Sam Muchnick, a St. Louis sports legend who jumped from sportswriting to promoting wrestling, turning professional wrestling here and nationally into mainstream entertainment, died Wednesday morning (Dec. 30, 1998) at St. John's Mercy Medical Center of internal bleeding. He was 93.
Mr. Muchnick was born in 1905 in the Ukraine to Saul and Rebecca Muchnick. The family moved here in 1911 and lived on Franklin Avenue in the old Kerry Patch neighborhood.
He sold newspapers as a child and developed an interest in sports and sportswriting. Mr. Muchnick turned down a job as a postal clerk in 1926 to take a sportswriting position, for less pay, with the St. Louis Times. He covered, among other things, baseball, where he met such idols as Babe Ruth and Frankie Frisch, and rubbed elbows with Al Capone and Mae West.
The Times merged with the Star in 1932 and, instead of bumping a friend out of a job, Mr. Muchnick looked for a new line of employment. He always admired wrestling and wrestlers as a result of hanging out at Harry Cook's Gym downtown.
He started doing promotional work for Tom Pax, and promoted his first card in March 1942 at The Arena. Mr. Muchnick enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1942. In 1945, he handled his own first show at Kiel Auditorium on Dec. 5.
Mr. Muchnick formed the National Wrestling Alliance in 1948 with several promoters from across the country. He served as president for 25 years. His first sellout came on a card that featured Buddy Rogers against Don Eagle in front of 11,000-plus at Kiel.
"Sam was a very straightforward promoter," said former world champion and friend Lou Thesz. "He paid you right on the barrel head, even if the house wasn't that good that night. He was the most liked and loved promoter in the world."
Mr. Muchnick once was asked to reschedule a card in 1948 at Kiel when President Harry S Truman wanted to speak on the upcoming race against New York Republican Thomas E. Dewey. He worked something out for his friend, the president.
"Well, I've got a show," Muchnick said. "But for the president, I'll change it."
The word on Mr. Muchnick spread quickly.
Soon such stars as Gorgeous
Steele, Thesz and Rogers wanted to work in St. Louis.
He formed the St. Louis Wrestling Club in 1958. The club had 17 to 20 shows a year at Kiel and The Arena. When wrestling was stagnant in the late 1950s, Mr. Muchnick brought the stars into homes with TV's Wrestling at The Chase -- a venture with Channel 11 owner Harold Koplar.
"Sam revolutionized wrestling with the club and the TV show," said friend and St. Louis Wrestling Club partner Larry Matysik. "He kept the peace with everybody in the business, and he was a fair, straight and honest person. His word was his bond."
Mr. Muchnick was active in wrestling until
Jan. 1, 1982, his final card at The Arena, then known as The
Checkerdome. A crowd of 19,819 came to honor him that night.
battled Dusty Rhodes in the main event.
"Sam was probably the dean of professional wrestling," said former world champion Harley Race. "He was a brilliant promoter and all-around decent guy."
Mr. Muchnick is survived by two sons, Dick of St. Louis and Dan of Douglasville, Ga.; a daughter, Kathy Schneider of St. Louis; and five grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 6:30 p.m. until 9 p.m. Saturday at Berger Memorial Chapel, 4715 McPherson Avenue, and from 12:30 p.m. until 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the chapel at Memorial Park Cemetery, 5200 Lucas and Hunt Road. A chapel service will also be held at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Memorial Park Cemetery.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Buddy Fund, 190 Ladue Pines, St. Louis, Mo. 63141.