Jim Barnett and Johnny Doyle ("Big Time Wrestling") were two of the most enterprising
wrestling booking agents and promoters in the business. Utilizing a visionary battle-plan,
they quickly expanded from coast-to-coast, and established record gates with
phenomenal booking of many of the sport's top stars.
Doyle went from being a hugely successful booking agent in a top wrestling market to an
unemployed man trying to decide what he should do with his future. This occurred in
1954 when he sold out of the Los Angeles wrestling empire and gave up his membership
in the National Wrestling Alliance. When plans in the east disappeared with very little pay
off, Doyle found himself back in Southern California pondering whether or not he should
join his brother in the real estate business. Instead, he ventured back into wrestling,
breaking a contract he made when he sold out in early '54, and began figuring out a way
to compete with his old partners.
Needless to say, the National Wrestling Alliance was not too thrilled by the idea.
Things got even worse when, after Doyle's plans began to stall out under NWA pressure,
Doyle began talking to the Department of Justice and telling the Government many
negative aspects of the NWA. This included factors of blacklisting and protecting their
monopoly. It didn't take long for the NWA to figure out that their former superstar booker
was now doing some singing to investigators, and expediting the prosecution of the
Alliance for antitrust violations. Doyle was not only an outsider, but a hated outsider to
many members of the NWA.
Interestingly, Barnett broke confidence and told Doyle about an agreement made at the
1955 NWA annual convention between Fred Kohler and the Southern California
syndicate that got Kohler to halt his plans of sending workers to Las Vegas to Doyle.
Read more about that situation here. Doyle had been relying on Kohler's talent to
jump-start his promotion, and the withdraw of the likes of Antonino Rocca and Verne
Gagne really hurt his business.
In Chicago, Barnett had advanced in Kohler's promotional scheme very quickly, going
from a simple writer of advertising and articles to a wrestling manager. Soon Barnett was
traveling with the top men of Kohler's circuit, protecting their interests on the road, and
collecting large amounts of money from promoters. Barnett became an invaluable
During his time on the road and handling various issues, Barnett met many other bookers
and promoters, and made many friendships. He was well-liked, and seen as a guy who
could get things done. His ideas were greatly respected.
Doyle transitioned back to the east in 1957 and 1958, working with Vincent McMahon in
Washington, D.C., and then in Boston with Paul Bowser. He was proving his worth in the
promotion of Edouard Carpentier as World Heavyweight Champion, and turning mediocre
houses into real success. For a time he was even a part owner of the Capitol Wrestling
Corporation. By 1959, however, Doyle found a true business partner in Barnett. Mixing
Doyle's experience with Barnett's tremendous vision created one of the best wrestling
outfits of the era.
Utilizing television, which Doyle was a master of dealing with TV executives, and the right
kind of advertising, Doyle and Barnett exploded on the Detroit wrestling scene with huge
promotional ventures. The Detroit market was positively impacted by live studio wrestling
from Windsor, complete with the mayhem of Dick the Bruiser, whose antics were driving
people crazy. Bruiser was the catalyst that turned many people onto wrestling, and him,
combined with colorful commentary and inventive angles, fans were flocking to television
sets and then to the Olympia in Detroit to see the grapplers in person.
Doyle and Barnett invested upwards of $18,000 in their Detroit scheme before running
their first arena show on Saturday, April 11, 1959. In many instances, that first show is a
good indicator whether or not a promotion was going to have positive momentum going
forward. For Doyle and Barnett, that first program not only said they were a smashing
success, but it confirmed their studio television concept that built into huge arena
supershows was brilliant. 16,226 fans packed the Olympia Arena, paying a reported
$40,000 gate. In a flash, Detroit was one of the best wrestling cities in America.
Cincinnati was another city that was targeted early by the Barnett-Doyle group. Studio
Wrestling was implemented from WCPO-TV Studios on December 27, 1958 (the night
Angelo Poffo beat Wilbur Snyder for the U.S. Title), and in the first year, they drew
100,000 fans paying almost $185,000. On March 7, 1959, their efforts broke the all-time
attendance record at Cincinnati Gardens (15,299 paying $25,402).
The usage of Studio Television wrestling programs was innovative and a major facet in
their success in Detroit and Cincinnati. On May 18, 1959, Sam Muchnick, President of
the National Wrestling Alliance, was interviewed by Raymond D. Hunter of the
Department of Justice at the Claridge Hotel in St. Louis. During that interview, Muchnick
complained by TV Studio wrestling. According to Hunter's summary to Earl A. Jinkinson,
Chief of the Midwest Office, Muchnick "stated in this connection that much promotion
work was being done by promoters who are not confined to specific territories and that
these promoters will enter into contracts with wrestlers for exhibitions and thereafter
contract with TV studios for TV time and then sell the rebroadcast of such exhibitions to
advertisers." Muchnick noted that it was easy for a promoter to obtain a license to stage
shows in various states, thus, making it possible for a single promoter to run shows with
contracted wrestlers across a much wider percentage of the country.
This is exactly what Barnett and Doyle were doing, and not before long, they not only
were dominating in a number of big towns, but had a very strong stable of popular
Muchnick wanted "some regulation with respect to promoters televising wrestling
exhibitions via taped programs which had previously been filmed in TV studios,"
according to Hunter's report. "In this connection, he states this type of exhibition hurts
the wrestling as a whole in that when such programs are taped and rebroadcast on
nights when there are live exhibitions, they interfere with attendance at such live
exhibitions, particularly when TV programs involve top name wrestlers."
The success of Barnett and Doyle turned many NWA bookers off - particularly in places
in which they were running opposition to an Alliance member. Muchnick, incidentally, who
was complaining to the Government about the actions of Barnett and Doyle, without
naming their names, was a short time later a strong proponent in admitting them to the
Delving a little deeper into the Barnett-Doyle-Kohler relationship - it is not clear when it
went sour and to what extent. In January 1960, Kohler stopped relying on talent from
Barnett-Doyle and began importing wrestlers from Vincent McMahon in Washington, D.C.
However, that doesn't necessarily mean that Kohler was at war with Barnett and Doyle. In
fact, it may have just been a sound business decision to provide more stability for his
territory, and to help bridge a gap across Detroit, through Cleveland, Pittsburgh and into
the Washington-New York City corridor along with McMahon. Kohler's publication
Wrestling Life ran a complimentary piece on Barnett and wrestling in Cincinnati in
January 1961. Would Kohler do that if he hated Barnett? And Kohler's alliance with
Doyle went back to the late 1940s.
But by the time Kohler took over the presidency of the NWA in August 1961, there was
definitely a grudge against Barnett and Doyle. This may be more fueled by the interests
of both parties to control the wrestling business.
The Doyle-Barnett Circuit:
Detroit (1958- ); Barnett and Doyle promoters
Indianapolis (1958- ); City owned by several ppl, Balk Estes promoter
Cincinnati (1959- ); Barnett promoter
Denver (1959-'63); Barnett and Doyle promoters
Columbus (1962- ); Balk Estes promoter
Windsor (1961- ); Robertson promoter
Evansville (1961- ); In conjunction with Muchnick
New Orleans (1960 );
Atlanta (1961- ); In conjunction with Jones & McIntyre
Hammond ( )
Kansas City, MO (1963); Barnett with Muchnick and Pinkie George
San Francisco ( )
Tampa (1961); In conjunction with Cowboy Luttrall
Charlotte (1961); In conjunction with Jim Crockett
Louisiana (1958 (?)); In conjunction with Don McIntyre
These cities indicate the territory in which their syndicate booked wrestlers. In only a few
of the towns, Barnett and Doyle were regarded as the "promoters," while in others they
only had a booking presence.
Barnett and Doyle Studio Wrestling:
Cincinnati WCPO-TV Sam Menacker announcer (1960)
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|The Rise of Jim Barnett and Johnny Doyle