Harvest Time In The Thick-Neck Fields Of Mongolia

New York World-Telegram – July 8, 1931
By A.J. Liebling

Mr. Jack Pfefer admits he is an outstanding example of mind over matter.

Mr. Pfefer weighs 130 pounds when carrying the ivory-headed cane presented to him by Ghafoor Khan, and he is in the business of capturing, importing, instructing and browbeating wrestlers who run about six to the ton. Run they do, when Mr. Pfefer rages.

“They got it here,” he admits, tapping his negligible biceps. “But,” he adds coyly, stroking his lank raven locks, “I got it here. They need me, but I don’t need them. I know where they grow.”

The brain over brawn man, who is an unsilent but unpublicized associate of Jack Curley, does not blush as he admits responsibility for the Bonecrushing Bohemians, the Mighty Magyards, Stupendous Syrians and Colossal Cossacks who make night hideous with their grunts and groans on mats all over the eastern United States.

His blushing faculties have been atrophied for years – to be exact – since the period when he dined in public with Ivan (the Terrible) Poddubny, his first wrestler.

Besides, he is a Robin Hood. His chief interest is music, and the money which he wrings from defenseless Mankilling Mouzhiks he advances to stranded Russian opera singers. As there has been a bear market on Russian opera singers for a long time, Mr. Pfefer must soon make another trip to the Old World in search of eighteen-inch necks and ears like electric light bulbs.

His method in these expeditions he set forth today between telephone calls to one of his wrestlers to get ready to go to Boston, and calls to the Boston promoter (with reversed charges, of course) to explain he couldn’t find the wrestler and didn’t want the match anyway unless there was more money in it.

The explorer sets out for the barrel chest country by the small boats of the Hamburg-Packet-Aktien-Gesellschaft or one of its competitors, and penetrates into the interior in the litters of the Compagnie des Wagons-lits.

Establishing himself behind a stockade of beer glass pads in some kraal such as Praha, Lodz or Nishni-Novgorod he awaits reports from native beaters. When he receives tidings of a huge bull wrestler tearing up the lamp posts in an adjoining sanjak, he hastens to the scene equipped with a derby hat and a picture of Mae West.

According to Mr. Pfefer no wrestler can resist the combined appeal of sartorial elegance and the big blonde style of beauty. Once Mr. Pfefer gets the derby tightly over the wrestler’s ears, preventing a belated development of the embryo brain, he holds the picture in front of the captive’s nose and walks rapidly until he gets to the boat, and the wrestler follows him with docility.

“Then comes the hard part,” he relates bitterly. “Me, a rabbi’s son and a musician, I get to study such a bum’s sickness. Every wrestler has a sickness. One has a sickness for a woman, one has a sickness for prune brandy, one” – a note of horror crept into his voice – “wants all the time money, but nearly all they got a sickness for eating. When you understand the sickness, you can manage. Keep him happy and he will wrestle like a contented cow.

“Only sometimes the overhead is terrible,” he reflected bitterly. “Kalmikoff, for instance, the Siberian I got now, with the whiskers. When it began to be hot weather, I thought he would not maybe eat so much. But he eats every day two watermelons on top of the seven meals, and what they charge you for watermelons in Pullman diners I hate to think of it.

“And Poddubny, my first wrestler, a great drawing card but nobody could afford to feed him. Hackenschmidt would never wrestle with him. He was too terrible. He was the most terrible man in the world.

“Three words English he knew, ‘ham and eggs.’ I took him to a restaurant in Chicago. For ten hours he said ‘ham and eggs.’ When I told him in Russian we could not pay, he wanted to hit me, a little boy like me. So I had to give an I.O.U. and he ate all night.

“Then I made him buy his food in a grocery store. Every morning he would bring back to our room sacks, bundles, like an army. Only such a strong man could carry such bundles. Before lunch he would have to go and buy some more.

“He would make a salad of fifteen heads of cabbage and twelve hard boiled eggs. Such a terrible man. I got him a ticket to Russia, and they have been starving ever since.

“But this year I am planning to go to a country where nobody has gone for wrestlers.” The mobile countenance of the sporting Hagenbeck flashed new animation.

“It is a very ancient, a very historical country, between China and Russia and Japan. It is called Mongolia, and there they have men 8, 9 feet tall. Four hundred pounds there is considered a welterweight.

“I will take with me an interpreter and a derby that was made for Harry Richman, and in the fall I will bring back a Mongol Mastodon. Such a big fellow I won’t even need to teach wrestling. He will pick up Hans Steinke like a tiny baby.”

“But, won’t he eat twice as much as the other wrestlers?” asked a visitor.

“Ha,” said the genius of import trade. “Sure he will eat a lot. But only rice, which it is so cheap that maybe if he throws Jim Londos early in the winter I could even afford to buy him another derby.”

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