The Original Masked Marvel

Reminisce – February/March 2014
By Len West – Newnan, GA

CLETE KAUFFMAN cuts an imposing figure in this photo taken in 1920.  He parlayed a need for tires into a career as a pro wrestler.

CLETE KAUFFMAN cuts an imposing figure in this photo taken in 1920. He parlayed a need for tires into a career as a pro wrestler.

His uncle stepped into the ring at a carnival and became a wrestler.

The promoter at the carnival offered $50 to any man who could stay in the ring with the company wrestler for three 3-minute rounds.  My uncle Clete Kauffman needed new tires, which cost $50 each, so he stepped into the ring.

Well, Clete, who learned to wrestle in clubs around Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the 1920s lasted all three rounds and won $50.  Since he needed three more tires, Clete came back the next three nights and pinned their guy on the last night.

The carnival offered Clete a job, and that was the beginning of his wrestling career.  Shortly afterward, Al Haft, a wrestling promoter in Columbus, Ohio, asked Clete to join his team.

Though the team wrestled mostly in the Midwest, the members went on a world tour.  Clete’s wins mounted until an unusual injury sidelined him: While in India, he was bitten on the shoulder by a large bird.  The doctors had to remove muscle and bone to save his life, permanently weakening his shoulder.

The injury nearly ended his career.  Clete had to make a living, so he played a dirty wrestler known as the “Original Masked Marvel of the Ring.”  He wore a full bodysuit with padding so no one would notice the depressions in his shoulder and back, and a full hood over his head.

He was so good that audiences hated him.  Once he was chased out of the armory in Akron, Ohio, and had to walk about 6 miles to our house in full costume.

By the late ‘40s, Clete was running his own wrestling show in Mansfield.  He was a great guy and a lot of fun to be around.

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