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