Saturday, June 6, 2009

Profession Wrestling Pre-WWF As I Remember It


Here is copy of the email sent to Larry Matysik, author of an excellent book on professional wrestling in St. Louis, Missouri. This pretty much details my fascination with professional wrestling:

Larry:

I could not put your book down! I love "Wrestling At the Chase"!

I am a life long resident of Topeka, Kansas. I have been a fan of professional wrestling since the early 1960s when I was about ten years old. I remember exactly how I became a fan. One day my Mom and one of her sisters where laughing their heads off in the living room. I asked what was so funny. They were recalling the early days of television and how wrestlers like Gorgeous George would carry on to get the audience all worked-up. I asked if they still did anything like this on TV. They said yes. Well, a lot of ten years olds have TV Guide figured out by that age, so a careful study revealed that we had not one but two professional wrestling television programs every Saturday. "All Star Wrestling" was seen Saturday mornings at, I think, 11:00am on WDAF, channel 4, from Kansas City. Then after the 10:00pm news, there was "Wrestling With Bob" on what was then called KFEQ (now KQTV), channel 2, from St. Joseph, MO.I quickly became a fan and had to watch every week.

My Mom said that since I liked this so much we ought to go see a card at the Municipal Auditorium. I couldn't believe she would make such an offer. She didn't have to ask twice! That would be the beginning of me going to see live wrestling dozens of times during the 1960s.I recall that All Star Wrestling had a regular weekly circuit that was followed very consistently during the 1960s. As I recall they were in Wichita every Monday, Sedalia, MO, every Tuesday. Wednesday seemed to be a night off, maybe? Then there was wrestling in Kansas City every Thursday in Kansas City, even on holidays. Then it was St. Joseph every Friday. Saturdays seemed like a busy day. They taped "All Star Wrestling" during the morning, "Wrestling With Bob" was broadcast live from the TV studio in St. Joseph at 10:30pm, and they had a card at the Fort Riley Army base on Saturday nights a couple times of month. Then, every other Sunday afternoon All Star Wrestling came to the Municipal Auditorium here in Topeka.

That was a perfect time for me!!It was at the auditorium where I saw Bulldog Bob Brown and Texas Bob Geigel as an unstoppable tag team, Pat O'Connor, the Viking, Roger "Nature Boy" Kirby, Rufus R. Jones, Mike George, Dave Peterson, Jeanie Antoine, Betty Nicolai, several midgets, Danny Little Bear, and so many more! I recall seeing special guests like Bobo Brazil, Ernie Ladd, and especially Antonio Rocca, the barefoot high-flyer! I seem to recall seeing Edouard Carpentier. I'm pretty sure I saw him. I could swear I saw Andre the Giant at some time here perhaps in the 1970s. Is that possible?We rarely saw Harley Race. Seems like when we did he was always just back from some distant place. Even then he was wrestling around the world and often not here in the Central States area.

Then a terribly exciting thing happened. At the first card I attended in 1968, ring announcer Bill Kirsten breathlessly announced that the weekly TV taping of "All Star Wrestling" was moving from WDAF to Topeka, to our brand new state-of-the-art television station, then called KTSB (now KSNT), channel 27, our NBC affiliate. Thus began a weekly trip to the TV station on U. S. highway 24 between Topeka and Silver Lake. Every Saturday at 9:30am we had free ringside seats to see the stars of "All Star Wrestling". There were about 60 bright red wooden folding chairs set up on two sides of the ring for the audience. A lot of the same people came every week. For about four years, I had little trouble getting neighborhood friends, school friends, and even out-of-town cousins and uncles and aunts to come with us to the TV tapings. One day we actually had three carloads of friends and relatives go with us. Man that was a lot of fun! I remember how amazed everyone was when they brought out the Spoiler! He was covered from head to toe and had cat-like agility. Man, he had the crowd worked up.

Another time a wrestler I think named Bob Blunt had what looked like a for-real epileptic seizure in the ring and had to be led out of the studio. I don't think that was supposed to happen.

I used wear goofy hats to the show so I could see myself on TV when I got home and watched the show at 11:00am. I had a hillbilly hat with patches, buttons, a feather, and a corn cob pipe stuck in it. One time Dick Murdock jumped out of the ring, snatched the hat off my head, pulled out the corn cob pipe, got in the ring and rubbed it in his opponent's eyes. He might have been disqualified for using a foreign object! I got it back.

Another time, before the taping began, announcer Bill Kirsten told us that at the end of the show us kids were urged to chase Bulldog Bob Brown around the ring and out the door to the parking lot on cue and that the cameras would follow as far as they could (this was LONG before hand held TV cameras!) We did and it looked great on TV later. We threw gravel at Brown in the parking lot until he yelled at us, telling us he'd fix it so we would never get to come back. We took that as cue to stop. We got some exercise that day!

"All Star Wrestling" was syndicated to local TV stations all over the Central States area. So, I can remember before being let in to the TV studios, we could hear them in there taping interviews and promos to promote the cards being held in each city where the show was broadcast. Thus before taping the show, they would do promos for cards in Wichita, Kansas City, Lincoln, etc. The promos for the arena cards in Topeka were always done during the taping of the show itself.

The weirdest thing that happened at the TV tapings was this: For a couple weeks in the audience there was a group of about five or six teenagers who were patients from the State Hospital, accompanied by a uniformed hospital aide. These kids were very clearly schizophrenic cases. I am surprised they would even brings kids who were already nervous, excitable types like this to something as stimulating as a professional wrestling card. Strangest of all was that one of them was a guy I remember from junior high school. He wasn't there long. He was the first guy we knew to use drugs. He was way over the top and disappeared from school. Now here he was a mental patient and looked like he was up to no good. This one Saturday during the TV taping a wrestler (I forget who) was knocked out of the ring on the floor right in front of these kids from the State Hospital. As though they had this planned they got up and attacked the wrestling while he was down. They kicked him repeatedly. The other wrestler (I am sure Dick Murdock) got out of the ring and really punched our former classmate on the nose and knocked him out cold on the floor. He never came to. The hospital aide and the old security guard quickly removed the other patients. The fellow who was knocked out was picked up a hauled out of the studio. A lady who was in the audience every week with her son spoke to Bob Geigel. When she came back to her seat she told us she was a nurse and offered to administer first aid to the out-cold attacker. She said Geigel told her to go sit down and don't mention this to anyone. I thought for certain they would not show this scene on TV. By golly, they did. All of it. These kids from the State Hospital never came back.

The show was taped here for about four years when they started to tape the show at the arena cards at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas. Actually, of the two weekly TV shows we had here, the show from St. Joseph could be pretty exciting. It was live so there were all the unexpected things that can happen on live TV. One time at the end of the show a skinny guy in the audience was so mad he got in the ring and challenged Bob Brown. There was a stand-off. Finally Brown pushed him down under the ropes. They left the cameras on! Another time, the action in the ring was dull and the audience pretty quiet. Some guy yelled out "Do something, guys, or I'm gonna send my wife up there to whip ya both!" Everyone was laughing so hard, even the wrestlers! Even referee Dick Moody, who was such a stoneface, had to stop!Even the commercials were live. The local Ford dealer would saunter out with his hands in his pockets and suggest coming by the lot after church on Sunday and kick tires when there was no one around, then call on Monday. These little old ladies would demonstrate their sewing machines from their fabric shop. A farm supply store would set up a display with bags of seed, salt blocks, and garden tools which a couple of times got used as foreign objects in and around the ring. Weirdest of all was a local pharmacist who would advertise his pharmacy, or "prescription shop" as he called it. What was funny was that when he first started advertising on TV he was scared stiff. Over time, he loosened up quite a bit. Eventually, too much. He gradually evolved into a swinger Playboy tuxedo type using his paid advertising time to announce what nightclub he would be at and that women ought to join him for a drink. When that happened all of his advertisement after that week were pre-recorded. No more hustling chicks on TV! That guy was likely taking too much of his own medicine! Promoter Gust Karas was a constant presence on the St. Joseph TV show. He looked like a gangster with his gravel voice, hat, and suits with dark shirts and white ties.

Your book, Larry, answers a lot of questions about what was going on over there in St. Louis. The NWA had the country divided up in pretty distinct regions, or districts as I always called them. All Star Wrestling put on cards throughout Kansas, much of Nebraska, always including Lincoln but always excluding Omaha, much of Iowa, Missouri, but excluding St. Louis. On our TV shows we often saw tapes provided from other parts of the country announcing the arrival of visiting wrestlers. But I just don't recall hearing much about what was going on in not-so-distant St. Louis. Surely, St. Louis was part of the NWA Central States district but how come we rarely heard about what was going on there? Well, your book clearly tells the story of the unique wrestling promotion you had there. So many large cities had professional wrestling EVERY week. I often wondered if that was too often and led to frequent poor attendance. From your book, I see that Sam Muchnick felt that every three weeks, not weekly but a little more often than monthly, was the right frequency for having a card at Keil or the larger Arena. Very smart move!

Your book, like the autobiographies of Harley Race and Ric Flair, detail with some disbelief the unfolding of events in 1984, the year professional wrestling changed forever. I myself, as a fan, was excited by the new found popularity of professional wrestling in the 1980s and 1990s, but at the same time missed the style of regional promotions like we had before the rise of nationwide promotions like the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling.I always watched WCW on television. I always watched " WCW Nitro" and "WCW Saturday Night". I often watched "WCW Worldwide". I think "WCW Thunder" was one show too many.

During the 1990s, WCW came to the Kansas Expocentre here eight times and I attended every time. "Clash of the Champions", "Worldwide" and "Thunder" originated from here at one time or another. I know so much has written about how WCW was a badly run business, but from my viewpoint as a fan, I think this is where the best wrestling took place. Boy, things came unraveled during those last two years, but I really miss WCW. During the last two years of its existence, All Star Wrestling no longer produced a TV show. During its time slot it showed the AWA weekly syndicated program and included advertisements and interviews for the upcoming local cards. This program and the 1980s ESPN program are what I have seen of the AWA. They were an excellent promotion. I miss them, too.

I liked ECW, too. They came to Kansas City twice in 2000. We went both times and loved it! We never saw "ECW Hardcore" on TV here. The DVDs and "ECW on TNN" is all I ever saw of ECW on television.

I have all of your St. Louis Wrestling DVDs. I haven't watched them all yet. (I have two boxes full of DVDs I have bought that I have yet to watch!) But I have seen the volume with the Sam Muchnick tribute. That was really nice!I really appreciate the detail in your book. You obviously have a huge amount of material for research for your book, That along with your firsthand recollections and your excellent writing style made it an memorable experience for me to read it. Thank you again. Now I know what was happening in St. Louis. Now I need to finish watching your DVDs!