A Million Groans, A Million Dollars

Associated Press – May 2, 1963
By Charles Chamberlain

CHICAGO — No Matter how you look at professional wrestling – if you look at all – there’s big money in human beings making pretzels out of each other.

“A million groans, a million dollars,” says Fred Kohler.

Kohler, 60-year-old Chicago promoter, is king of the ham market. He’s been in the business 30 years.

One of his promotional tricks is to tape a television wrestling show, give it free to a local station, then several days after it had been telecast, move in with the same cast of anatomy benders to perform in the flesh. A million dollars passes through his hands yearly, he says.

“Back in the Depression years of the 1930’s, people who didn’t commit suicide watched the whos,” says Kohler. “And some wrestlers cleaned up. I remember Gus Sonnenberg coming in off a tour with his suitcase stuffed with $85,000. He didn’t believe in banks and was not afraid anybody would take it away from him.”

Kohler says a wrestler must have three things: Ability, showmanship and personality. “There are about 75 wrestlers in top demand today, but none has all three of these assets like Buddy Rogers.”

“Buddy is in four or five shows a week, gets 11 per cent of the gates and traveling expenses. He makes better than $200,000 a year.”

Kohler scoffs at charges of matches being out-and-out fakes. “It depends on your definition of the word,” he concedes. “They aren’t fixed. The better man usually wins. The thing is he doesn’t always win as quickly as he can. This is entertainment, and prolonging it is good for business.”

“It can get awfully rough. Rogers was out of action 13 weeks in 1962 and with a broken leg.”

Audiences are made up of 40 per cent women, 45 per cent men, and the rest teenagers, says Kohler.

For every audience situation, Kohler has a wrestling type to use. Bobo Brazil draws a large Negro following. The Latins flip for Argentina Rocca. Killer Kowalski has his Polish admirers. Germans go for the Bavarian Boys. Good looking Bob Konovsky, ex Chicago football Bear, gets squeals from the girls.

What is the most amazing thing to happen to Kohler?

“Watching 38,622 customers jam Comiskey Park June 30, 1961, to see Rogers meet Pat O’Connor,” he says. “We had a gate of $141,345.” It was the highest price ever paid to him.

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