ED "STRANGLER" LEWIS
Facts within a Myth
by Steve Yohe
The O'Mahoney/Shikat Double-Cross of 1936
Being champion wasn't all that much fun for Danno O'Mahoney. Everyone was taking shots at him in the press, and worst still, trying to hook him in the ring. Like with Wayne Munn in 1926, being a non-shooter as champion brought out the worst in opponents.
On February 6 (Ellis Bashara at New Orleans) and on February 7 (Whiskers Savage in Houston), O'Mahoney was set up for double-crosses, but Danno was, on both nights, saved by referee Paul Jones. On Feb. 9 in Galveston, Danno and manager Jack McGrath found out that the locals had a plan for his opponent Juan Humberto to double cross him. The complete O'Mahoney group then got up and left the arena in front of fans, and the state inspector. Law suits followed, and a Texas suspension, which led to O'Mahoney being striped of the NWA portion of his (almost) undisputed world title.
O'Mahoney wasn't any safer back on the East coast when Curley and Bowser booked him into Madison Square Garden against the old malcontent Dick Shikat on March 2, 1936. You would think someone would have learned something after the first Shikat/Mahoney match, but they hadn't. Shikat shot on Danno and made the (almost) undisputed world champion submit in 18:57.
The next edition of every major newspaper in the nation carried the story of Shikat's shoot on the phony champion and the breaking up of the Wrestling Trust. The Boston Globe told the story, but its version had Danno and Jack McGrath claiming they had been robed of the title. Later editions that same day had Bowser saying that O'Mahoney was sick and had simply collapsed in the ring.
On March 4, Bowser announced that the AWA still recognized Danno O'Mahoney as world champion. His first justification was that the match was non-title because the state of New York ruled all matches as exhibitions. That didn't sound right, so the story they settled on was that the AWA title could only change in a two out of three fall match (under Boston rules). So Danno could still be called a world champion, but he was no longer a national champion. He became one of the regional champions that were multiplying by the day. The Boston newspapers took note of the hypocrisy involved and when out of their way to explain who the real champion was, and it wasn't Danno.
It seems the idea of hooking Danno was Dick Shikat's alone and done out of hate for Toots Mondt, Ed Lewis and Jack Curley. Rudy Miller, Florida agent for the trust, Al Haft of Columbus, Adam Weismuller of Detroit, and former mat czar Billy Sandow were told of Shikat's intentions beforehand. Jack Pfeffer wasn't part of the deal, but following the match, added Shikat in his bookings. But the dirty deed was mainly Shikat's idea.
After the match, Shikat announced that the title was up for sale and just about everyone bid on it. Lou Daro and Toots Mondt offered Shikat $50,000 for two matches versus Vincent Lopez in Los Angeles and Bowser agreed to pay $25,000 for Dick to return the title to Danno or lose to Yvon Robert. The surprise offer was from Jim Londos, who was returning to action and wanted his title back.
Shikat ended up making a deal with the Sandow/Haft group. Then what was left of the Trust started playing tricks with Shikat. Bowser owned a management contract with Shikat's name on it and he began booking Shikat into arenas without his permission. When the star didn't show for the matches, he knew nothing about, Shikat was suspended in most states and the whole mess ended up in a Columbus courtroom with every major promoter being call in to testify.
There was another tournament during 1936 in Philadelphia. Credibility for the new star, Dean Detton, was the goal. It took place in February 1936 and the final was Strangler Lewis losing to Detton on February 28, 1936.[450a] The win gave Detton the next shot at O'Mahoney title in Philadelphia and that date is said to have been set for March 9, a week after the Shikat double-cross. Some historians think that Toots Mondt was putting a great deal of pressure on Paul Bowser to allow O'Mahoney to drop the title to Detton. Perhaps Toots remembered Wayne Munn, so he knew they had to get the crown on a secure head before someone, like Shikat, cut off Danno's.
The spectacle of the performance sport on trial in Columbus destroyed whatever creditability pro wrestling had left in the eyes of the general public. Wrestling fans always understood that the art form was worked and, like today they enjoyed it, but the general public couldn't understand the concept as anything but "fake". The court case came to an end when Shikat was allowed to drop the title to a unknown gimmick performer called Ali Baba…which everyone thought was funny. Baba later got double-crossed by a light heavyweight named Dave Levin in an unconvincing way…and before long the wrestling world had at least five champions. Soon every major and minor promoter had their own world champion.
To the public, wrestling was a joke, and when major newspapers stopped covering it, attendance dropped. Promoters knew the public thought it's product was a joke. So they promoted it like a joke. By 1940 the sport was filled with gimmicks like mud matches or Jell-O matches or dead fish matches. Performing freaks became wrestling's biggest draws.
Before 1936 and the O'Mahoney/Shikat match, wrestling's storylines were national. There may have been more that one champion, but everyone in the country knew who they were and the storylines involving them. After 1936, the whole sport became regionalized, with every territory's storyline walled in from all the others. Promoter's no longer wanted intelligent fans that understood the whole picture. They wanted ignorant fans that didn't know they were being lied too. Facts and knowledge was something promoters found hard to deal with. So all the work that Lewis, Stecher, Curley and Sandow did to rebuild the sport after Frank Gotch…went to waste, as the sport fell into it's dark age.
All these changes took place because Dick Shikat shot on Danno O'Mahoney on March 2, 1936.
None of this affected Ed Lewis much. He was no longer in power and the promoters didn't care if he came or went. He was pushing 46 years ago, fat and his work wasn't what it once was. Only Lewis knows how bad his eyes were. If he drew, it wasn't because of his skills, it was his name and his legend.
Following the tournament loss to Dean Detton, Lewis spent most of March working out of Seattle. In April he return to Glendale and the restaurants. It was then that he began seconding Vincent Lopez in his matches. In 1936, he beat George Calza, Sandor Szabo, Bill Longson, Joe Savoldi, Ray Steele, Chief Little Wolf, Orville Brown, and Gus Sonnenberg. He only worked two or three times a week and his loses were being saved for something important…..but important matches were becoming hard to find.
Jim Browning retired from wrestling in February 1936. On May 9, 1936 he was admitted to Freeman Hospital in Joplin Missouri due to a "ulcerated stomach" and a "liver ailment. Browning seemed to be recovering but he died on the afternoon of June 19, 1936 due to a pulmonary embolism. He was buried at Spring Valley Cemetery at Verona, Missouri.[450b]
On or around June 25, 1936, Mike Romano had a heart attack during a Washington DC match with Jack Donovan and died in the ring. Five days later, Lewis turned 46.
On July 26, 1936, Lewis announced that he had sold Vincent Lopez contract back to the wrestler and was no longer his manager.
In July and the first part of August, Lewis attempt to get back into condition. In workouts he would line up five young wrestlers and wrestle all of them for five minutes one after another. He was feeling so good that he accepted a match with Lee Wykoff in New York City that was an elimination for a match with the new champion, Dave Levin. Lewis accepted Wykoff challenge to make the match a shoot. Wykoff had a reputation as a feared shooter and was trained by Billy Sandow, who taught Lee all of Lewis' moves.
The match took place at the New York City Hippodrome on August 13, 1936. The match was all stand up for the first hour and 17 minute and they went to the mat only because Wykoff slipped. The rest of the match was tugging and pulling with none of the normal pro wrestling moves and holds being used. It seemed like the match was going to last all night, when suddenly, the two men fell out of the ring on to the floor. They both made it back into ring, but they were so tired that they had trouble in just standing. Finally after a few desperate passes at each other, they fell from the ring again. Referee George Bothner counted both men out and ruled the match a draw. Time was 2:14:45. The crowd for one of the only true shoots in wrestling history was 3,000, but most fans had left the arena by the end of the match.
Lewis was very disappointed in the result and he began to lose interest in his career. He returned to Seattle, but this time he did more jobs. In September 1936, lost to Sandor Szabo, Pat Fraley, the masked Red Shadow and even one to Tor Johnson.
In mid-September he traveled to Honolulu, Hawaii and beat Ed Don George and Vic Christy. On October 20, he returned to Chicago to job for Jim McMillen. The match only drew 1,500. In November and December, he did more refereeing than Wrestling. He spent Christmas in Hawaii beating Ed Don George again.
The Last Bride - 1937
On January 11, 1937, Lewis married a Miss Bobbie Lee West at Yuma, Arizona. Miss West had formerly lived in Corpus Christi, Texas and Muskogee, Oklahoma. The two had known each other for over 12 years. Bobby Lee was a full blooded Cherokee Indian. Ed seemed to like Indian women and had at least two other Native American girlfriends in his past. Nekoosa and Wisconsin was home to large numbers of Native Americans, so Lewis was comfortable around the Indian people. This was Ed's last marriage and the two stayed together until Lewis' death.
The two then purchased a home in the Hollywood Hills near Laurel Canyon for $9,500. The property was located at 8145 Willow Glen Road. It was a seven-room stucco residence with a concrete garage and two cottages on an elaborately landscaped acre of land.
My thought are that Lewis probably sold his interest in what was left of his three restaurants in Glendale, Alhambra and Pasadena, possibly to the Loew's Incorporation. His interest in a San Diego Hotel also seems to have been sold. Lewis may have continued working as a restaurant greeter for Loew's or did some work for MGM Studios. On March 31, 1937, Robert (Ed "Strangler" Lewis) Friedrich filled for a social security number. (550-16-0364) His employer was listed as Loew's Incorporation of Culver City.
Lewis would be associated with a number of jobs over the coming year, none for very long.
The Many Champions of 1937
A light heavyweight wrestler, named David Levin, beat Ali Baba on a disqualification in New Jersey on June 12, 1936. It was another double-cross, this time the idea of Toots Mondt and Jack Pfefer. He strengthen his claim to the title by beating Vincent Lopez in a Los Angeles unification match on August 19, 1936. Levin, in turn, was beaten by Dean Detton at Philadelphia on September 28, 1936 in a match that lasted 2:05:52.
Very few state commissions supported the Levin win over Ali Baba, so Baba went on to lose his claim to Billy Sandow's wrestler, Everett Marshall, in Columbus, Ohio on June 29, 1936.
Of course, Danno O'Mahoney was still claimed the AWA world title. He even lost his title, but not his claim, to Yvon Robert on July 16, 1936 in Montreal. Later, after Robert actually broke his arm in a match (November 18, 1936), some would think Cliff Olsen was champion…. but only outside of Boston.
The NWA title remained vacant until it set up another title tournament, than no one but John Pesek would join. So on September 13, 1937, the NWA recognized Pesek as champion.
Jim Londos returned to America in 1937, having won more than one version of the title in Europe and South Africa.
Lewis was mostly inactive in 1937, but he did accept major jobs to Dean Detton (Sacramento-January 25 and Salt Lake City-March 12), and Sandor Szabo (San Francisco—February 2). None of these matches are remembered for anything other than they had Lewis wrestling.
On May 25, 1937, Lewis did a job for famous football star Bronko Nagursiki for Tony Stecher in Minneapolis. This loss by Lewis, set Nagurski up for his title win over Dean Detton on June 29, 1937.
Starting on June 25, 1937, Lewis and wife Bobbie Lee sailed on the Matson-Oceanic Liner, Mariposa, on a world tour. They're first stop was in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he won and lost a match over two weeks. In August and the first two weeks of September, Lewis toured New Zealand and Australia. He wrestled at least 8 times and only did two jobs for Earl McCready. It's believed he also toured Greece and South Africa. In November, he wrestled and lost to Henri DeGlane in Paris, France.
In later life Lewis claimed that, in stories to Lou Thesz, he wrestled and lost to the Great Gama in India during this world tour and I've read newspaper reports that said he intended to make that match the center of his tour. It was reported in the January 1938 issue of RING MAGAZINE, that Lewis made the trip to India, but the match feel apart when Gama demanded three months to train. Ed then traveled to Paris for the job to DeGlane.
Lewis and wife returned to New York City on the United States liner Washington. He then announced he was retired and planed to spend the rest of his time living in the Hollywood Hills in his new home. He also criticized the state of pro wrestling, saying the current style of "slambang" grappling was "terrible and just awful". He blamed the mess on the public, saying it was just getting the only produce it would pay for and that it hated and booed true scientific wrestling. He didn't mention the part he played over 24 year developing the "slambang" style or how the wrestling promoters would eat their children to make a buck.
Wrestling was well into its "dark age", and he wasn't wanted. The big money days were gone. From his words, it didn't seem like Ed had any plans to wrestle again.
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