Tacoma News Tribune – September 9, 1952
By Dan Walton
A small item in the Portland papers a few days ago reported that Martin Norbeck, age 68, had died in that city.
That’s the first time we ever knew that Norbeck had a square front handle. He was known as “Moose.”
Moose turned pro wrestler in 1915, and in his day toiled and tussled with the best of them: Strangler Lewis, Jim Londos, the Zbyszkos, Charley Cutler, Marin Plestina, et al.
He perhaps was better known to more people as the star performer on the carnival midway athletic shows. Norbeck was a combination wrestler-boxer, meet-all-comers guy at the “AT” tent.
The Moose was of ferocious mien, square-jibbed, jutting jaw, primordial brow, multiple-fractured nose. And EARS that would have won all the prizes in the cauliflower division of the vegetable show at the Puyallup fair. He often showed there, in fact, but not in the Agriculture Bldg. The Moose looked the part and he knew all the tricks of the boxing and wrestling trades.
A quarter-century or more ago, Fred (Windy) Winsor, who was one of several managers of Jack Dempsey in the latter’s pre-Kearns days, sprung a tall fir sort of young fellow on the palpitating pugilistic public. Windy found him somewhere in the foothills of Mt. Hood, probably on the east side of the peak. Winsor billed him as the “Oregon Giant.” And he was, too, tall as a Paul Bunyan story, although somewhat to the lean side.
After the Ore. G. had knocked out Annette Kellerman or some other equally well-known diver of the time, Windy matched him with Norbeck. It may have been that Fred was too busy beating the publicity drums for the Giant, at least he overlooked one trivial detail. He forgot to tell Norbeck that the Giant was supposed to win. That probably would have been all right with Moose, who was an obliging fellow. Besides, he wasn’t going anywhere as a fistic hope. So Norbeck, unaware of the script, exploded a right hand on the Giant’s “thick and thin,” as the chin was called in those days among the wise guys. The Giant fell as if fallers with double-bitted axes had been whacking at his knees.
A year or so later, Lonnie Austin, of Seattle, brought out a big fellow from the British Columbia logging camps. Big Bill McWilliams, we believe his name was.
Big Bill won a few fights. Then, strange as it may seem, Lonnie matched him with Norbeck. Austin was school-teacherish sort, who wouldn’t stoop to “angling,” as chicanery then was known – and still is, so far as we know. Indubitably, Lonnie didn’t give Norbeck a “buzz.” Moose knocked McWilliams as stiff and as flat as an ironing board. Thereafter, Big Bad Bill was called “Sweet William.”
Just 25 years ago, Bill Helis, who died two or three years ago, was trying to promote wrestling in Tacoma. Helis is a fabulous story in himself. Briefly, after his unhappy promotional experience here, he hooked on with Huey Long in Louisiana in an oil deal and became a multi-millionaire times over. That’s his son, William Helis, Jr. – more power to him for not dropping the “Jr.,” who owns Spartan Valor and other stakes runners.
But to get back to the original thought, times were tough here with the big Greek. He decided to put on a mixed bout, wrestler vs. boxer. Helis named Norbeck as the boxer and Somebody-or-Other took the rassling role.
At the time, wrestler vs. boxer was a subject of some controversy, so we asked Helis whom he thought would win.
“I’m NOT promoting boxing,” Bill replied laconically.
So the wrestler won the mixed bout.
Moose Norbeck was quite a fellow, one not to be taken at his face value – if you get what we mean.