Time – February 5, 1940
Fortnight ago a bandy-legged Billiken with a massive gargoyle head, a nose like a Bartlett pear, ham hands and fiddle-case feet, popped out of Central Park woods in Manhattan and loped off around the reservoir in a tiger-cat trot. Manhattanites who brisk around the reservoir in wintry weather are generally game guys, but one gander at this interloper was enough to send some skedaddling.
Readers of LIFE, however, recognized him at a glance. He was the Angel, an awesome, Continental wrestler introduced pictorially to the U. S. by LIFE last September, while he was still being billed in England as “that ferocious monstrosity, not a human being, but 20 stone of brutality.” The Angel is now in the U. S. to try his particular brand of might & mayhem in the no-holts-barred roughhouse that passes in the U. S. for wrestling.
Last week in Boston, the 280-lb. Angel took on his first comer, Luigi Bacigalupi, 275-lbs. ringside. In the Boston Arena, 7,000 wrestling fans (twice the usual number) stood on their chairs as the Angel trod up the aisle. In the ring, Bacigalupi whanged the Angel’s cowcatcher jaw with a barrage of forearm wallops. The Angel only growled, waded in, got a headlock, a full nelson, a head scissors, an armlock, and then the hold the fans were waiting for —his touted bear hug. He simply crooked his cordwood arms around Luigi’s vast circumference, hooked his stubby broomstick fingers behind, squeezed. Bacigalupi wheezed and bellowed while his breath lasted, then the Angel grabbed him with an inside crotch & lift, slammed him to the mat and pinned him for fall No. 1 in just short of six minutes. Fall No. 2 took only 2:12. Twenty minutes later handlers carried Luigi off, done in for at least two weeks.
With his face & form, if the Angel keeps on winning he stands to be the biggest box-office draw in wrestling since Gus Sonnenberg ten years ago showed the way to the current, lucrative stomp-&-tromp, body-slam, flying-tackle technique.
The Angel is actually Maurice Tillet, born of French parents in the Russian Urals 35 years ago. His mother, who has always called him Angel (Ange), he says is now a professor of languages in a girls’ college at Rheims. Something went wrong with Maurice’s glandular system (probably acromegaly) when he was very young, but his mother still called him Ange. Maurice turned out to be a good athlete, was once a circus strong man, played on the All-France rugby team against England, once met George V after a match. He served in the French Navy, was mustered out in Singapore a few years ago and, so the story goes, stayed there to shoot tigers.
At any rate, a touring, Lithuanian-born U. S. wrestler named Carl Pojello met him in Singapore in 1936 in Le Laurier bar. One handshake was enough for Pojello. He took the Angel to Paris, taught him all he knew about the U. S. catch-as-catch-can, or British “all-in,” wrestling business. Since then, in 140 matches in six countries, according to uncontradicted reports, the Angel has been unbeatable.
In the U. S., Manager Pojello (still a wrestler himself at 42) wisely avoided the more hippodromic Manhattan wrestling syndicates (Jack Pfeffer’s “Bums,” etc.), picked up with Boston’s Paul Bowser. Bowser, now the Angel’s matchmaker, recognizes one Steve Casey as U. S. champion, claiming for this crown an unbroken line of descent all the way back to Frank Gotch, who retired as champion in 1913. Other current “recognized” U. S. champions: Veteran Jim Londos (N. Y., Pa., & Calif.) ; Bronko Nagurski and/or Bobby Bruns (Midwest); Everett Marshall (Rocky Mts.). None of these prize beeves has yet offered the Angel a bout, but if he mops up the rest of the herd, the champs may have to face him or quit.
Behind the massive, masklike face that looks like something out of a Coney Island mirror, the Angel is not a bad egg. Well-manicured and groomed, his pilgarlic pate usually covered in public with a beret, he reads authors such as Paul Bourget (Le Disciple), speaks hoarse but genteel French and smatterings of four other tongues, avoids crowds when he can.
He eats five times a day, with big helpings of fruit in between. Favorite fruit: bananas; next: pears, which he gobbles up the way others do grapes. Of U. S. wrestling tactics, he has not yet run the full gamut, will not venture a full critique. Asked, however, how the slugging Bacigalupi welcome in Boston struck him, he replied blandly: “Je ne suis pas une jeune fille” (approximately: “I’m no lily”).