NWA Member: Fred Kohler
Admitted to Organization: July 18, 1948 (a founder)*
Chicago Office: 1441 W. Montrose Avenue (1950)
Chicago Office: 817 Grace Street
Phone Number: Wellington 5-2218 (1955)
Company Name: Fred Kohler Enterprises
*Although Kohler was at the meeting that initiated the NWA, it seems that he was not a
member until 1949.
NWA Member: Leonard Schwartz
Admitted to Organization: January 1951
Chicago Office: 134 N. LaSalle St., Chicago, IL (1949)
Chicago Office: 6000 S. Western
Phone Number: 3-6177
Owning the belief that Kohler was a member of the NWA from July 1948, there seems to be
some confusion regarding an August 19, 1949 letter from Sam Muchnick to Tony Stecher,
who was in Los Angeles with his son Dennis at the time. Muchnick stated that Kohler was
using Don Eagle in Chicago, and that Eagle was his top star. "Fred has not come into the
Alliance and likes to straddle the fence," Muchnick wrote. He added that if Kohler "doesn't
come in that we should insist that Don Eagle work in our towns instead of Chicago."
NWA President Pinkie George, in a letter to members on September 25, 1949, stated that
"Seelie Ras Samara is under suspension until such time he fullfills (sic) his dates and
obligations to Fred Kohler. Until he straightens himself out with Fred, he is out."
Difficulties between Kohler and the owner of the Rainbo Arena, Leonard Schwartz, were
tense throughout 1949, eventually leading to Kohler pulling his workers out of the Rainbo.
On October 17, 1949, Schwartz sent a letter to Sam Muchnick in St. Louis requesting a
membership application for the NWA. Eight days later, Muchnick responded, explaining
that the issue of his membership would be taken up at the annual convention in
November. He also stated that Kohler was already a member and that it was customary to
only have one member per city. "If you send me the details of your promotion," Muchnick
added, "I will be glad to put the matter before the entire membership."
Schwartz promptly followed up with the information requested and the NWA did its thing at
the 1949 convention in St. Louis. The membership backed Kohler, and any hope of
Schwartz becoming a member at that point was lost.
But because of Schwartz's valuable TV outlet, booking agents - NWA booking agent for
that matter - were willing to step in and help the Chicago promoter out.
Kohler sent a letter to Muchnick on September 16, 1950 with a list of wrestlers who
"wrestled in opposition" to him in the "Windy City." This can be interpreted several ways.
The main way, considering the history of the NWA, is that this was a list of soon-to-be
blacklisted wrestlers. It was put out as a warning to other Alliance members, telling them
not to use these grapplers because they were now considered enemies of the NWA.
Another way it can be interpreted is just FYI - but that is a little naive. The wrestlers on this
list were: Jim Londos, Ivan Rasputin, Great Vinca, Jack Kennedy, Mickey Gold, Ray
McLarity, Kiman Kudo, Walter Achue, Golden Hawk, "Irish" Mike McGee, Jack Guy, Fred
Bozic, Don Eagle, Antonino Rocca, Frankie Talaber, Jackie Nichols, Danny McShane,
Sonny Kurgis, Bad Boy Brown, Jack Garibaldi, Omar Kyam, Doug Henderson, John Pesek
and son, and Cowboy Wright.
This was a very controversial letter, needless to say, and raised eyebrows during the
Department of Justice investigation in 1955-'56.
The relationship between the two NWA bookers was contentious at best, and the problems
began after Leonard Schwartz bought the Rainbo Gardens, the arena that Fred Kohler
had promoted for years. After Schwartz decided to triple his rent, Kohler walked away from
the Rainbo and concentrated on his efforts from the Marigold Gardens. Rather than give
up a considerable money-maker, Schwartz brought his own brand of wrestling to the
Rainbo through a deal with booker Al Haft and initially working with Ray Fabiani in 1950.
Stanley Disney of the Department of Justice, who interviewed Kohler in 1955, stated that
"Kohler throughout was extremely bitter at Schwartz."
On October 10, 1950, Kohler wrote to Muchnick, and wanted Haft temporarily suspended
from the NWA for violating the organization's agreement. Haft was running opposition to
him in Chicago because the Ohio promoter wanted his workers featured on Schwartz's
television show. Kohler said he'd compromise after Haft pulled his wrestlers out, then use
Haft's workers on Schwartz's show once Schwartz came back to him because he had no
wrestlers to feature on his TV program. Thus, Kohler would keep all of the Chicago
enterprises under his watchful eye. It would be the same exact situation as it currently
was, but Kohler would be in control of everything pertaining to pro wrestling in the city.
Haft and Schwartz were by-passing him.
Kohler also wanted the NWA to block "Toots" Mondt's application to join the union because
he was also working against him in Chicago. Additionally, since Paul Bowser was aiding
Haft and Mondt, he too should be suspended, Kohler stated.
None of these steps were taken by the Alliance.
Then Schwartz applied for NWA membership, and the fact that his application was even
being considered made Kohler blow his top. The lack of NWA support in protecting his
operations against Haft, Schwartz, Mondt, and Bowser forced Kohler's hand, and he
resigned from the Alliance on November 22, 1950. On that day, he sent a letter to Sam
Muchnick with copies to the remainder of the NWA, tendering his resignation from the
Alliance "for reasons that are obvious." Within a short time, Schwartz contacted Muchnick
asking about filling the membership hole in Chicago.
Meetings to settle the differences were planned.
Muchnick sent Kohler a letter in March 1952 expressing his displeasure with Kohler's
planned shows in Centralia, Illinois, which was in the Southern part of the state. Kohler
was sending in Verne Gagne on March 26 and then Lou Thesz on April 2. Muchnick
believed "that the champion should not wrestle in small towns that close to St. Louis." He
also said that he'd turned down booking to Centralia because a fair deal couldn't be
worked out. He told Kohler that he didn't think it was fair he was running the city. "I think
that when people that close to St. Louis want shows from you, you should consider us. We
certainly wouldn't book shows in Aurora and Rockford without consulting you."
In around May 1953, there was some talk of Kohler supplying Schwartz with talent, which
would have been unheard of in the previous years.
Reportedly "Whipper" Billy Watson recommended to Kohler that if he was implement a
local championship, he dub it the "United States" championship, and that is exactly what he
did. With support from the DuMont Network, Kohler decided to go forward with the idea,
honoring Verne Gagne as initial champion on the September 5, 1953 Marigold TV
program. Members of the NWA were in attendance for the show, as they had been in town
for the annual convention. It was clearly stated that the U.S. Championship held by Gagne
was only recognized by Kohler in Chicago, and not an NWA-wide designation. A week
later, Gagne was presented with the U.S. Title belt in the WGN-TV Studios.
Although Kohler clearly worked to distinguish the new championship recognition as being a
local thing, many fans were confused about Gagne's ranking in comparison to NWA World
Heavyweight Champion Lou Thesz. With week-in and week-out publicity on the national
DuMont Network, Gagne was getting better advertising than any other wrestler, and now
with him charging around the country as the U.S. Champion and holding a belt, it seemed
to many people that he was the number one heavyweight. Gagne's popularity soured to
new levels, and he may have been the most popular grappler on the circuit at that time. It
didn't take long before Thesz and NWA President Sam Muchnick were fuming.
Ed "Strangler" Lewis, the "manager" of Thesz and considered by some to be just an NWA
stooge, went to Chicago and blasted Kohler in the media, claiming that Kohler wanted to
be the wrestling "czar." Lewis also stated that Kohler had overstepped his powers by
naming a U.S. Champion. Kohler went on the same radio show a short time later and
defended his actions, reaffirming that Gagne was only recognized by promoters in the
Midwest. Then he mailed a letter to Muchnick stating that members were indeed allowed to
have regional champions in their territory. Kohler denied wanting to injure Thesz and his
prized championship, and wrote that he had "done more to get recognition of Lou Thesz's
world heavyweight championship title than any other member in the National Wrestling
The matter was becoming fiercely personal. Muchnick gave exclusive rights to Thesz's
bookings in Chicago given to Schwartz, and Kohler then had Jack Brickhouse announce
Gagne as a world title claimant on national TV.
Instead of furthering the damage to their relationships and the NWA, Muchnick called a
special meeting to the Morrison Hotel in Chicago on November 8. There, after a long
discussion, it was agreed that in the future, Gagne would be billed as the "United States
Heavyweight Television or TV Champion."
Another important aspect of the November 8 meeting pertained to Schwartz. Since Kohler
was receiving permission from the NWA to recognize a television champion for his national
DuMont program, Schwartz asked the contingent whether or not he could do the same
thing for his national ABC program. Those attending agreed that he could.
Muchnick told Kohler, in a letter dated March 8, 1954, that Lou Thesz was "rather reluctant
to make any dates in territories that you are interested in because of what transpired after
the last Chicago meeting. He told me that he would rather not be booked in any of your
towns, at least until our next convention, when everything can be adjusted to everyone's
satisfaction." Muchnick stated that Kohler was not living up to the agreement in billing
Gagne as the U.S. TV Champion and "had [Jack] Brickhouse announce him as World's
Heavyweight Champion in New York." For these reasons, he felt he should adhere to
Thesz's wishes in not booking him into Kohler's towns.
Kohler responded on March 11, 1954, saying: "The statement attributed to Lou that he
was reluctant to make any dates in territories that I was interested in may affect his income
considerably, as it is possible some wrestlers may be reluctant to wrestle in some cities
that Lou Thesz does wrestle in." Kohler also said that Brickhouse's announcement that
Gagne was the World Champion would have been unintentional "and contrary to my
Depending on which side you believe, Thesz was either banned from working Kohler's
DuMont show at the Marigold or Muchnick and Thesz purposely blocked bookings there.
Muchnick told Stanley Disney of the Justice Department in an August 4, 1955 letter that
Thesz had been "barred for a long time from appearing on a Marigold program, which
DuMont carried on a network and naturally Thesz's nonappearance prevented him from
getting network publicity." This was done because Thesz appeared on a Rainbo show for
Kohler's then rival, Schwartz. It wasn't until January 1955 that Thesz reemerged on the
DuMont program, after Schwartz had lost his ABC deal.
The March 23, 1955 edition of the Ames Daily Tribune (Ames, IA) stated that the DuMont
Network cancelled live Saturday telecasts of the Marigold Arena shows from Chicago
"several months ago." DuMont continued to carry wrestling on film in some markets,
including on WOI (channel 5) in Iowa, but that was also cancelled.
Always a rogue, Kohler agreed in 1955 to furnish talent to an old comrade, Johnny Doyle,
who was without NWA support and trying to get moving in Las Vegas. Doyle had two
television deals for his upstart promotional venture and wanted Kohler to furnish star
talent. However, one of Doyle's television programs was being featured in Los Angeles in
competition to his former allies and NWA booking agents Hugh Nichols and Cal Eaton.
This created a major problem which was brought up at the annual convention in St. Louis.
Since the Los Angeles office was running opposition to Kohler in Denver and Albuquerque,
there was room for a compromise. Kohler agreed to pull out of Vegas as of October 1,
and in turn, Nichols and Eaton would back away from Denver and Albuquerque. By the
end of the meetings, the deal was agreed upon - but this effectively damaged Doyle's
On September 7, 1955, Doyle wrote a letter to Stanley Disney of the Justice Department,
included in the public record held by the National Archives, and mentioned his
conversation with Kohler about the issues of Vegas and the happenings at the recent NWA
convention. Doyle stated: "That as a direct result of his booking Las Vegas, he [Kohler]
has suffered the loss of two valuable men, who he had booked for the past eighteen
months." The wrestlers were Antonino Rocca and Pat O'Connor.
Due to his health problems, Schwartz voluntarily dropped out of the National Wrestling
Alliance - and didn't pay his dues and assessments for 1955-'56 - as of October 15, 1955.
Sam Muchnick announced in an NWA Bulletin that Schwartz would be given a "leave of
absence," and that if he was able to return to promotions, he'd be reinstated the following
The Southtown Chicago Economist (4/3/60) reported that there was a near riot outside a
wrestling program at the International Amphitheater on Friday, April 1 by people trying to
get in to see a show headlined by Bearcat Wright and Johnny Valentine. The police
estimated that a crowd of somewhere between 15-30,000 people, all of whom didn't have
tickets, were outside the facility, trying to buy their way inside. "Plan 2" was initiated by
Stockyards Police, which was only called upon during emergencies, and police rushed the
scene to prevent a full scale riot. No one was hurt and order was restored prior to the start
of the show.
Kohler was motivated to dissolve the National Wrestling Alliance in 1961 after taking over
the helm of the organization in 1961. He wanted to stage a meeting on November 12,
1961 to do so. It was going to take a 75% vote from the NWA membership to finally
destroy the Alliance. In a letter to Morris Sigel on November 9, 1961, he explained that a
vote would be the only way to find out whether or not they want to "retain the National
Wrestling Alliance or pay $15,000 a year to Sam Muchnick for our secretary for doing
something that isn't worth anything, receiving bulletins from Mr. Sam Muchnick with a lot of
doubletalk, and slanted opinions."
Muchnick disagreed with the dissolution of the organization.
In 1963, problems once again flared up between Kohler and the Alliance.
Muchnick told Jack Pfefer in a letter dated March 7, 1963 that Kohler wasn't billing Rogers
as the world champion in his March 15 program, and using the latter in a semifinal unlike
previous outings. "Maybe Freddie is getting smart," Muchnick noted.
After Johnny Valentine worked for Kohler, promoters in the northeast got angry, but
Muchnick defended his decision in a letter to Pfefer (July 19, 1963), saying, "he can work
anywhere he can make money." Valentine was an independent operator.
The next day, on July 20, 1963, Pinkie George mailed a letter to Pfefer and complained
about Kohler, telling him: "I want you to know I realize Fred brought you in to save him and
his business - and I am sure you will do it. Wait until you build up his business and he
becomes big again - he will throw you out just like he has everyone else." George stated
that he'd always stuck by Kohler, but the latter "never stuck with any partners or any deals
in his life."
Some random corporation notes. Kohler established National Wrestling Charities, Inc. on
June 1, 1950 and was the president of the new organization. The secretary and treasurer
was Frank Rust. Rust was the ticket manager for Kohler's weekly Marigold shows.
Kohler incorporated Boxing, Inc. in April 1959 to promote boxing at the Marigold Arena.
The vice president was Robert Franklin, who was also the assistant matchmaker.
Secretary was Arnold Begun and Rust was the treasurer.
In 1952, Kohler established Fred Kohler Enterprises, Inc. with Meyer H. Weinstein, Ned
Taylor, Frank Rust and William Goelz. Taylor and Goelz were pro wrestlers and longtime
associates of Kohler in Chicago.
Schwartz ran Clark Sports, Inc. from offices at 134 N. LaSalle Street. Involved in the
business were Francis X. Gallagher and attorney Nathan W. Schwartz, the brother of
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|Chicago Booking Office