Washington Post – June 2, 1931
By Westbrook Pegler
NEW YORK – The wrestling industry will now enjoy a summer lay-off after a prosperous indoor season, during which the boys demonstrated again that at one word from the press the public will do just as it pleases. Even though the newspapers invariable covered the so-called championship matches of the various so-called champions and their business partners in a broadly facetious tone, and even though Jim Londos, one of these champions, confessed he always endeavored to give the customers a modicum of drama along with their sport, the wrestling business outprospered the prize fighting industry by a good margin in New York.
In the end, no apparent harm was done, as Mr. Jack Curley’s weekly entertainments soon developed into a kind of young and old boys’ Wednesday night off-the-street club.
The current popularity of wrestling is one of the amusing puzzles of the sports industry in the United States. For many yeas the game has been without friends, so forsaken that newspapers which would hesitate to denounce poison ivy were not afraid to express themselves on the subject.
Mr. Jerome Beatty, an old former newspaperman himself, tells me of an incident illustrative of this. Mr. Beatty was working in a newspaper office which was so full of sacred cows that it was as much as a reporter’s job was worth to mention the name of the guest of honor at a routine hanging lest the party turn out to be a friend of the management.
But one day he took a small item over the phone about a brakeman’s accident in the local railroad yards, wrote about 50 words on the mishap and turned it in to the desk. A few minutes later there was a commotion at the desk, and Mr. Beatty was summoned to face a city editor who sat waving the copy and spluttering excitedly.
“Have you gone crazy, Mr. Beatty?” the city editor demanded. “Don’t you know that our respected owner and publisher is a stockholder in this railroad? Do you want to get fired and get us all fired, writing a story like this?”
“I am very sorry,” Mr. Beatty said, “and I suggest that you post a list on the bulletin board of the persons and firms who are not to be mentioned in the columns of our great, free and fearless journal, except in complimentary terms.”
“That would be the long way around,” said the city editor. “Just remember always this paper takes a firm uncompromising stand on Chinamen and wrestlers, and nothing else.”
I am inclined to believe that the introduction of sound effects into wrestling during the recent season had much to do with the revival of popularity and prosperity. The boys always were pretty garrulous in the clinches, talking over their family affairs, their investments and their vacation plans in low, confidential murmurs, but in the past they tried to maintain a mistaken stoicism during the application of the punishing holds.
However, Mr. Curley took the members of his herd to some good conservatory of the drama, told them to pass a voice test and then learn to utter a repertoire of bird calls and wild animal cries.
The acoustics of Madison Square Garden were an item of singular pride with the late Tex Rickard, who often boasted they were the best acoustics that money could buy, and with a little experience some of Mr. Curley’s wrestlers became so artistic that a small whinny or duck-squawk loosed up on the acoustics in the ring became a resounding cry of agony as it soared toward the galleries.
Old Mr. Muldoon, the prize-fight commissioner, being a former wrestler, looked upon these bouts with a cold, cynical eye and refused to let Mr. Curley advertise them as contests, holding them to be more histrionic exhibitions, but the customers were no more willing that Mr. Muldoon should save them from their folly than the newspapers should, he being another of those pathetic altruists who have tried to make the public think.
It is probably that if the prize fighters should add the talkie element to their entertainments they would enjoy much better business. They belittle their punishment, and the customers naturally conclude that the hardest punches do not hurt, and they, therefore, go away dissatisfied and often neglect to come back.
I imagine, though, that if during the recent featherweight championship waltz between Bat Battalino and Fidel LaBarba, the boys had moaned and screamed to the rafters at each vicious jab on the elbow the patrons might have created for themselves a pleasant illusion that they were witnessing something very like a slaughter.
When a pugilist is hit on the chin and assumes a smile of apparent delight he does not deceive his opponent, who always knows how much weight the punch carried and whether or not it landed flush. But he does create an impression on the customers which is not exactly helpful to the business. The customers are easily deceived, and the punch that provokes a wide grin is discounted as something of no importance, whereas, if the fighter were to yell, “Ow! You’re killing me,” he would create the opposite illusion.
Similarly, when a pugilist speaks on the radio, it is no boost to the business when he exclaims, as he usually does, “hullo, momma, hullo, poppa, Milton and Little Gloria, I win easy.”
I suggest that they moan triumphantly, “I win, but I’ll never be the same.”
Mr. Curley hit upon an idea so obvious that both the fighters and wrestlers overlooked it before, the notion being that the patrons do not pay their funds to see the gladiators have a good time.