Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel – March 23, 2001
By Amy Rabideau Silvers
Jack Wilson was the kind of guy people loved to hate, at least when he was in the ring.
Wilson worked under many names over the years – names such as Kurt Von Brauner, Hans Von Schupp, the Masked Marvel, Mystery Man and, in Japan, Mr. Zero – from 1954 to about 1981.
“I didn’t wrestle him, but he was a good wrestler,” said Reggie Lisowski, the man best known as “The Crusher.”
“He wrestled the top guys who were around then,” he said. “He was a big guy, and he could handle himself.”
Wilson, formerly of Milwaukee’s south side, died of natural causes March 13 in Phoenix, where he had lived since 1990. He was 82.
“I remember Jack. He always gave a pretty good account of himself,” said Verne Gagne, a former wrestler and promoter, now of Eden Prairie, Minn. “He was kind of a rough wrestler, one of the bad guys.”
“When my dad was wrestling, there wasn’t the big money there is now,” said Kathy Latawiec, one of his daughters. “But he loved it. And when he retired from wrestling, he refereed many bouts down at the Arena and other places.”
Despite cultivating the bad-boy image, including the German-sounding personae, the truth was very different. Wilson was an Irish Catholic who learned German from his mother-in-law.
He served on the practice squad for the Green Bay Packers, then signed a contract in 1943 to play with the team. Before that happened, though, Wilson ended up serving in World War II. His war service included helping to liberate Dachau, the Nazi concentration camp in Germany. He used his German-speaking skills to help those held prisoner and dislocated by the war, and later served with the U.S. Army Reserve, family members said.
Wilson didn’t take up wrestling until 1954. He got his first pair of wrestling boots and encouragement from Johnny Heims at the Eagles Club. His first wrestling match was at the Chicago Amphitheater against Hans Schmidt, who pinned him in something just over a minute.
As the story goes, Schmidt told Wilson he’d be a good wrestler. Wilson started working the circuit. In this area, the venues included the South Side Armory, Federation Hall and picnics in places like Johnson Creek.
“I was a wrestler, too, first in Puerto Rico,” said his friend, Cesar Pabon, now 73 and living in New Berlin. “I wrestled him a couple times.”
“Well, he was good, and he was bigger than me,” he said. “Also he was quarter master at the VFW post at 29th and Lincoln. We became friends and started working together and traveling different places. . . . He was a beautiful person. He was like a brother to me.”
Wilson also wrestled in Japan – his opponents were sumo wrestlers – with a near cult-following as the masked “Mr. Zero.” The character inspired comic books there, and fans would even stake out his hotel, trying to take pictures of him, his daughters said.
Wilson also worked somewhat more mundane jobs, including as a home delivery manager for the Milwaukee Sentinel and as a highway department worker with MilwaukeeCounty.
In one bit of irony, Wilson didn’t retire from wrestling until 1981, when he was injured on the job with the county. As he was exiting a truck, he fell into a ditch below, tearing his rotator cuff.
The wrestling world made for an interesting childhood, both ringside and at home, said his daughters. He would practice more gentle versions of the wrestling holds on their mother or them.
“He used to play the bad guys,” Latawiec said. “When they would boo my father, I hated that.”
“And he was the sweetest man,” said daughter Sharyn Wilson. “He’d do anything for anybody.”
That included putting up visiting wrestlers at their home, right next to the freeway and the Holt Ave. ramp. Sometimes the guests included such wrestling stars as “Vic the Bruiser,” a bear named after human wrestler “Dick the Bruiser.”
“My dad always wrestled Vic when he was in town,” Latawiec said.
One day it was hot. Vic was staying over, staked out in the backyard, and his human friends started using the hose to give him a good bath.
“It literally stopped traffic on the freeway,” Sharyn Wilson said. “They were watching the bear being hosed in the backyard.”
In addition to his three daughters, all of Milwaukee, Wilson is survived by his wife, Norma Jean of Phoenix, and two sons, John of Ocala, Fla., and Michael of Mukwonago. He also is survived by stepchildren, grandchildren and other relatives.
Visitation will be from 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday, with the VFW ritual at 6 p.m., at Prasser-Kleczka Funeral Home, 3275 S. Howell Ave. A funeral service set for 10 a.m. Monday at St. Helen’s Catholic Church, 3307 S. 10th St.