit active pro wrestling and planed to devote his time to managing and training Vincent Lopez. I don't know if McLemore had some new insight of Lewis' intentions or was just repeating Los Angeles storylines for the rest of the nation. Whatever, Lewis does not stop wrestling and, after the July 24, 1935, he does act as an in ring second at The Olympic Auditorium for Lopez until March 25, 1936.
Two days after the tournament final (July 26), Lewis wrestled Man Mountain Dean in Seattle, winning via disqualification. On July 31, Lewis lost two out of three falls to Hans Steinke in Portland. On August 13, he main evented in Minneapolis, beating Hal Rumberg. On the under card was young Lou Thesz. On September 3, Lewis had another rematch with Ray Steele in Minneapolis. After 36:03, referee Mike Nazarian was knocked out of the ring, as Lewis was pinning Steele. When the ref returned, Steele pinned Lewis, who was thinking he had won. This win set Steele up for a O'Mahoney title match two weeks later.
Lewis then wrestled on the under card of the September 11, 1935 Fenway Park rematch of O'Mahoney and Ed Don George, beating Dick Daviscourt. For the main event Lewis seconded for George. This time O'Mahoney proved he was champion by beating George clean in 2:00:05. The card drew 25,000 fans.
After Danno had beaten Lewis on April 26, he admitted that Ed had beaten him in his first bout in London. A rubber match was booked by Paul Bowser for Boston Garden on October 11. O'Mahoney kept his (almost) undisputed world title by beating Lewis in 1:04:57 using the Irish whip. Lewis only drew 8,000, a drop of 12,000 from their first match in Boston.
In 1935, the wrestling noise coming from Texas increased in volume, and the man leading the choir was none other that the hillbilly Hercules, Leo Daniel Boone "Whiskers" Savage. Without ever having an effect on the rest of the nation, Whiskers Savage became a wrestling sensation in Houston during 1935. Like Man Mountain Dean, he was playing the part of an oversized hillbilly and the act went over big…at least in Texas and a few parts of the South. Ed Lewis wrestled him twice for promoter Morris Sigel during the year.
The first took place on October 18. After splitting the first two falls, Whiskers thought he had Lewis pined but Ed leg was under the ropes. Savage started to dance around, thinking he had won, but the referee told him different about the same time as he got potatoed by Lewis and pined. The match drew a good crowd of 6,000. The rematch took place on October 25, and the result had Lewis being disqualified for using the headlock as a strangle. The win over Lewis set Savage up for a title match with O'Mahoney, which he lost.
Lewis had another showdown with the original giant hillbilly as the semi-main event on a November 7 O'Mahoney/Sonnenberg card in St Louis. This time the hillbilly was Man Mountain Dean himself. Lewis agreed to a handicap match in which he was to pin Dean in 20 minute. He failed because most of the match was spent trying to revive referee Fred Voepel, after the man mountain accidentally fell on him. Anyway everyone had fun, and Danno and Gus drew a crowd of 14,321.
Gus Sonnenberg never gained the respect of Strangler Lewis for his wrestling but when it came to drinking, bad driving and bad'er still marriages, he was Ed's superior.[446a] By the end of 1935, Gus needed the use of a driver type babysitter to get him to his matches sober. In the ring, Sonnenber could still do his match and draw fans but his push was ending because of his other problems. On November 18, 1935, Lewis beat him at Kansas City.
On November 19, 1935, Denver world champion Everett Marshall, with the support of his manager Billy Sandow and promoter Max Bauman posted $5,000 with the Missouri State Commission asking for a match with Champion Danno O'Mahoney. Lewis was still close to Paul Bowser and could be considered, at age 45, to be one of Danno's "policemen". Lewis filed a $1,000 check with the commission saying he was willing to meet Everett Marshal ay any site he wanted. Jim Browning also posted a challenge to Marshall. The commission then suggested a tournament between Tom Packs'Lewis and Browning against Bauman's Marshall and Lee Wycoff. Nothing came from this but it should be noted that by 1937, Tom Packs was billing Everett Marshall as champion and Billy Sandow had become a partner in the St Louis promotion with Packs.
After Man Mountain Dean beat Ernie Dusek in 5 minutes and 30 second on Tom Packs' December 5 card, Dean also filed a check with the commission for a match with Marshall. This upset Lewis, who claimed Dean had no business putting up money to bust his way into the tournament. Lewis then offered to drop out of the tournament if Dean could beat him in a straight match. So the two wrestled on December 19, 1935 with Ed winning in front of 4,637. For the win, Lewis was given a St Louis title match with Danno O'Mahoney on January 29, 1936. Danno won again in front of 9,170.
>> Continue to CHAPTER 26