Sacramento Union – February 16, 1949
By Bill Conlin
Half the wrestling show Monday night in Memorial Auditorium was in the ring; the other half was up in Primo Carnera’s dressing room.
Max Baer, the man who knocked down Carnera 13 times back in 1934 to win the heavyweight championship, came up to pay a social call.
Although they have met once or twice since that murderous affair of 15 years ago, it has never been for more than a few moments Monday night they visited for 30 minutes.
Carnera speaks surprisingly good English and Baer, of course, speaks lots of it. They seemed to enjoy getting together. There were a lot of laughs and horseplay. There was no rancor nor hard feelings.
Mr. Carnera was very gracious to Mr. Baer, and let the latter’s two sons heft his shoes, which are curiousities indeed and very similar in size to Esquimaux kayaks.
Mr. Baer ribbed old Satchelfoot a bit and then told all within hearing distance that Primo was “a great fellow and they don’t come any better.” Mr. Baer is a lot like Will Rogers in that neither has met a man he didn’t like.
Later, when we were alone, Carnera confided that Baer wasn’t too much of a puncher despite those 13 knockdowns.
“George Godfrey hit me harder,” said Primo.
Barring that debatable point, Carnera impressed as a guy who has all his marbles and seemingly is very happy to be in the rassling racket.
He points out, pridefully, that he soon will go back to New York to wrestle in Madison Square Garden at $7.50 tops.
“I drew $24,000 in Detroit in a match with Gorgeous George,” said Primo.
Carnera obviously is making more money now as a rassler than he did as a fighter when he had so many cuts coming out for a corps of managers that included one or two well known gangsters.
Frank Malcewicz, an old-time wrestler and one of the men who is booking Primo on his brief jaunt, up this way, took the opportunity to get in a plug for wrestling.
“Carnera never had it so good,” said Frank. “He’s making more money now than he ever did in his life. Why shouldn’t he like rassling better than fighting? He’s a got a big home in Los Angeles, his wife and two children have come over from Italy, and he’s happy.”
Carnera himself says:
“I was wrestling for circus when I was 11 years old on continent and I learned the holds from the old masters of Europe,” he says. “But when you put it in the paper I love wrestling, please explain that I do not knock the boxing. It is just that when you reach a certain age you are too old for boxing. In wrestling you can go on to 50 or 60, like Strangler Lewis or Zbyszko.”
One point emerged crystal clear Monday night, Carnera is the mat’s biggest attraction. Even greater than Gorgeous George.
Nine months ago George put a $2,100 crowd into the Auditorium. Carnera drew $3,291.44. That was the biggest house since more than 10 years ago when Doc Visser used to co-star with the likes of Gus Sonnenberg and Joe Savoldi.