Southern Cross, Wellington, New Zealand – June 10, 1949
In last Sunday’s “World of Sport” broadcast from Radio 2ZB, Wellington, Wallie Ingram, Sports Editor of Southern Cross, gave interesting information about some of the wrestlers seen in New Zealand in the earlier days of streamlined wrestling. Today, Form Parade reprints this talk — from the original radio script — as an exclusive feature. If you’ve wondered what happened to “Whiskers” Blake, “Count” Joe Varga, or some of the others, you might find the answer in the following:
One of these days I hope to make a complete World of Sport talk on that subject, but this morning I’ll have to content myself with a partial answer to the question.
Last week I had a yarn with my old friend Lofty Blomfield, looking bigger and better than ever. I took the opportunity of asking him if he had seen any of the old brigade when he was in America recently. From Lofty I secured a little information, and from some of the others I hope to add to the picture.
Joe Varga … “Count” Joe Varga they called him, though I don’t know the authenticity of this title … is nowadays a military instructor in a college around about Los Angeles. Joe Varga was a colourful fellow, with his heel clicking and correct bow from the waist, and he could wrestle, too. Now, with the rank of captain, he’s putting some of the young Americans through a military course. He claimed to have served with the Austrian forces in World War I, and no doubt will be able to impart some precise military movements into the young Americans.
Stanley Pinto … of immortal wrestling memory … is now refereeing in America. “In goes Pinto.” Remember that cry! Stanley is just as colourful as a referee as he was as an active wrestler and is making a lot of what makes the wheels tick over.
Andy Moen, central figure with Lofty Blomfield in a series of tough matches in New Zealand, now operates a saloon in Minneapolis. Until recently Andy figured on many main event cards at Minneapolis, but the loss of an eye — when he was showing son Jackie how to use a new rifle — has put him out of the game he loved.
Tony Stecher, who wrestled in Wellington about 20 years ago, is now the big promoter in Minneapolis. Tony, brother of Joe, of leg-scissors fame, is recognised as a square-dealer in the States and is never short of good wrestlers. Bill Kuusisto and Joe Pazandak are two who figured on his promotions, while Ken Kenneth also did some wrestling for Tony. I hear from Tony quite frequently — he sends me photos and programmes of his matches and also notes recalling matches in New Zealand.
Jack Donovan, who wrestled in New Zealand in 1939, was a stunt artist in the movies as well as being a top-line wrestler. After returning from his New Zealand season Jack was killed in an auto accident — not associated with the movie industry but the real thing.
Al Karasick, who was blind for some time with that terrible complaint that used to afflict wrestlers — trachoma — is now the man looking after wrestling in Honolulu. Karasick — I saw him wrestle Dean Detton in Wellington on one memorable occasion — was almost blind at times, but he was a master showman and knew the likes and dislikes of the wrestling fans.
In Honolulu he has built up a big following for the mat sport and tgets the best from America to wrestle for him. Jack Claybourne, when last I heard from him, was doing well at Honolulu.
Paul Boesch, fully recovered after an auto accident that injured a leg, is making more than a good living as a radio commentator giving the talk for televised wrestling matches. Those of you who have heard Paul broadcasting a wrestling match will not need to be told that he would be tops at this just as he was tops at dropkicking and at pleasing the wrestling fans.
Joe Savoldi, perhaps the originator of the dropkick, used to have a glorious crop of curls — a real Italian bambino. Well, Jumping Joe used to do a lot of landings with American beach-head boys in Italy and Sicily, and perhaps the heat of action and the continual wearing of a tin hat did something to his curls. Joe isn’t curly any more. In fact, he has a terrifically wide parting across the top of his boko. Some people would say that he’s bald, but, maybe, if I say that he’s a bit thin on top it’ll be better?
Rolly Kirchmeyer was promoting in Florida for some time, but in recent months he’s gone farming. According to that popular grappler Peter Managoff, Rolly underwent an operation for a kidney removal not so long ago, and though he had continued to figure in the occasional match until that operation he’s now definitely retired.
Paul Jones, the fellow who showed us the figure-four body scissors — so ably demonstrated again in Wellington recently by Peter Managoff — is promoting … in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I think. Talking about Peter Managoff’s figure-four body scissors which gave Len Levy an awful lot of trouble in Wellington — after the match I went to Len’s dressing-room and congratulated him on the wonderful match. “That guy is the second to get out of my hook scissors,” he assured me. “There’s only one way out … to stand up … and that takes a lot of doing.” I asked Peter who was the other guy to escape from the hold. “Rolly Kirchmeyer,” he said.
Leo Jensen, who opened the Wellington season against Joe Tonti back about 1938, is in Australia. He is working at Newcastle and does a little wrestling in between seasons. Leo isn’t big enough to draw the crowds in these days of the popularity of the 17 and 18-stoners.
I was responsible for Leo’s display not being too good in that opening match against Tonti. It happened this way — Leo knew that I had been in the habits of going for long walks every Saturday, and asked could I take him out on the Saturday before his opening match on the Monday.
Well, to make a short story long, I took him for a walk. We started at the Hotel Windsor, walked to the Karori tram terminus, along the South Karori road to its end, across the Karori Stream, along the hilltops to the Terawhiti Station. Then we stopped for a bite of lunch. “How far are we from Wellington now?” asked Leo. “Well, we’re just halfway,” I replied.
That gave Leo a real slam over the heart. He was a pretty hefty sort of fellow, and he was beginning to feel the strain. So, off we went, down the hill to where the Karori Stream comes out near Kirkcaldie’s woolshed, along the beach, past Sinclair Head to Ohiro Bay and down Happy Valley road back to the Windsor Hotel.
Next day Leo told me that he had expected to do about 10 miles in the “long” walk but I had taken him about 20! He was terribly slow against Tonti on the Monday night and never established himself as a drawcard in Wellington, though he took on in the other towns. Maybe that walk wasn’t a wise idea after all?
Joe Tonti was the fellow who, walking on his hands with a leather guard in his teeth — a guard attached to a chain — towed two full-laden motor-cars along Oriental Bay Parade one day before a crowd of about 3,000. No kidding!
Dick Raines tells me that during the war Joe Tonti towed an American tank just to show that the sketch in Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” was strictly on the level. It was a pity that Joe couldn’t wrestle as successfully as he could tow motor-cars while walking on his hands.
Whiskers Blake — what a man! He grew his whiskers while with a scientific expedition right up in the far north of Canada — as protection against the cold winds. He came to New Zealand and set a record by wrestling in practically every town in the Dominion — but only in one town did he make a reappearance!
Whiskers was a fine fellow, most interesting company — as are most of the wrestlers — but he wasn’t a great wrestler. He went to Australia, drove a chariot around the Sydney Cricket Ground during the interval to a football match — dressed up in Roman rig-out — advertising a picture, Ben Hur, and also his match at the Sydney Stadium against the Russian Lion, Tom Lurich. Whiskers and Lurich drew one of the biggest houses in wrestling at the Sydney Stadium, but it wasn’t long before Whiskers moved on to South Africa where, the last time I heard of him, he was running a gymnasium and concentrating on medical massage.
Well, that’s all about the wrestlers for now. Maybe in a week or two I’ll dig out some more information about them.