The Daro Era in Los Angeles Ends

By Tim Hornbaker

 Hungarian Louis Elias Daro, in 1923, hung up his wrestling gear and strongman act to step
behind the proverbial “curtain” and promote wrestling engagements in Southern California.  
Bringing the likes of Stanislaus Zbyszko, Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Joe Stecher, John Pesek, and Jim
Londos to enthusiasts, Daro developed his stylized grappling and fan base immensely in a short
amount of time.  For two years, he promoted at the Exposition Park Armory, Philharmonic
Auditorium, and Washington Ballpark before making his debut as the initial wrestling matchmaker
at the newly constructed Olympic Auditorium during the summer of 1925.

 Initially caught up in the midst of a wide assortment of rival organizers, Daro outlasted his
opponents, becoming, in essence, the Godfather of California wrestling.  With a stern rule over
the most striking venue in Los Angeles, the former “Great” Daro exploited his superstars using a
sound booking plan and regularly highlighted the best matches in the country.  The Daro
conglomerate maneuvered through political disputes and national promotional wars to appease
the large appetite for professional wrestling for upwards of 15 years.

 Lou’s younger brother, John “Jack” (1901-1977), was a talented athlete himself, and a product of
Columbia University.  He migrated to Los Angeles and, in July 1928, he took over a role as a
promoter for roller skating races at the Shrine Auditorium Skating Pavilion.  Lou announced in late
December that his brother would remain in the city to assist him, and, slowly, Jack’s role in the
grappling industry increased.  Thoroughly confident that his intellectual sibling could handle the
duel promoter and matchmaking duties, Lou left Southern California on various vacations with his
wife Jean, and business never missed a beat.

 A visionary, Lou Daro chased the idea of a serious elimination tournament leading to a singular
world heavyweight champion, tried to induce boxer Primo Carnera to wrestle Man Mountain Dean
as early as 1935, and, for years, saw Los Angeles as the ideal place for Jim Londos vs. Ed
“Strangler” Lewis.  Joe “Toots” Mondt was welcomed into the fold during the summer of 1934.  
Formerly of New York, Mondt was a proficient booker, and planned to bridge a gap between
operations in the east and west, particularly with “Trust” members Ray Fabiani and Jack Curley.  
Their combined efforts led to the arrangement of two “international” tournaments, one in Los
Angeles and the other in Philadelphia.  Ultimately, Vincent Lopez and Dean Detton were built into
name grapplers, able to headline anywhere in the country with some semblance of audience
support.

  On the heels of the tournament and the drawing of 122,218 fans ($117,463.50) for 17 shows at
the Olympic, according to the California State Athletic Commission, the Daros sought to continue
their tremendous success.  They commonly featured Man Mountain Dean, Dave Levin, and
Sandor Szabo in addition to Detton and Lopez, and the fan base was held together through a very
turbulent 1936.  In fact, it was one of the few places in the United States still drawing upwards of
10,000 fans.

  With great success came trouble.  And the difficulties were diversified.  In November 1934, Lou
walked away from the boxing business after losing $20,000 in eight months.  Of 24 fight shows
held at the Olympic, 18 of them lost money.  At that same time, considering the high-level of stress
the men were dealing with, both Daro Brothers dealt with minor health concerns.  In 1935, an
argument between Daro and San Francisco promoter Ed Lynch at a hotel lead to an alleged
assault.  Lynch claimed that the ex-grappler punched him, and when the two ended up in court in
December, Daro’s apology eliminated a possible trial.  Other pending lawsuits and threats to
shatter their influential syndicate lingered for years.

  To escape the fluctuating heat, Daro often traveled.  One of the wealthiest promoters alive, Lou
was a steady globetrotter, venturing to points in Central and South America, Asia, and Europe.  
His trips were almost always a mixture of pleasure and business, and, as a talent scout, was
mindful of discovering his next behemoth.  His absence from the day-to-day happenings of the
wrestling scene convinced many people that he was retired.  Local newspapers also occasionally
indicated that in reports.  However, Lou’s mind was never officially out of the game.  

  Daro’s hiatus from December 1936 to June 1937 was not by choice.  On November 30, 1936, he
suffered what was called a “mild” heart attack.  Bedridden for three months, Lou mustered the
strength to venture to Europe, where he planned to convalesce in Italy and Germany.  After a
three month recovery, treated by the best doctor he could find – his wife, he returned to Los
Angeles on June 25, 1937, and was as enterprising as ever.  Amusingly, he even said that while
he was overseas, he’d tried to land a bout between Mussolini and Hitler.  Despite his unbridled
optimism that felt 20 years younger and ready to bounce right back into the fray, health concerns
continued to haunt him.

  Years earlier, Daro dreamt of pitting Londos and “Strangler” Lewis, and, in late 1937, was
consumed with the idea of matching Londos with footballer Bronko Nagurski at Los Angeles’s
Wrigley Field.  The two did finally wrestle for the championship, but in Philadelphia on November
18, 1938 before 10,000 at the Convention Hall.  Londos went over.  Of all the wrestlers to ever
wrestle for him, Lou considered Londos his all-time favorite, and the Greek superstar rode a
strong wave of popularity on the Daro marquee through 1940.

  Jack Daro kept wrestling booming with relevant feuds and leading athletes from booker “Toots”
Mondt.  There wasn’t always symmetry between the Daros and Mondt, but when their system was
working, large crowds responded.  Fortunately for their outfit, Mondt disregarded any urges that
may have tempted him to injure his old enemy, Londos, because “Jeemy” was now the leading
heavyweight of the national syndicate.  Londos was again making him money, and any personal
gripes were secondary to that fact.

  Known explicitly for his contributions to numerous causes and good will, Lou Daro’s reputation
was about to take a major hit.  Allegations were sprouting up that couldn’t be buried along the
usual channels, and the Daros would forever be tainted because of it, Lou included, even if he
wasn’t directly engaged in the con.

  But how couldn’t he be?  The years in question, as noted by a special committee on athletic
affairs for the California State Assembly, ranged from about 1927 to 1938.  The three man panel,
headed by Chester Gannon, launched their investigation into both wrestling and boxing in March
1939, and were pulling no punches from the very beginning, immediately subpoenaing promoters
Jack Daro and Joe Malcewicz.

  Infuriating officials right off the bat, Daro skipped the first scheduled conference in Sacramento
on April 19, but appeared the next day.  Once they had the ability to question him, Assemblyman
Gannon and his co-horts focused on the financial records of the Daros, and asked about the
payments of more than $126,000, over a four year period, to sports writers in the Los Angeles
area.  Daro replied that those transactions were for “advice and suggestions” related to
matchmaking and advertising.  None of the financial dealings were to gain favor or to influence
positive articles.  It was all for legitimate reasons.

  The council had reason to doubt Daro’s statements.  They pressed further, examining alleged
payments to lobbyists, specialized contact men, candidates for judgeships, district attorneys,
sheriffs, and, even more clandestine, monies to an unknown figure named “Mr. Q,” whose identity
could have been anyone.  When asked point blank the names of some of these individuals, Daro
conveniently couldn’t remember.  He did acknowledge annual spending of $20-30,000 for
publicity, and, in one year, squandered more than $75,000 on offerings to various people in the
political, sports, and radio fields.

  John Clark “Jack” Kipper (1866-1944) was said to be a contact man for Daro’s business.  
Formerly employed as a chief inspector for the California State Athletic Commission, Kipper was
hired as general manager of the Olympic Auditorium in March 1937.  Statements were made
accusing the Daros of exploiting Kipper’s 20-year friendship with commission member Dr. Harry
Martin, and utilizing that personal connection to obstruct any possible competition in the region.  
While Kipper was unable to testify due to illness, Martin explained that he had never received any
money from his friend or the Daros to perform any of the said allegations.

  Another witness came forward to speak about his plight to promote outside of the walls of the
Daro monopoly.  Fred Young claimed he tried to run a small time operation in 1931, and was told
that a whopping $25,000 cash payment was needed to obtain a license from the athletic
commission.  Needless to say, he never received a permit.

  Joe Malcewicz, San Francisco’s promoter since 1935, also testified, but affirmed that he never
paid a sports writer anything.  He did say that his initial contract to use heavyweight grapplers in
the state, of which the Daros ruled, contained a clause to give the latter siblings 50 per cent of his
profits and a 5 per cent public relations fee.  Following the two month State Assembly
investigation, Malcewicz broke his deal with the Daros, which was another obvious sign that the
wheels were falling off the wrestling monopoly.

  On June 19, 1939, the Gannon report on wrestling and boxing in California was released.  In it,
the licenses of Malcewicz, as well as Jack and Lou Daro, were recommended for suspension.  The
Daros were cited for their refusal to clarify why thousands of dollars were spent and for being
generally uncooperative.  Additionally, the commission said that both Martin and George Payne
should resign from the state athletic commission, and that the California Attorney General should
open up an inquiry into the practices of all parties involved in the Olympic Auditorium grappling
scene.

  The concerted effort to damage the reputations and business of the Daro Brothers was
working.  Attendance was down and Lou’s health problems reportedly had him back on board a
ship to Europe.  Sensing blood, Ed “Strangler” Lewis abandoned several months of booking at the
Olympic as manager of Hard Boiled Haggerty and Arthur “Tarzan” White, and jumped to the
Legion Stadium in opposition.  There, he’d work as a wrestling matchmaker for heavyweight
grapplers.  On June 22, White wrote a letter to the Daros, saying that he was no longer affiliated
to their syndicate, and followed Lewis to Hollywood.  White was a headliner at the Olympic and a
former claimant to the California State Title.  Lewis’s abandonment was a jolt, but White’s double-
cross was not going to be ignored.

  White missed two dates for Jack Daro, on June 30 in San Bernardino and July 5 at the Olympic,
but wrestled at the Legion Stadium on July 10 versus Ed Payson.  Three days prior to the
appearance in Hollywood, White and Daro were joined by their lawyers before the California
Athletic Commission to determine the status of White’s contract.  The commission decided not to
interject on that subject since it was a civil matter, but the body, led by the Daro’s alleged insider
Dr. Martin, agreed to suspend White for 60 days for running out on the two scheduled shows.  
The suspension was effective after the July 10 program, and despite a plea in court and a
reversal in one of the athletic commissioner’s opinions, was upheld.  White left the territory, having
no effect on the budding wrestling war.

  Lewis was attempting to turn his newfound Hollywood venture into a combine of his own,
reaching out to independent promoters in other parts of California.  In the meantime, Governor
Olson accepted the resignations of Dr. Martin and Payne, and the California State Athletic
Commission reviewed the State Assembly report and other documentation to determine whether
or not to revoke the licenses of the Daros.

  Despite the fact that wrestling continued operations at the Olympic, the future of the Daro
Brothers in Los Angeles remained in question until a meeting of the athletic commission on  
December 22, 1939.  Chairman Jerry Giesler agreed to furnish Jack Daro a license for a six month
probationary period.  Jack, according to the Los Angeles Times, “swore he was sole operator at
the Olympic, explaining that Lou Daro had retired and sold his interest” to him.  He also denied
that there was any monopoly, and agreed to give up his booking office.

  Daro and “Toots” Mondt attempted to revitalize the territory with numerous promotional
gimmicks.  They staged tournaments and shows featuring between seven and nine matches.  
Programs spotlighted grapplers such as Londos, Detton, Szabo, Lopez, and Lee Wykoff, who won
an “international” tourney in May 1940.  Nevertheless, houses continued to diminish, and more
skeletons were dragged to the surface.

  Complaints from the wrestlers themselves that they were not being paid for matches at the
Olympic were vocalized right about the same time Daro’s temporary license was going to expire in
July 1940.  That crooked tactic added to the mounting pressure on the state athletic commission
and Olympic owner Frank A. Garbutt to open the door for new wrestling operators in the territory.  
On July 26, the commission issued a booking license to Nick Lutze, and shortly thereafter, a
sublease for the Auditorium was granted to George Zaharias.

  Decades of achievement, entertainment, and wrestling triumphs were crushed by the
unscrupulous deeds performed in the Los Angeles wrestling office run by the Daros and Mondt.
Schemes to make money by overselling their arena’s capacity, threats to wrestlers to keep them in
line, allegations of assaults, powerful connections to athletic commission officials, and spreading
tremendous amounts of money around – were enough evidence to prove that these men were
committed to remaining in control of the wrestling business in Southern California no matter what.

  In his last 17 months at the Olympic, Jack Daro was $70,000 in debt - $22,000 for the first six
months of 1940.  Although he wanted to continue promoting after getting his finances in order, it
was clear that a new era was dawning.  In fact, the Daros were finished.  For his brother Lou, his
unceremonious exit from the wrestling stage was not on par with what a luminary of his stature
should have received.  It was a sour disappearance in the midst of illness and controversy.  Sports
writers constantly dropped his name into press reports labeling him the “czar of California
wrestling,” which during the different investigations was more of a negative implication than
anything.  Interestingly, a second Los Angeles monopoly sprouted later in the 1940s, and, like the
Daros, controlled the grappling industry with an iron hand and shallow conscience.