Moline Daily Dispatch – December 7, 1960
By Paul Carlson
A lot of people will react with a “So what?” when they hear that professional wrestling, on a big-time basis, is coming back to the Quad-Cities.
But a lot of others will applaud from now until Dec. 17, when the first big-time mat bout in more than two years will be staged in Moline’s Wharton Field House, because professional wrestling does have a huge audience, and its faithful are among the most devoted of all sports fans.
Professional wrestling is big business, and one of the biggest men in the business is Fred Kohler, matchmaker from Chicago.
Kohler was in town last night, helping stir up interest for the series of winter wrestling shows scheduled in Moline by Mike Fitzgerald, representing the wrestling division of Outdoor Recreation, Inc.
Kohler has been connected with wrestling since 1917, although he hardly appears old enough to have bounced off the mat 43 years ago. He owns Marigold Gardens in Chicago, owns a stable of some of the top names on the wrestling circuit, and has interests in wrestling all over the country.
One of Kohler’s big interests is television, which boomed pro wrestling into national prominence during the postwar years. The sport faded away a few years ago all over the country, not just in the Quad-City area. Kohler is helping revive it, with television figuring prominently in his efforts.
“Exposure is the big thing in making a successful promotion,” Kohler says. “We film matches of these name stars and have the films run in various areas. Then these stars come into those areas for actual on-the-spot matches.”
That’s the procedure in the Quad-City area. A series of hour-long television shows started last Saturday on WHBF-TV and will continue for 13 weeks. Fitzgerald plans to schedule about two live wrestling programs a month in Moline, and will promote additional matches in other cities within the WHBF-TV area.
Kohler points out that there’s great cost involved in filming wrestling shows to gain the necessary exposure. But it all must be worthwhile.
“I had Argentine Rocca under contract, guaranteeing each of his two managers $12,500 and guaranteeing Rocca $25,000 a year, plus a maximum of $15,000 in expenses,” Kohler says. “I know we paid Rocca $110,000 the first 10 months he was with us, and then paid him $44,000 the next four months before the contract was breached.
“I helped Verne Gagne make more than $100,000 annually,” he adds.
Kohler says that professional wrestlers must have wrestling ability, a touch of histrionics, and box office appeal. The latter quality is what creates names like “Gorgeous George,” “Yukon Eric,” etc.
It is obvious that Kohler has been good to his wrestlers, as wrestling has been good to him. He recalls a party he once held for his stable in Chicago, at which he served steaks which weighed at least two pounds apiece. A Russian named Kola (Kwariani) was one of the guests, and he had an appetite.
“After he’d finished one steak, I asked Kola if he was still hungry. He said, ‘I could eat four of these, Fred.’ I bet him $100 he couldn’t eat four of them, and ordered another one for him.
“He got through the second one and the chef came out and told me he’d never finish four of them. But Kola vowed he’d eat three, and I bet him another $100 he wouldn’t. We split even on the bets.
“It wasn’t the amount of food he ate that disturbed me. I found out later that everyone had been passing drinks to him while he was eating. Somebody was counting, and Kola had 22 martinis and Manhattans – mixed – along with the three steaks.”