The Sydney Morning Herald – July 25, 1951
By Hugh Dash
At a recent Sydney Stadium wrestle I made a sneak survey among 20 ringside regulars, men and women.
Two were convinced they were seeing a genuine life-and-death struggle between the bone-and-muscle men.
Four were the uncertain “Yes-I-know-it’s-a-fake-but…” types.
Three, while confessed sceptics, claimed they had seen many wrestles which began as an act and finished up in near mayhem when the grapplers lost their tempers.
The remaining 11 all knew they were paying to see buffoonery (but, mind you, superlative buffoonery).
They all explain why a travelling circus of pseudo war-whoopers, Texan sheriffs and Arkansas hog-callers gross each year some £60,000 from Australian crowds.
The trouble about debunking the entire set-up is that one feels like a man running out of a Theatre Royal mystery play and declaiming that the detective wasn’t really a detective at all but Peter Finch.
* * *
But here are a few disillusioning facts: –
Chief Little Wolf, for example, has never been in a canoe.
“Bad man” Laverne Baxter has never called a hog, and a Texas “sheriff” here last year got his tin shield by subscribing to a sheriff’s correspondence course.
Negro Seelie Samara never understudied as the bass in the Inkspots quartet.
When “Dirty” Dick Raines way here again) does crochet work as a hobby.
When “Dirty Dick Raines slid a razor blade from the hem of his trunks on his last visit and slashed Little Wolf’s face it wasn’t a razor blade at all.
It was a tube of his wife’s lipstick.
* * *
Contrary to claims, exhaustive research has failed to produce one case of a wrestler being killed on the mat.
In fact, their longevity is remarkable. “Strangler” Lewis is well over 70 years and still wrestling. So is John Pesek, in his early 60s.
In years the only Australian casualty has been Pat Meehan (an ex-Royal Mountie in Canada) with a broken collarbone.
The story of modern pro wrestling can be told very briefly. The pattern hasn’t changed in 20 years.
The troupe comprises “goodies” and “baddies.” A typical “goodie” is Al Costello who, before a contest, warbles in a lilting tenor, “Don’t ask me why?”
* * *
It is a revival of the old melodrama with the hero, after many trials and tribulations, triumphant at the final curtain, or bell.
When the villain wins it is invariably by foul means. The “goodie” never flinches, the “baddie” always goes craven in a crisis.
In Melbourne or Brisbane the “goodies” and “baddies” switch roles.
Wrestlers are very versatile that way.
Promoters smile contentedly when emotional fans hurl peanuts at the “baddie” after some despicable piece of villainy.
In the past they have been known to hire an elderly lady to beat Fred Atkins over the head with a parasol.
Atkins wrestled veteran Tom Lurich so many times they became like old chums.
Once Lurich’s shoulder was pulled out of its socket.
Atkins obligingly switched the hold to an arm-stretch.
The shoulder slipped back into joint.
The grateful Lurich said “Thanks, Fred,” and the match went on.
* * *
Each grappler has his exclusive hold – Wolf his Indian deathlock; Negro Jack Claybourne his jumping mule kick; “Dutch” Hefner his piledriver; Raines his backbreaker.
They are most ethical in that they never break another’s copyright.
A prelim wrestler did one night at Leichhardt.
Hs slid out of the ring faster than “Sliding” Billy Hansen ever did, put on deathlocks and mule-kicked.
He was never matched again.
The five months season is mapped out like a vaudeville circuit, with a succession of one-night stands.
The top drawcards are brought together in each capital for the climax.
When the turnstiles have clicked to a record the wise entrepreneurs close the season.
It’s a grand old business that has kept grapplers in T-bone steaks during all the years they should have been at work.
But from now on they’ve got to give the paying customers their money’s worth. The edict has gone forth ending those one-minute falls after the start of a round.
The clock is being put on them.
No more falls for at least five minutes in each round.